REPORTER: Ginny Stein

America's heartland, the Midwest.


Today is fair day in Montana, and the show has come to town. The best of America's rural life is on display. Traditions here are firmly entrenched. Cowboy culture is alive and well. But crystal methamphetamine, known here as 'meth' and elsewhere as 'ice' has had a devastating impact.

RON CLEM, FOUNDER, TEENS IN CRISIS: I don't know whether it's heroin or cocaine, PCP in the '70s. I mean, I worked all of those when I was in narcotics but we've never had a chemical that's attacked rural America or what we would consider the foundation of American principles, where you could always retreat to for values, attacked the way we have with methamphetamines.

CONNIE GUZMAN: This is my family picture gallery. This wall has a lot of Angela on it.

Connie Guzman lost her eldest daughter to crystal methamphetamine. Angela had been on a 3-day drug binge when she was killed in a car crash. She was 24.

CONNIE GUZMAN: She ran a red light at 5:00 in the morning and got hit by a logging truck. She'd been up for days. She was in a very bad state of mind. I don't know all that was going on because I wasn't there, but she wasn't thinking clear. She was high, she was desperate.

Connie is now raising her daughter's three children.

CONNIE GUZMAN: I'll hold on to the sweetness, you know. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right? Yeah, so we hold on to it.

REPORTER: How many years has it been now?

CONNIE GUZMAN: Almost four.

REPORTER: And it's still..

CONNIE GUZMAN: And there's days it still feels like yesterday. There's days I will have memory flashbacks that just rock my world. And then there are days that it will just feel like it's been forever, and it's always been like this, that I'm raising her kids and that's just how it is.

As the drug moved from the West Coast into rural America, Montana known as big sky country earned a new reputation as the addicted state. Almost 14% of teenagers had tried crystal meth, the second highest rate of use amongst young people in America. One in three had been offered it and 60% said it was readily available.

CARREN CLEM: I didn't know I was using meth when I used it. I thought I was just using speed, you know, just something like a pick-up, you know. I didn't know that there was a clear definition, I didn't know that drugs along these lines would take your life down. I didn't know my hair was going to fall out, I didn't know all of a sudden I'd start picking at myself.

Carren Clem started using meth when she was 17. Her father Ron, a former Los Angeles policeman, had moved to Kalispell, Montana, to bring up his kids in what he thought was a drug-free environment.

RON CLEM: It was literally a dark cloud that just settled over our community, and that's crystal meth. It attacked all age groups. It just took away a vitality that we had in this community. It definitely took away an innocence that we had. I was naive about meth being here until my own daughter got involved. And now as you look around with the deaths we've had, the murders we've had. The police departments are just strained to the max trying to deal with it.

Within months of smoking meth for the first time, Carren moved out of home and began selling her body for drugs.

CARREN CLEM: It became easier to sleep for my drug dealers, for my drugs rather than, you know, trying to come up with money, which was I mean, the chances of getting caught, of getting arrested, you know, became or somebody else stealing it from me became more and more, so I just chose to use myself.

At the height of her addiction, Carren's father went looking for her. He was willing to get her arrested if that was what it took to get her off the streets.

RON CLEM: When I was following her around trying to get her arrested, there were many times I wished that she would have died. I just couldn't believe what she was doing. And one time when I was watching a drug dealer, for her to show up, his name was Red, I prayed after seeing her that night that God would take her, that she would just get off the streets and she'd just quit killing herself one day at a time.

While individual families were trying to work out how to respond to this epidemic, so were local authorities.

DEPUTY SHERIFF PETE WINGERT: Highly aggravated people who haven't slept in 72 hours, a week, you know, longer than that, become a problem for law enforcement. Violence everywhere they go they carry a gun, there's knives associated with I mean, just they always have a weapon, they're highly paranoid, highly concerned for their safety as a result…that's one of the side effects of the drug. So it's been very difficult in that respect.

The state stepped in, making it more difficult to obtain the over-the-counter chemicals to make the drug. Searching out meth labs became a priority for the local drug task force. But it was a public health campaign funded by a rich philanthropist that is credited with having the biggest impact in reducing the number of people using the drug for the first time.

MONTANA METH AD: I'm only going to try meth once. I'm not going to be like that guy. Look, I'm only going to smoke meth once. I'm not going to be like that guy. Look, I'm just going to shoot up just once. Alright! I'm not going to be like that guy! I'm not going to be like that guy.

MIKE MCGRATH, ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF MONTANA: Prior to the running of this ad campaign, nobody knew anything about meth. We would talk till we were blue in the face in terms of public officials or law enforcement. We were reaching a tiny sliver of the population. This campaign reaches everybody and it reaches them in a way where it grabs out, you know, reaches out and grabs them. It's that kind of a campaign. It's had an impact.

Half of Montana's prison population is currently locked up due to meth-related crime.

MIKE MCGRATH: Really, it is a unique drug, it is I've been involved in law enforcement for 30 years and never seen anything like this drug.

