On the street they call it "strawberry quick."
It looks like pink crystal rock candy, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Chemists shape methamphetamine from lye, battery acid, lithium from batteries and acetone, to name but a few lovely ingredients.
"Meth is the most serious addictive drug I have seen, and I have worked with heroin and other street drugs," said Darlene Duncan, a social worker on the board of the Gila County Meth Coalition at a recent workshop on children and meth for court-appointed special advocates (CASAs).
The specter of a form of meth designed to appeal to kids is just the latest incarnation of a drug that already accounts for almost all of the cases in which the state removed children from their homes in Payson. Police say it's the biggest drug problem in Rim Country at present, although experts believe public education campaigns have cut into its use.
Experts say meth dealers have now given their addictive product a youth-friendly look with flavored crystals that constitute just one form of the drug.
Strawberry meth first turned up in Nevada in 2007.
"They say it is not in Arizona, which tells me that they simply have not found it in Arizona because it is in Utah and Colorado -- it's all around us," Duncan said.
"Globe Police were told there was strawberry meth at the high school. They investigated and did not find it, but that tells me kids know about it," Duncan said.
"Most meth comes to Arizona from super-labs in Mexico," she added.
"Yaba" a combination of meth and caffeine or sometimes the drug ecstasy, comes in water-soluble pills stamped with popular cartoon characters.
"So you might have a kid carrying around a water cooler who says, ‘it's just water,' and it is not," Duncan said.
The first time someone uses meth, the drug hits 13 different pleasure centers in the brain. By contrast, sexual intercourse might trigger three or four, Duncan said.
Meth use changes the way the brain's neurons and neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine communicate with other cells.
When the high the user will never get again subsides, the body and mind begin to deteriorate.
Signs of meth use include: itching from the illusion of bugs on the skin, insomnia for five days at a stretch, rotting teeth, excessive talking, the "tweaking" of involuntary body movements, visual and auditory hallucinations and paranoia.
Women, children and meth
"Most women start using meth as a weight-loss product," Duncan said.
But users quickly become so addicted they do not realize what is happening to their bodies -- even though the body expels meth in about three days through urination.
Doctors used to say withdrawal took 12 to 18 months, but now note that withdrawal might take 10 years or longer for someone being treated for bi-polar disorder.
"It depends on the individual. One thing about addiction, the desire is always there," Duncan said.
Babies pay the price for meth-addicted parents.
"One baby was born in Payson with legs backwards and some internal organs on the outside," Ramona Cameron, the family group decision making specialist and board member of the GCMC, said.
"It took a special set of foster parents to care for the child," she added.
Cameron cited a case in Globe where "the mother's brain was so fried with meth" although she had not taken it the day she gave birth, that she did not know what to feed her baby. A nurse caught her trying to feed mashed potatoes and cranberries to her newborn.
Children exposed in utero generally develop serious problems by the age of two and by the time they enter school often develop attention deficits and other problems that don't respond to the standard treatments for those problems.
Meth also heightens sexual appetites, which often results in the sexual molestation of babies and children by addicts, Cameron said.
"Ninety-five percent of Child Protective Services removals in Payson in 2007 were meth-related," she added.
When the government removes a child from the home, the parent only has one year to stop the drug use and get his or her life back on track, she said.
Addicts can only hope for an understanding attorney and a sympathetic judge, who might grant extra time for recovery.
ACCCHS and many private insurance policies do not pay for substance-abuse recovery programs.
Fortunately, the Partnership for a Drug Free America has found that meth use in teens and adults is decreasing. PDFA attributes this to law enforcement and prevention programs, according to one slide at the workshop.
Of the 30 people in attendance, half indicated they know someone who's using meth.
"Any chance you get to talk to a legislator about treatment and prevention dollars, talk, because the dollars in Arizona are drying up," Duncan said.