Addicted to Crystal Meth!

Manzanillo's drug problems and what we can do about it

by Susan Dearing

A gripping, true story about a young boy from Salahua, and his fall into drug addition--and why there is hope for others.

Juan Carlos was 16 years old when he met Maria Luisa at her Quinceañera  (15th birthday coming out party), and he was instantly smitten. Not only was she beautiful, with a lovely figure, but in her stunning strapless taffeta dress and string of pearls from her grandmother, he knew immediately she was THE ONE for him.

They danced time after time during the party, and when Juan's older brother, Antonio passed him a beer, he slugged it down to boost his courage. It tasted terrible, and it was his first experience with alcohol, unlike his brother, who started tipping brews at age 12, and now at 17, preferred hardcore stuff like tequila.

The beer seemed to relax J.C. a little, so he had another (just to give him the nerve to ask Maria Louisa out the next day). He did and she said yes, and he met her at her parent's door at 8 p.m., after leaving school at 7, then racing home to shower and change.

Young Mexican macho hormones being what they are, J.C. was determined to get her in bed. Still a virgin at 16 (His brother told him how he had lost his virginity at 12!), living with his parents and sharing a bedroom with his older brother made it impossible to do anything at home. Even if his brother was out, which he was almost every night, his sister and parents were always at there. Too young and too poor to have a car, or even a bicycle, where could he take her in his quest for sex?

The beach! After meticulous planning for several weeks, secreting a blanket and some beer he stole from his brother (4 cans!), he put his plan of seduction into action. The young couple caught a bus, and got off near a large vacant lot in Olas Altas. This was the summer, and the beach was deserted. He unearthed the blanket he had secreted there more than a week ago, and opened it pulling out the 4 beers that were still hot from the day's sun.

They shared the beers, washing them down with a Snickers bar, and after a lot of sweet talk ("You love me, don't you honey; do it for me--don't you think we'd make beautiful children together?" and "Just think, we can be together, in our own place, just you and me, and we won't have to listen to our parents tell us what to do anymore." Maria Louisa acquiesced; the deed was done--J.C.'s and Maria's first time--in less than 3 minutes.

Of course, once was not enough, and many more nights of young, carefree passion followed, neither J.C. nor Maria Louisa giving any thought to contraception. First, they had no money, and second, both kids were too embarrassed to ask for condoms at a local store where they'd be seen by everyone.

The inevitable happened, and the baby was due in only 6 more months. When the day came for the young couple to "fess up," they both visited Maria's parents to break the news. Furious and threatening J.C. with death and other things worse, Maria's father, Geraldo, TOLD J.C. what he was going to do next: "You are going to quit school, get a job and marry my daughter!" he snarled threateningly. 

Then it was J.C.'s turn to tell his family. After a crack across the face from his father, suddenly he was homeless, tossed out in the street, with only a few meager belongings. "Don't expect me to help you raise your bastard kid," his father shouted, as J.C. gathered up the few clothes his father had tossed out on the sidewalk, and walked slowly away, head down, hands in the pockets of his old, worn jeans, not knowing what to do next.  

His big brother Antonio, along with several amigos, stood on the street corner trying to hold in their laughter, but motioned to J.C. to come have a shot of tequila with them--then he'd feel better. It was the first time Juan Carlos had gotten drunk--borracho. Suddenly he was with friends, and after passing the bottle around, the evening seemed like a bad dream. Maybe tomorrow, things would be better.

Antonio stumbled down the street to sleep it off in an abandoned lot, using his clothes to fashion a pillow of sorts. He awoke some hours later, violently ill, emptying his stomach contents on the ground. He swore never again, as he held his aching head, trying to blot out the first rays of morning sunlight. With nothing else to do and no where else to go, he ventured back to Maria's house. No one was home but Maria's grandmother, who explained that Maria's padre was at work and Maria and her mother went shopping for some pretty fabric for her wedding dress. Resigned, he waited, while Maria's abuela made him bean tacos, and told him to go take a shower--he couldn't be seen as he was.