Montana has taken a groundbreaking approach in accepting that this is not just a criminal issue, but a medical issue.

MIKE MCGRATH: If we just warehouse them in a prison setting, the odds are that they're not going to deal with their addictions and they're not going to become good productive citizens, they're going to be criminals when they get out of prison, maybe even worse criminals than when they went in.

So in an American first, the state created specialist facilities just for meth addicts, one for men and one for women. The doors opened here in June this year. This is the first time a camera has been allowed in here to film. These images are blurred because some of the men did not want to be identified.

DON SCHROEDER, ADMINISTRATOR, LEWISTOWN TREATMENT CENTRE: It's easy to get stuck in the thing of, well, you know, punishment is the way to go, we just need to put these guys in prison and lock the key away, but that has shown to be ineffective. And so the foresight of the Governor and the legislature in addition to some of the other treatment providers has been incredible, which really puts Montana at the forefront of meth treatment.

Here, inmates aren't called prisoners, even though there's no way out until their time is done.

INMATES: Within these walls I am not alone. I will rejoice because then I will always have a choice.

They are called family members, part of a therapeutic team, And this is group therapy.

INMATES: I'm a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle here is my spout…

This group of 80 men is the first to go through this 9-month program based on group or family responsibility. The first session of each heavily structured day which begins at 5am and ends at lights out, at 10:00, is part motivational, and part aimed at convincing these men to take an emotional risk. They are being called on to put their prison and drug past behind them, and right now, to remember or discover what it is like to be a child.

JAMES STREITZ: When I first when I first did the chicken I was so embarrassed but that was a way for us to let down that wall a little bit, you know, and let people get to know us.

The first drug James tried was cocaine. He was a child. From cocaine, he progressed to meth. His mother was the one who gave it to him. He was eight years old.

JAMES STREITZ: I started off snorting it and got to the point where when I…then I smoked it, when I smoked it, it gave me more of a rush. And I started shooting it when I was 20.

INMATES: Knock, knock, knocking on life's door, I don't use drugs anymore…

It's the chemical impact of this drug that is credited with making it so addictive and dangerous. Methamphetamine triggers the release of dopamine, the feelgood chemical the brain produces naturally, but it's a first-time high that's impossible to regain. Andy Shawgo not only used to smoke meth, he manufactured it to fund his habit. He's now glad he was caught. His drug existence was wearing him down.

ANDY SHAWGO, INMATE: I've been up 27 days before, solid, and I lost about a week and a half in there that I didn't know what went on, which way went on. I kept everything straight, I mean, everything seemed to go on normally but I wasn't really there.

REPORTER: 27 days, you stayed awake?

ANDY SHAWGO: Yeah, about 27 days solid.

The violence that is associated with meth is also something the television advertising campaign highlights. Methamphetamine is an upper, and up to 20 times stronger than the uncooked version of what is commonly referred to as speed.

MONTANA METH AD: So I get along alright with my parents. I mean, they are pretty cool and I know they trust me. You know, they trust me. Come on, Dad. Come on, Dad! Come on, Dad! Let me in. Let me in! Let me in!

Unlike heroin, where there is a medical alternative to coping without it, for meth users there is no such substitute. Meth addicts have two choices, either find a way to keep their habit going, or find a way to stop.

MONTANA METH DOCTOR: When was the last time you got high?

GRAHAM MACKER: This afternoon. I purchased a gram and smoked quite a bit of it. It's not even a high, it's an addiction.

Graham started using meth in the bedroom of his family home when he was 15. He was filmed here a year ago. He'd moved onto the streets.

GRAHAM MACKER: I used to be a strong athletic kid. I was…I could run the mile, now I can run a block. I'm tired as hell. I have stretch marks on my back from, I lost like 30 pounds. It's hard-core. And like, my muscle tone – it eats your muscle.

Graham says he was hooked from his first hit.

GRAHAM MACKER: I lie to my Mom. I spend way too much money. I do things I shouldn't do. I've… it's just eventually… you just do things to get the money. This is where your money goes towards. I could have so much stuff right now, just the amount of money I spend on drugs, and people I owe. I've heard a lot of things about people doing degrading and embarrassing things.

Not long after this video of Graham was filmed, he was arrested. Released on probation into his mother's custody, he's since been sent here, to a privately run boot camp school for kids with drugs and other problems. It's highly regimented and intensely disciplined. But these teenagers have access to a team of counsellors along with programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and a traditional high school education. Graham will soon be turning 18. And even though he's been off the drug for many months, it still has a hold over him.

GRAHAM MACKER: I'm to the point where I'm not ready to go home. I have eight months away from it and I still struggle every day with my addictions and everything, and so I am up to the point where if I go home I might relapse.

Little is still known about the long-term impact of meth or how to treat its addiction. When meth, or ice, first became an issue in the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration controversially claimed that under traditional programs the chance of recovery was extremely limited, with rates as low as 1 in 30. Each one of these kids was a meth user before they came here. At this group session they are encouraged to talk about their drug use and its addictive hold over them.

