Convicted users say meth leads to broken families

In the past few years, Tennessee has become one of the nation's leading producers of methamphetamine. Cleaning up the illicit labs is costing the state millions. But the real cost of Meth addiction isn't measured in dollars but in human lives and broken families.

The story of methamphetamine use in the Mid-South can be told through the shattered lives of those caught in crystal's addictive web. Kevin Smith knows that all too well. He's serving three years in prison for making and selling crystal meth. Initially, Kevin says he thought crystal would be safer than cocaine. "Seemed less addictive. That proved false."

It proved false for "Daniel" too. He doesn't want to reveal his identity, But admits he stole a trailer to support his habit. He knew the potential consequences, but did the crime anyway. "At the time it didn't matter. We wanted the drug that bad." It matters now. Daniel is serving four years in the slammer. It matters too to Smith. His flirtation with the drug he once viewed as a safer alternative to cocaine soon degenerated into a marathon dance. "There towards the last year it got pretty much every day. I got into manufacturing and cooking it myself." Daniel added, "With cocaine, when it's not around you, just can't get it. With crystal you can make it." And those that can't make it, often steal ingredients for those that can.

Addicted thieves were Smith's regular suppliers of anhydrous ammonia and ephedrine tablets. "A lot of time other people that would want the drug would bring in the pills and i would give them a cut of the product." And stealing may be easier and less risky for addicts than cooking a highly explosive cocktail of crank. After one batch Daniel says his house, both inside and out, was tainted by a stench for weeks. "It was in my pores. It stayed on my skin for like two weeks at a time." The smell, combined with a prolonged lack of sleep, tends to foster intense paranoia. Daniel once went six days without sleep, Smith thirteen. "I hallucinated from being up. I would see a little bit of everything. I would see police officers in the front yard that weren't there."

"You definitely think someone is going to turn you in. I've seen people peeking out the windows for six to eight hours at a time." Smith added, "It felt like people would tell on me or rip me off. It was extreme paranoia. I felt like my life was falling to pieces. Thought about suicide. I had all kind of bad feelings." But now the feelings of these two drug addicts are about reconnecting with sons they hardly know and getting out from under the yoke of crystal. "After being without it for nine months, I don't need it anymore. Think the lord was looking out for me... He saved my life," Daniel said. "I was so disgusted with the way I was living. I'll never go back to it."

"When you're down the only way you can go is up."

Tonight on Action News five at ten, we'll meet a man who turned to violence in order to get crystal. He's now preparing for life outside the prison's walls. But statistics indicate that the odds are against him. His story tonight on Action News five at ten.