Excerpt from the book, Crystal Death by Nate Hendley
On February 21, 2003, David
Parnell-a sometime factory worker and full-time methamphetamine addict-tried
to kill himself with an SKS assault rifle. The thirty-six-year-old had taken
to toting the weapon around his Martin, Tennessee home, shooting at bushes,
trees and other objects that triggered his raging paranoia. In his high strung,
sleep deprived state, menace lurked behind every blade of grass and bit of flora.
Parnell's body was as wired
as his mind. By this point, his weight was down to 160 pounds, from a high of
200. Muscular and handsome in a rough-cut fashion, Parnell was showing signs
of extreme stress and hard living. His temper was explosive, he babbled to himself
at high speed, and he heard voices in his head. Co-workers at the tire plant
in Mayfield, Kentucky where Parnell was nominally employed were beginning to
Parnell's main drug of choice
was methamphetamine (meth), an illegal and super-potent type of amphetamine.
An entirely synthetic drug, meth is produced in makeshift labs in motels and
trailers as well as industrial-sized "super-labs" across North America.
A white, odorless powder, methamphetamine dissolves easily in water. The drug
can also come in white or yellow chunks that resemble rock salt.
Also called crank, speed,
crystal, and many other names, meth spent decades in obscurity, known only to
bikers and blue-collar workers. In the past few years, however, it's achieved
Parnell took methamphetamine
for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being he was addicted to it.
Meth filled him with vigor and offered an indescribable jolt of pleasure, better
than any other drug he'd tried.
Some addicts snort meth
while others prefer to either inject it, or smoke the drug in an instrument
called a gak pipe. Parnell had his own peculiar method of ingestion; he liked
to lay the drug out on toilet paper and gobble down the whole pulpy mess. Within
seconds, Parnell would be flying high. His buzz would last for hours, even days
at a time.
On meth, Parnell felt invincible
and cocky, like a star athlete about to enter a big game. He could stay awake
for days on end without feeling tired. Methamphetamine made life tremendously
Problem is, what goes up
must come down, and coming off a meth high is a rather unpleasant experience.
Most addicts try to avoid it, but eventually sleep overtakes even the most committed
meth user. Parnell had his own routine for rest and recuperation. Whenever the
drug burned him out to the point where he could barely get out of bed, Parnell
would phone in sick to work. He'd sleep for a few days, then start gulping down
meth all over again.
Parnell could get away with
this behavior because he belonged to a union with a generous medical leave policy.
It also helped that he was an experienced addict. A meth user for years, Parnell
knew how to work the system to his advantage.
By this point, Parnell was
something of an old hand when it came to getting stoned. He started smoking
pot at age 13, after his father introduced it to him. During high school, he
also tried alcohol, prescription pills and cocaine. Parnell liked drugs and
took lots of them. He played high school basketball but his substance abuse
ruined any chance of winning an athletic scholarship to college.
Parnell married his high
school sweetheart but the relationship soon soured, due in large part to his
drug habits. He moved to Dallas, Texas to live with his father, who happened
to be residing in a "crank house"-a place where methamphetamine addicts
gather to get high. Parnell soon befriended some of these meth users. At age
21, Parnell tried methamphetamine for the first time himself.
His debut meth experience
was an eye-opener, literally. Nothing he'd taken before prepared him for this
drug. It offered a bigger kick than cocaine at a fraction of the price. It was
powerful stuff and Parnell loved it. Following his first taste, Parnell soon
acquired a full-blown methamphetamine addiction. His habit actually helped rather
than hindered him on the job; jacked up on meth, Parnell could put in 18-hour
days at the construction site. When he wasn't working, Parnell got stoned and
hung out with fellow dopers and drinkers.
Parnell soon became acquainted
with "tweaking"-the result of staying awake for too long while on
speed. The combination of sleeplessness and toxic drugs push addicts into a
semi-psychotic state, where fantasy and reality blur and hallucinations fill
their minds and ears. Tweakers tend to be paranoid and moody. They can go from
euphoria to an insane rage in the blink of an eye. Even other addicts are wary
of tweakers, who have a tendency towards unprovoked violence. Needless to say,
police tend to be wary, too.
Throughout the rest of his
twenties and into his early thirties, Parnell continued to work and take meth.
He traveled about the United States somewhat aimlessly, returning to his hometown
of Martin, Tennessee at some point. In the early 1990s, Parnell served some
time in an Oklahoma prison for selling marijuana. After returning again to Martin,
Parnell took a job at a tire factory across the state line and continued to
He got re-married, to a
woman named Amy, and had several children. At his peak, Parnell was pulling
in $35,000 a year from his job. He augmented this income by dealing pot and
meth. It was enough to keep his family clothed, fed, and to keep him in drugs.
But eventually, Parnell's speed habit caught up with him. In 2000, at age 33,
he tried to commit suicide. It was his first serious attempt. He had been feeling
depressed, anxious, and awful. Severe suicidal thoughts kept entering his mind.
