“Methamphetamine abuse is a catastrophic force in the community,” said Scott Thomas Anderson, beginning his lecture for about 50 people in the back of Placerville News Company on Saturday evening.
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Anderson, a crime reporter for The Ledger Dispatch in Amador County, spent two years investigating meth addicts as an embedded reporter in El Dorado and surrounding counties. The result of his investigation is “Shadow People: How meth-driven crime is eating at the heart of rural America,” the book he was promoting with the lecture while answering audience questions.
The effects of meth addiction are seen by the community in “rampant property crime” and “tragic, numbing child abuse and neglect and domestic violence,” Anderson said. “The child abuse and neglect is the untold story, even in El Dorado County.”
The author described meth as “one of the great threats to the overall quality of life,” especially in rural communities where some users are third generation addicts and looking to pass it on to a fourth. “Nobody is riding in on a white horse to save us from this,” he said of the government, noting that law enforcement was stretched thin as it is. “The community … works on the problem, or no one helps us.”
Lt. Robert Ashworth of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was also on hand, and together they recounted the history of meth, from being used in World War II to keep soldiers awake to a resurgence in the 1980s from biker groups, ending as a cheap, mainstream drug today.
Anderson then told stories of addicts he had encountered, from a child that had been taken from addict parents and put in foster care but still became an addict even without parental contact, to a 24-year-old woman dying from a meth-induced heart attack. The woman’s body was found dumped by the side of a road in bushes, found only because her dog would not leave her side for three days, Anderson said. In Calaveras County, Anderson said, a man was recently shot to death by a deputy because a man high on meth in Arnold was shooting at “meth demons.”
Anderson and Ashworth spoke about Assembly Bill 109, which Governor Jerry Brown signed last year. The bill was meant as a way to reduce prison crowding, Ashworth said, for non-violent, sexual or serious offenders. He gave an example of someone being found with 11 pounds of cocaine serving 11 years in a county jail, something the county “is not set up for,” he said. This same bill allowed two out of four people arrested for meth trafficking to quickly be back on the streets, Anderson said.
Meanwhile, while those addicts get out of jail, the relapse rate is between 85 and 92 percent, Anderson said.
“It’s a universal occurrence,” Anderson said. “Possession, transporting, some (district attorneys) say manufacturing — they are not in custody long. They are out committing other crimes. Property, domestic abuse, child abuse, neglect and some pretty brutal homicides.”
He related how Donald Ferndale took a hammer to a woman’s skull 11 times before choking her with a trash bag. Another man tried to kill two deputies, pushed a woman out of a car, went on a high speed chase with two guns in his car and finally ran into the Jackson police station, where the crash killed him.
There are things the community can do to prevent this, Anderson said.
“There are innovative youth programs in other states,” such as Hawaii, Wyoming and Montana, he said, “that are not statewide here, just county to county.” With the help of outside funding and cooperation with schools, classes are given with visual presentations to deter meth use.
Anderson described a presentation he gave to middle schoolers with before and after pictures. “It’s not like ‘Scared Straight’ or ‘Just Say No.’ Those didn’t work,” he said. Instead, he uses information made available at no cost from the National Methamphetamine Project and experts the Sheriff’s Office brings in. It was a program in Montana started six years ago, he said, and data from it has shown “incredible statistical victories.”
“The real battlefront is the fourth generation,” Anderson said. He pointed to West Point, a California community that is steeped in meth addiction. “Kids going to Calaveras High School are treated differently, like stereotypes,” he said. “They are harassed, put down. The net effect is they never leave. Everyone is poor there, meth addiction is common.” This makes it hard to break out of West Point, even to go to a junior college.
“There’s a program that takes them out to meet college teachers,” Anderson said. “It lets them know the history of the place won’t follow them if they leave.”
Other factors are employment and traveling, Anderson said. Many employers do not want even a reformed meth addict on staff, making it hard to obtain a job and crushing self-esteem, while many addicts have few options available for travel. Missed court dates and treatment could make a world of difference, he said. “You could be literally helping save a life by giving a ride, a small favor. Sure, there’s a risk it could burn you, but there’s risk in everything in life.”
Anderson and Ashworth also said that, since the crackdown on ephedrine, most of the meth coming into communities comes from Mexico, giving drug cartels a financial connection to rural communities.
Part of the problem, Anderson said, is resources. “Rural communities don’t have huge funds in budgets” for combatting the drug, he said. “It’s hard to respond as aggressively as needed.”
Anderson’s next investigation will involve AB 109, and will start in May or June, he said. He will continue talks on “Shadow People” through October or November. More information about Anderson can be found at his Website, scottthomasanderson.com.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected]. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.