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Faces of meth 

How three men are fighting the little white powder

Editor's note: Paul is not the actual name of the man described in this story. Because he is facing criminal charges, his name has been changed to avoid jeopardizing his case. In addition, Britt's last name has not been published to protect his effort to reinstate his pharmacist's license.

Paul can't sit still. His hazel eyes dart back and forth behind purple-tinted shades. He fiddles with his fake Dolce & Gabbana belt buckle. He smokes a Marlboro Light, puts it out, lights another.He asks for liquor. Beer and wine only, the waitress says. He moans, then laughs. Customers turn and stare in the dimly lit Virginia-Highland tavern. The waitress gives him a weird look. He orders a PBR.

He describes how he once bought four DVD players at a time. He kept them for friends' birthdays. When the birthdays came around, he forgot about the gifts. Either that or the DVD players were stolen. He doesn't remember.

His friend, a girl in her early 20s with long blond hair, giggles. Her pupils are the size of quarters. She stares across the table. She tries to focus, but her eyes won't stop flickering. She twirls her hair and shakes her thigh. It makes the table wobble.

"You look so familiar," she says to me. "Have we partied together before?"

It's the only thing she says all night.

Paul looks through his cell phone. "I've got 200 names," he says, "and three of them are friends."

He says he likes to dance. That's the only time he feels fulfilled, when he can move to music.

Last year, while coming down from a 48-hour binge, he wrote himself an e-mail to lift his spirits. When he feels down, he thinks about the e-mail and tells himself that he's a fabulous person. That he loves himself. Or at least he keeps repeating it.

"People don't realize it until it's all gone," he says, grinding his teeth between sentences. "They'll die and be nobody, absolutely nobody. Not me, though. I'm not going to be like that."

 

Brian Dew speaks loudly so he can be heard through the cell phone's speaker. He's in Denver. The cell phone is in downtown Atlanta. Five students sit around a white conference table on the ninth floor of a Pryor Street building, listening."How's the hierarchy for the coding?" Brian asks.

"It's basically done," one graduate student replies.

"Good," he says. "Now we need to find a volunteer transcriber."

The students look over pages of detailed notes and listen to Brian's instructions. Be sure to have sufficient tapes. If the person wants a cigarette break, give them five to 10 minutes outside. Be sure to call the night before to remind the subject to show up.

His research team leader, a perky blonde with tan, freckled skin, scribbles notes with a blue pen. She underlines important phrases in pink or highlights them in yellow.

He switches to marketing. How will they publicize the study? Are the new flyers made? What are they doing at Pride? They want to get as many interviews as possible. The more diverse the participants, the better the data will reflect what's going on in the city.

"I want it to move," he says. "The bullet eye is on Atlanta."

 

Britt's early. He saunters into a room on the second floor of a church off Peachtree Street. He takes a seat in a wooden chair in the back row. He scratches the back of his buzz cut and lightly places his hand on a friend's thigh. He's a dinosaur in this room. He knows the routine too well. It's the only way he can live his life normally.Sixteen other people - a man with a pierced chin and tattoos crawling up his arms, a petite pregnant woman with short brown hair - eventually settle in. Britt chats with a few of them. White candles are lit, even though florescent light illuminates half the room. It grows quiet.

"If you want what we have to offer and are willing to go to any lengths to get it," Britt says quickly and monotonously, reading from a laminated sheet, "then you are ready to follow these simple steps." He knows the words like he knows his mother's voice. He's heard the mantra at least twice a week for the past three years. He's grown accustomed to listening to people's personal stories: The pregnant woman worries about running into old friends at a baby shower this weekend. She doesn't know how she'll be viewed. The tattooed man speaks of finding a higher power. He recalls the time he wept so hard on the steps of a club that he couldn't see. He doodles in a sketchbook as he talks.

Britt speaks last. "I knew I needed to make drastic changes in my life. But I wasn't really willing, and it took me a very long time and a lot of consequences. It wasn't going to happen until I wanted it."

 

Crank. Tina. Speed. Ice. Meth. Crystal. It's cheap. It lasts for hours. It's highly addictive. And its use is growing at an alarming rate in Atlanta.That shouldn't come as a surprise.

