Portrait of a Young Meth Addict

Hattie Tysver, now 18, took her first snort of meth when she was 15.

Tysver -- who lives in the town of Fergus Falls, Minn., population 15,000 -- was a good student but admits she had started smoking pot when she was 14. She calls the first time she tried meth "the most incredible experience of my entire life."

She stayed up all night working on a math project. "I thought it was the most interesting thing ever," says Tysver.

Tysver didn't use the drug for another six months. She was afraid of the crash she experienced after the drug wore off. But she says, "Not a day passed that I didn't think about it."

Meth was readily available in Fergus Falls, even more so than pot or alcohol. Her older sister used, her friends used, her friends' parents used.

But when she finally used meth again, she didn't look back.

By her junior year in high school, Tysver was using meth everyday -- snorting it, smoking it and sometimes taking it in capsules.

Crossing Boundaries

Laurie Mullen, the director of the Western Area City County Cooperative (WACCO), an organization in west-central Minnesota that coordinates with law enforcement, social service agencies and other government groups, works with Hattie and dozens of teens like her.

In the past four years, Mullen says she has seen methamphetamine use explode in the mostly rural towns that WACCO covers. Social service caseloads, incarceration rates and treatment referrals have gone up significantly in the area since meth became popular, she said.

"I really feel that meth is different than other drugs," Mullen says. Besides what she calls the "psychotic paranoia" it induces in users, she says it's a drug that has crossed age, gender and socioeconomic boundaries.

One of WACCO's programs sends recovering meth addicts into local high schools to talk to other kids about the drug's dangers and the progression from casual user to full-blown addict. Mullen says that school officials and parents were initially wary of talking about the drug at all.

"There's such a stigma with meth," she said. "Before it was like pushing a rock uphill. But at this point, everybody's been touched by it. ... It's that jock and academic achiever that's using."

Betrayed by the Drug

Tysver said that after months of heavy meth use, she wasn't even getting high anymore -- just jittery and paranoid.

"I felt betrayed by this thing that totally consumed me," she said.

Tysver eventually got clean on Valentine's Day 2003 when she attended a Christian youth gathering and hasn't used meth since. Though she never went to treatment, she changed everything she did, including breaking up with her drug dealer boyfriend and dropping her old friends.

Tysver, who now attends a community college near Fergus Falls, believes that the best way to reach young people about the drug is education. But she says her former high school "refused to see there's a problem."

"It will probably take a tragedy to get them to care," she said.

Tysver is also realistic about the "just say no" messages aimed at teens.

"I knew it [meth] was bad, but I didn't care," she said. "You hear all drugs are bad."

That's why she thinks peer-based programs can at least get through to some teens.

"You have to tell people what meth is and what it does and how it can destroy your life," Tysver said. "If I knew it was rat poison and battery acid, I wouldn't have shoved it up my nose."