When Maria and her mother returned home, the date was set for the boda, where Maria and Juan Carlos would become man and wife--one week from this Saturday. He was to go out and get a job, and the young couple could live with Maria's family temporarily. There was just enough room in the corner of the living room for a mattress on the floor, which they scrounged from a vacant lot, and which J.C. and Maria scrubbed with soap, bleach and water, and put in the sun to dry.

Diligently, J.C. went job hunting, but in Mexico, there isn't much for a 16-year-old boy that didn't finish high school. He finally got a job working a a day laborer/gofer for a small construction company at 50 pesos for a 10-hour day, and 6 hours on Saturday. He also learned that street children could make a lot of money washing car windows at stoplights in town, so after his construction job, he hung out at the signal light in front of Plaza Manzanillo, washing car windows for 2-3 pesos each.

At the end of the first week, he was proud of himself, for he had earned enough money to buy Maria a wedding gift and flowers, and for himself, a new pair of jeans and a nice shirt. Life was looking good again--$300 pesos working as an albañil, and another $350 from washing windows! $65 USD! A killing! More chamba than he'd seen in his life! ¡Mucha chamba!

Maria Louisa and Juan Carlos were married in the Catholic Church in Salahua. Of course there were other expenses, and since J.C.'s family had disowned him, Maria's family bore the brunt of the costs. Of course, there had to be a big reception after the nuptials, and Maria's father paid much of it, telling J.C. that it was a "loan" and J.C. would be obligated to pay it back, since he was the one responsible for this whole mess.

It was a solemn wedding but a grand reception, and Antonio and his friends made sure they came and sampled the booze. "Que pasa, me hermano, you've got one beautiful little chica there!"  Antonio grinned, eyeing Maria up and down boldly. J.C. was more serious than Antonio had ever seen him, and told his brother solemnly, "Yes, she's beautiful, and I'm sure our child will be, too, but I'm not sure I'm ready for this." Antonio just laughed, and said, "Don't worry, the way I hear it, Maria's papá  will make sure you're ready!"

After the wedding, Maria's father Geraldo presented J.C. with a bill of $5,000 pesos for the wedding and reception ($500 USD at the time). Maria's father also explained, that in addition to that debt, he was expected to pay rent, contribute to the food budget, and put the remainder away for when the baby was born. The cost of that was going to be around $8,000 pesos. Geraldo told Juan Carlos he expected at least one week's pay, or $650 pesos for room and board. That left $1,950/month to pay back Geraldo the $5,000 and save for the hospital bill of $8,000, meaning that it would take almost 7 months, and the baby  was due in  6! And that didn't leave anything left over for incidentals, like maybe an ice cream cone on Sunday, or even bus fare.

Day by day, Juan worked hard, and some days, stayed even longer at the stop light, just to try to get a few extra pesos. One day, as he was washing a window of a cool Dodge Ram truck, he glanced inside, and there was Antonio, sitting in the driver's seat, his buddies in the crew cab, passing around José Cuervo. Though the truck wasn't new, it was nice, and, in Juan's eyes, must have cost a bundle. And J.C. had never seen Antonio with a job! "See, ya, bro," Antonio waved as he sped off grinning inanely.  Juan Carlos, depressed, and wondering why his life was going so wrong, when his brother was doing so well, decided to have a mano-a-mano with Antonio very soon.

Time passed, and Maria Louisa had the baby, a boy, and they named him Geraldo Antonio, hoping to please the two grandfathers. J.C.'s family had not been in touch since he was kicked out of the house, and both Maria and Juan hoped that the birth of their new grandson would change things. It didn't.

Now there were diapers and formula to buy, as well as an array of baby things that the baby shower didn't provide. Theirs was a poor neighborhood, so gifts were cheap and insufficient. It was time for J.C. to talk to his brother. After a particularly good day washing car windows, Juan took off to find his brother. He was sitting in his truck on one of the back streets in Salagua. Every so often people would come up to his window, money exchanged hands, and Antonio passed out a packet. Intrigued, J.C. watched for a while. When there was a lull in the foot traffic, Juan walked up to Antonio's car window. Their eyes met, and Antonio said, "Get in, little bro."