Law enforcement agencies in Fulton and DeKalb counties describe crystal methamphetamine as one of their biggest problems. Earlier this month, a new Georgia law was signed mandating that cold medicines containing a key ingredient for meth production be placed behind counters to thwart meth labs.

Meth can be made by combining cold medicine, drain cleaners, lye and acetone. You can cook it up in a kitchen pot. It doesn't require a Ph.D. in chemistry. Just practice. Shooting or smoking gives an instantaneous rush. Snorting might burn your nose, but soon enough you'll be numb from the chemicals.

And if you can't make it, it's easy enough to buy. For starters, I-75, I-85 and I-20 intersect in the city, and I-95, which runs from New York to Miami, cuts down the eastern half of the state. That makes transporting mass quantities of meth a cinch. The Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse reports that Mexican drug traffickers have become the primary manufacturers and distributors of meth, producing as much as 10 pounds of ice in 24 hours.

In June alone, 49 suspects - many of them Mexican drug runners - and 16 companies were indicted in Atlanta for supplying meth ingredients. Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that almost 84 kilograms of meth were seized and 175 meth labs were busted in Georgia.

Compare that to New York's 10 kilograms seized and 53 labs busted last year. Or Florida's 37 kilograms seized and 170 labs busted. Earlier this year, officials seized 79 kilos of meth in Cherokee County alone. It was the largest-ever bust in the East and the 15th largest nationwide.

And that's just the meth that's been caught. The drug is easy to conceal; $100's worth of the white, odorless powder could fit in a thimble. A little goes a long way. A quarter-gram could last a weekend, at least when you first start.

Once you start, it's easy to get hooked. Some researchers think crystal meth is as addictive as nicotine. Almost 9 percent of rehab admissions in metro Atlanta are meth-related, up 5 percent from two years ago. Outside the Perimeter, meth admission rates jump to 16 percent.

And counselors are having a difficult time treating meth addiction. Couple that with the fact that drug addiction itself is the bastard child of the medical community, and it becomes tough to receive funds to study the epidemic.

Whatever the specific circumstances, meth affects the lives of thousands of Atlantans. Just midway through his 20s, Paul already has ended up in the one place he told himself he'd never be. Britt, a former pharmacist, was forced out of his career - and into rehab on four separate occasions. Brian, for whom addiction hit close to home at a young age, now finds himself trying to understand the patterns of meth addiction so he can prevent others from suffering the same fate.

There's no exact intersection of these men's lives; they don't know each other and likely never will. But meth has led them to experience the drug's power to destroy.

 

Paul rolled up a dollar bill, wedged it in his nostril and inhaled the white powder. He didn't know what to expect. He'd never done it before. But he wanted to bond with his fiancée, and he knew she loved the stuff. The rush hit him hard. He instantly felt alive — and abnormally turned on. His fiancée did, too. So did the guy who snorted it with them.Lips locked. Shirts flew off. Paul, his fiancée and a random guy were soon entangled in each other's bodies. "That's pretty much the beginning of the end of a relationship," Paul recalls.

Four years ago, Paul, who lived in Virginia at the time, kept running into the same girl. She was a thin club kid with long brown hair whose cuteness - and seduction on the dancefloor - caught Paul's attention. After a couple weeks, they started dating.

"We were like a single entity on the dancefloor, and it rubbed off in the bedroom," Paul says. "I've never, ever moved with anyone like that, and never have since."

She had problems. But, he rationalized, everyone did. He liked helping others and she was in need. She was struggling with anorexia. Her method of dieting: snorting meth.

"She traded one problem for another," he says.

Paul, who was 22 at the time, proposed after dating her for a year. She said yes.

She was a source of solace for him. It was the first time in his life he felt close to someone. As a child, he'd spent nights trying to fall asleep to the sounds of his mother screaming as his drunken father dragged her through the hall by her hair.

In her, he finally had someone - someone he could take on cruises and pamper with ostentatious jewelry, someone who would love him and take care of him in return.

Or so he thought.

