Action 16 Investigation: The Faces of Meth

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We have heard over and over again about the meth lab busts in the Berwick area.

An Action 16 Investigation into the growing use of the powerful stimulant, shows toll it takes on the ones who use it.

The "before" and "after" photos of meth users paint a picture of damage and despair.

When police raid a suspected meth lab, they wear "Haz-Mat" suits to protect themselves from the toxic chemicals of the home-made drug.

And yet, meth users snort, smoke, and inject themselves with these same chemicals.

"It's dirty," is how a recovering meth addict named Mike describes the drug.

He wants to warn people about the "dirty" drug he says sent him on seven-day binges.

"I contracted Hepatitis C, and that tears me up quite a bit," Mike said, adding meth has torn up many lives in his hometown of Berwick, the Columbia County borough still gripped by more than a decade of what some call a meth epidemic.

Mug shots from the county jail show that in a two- to five-year period, people arrested on meth-related charges seem to age decades, with sunken cheekbones, and a look of despair.

"You're shooting everything from sulfuric acid to Coleman lantern fluid.  That's what's destroying people," said Mike.

"You can see it a mile away," said Judge Tom James who presides over Columbia County's Drug Court.  "They look pathetic, you see the red blotches on their face.  You see the gaunt look."

Judge James has seen countless meth users fill his courtroom in the last few years, and he tries to get them treatment. But he says many users fail to stay clean.

"There is a sadness," said Judge James.  "And I think they know they`re caught in this web.  And with the addiction, they don`t know how to get out of it."

"Giving up the will to live, yeah, that`s probably the best way to describe it," adds Mike, who says he has been clean for six months after a decade of using meth.

And he hopes those tempted by the drug will look at how it changes a users appearance, and say no to meth.

The striking before and after pictures only show what happens to meth users on the outside.

Studies show that long time meth users often lose their short-term memory.

In some cases, they even experience shaking, symptoms similar to people with Parkinson's Disease.