Special Reports

A TRIBUNE SPECIAL REPORT: How one drug is ruining lives

Methamphetamine is easy to make, cheap to buy and so powerfully addictive that it is wreaking havoc on San Luis Obispo County. The drug's poisonous grip destroys families in increasing numbers every year, and the county's ongoing war against it is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

These are among the findings of The Tribune's six-month investigation into meth and its impact on the county.

Police, prosecutors and rehabilitation counselors all say meth is the most pervasive and destructive illegal drug in the county, attacking across age, class and gender lines.

It's cheaper than heroin or crack cocaine. For just $70, enough to buy one-sixteenth of an ounce, a person can get high for up to three days. Consider these facts:

*Meth is the illegal drug in at least 90 percent of drug cases prosecuted in county courts. And it was the drug of choice for 40 percent of the 1,145 people who sought treatment last year through county Drug and Alcohol Services, nearly double the number of admissions from just seven years earlier.

* Sheriff's officials seized about 13 pounds of meth last year compared with about 10 pounds in 2005 and three pounds in 2004.

*County Narcotics Task Force members seized 13 labs last year, up from two in 2005.

*Meth is the No. 1 drug destroying families who are referred to the county's Child Welfare System. Last year, 207 children--or 39 percent of the children in foster care --had parents addicted to meth.

* The county lacks enough treatment facilities. It has no detoxification site for substance abusers in crisis and has only 12 beds --for women with children--in a longterm treatment facility. There is no residential treatment for men. The situation is bleak, and the future only looks worse, experts say.

"Unlike many drugs, methamphetamines touch many different aspects of our community," Sheriff Pat Hedges said.

"It not only affects the user, but it affects part of our health system, and it affects our environment, and it affects the innocent people in proximity of those who use this particular drug."

--Tribune staff