Tying a rope around his neck and trying to hang himself seemed like a logical
thing to do. His suicide bid failed and Parnell went back to working in the
tire plant, raising his kids, and gobbling down ungodly amounts of meth.
As Parnell's meth addiction
grew in scope and intensity, his already fragile mental state started to strain
and fray. Staying awake for days on end didn't help. Carrying a rifle around
the home, on the other hand, did. Whenever his paranoia overwhelmed him, Parnell
would take a few pot shots in his backyard. No one in small-town Tennessee would
be alarmed by the sound of occasional rifle-fire.
The neighbors may not have
noticed his deteriorating condition, but Parnell's wife Amy did. Her husband's
addiction had had reached a state where he was a danger to himself and the family.
In early 2003, Amy said she'd had enough. She wanted to leave him and take the
kids. Parnell was devastated. With his increasingly tenuous grip on reality
slipping away, he grabbed his rifle and told Amy to lie in bed with him. Amy
did as he said.
With Amy at his side, Parnell
placed the muzzle of his gun underneath his chin. He pulled the trigger, blowing
off most of his facial features. Splattered with her husband's blood, Amy went
hysterical..Eventually, she managed to call 911. With his ears ringing from
the concussive sound of the shot, Parnell realized he was still alive. The meth
coursing through his body was so powerful that his self-inflicted wound hadn't
knocked him unconscious.
No one-especially Dave Parnell
himself-expected him to live. He had eviscerated his nose, lips, and teeth.
His face was literally split down the middle. He could still see, hear, and
feel pain, however. The sharpest, most intense pain he'd ever experienced in
his life. "I thought I was dying," says a surgically reconstructed
Parnell today. "I felt my life was slipping out of me
the pain was
so intense it was hard to think of a whole lot of stuff." Parnell lay helpless
in his bedroom, waiting to die, as Amy stood watch for the ambulance attendants.
Most methamphetamine addicts
don't turn rifles on themselves, but it has affected the millions of lives worldwide.
The United Nations World Drug Report 2010 estimated that anywhere from
14 to 53 million adults around the world took ATS (amphetamine-type stimulants-a
category that includes methamphetamine) drugs in the previous year.
The 2009 National Survey
on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that the number of past-month methamphetamine
users in the U.S. increased from 314,000 (0.1 percent of the population) in
2008 to 502,000 (0.2 percent in 2009). The 2008 NSDUH survey revealed
that 12.6 million Americans have sampled meth at least once at their lives.
Formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, this report
serves as a regular barometer of American substance abuse patterns.
The Canadian Alcohol
and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS) serves a similar purpose in Canada.
The survey is conducted by Health Canada and is based on phone interviews. According
to CADUMS 2009, past-year use of methamphetamine among Canadians stood
at 0.1 percent. This was a slide from CADUMS 2008, in which 0.2 percent
of respondents reported past-year meth use.
While these numbers might
seem small, methamphetamine remains hugely popular in certain demographic and
geographic niches. Gays, ravers (people who attend all-night electronic dance
parties) and homeless youth are particularly fond of the drug. In terms of geography,
consumption is concentrated in West Coast, Southern and Western states. In Canada,
British Columbia and Quebec report the highest lifetime use of meth.
The National Drug Threat
Assessment 2010, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice underlined the
regional nature of methamphetamine abuse. For this report, state and local agencies
across the U.S. were asked what substance represented the "greatest drug
threat" in their region. Nearly 80 percent of West Coast authorities cited
meth, as did 60.3 percent of authorities in Western states, 57 percent in the
Southwest and 22 percent in the Southeast. Fifteen percent of authorities in
the Great Lakes region said meth was their biggest drug threat, along with 10.2
percent of authorities in Florida. By contrast, only a handful of authorities
in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions cited meth as their greatest threat.
Even if more people overall
are smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and puffing marijuana, meth has health
experts, policy-makers, and police highly alarmed. This is because methamphetamine
has the ability to devastate users harder and faster than almost any other substance
on the planet.
Certainly David Parnell,
lying faceless in his bedroom, would agree. When the police and paramedics showed
up in response to Amy's frantic calls, they gave Parnell little chance of surviving.
"They wrote me off for dead," he recalls. Parnell was rushed to hospital
where he underwent three days of emergency surgery. When he woke up, everything
was different. "As soon as I came to, all I could think about was how much
mercy Jesus had showed me," he says. Parnell had never been particularly
spiritual before, but after almost blowing his brains out, he saw the light.
This discovery was compounded by a surprise announcement from Amy: his wife
was pregnant again, with his seventh child.
Parnell was alive, but he
was badly disfigured. Most of his mouth was gone and he couldn't talk. Writing
his thoughts down on a notepad, he let Amy know that he wanted to live. He had
been given a second chance, and he was determined to stay straight.
It had taken a bullet to wake him up, but unlike many of his meth-addled peers, Parnell would never take another hit again.