Family uses tragedy to warn of meth

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The week before Daniel David Carver died, he was wreaking havoc inside Oak Creek's Sinclair Gas Station. The 19-year-old threw cigarette boxes, destroyed a display of sunglasses and wrestled with the Oak Creek police chief for six minutes before being handcuffed and taken to the Routt County Jail, police said.

The day before his death, by comparison, was a quiet one. Daniel ate a meal at his grandparents' house, listened to music with friends, helped a relative unload groceries and apologized to the clerk at the gas station.

Just before 2 a.m. Feb. 7, he shot himself.

Eugene Germain found his fatally wounded but still breathing grandson on the floor. On the same morning, Germain sat down and wrote the teenager's obituary.

He wrote of a loving, happy, go-lucky child who became such an angry young man that family members began locking their doors at night.

He warned of the dangers of methamphetamine, a drug that dangerously changed Daniel's personality.

The obituary was a plea for others to help Daniel's friends before it was too late. (The Steamboat Pilot & Today declined to publish Daniel Carver's obituary because of its content.)

"We urge any of his friends who are into the same drugs that he was in to stop and look at their lives," it reads. "We urge the parents, if you have been considering, but not ready to do something, it is time."

Daniel's autopsy report showed he had traces of amphetamines and marijuana in his body. He had a blood alcohol content of .206, more than four times the legal limit.

At age 4, Daniel moved to the family ranch near Stagecoach, where he was raised by his grandparents after his mother died. He loved to drive his Ford Ranger pickup. He bought nut rolls and burritos at the convenience store and played ice hockey.

In October 2002, Daniel was in a car accident in which two people died. Riding in the back seat, Daniel suffered back and head injuries along with emotional anguish.

Daniel had used marijuana and alcohol before then, Germain said, but after the accident, he became addicted to meth.

"It made him crazy, literally crazy," Germain said. "He lost his self-worth. He might have used pot before, but this changed his whole personality."

Daniel could stay up for days; he wouldn't eat and became angry. Family members started locking doors, something rural residents hardly ever do, and Germain started sleeping with a loaded pistol nearby.

Germain knew his grandson was using meth and other drugs; what he didn't know was how to stop it.

He tried scheduling an appointment with a therapist but said Daniel became so paranoid he wouldn't go. The two would have violent arguments, Germain said. Soon, he started watching for signs that Daniel was coming down from the drug -- times that he was calm and reasonable -- so he could talk to him.

"It was like being in a snow slide," Germain said. "What you really want to do is get out of the snow slide. You are not so worried about what is going on behind you."

The snow slide

In 2000, more than 4 percent of the U.S. population reported trying methamphetamine at least once, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Web site reports. The drug is most heavily used in the West, Southwest and Midwest regions.

"Oak Creek is no worse off or better than the rest of the country in the use of (meth)," said Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman. "It is so cheap and easy to figure out how to make."

Rodeman is well aware of the drug and its dangers. She recognizes the sunken cheeks, rotten teeth and sores that come with its long-term use. Her teenage daughter, Myria, has watched friends become addicted and even wrote and produced a song to convince one of them to stop using the drug.

"For the kids who experiment with everything, it's not the same with (meth). It gives them some sense of who they are, and then they completely lose who they are," Rodeman said.

Methamphetamine is known by many aliases: meth, crank, crystal meth, ice, glass and speed. It can come in a white powder, clear, chunky crystals or brightly colored tablets. It can be taken orally, injected, snorted or smoked.

The drug -- which is highly addictive and personality-altering -- creates a euphoric and energetic feeling, a high that can last from two to 14 hours, an eternity compared with the 15- to 20-minute high cocaine produces.

A 31-year-old Steamboat Springs man, who requested his name not be used, described the high as blissful.

"You do a little of it, and it makes you want more," the former user said.

Meth by the numbers

The number of methamphetamine lab seizures in Colorado has increased steadily since 1996. In 1996, 16 seizure were made; in 2002, 325 were made, the DEA Web site notes.