In the two months following their threesome, Paul and his fiancée rarely touched in bed. She often turned her back to him before falling asleep.

Shortly thereafter, she broke off the engagement.

 

Britt knew what he had to do. He'd just lost his pharmacy license and his job at a drug store in Alabama. He'd been caught stealing opiates. It had worked for about a year. But he knew it was bad. So he voluntarily enrolled in rehab.For years, Britt had been dabbling in prescription pills, Ecstasy and cocaine. But Tina was different. He liked the way it made him feel. Alive and invisible. It helped him forget that he was different, and that different was bad. He didn't feel empty and lonely, unwanted and uncared for. He didn't have to think about his parents.

When Britt was 18, his mother and father opened his mail and found a letter from a friend. The note described the boy's feelings for their son. They confronted Britt. He confirmed what the shrink the family had hired 10 years earlier had suspected: Britt was gay. His parents pulled out the Bible. They made Britt read Scripture that said the way he felt was a crime against God: "Though shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: It is abomination."

Over the years, his parents had argued a lot. They tried to keep it from him, but it was hard not to hear the shouts and slamming doors late at night. Later he found out why. They blamed each other for making him a sissy.

Britt's parents forced him to fish and hunt. They took him to an endocrinologist who prescribed anabolic steroids. They wanted him to be bigger and stronger. People picked on him at school and called him a fag. But he couldn't run home and tell Mom and Dad. He was an outcast in the conservative, South Georgia town of Moultrie.

He had nowhere to turn. Drugs were an outlet - an escape route that opened tenfold when he went to pharmacy school in Birmingham. Soon, however, he took it too far.

So he surrendered to rehab. Perhaps he'd be able to address his past to combat his current problem.

But he wasn't ready. Britt told the rehab counselors what they wanted to hear. He told them he yearned to get clean. But his thoughts and actions didn't sync with what came out of his mouth. During group therapy sessions, Britt's thoughts wandered. He'd think about ways to obtain drugs and who he'd contact the minute he was out of rehab. He thought the counselors' suggestions - attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, get a sponsor to help you stay clean - were stupid. Who were they telling him what to do?

After 30 days of rehab, he was released. The day he got out he used Ecstasy.

 

It was the day before Mother's Day, 1991, when Brian got the message. He was shooting hoops with some church friends in North Carolina when a sharp pain shot through his stomach. It was a random ache. He'd been feeling fine all day. But the pain didn't stop, so he left the basketball game and went home.When he walked inside, he saw the answering machine light blinking. He pressed the button and heard his brother's girlfriend's voice. She sounded scared. Her voice shook. Brian picked up the phone to dial her number.

What she said shocked him. He couldn't move, couldn't talk, couldn't cry. He tried all night to reach his parents, who were vacationing in Florida, and finally reached them the next day. After he wished his mother a Happy Mother's Day, he told her the news: His brother had shot himself.

After the funeral, Brian, who was 23 at the time, began devouring books about addiction. He wanted to understand why his brother lost the fight to something that seemed so simple: Use or don't use. How was it that something so small could consume a 25-year-old budding artist with so much promise?

Brian kept up his research while working nine-hour days as a stockbroker in Winston-Salem, N.C. He earned a comfortable salary but wasn't fulfilled. So he started taking courses in psychology after work at Wake Forest. One day, his professor told him he should consider a career in the mental health profession. He had a knack for empathizing. Maybe he could help those in need.

A year later, he turned in his tie for a stack of books and enrolled in Appalachian State University's counseling program in addiction studies.

 

Paul couldn't stop crying at work. He didn't know how to get over his broken engagement. His emotions were raging. He'd already been arrested and released on his own recognizance for assault and battery after he punched a guy in the face and wrestled another guy to the pavement. The two guys had flicked him off at a stoplight.So he decided to get out of the house more and try to have a good time. One of his co-workers, a fellow security guard, had given him a bump of meth to get through a long work shift. That turned out to be the start of a meth binge that allowed him to party and work for four days straight - without any sleep. He usually smoked a quarter-gram per weekend, a half, tops. Sixty bucks per binge. That was nothing.

