Editor's note: Some names (*) have been changed or withheld to protect the identity of former meth users who are juveniles.
Haley* has at least one possession that she won't let out of her sight. A small red plastic coin secured to the zipper of her sweatshirt may represent one of the first true favors the 16-year-old Craig girl has done for herself in years. The coin, which she displays proudly, is Haley's reminder that she has steered clear of using methamphetamine for 30 days.
Haley, a former Moffat County High School student, agreed to talk about her meth addiction on the condition that her real name not be used.
She started using meth when she was 11 while living in California. Her best friend -- a girl Haley admired for being pretty and skinny -- was using it. The drug immediately banished Haley's feelings of low self-esteem and insecurity.
"It makes you more confident about yourself and definitely more mature," she said. "I remember wearing itty-bitty tank tops and I felt like I fit into them when I was high.
"Girls who are overweight get into meth harder and faster than others, " she added. "They think they're getting what they want."
Using meth also made Haley feel confident enough to have sex. At 12 she had an abortion. To drown out the pain and feelings of guilt, she used meth even more heavily until her family moved to Craig when she was 13.
Haley managed to stay clean for three months before the move, but the drug was easily available here, she said. She started using again when she was offered meth by a resident at one of Craig's apartment complexes.
Teen 'drug of choice'
Stephanie Mauth, a juvenile probation officer with the 14th Judicial District says the number of youths using meth is on the rise.
The drug is so prevalent, Mauth labels it the latest "drug of choice" in Craig, possibly outpacing marijuana use.
"It's significant here and it's increasing," she said. "It used to be pot, but now it seems to be meth use."
Of Mauth's 87 cases of adult and juvenile offenders, almost half have some connection with meth. Mauth said she oversees four local youths strictly because of their meth use.
But Mauth has noted the ages of youths using meth are getting younger each year. A little more than five years ago when she started with the court system, it was rare to have a juvenile get busted for meth. Even a couple of years ago, meth use was confined to residents roughly 20 years old and older.
Now, meth use is becoming more popular with teenagers, she said. And youths are more often injecting the drug, a method that usually indicates an advanced stage of a drug user's habit.
"From age 16 on up is the most popular age range," Mauth said. "It's the time when youth start intermingling with young adults. It's easier for them to network and get the drug."
Mauth partly blames Craig's increasing meth use on its availability and a general sense of apathy toward the issue.
She also attributes residents' meth use to a lack of knowledge about the drug, which is manufactured with a variety of toxic chemicals.
"I always ask them, 'You wouldn't sit down and drink a bottle of Drano, would you?'" Mauth said. "They think that's a funny question, but it's exactly what they're doing to their bodies when they do meth."
The hardest part of her job is convincing youths to fight the urge to do meth, though Mauth knows the drug can create highly pleasurable feelings.
For youths who rarely feel "normal," drugs can be a huge draw.
"How can we fight against kids using meth when it feels really good for them to do it?" she posed. "The problem is, if you've experienced it once like a kid, injecting meth at 16, you're talking about a lifelong addiction. If they're taking it when they're young, they have the rest of their lives to fight it."
Haley said using meth made it easier to attend high school because she already would be awake from staying up high all night.
"I never felt the dread of having to wake up," she said. "I went to school high. (Meth) made me feel like I could do anything."
On meth, Haley regularly wood get into fights at school.
"I was in at least one fight every day," she said. "I would beat the crap out of people, but it felt good to do it when you were high."
Haley quit school during her freshman year at Moffat County High School. For four months after she dropped out, she began using the drug more heavily. She and her meth-using friends would walk around Craig in groups stealing merchandise from businesses to support their habits, she said.
As a girl, Haley said it's easier to get meth free from boys who often distributed the drug. Girls will offer sexual favors for the drug, she said.
"I know girls who will do anything -- I mean anything -- for drugs," she said.
When Haley looks back on her days of using, she remembers collecting drug money from people who needed it to feed their children. She recalls the deceit and back-stabbing among her drug-using friends. She feels most guilty for getting her former boyfriend high on meth for the first time.
Before trying the drug, he was adamantly opposed to it. Now, he's hooked.
"He's strung out hard," Haley said. "He wouldn't have even done it once, if it weren't for me."
When thoughts of guilt and embarrassment enter Haley's head these days, she fingers her red coin and talks through her issues with other drug addicts during Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Craig. Though Haley is the group's youngest addict, she says she knows plenty of other teens who could benefit from the anonymous sessions.
Nothing to do
Music blares and the pool tables don't stay open for long at the Frontlines Coffee Shop. It's usually filled with middle school- and high school-aged youths on Friday and Saturday nights.
If not for the hangout, kids who often complain about a lack of entertainment in Craig might be more inclined to turn to drugs and alcohol, said Tracey Haskell of Craig's New Creation Church. The church has run the coffee house on Victory Way since October, but Haskell judges its success by the numbers of parents who write letters telling how the coffee shop has helped their kids stay out of trouble.
"Parents tell me all the time that their kids were heading in the wrong direction before we intervened," Haskell said.
But despite rules that establish the coffee shop as a drug- and alcohol-free zone, there are plenty of youths who dabble in substance abuse, Haskell said.
She knows because once in a while, youths come into the shop high or she'll hear from other youths about drug transactions in alleyways of Craig's downtown area. "I never really realized before how easy it was to get drugs here," Haskell said. "It's just amazing to me."