They took off and went to Antonio's house, a nice hacienda-style home on a large lot, surrounded by a high wall with broken glass on the top to keep out trespassers. As Antonio unlocked the strong metal gate, using 3 different keys, one for the regular lock and 2 for the deadbolts, J.C.'s mind was taking everything in. While his brain was trying to sort it all out, he became aware of a strong, chemical smell emanating from the dwelling.

Inside, the smell was stronger, and men and women--Juan counted 7 of them--were working with a variety of chemicals, including explosives, solvents, metals, sea salt, and corrosive acids. A large plastic bucket of red pills sate on the diving room table along with other unknown apparatus. As Antonio and J.C. entered, everyone glanced up, looking nervous and ready to bolt. "It's okay, guys, he's my little bro," Antonio explained, and everyone relaxed and went back to work. J.C. glanced around the messy room and noticed discarded gallon plastic bottles, propane tanks, fire extinguishers, scuba tanks, and numerous chemical bottles connected to clear plastic hoses. It was hot and Juan began to feel a little dizzy, probably from the fumes and the heat, since all window were closed, and covered with blankets.

As the brothers walked through the living room down the hallway to the kitchen, which didn't have a spare bit of countertop space, Juan's head was spinning. "What is this place,?" he asked his brother. Antonio smiled enigmatically, and said, "Come with me." They climbed the stairs to the rooftop, where the air was fresh, and you could see the stars and the lights of Manzanillo in the distance.

"They make the  'Ice'; I sell it," Antonio said simply. I see you on the corner washing windows like some poor street urchin to feed your wife and kid. I see that jerk of a father-in-law riding you all the time for not doing enough, for not making enough money. With Ice, you'll be able to work for days without sleep, sometimes a week or more. You can make money selling it, too--a lot of money. You can give your wife and kid a home of their own, with nice things, new dresses for Maria and toys for Geraldo. You can be free of her old man and be your own boss. What do you think?"

Juan Carlos was exhausted, worn out to the bone for his young, now 17 years of age. Maria was always complaining about what she DIDN'T have, her father backing her up, day after day. He'd been working 80-90 hours a week for almost a year now. And what did he have? Nothing but a mattress on the floor, worn out jeans that couldn't be repaired any more (and no chance of being able to afford a new pair), a 6-month old child sleeping in a hammock, sometimes short of baby food and Pampers, and a bitchy father-in-law that never let him forget he had knocked-up his precious daughter.

J.C.'s attention was focused hard on his brother sitting directly across from him, a five-ten, one-hundred-sixty-five pound guy who was definitely in control of his life and the direction it would take. Toñio had pulled something out of his pocket, and as Juan Carlos watched, transfixed, a blue-greenish flame jettisoned out of the torch in his right hand and eased across the bottom of a light bulb he held in his left hand. The small, clear chunks at the bottom of the bulb melted down into a liquid and Toñio began to shake the bulb slightly. Smoke billowed out of the top of the bulb where he'd broken off the metal, creating a jagged hole. Juan Carlos had no idea that jagged hole represented his life for the next year.

"You have to clean out the bulb thoroughly because the interior lining can kill you if you smoke it," Antonio remarked casually--as if he were talking about how to properly wax a car-- as he tried to hold the plastic straw between his teeth. Throughout the past year, J.C. had slowly changed from a straight-A student, to a new husband and father, and now to a disillusioned young man eagerly learning about a new life as drug dealer and user, waiting to inhale something from a broken light bulb. At the time, Juan didn't think that he might be getting in over his head. After all, his brother had money, a nice truck, his own house, cool clothes, probably even a girlfriend or two. It didn't even cross Juan's mind how insane his line of thinking was. He'd had it with all his nagging father-in-law. No matter what he did, it was never enough! Never a thanks for working his butt off! It will never change, J.C. thought. My life is crap. Why not? Why the hell not? Juan's head was spinning with fear, anticipation, and anxiety. He had done a few bad things in his short time but nothing like this.

