Members of the No More Meth Task Force presented another panel discussion last week at the Pride Center, but attendance was sparse.
“I’m always surprised at how few people attend,” said Michael Rohrs, a task force member.
Kevin Strouf, a fellow task force member, agreed and added, “the people who need to hear this are not here because they are addicts.”
Strouf, 52, again shared his story of addiction and how methamphetamine destroyed his life. He was joined on the panel by Dr. Jim Hall, an epidemiologist, who reasserted his position that America’s meth problem is reaching “epidemic proportions.”
Other panel speakers were Dr. David Fawcett, a mental health counselor, Care Resources M.D. Steven Santiago and legal expert Howard Finkelstein.
They all agreed, methamphetamine causes big problems.
“It’s highly toxic to your brain,” Fawcett said. “It’s causing a lot of destruction to the brain.”
In sexual terms, Fawcett said meth makes its users, “horny as hell.” He added, “There’s no impulse control.”
During the two-hour program, audience members heard from Strouf, who admitted to being a longtime user of what is commonly referred to as Crystal Meth.
“I felt invincible,” said Strouf as he described his “Tina” lifestyle. “And the sex that came with it was incredible.”
Living in Orlando at the time, Strouf said his life eventually took a downward spiral and he lost his job as a regional manager for Best Buy, fell out of touch with his family and was arrested.
“This drug took me to the darkest points I’ve ever been in my life,” Strouf said.
Hall said the drug originates in Mexico and primarily is a problem in the western United States. He said Atlanta is the hub for distribution in the eastern United States and called those who go out to collect the pseudoephedrine (an ingredient in Sudafed), a key component in the manufacture of methamphetamine, “Smurfs.”
New users, Dr. Hall said, run the risk of becoming psychotic in a short period of time due to meth’s potency.
A crowd of just over 30 people gathered inside Pride Center’s John C. Graves community room, to hear the horrible stories associated with methamphetamine use.
Fawcett told the audience that even after someone kicks the habit, there is an adjustment period.
“When someone gets off meth, their sex life goes with it,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to recapture. The big challenge is to reintroduce that in a safe away.”
Practicing safe sex is vital, said Santiago, noting the rise of sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis in South Florida.
“The increased rates in syphilis are strongly believed to be tied to the crystal meth epidemic,” he said.
Santiago also noted the ingredients in crystal meth can have an adverse effect on HIV medications and can actually strengthen the virus while weakening the body’s immune system.
Those seeking help do have hope. Support groups meet weekly at the Pride Center and NoMoreMeth.org is an organization dedicated to educating and empowering people while eradicating crystal meth from the gay community. Finkelstein, a public defender, spoke of his time representing men who were promiscuous during the early days of the AIDS crisis. He warned that meth use in the gay community is a “perfect storm” that would produce another plague.
“The gay community has come so far in terms of rights and respectability, but let me tell you, this will take you back and erase all of your gains,” Finkelstein said.
According to police data, in Fort Lauderdale, arrests for Meth doubled in 2014, while 22 kilograms were seized in Broward County alone with a street value of $5 million. Hall cited national statistics from forensic labs at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that showed 52 kilos of meth were confiscated in Miami-Dade and Broward County last year.
Hall also warned of the rise of a new brand drug called “flakka” which is a mix of meth, cocaine and heroin.
Those caught with meth by police face stiff penalties, said Finkelstein, with even a small amount carrying a third degree felony charge. An individual with 14 grams or more is also looking at felony trafficking charges. Those with more than 200 grams can expect a 30-year prison sentence with a mandatory 15 years of time served.