Okay, here it goes.... I am a drug addict. Scratch that I am a meth addict.
Over the last few years that has been a big part of my life and I’m quite
ashamed that I have let my addiction take over every aspect of my life. It
has helped me lose everything I once held dear....my family, a job and
friends that I loved, and most importantly my daughter who has no idea why
mommy is not with her right now…
On April 14, 26-year-old Arielle Claypool emailed The Dickinson Press, in addition to countless other media groups, attorneys, judges and prosecutors. She joined numerous Facebook groups, both in North Dakota and across the country, to post her message: Drug addicts should receive more medical attention and counseling rather than prison time.
Claypool moved to Dickinson from Wanatah, Indiana, in 2012 for work during the oil boom. In November 2014, she tried methamphetamine for the first time. She was drinking and partying with some friends one night and someone laid out a line of meth. Alcohol served as the gateway drug, she said. She would get drunk, do a line of meth and sober up so she could drink more. Over time, she started drinking less and using meth more.
For a lot of people, meth suppresses the pain — it gets you so high that you forget everything that is going on around you, she said. At the height of her drug use — which spanned more than two years — she was using about a gram of meth a day. While this is a lot for a single person to use, she said she knows people who use a ball a day, which is 3.5 grams.
She ate it and smoked it, but her favorite method was snorting it. She developed a deviated septum as a result. The pain from snorting it over time caused her to miss the initial rush of the drug because of the throbbing in her nose. That pain helped her slow down for a while before she turned to smoking meth instead, which requires more of the drug. But addicts are always in pursuit of that initial high.
“You’re always going to chase it. You’re chasing that dragon, always chasing the dragon,” Claypool said.
She drew the line at shooting meth — injecting the drug directly into her bloodstream. A lot of people turn to using needles when the other methods start proving less effective, but she is grateful she never did. That was always the one thing she was able to pride herself on, she said.
She had battled depression throughout her life, but was always able to climb her way out of these “funks,” she said. But she had never turned to drugs, something that she now feels ashamed of.
“I’m surprised I kind of fell into being an addict because I had to grow up with it,” she said. “It was awful watching my parents not prioritize me or my brothers, and I’ve always resented them for it until it happened to me.”
She was homeless for a year, moving from house to house with her boyfriend — both always looking for a couch to crash on and more drugs. She lost her job. Her daughter’s father took her 3-year-old child and moved to Portland. Her friends abandoned Claypool, leaving her with only her “drug friends.” She found herself using more and more.
“Drug addicts, they get a bad name, but really we’re not bad people, we’re just (in a) bad situation,” she said. “We put ourselves in it, yes, but addiction is hard because you lose everyone around you, and really that’s what an addict needs is someone, like a good support system to help pull them out of it. But when everyone just kind of abandons an addict, that’s when they find themselves getting deeper into addiction. That’s kind of what happened to me.”
A consistent problem
Dickinson Police Capt. David Wilkie said his department deals with meth-related crimes on a weekly basis, noting that he puts meth and meth-related paraphernalia into evidence every week.
“Part of the reason why meth has been a consistent problem is with a little bit of research on the internet and supplies that you can get just about anywhere, you can make meth yourself,” Wilkie said. “You have to plant and harvest and cultivate and everything else marijuana, or buy it from somebody else. Same with heroin. Same with any of the opiates. … Any knucklehead can make meth.”
The area also does not have any long-term facilities, he said. Every facility is outpatient. There have been efforts to get resources to the area, but in the meantime people have to go to Bismarck, Fargo or even other states to find long-term treatment.
Though Dickinson is the main hub in the eight-county region, it’s still not large enough to attract the resources to combat the problem, Wilkie said. For example, Dickinson has a hospital, but it’s not large enough to have a full-time treatment center or housing for addicts. It is also difficult to attract full-time mental health specialists such as psychiatrists, who are also important to combating drug addiction.
“Not only is drug addiction just an addiction, but there’s also mental health issues that go with that,” Wilkie said. “So you’re not really treating a person holistically when you’re just treating one element, because there’s some reason that they became a drug addict. People don’t just wake up when they’re 5 years old and go, ‘I’m going to be a drug addict.’ People want to be firemen, people want to be an airplane pilot, people want to be somebody in the Army. Nobody wants to be a meth addict.”
Badlands Human Service Center and other privately-owned clinics in the area offer outpatient addiction counseling and services to help addicts and their family members.
Jan Kuhn, licensed addiction counselor at Sacajawea Substance Abuse Counseling in Dickinson, said she creates individual therapy plans for each addict. Patients usually work with them for an average of about eight weeks. She also offers consultation for family members.
“An addict or an alcoholic who is currently and mindfully using and wants to continue, there’s really no advice for that because they will continue doing what they’re doing,” Kuhn said. “But the people who love them don’t know what to do, and I encourage those people to call us because we can certainly intervene. We offer all kinds of interventions, family interventions, and there’s really no need to not do anything.”
A new purpose
Claypool has been sober for the last three months and is working to acclimate back into society. Since deciding to become sober, she returned to Indiana to stay with family for a few weeks and now avoids the people she used to hang out with and any situation that may tempt her to use again in Dickinson.
After two or three years of her life revolving around drugs, returning back to normal is scary. Even basic things such as waking up at a normal hour and going to bed at a normal time took time to relearn, she said. After quitting the drug, she slept for two weeks. Even leaving the house for short periods of time was taxing.
Now she is working a few odd jobs mowing lawns, cleaning and gardening.
Over the last few months, Claypool has devoted much of her time toward spreading awareness about the need to treat addiction as a medical problem more so than a criminal problem.
“Addicts need help, not prison,” she said. “In prison, you’re just sitting there staring at four walls all day. You’re not learning how to channel your energy into something else. I mean, you have to pretty much learn how to relive your life after an addiction.”
The system is now set up for failure, she said. People get hooked on drugs, get arrested and charged with felonies, and then are sent to prison to serve their time. When they get out, they have trouble finding a job because of the felony on their record, and even if they try to stay clean, they may end up helping sell drugs just to support themselves and then fall back into using again — a vicious cycle, she said.
Wilkie agreed that addiction does need to be dealt with, but noted that possession of meth is still against the law and therefore still has consequences.
Claypool’s daughter is one of the main driving forces behind her renewed sobriety. Her goal is to one day see her again.
“My biggest regret would probably be the fact that I didn’t prioritize what I needed to, like my daughter,” she said. “I prioritized my high. That was my biggest concern, but with any addict that normally is. Nothing else matters except for the next time you’ll get a cigarette or that cup of coffee or that drink or that fix.”