Meth is easy to get, according to two teens who said they began using it as 16-year-olds.
Tommy -- The Tribune isn't using his real name to protect his identity --began dabbling with alcohol and marijuana. But when he was offered meth at a friend's birthday party two years ago, he liked the high and began smoking the drug regularly. First it was every other weekend, then every four days.
Now the South County teen is hooked, spending $600 on the drug last year, he said, adding that it's easy to get by networking through friends. He has used meth so many times that he's lost count. His parents don't know --he keeps decent grades and will graduate high school this spring.
But he can feel the drug's toll.
"My body gets worn out two or three days after doing it," he said. "My body is like: 'You need to sleep, to eat.' "
He wants to quit before he graduates. But he's kept his habit secret so long, he said, there are few people he can turn to.
Trouble with the law
Tommy has never been arrested for meth. But many teens are.
Consider James, a South County teen now completing his probation. (For that reason, The Tribune is withholding his last name.) James was 11 the first time he smoked marijuana. Alcohol and pills quickly followed, and he started on meth at 16. He has been through juvenile hall for drugs and alcohol offenses five times in five years. He also spent a year in a residential drug treatment facility, but after his release, meth was so easy to get from a neighbor that he found it impossible to stay clean.
Even knowing meth's dangers doesn't deter him.
"When I do it, I start sweating because my body is trying to get all the uncut chemicals out," James said. "... I've never cared about the health effects on my body. I'll die when I die."
Typically, teens like James have lesions on their faces, advanced tooth decay, anxiety and malnourishment when they arrive at juvenile hall, nurse Maralyn Shawn-Renken said.
Some have behavioral problems. When James isn't using meth, he is considered one of the best-behaved youths at juvenile hall. But fueled by meth, he's violent. He once became so combative that he bashed his head against a police car and spit blood at those who came near him. He had to be subdued with a Taser. Since that incident, officers wear protective white hazardous materials suits when admitting violent youths.