The Faces Of Meth

An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation employee poses with 6.4 grams of crystal methamphetamine recently seized in a drug bust, in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005.
It's a drug that's so destructive - the downward spiral into addiction is evident in simple police mug shots.

It's a drug that can be made with ingredients from the local pharmacy and cooked in home labs - putting whole neighborhoods in danger.

It's three times as powerful as cocaine and just one hit can give a 12-hour high. It is methamphetamine - known as "meth" for short. And now, it's being called an epidemic, CBS News Correspondent Jim Acosta reports.

Carla George is a recovering addict -- who was hooked on meth for 12 years.

"I felt invincible like I could do anything," George tells Acosta.

"It was great in the beginning," George says laughing. "But it progressively got worse. It got to be where I couldn't function without it.

"I made really poor choices when I was on it," George intimates. "I have three children, and with my two daughters I, I used through both of my pregnancies with them."

George admits, "I've had guns pointed to my head. I've been in other risky, unsafe situations, and my children have been there with me through these occurrences."

Asked if she's been to jail, George answered affirmatively. "A lot. Yeah. I went to jail 42 times."

Methamphetamine is not a new drug. It's been around for decades. A weaker version of today's meth was actually used by the Federal Government during World War II to keep American forces on the move. For years, you could find it in diet drugs. A key ingredient continues to be used in many cold medications.

And even with today's new-found concerns, a government study shows that while 1.3 million Americans use meth - that's just a fraction of the number of people using pot or cocaine.

So why did a survey of the nation's counties last month find almost 60 percent of local officials declaring meth as their biggest drug problem?

Methamphetamine first appeared in the West. So we went to Oregon's state capital of Salem - where officials have learned a few lessons about the meth epidemic.

"When you talk to somebody who's used a variety of drugs or been addicted to a number of drugs, they will tell you that the meth high is a cut above the rest. It's, it's a better thing," Jay Wurscher says.

Wurscher has worked with drug offenders for 26 years and he manages Oregon's Child Welfare Addiction Services.

"Is it an epidemic or is it hype? And we have more meth addicts than we've probably ever had. Methamphetamine is a drug that has a higher addictive liability than just about anything we've seen," Wurscher explains.

"It's a fact that methamphetamine is the most dangerous drug we've ever had in terms of child welfare and child safety. There's nothing as dangerous to kids as methamphetamine is," Wurscher adds.

When Acosta asks if meth is worse than crack, Wurscher replies bluntly, "Absolutely, absolutely."

The drug is costing communities in ways never felt before. For one thing, home labs expose children to explosive chemicals, and meth addicts often sleep for days leaving even babies to fend for themselves.

"This is the most destructive drug ever known to us," Salem sheriff Raul Ramirez says.