But then it got worse. Within weeks, he found he'd trade anything for an ounce - 28 grams - of speed. Handguns, DVD players, other drugs. He started consuming eight balls of meth (about 3.5 grams) every weekend. He met a girl who taught him to inject it. The instantaneous rush jolted him.

But the long binges caught up with him. In March 2003, he sent the wrong security guard to an event in Maryland. The guard was only licensed to patrol in Virginia. Paul was canned.

That night he went on a long binge. He tweaked every day until he ran out of meth.

In August 2003, Paul heard a knock. He put his dog away and opened the door. Two policemen tackled him. A woman from downstairs had called a crime hotline to report him. The woman's daughter had smoked pot with Paul, and the woman said he was selling drugs. Paul said he was just smoking his own stash. The police found a roach in the ashtray and a homemade gravity bong. They got a warrant. They found an eighth of an ounce of weed and arrested him for marijuana possession.

A day later, he posted the $500 bond. He'd been evicted from his apartment, so he moved in with his grandmother. Soon he started to get restless, needed a change of venue. He had friends in Atlanta. But he couldn't leave until his court hearing. In November, he pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge and left on a bus that afternoon.

For the first four months, Paul didn't touch meth. He got a job at a company that set up convention booths at the Georgia World Congress Center. He stayed clean.

Then he met a friend who knew a bunch of users. He went with his friend to a house off Cheshire Bridge Road and ended up tweaking for four days.

His contact list grew. He met a bunch of gay kids who had a plethora of meth. The kids would book several hotel rooms for a couple of nights and tweak in them. Then they'd switch hotels and repeat the routine. Paul did meth 24/7. He went through a gram - with a street value of $80 to $225 - a day.

In May 2004, his partying was cut short.

He was staying at a hotel off North Druid Hills Road. While he was in the shower, a girl he'd been tweaking with started knocking on every hotel room door, looking for him. Management walked in as Paul was getting dressed. They threatened to call the cops. He grabbed his two bags and bolted. His cell phone had been disconnected the day before. He had no means of contacting his friend, who'd left the hotel room to score more meth. He sat on the side of the road for a couple of hours. It got dark. He walked over to an apartment complex where he'd visited a friend the night before. He was tweaked out of his mind. He was sweating and couldn't stop moving. He'd been told by a maintenance man to leave the property. He left, then returned. He soon got tired of carrying his yellow bag and put it by a picnic table. He kept his black bag with him.

A police officer sped into the parking lot. The maintenance man had called the cops. Paul didn't run. He couldn't. He was too fucked up. He told the cop he was homeless, was living hotel to hotel. The cop frisked him. No weapons. The cop asked to look in Paul's black bag.

"Go ahead," he replied.

The cop found a sliver spoon with white-colored residue. The cop tested the residue. Positive for meth. He handcuffed Paul and placed him in the back of the cop car.

The yellow bag was found under the nearby picnic table. It had a paper tag with Paul's name attached. Inside were a straw, several Q-tips, a scale, unused baggies and a black and silver case. Inside the case, the cop found two medium-sized bags with hard crystal. The bags weighed in at 6.5 grams.

 

After he interned at Duke University in 1995, Brian's first hands-on experience was treating addicts at North Carolina's High Point Regional Hospital's Behavioral Health Center. He moved his way up to heading the impaired professionals program, treating doctors and lawyers unable to kick their habits.He loved the work but burned out.

"I really enjoyed the teaching end more than the supervision," he says. "I really wanted to move on and do some other things."

So he enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, one of the nation's finest counseling programs. He saw a bit of meth addiction at UNC-G in the mid-'90s. But it was nothing compared to what he saw in Atlanta when he took a position as an assistant professor of counseling at Georgia State University.

At Georgia State, Brian was introduced to Kirk Elifson. Kirk is a sociologist there. He's been studying drug patterns in Atlanta for 27 years. He and his wife, Claire Sterk, a public health professor at Emory - both leading drug researchers in Atlanta - took him under their wing. Through his work with the couple, Brian was named the Atlanta representative for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the nation's pre-eminent drug abuse and addiction research organization. As a representative, he attends meetings twice a year throughout the country to report on Atlanta's drug trends to leading drug and public health officials.

