Letter from the Editor

Monday, August 29, 2005

A summer in a meth addicts' shoes

Today, the Pilot wraps up a seven-issues series on the abuse of methamphetamine in the Storm Lake area.

It has been a project we wish we didn't need to do. It has been heart-rending, especially so in the cases of the local addicts who have shared their stories with us even as they lose their children to go behind bars.

"All I can do is look at my little daughter through this square (in the prison cell door) and hope she can forgive me. It is the only hope I have," one young Storm Lake mother says.

Crystal meth users - or "tweakers" as they are sometimes known on the street, seem to have as many excuses as there are addicts - and this drug is as close to an epidemic as this area has seen.

For some, it has been an ill-advised diet aid. For others, an energy source in an attempt to work for days without sleep. For others a seeming escape from troubles in that first intense high that leaves them chasing the feeling for years of downhill slide.

Those who spoke to us have realized the truth, perhaps too late. Some have lost their freedom, all have lost precious relationships. Many have paid a heavy price in physical and mental wear and tear by this drug.

This series was not produced to shock you, although it may have. It was not made to be sensational, or even to sell newspapers.

It was written in hopes that people will better understand what meth is and how it works, so that you can recognize it, fight it, prevent it from touching you or someone you love.

The series is a pretty remarkable piece of work, all the more so in that it was executed by a journalist barely out of her teens, and younger than any addict interviewed.

Holly Schnitzler came to us as a student intern from Buena Vista University, and leaves us with a writing achievement that few, if any, people her age can match.

Imagine sitting in a media class one day, and a couple of weeks later, being deep inside the brutal reality of a prison, going one on one with a man who has been a leading drug maker and pusher for years. Or touching a little girl who is about to lose her father to prison for possibly 27 years.

It is not easy to talk to the people she spoke to in this series, work that consumed an entire summer while other people her age traveled or bummed around their parents' rec rooms.

If you have followed the series, you know that the worlds of these people have not been pretty to peek inside. Journalists are supposed to be jaded observers, but don't you believe it. Any reporter worth his or her salt has had their heart ripped apart a dozen times, feeling a little of the pain of the people they write about, even as they are privileged to share a little of the joys that are prevalent in other stories.

Thank you, Holly, for an eye-opening series; perhaps a first step in a career of notable summers.

Thank you, too, readers, for hanging in with us. These are not warm, fuzzy feel-good stories. These are not realities we would like to think of as existing in our own community. They leave a mark. Wise readers learn all they can from the good and the bad, the accomplishments and the challenges of the world around them. We can only hope you exit the series with a little more insight and a few more facts than when you began.

I would especially thank Lisa, Jessie, Jim, Wade, Shirley and Regan - the heart of this series has been their heartfelt stories about what meth has done to their lives. None asked for your pity, nor would it help to give that. It was difficult for them to relive, and they risk those sideways glances of distrust for putting themselves and their families out in front of the community while attempting to begin their lives anew. Best wishes to you all in that journey.

If there is a bright side to a dismal issue, it is a recent survey of students high school age and younger in the northwest Iowa region featured late in our series.

In their responses, students indicate that they know meth is not so hard to come by in their communities, and they are right. Yet over 95 percent say they have made a point to stay clear of the drug and have never used it.

That means that meth isn't cool anymore. Young people have processed the risks of the junk and are rejecting them. And that means that meth's days are numbered as the so-called thrill of choice in northwest Iowa.

After hearing all we have heard in the making of this series, it can't happen soon enough.

Here's to better summers ahead, and a chance to heal the heartbreaks.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. He can be reached at dlarsen@stormlake pilottribune.com