J.C.'s heart rate shot through the roof like a bullet and he could hear it pumping blood through his veins and in his ears as Toñio held the pipe out. His chest suddenly felt a heavy pressure squeezing down on him and it was hard to breathe. J.C. reached out with a trembling hand to grasp the hard plastic tube. As he pulled it to his lips he looked around at the gigantic grin on Antonio's face, who knew Juan was about to cross the threshold into a whole new world he was completely ignorant of. Toñio and his friends were on the other side, waving him across confidently. Every bad decision Juan had made so far in his short life had brought him to this pivotal moment.

Juan Carlos continues in his own words: "I watched the smoke enter the end of the tube from the bulb and slowly dance up into my mouth. As I held the first hit in I felt my head explode. In a poetic sense and a literal sense. In that one moment everything just went away; all the voices that told me I'd never amount to anything and that the entire world was out to get me. Those feelings that made me swallow my tongue when I was picked on and cry myself to sleep some nights. All that general unease disappeared like ice cream on a hot summer day. For those few moments everything was quiet and I was what I had wanted to be my entire life. I was okay."

"Antonio laughed when I slumped back in my chair and exhaled a dragon's-breath cloud of smoke into the air." Watching it dissipate into the stagnant, humid night air I said aloud, 'I'm never coming down!'"

Forty-five minutes ago, he had entered Toñio's black '98 Ford truck as a nervous boy. He returned a changed man with pupils that nearly encompassed his entire iris and a gigantic smile on his face. Juan didn't notice, but the smile was through clenched, grinding teeth. Now, Toñio got in the driver's seat, assuring him that it was the greatest experience in his life, and told him how he could make some "real" money.

For now, J.C. was just enjoying the high, and since he was so awake, he decided to continue washing car windows for the rest of the night. With all this energy, he ought to be able to bring in another $300 pesos, especially when everyone gets out of the discos and their windows are covered with salt spray from the ocean a half-block away. Asking Antonio to drop him off in front of Bar de Felix, he offered everyone getting into their cars a window wash, and found out he was soon making more money than he had all week. Of course, it was 2 o'clock in the morning, but what the heck, he didn't need any sleep now. By 5 a.m. he was $600 pesos richer (people tend to tip better when they've been drinking). He was filled with a new entrepreneurship--with the help of crystal meth--he now had a sense of confidence and euphoria, whereas before all he had to look forward to was disillusionment, depression, and a lack of purpose.

So proud of himself, Juan Carlos tried to sneak back home, only to find the entire family waiting up for him. "It's 5:30 a.m.!" his father-in-law roared. "Where the hell have you been? Your wife has been worried sick about you." Maria, crying, rushed to his side. "Oh, Juan Carlos, I've been so worried. You're usually home by 10:30 or 11. I thought you maybe got hit by a car when you were washing windows or something. We bought a Ladatel card and started making phone calls to the hospitals. Papá took a bus down the boulevard and checked all the intersections looking for you! I'm so glad you're all right!"

"Hey, what's all the fuss? I just visited with my brother Antonio, and then I got this great idea for a new job, and it worked. Look," J.C. said, showing his sack full of coins. As Juan Carlos explained his new job, Maria looking proud, but worried, told him, "but J.C., you've got to go to work on your other job in an hour."

"Don't worry, Maria, I'm young, and if all this works out, I'll soon be making enough money to get our own place, and I can quit my day job." Maria and her parents were not totally convinced, but Juan did have $600 pesos more than he normally made, so they let it be, happy to plan about what they could buy for the extra money.

Juan went to his day job, whistling, feeling full of energy, which carried into his work, which today, was carrying bricks in a wheelbarrow from the road where they were offloaded, to the home which was being constructed. While he was doing this monotonous task, his mind was racing, planning ahead, imagining a future which included a car, a house, and all the things his wife and son needed.