Meth had already hit the West Coast in the early '90s. It gained media attention, particularly in California's gay communities in San Francisco and San Diego. But now it was moving eastward. Brian discovered that the amount of Mexican ice had skyrocketed in Georgia. Part of I-20 runs along the U.S. border, and 90 percent of the meth smuggled into the city is from Mexico.

Brian was intrigued. Meth broke most socioeconomic barriers. It crossed age brackets and sexual orientations. Most people entering treatment centers for meth were 35 and older. Some had never touched a drug in their life, but were somehow caught in the hands of meth. What was it about this drug?

Brian applied for a competitive, $100,000 federal grant from the National Institutes of Health in late 2004. His application was denied because the study outlined too many objectives for the two-year grant. But he didn't let the lost funding stop him from his goal: to interview recovering addicts - those who were abstaining from meth for two weeks or two years - and find out its draw.

Each interview would be anonymous and be held in a church in Midtown. He'd record the interview on tape and split the interviewees into two categories: heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals. He would develop categories of questions: "Influences to Start," "Positive and Negative Effects," "Stopping Usage," "Relapse," "Advice." In February, he conducted his first interview.

By May, Brian had interviewed approximately 18 men and women. He'd started to notice similarities between gay and straight users. They talked about sex, a lot. He knew meth impacted the system that controls pleasure mechanisms. It increased sex drive, made people less anxious, and lowered their ability to make sound decisions. So addicts engaged in sex, lots of sex and longer sex, many times without condoms.

He found several major differences, too. If users were heterosexual, they tended to be white, less educated and have lower rates of full-time employment. The gay and bisexual users, by comparison, had large incomes, enabling them to support their habits. Heterosexuals had started using drugs early on, around age 13. They tended to inject meth more than gay users did. Homosexuals and bisexuals began the drug in their late 20s and early 30s, and smoking meth was their delivery of choice.

But Brian needed more subjects. And people would be more inclined to talk if they were paid. In April, Brian, working with Kirk, received a $10,000 grant through Georgia State's Mentor Program for the interviews. The grant went into affect July 1. The money allows Brian to offer $25 per participant. In late June, Brian and his research team began advertising: "Would you like to get paid $25 for completing an anonymous research study sponsored by Georgia State University?"

 

Britt was 25 when he moved back in with his parents after his failed attempt at rehab. His mother and father were crushed. It was a double whammy: Their son was gay, and a drug addict. "It was the worst two things I could've been, other than a pedophile," Britt says.

He tried an outpatient recovery program in Moultrie but couldn't stay sober. Because he didn't have a job and had no money saved up, he filed for bankruptcy.

The following year he moved to Atlanta. He wanted to get his pharmacy license in Georgia. The pharmacy board denied him in 1991 because of his past problems, which he was required to disclose. Upon being turned down, his sponsor from the Pharmacists Recovery Network recommended he go back into treatment. Perhaps the board would reinstate his license if they saw an effort to stay clean.

So Britt enrolled in Talbott Recovery Campus, just outside Atlanta. He stayed in the inpatient, $22,000 program, paid for by his parents, for five months. It was a comfortable and serene setting (Jeb Bush sent his daughter there) where Britt was able to skirt around his addiction. The counselors recommended he go to St. Jude's, because he obviously needed a different experience.

Located off Renaissance Parkway, St. Jude's treats more than 1,600 addicts and is free for Fulton County residents. It's a melting pot of detox participants; unlike at Talbott, Britt was sleeping next to homeless people. For seven months, he had to scrub toilets, wash dishes and mop floors, in addition to holding a full-time job. And he began taking responsibility for his disease.

Based on his two rehab stints, the pharmacy board reinstated his license in 1992.

Then he met Mark. He was at the Armory, a gay club in Midtown known for disco and drag shows. Mark was 6 feet tall, muscular, with dark hair. Britt found him highly attractive. They started dating. Britt told him about his problem. Mark, too, had a problem. He drank every day. But Britt stayed sober, unaffected by Mark's drinking - until the trip to Key West in 1996.

