Ten years ago, crystal methamphetamine was the newest and most popular drug to hit the streets.
It took hold of the youth culture in no time, despite the unknown consequences that would soon become all too apparent.
Patty Sneed, with Rim Guidance Center and a volunteer with Narcotics Anonymous, was in the vanguard of people who stepped into the darkness of meth abuse only to find it would threaten everything she held dear.
Sneed began her journey to sobriety in 1998 after she hit bottom and found herself in trouble with the law. That is when she decided she would "step up" and do something positive to take a message of recovery to those still in meth's stranglehold.
She will be clean and sober for 10 years on May 5 and she knows the heartache of addiction and its legacy.
She has worked for Rim Guidance Center for about five years and has volunteered her time with Narcotics Anonymous to put an end to a problem that threatens the health, safety and well-being of entire communities.
Sneed said she will help recovering addicts as long as she can.
Meth abuse has been a serious problem in Gila County and Payson for a number of years.
In 2006, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission performed a study of 60,401 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 15 counties in the state.
The study concluded that in Gila County in 2002, 6.4 percent of the group admitted to having used meth sometime in their lives.
Those numbers rose slightly in 2004 to 7.2, but dropped again in 2006 to 5.6 percent.
Two percent said they had used meth within 30 days.
Sneed proudly proclaims her decade of sobriety from the drug, but said she feels an ongoing call to help those who find themselves gripped by it.
She and others with Narcotics Anonymous said they have witnessed an increase in addicts seeking help.
"When I first got here, there were maybe about 10 or 12 people who came to the meetings," said David Mikulak with Narcotics Anonymous. "But now there is almost always around 20 or 25 who attend regularly."
Sneed estimated that 60 recovering addicts attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings regularly.
She said that while attendance at NA meetings has risen sharply over the last few years, there is still much work to be done, including opening a residential treatment center in Payson.
"Right now there is no residential facility in Payson whatsoever, the closest one is in Casa Grande and there is typically a one- to three-month waiting list to get in," she said.
She said that despite the scarcity of recovery services and facilities in Arizona, she is encouraged by anti-meth efforts by some organizations.
A statewide anti-meth effort Sneed said she hoped everyone in Arizona tuned in to watch was a documentary called "Arizona Crystal Darkness" presented by Childhelp, a national organization dedicated to preventing child abuse.
On Tuesday, April 15, virtually every major television channel in Arizona aired the documentary "Arizona Crystal Darkness" from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The title "Arizona Crystal Darkness" was chosen because it refers to the darkness of the unknown that meth users step into, said one young recovering addict.
The documentary differed in some ways from other anti-meth campaigns in that it didn't just show the scarred and pockmarked faces of active users cowering in corners from unseen, non-existent demons.
It showcased more the innocent, almost cherubic faces of young people who were once held tight in the grip of meth addiction, but now find themselves struggling with the daily emotional battle within to stay away from a synthetic drug they know could kill them.
Sneed said she is well acquainted with the desperation that seems to be an integral part of meth addiction.
She said that it is common among young people to feel impervious to drug addiction, but meth takes control away from all addicts eventually.
"I couldn't wake up without crying because I hated who I was," said recovering Valley addict Lisa in the documentary. "I found myself living in the gutter talking to people who weren't there."
Sneed said remembering those feelings are important to helping addicts break free from their addiction, but some people who have good intentions about fighting meth abuse take it a little too far.
Sneed said part of an addict's recovery is to admit and even embrace the memory of that addiction.
She said those who break the law should face the consequences, but she does not agree with all of the tactics used by law enforcement.
She said that once a person has been held accountable, they should not be singled out to the public as being drug addicts like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio does with prisoners in his jails.
One of Arpaio's female chain gangs was recently filmed by a Valley news crew wearing jail shirts that read "I was once a drug addict" across the back in bold black letters as they performed community service along an Arizona roadway.
"It is counterproductive to an addict's recovery to be labeled in such a manner. I know how awful it feels to carry the stigma of addiction on your back and it only makes (meth addicts) want to medicate the feeling of guilt they already have," she said.
"People use meth, or any drug, to self medicate so they won't feel the pain in their lives that led them to drugs in the first place. Making them wear a shirt that tells everyone of their shame only makes them want to self medicate all over again," Sneed said.
Sneed said the path to recovery should include understanding and patience, and she for one says she will continue to offer her advice, counseling and support to anyone looking to free themselves from the grip of meth addiction so pervasive in our society.
She encourages those looking for help to call Rim Guidance Center at (928) 474-3303 or attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but to seek help somewhere.
Narcotics Anonymous meeting schedule
"From Discovery to Recovery," Monday at 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., 408 W. Main St., number 11 (around back of building).
Thursday, 7 p.m. 107 E. Airline (Step House -- call 928-468-6368 for directions).
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. "Just For Today" at 107 E. Airline (Step House -- call 928-468-6368 for directions) and 10 a.m. at 309 W. Corral, "Biscuits and Gravy meeting."
For more information on NA meetings and 12-step programs, call Mark at (928) 970-0206 or Patty at (928) 595-1570.
Information on meth addiction and available help throughout Arizona is available on the Narcotics Anonymous Web site at www.arizona-na.org.