After work, J.C. went to visit his brother and found him on the usual street corner doing business. It had been more than 12 hours, and the Ice was still keeping J.C. supercharged. "My man, J.C. said, I want to be like you. Show me how to make some real money!" remembering how pleased his family was when he brought home the extra cash from his window washing gig at the discos. "Hang out with me tonight, and I'll show you the ropes," Toñio said, "and while we're at it, let's take a little something to keep us going. The brothers left Salagua, and in only a few minutes they were driving on the dry river bed, coming to halt under a large parota tree. Getting out his light bulb and straw, brother shared with brother the drug that would alter their lives forever.

Toñio decided that Juan's new night job would be perfect for the sale of Ice. He'd just have to begin a little earlier, when people started arriving. It was easy, there were three discos all in a row on the main boulevard, and Juan could cruise the parking areas, offering to wash windows and "a little something to keep you going, great for energy, great for sex!"

By the end of his first night Juan had made more than $4,000 pesos (20 sales--easy!) plus $600 pesos for window washing, more than he made in 2 months, and of course, his own supply was free. (Today, in Manzanillo, $200 pesos--approx. $16 USD--of methamphetamine will sustain a euphoric "high" for 12-15 hours. Compared to the amount of cocaine for the same price, the effect would last for about 15 minutes, making crystal meth, in essence, a poor man's drug.)

He buried $3,000 pesos in a jar in a vacant lot, and brought home $1,600, to the excitement of his family. For the first time, J.C. was proud of himself, and in only one day, he was gaining the respect of his critical father-in-law.

For a while he continued his daily job, having plenty of energy from the Ice, until one day his boss happened to make, what Juan considered a lewd comment about his wife, Maria. J.C. went into a rage, something he had never done, picked up a brick and threw it at his employer. Fortunately, it only grazed the man's shoulder, but it put an end to his day employment. J.C. didn't really care; he now had $15,000 pesos in the buried jar, and he and Maria were looking for a small furnished apartment. Because he was working all night long, Maria and her family were beginning to get a little disgruntled, never seeing him, but they liked the money he was bringing into the household.

They noticed he was loosing weight, and never seemed to sleep much. His answer was that he couldn't sleep with all the noise in the household during the day, so Maria suggested that they go house hunting. With his brother's help, they found a small house, just a few blocks from Maria's parents, and across the street from Antonio's house/meth lab. With the money J.C. had saved in the jar, they were able to buy furniture and appliances. Things were looking up--or were they?

Meanwhile, Antonio was demanding he sell more and more Ice, and J.C. was needing more and more of the drug just to function. At first, the short-term physiological effects of decreased appetite, increased stamina and physical energy, increased sexual drive and response, were welcome. But after a few weeks, the negative effects of the drug, including involuntary body movements, increased perspiration, hyperactivity, jitteriness, nausea, itchy, blotchy greasy skin, poor sleep patterns, restlessness, fatigue and depression, and headaches made J.C. hard to live with.

When the baby cried, he walked over to his brother's house and was gone for hours. He had keys to the gate, and locked himself in. Maria had long since given up on pounding on the gate door. There was never an answer. For the most part, Maria was left alone with her child, watching telenovelas on their new high definition TV, and sometimes when the loneliness became unbearable, she'd push little Gerlado over to her parent's house in his brand new stroller. One day, she confided to her parents that she was concerned for J.C.'s health. He'd become moody and irritable, and rarely ate anything. If she said something, he'd complain that she was a lousy cook, and he'd eaten out. Her parents told her that as long as he was working and supporting her, to keep her mouth shut. 

They, too, were enjoying Juan Carlos' new-found wealth, having been the beneficiaries of a new TV and washing machine, not to mention the new set of pretty pottery dishes he'd purchased off a truck from Tonala that drove into town for the Saturday Tianguis market in Santiago.

