How 'crank' laid waste to small-town America

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It had been several months since Shaden had last taken methamphetamine and yet her body still twitched or "tweaked" as she recounted her fight to kick the habit.

"The worst thing is that you are so blind in your reality. You know in the back of your head not to take it," said the mother, her eyes dark and sullen, as she sat in a women's treatment centre. "In the end, I had no self worth, no self-esteem. I knew nothing was going to get better. I had to get away from my family. I was praying and crying."

Methamphetamine has become the scourge of small-town America, a drug whose ease of manufacture and affordability has allowed it to penetrate deep into the US heartland. The drug first drew the attention of experts and law enforcement in the West but steadily its reach has moved eastwards, often trafficked by Hispanic gangs and produced in labs south of the border.

In rural areas - such as Missoula, Montana, where Shaden talked to The Independent earlier this year, it is eating up the lion's share of resources of the local authorities. The problem has become so great that the Department of Justice has designated 30 November as National Methamphetamine Awareness Day.

Michael Walther, director of the National Drug Intelligence Centre, said earlier this year: "Over the past 10 years, methamphetamine trafficking and abuse has devastated individuals, families, and communities in western and Midwestern states and has now spread eastward to nearly every area of the country. Addressing the challenges presented by this highly addictive drug, including laboratory clean-up,and addict treatment has greatly depleted state and local resources."