In 2002, federal drug seizures captured 18.9 kilograms of methamphetamine in Colorado, compared with 45 kilograms of cocaine and 43.5 kilograms of marijuana.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner and Steamboat Springs Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing said meth is a major problem in Northwest Colorado.

In the past eight years, GRAMNET, the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team, has investigated more than 40 meth labs in the region.

A 2002 SteamboatCares survey administered to Steamboat Springs High School students indicated that 9.2 percent had used meth at least once. The number is slightly higher than the national average of 9.1 percent.

In comparison, 3.9 percent of those students admitted to using cocaine once in their life and 50 percent said they had used marijuana at least once.

In a similar 1999 survey at Hayden High School, 12.7 percent of the students said they had used amphetamines. That number dropped to 7.1 percent in 2001. In South Routt County, students responding to a 2001 survey indicated that, while 70 percent to 85 percent had used alcohol and roughly 40 percent to 50 percent had used marijuana at least once, none had tried stimulants.

Unlike drugs that have to be smuggled across borders, the ingredients for "cooking" meth can be bought at any drug or grocery store or found under kitchen sinks and in bathroom cabinets.

Cleaning agents, the striking strip on matchbooks and chemicals found in some cold medicine can be used to manufacture the drug.

If you know the right people, the drug is easy to buy in Steamboat, said "Tim," a 22-year-old former user.

Tim, who requested his real name not be used, said he bought the drug mainly in Steamboat, but at times made the three-hour drive to Denver to buy an ounce. He estimated that, of his acquaintances in Steamboat, one in 20 used the drug.

"Don't be surprised if it's the guy at the gas station, the bank teller or the guy at the construction site," he said.

Rock bottom

When Tim first started using meth, he just did it for fun, on weekends. That use progressed into an addiction.

"I had to reach rock bottom before I realized where I was or where I was going," he said.

For Tim, who has not used meth in more than eight months, rock bottom did not come before his healthy, 170-pound body dwindled to 115 pounds.

At one point, he was spending $200 a day on meth and once sold $5,000 worth of possessions to finance his habit.

"For me, it was pretty addictive. It started as a fun thing on the weekend and quickly progressed to full time, all the time. Then it became necessary," Tim said. "It is not really necessary, but you think it is."

The high was a heavy adrenaline rush. On the drug, Tim said, he could focus on something for hours: a shoe, a computer, a song.

"A line of coke keeps you up for two hours, a line of (meth) keeps you up for two days," Tim said.

It was easy to get trapped -- staying up for days, buying drugs instead of food, and looking for the next hit to avoid crashing. It was a roller-coaster ride, Tim said, and even in the process of doing meth, he wished he wasn't doing it.

"You end up (hurting) a lot of people for it, and the only friends after a point are the druggies. Everybody else in your life loses respect," he said.

Tim used meth for about a year and half, until financially he could no longer afford it. To quit the addiction, Tim left the area for a few weeks. He slept and ate for three or four days straight.

At first, he would dream about the drug; later, even looking at a drawer where he once kept his meth could trigger cravings.

The way to overcome the urges, Tim said, was to stop hanging out with the people he used to get high with and to find something else to replace the addiction.

"If you fill your pockets with dope and then take it out, whatever you do, fill them back up with something else," Tim said.

Getting off meth has to be something the user wants to do, Tim said, noting there is a line between a friend or family member helping someone stop and pushing too hard.

Walking the line

Germain was walking that line before Daniel's death. He wanted to help, even tried to set up therapy. Daniel's paranoia was so great, Germain said, that he refused to go.

"The only thing you could do was something physical, like protective custody," Germain said. "When we did that, we would have lost him then for sure."

Rodeman agrees the threat of jail is not always the way to prevent kids from doing meth. Instead, she suggests introducing them to a long-term meth user -- with the rotten teeth, sores and skin and bones -- as a deterrent.

"They will know what to expect. They will see the signs, know what the drug does," Rodeman said.

Germain hopes Daniel's obituary, which hangs in the convenience store he was arrested in three weeks ago, will be another deterrent.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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