Mar 042003
Authors: Nicole Davis

He stands in the center of the courtroom with his lawyer by his side, listening silently as the people around him discuss his past, and his future.

A woman stands and explains in a flat voice that Timothy Lee Hackbarth was pulled over for a traffic violation in Fort Collins in October of 2001 and found with three pieces of drug paraphernalia, one of which had resin in it that tested positive for methamphetamine.

The rows of empty wooden benches that line the back of the courtroom are silent witnesses, a reflection of how common and un-noteworthy meth cases like Tim’s have become. Judge Arnaud Newton of the Fort Collins Drug Court sees them every day.

Tim nods simply, his brown goatee dipping downward, as Judge Newton tells him that he will have three years of probation, random drug tests for three months and $4,000 in fines, but no jail time.

For Judge Newton, this is just one of hundreds of meth convictions doled out over the past two years, but for Tim this hearing is a second felony, an even harsher blow to his future.

“Having two felonies puts a damper on trying to find a job,” he said. “I used to want to go into the military, but now I can’t. I like to hunt, but I can’t own a gun.”

The hand of meth is far-reaching and strong, affecting many people just like Tim. It touches people of every economic status, living in urban or rural areas, and grabs onto anyone looking for an emotional escape.

This factor, combined with meth’s highly addictive qualities and easy accessibility, has led Gov. Bill Owens to call it a “law enforcement crisis.” The dangerous stimulant is rapidly infiltrating the west, and Colorado, hitting rural areas the hardest.

In 2001, 452 meth labs were found and shut down in Colorado, an increase of 300 from 1999, according to the North Metro Task Force. Newton said that meth is by far the biggest problem he faces in drug court, worse than cocaine or marijuana.

“From what I understand if you shoot (meth) it is a rush like heroin. If you snort it, you get a sense of well-being and euphoria,” said Newton. “That’s why people do it. It makes you feel better, smarter, stronger, faster. It’s an easy thing for people to fall into. They get so that’s their life.”

Tim, who took meth intravenously, said that the high is almost instantaneous.

“It’s really, really, really intense,” he said. “The first couple of times you can reach orgasm. There’s ringing in your ears, your body gets warm. It’s an instant rush.”

At 23, meth has been more than just a part of Tim’s life; it has defined who he is for the past five years. He has already experienced the harsh reality of methamphetamine addiction, and recovery, not to mention the legal and mental consequences.

“When I was 18, living in San Francisco, I had a severe meth addiction … it was just the thing to do,” Tim said. “I was homeless and instead of dealing with my problems, it gave me something else to focus on.”

Like so many other meth users before him, Tim’s addiction pulled him in deeper and deeper.

“When you are homeless and a meth addict, pretty much the only way to continue getting drugs is to sell them,” he said.

And that’s what Tim did, until one of his regular buyers brought along a friend who turned out to be an undercover cop, and he received his first felony for distribution of methamphetamine. The possession charges, for which he was in court Friday, marked his second felony as a result of meth use.

Unlike drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, which are generally imported from countries such as Mexico, meth can be concocted by anyone who has access to Sudafed, battery acid and the Internet.

“Anybody can get a recipe off the Internet and blow themselves up,” said Greg Lammons, the screening deputy for the Fort Collins District Attorney’s office. “It’s an availability issue.”

In an attempt to stifle meth production, Owens signed two bills in June 2002 that make it illegal to possess the supplies, equipment or chemicals commonly used to make meth, and make it a felony to stockpile large quantities of these meth “precursors” with the intent to manufacture the drug.

“If you go into a store and buy one pack of Sudafed, that’s not a problem, but if you buy 150 packs, we think that’s a problem unless you have a terrible cold,” Lammons said.

Owens is currently considering a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate and the House, which will change the definition of child abuse in the Colorado Children’s Code to include any case where meth is produced with a child present.

Child abuse and neglect are among the highest casualties of meth use, said Lilias Jarding, community development specialist for the CSU Cooperative Extension.

“Meth is what we call a ‘walk-away drug,'” she said. “People who get hooked on this drug just walk away from their work and family.”

Like many stimulants, meth produces pleasurable feelings initially but sleeplessness, anger and depression soon follow as the drug’s effects begin to fade. Users, desperate to get the euphoric feeling again, use the drug more and more.

Pam McCracken, Director of the CSU Drug and Alcohol Education Center, said that the body can build up a tolerance to meth much faster than other drugs, so dependencies are created more rapidly.

Severe paranoia, weeks of insomnia, permanent mental disabilities and other side effects accompany meth addiction.

“When you’re on meth, everyone is a cop,” Tim said. “One time I was high and I saw this regular black van with sliding doors dropping someone off, and I was just sure it was the DEA. I grabbed a bike nearby, I don’t even know whose it was, and just took off. I hid in a bush across town for 18 hours.”

Along with paranoia and fear, which are constant companions of meth, Tim sometimes would go three and a half weeks without sleeping.

“I’ve had friends who had to go the hospital because they were awake so long and so dehydrated that their blood began to coagulate and separate in their veins,” he said.

Tim was able to break his addiction on his own, but he said it wasn’t easy.

“There was a lot of learning how to be a person again,” he said. “When I was on meth, I was either really emotionally detached or overemotional. I really just had to turn the addiction off.”

Tim’s relative success at recovery is rare. According to the Koch Crime Institute, numerous drug treatment providers said that meth abusers are the hardest to treat, and relapse is common.

Tim has now moved to Loveland, where he works as a cook at a local restaurant, and describes himself as only an occasional user. In fact, the drug paraphernalia that he was caught with in 2001 wasn’t even his own; the pieces were on loan from one of his friends.

But meth has forever changed his life. He has trouble remembering small events from day to day, and has noticed that he is not able to perform as well as he used to on higher-level cognitive tasks.

“(Meth) has made me who I am,” he said. “I wouldn’t go and change any of it. Although I would like to avoid the negative consequences, I would never want to trade experience for inexperience. But I think I’m really done with it this time. I’ve decided that I like sleep too much.”

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