BOY: It seems like such a big thing. I am only 17 and like I'm an addict. It just seems like I can never get rid of it. It is going to be with me until I die.

GIRL: And I would take it so much to the point I couldn't get high anymore so I would try and find a higher dosage of the drug, and a higher dosage of the drug. I was so selfish to the point where like, until I died there was no rock bottom.

GIRL 2: The scariest thing was that from the time I started to the time I hit rock bottom was so quick.

TESLA: I don't know, I was just watching my friends, and they were like freaking out, they were so tweaked out, and I was just like, I don't want to do this any more.

Tesla started smoking meth when she was 13. She only knew she was coming here when she was dropped off by her father.

TESLA ORR, METH ADDICT: Yeah, I couldn't even speak I was so mad. I just had this ball in my throat and if I were to talk I would have just started bawling, but I was so mad I couldn't cry. And I just got out of the truck and I just look looked at my dad, like, “How could you?”

She's now just weeks from completing high school, which she says is a result of being forced into coming here.

TESLA ORR: I honestly think I would be dead. Where I left off, that whole six months before I came here, I would have just continued with I mean, I miscarried and then I immediately went back into partying and doing drugs and hang out with the wrong people. And then I came to Spring Creek, so it would have just continued. I would have gone deeper and deeper and I would have never pulled myself out of it.

This is a private facility to send a child here you need money. Graham is here on a scholarship funded by a privately run support group set up in his home town. He too hopes he'll be able to kick the habit. When he turns 18 it will be up to him whether to continue treatment or leave.

GRAHAM MACKER: I've talked to my mum and it will probably be a while before I go back to Kalispell. I'm not… I'm not to the point where I can just go back and I can't 100% say that I'm going to like if it was offered that I wouldn't take it.

RON CLEM: If you don't have the financial capacity to save your children, the only you can do is hope that somebody else will do that for you.

This is the private group that is sponsoring Graham. Ron Clem set up Teens in Crisis after selling his family home to fund his daughter's treatment. The options for treatment are limited in the United States. In Montana, the state runs overstretched chemical dependency programs along with its new meth prisons. And then there are privately run programs, and as a last resort, charity.

RON CLEM: And it's long-term, understanding that for methamphetamine treatment to have any semblance of success is at least a year. It's highly expensive, you are looking at $4,000 or $5,000 a month. So if you don't have the money, it ain't going to happen. Your kids not going to get help and they are eventually going to commit suicide or die as a result of their use or they are going to end up murdered or suicide.

Law enforcement officials also believe that if addicts are going to stop, specialised treatment is needed. The rehabilitation rate under the state's standard 30-day chemical dependency program has had little success.

DEPUTY SHERIFF PETER WINGERT: You know, I've spoken to a lot of meth users. I don't know how many, you know, I don't know how many I've spoken to and how many are still clean today, you know. It's very difficult to say.

REPORTER: A very small number?

DEPUTY SHERIFF PETER WINGERT: Very small number. You know, I think when the DEA says a 4% recovery rate, that's probably right on, 1 in 30 recovering.

MIKE MCGRATH: I don't know where the 1 in 30 came from. That's not a figure I would support.

REPORTER: What is it? What do you see it?

MIKE MCGRATH: I've talked to many, many people who have been former addicts who have been able to address this problem. So it's a difficult addiction to treat. It's more difficult to treat in terms of the long-term prognosis than other drugs.

Living with the aftermath of her daughter's addiction and death, Connie Guzman found comfort in religion. This is what Connie calls the meth section of her church. Many here are recovering addicts, others are raising children orphaned through meth or left behind. More than half of all children taken into foster care in Montana are there because of their parents' use of methamphetamine.

CONNIE GUZMAN: If you don't have money, what do you have? Prison or the Lord. Our addicts recover through faith in the Lord, through help from the Lord.

REPORTER: It's a poor person's choice?

CONNIE GUZMAN: Uh-huh, uh-huh. But it works. It works. There is hope. That's the message I want to send. Is that if you don't have money to go to a professional clinic to get help, there is still help out there. God can help.

Since the anti-meth media campaign began in Montana, the number of first-time users of the drug has more than halved. Other states are now following Montana's lead and will soon be running their own ad campaigns. Crystal methamphetamine, 'ice' or 'meth' call it what you like, Connie says while it's important to spread the message of the dangers of the drug, it is equally important to see that people can quit.

CONNIE GUZMAN: People need to see recovered addicts, they need to know that there's hope, that it can be done. I think we need more recovered addicts to speak up and say “I made it, I'm here, I'm clean, I'm sober, I'm functional, I'm living a good life.” It can be done.

Feature Report: The Ice Storm







Additional footage courtesy of the Montana Meth Project and HBO

The Ice Storm: the crystal meth scourge