In the summer of 1997 at the age of 35, I fell in love. That relationship exposed me to many new things. Unfortunately, one of them was methamphetamine. I didn’t know a lot about meth the first time I tried it. It wasn’t a common drug where I was from. I knew it was a stimulant and I knew it was illegal. And although I had
been employed as a prosecutor in New
York City and Seattle for the preceding
nine years, I had always been a vocal
opponent of the “War on Drugs” and refused to handle drug cases because of it.
That left a dangerous void in my knowledge of meth.
From the very first time I tried meth, I
loved it. Nothing had ever made me feel
as happy or alive or confident as meth did.
That’s because no natural experience can
make your brain produce dopamine like
meth can. Dopamine is a neurotransmit-ter that makes you experience pleasure.
Normally there are about 100 units of
dopamine in the pleasure centers of your
brain; when you have sex, those levels
double up to around 200 units. Cocaine
can make your dopamine levels go up to
350 units and keep them there for over
an hour. That’s why cocaine is so addictive. But when you use meth, your dopamine levels shoot up to 1,250 units and
you stay high for up to 12 hours. At the
same time your dopamine levels are spiking, meth is also reducing blood flow to
your frontal lobes, hobbling that section
of your brain that helps you make good
and responsible decisions. It’s a dangerous combination — a perfect storm of addiction.
Barreling towards addiction
By the third time I tried meth, I knew
I wasn’t going to stop, and soon what
started as a weekend ritual of getting
high quickly snowballed into extended
periods of use followed by debilitating
periods of withdrawal. Meth withdrawal
can leave you feeling impossibly weak,
apathetic, and depressed, sometimes
for days. You eat and sleep uncontrollably and sometimes experience crying
jags or bouts of paranoia for no reason.
It can make you feel like you’re losing
By December 1997, I couldn’t take it
anymore. I became an addicted, daily
subsistence user just to avoid with-
drawal. Suddenly, for the first time in
my career, I started showing up late
to work. I couldn’t stay organized any-
more. I was losing my temper for no
reason and being really rude to some of
the defense attorneys.
Many people believe it’s easy to figure
out when someone is using meth by their
violent or erratic behavior, but that’s a
myth. Like any drug, individual respons-
es to meth vary widely. Just as some
alcoholics can maintain the appearance
of sobriety with relatively high blood-
alcohol levels, many meth addicts can do
the same with meth. In many ways, my
meth-influenced behavior was not unlike
the behavior of many trial attorneys who
are short-tempered and stressed out, and
for the most part it went unnoticed.
Being a prosecutor certainly made my
addiction much more complicated. I was
overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and
hypocrisy. And although I knew I desperately needed help, I had no idea where I
could get it without losing my job.
And I really didn’t want to lose my
job. I loved being a trial attorney and a
victims’ advocate. After graduating from
Duke Law in 1988, I started my career
in the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office, where I focused on prosecuting sex crimes. Three
years later, I took a job as a trial attorney
and supervisor in the Special Victims
Bureau in the Queens D.A.’s Office. Then
in 1995, I moved to Seattle to work for
Norm Maleng as a King County deputy
Being a prosecutor was all I had ever
done. I was also really good at it. In nine
years of trying cases back-to-back, I rarely lost. Trial work felt completely natural
to me — like the thing I was born to do.
Caught at the courthouse
That all ended one day in March 1998,
three months into my addiction, when
a security guard at the King County
Courthouse asked me to open my
briefcase, which had just gone through
the X-ray machine. It was a common
request; I frequently had my briefcase
searched when entering the courthouse.
Only this time, inside, there was an Altoids tin containing drugs and drug paraphernalia — I recognized the Altoids
tin. It belonged to me and my significant
other. But I had no idea why it was in my
briefcase, where it would so obviously be
found by security.
In an instant, I saw my life crumble
before my eyes. I was about to lose everything: my job, my friends, and my reputation. I denied the drugs were mine, but I
knew it didn’t matter. The damage was
done. A few days later, I resigned my job
and a special prosecutor was appointed
to handle the investigation.
As I saw it, I had two choices at that
point: 1) stop using meth and face reality,
or 2) keep using a drug that made me insanely happy, no matter how bad my life
became. I knew if I kept using meth there
was a good chance it would eventually
kill me, but that was no longer a reason
not to use it. My life already felt like it was
over. I wanted it to be over.
But I had a different problem now.
Snorting meth no longer put enough of
the drug into my bloodstream to make
its magic work. I needed to get a lot more
in me, a lot faster. So I started injecting
it. At $25 a shot, that was expensive, and
within a few weeks, I was completely
broke. Not surprisingly, that’s also when
my relationship ended. Once my significant other was gone, I felt completely lost.
All my former friends were prosecutors who couldn’t have any contact with
me. All I had left was meth. However, I
was still an experienced criminal attorney — one who now knew dozens of meth
addicts, most of whom desperately needed representation from a lawyer they
From the very first
time I tried meth,
I loved it. Nothing
had ever made me
feel as happy or
alive or confident
as meth did.