Embedded in Austin

On the ground in one of Minnesota's meth hot spots

Before long Tina was running around with a whole new group of friends, and palling around with the Inland Empire boys and their crowd. Soon she was staying up for days at a time and falling out of touch with everything else. She began seeing disturbing changes in the people around her, changes she was in no condition to process.

"I remember being at this house one time after I had run away," Tina remembers. "There was this kid who had been up for like two or three weeks straight and he was picking at his nose because he thought there were bugs crawling around in there. He's picked these big, bloody holes in his nostrils, and he finally took a scissors and cut into his nostrils on both sides."

Tina also recalls watching as one of her friends was whittled away by meth. "This guy was one of my good friends," she said. "He was this big guy, buff. All the girls wanted him. But he got involved with the California guys and started using meth. I ran into him at the store one time and he wasn't making any sense. He was really skinny, just a total skeleton, and I sort of realized how messed up it all was."

Tina said she's trying to get her old life back, and to regain the trust of her mother, but it's not so easy. "Right now it's still kind of hard," she said. "This is a small town and all these people are still around, and meth's still around. My old friends have been really supportive, and teachers and counselors try to understand, but they still don't really get it. I don't know yet what's going to happen. I've been through a lot, more than most people probably go through in their whole life. I can't tell if that part of my life is over, or if my life is just over, period. I'd like to be a chef, though, or I want to deliver babies. I watch these shows on TV all the time and I just think it would be cool to bring kids into the world."

 

Terese Amazi of Mower County is the first woman sheriff ever elected in Minnesota. She's only been on the job for a few months, but has been with the department for 15 years. When I stop by her office she's playing fetch with Tia, an amiable and rambunctious drug-sniffing dog that lives with her and her family. Tia is trained to detect coke, crack, marijuana, mushrooms, heroin, and meth, and Amazi keeps her pretty busy these days.

Amazi is married to an Austin cop, and she has a lot of experience with drug enforcement, and meth in particular. She started her career doing undercover drug work. "My first day on the job I did an undercover marijuana buy," she said. Amazi took office with a mandate to address the county's meth problem, and she's already taken an active role in tracking down and prosecuting offenders while also coordinating an aggressive education program in local communities and schools. She is also working with Austin Representative Jeff Anderson to pass a state precursor law that would make it a crime to possess one or more common meth ingredients with intent to manufacture. As things now stand in the state, law enforcement can pull over a driver in possession of substantial quantities of cold capsules, white gas, and lithium strips, and yet have no legal grounds for arrest or confiscation.

"We're also working with area merchants to get ephedrine products locked up behind the counter," she said. "We've had good luck with the locally owned businesses, but the bigger corporations like Target and K-Mart have been resistant, which is frustrating."

Amazi is quick to point out the perils of meth use and production for cookers, users, and law enforcement alike. "It's not like anything else," she said. "This is not speed. It's not even the same meth of 20 years ago. And you can chip away at the production and distribution of it, but that doesn't address the demand, and where there's demand there's always going to be somebody else waiting in the wings to come in and make a profit."

There's also the issue of the drug's effects and highly addictive nature.

"It's such an unpredictable drug," Amazi said. "People get seriously goofy on it, and there's no telling what they'll do. We have to be prepared for just about anything." She tells the story of one cooker whose house caught fire--so he and his pals loaded a burning sofa into the back of a truck and tore off down the highway. "They obviously didn't exactly have any sort of plan in mind," she said. And then there was the kid who, roaring on meth, kicked his mother out of the car as they were driving on the freeway. After he was arrested he kicked out the window in a moving squad car and dove out onto the pavement, breaking all the bones in his face. "He didn't even realize what he had done until he woke up in intensive care," Amazi said.

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