Almost every day, someone walks into one of the Bay Area Recovery Center’s four facilities to get help for methamphetamine addiction, Billy Smith, a program director, said.
While the recovery center helps those facing a wide array of addictions — from alcohol to opioid, among others — about 40 of the 80 beds across four facilities are occupied with patients recovering from methamphetamine use, Smith said.
And the patients aren’t geographically isolated to certain parts of the county, experts said. They come from San Leon, yes, but they also come from League City, Santa Fe, Dickinson and other places, experts said.
But it isn’t just sheer numbers that overwhelm local treatment facilities. Counselors struggle with the new concoctions and forms methamphetamine has taken of late, they said.
“It’s to the point where I almost wish they were doing real meth,” said Chuck Schmid, a program director. “What they’re taking isn’t really traditional meth anymore. Pure meth sucks too, but you can fix it a lot quicker than what they’re coming in with.”
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. In addition to psychiatric symptoms, like paranoia and hallucinations, chronic meth users can experience anxiety, confusion and violent behavior, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Rising use of methamphetamines and its more potent forms isn’t a new story in Galveston County. Local law enforcement agencies for months have said it’s a growing problem, and a quick glance at the daily jail log show a steady stream of methamphetamine-related drug charges.
Just last month, for instance, the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office made at least four methamphetamine-related arrests, jail records show.
But the statistics fail to show the full effect of the drug on Galveston County residents and those tasked with helping addicts recover.
“The availability of meth here is just so much,” Smith said. “You take a place like San Leon, they did a raid recently where I heard people were hitting an electric fence with wasp spray to make something they were calling meth. You never know what you’re getting now.”
And it’s that easy and cheap availability that’s leading more and more county residents to experiment with the drug.
Take, for instance, Dickinson resident Chad Hill. Hill has been sober for about three years, he said.
But before that, Hill spent about 30 years as a drug addict, mostly using cocaine, but turned to methamphetamine in 2012 when he tried it for the first time, almost by accident, he said.
“It’s cheap, it’s easy to make and it lasts a long time,” Hill said.
Hill first tried methamphetamine when he went to smoke marijuana with a friend, but that friend instead accidentally pulled out the stimulant, he said.
“The next thing you know, years had gone by, everyone and everything I loved was gone and I didn’t know how it happened,” Hill said.
Most of the methamphetamine Hill used over the years came via Mexico, he said.
Nationally, in 2017, more than 10,000 people died from overdoses involving psychostimulants, which include methamphetamine, up about 33 percent compared with 2016 numbers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those upward-trending numbers are consistent with numbers in Galveston County, District Attorney Jack Roady said.
While the district attorney’s office doesn’t specifically track methamphetamine cases, the office has seen a significant increase in the number of charges it has filed for drugs falling into penalty group 1, which includes methamphetamine, Roady said.
Galveston County prosecutors filed almost 1,200 penalty group 1 cases in 2018, compared to 894 cases in 2015, a 34 percent increase, Roady said.
Child Protective Services in 2018 filed 192 methamphetamine-related cases in Galveston County, up from about 150 in 2015, Roady said.
Locally, San Leon might have the worst methamphetamine-related problems, but it’s inaccurate to believe the issue is contained to just one part, or a general area of the county, Schmid said.
Just about everyone knows someone who is using methamphetamine, said Tricia Cox, a former addict-turned-recovery counselor.
“Before I got sober, I took a trip to Nebraska,” Hill said. “And the whole way, in each state I passed, I bought and used meth. And I didn’t know anyone in any of those states.”
Several recovery groups across Galveston County, including the Gulf Coast Center, echoed the Bay Area Recovery Center’s experience with more and more patients coming in for methamphetamine addiction.
“We have about 32 male beds and 16 female beds, and for the last several months, the population has been well over 80 or 90 percent meth,” said Jack Easterday, a peer recovery coach. “It’s astonishing.”