He continued to work his night job, and bring money home--plenty of it. One day, he arrived home at about 10 in the morning with a 4-year-old Nissan Tsuru. He'd even thought of a car seat for little Geraldo. As Maria stood at the front door of their home, looking at the car in awe, J.C. hopped out and offered her a ride. Off the three of them went, motoring down country back roads, as Juan Carlos practiced driving. He had only been behind the wheel of his brother's truck a few times, and didn't have a drivers license yet--there just wasn't time. After several hours and a tank of gas, J.C. finally dropped Maria and Geraldo off, showered and changed clothes, and got ready to go to work, driving this time.

Proud of his new car, he stopped by to show it off to some friends that he hadn't seen in a while. They were less than friendly. They knew what he was doing and where the money came from. At home, Maria got ready to do a load of wash, picking up J.C.'s new jeans off the floor and checking the pockets for things she didn't want to go in the wash. What she found was a large roll of money, and two small packets of a white crystal-looking substance. Alarm bells went off, and, taking the baby to her parent's house, she went home to wait, until she saw Antonio across the street, as he was getting into his new shiny-black Chevy Silverado.

"Wait, just a minute, Antonio," she said as she grabbed the driver's side door, "I found this in Juan Carlos' pocket. Do you know what it is, and where did he get all this money?" Her brother-in-law grinned, and said, "Baby, what you're seeing in your hand gave you that house you're living in and all the things under the roof. It's made J.C. a man, and you and your kid comfortable. Be quiet, let him do his job, and enjoy the good life." He started his truck and drove off, already planning what street corner he would work tonight.

Maria was shocked. She knew it had to be some kind of drug, but what? She went to see some of J.C. friends from his past, before they married. Most were still in school, but also most had outside jobs after school, so it took her some time to track them down. No one wanted to talk to her, but also, when they saw what she was holding, they shied away, and some shut the door in her face. Finally, one of J.C.'s friends who had come to their wedding, took her aside and told her the truth. Juan is selling Ice, he said, and probably taking it, too. If he gets caught, he'll go away for at least 10 years.

Normally photos accompany an article, but in the case of Juan Carlos, Maria Louisa, Antonio and Geraldo, they have asked to remain anonymous, and these are not their real names.

The photos above were taken off the internet.

The photos below were taken with permission at "Bill y Bob." (Click on photos to enlarge)

Entrance to "Bill y Bob"Maria was shocked. Finally, Juan's mood swings, and the changes in his physical appearance made sense. The money--a lot of it--made sense also. Panicked, she grabbed Geraldo and went to see her parents. Her parents lived near an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center in Salahua, "Bill y Bob," named after the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The three of them, Maria carrying little Geraldo, walked over there together, and met with Jesus, one of the directors of the board. It was decided that Jesus, and a couple of other volunteers at the center would come with Maria to wait until J.C. returned home. Her parents were supportive and waited with her.

He was usually home by 6 a.m., but today he arrived home at 10, surprised at the group in his living room. "What is this, a party and you forgot to invite me?" he joked, but no one was smiling. Maria got up and greeted him by opening her hand, exposing the glassine bags filled with crystal. Juan went stark white, and Jesus got up and blocked the door. Faced with fight or flight but unable to do either, he sat down on the new brocade sofa and hung his head. In Jesus' experience, most addicts denied they were addicted, but it was not the case with Juan. He had been brought up to know right from wrong, and he knew this was wrong, but he didn't know how to stop, and the money was so good. All he ever wanted to do was take care of his family and have Maria's parents be proud of him for being a good husband and father. He started to cry, and then Maria started to cry, and pretty soon everyone was holding each other, and crying as if it was the end of the world. And who knows, if nothing was done, in another year it would have been.

All interns must attend and speak at meetings dailyFortunately, for J.C., the people around him gave him the support he needed to check himself into "Bill y Bob's" to recover from his addiction. The first 30 days was pure hell. He was locked into a cell--actually a room with bars on the door, and two guards standing by vigilantly to ensure no one got violent. And some did. There were 30 men in this 10 x 20 ft. room, with only one toilet and one shower, no hot water. There were no beds, only blankets on the floor, and not enough pillows to go around. Maria and the baby were not allowed to visit for 30 days--and for those 30 days it was "lockdown" for Juan Carlos. He wasn't in as bad as shape as some of the others, several as young as 13, though he didn't pay much attention to what was happening since he had his own problems to deal with. The room was filled with cigarette smoke and for ventilation there was only one window. Nicotine was the drug of choice after being taken off of alcohol, marijuana, and/or Ice.

