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CG Dispatch - J. D. Heath was 8 years old when his older sisters convinced him to try what they called “rock candy.” 

He found out later the stuff had another name — methamphetamine — and he spent the next 24 years addicted to it.

“It’s one of the hardest drugs out there,” Heath said. “You can actually get hooked on it right off the bat.”  

The drug cost him almost everything: his children, health and freedom. Even after serving three prison terms, he still went back to the routine of bingeing and crashing on the narcotic.  

It took a delusional vision of his daughter telling him to quit that got Heath to smash his meth pipe and flush his stash. 

He celebrated one year of sobriety earlier this month but never forgets he’s always one step away from potentially relapsing.   

“You can walk down any street in this town and you’ll have like nine to ten people approach you just to buy it,” he said.

Meth activity is as prevalent as ever in Arizona. The state’s Criminal Justice Commission reported more than 1,500 meth-related drug arrests last year, the highest number over a 10-year period. 

The number of meth labs seized by law enforcement doubled between 2013 and 2014. 

Dr. James Barsz said meth use in Casa Grande and Pinal County has “exploded” in the 30 years he’s been practicing addiction medicine. He said there is no real antidote for treating addiction, so he targets a patient’s emotional self-worth.

“The chemical dependency is there because there’s a deficiency,” Barsz said. 

Barsz is authorized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe buprenorphine, an opioid used to satisfy an addict’s craving for narcotics. He said the drug is a temporary fix, and he doesn’t think of it as treating the addict’s disease. 

Barsz prefers interacting one-on-one with his patients so he can share his own personal struggles in overcoming alcoholism. He said confronting feelings of shame helps patients realize why they originally turned to narcotics. 

For Heath, using meth empowered him above the friendless loner he was as a child. Getting high boosted his confidence and made him feel he could take on the world. 

Now sober, Heath said he has to constantly stay productive so as to not think about meth. He fills his days studying for his GED and volunteering at Transitional Living Center Recovery, a peer-support facility that helps recovering addicts.  

Carley Torres is a program coordinator at the recovery center and said her staff focuses more on the individual rather than the addiction.

“Even if they’re struggling, we don’t kick them out just because they relapse,” Torres said. 

Many of the center’s staff members are recovering addicts themselves, which Torres said helps clients with not feeling inferior when in the vulnerable stage of recovery.

Convincing meth addicts to enter treatment can depend on responding to their erratic mood swings, according to Casa Grande Alliance Executive Director Breanna Boland. 

She said meth users can feel sudden shifts of guilt and remorse when coming down from a high — this is when they are most likely to be persuaded by friends and family to seek treatment.    

The Casa Grande Alliance assists family members with navigating the area’s various facilities that treat drug addiction.  

“We try to alleviate some of that pressure off a loved one,” Boland said.

Read full story here. 

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