To the untrained eye, meth looks like the cheap crystals you might find in a local New Age shop. Most users ingest it by injection or smoking.
To inject meth, users crush the crystals and cook them in a metal vessel until the crystals dissolve into a liquid. Users then draw the liquid into a syringe and inject it into either veins or—for heavy IV users whose veins are collapsed—muscle tissue.
Smoking meth is easier: Crush and put it in a pipe, then use a lighter to vaporize it into smoke. Smoking is the safer method, because it takes longer to hit the user's bloodstream and brain.
Ingesting too much meth too quickly can lead to "over-amping," a street term for meth-induced psychosis.
"They'd rather smoke than inject because it is less likely to cause over-amping," says Justine Pope, a volunteer with the Portland People's Outreach Project who spends her Saturdays handing out clear glass meth pipes, called "bubblers," to users in the St. Johns neighborhood.
Pope says PPOP embraces a "harm reduction" approach to the meth problem: If people are going to use the drug, she'd rather they do it in the safest way possible, and have access to clean needles if they choose injection.
Multnomah County health officials and employees of the county's harm-reduction clinic embrace similar methods. But some Portland police tell WW that handing out free drug paraphernalia to drug users only increases the likelihood they will use. And several residents of St. Johns have complained loudly about pipe and needle handouts in their neighborhood.
Pope says making meth use even a little bit safer is worthwhile.
"With meth, there is no medication. There is no drug that can prevent [an overdose] if someone has ingested too much," Pope says. "Our goal is to help people stay as healthy as possible if they're using drugs."
Read the cover story: J.R. Smith a has a hard job. Meth is making it harder.