Havre Daily News
About 500 people gathered in the Havre High School auditorium Tuesday night to learn more about the methamphetamine problem that is sweeping the state and how it affects them.
The group watched "Crank: Made in America," a brutally frank HBO documentary about the drug and its effects, then heard equally brutal assessments from two law enforcement officials about the drug's impact in Montana.
Tri-Agency Drug Task Force lead agent Shane Haberlock said the Hi-Line is far from immune to the problem.
"I've worked all over Montana, and Havre is no different," he said. "You guys have just as big a problem as anyone else. (The task force) is doing more meth cases than marijuana cases right now.
"If affects everybody - there's no certain race, no certain age, no certain social status. The methamphetamine problem affects everyone in this room in one way or another."
Two former meth addicts who attended the program, Jeff Mosbrucker and Jodi Downhour, said after the presentation that more people need to realize how big the problem is in Havre.
"We need to get this information out there," Mosbrucker said. "It's a bigger problem than anyone can imagine. It affects everybody in town."
"Both of us know about this problem because we've been there," Downhour agreed. "It isn't easy to get clean, to stay clean." Both have been clean for more than two years.
Plenty of facts and figures were presented Tuesday night, but perhaps the most unsettling part of the event was the movie. It documented the lives of several groups of addicts in Iowa: a couple who had been using meth together for decades and couldn't stop; a mother who snorted meth with her grown children - and had a son in jail; and a young father who had to smoke it "one more time" 36 hours after the birth of his child.
"Crank: Made in America" took the viewers inside these peoples' lives. It also featured interviews with doctors and scientists who discussed the history of the drug and its effects on the brain and body. Law enforcement agents spoke about the labs where it's made. The film depicted graphic images of the drug's effects, including dead bodies found at a lab site, victims burned in lab explosions, and a sequence that showed meth turning one young woman's face into a haggard, ghostly visage over the course of a decade.
Before the documentary was shown, David Smith, a field specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Information Center, which collects information on drug use for the federal government and distributes it to the general public, took the stage at Havre High and spoke about the growth of meth use in the United States and in Montana.
"Methamphetamine is progressively taking over as a drug problem in the United States," Smith said. "Montana has been taken over by meth. ... Use is prevalent in the western U.S. It's a real problem. It's the poor man's answer to more expensive drugs" like heroin and cocaine.
Meth is shipped in from Washington state, Mexico and the Southwestern states, but Montanans are no strangers to making it. In 1998, fewer than five labs were seized in the state. By 2002, that number had risen to more than 80. In that year, more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars were used for lab cleanups.
Almost 95 percent of violent crimes and 89 percent of property crimes in the state are meth-related, Smith said. According to the Montana Child and Family Services Division, the drug was a factor in 75 percent of all child abuse cases in 2002.
Meth is a big problem in Montana and looks to continue to be one in the near future, Smith said.
Haberlock spoke about the appearance and behavior of people who are on the drug. It can cause irritability, aggressiveness, anxiousness, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Chronic users often lose weight and have bad teeth, body odor, advanced aging and open sores.
He also showed dozens of photos of labs and the chemicals used to make the drug.
"Just about everybody has enough chemicals at their house to make meth," Haberlock said. He agreed with a statement in the documentary: "It's as easy as making cookies." Haberlock learned how to make the drug as a part of his training, he said.
Labs can be found in homes, apartments, sheds, campers, garages, storage units and vehicles. Meth manufacture creates a large amount of hazardous waste, and the materials cost money to clean up. Haberlock said the cost of a lab cleanup varies according to the size but is generally around $4,000 in and around Havre.
Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson, who put the presentation together, said she hopes people take home the information they learned and return for the next event, to be held May 3 at the Havre High School auditorium.
She was very happy with the Tuesday's turnout.
"It was fantastic," Peterson said. "When I talk to people in other areas, they have 15 or 20 people show up for something like this. This shows me what a great community we have here."
Mosbrucker and Downhour said they have been asked to share their experiences at the next presentation.
Audience member Bev Hagen said the presentation had an effect on her.
"I thought it was extremely graphic and disturbing, but I thought it was real information. Sometimes I think as parents we shelter our kids from that, but they need to know this," Hagen said.
Clinical counselor Ellen Savage Cole said the movie and the speakers told it like it is.
"It was excellent," she said. "I thought it was very powerful." She has worked with some teenagers who have dealt with meth problems. "One thing the movie pointed out that people don't realize is how many kids use it with their parents. The whole family will be doing it together. Teens are not necessarily getting it from their peers."
Cathy Dahle said she couldn't believe people would risk their lives taking a drug so full of toxic chemicals. Her husband, Michael, said the couple will bring their 8-year-old son to the next presentation.
"I want him to hear it from people that have been on it," he said. "What a devastating thing for families. So many people get dragged into it. It's horrible. It shouldn't happen."