'Meth Was My Best Friend'

Peer pressure, desire to lose weight, need for energy lead people into meth addiction

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Rita Regalado was so tired and needed something to pick herself up.

After friends told her that methamphetamines could give her the energy she wanted, she tried it and it seemed to work.

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A Payson man ends his day on Friday by smoking methamphetamine through a broken light bulb.

What began as casual use turned into an addiction that took over every aspect of her life.

Regalado, who has been sober for more than a year, recalled weekends were a time to binge on the drug.

As her addiction worsened, those weekends stretched into weeks, then to months and then to years.

Even after becoming pregnant with her son, Regalado would make drug runs to Phoenix -- sometimes on a daily basis -- to pick up meth and marijuana.

Meth in the Rim Country

Story 1: Becoming an addict. Today

Story 2: What meth is doing to this community. Friday, Dec. 8

Story 3: Meth addicts get their lives back. Tuesday, Dec. 12

After splitting from her second husband in 2000, she started using more and more of the drug.

Regalado said she was a single parent with a job and needed something to help her get by.

She was not shy about her usage.

"I was doing it in front of my kids," she said.

During the height of her addiction, she estimates she was consuming more than an ounce a week.

She said she got sick and could not keep food down, but continued taking meth.

She lost nearly 200 pounds and remembers friends telling her about how much weight she had lost and that she needed to start eating more.

She said she was oblivious to the weight loss because she was always looking for that next high.

"Meth was my best friend," she said. "I enjoyed it. It didn't talk back."

Regalado is one of an increasing number of people who are or have been addicted to meth in the Rim Country.

"There is a definite increase of meth use in the Rim Country," said Darlene Duncan, prevention coordinator and community liaison for Rim Guidance Center.

As an example, Duncan said the center serves 462 clients, and 24 percent of those are for meth use.

Jimmy Oestmann, a member of the Gila County Meth Task Force, said users turn to the drug for a variety of reasons, including weight loss and need for alertness.

"The problem is these nerve receptors get damaged, and they are trying to get that same high (they experienced when first trying meth)," he said, which can never be achieved again. So users consume more of it hoping to recapture that initial high.

Regalado's personality changed and she became a completely different person.

"I was so violent. You would not have a clue," Regalado said. "I would get really moody where no one would want to be around me.

"If I did not like what they said, I would kick their (butt)."

Regalado said a meth addict will usually be very hyper, have a dry mouth, talk excessively on various topics, have shortness of breath, mood swings and high blood pressure.

While many meth addicts steal to support their habits, Regalado did not, and instead started doing side jobs and cutting down on essentials, such as food.

"I was living on $800 to $900 a month, and $600 to $700 of that was going to meth," she said.

Not being able to afford the addiction, she started selling the drug. Her addiction worsened because there was always meth available for use.

"I did not know what was right or wrong anymore," she said. "I thought people were talking to me when no one was around."

Oestmann said users suffer bouts of paranoia, become delusional and often hallucinate.

Going to sleep was not something she wanted to do because it took valuable time away from using meth.

"I would hate to go to sleep because I was smoking meth," she said.

"It would take so much (when waking up) to get back to that high."

She said the drug resulted in her always doing something active because she could not stay still.

Her rock bottom began when she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol by the Payson Police Department.

Soon after, officers raided a home she was visiting where drugs were thought to be. She added the drugs were on the way when officers showed up.

She did not have drugs on her at the time, but, Regalado said, if officers had arrived 10 minutes later, she would have had meth on her.

After that incident, police started watching her, and noticed people coming and going from her residence at all times.

When she went to her probation officer for the DUI offense, law enforcement was waiting.

‘They knew too much," she said. "They knew that people were coming into my house."

Regalado was given three options -- to give the names of her suppliers, spend three years in prison or successful completion of drug court.

Going to prison or telling law enforcement the names of her suppliers were not options she considered.

She signed up for drug court, went home and immediately got high.

In the first three months of drug court, she kept relapsing, and every time she tested positive for the drug, she spent 24 hours in jail.

She lost track of the number of days she spent in custody.

"I wanted to go home and get high," she said. "Everyone else was doing it and getting away with it."

It took Regalado more than a year to get clean in the program that usually lasts for 10 months.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said the majority of users they talk to say someone they know introduced them to the drug.

"Peer pressure is what we are seeing with the individuals we deal with," he said. "It's a significant problem."

Regalado said there are steps addicts need to kick the habit.

"The main thing is to get away from the people you have associated with," she said. "Everything has to change."

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