Uncut and Crystal Clear: The Meth Problem In Texas

A "shard" of meth that is consuming many people in the State of Texas
(Matt Briscoe)
by Matt Briscoe

The first time Jason Coolidge used meth it was to avoid being fired from his job as a truck driver in the oil fields near Midland. Back when he was 21, working as a trucker in Stanton, Coolidge fell off the steps of his Mac truck, shattering the bones in his left foot. A nurse in the man camp gave him painkillers to cope with the discomfort as they waited for the cold front to pass through in order to get him to proper medical care. It was his introduction to the choice between work in pain or work through the pain.

“I started off it was pain killers and opioids because my injury”, Coolidge says. He would spend countless hours trying to figure out where to go to find painkillers to get him through.

“Real talk, man, they’re all trying to help make the pain go away so you can get back to work,” he says of the pain management doctors who dispensed greater and greater quantities of narcotic painkillers to him for his injury. By the time he was 22, Coolidge was walking out of pharmacies with massive supplies of narcos and other narcotics. Because he could not work full time, Coolidge found himself selling the painkillers to addicts in his apartment complex to make a few extra bucks here and there.

When it became obvious to doctors in Midland what Jason was doing, they cut him off, leaving him addicted and in pain. Jason was forced turn to become one of the users that he once sold to for extra cash.

But Jason discovered another way to bypass the pain, the addiction and his financial down slide: methamphetamine. Another hand working with Jason in the oil patch had told him that if he stayed awake in order to cook his drivers logs and work as much as he possibly could for a few days, he could fall out for a couple of days and be ready to go again.
The author (left) and Jason
Coolidge share a thumbs up after
their interview (Matt Briscoe)

For Jason, it worked.  After the first few weeks on meth, Jason became used to it’s effect on him and how his body would react. From there, it went on and on and so did the endless jobs at work and the money that the oil patch often promises.

“I would work 14-15 hours a day in the patch and then go work somewhere else tending bar or whatever and make even more money”, Jason says of his time on meth. “At one point, I even worked as a security guard at the man camp in my off hours.”

He was skinny and ragged but he didn’t care, nor did his bosses.

Jason is now 32 and works as a consultant in the oil field. He has been sober for 6 years now after narrowly missing time in the Texas joint for possession. His golf shirt still shows off his tats from back in the day that serve as constant reminders of what used to be. His only vice nowadays is his addiction to Copenhagen.

“I’m sober, but I am still an addict,” he laughs sitting behind the desk of his office in Houston.

Though he’s been clean for several  years now, Jason stumbled through a relapse before he pulled himself up by the bootstraps and got fully strait.

Stories such as Jason’s are all too common all across the country, but Texas seems to have a growing problem. Each and every year in Texas meth use is exploding. Its price has never been lower, its purity never higher. More people are injecting it with needles, opening up new frontiers in disease transmission and overdose. And in an effort to make a profit amid the demand in supply, transnational criminal organizations are finding customers anyplace that they can.

“Hell yeah, I make meth”, Steve says from the steps of his mobile home near Beaumont. “Even better than that, I make money--and lots of it.”
The author (baseball cap) and a man
known a "Steve" shoot a game of pool while
while discussing Steve's meth operation
(Matt Briscoe) 

Steve explains the different variations of meth, including how to grow it. That’s right, grow it.

In his backyard he has a little shed with soda bottles, chemicals and coolers that he claims to make the best “dope” in the world in.

“I sell to truckers, stay at home mom’s, half the cops in the county and nearly anybody you can think of that needs to stay awake”, Steve brags.

“You don’t need cold pills to make meth anymore”, Steve tells as he puffs on a cigarette. “All I need are basic chemicals and things that are not regulated so much and a few days later I have enough meth to supply half of two counties.”

Though the basic ingredients are harder to get, they are still cheaply smuggled in from China and Mexico, despite laws restricting them.

“We are like moonshiners. If you make a law, we just make a new way” brags Steve through the smoke and mosquitoes.

I asked Steve what he sells his “grow dope” for?

“I sell it for $40-$50 a gram on the high side these days”, he replies with a grin. “I sell a lot of grams.”

Steve claims that it costs him less than $10 to make a gram of his “grow dope” that he is so proud of.

“Let me tell you, I have people inside the federal prison over in Beaumont that want my dope and damn it to Hell, I can get it to them”, he says.

“The state wants to lock me up for making meth and that’s ok, but what about these poor addicts that I sell to? They really want to lock them up because they are repeat offenders and help keep the doors open at those state prisons in rural areas” Steve says with a grin. “It’s all about economic development in this state and prisons are a big tool of economic development here.”
A small, cheap, out of the way motel room
in deep East Texas where distributors often
peddle their goods to addicts.
(Matt Briscoe)

Texas is a lucrative market for drugs. Though prices for meth has dropped considerably in recent years, the real change in value has occurred primarily at the bulk level.

On the streets of Houston, meth sells for around $60-$80 a gram, according to local users that I spoke with. Though the clear crystalline shards sold today are consistently stronger than the grainy, red-tinged powder that was churned out by small meth labs a decade ago, the street prices paid are relatively similar.

But ten years ago, a pound of meth that would have cost $26,000 in Houston. Today, it sells for between $7,000 and $8,000. Those savings have not trickled down the end user.

Folks in Texas have a large appetite for booze and drugs. They like their booze, they like the money from the oil field, they like wild and kinky women who are easy to get and they like their meth.

The oil-dependent state was struggling for a few years in that sector, which typically fluctuates up and down in cycles. The state still struggles with a failing education system and numerous problems that legislators refuse to get a handle on. Part of it is cultural, as well. Another big part of the problem is mental health care in Texas, and people are using meth to self treat mental illnesses. The list could go on.

Though concentrations of meth are still higher in the Midwest and western states, cartels are expanding their efforts along places that were spared the last big meth scourge, like New England and along the East Coast. That being the case, “Mexican Meth” is flooding the market and is driving the competition higher and the cost even lower here in Texas.

Law enforcement is wide open about the fact that miss a lot of drugs coming into the state. If you go to deep East Texas and Central Texas, it is easier to find somebody selling or manufacturing meth than it is to find an hourly wage worker.

Meth here in Texas is still predominantly smoked or snorted. “Slamming,” as injecting speed is called, is the most dangerous ingestion method. Not only does this raise the risk of overdose, but also transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C, but it just is not as popular in Texas as it is in other places.

“Women get a huge high from what we call ‘booty bumps’ where we melt it down and shoot it up inside them, you know in either place”, John Howard tells me. “That’s exactly how the ladies like it and I promise you, whenever they want a dose, I will give it to them.”

Experts are leary about  labeling what’s happening in Texas  a “meth crisis.” It’s a drug crisis,” one expert tells me. “It is not just meth, but it is everything and one thing is for sure it is easy  to get, cheap and there is one Hell of a demand for it--especially among rural white males.”
A man sleeps off a heroin fix in Houston
(Matt Briscoe)

For now, despite what you call it, the problem with meth is still going on and will be for as long as anybody can tell.