When Eddie Hill asked if anyone in the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School was effected by methamphetamine, nearly every hand shot up. Drain cleaner, antifreeze, cat litter, lye; these ingredients are found in methamphetamine, yet it's the most popular illicit drug in the United States.
"I believe that if the user knew the awful ingredients and understood what the effects of the drug would be, they wouldn't do it to start with," Hill told audience members who attended Marathon Oil and Gas Corp.'s Methamphetamine Awareness Program on Wednesday.
Hill, a certified safety professional and president of Heartland Safety Solutions in Smyrna, Tenn., showed what 10 years of using meth looks like, the various ways the drug can be made and what it's like to be a kid caught in the middle of the drug world. When he was done speaking, audience members, both substance abuse counselors and those recovering from their addiction, got up to paint an even more personal picture of what methamphetamine is doing to the Kenai Peninsula.
"There is methamphetamine everywhere," said Krista Collinson, a resident of Soldotna. "I haven't been able to go to the grocery store or movies without seeing someone I know from the drug world."
At 22 years old, Collinson's first experience with methamphetamine came at a high school party when someone asked her if she wanted to get high. Before then, she said she didn't have much experience with drugs other than marijuana.
"I was willing to try anything, and they said it would get me high," she said. "I didn't sleep all that night."
After that first high, Collinson began talking with the people who initially supplied her with meth. As her addiction grew deeper, she started selling methamphetamine because it made her own access to the drug easier. She said she was off the drug for 2 1/2 years when she became pregnant with her two children, but started using again after her youngest was born.
"My children were taken by the state, I lost my home," she said. "I got to the point where I was going to die if I didn't stop."
After some time at Serenity House, Collinson has been clean for 146 days. Now that she has a job, her thoughts are bent on getting her children back, but she still struggles to get over her addiction.
"I'm learning to love myself and be happy," she said. "I go to AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and I'm learning to have respect for myself."
After using methamphetamine for so many years and going to great lengths to obtain the drug, Collinson said she's met a lot of people from businessmen and doctors to carpenters who are addicted. Now that she's in recovery, when she meets these people on the streets, she said they turn around and walk the other way.
"My body language shows them I'm a different person," she said.
Matt Dammeyer is the director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital and director of the hospital's Serenity House Treatment Center. As the peninsula's only residential treatment center for substance abuse, Serenity House has six beds, giving addicts the resources and chance to sever themselves entirely from the drug culture.
"Sometimes it takes that initial break," Dammeyer said.
When the substance abuse counselors got up to speak at Wednesday's presentation, nearly all of them said there aren't enough treatment centers. With only six beds, Dammeyer said Serenity House often is 95 percent full and many people have to get on a waiting list before they are admitted.
"Ninety-five percent of the time someone calls us and we don't have an open bed," he said. "We hope someday to be able to offer treatment to more people while still containing costs."
Collinson said she hoped the community went away from Wednesday's presentation with a clearer idea of what exactly is happening on the peninsula. She said seeing people eager to learn about meth and willing to do something about it gives her hope.
"The community desperately needs more information on what's going on," she said, adding she would be happy to help spread meth awareness.
"I've been to the bottom of the bottom. I don't want to see young kids, teenagers and even adults get where they have nothing left, where they couldn't get any lower. It's a scary place to be."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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