Haskell's perceptions are right on, according to three former methamphetamine users who were on a mission to stay clean in February. One has since left town after getting in trouble with the law.
The youths, who ranged in age from 16 to 20 and moved to Craig from other areas of the state, agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.
All three said meth was easily available in Craig and said they had bought it downtown at "the coffee shop," a slang term for the vacant lot north of the Craig Daily Press office.
"I don't see how nobody in town can see what's happening," a 16-year-old said. "It's everywhere."
The trio, which had witnessed violent confrontations and gang turf wars over the drug in more urban settings, said Craig youths are somewhat naÃive about the dangers of meth because they've haven't seen beatings administered over drug debts or, junkies strung out and living on the streets.
Craig teens, they said, just see it as a recreational escape from the boredom of small town life.
"What else is there to do in Craig?" one youth said.
Schools and meth
As Mauth described, most teen meth use is relegated to those old enough to drive.
But younger pre-teens such as students at Craig Middle School and Craig Intermediate School are becoming more aware of meth use in the community.
Questions about meth trump a host of other anonymous inquires by fifth- and sixth-graders, said Carolyn Wade, the school resource officer at Craig Intermediate School.
Students are encouraged to drop questions about drugs and alcohol in a box that are later answered by a Drug Abuse and Resistance Education (DARE) representative.
Students ask how meth is made, what its effects are to the body and how to say "no" to it, Wade said.
"Kids have heard of meth and they're aware of it but they want to know more about it," she said.
As a DARE officer, Wade's job is to direct students to steer clear of drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes.
A random sampling of 10 fifth- and sixth-grade students found few who knew specifics about meth use or its prevalence in the community. Some knew older students or adults who were involved with meth and many students were aware or had heard rumors about meth lab busts in town.
"It's made out of chemicals, and there's a lot of drug busts in Craig," said sixth-grader Anthony Andrews. "I've heard about people using it... I used to know somebody who did it."
According to Craig Middle School Principal Steve Wiersma, school officials haven't found evidence of seventh- and eighth-graders using meth. Drug violations at the school are mainly marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia, he said.
Two drug violations were reported at the school last year, and three students were referred to law enforcement officials for substance abuse.
But that may change if meth is becoming more readily available, Wiersma said.
"I'm sure with the amount of it that seems to be turning up in Craig, it's something that's becoming more and more available to our students," he said.
Jesse McAvoy, the school resource officer at Moffat County High School, thinks meth use is a burgeoning trend in Craig. But for the most part, he said meth use is more attractive to the post-high school set.
"A lot of the arrests we see are people in their late teens and early 20s," he said.
Officials at the high school are aware of meth use in the community, but they haven't yet caught a student with meth in his or her possession, said Assistant Principal Jessie Farr.
According to the high school's safety report, 17 drug violations were reported at the high school last year. Those violations resulted in 14 suspensions. Ten of those students were referred to law enforcement and two were expelled.
Students were charged with the possession of either alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs in the school's 2003 reported drug violations, Farr said.
Junior and senior students are allowed to take lunch breaks off campus, a situation that may give students a further opportunity to do meth, she said.
"I do worry about students getting meth off campus," she said.
"It's so available in Craig."
Students caught with drugs, tobacco or alcohol on school grounds or during school hours are either ticketed or suspended depending on the substance.
A student caught with meth would be suspended up to a five-day period and referred to a drug rehabilitation program, Farr said. A student caught smoking cigarettes or using tobacco, for example, is required to attend an all-day detention at the school on a Saturday.
"We figure if a kid is using meth in high school, they really need help," she said. "I don't know that kids can be deterred by fear or concern for their body.
"They live for the moment and don't think about tomorrow."
Narcotics Anonymous Director Vicky Kessler hopes to launch an educational anti-meth campaign at the high school in the fall.
She thinks it's high time that meth use among young people is addressed in the community.
"There are a lot of kids who don't know they have a problem yet," Kessler said.
"Kids are hard, they think they know it all and they think they can hide it. I think it's time we address this."
Knowing the signs
Haley can spot a meth addict.
People on meth are reclusive and often put heavy blankets over their windows to guard against the light, she said.
Meth users almost always grind their teeth so hard that "it's like they're trying to kill somebody in their mouth."
Parents may notice a lack of light bulbs in the house, because they can be fashioned into a tool to smoke the drug. Or parents may find a small amount of aluminum foil in garbage cans. Users can place meth on foil to smoke it.
An extremely clean room or extremely messy room or house may be an indicator of a person on meth, Haley said.
On meth, Haley said she was exceedingly tidy, even picking the fuzz off her carpet.
Meth users may also have sores on their tongues and on their faces. They have irrational sleeping patterns. Users often wear inappropriate clothing, such as long sleeves and jackets in the summer and shorts and tank tops when the temperature drops.
"I know a lot of kids who wouldn't want their parents to read this in the paper," she said. "(Parents) may know something is wrong, but they don't know the signs."
Meth goes by a variety of code names, including salt crystal, spider crystal, candy, glass, crank and Windex.
"People would call and say, 'We got some Windex. Do you wanna come over and clean?'"
Teens are sometimes successful using the drug recreationally at first, but the habit quickly can become addictive, she said. That's a dangerous scenario because meth is readily available in Craig, Haley said.
"It's sickening how easy it is to get here," she said. "I could make a phone and get some down on the street corner in five minutes."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.