SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC 4 News) – Contrary to popular belief that opioids are the top drug for overdose deaths in Utah, it’s actually meth. For women, particularly mothers, who are battling addiction, sometimes the odds can be against them once they’re ready to get sober.
Matthew Sandberg with Utah Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said there’s more of a spotlight on opioids because it takes a much smaller dosage of heroin or fentanyl to kill than someone it would with meth. He also noted that opioid addiction usually stems from prescription drug use.
“Methamphetamine is a drug we don’t speak enough about. We’ve heard so much about the heroin and fentanyl abuse, which are also extremely dangerous drugs,” said Sandberg. “But while we’ve been speaking about those drugs, we haven’t spoken much about the fact that meth is much more prevalent on the streets and it’s really the preferred drug of use here in Utah.
He said the high rate of meth use is due to the increased amounts being brought into the state, which brings the price down and makes it more affordable for buyers.
“Ten years ago, our typical meth loads were about two to three pounds. Now they’re anywhere between 20 to 30 pounds,” said Sandberg. “A pound of meth ten years ago was $20,000. Now, it’s $3,200.”
Sabrina Malan, who began using meth at age 21, said the drug has very addictive qualities and she was hooked immediately after her first try.
“It made me stay up for a long time. I liked that uppity feeling. I felt like I could get everything done,” said Malan.
But it wasn’t long before Malan lost control of her life and ended up on the streets.
“The last time that I had relapsed was probably the darkest moment of my life. Before then, I had never intentionally tried to overdose. But that time, I did because I didn’t care anymore,” said Malan. “I was scared. I had nowhere to go. I was just frightened, really.”
Wendy Racine has a similar story with meth addiction, except her children were involved in the process.
“I lost custody of all three of my kids and that just further pushed me into using drugs to cover up the pain,” said Racine.
She shared that her father’s death was what propelled her to get clean. But after more than a decade of drug use, it was difficult for her to start a new life.
“For the first like six months of sobriety, you’re on this high of ‘Yes! I can do this! I’m a recovering drug addict and I’m doing good,'” said Racine. “But then, reality starts to set in because of your previous record and you can’t get a job.”
Racine explained that the state slapped her with a bill of child support in addition to medical bills that were coming in, making it nearly impossible for her to make a livable income after her wages were garnished. She didn’t qualify for food stamps because her application was based on her gross income, not net.
“People don’t understand that the financial debt that comes with the entire time that you’re using drugs. When the state steps in and takes care of your children, they start charging for that care for it,” said Racine. “When you get sober, they hand you a big bill that says, ‘Here you go. You owe us $50,000 for taking care of your kids for this long.'”
She said she was not trying to make excuses for her situation, but wants to shed some light on why many drug users relapse when trying to get clean.
“Sometimes, it felt like it was just easier being high than trying to get clean,” said Racine.
Sandberg said during his time with the Utah DEA, the most sobering experiences for him are when children are present around drug use.
“We’ve raided houses where you’ve gone into the place and find 20 to 30 pounds of meth in the house, lying on the living room floor with children running around,” said Sandberg. “It’s pretty devastating to know that these children could be exposed at any moment and suffer serious effects.”
Although Racine’s children were around when she was using drugs, she said they were too young to remember it. But it doesn’t ease the guilt or shame for her.
Despite the odds, Racine has been sober for five years after 13 years of addiction. She now works as a paraeducator for the Canyons School District, helping students with behavioral issues.
After fighting addiction for 15 years, Malan is celebrating four years of sobriety. She now works for Odyssey House, helping individuals who are battling drug use.
Both women now have good relationships with their family and strive to help others affected by drug use.