The Faces Of Meth


Joseph Rose

Move your mouse over the photo to see the effects of three months of meth use.

Death Rate Rises

Meth use is becoming increasingly deadly in Oregon.

In 2003, the state medical examiner recorded 78 meth-related deaths, a 20 percent jump from the year before, and 56 percent higher than in 2001. Only heroin, with 100 deaths, claimed more lives last year.

State Medical Examiner Karen Gunson said meth users often die as the result of psychotic behavior brought on by the drug, rather than from overdoses.

"We look at the entire case, the toxicology, evidence from the scene, the actions of the person before their death," Gunson said. "But in many of the cases, we suspect meth right away."

People high on meth have jumped off bridges and out apartment windows, walked in front of cars, driven their cars into storefronts, and incited brutal beatings.

After driving to death scenes, medical investigators often learn that the deceased was shouting and acting crazy. The bodies are typically emaciated and missing a row or two of teeth -- both symptoms of meth addiction.

Smoked, snorted, ingested or injected, meth is a cheap, powerful stimulant that produces a high that can last hours. It boosts brain levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing pleasure and increased energy. Addiction is quick. And so is the destruction of mind and body, said Richard Rawson, a neuropsychiatrist with UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. Time-lapse jail photos give only a hint of what the drug is doing to the user's insides, starting with the mind, he said.

Using brain-imaging techniques, researchers have found that meth's toxic chemicals eat away at brain tissue, eventually robbing addicts of the ability to feel pleasure without the drug. With each hit, meth changes the way the brain works, impairing judgment, giving rise to psychosis and aggravating any existing mental illness, Rawson said.

Meth also boosts heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. Over time, a user's eyes and mouth dry up. Teeth fall out. The body stops craving food, and only wants meth.

Depending on the intensity of the "rush," a user's body temperature can spike up to 107 degrees, Rawson said. "A lot of emergency rooms keep ice beds now," he said. "Overheating is the primary reason for meth deaths."

Portland emergency rooms create beds on the spot, with ice packs, fans and plastic cooling blankets. "Even bringing them down to 102 is doing them a favor," said Deborah Robertson, a Legacy Good Samaritan emergency room doctor.


Teresa Baxter

Move your mouse over the photo to see the effects of three and one half years of meth use.

After five years of taking meth, Theresa Baxter says she has experienced everything but death. She says being on meth is the closest thing to being a zombie, a member of the living dead.

Indeed, Baxter's two mug shots offer what is perhaps the most dramatic juxtaposition of health and hell in King's collection.

The first picture dates to 2002, when she was arrested for identity theft and fraud. The second comes from November. In nearly 3 1/2 years, she has gone through an eye-rubbing metamorphosis. Forty pounds lighter. A loose bandage covering a cyst on her cheek. A road map of deep wrinkles. She looks nothing like her former self.

She's 42.

"It's scary," Baxter said, sitting inside the Multnomah County jail. "There are no words to describe it" -- she began to sob -- "I can't stand to look at myself in the mirror."

She is serving a five-month sentence for theft and drug possession. Baxter said she understands why someone would want to use her face in a prevention program.

She opened her mouth as she cried. All but the two front teeth are missing on top. One of the pair, the gray one, is about to fall out. If it's like the others, she said, it will crumble with a bite of food. A former heroin user, Baxter said she began using meth to escape depression. It was cheaper and better. And like many addicts, she would take repeated hits, allowing her to stay up for days. The longest run? "I remember 14 days, straight through," she said.

She couldn't eat because the drug amplified her senses, making the smell of food unbearable, and played with her head.

"I would cook meat for my boyfriend," she said, "and I'd get it in my mind that it was a mouse in the pan. I couldn't bring myself to eat it."

When Baxter was high, she couldn't handle anything touching her, including water. So, she didn't shower. Every binge ended with a couple days sleep. She didn't fade. She crashed. "You close your eyes once," she explained, "and you're out. People could dance on you and you wouldn't know it."

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City of Troutdale- Last Updated April 22, 2014