Crystal meth is considered one of the most addictive drugs on the streets. It is known by many different names including meth, crank, and ice. It can be smoked, injected, snorted or taken orally. It is commonly sold in pill form, powder and chunks.

Thanks to Brenetta Howell Barrett, CEO/president of Pathfinders Prevention Education Fund, a wake-up call on crystal meth was delivered last week at Third Unitarian Church.

Pathfinders began targeting the Austin community because it has the highest number of AIDS cases and AIDS deaths in the city. Mrs. Barrett has affiliated herself with various churches and organizations so that these entities can help teach and inform citizens, letting communities know that someone cares and available counseling is just a telephone call or church visit away.

Many in Chicago remember Barrett as a political activist, member of the Constitutional Convention in 1972, candidate for commissioner and many other political activities. But her work with Pathfinders in many ways has been more rewarding, she said, because it involves saving young people who are at risk. She has been a longtime civil rights organizer and fighter, but as CEO/president of Pathfinders she is attempting to make changes that affect the lives of the younger generation.

Barrett, along with Lora Branch of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health, hosted the forum held Aug. 25 at Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield. “We at Pathfinders found that a lot of young people thought they knew it all,” Barrett said. “We find ourselves in the cracks, and that’s where we find many have fallen”between the cracks. Very often we go into the community and think we surely are going to find another provider offering the same information, but that’s not what happens. We almost never run into another agency or organization providing information we do. We are trying to get ahead of the curve on crystal meth in our community.”

Lora Branch led the forum, which included comments from Officer Hosea Rios (12th Dist.); Jim Pickett, director of Public Policy; and Simone Culendar, director of Community Health; followed by open questions and discussion.

Branch began by asking the audience, “Why do you think we’re having this meeting on crystal meth?” Part of Public Health’s goal is to develop a plan that would be inclusive, accessible and non-judgmental (members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] community are among the highest users).

Culendar talked briefly on what she called “Crystal Meth 101:” “This is in no way a comprehension discussion,” she said. “I’m still learning about this drug. Some of the names it is known by are crystal, bump, speed, teena, ice, grass, crank. You can snort it in the powder form; you can smoke it; the most popular way is smoking rocks in a pipe; you can also sprinkle it on a joint; and you can liquefy the rock and inject it.

“What Meth does, it speeds you up, it triggers a lot of pleasure centers in your brain. it makes you feel really, really good. It increases energy and makes you kind of not worry about things you might normally worry about, it makes you feel you can do anything.

“The sex drive, when we talk about HIV/AIDS, there is an increased sex drive and feeling more sexual. This is considered a more powerful form of speed. It has a more pronounced affect. The ‘high’ lasts longer”one dose could last maybe 6-10 hours. Typically, people will take a ‘bump’ and then a few hours later take another one. So they are doing this maybe all day and night, maybe all weekend, maybe days or weeks on end”this is what we’re seeing.”

But as with all dangerous drugs, the ‘high’ comes with a high price. Culendar talked about the effects of long-term use such as memory loss, abscesses on the body, psychosis, and not being able to generate a natural sense of pleasure from everyday experiences.

Jim Pickett followed Culendar: “It also makes you feel super clear. You can feel sexual, but you can get into work and work on documents or clean your house for 12 hours. It gives you clarity”or so you think. With crystal, you are so heightened, everything is so clear, [you think] you know everything.”

Officer Hosea Rios from the 21st District is the liaison between the police and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community. “If you’re a GLBT youth, and you’re concerned about calling the police, they call me. I get calls from all over the city. That’s how I’m seeing that crystal meth is crossing over to the West Side. If you are a GLBT youth, at some point you’re going to end up on Halsted Street. The problem is, these are the kids the drug dealers are targeting. So you get one GLBT youth goes to Halsted Street and tries crystal meth. He comes back to the West Side and tells his friends, this is what I tried. So now you have one person who may introduce it to someone else, then they introduce it to four and those four introduce to four more. That is one of the things we’re trying to stop.

“The laws have changed, but a year ago you could go into Walgreens and buy everything you need to make crystal meth. It’s pretty scary. Kids can go on the Internet and learn how to make it. What we’re seeing in the police department and when the police execute a warrant, the people are so paranoid, they will fight rather then lose their crystal meth. Often we find they’ve been up all night or up for two days.”

Officer Rios added that if you suspect a Meth lab in your neighborhood, some of the signs to look for are: A strong smell of ammonia or strong smell of what seems like rotten eggs; a smell similar to cat urine; residences with windows covered or painted; renters who pay landlords in cash; excessive trash, including items such as antifreeze containers, propane tanks, drain cleaner, starter fluid or duct tape; and also unusual amounts of clear glass containers.

The forum organizers advised that if you suspect a Meth lab in your community, you should call law enforcement immediately. Keep away because Meth labs can explode and have been known to blow up buildings. Even law enforcement must wear protective clothing and be extremely careful, often using hazard-trained personnel.

You can report suspicious activity regarding methamphetamine production or trafficking to the Office of the Attorney General-Statewide Grand Jury Bureau at 312/814-5299. You can reach Jim Pickett, director, Public Policy, at 312/334-0920; Officer Hosea Rios at 312/744-0064; and Brenetta Howell Barrett at Pathfinders Prevention & Education, 773/533-5755.