My cousin Phillip has resided in the Clarke Institute for eight months. He wanders the halls disrobing, dumping meal trays on himself and screaming. When he isn't hostile, he's confused. Occasionally, he has lucid moments, but they're cruelly fleeting. And it's all because of crystal meth. Phil was a preternaturally wise child. He got the highest marks in western Canada for mathematics in grade eight, and in March was finishing his second year honours in physics despite a fervent passion for theology. He also had a long history and affection for altered states of reality.
Little did my uncle realize what a Pandora's box his eighth-birthday chemistry set would turn out to be. It laid the groundwork for a future home lab where he would combine cold medication, drain cleaner and Epsom salts to get him and his buddies high.
Like most of my peers, I've smoked pot and laughed my head off at Reefer Madness. We rolled our eyes at the stories of kids who dropped acid and thought they could fly. We knew the truth about pot, acid and mushrooms - that the worst that could happen was a bad trip. You might have a heart attack on cocaine, shut down your respiratory tract on heroin, wind up having your stomach pumped with a gutful of booze. But you wouldn't lose your mind.
Then crystal meth came along, appropriately called ice since it's easy to make in the privacy of your own kitchen: thousands of recipes on the Internet, ingredients from the drugstore and hardware store, and a lab that can fit into a knapsack.
When I phoned Phil the week before his breakdown (what they're calling a psychotic episode), he sounded expansive, gregarious. He said he hadn't slept for two weeks, which I took for plain exaggeration in the face of upcoming exams. Then his best friend and roommate was hospitalized with an apparent nervous breakdown, and a few days later my aunt called to say Phil was there, too.
We figured it was a plot concocted by the two of them, a last-minute ploy to get their exams deferred. But when his delusions escalated, it became obvious that this wasn't the case.
He admitted to being a crank addict, and the truth slowly emerged when we packed up his belongings at his shabby bachelor in Kensington Market, the state of which was beyond disgraceful and littered with paraphernalia. No food, textbooks pushed far under the soiled bed, sheaves of dreadful drug-induced poetry that would make Coleridge twist in his damp grave.
Pure crystal meth is the prescription drug Desoxyn, but that isn't what's sold on the street. The latter contains any combination of hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, antifreeze and Ritalin, as well as the necessary phosphorus (from fertilizer) and pseudoephedrine (from cold and sinus medications such as Sudafed).
The resulting euphoria is like bungee-jumping, but it lasts for hours and, as with cocaine, users binge for up to weeks at a time.
Phil's last binge lasted three weeks. He didn't sleep and didn't eat. His body didn't give out, so his brain did. He screwed up his neurotransmitters and severed the hard wiring that keeps the brain intact. I wonder if anything will ever make it right again.
Hawaii drug treatment centres are reporting that for the first time more ice addicts are being admitted than alcoholics. The main U.S. government drug Web site says meth "can produce psychotic symptoms that persist for months or years after an individual has stopped taking the drug." But this is a major understatement. Phil's doctors see little hope of recovery.
I had a heart-to-heart with my own GP about Phil. She said that this has become a national crisis, that the medical profession is seeing thousands of young people who have snapped "and are not just insane, but aggressive and violently so."
I begged her for any hope at all. She thought long and hard. "Well, they make excellent anti-psychotic medications now. If he keeps taking them," she added.
"But he was normal," I cried. "He was better than normal."
"I'm sorry," she said.
Phil, modest, soft-spoken, gifted Phil with his bookcase full of trophies, his parents' only child, spends the time when he isn't sedated loping down the ward punching himself in the face and masturbating in front of his mother.
He spouts obscenities and barnyard-noise litanies. Except for his parents, he isn't allowed visitors any more. Which is OK because, sadly, few can bear to go.