Friday, February 11, 2005

Unnecessary Epidemic - Methamphetamine Part 5

This is part five of the series which ran in the Oregonian newspaper last year. I have decided to publish the faces of Meth users to illustrate that these public policy discussions have human outcomes. These souls may be our fathers, mothers, daughters and/or sons.

If you would like to write your Congressman or Congresswoman, Senator, or the President regarding these issues please feel free. I will post easy links to facilitate correspondence.

Write your Representative here.

Write the President and U.S. Senators from here.

Child of the epidemic

Her mother's addiction to meth, which began before MaKayla Harris' birth, ruptures her family and leaves a void at the heart of a Coos Bay girlhood

Thursday, October 07, 2004

NORTH BEND - The day her mother vanished again, trading a promising run at sobriety for yet another hit of methamphetamine, 13-year-old MaKayla Harris joined friends at a parking-lot carnival.

She didn't want to think about the magnitude of her mother's fall this time, how close they'd come to reuniting as a family. Mostly, she wanted to forget that this was Mother's Day.

MaKayla remembers scanning the rides. She picked the most frightening: The Zipper. She climbed into one of the steel cages and pulled the padded bar down across her lap. The ride spun like a giant propeller. Her cage whirled and rocked. Beneath her, the coastal community of her childhood blurred.

At first, MaKayla held on, white-knuckled, and screamed. She rode The Zipper more than 15 times that afternoon, coaxing friend after friend aboard with her. Soon, she let her hands hang free.

"At a certain point," she said, "it's not scary anymore."

During MaKayla's lifetime, methamphetamine permeated her hometown on Oregon's southern coast despite concerted efforts by local law enforcement to stop it. Now, in towns and cities throughout the nation, more than 1.3 million people use meth.

MaKayla's 15 years of life span the meth epidemic. Her mother became addicted at its beginning in the late 1980s, and her relapses throughout MaKayla's childhood mimic the rise and fall of the meth trade in the West.

Tens of thousands of children are suffering the consequences. In the worst cases, they endure horrific abuse and die at the hands of their parents. Many more are neglected while their parents get high, too distracted to attend to them. And they shuttle between relatives and foster care, competing for their parents' affection against a cheap and plentiful drug, each time hoping that a child's love will prevail.

It rarely does.

MaKayla's life was filled with broken promises. Over and over, her mother vowed to stay clean, only to retreat to the drug, then to flophouses or jail. MaKayla's little brothers disappeared to foster care -- and emerged in her troubling dreams.

MaKayla found shelter and comfort with her grandparents, Albert and Patricia Muse. Over the years, she persevered by combining a young girl's strong will with a stubborn faith in her mother.

But as she grew older, that faith also threatened to hinder her. Spinning on the carnival ride in the spring of 2003, MaKayla struggled to let go of her hopes for her mother and brace for a future on her own.

A tenuous childhood

MaKayla Harris was born Aug. 30, 1989, with big hazel eyes and a squeak for a cry.

Her 27-year-old mother, Debbie Harris, looked down at her firstborn with relief. MaKayla was healthy.

Debbie had become pregnant with MaKayla after more than a year of injecting methamphetamine. She didn't know at the time who the father was. When Debbie was arrested on drug charges five months into the pregnancy, an alarmed child welfare worker made a note in Debbie's file: "We need to gain custody of that child due to her serious meth problem."

But Debbie cleaned up in jail and was released early. She finished out her pregnancy at her parents' aging blue ranch home in North Bend. Debbie was raised in that home. Smart and popular with curling-ironed blond bangs, she used to spend afternoons riding dirt bikes with her friends on the sand dunes nearby.

She married right out of high school, wanting to re-create the stable family life that her millworker father and homemaker mother had made for her and her siblings. But when she was 24, her husband suddenly left.

Debbie recalled seeking solace in local bars. Friends showed her how to tighten her shirt sleeve, jab a needle into a vein and plunge in a hit of meth. Debbie felt a rush of euphoria. Her insecurities slipped away. She felt like superwoman. She was hooked.

Addiction quickly overtook her, and now, Debbie hoped MaKayla's birth would be a turning point. She qualified for welfare and moved with MaKayla from her parents' home into a subsidized apartment.

Yet before long, Debbie left her infant daughter with sitters while she drank at Gussie's Saloon. Early in 1991, Debbie met Morgan Vick there. She was 29. He was a blue-eyed 21-year-old with a mellow swagger. They used cocaine together. She returned to meth.

Read the rest here.

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