Fri, Dec. 06

Meth: a "soul robber"
Sedona forum chases solution

"I started using meth at 26 and fell in love," Kathy Tootle told the crowd. That's when her son was 6 years old. "He didn't have a mother again until he was out of the Navy."

As many as 150 adult citizens and youth attended a Community Meth Forum Wednesday in Sedona at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. They heard tales of narcotics cops and sad statistics of use, the frustration of the courts the reluctance of the legislature, but Kathy's recollection of her nine-year roller-coaster ride through a methamphetamine lifestyle, its loss and tragedy, brought the message home.

Now a coordinator in the Chemical Dependency Unit at the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, Kathy has been "clean for seven years." Still, the drug is so addictive that when someone attempts to sneak some of the drug into the facility and she touches it, "it still triggers something in me."

During those nine years, her habit grew from $20 "every three to four days" to at Teener or 8-Ball every day, about $100. "I was always chasing that first high. I didn't have time to work. I was unemployable."

"I found I was very good as a thief. I hid the drugs in my baby's clothes."

She eventually lost track of her family and was homeless for two years, living in her car at a ballpark.

It wasn't until a murder that she saw through the gauzy film and recognized it could have been her that lost her life.

Kathy was with a man who had drugs. She drove him to a woman's apartment and dropped him there. She later used the 52-year-old woman's credit card and ID. It was three days later that she found out that man had stabbed the woman repeatedly, killing her.

Scared, Kathy turned herself into the police. "I was still hiding my meth addiction, but they had to know. I was a screaming poster board for meth addiction."

"I gave away honesty and integrity. I lost my values, lost my home and I still have physical consequences of meth use."

Kathy checked into a treatment program and spent two and a half years in a halfway house.

"I no longer steal. I am a woman of integrity. I am the best mother I can be. I am passionate about recovery. Meth was the biggest lie in my life. Now I work at the same place that gave me my life back."

Sgt. Randy Moffitt, who oversees the PANT drug team, says meth is easy to hide. A Sweet and Low packet is the equivalent of four doses.

A high can last four to 16 hours. Users tend to binge. The "tweaking" stage occurs at the end of a binge when a user often becomes violent. When a user crashes, he might sleep for three days.

"A soul robber" is the way Moffitt describes meth. Users often suffer psychotic symptoms and paranoia. Local emergency rooms see at least one case each day.

Sedona Police Chief Joe Vernier told the crowd "meth is the biggest danger for the welfare and safety of our officers." Police found that the theft of a red sports car during a double murder in Sedona was to pay to buy meth. A shed where a suspect barricaded himself was rigged with a crossbow to shoot intruders.

Vernier says enforcement is only one side of the equation. "We must change habits."

Doug Bartosh, Cottonwood's Chief, says 90 percent of the prisoners in the county jail are linked to meth usage. Bartosh, co-chair of MATForce, which as part of the Substance Abuse Coalition, is developing a strategic plan to attack the meth problem in Yavapai County.

"Eighty percent of CPS cases involve substance abuse," adds Tom O'Halleran, recently elected State Senator. "Politicians are great for telling you what they did do, but they don't do enough," he believes. He urged people to put pressure on politicians.

The one-time Chicago area narcotics cop told the crowd, "Kathy is one of the lucky ones. Most people don't get as far as Kathy. Arizona is the number one state for children 10 to 17 on meth."

"Everyone must be involved. It is a destructive cancer in our society."

The forum was presented by the St. John Vianney Parishioners for Social Justice in cooperation with MATForce, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona and the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council.

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