On the way to the Keys, Britt and Mark stopped in Tampa at a friend's house. Britt wanted to fit in with his boyfriend and his friends. He'd been good; he should reward himself. He asked for a glass of wine.

When they returned from Key West, Britt and Mark started frequenting Backstreet. Britt occasionally would pop Ecstasy or do some acid. Then his drug use progressed. He used Special K, GHB and meth. He could get his hands on Tina pretty easily now, unlike in the early '90s. He could do a bump and go to work the next day and be OK. His weekends got longer and longer. His bank account ebbed. A gram of the most potent ice cost about $240.

He became a daily user. He'd go through an eight ball every two days - roughly $2,000 a week. He was late to open the drugstore where he worked. Customers complained. Then his boss found drugs missing. Britt was fired.

He got in touch with a friend who also was a pharmacist and meth user. They decided to open an independent drug store in Midtown that specialized in HIV treatment.

Britt popped pills or injected meth every hour. His relationship with Mark was on the rocks. He cheated. Nothing mattered anymore - not his family or friends, not his health or his job. Just meth and getting it.

In 1999, Britt and his partner sold their pharmacy to CVS. He continued on as a CVS employee, despite the $700,000 he claims he made from the sale. It was the worst possible good fortune. Because of the money, he didn't have to stop using. He could use even more. He'd stay up for three days at a time, sleep for 12 hours and repeat the routine. Suspicions rose at work. He was fired, again, and lost his license for the second time.

He holed up in his Midtown condo for a month. He didn't return phone calls. His mother came to Atlanta and begged him to go back to treatment. He said he didn't want to. All he wanted was to stay home and do meth.

In June, his mother finally convinced him to go back to Talbott. In rehab, he felt like he was coming out of his skin. In December, he was allowed to leave for Christmas week. By then, he had made it to Talbott's three-quarters house, the final segment of inpatient treatment during which a patient leaves for work but must sleep at the facility.

Even though their relationship had fizzled, Britt and Mark maintained their friendship. On Christmas, Britt and his parents went to Mark's Midtown condo. Five years earlier, Britt realized his parents finally had accepted he was gay. During his and Mark's visits, his mother had stopped making up the guest bed; he and Mark could sleep in his old room.

While his parents and Mark chatted, Britt excused himself to go to the bathroom. He went upstairs and rummaged through Mark's dresser. He found a pipe and some meth. He was so excited his hands shook. He took a hit - and for the next seven days holed up in his own Midtown condo, doing any drug he could get his hands on.

When he returned to the treatment center, he failed a drug test. The staff tried to help him for a couple of months, but discharged him in May 2001.

Three months later, Britt started hallucinating. He was taking an antidepressant that the recovery center had prescribed for his depression. Combined with other drugs, it can cause hallucinations.

Britt continued using meth, but this time it was different. He acted out sexually in seedy bathhouses and spent nights at the sleazy Cheshire Bridge Motor Inn. He started seeing shadows in his periphery. He thought people were after him, that his family had conspired against him. He heard voices. He thought the treatment center had bugged him. The voices sounded like counselors asking him questions about good vs. evil and why he had been put on Earth. The voices told him to leave Atlanta and drive to Augusta.

During his drive, the voices told him he was the star of a reality TV show called "Britt Is Missing." He tried to escape from the television cameras. He couldn't. He stopped at Parliament House, a gay club in Augusta, to try to drown the voices. But they got louder. He high-tailed it out of there, crying and shaking. The voices wouldn't stop. He smoked meth as he drove down a two-lane country road. The voices told him to drive off the road, because the curtains were going to open any minute. His fans were standing around, waiting to cheer for him.

He saw the trees lining the street. The voices told him they would open for his curtain call. He veered off the road. The trees didn't move.

 

By July 1, Brian's office phone was ringing off the hook. The flyers posted around town had worked. Brian's research team had completed 35 interviews with a broader range of participants. By the end of the year, Brian is hoping to interview 30 more people abstaining from meth - then switch gears and begin interviewing active users. "We want to get their perceptions of what it means to be abstinent, what it means to use, and what keeps them from being able to stop," he says.

