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Meth is still a big problem in Crow Wing County

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Crystal. Ice. Crank. Dope. Glass. Tik. Meth by any name is dangerously addictive and according to area law enforcement, still a big problem in Crow Wing County.

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“Right now, unfortunately, there is more use in this community now than I’ve seen in 25 years of working here,” said Sgt. Joe Meyer of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department.

Meyer leads Crow Wing County’s Lake Area Drug Investigative Division (LADID).

LADID, a multijurisdictional task force, was established in 2001 as an effort to investigate and enforce narcotic use in Crow Wing County. Meyer was assigned to LADID in 2007.

“Crow Wing County is unique because it has a structured, dedicated task force,” said Meyer. “We take this problem very seriously.”

When meth first showed up in Crow Wing County, it was being produced in home labs.

“Labs used to be very common,” Meyer said. “One would get taken out and it seems more would just pop up in its place.”

Crow Wing County law enforcement agencies have had success in taking out major drug rings in their area, taking some cases as far as federal indictment.

“We’ve been very aggressive,” Meyer said.

Methamphetamine use in Crow Wing County has changed, and Meyer said that change has not been for the better. “It seems to be about the only way to kind of get a grip is by putting them in jail for as long as possible,” Meyer said.

Despite their best efforts, area law enforcement agencies continue to battle with the vast use and availability of meth within the county. While it was once being produced in the area in small amounts, meth is now being brought into the community en masse from manufacturers as far away as the West Coast and Mexico.

Meyer said 97 percent of the methamphetamine bought and sold in Crow Wing County is referred to as ‘crystal meth’ — in its solid form it appears like actual glass or ice crystals. Users typically smoke the drug, but sometimes snort it. Heavy users often inject the drug intravenously. Like other illicit drugs, meth is extremely addictive.

Those who use meth find a short-term high, but once their sense of euphoria wears off a life-long battle with physiological and psychological dependence occurs. Meyer said he doesn’t have an answer for what makes people try meth for the first time.

““I don’t know,” he said. “But I think if they could, 90 percent would quit in a heartbeat.”

The first time Jon Solheim used meth it was at a friend’s bachelor party. Solheim was 20.

He was a college student with good grades, and a basketball scholarship at Bemidji State University. “I was a good kid,” Solheim said. “I came from a good family, was a good student. I went to church — this can happen at anytime, to anyone.”

Solheim, now 35, said his first experience with meth led to an intense high and lasting insomnia — he found himself awake for five days straight with incredible energy. “I couldn’t believe I’d found this thing that worked this great and I didn’t know about it before,” Solheim said. ”There is also something very perverse, very dark about it.”

Within two months Solheim found himself hopelessly addicted. He said he tried to quit, but every time he did he faced such deep depression he found himself using again — each time a little more.

“Eventually it just took over,” he said.

He was shooting meth intravenously and soon found himself selling.

“They need someone to do their dirty work for them,” Solheim said of the sellers he worked for. “I would have to sell a certain amount to keep my habit going.”

Solheim said he used for more than eight years, unable to maintain employment, spending time in jail, in and out of treatment, and even committed to psych ward.

In 2008, he found out he was going to be a father and that was a turning point in his addiction. “I wanted to be sober for him,” Solheim said of his son. “I wanted to be a good dad.”

Solheim said he enrolled in school again, started making good grades and he and his baby’s mother, who he did not name, did their best to stay clean, but it didn’t last.

“We tried to stay sober,” Solheim said. “We thought we could do it. I ended up doing it harder than I’d ever done before.”

Solheim’s addiction took him down a dark path into all kinds of other crimes. He lied. He cheated. He stole. He stole copper to sell so he could afford his meth. He even stole from his family.

“They wouldn’t even let me around,” Solheim said. “It just tore them apart.”

Solheim said he was so withdrawn, he only attended family functions he knew he would benefit from, going as far as trading Christmas gifts for meth. “I had no interest in anything other than ways to get meth. Ways to do meth,” he said.

Solheim’s habit took everything from him. Including his freedom.

In 2010, he was arrested, facing charges of first-degree sale of methamphetamine — charges that typically come with a mandatory prison sentence.

“I’m grateful now,” he said. “That was the thing it took for me to realize I could never get out of it on my own.”

Solheim said he pled with the court to allow him to go to treatment in lieu of prison. On the day he could have been put away for a very long time Solheim was faced with a second chance.

Instead of serving time, Solheim spent 13 months in northern Minnesota’s Teen Challenge Program.

“This is what I needed to get free from this,” Solheim said.

In April, Solheim will celebrate three years of sobriety — the longest period of sobriety he’s found in more than 15 years since he started using. Something, he said, he never could have achieved on his own. Solheim said he has maintained sobriety from anything that might lead him back down the road of addiction.

“The temptation is not going back to the big stuff — it’s the little compromises,” he said. “Maybe there are some people who can have a social drink after getting out of that lifestyle — I just know where that road will lead for me.”

Solheim now works for Teen Challenge as part of the Brainerd program’s staff. He works with men, like himself, who are doing their best to find freedom from addiction.

Solheim has restored his relationship with his family, including his 4-year-old son. “It took a long time.,” he said. “That time lost with them is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with.”

Situations like Jon’s are not typical.

“In my experience I’ve known a handful who have been successful,” Meyer said. “Unless they’re willing to change their lifestyle, in many cases their friends, even family, it can be very difficult.”

Meyer said he often sees people successfully complete programs, like Jon did, and return to the same environment and eventually relapse.

“It’s powerful stuff,” he said.

Methamphetamine use is the most difficult addiction to break when it comes to drug abuse. Meyer said some statistics show recovery rates at a dismal six percent.

“Unfortunately there’s a lot a recidivism,” he said “It’s a lifelong addiction.”

Meyer said with the presence of meth within Crow Wing County coming close to a decade long, area law enforcement are starting to see generational use of the drug. “Trying to break the cycle is difficult, he said. “Parents have been in the system for meth use and ten years later we’re starting to see some of the kids.”

Crow Wing County Adult Services supervisor Tammy Lueck said help is available, but seeking it depends on the understanding that treatment isn’t a quick fix.

“Chemical dependency addiction is no different than other physical lifelong ailments that someone may have,” Lueck said. “It’s something that they have to continue to work on and treat everyday.”

Besides the physical and psychological grip meth has on its users, meth use can hold an entire community hostage.

“Most people can say they are affected by meth either directly or indirectly,” said Meyer who sees an onslaught of other crimes associated with meth use including theft, assault, robbery, and in many cases solicitation.

“If they are desperate enough, meth users will do whatever it takes to get their hands on more,” he said. “When the money runs out they find other ways.”

Lueck said, as of 2011, treatment sought for meth addiction in Crow Wing County is second only to alcohol and she expects the number will only increase as 2012 statistics become available.

“I have a hard time believing it won’t,” she said.

Despite the grim statistics, Meyer said area law enforcement personnel remain hopeful they can make a dent.

“Once in a while there is a success story and that lights a fire under you to keep you going,” Meyer said. “The one thing we want to do is make a difference in this community — make it safe for children and families.

“Do I feel like throwing in the towel sometimes? Yes. This work, at times, is a thankless job.

But you can’t let this drug run rampant in any community. We have no intentions of letting it.”

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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