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When students return to the classroom educators will be on the look out for an old enemy sporting a new wardrobe and a fresh clientele. Best known by her multiple aliases 'dark crystal', 'Windex' 'girl', 'glass' or 'ice&', she is crystal meth or methamphetamine.
The so-called designer drug crystal meth is a more refined version of the 1960's drug that can sell for up to $200 a gram. School security officers nationwide say they've seen a dramatic increase in meth use among teens especially Black and Hispanic teens.
"It's easy to get, it's easy to make, it's easy to conceal," says Cami Berry, director of the Safe Schools Unit in the Riverside County Office of Education.
Berry a veteran educator and former drug treatment director says school officers are trained to deal with drugs and drug users, but meth presents a new challenge. "We can identify a kid using alcohol. The breath and the behavior are warning signs. We can spot a kid on marijuana a mile away. The odor sticks to clothes, skin and even, books." Berry says with meth the warning signs are vague and users are often identified late.
"We call it 'Windex' and say "want to get clean?" as code for getting high."
16 year-old Mika tugs at the gold medallion draped over her pink 'Baby Phat' tee-shirt. "his medallion helped save me from the nightmare of crystal meth, said Mika. It reads: 'Jesus Loves Me' Drugs Don't".
According to fresh U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency statistics, the meth market for teens, once tiny, is getting crowded fast. Not yet the campus drug of choice DEA records show meth accounts for just under 4% of the illegal drugs identified on school campuses compared with 70% of students who use alcohol and 39 percent who admit to smoking pot. Berry worries, "Those meth filled plastic bags are showing up all over."
Mika a former Riverside middle school student dispels the myth that meth known as speed is the drug of choice for white middle and upper class teens. Mika is Black. Her parents are well educated. Their combined annual income exceeds $200,000. Mika's brother is a law enforcement officer.
Mika, agreed to talk about her meth addiction on the condition that her real name not be used. She started using meth when she was 13 while living in the San Fernando Valley. Her best friend - a girl Mika admired for being pretty and skinny - was using it. The drug quickly carved 17 pounds from her then overweight torso and banished Mika's feelings of low self esteem and insecurity.
"It makes you feel like you can conquer the world and definitely more mature," she said. The teen remembers wearing itty bitty tank tops, mini mini skirts and other revealing garments. "I felt sexy like I fit into them when I was high." Mika said, dark crystal meth, known as 'fox fire' is a big hit with overweight girls."
Meka remembers her first 'hit'. "We were smoking from a meth pipe at my girlfriend's birthday party. The rush was awesome. The music was pounding. We were dirty dancing. The guys were all over us. Our bodies were on fire." Mika quickly became hooked. "All my troubles faded away. But I still functioned normally." Mika says her parents never suspected drug use until she ended up in an emergency room with an overdose. "We were shocked beyond belief recalls her mother. It was our worst nightmare." She says even after lab tests confirmed Mika's addiction the family was slow to come to terms with her problem.
"Meth is cleaner, harder to detect and some speeding kids function normally." It's a challenge many of us aren't up to speed with says drug treatment counselor and former LAPD officer Mike Moffat. "Meth users are getting younger. The drug is finding favor with more Black and Hispanic teens. Users are generally aggressive and can quickly turn violent. People on meth are very paranoid. They think everybody is watching. Addicts can look like they haven't slept for days. Binge users can be very dangerous," says Moffat.
Moffat says the huge explosion of meth labs in rural and now urban neighborhoods make containing meth production more elusive. "They are all over. They're portable and highly profitable. You can pop them up real quick, cook up a batch and they're gone in no time."
Recipes for meth vary but they all start with over the-counter-cold medicine (now under stricter FDA control). The pills are crushed then mixed with various acids and solvents. The process is called 'cooking.'
Mika has been clean for 18 months thanks to aggressive treatment, and the commitment she wears around her ebony neck. "When I get the urge I tug on it. I remember what meth does to you. It's like a noose around your neck."
Cami Berry says while meth remains a step child to alcohol and marijuana, it presents a more daunting challenge. "Methamphetamine scares people. It's extremely addictive. It's harder to detect." She says, the unpredictable, outrageous behavior of meth traffickers and users combined with the drug's growing popularity make for a lethal combination. "Think of the potential security risk to our schools, but more importantly the human cost facing our children."
Mika says she's lucky. Her family never gave up on her. She says staying clean is hard work, but she has the future to work toward. Now an honor student attending private school, Mika's sights are set on becoming a drug treatment counselor. She tugs on her medallion and recalls a line from a poem she wrote. Crown of Thorns: "Why did you pour your fire so quickly, over my life's young leaves? What lapse in humanity showed you where I live? How did you come to conquer my tender soul?"