That might offer insight as to how rehab facilities can better treat meth addiction. But to bring active users into the study, Brian needs funding. In late June, he resubmitted his proposal for the NIH grant he didn't receive a year earlier. Brian believes he's polished the study's focus. He will receive a verdict in early 2006.

When Brian listens to his interviewees talk about the draw of meth, he often thinks of his brother. He remembers the time after his high school graduation when he and some friends drove to the beach to celebrate. He was relaxing on the sand when his brother appeared out of nowhere, completely fucked up. Brian was embarrassed. His family had always done a good job of shielding others from his brother's behavior. But here he was, standing in front of Brian, high on drugs, rambling. Perhaps he didn't know where to turn.

Brian doesn't beat himself up for not doing more. His brother's disease gave him compassion and understanding - and the ability to teach the importance of empathy in counseling addicts.

"I often wonder what would've happened if he'd been able to reach his potential," Brian says. "He had a very bright future, if he could've just dealt with his disease."

 

During his first week in DeKalb County jail, Paul slept. Now, two months later, he's established a routine. He wakes at 5 a.m. for breakfast, then goes back to sleep until 9 a.m. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., he works out, eats lunch and showers. Then he's locked in his cell until dinner. He usually reads during this time, or writes letters. He's started exploring Islam. His roommate prays five times a day, and Paul began asking what it was all about. His roommate handed him the Quran. Since then, Paul has tried to get his hands on any Muslim literature he can."I won't say I've found religion," he says, dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit still damp with sweat from his workout. "But I've started questioning a lot of things that are going on and trying to find placement for them."

He writes letters to his brother, aunt, mom and friends. He reads an Alcoholics Anonymous book and is trying to start the 12-step program. He's well past the first step - admitting he's an addict - and is writing letters to make amends with former friends and family, as part of step No. 8.

And he's made a list of what he's going to do when he gets out: try kickboxing and meditation, attend NA meetings, shop at herbal stores and get colonics. "I want to completely cleanse myself," he says.

On July 14, Paul's bond - originally set at $3,000 cash because he's considered a flight risk - was reduced by a magistrate judge to $2,000. He can't afford that, so he'll wait in jail until the district attorney indicts him or until a friend bonds him out. But Paul's not sure if he wants to be bonded out. He's in a structured environment where he can't be drawn to destructive activities.

"I figured out I was put here for a reason," he says. "There's somebody looking out for me somewhere."

 

When Britt woke up in a jail cell in South Carolina, he began to pray for the first time since childhood. Amazingly, he'd only suffered an abrasion on his arm. His BMW was totaled.After a day-and-a-half, a friend from rehab bailed him out. When he returned to Atlanta, the first thing he did was smoke ice with the friend. He did more drugs until Nov. 20, 2001, when his bank account was wiped out. He was dead broke.

The next day, he checked himself back into St. Jude's. It was his fourth attempt at rehab. This time was different, though. He readily admitted he had a problem.

Two years later, he reconciled with his family by giving a formal apology at his parents' house in Moultrie. He and his mother cried together as he sat in the den and told them he was sorry for the pain caused by years of addiction.

Today, he attends Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings religiously, three or four times a week. It took him a year-and-a-half to complete all 12 steps of the program. He often leads the meetings and is a sponsor for other meth users who are trying to kick the habit.

He's still screened randomly and still attends recovery meetings with the Pharmacists Recovery Network. He's in the midst of trying to get his license reinstated. In November, he'll celebrate four years of sobriety.

On a Friday evening, Britt mingles with a handful of recovering addicts at a CMA meeting. He laughs with a couple of guys who sit in the back row with him. At the end of the meeting, Britt gathers with the other attendees in a large circle. They wrap their arms around each other's shoulders and repeat - some of them for the thousandth time - the serenity prayer.

"You got to keep coming back," they say. "It works if you work it."

alyssa.abkowitz@creativeloafing.com

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12/11/2014

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