Juan Carlos was one of the lucky ones. He didn't get busted, he didn't have to resort to stealing or prostitution. He was rescued early enough to save his health, his brain, and his family--in short, his life. His brother Antonio was not so lucky. Someone leaked where his meth lab was, and it was raided, and the police confiscated enough methamphetamine and paraphernalia to put Antonio away for life. Antonio left town in his new Silverado and is still at large, probably starting all over in another small town somewhere, looking for a poor neighborhood and young people wanting to escape a life of mediocrity. 

Small kitchen where meals are prepared for up to 30Bill y Bob's" is still in Salahua, however, continuing to help recovering addicts, including alcoholics. They are totally dependent on donations, and as part of the 90-day recovery program, survivors still in or out of the program are asked to "give back" to the interns in lock-down by sharing their experiences, and giving strength and hope in how they stay clean & sober. One of the ways members stay clean & sober is by helping other addicts to achieve sobriety.

Many people do not understand why individuals become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain to foster compulsive drug abuse. They mistakenly view drug abuse and addiction as strictly a social problem and may characterize those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior. What people often underestimate is the complexity of drug addiction—that it is a disease that impacts the brain and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower. Through scientific advances we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and resume their productive lives.

Area where families can visit their loved ones Drug abuse and  alcohol addiction are a major burden to society. Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco, and $185 billion for alcohol. Staggering as these numbers are, however, they do not fully describe the breadth of deleterious public health—and safety—implications, which include family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, child abuse, prostitution, and other crimes.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive, but its allure is not hard to understand; the drug removes inhibitions, bolsters confidence, supercharges the libido. The first thing people on methamphetamine lose is their common sense; suddenly, anything goes, including unprotected sex with many different partners in a single night—which is among the most efficient ways to spread H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In poor neighborhoods, on the backstreets, poor children who are hooked on drugs sell their bodies to adult males, not caring about the consequences. It is happening here in Salahua, Santiago, Miramar, El Naranjo, and to a lesser extent, Las Brisas. Or, go to the Barrios in Valle de la Garzas and look at the graffiti. In fact, take a look at all the graffiti, called "tagging" by the doers. Have you noticed an increase in the past year?

Note bill and Bo's photos on the wall"For addicts, drugs are exciting, baffling, and powerful. Crystal meth is all that and cheap as well. Ice first finds a way to fix all of the problems that we have and then, when it has made itself indispensable, reveals its true self," admits a survivor.

The rehabilitation center, "Bill y Bob," located at Aniceto Madrueño #192 in Salahua, is one of several totally volunteer, non-profit centers in the Manzanillo area. Everyone is accepted. No money is required to get help. It follows the 12-step program set out by Alcoholics Anonymous, and accepts referrals from families, schools, the police, judges, social workers, psychiatrists, or any other source. Anyone who needs help can just walk in, and there will be people there who understand what you're going through and will be there to help you in any way possible in their 90-day program.

According to James Hollcroft, who serves on the board, it takes about 3 days to detox, and in those first 3 days, the intern is attended by a physician, if necessary. The only drug he is allowed when coming down is valium, and then only for a short time. It is basically cold-turkey time, and according to Hollcroft, it isn't until 30 days of being drug-free that the doctors can tell what kind of damage has been done to the recovering addict's brain. 

When addicts use meth over and over again, the drug actually changes their brain chemistry, destroying the wiring in the brain's pleasure centers and making it increasingly impossible to experience any pleasure at all. 

