Looking for a Fix

Forty bucks buys a flicker of heaven and a life of hell.

Meredith Behm is a drug addict.

When it's time to get high, she disappears from her job, says goodbye to her mother, kisses her daughter as she drops her off at school, and vanishes for days.

She winds up wherever the drugs are.

Craig La Rotonda
Meredith Behm finds herself drawn to her brother's grave at times, searching for something that has eluded her for nearly three decades.
Anthony Camera
Meredith Behm finds herself drawn to her brother's grave at times, searching for something that has eluded her for nearly three decades.

During most of the past two years, Meredith has been injecting cocaine into her veins on a regular basis, although she routinely snorted the powder more than a decade ago. Her current cycle is simple: For $40, she can get two grams of coke. She sprinkles some of the coke in a spoon, adding a few drops of water to create a milky liquid.

"If you have good coke, it will turn out clear; if not, it will be goopy," she says.

She then takes a piece of cotton and puts it in the spoon. She places a needle on top of the cotton and draws the mixture into the syringe. She places the needle against her arm and pushes down on the syringe.

Happiness swims through her bloodstream, an electric jolt that runs up and down her limbs and brings an intense elation.

"You get a body high," she explains. "It rushes through your body and has your head ringing. It's a really intense high. It lasts maybe ten minutes."

She keeps mixing the coke, getting several spoonfuls out of the small amount of drugs. "You keep doing it until the coke is done," says Meredith. "You get five to six shots out of $40."

An addict can even take the used-up cotton and place it in water and drain it to get the cocaine residue, a process known as a "rinse."

As she describes all this, Meredith, an attractive 34-year-old blonde with tired eyes, seems sickened by her own behavior. The Denver resident says she hates herself for wanting the drugs, for needing that little flicker of heaven that has turned the rest of her life into hell.

"I envy the people who say, 'I tried it and never used it again.' I tried it once and loved it. Now I sit here and think, 'Why am I doing this?' I feel miserable. It's just disgusting."

She sighs and looks at the ground. "A friend said it's like shooting Satan into your veins."

Meredith's boyfriend introduced her to the new world of shooting up. She could hardly believe what she was doing, but the few minutes of paradise that came with it soon seemed like the only thing that mattered.

"I never imagined I'd stick a needle in my arm to get high," she says. "But the feeling was so good; I liked it too much."

Soon Meredith and her boyfriend created a whole lifestyle around shooting up.

They lived in a squalid motel. To make money, they launched a career as professional shoplifters. Today she is wearing a Colorado Avalanche sweatshirt she stole from a retailer.

"We could make from $200 to $500 per day shoplifting," she says. "We stole Broncos and Avalanche merchandise. We could take $30 shirts and drive into the barrio and throw open the trunk and sell them for $15."

Often she would steal seafood and steaks from grocery stores. It wasn't difficult: First she would load up a cart with food during the busiest time of the day; then she'd stop by the customer-service counter to ask a question, and from there, she'd push the cart over to the telephone and pretend she was making a call. Then she'd walk out the door.

"We'd steal stuff that cost a lot and sell it for half price. You could drive into any neighborhood and open up your trunk, and people were on it like flies on shit."

As time went by, her addiction deepened and her troubles grew. Her daughter's father took custody of the fourteen-year-old girl. Meredith's boyfriend was arrested on a parole violation (he had previously been in prison for selling methamphetamine) and sent back to prison. She found it difficult to cope with being alone, and before long was homeless, subsisting in her 1996 Dodge Neon.

"I didn't care if I was living in a hotel or not," she says. "I had given up hope. I went to Conoco to wash my face and brush my teeth. I didn't care how I looked or smelled, so long as I had someplace to shoot up. Getting drugs was all I cared about. If I didn't have drugs every day, it was the end of the world. I was in hell."

One day last December, she parked her car at the RTD park-n-Ride at Broadway and I-25. It was past midnight, and the lot was deserted. She figured she could shoot up without anyone noticing. A Denver policeman suddenly appeared and arrested her, she recalls.

"When that cop knocked on my window, I was thankful in a weird way. I knew it was either going to end or else. I think an angel led the cop to my car. It was a blessing to be arrested."

As part of a deal with the Denver District Attorney's Office, Meredith's case is assigned to Denver Drug Court, a special court for those arrested for possession of illegal drugs. The idea is to divert drug addicts from the regular court system -- where they have been overwhelming judges -- and into a setting that emphasizes rehabilitation.

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