NORTH CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WAOW)--It'll take your looks, your kids and even your life.
Methamphetamine is a devastating drug that's you can often find made here in North Central Wisconsin. Last year, Wisconsin had 249 meth-related investigations. The Wausau Crime Lab saw 219 of those cases. It's made in motel rooms, cars, the house down the road.
The highly addictive stimulant known as meth attacks the nervous system. Newsline Nine spoke with a former user who asked that we not reveal his identify. We'll call him Mike.
He recalls taking his first hit."I was speedy. I mean, just like energetic. You could have the world. At least that's how it felt," says Mike.
But he admits it didn't always feel good. He says he experienced paranoia, hallucinations, and stayed awake a week at a time. "I remember exactly, in those seven days I slept 12 minutes," says Mike.
DCI Agents from the Wisconsin Department of Justice created a mock meth lab for Newsline Nine to show the dangers of cooking. They asked us to keep the under cover agents' identities concealed. The materials used are things you'd find at your local store. They are relatively cheap and some of them hazardous.
Cooks use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine from cold-medicine, lithium from batteries and ether from starter fluid. "Ether is extremely flammable, extremely explosive," says a DCI Agent. Lithium ignites on contact with water. The agents say even a sneeze can start a fire. With ether nearby, it's not unusual for meth labs to blow up.
Another ingredient in the mix is anhydrous ammonia. Some farmers in our area use it as fertilizer. Mike says he'd go out at night to steal the dangerous chemical. "You can just feel these vapors just coming at you. You can feel it on your skin. It's like the strongest pneumonia smell you could ever imagine," explains Mike.
That's why special agents take serious precautions. They wear nomex clothing, boots that have non-sparking soles and gas mask to protect from poisonous fumes.
Dr. Gary Hegranes, a Family Physician in Birnamwood, says he see meth deteriorate the body. "I see at least one patient every week who clearly is showing signs that they are doing meth," says Dr. Hegranes.
The doctor says a dead give away for meth use is tooth decay from the chemicals and scabs because they often imagine bugs are crawling under their skin. "They will pick and scratch at their skin until they have these sores all over the place," says Dr. Hegranes.
"They would lock themselves in the bathroom. And you would see like squirts of blood just everywhere it was disgusting," adds Mike.
Meth-incidents dramatically declined after lawmakers restricted the sale of key ingredients in 2005. But Agents say users who want the drugs, find a way to get them. Mike says he paid off a pharmacist to supply his pseudoephedrine.
The new measure cracked down on super labs but in the past six months, agents say these smaller, home labs have grown popular in our area. "Some of the reasons why we see more meth labs in the Northern half rather than the Southern half is because of the smell of the lab itself. You can't hide that smell," says Lt. Mark Gartmann of the Lincoln County Detective Bureau.
The war on drugs may never be over but Wisconsin's top cop, says he refuses to lose. "It's a battle we have to continue. And its a battle we have to continue for the sake for every child who may become a new user if we don't continue it," says WI Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
Mike says he hopes his story will stop people from using the devastating drug.He says if he could turn back time, he would never touch meth.
"I had a crazy life on it. I don't miss it," says Mike.