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Meth Use Continues To Grow In Shadow Of Opioid Epidemic

Lisa Livingston helped found The Breakaway, a drug recovery home for women, after her 2013 arrest. (James Vavrek, WTIU/WFIU News)

Lisa Livingston never intended for meth to control her life.

“The first time I got introduced to it, it was just because it was the cool thing to do,” she says. “Everybody else was doing it at a party, and I was like ‘ya know, I’ll try it.’”

Livingston says her use started as recreation but quickly evolved into an addiction. She says she wanted to stop, but reached a breaking point in 2013.

“I started getting deathly sick, because I used methamphetamine every day from 2012 until 2013, every day,” she says. “[My] body was shutting down because I was to the point where I couldn’t even get high again to function. I was lying in bed deathly sick right before I got arrested.”

Her arrest would serve as a wake-up call. Livingston turned her life around after a series of stints in jails and rehab facilities. She would eventually sober up and found a drug recovery home for women in southern Indiana.

She spoke to us a couple of weeks ago from the home she founded called The Breakaway. But looming large over our meeting was her pending court appearance to face charges from her 2013 arrest.

Livingston was hopeful her actions would prove she had beaten drug addiction and escaped its vicious cycle. But she was sentenced to 30 years in prison on March 12.

Livingston isn’t alone. The Department of Correction says one in three Hoosiers residing in state prisons are battling addiction to methamphetamine.

State laws have made it harder to obtain the ingredients people need to make meth—particularly pseudoephedrine. But police say that hasn’t stopped the problem, it just changed how people are finding their highs.

For one, labs are smaller now. A state police detective found a plastic bag used as a lab on the side of a gravel road outside of North Vernon.

Indiana State Police Detective, Brent Miller, disassembles a meth lab outside of North Vernon, IN. (Steve Burns- WTIU/WFIU)

And a new pipeline for getting meth is also taking hold.

Greg Westfall is the Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Indianapolis Office. He says meth is flooding into the United States from cartels south of the border.

“They could manufacture methamphetamine stronger, cheaper, and get it into the United States for a much larger profit,” Westfall says.

He says much of the meth in Indiana comes from drug Cartels in central Mexico.

“They commonly cross the border with their product through vehicles, hidden compartments in vehicles, they body carry it, they smuggle it across in backpacks.”

Once meth enters the U.S., it spiders throughout the country, eventually into the hands of local dealers.

Police have no idea how much meth is entering the United States through the border, but they know the number is higher than the 90,000 pounds the DEA seized in 2017.  That’s worth millions of dollars on the street.

The map above shows the percent change of meth seizures from 2015 to 2016 along Mexican border stations. (DEA and US Customs and Border Protection)

However, none of the officers WFIU/WTIU spoke to believe President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall would have a large effect on the amount of methamphetamine, or other drugs, entering the United States.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” says Indiana State Police Detective Chip Ayers. “We do one thing, they take counter measures. We do something else, they take counter measures. It’s a constant back and forth thing.”

Police say it’s a matter of supply and demand.

“The demand is not going to go away and something is going to have to fill that void,” says ISP Detective Brent Miller. “Is it going to be another drug? I don’t think so. They’re just going to go back to doing what they were doing before in Indiana which is just cooking a lot of methamphetamine.”

Ayers and Miller hope there’s something that can begin to address the systematic issues that contribute to drug abuse and addiction. They realize there’s only so much law enforcement and policing can do.

They say community support and mental health resources are vital to ensuring people stay sober.

Miller says the place where one is arrested can have a significant impact on their chances of beating drug addiction.

“It depends on what county you’re in,” Miller says. “Some counties have drug court where users can get their sentences modified and they have all kinds of programs and stuff for them to do, some counties have that and some counties don’t.”

Co-workers will help keep the home Livingston formed operational. (James Vaverick- WTIU/WFIU)

Livingston recognized the need when she started the Breakaway in Orange County.  That’s why she wiped out much of her savings to get it going.

“I’m from a small Indiana county, and there wasn’t a lot,” she says.  “There was a meeting with four old guys that talk about alcohol. I would go there and I was like ‘I can’t relate to them.'”

She says she would stay clean for a short time, but would quickly relapse.

“I’ll tell you, the only reason why I quit using for a lot of years is because I didn’t have the resources to find it,” she says.

Livingston’s drug rehab center will continue to operate while she’s serving her sentence.

“I couldn’t take it to jury trial because I’m guilty,” Livingston says. “I told on myself that day, I don’t regret what happened that day, because I wouldn’t be here today if that didn’t happen. I’m not mad at nobody, I know the county needs to do what they feel is right. I’m okay with the outcome.”

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