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Experts share stories at meth forum

LAWRENCEVILLE - At one point Jennifer, a Gwinnett resident and former methamphetamine addict, couldn't get out of bed until she did a line of the drug.

Her breaking point came when she started hallucinating, hearing voices and when her parents threatened to take away her baby. She has now been sober eight months and counting.

Jennifer shared her story Tuesday evening with foster parents, psychiatrists, police officers and other concerned citizens in a community forum hosted by Gwinnett Hospital System focusing on meth in Gwinnett County.

Panel speakers included a Snellville police officer, a psychiatrist, parish nurse and addiction counselor.

"Meth is a highly toxic, powerful stimulant also known as crank, speed and ice," said Cheryl Johnson, a panel member and spokeswoman for Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences. "Meth is more suburban than urban. It used to be rural because it was easy to make on farms but now it's suburban."

Meth is in the suburbs and meth is in Gwinnett County. A search of several houses in Lawrenceville and Duluth in March 2005 yielded the largest crystal methamphetamine seizure ever recorded on the East Coast - 174 pounds of "ice" worth a street value of more than $17 million.

Another meth bust occurred this past October when Winder police found a methamphetamine lab in the trunk of a car.

The attraction to meth could be its side effects, such as exhilaration, high energy, weight loss and increased sex drive.

"Most people think they'll use it for a short while and they get one side of the story," Johnson said. "With extended use on meth it can mimic paranoid schizophrenia." Other side effects include damage to the central nervous system, loss of control and inability to maintain daily tasks.

"I started taking meth five months after I had my baby to lose weight," Jennifer said. "I did it once a week for two months and I was super mom. I enrolled in school, got a 4.0 but that didn't last long. I got down to 110 pounds, my hair got thinner and my eyes bulged out of my head."

Methamphetamine use affects much more than just the addict, however. It affects the community. In Gwinnett County specifically the Department of Children and Family Services has seen a 40 percent increase in referrals due to methamphetamine arrests, Johnson said. It even affects local stores.

Jennifer said during the peak in her addiction phase she could walk into any Wal-Mart around midnight and find someone who had it on them or could get meth for her.

"We get calls all the time from Wal-Mart about people who are walking around for five hours at all hours because they can't sleep and Wal-Mart is a big place to walk around," said Snellville police officer Jim Colgan.

After panel members spoke about their specific industry's experience with the drug the crowd of more than 50 posed questions and shared their personal stories. Many were recovering meth addicts seeking to improve the community and educate people on the dangers of meth.

For more information about crystal meth call 678-442-5825. To report any suspicious activity contact the Gwinnett County Police Department drug task force tip line at 770-962-6272.