Although studies have shown that these tissues can somewhat rejuvenate over time, the process can take years, and the repair may never be complete. Examinations of brain scans of several methamphetamine abusers who, after 14 months of abstinence from the drug, show that they have regrown most of their damaged receptors. However, they showed no improvement in the cognitive abilities damaged by the drug. After more than a year's sobriety, these former meth users still showed severe impairment in memory, judgment and motor coordination, similar to symptoms seen in individuals suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Chronic users also showed extensive scarring from scratching at imaginary ants, and a condition known a "meth mouth," the loss and decay of teeth due to lack of saliva production caused by the drug.

A note about Juan Carlos and Maria Louisa: After J.C. had served 6 weeks at "Bill y Bob Rehab," he was visited by Maria, toting baby Geraldo, and her parents. Maria was forced to give up the house, sell the furnishings, and move back in with her parents. And guess what? She was pregnant, the baby being due 7 months from now. They needed his signature to sell the truck, and they also wanted him to come home. The head of the board of directors, Jesus, was called in from work to have a conference with the family. "Why do you want him to come home," he asked, "when his treatment is only half over, and he still has his own important personal agenda here? Though Juan Carlos is now clean and sober, he has not finished the 12-step program. If you were to take him out of here now, he would run the risk of going back to his old life. He just isn't ready."

The reason was very simple. Money--or the lack of it. The family had lost its "cash cow" and the effects of the loss of income were just starting to sink in. Maria's father was now carrying the burden of supporting Maria Louisa, little Geraldo, and the upcoming baby. It was time for J.C. to get his act together and get back to work; neither his in-laws nor his young wife understood that it was the pressure they put on him to make money that got him into the mess in the first place.

When asked what percentage of recovering addicts never returned to "Bill y Bob" Hollcroft answered 38%. In keeping with the U.S. average of 6%, that is a very good outcome. Holcroft did admit that another 35% came back a second time, but the second time, the volunteers at "Bill y Bob" make it even harder on them. That leaves the final 27%, that return to their old way of life--and their addictions--and it is those people that will be putting a burden on residents and visitors to Manzanillo.

Besides the recidivism of 27% there are plenty of pushers out there in the poor neighborhoods, who were lured into the life to support their own habit and make their lifestyle better. Those that aren't selling will be stealing, first from their own families, and later from you--the resident, the tourist. They will sell their bodies to anyone--pedophiles, sadists--just to get their next hit. They will encourage all of their friends to try drugs, just to pay for their own habit.

Why should anyone living or visiting Manzanillo care about this? It's really an epidemic worldwide, not just here. It's so very easy to support causes for the children--we have several dozen charity functions for our foster homes and children's foundations every year. Though not quite so easy as children's causes, even the humane societies receive a lot of support in Manzanillo. But alcoholics and drug addicts, it's something we don't like to talk about, but the problem is here and it's growing. And sadly, Bill y Bob has many young people in the program, some only aged 11 or 12.

Manzanillo's dirty little secret is out. Though still one of the safest places to live in the world, by not admitting that we have this insipient problem at the root of our community--in the poorer areas where the underprivileged live--Manzanillo will become another big city, where crime makes the front page every day.

If you would like to form an organization to help "Bill y Bob," or just offer to help in any way, such as donate beds or food, contact Jean Scheiffele at 335-1064. If you'd like to see their new facility, give Jean a call.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

It is great that there is alcohol and drug treatment center even in small towns, because alcoholism or any form of drug addiction are not limited to urban centers.

Having a drug addicted friend or family member makes it necessary to learn how to help a drug addict before it's too late.

Cases of teen drug abuse are not limited to big cities. Even smaller towns have been facing this problem for years.

Other articles of interest: Mexico struggles with soaring drug addiction rate

Faces and Voices of Recovery, a story of drug abuse and surviving

Success stories at a pay facility: Brighton Hospital videos. Manzanillo has no facility like this. But even this hospital is a pay facility, and it won't address Manzanillo's problem with the poor.

Signs your child is using crystal meth. Scary .pdf file of scanned newspaper articles

Video about a 24-year old female meth addict. Shocking!

"Crystal Darkness," a film about meth. It's aired on TV in Sonora and Cd. Juarez; why not here?