JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Meth has been around since the 1970s, but it's only in the last few years that it's become a pop culture staple. There are hit TV shows, websites and slick Public Service Announcements.
But First Coast resident Amy Cline learned about meth the old-fashioned way.
"It was my best friend who started me on it," she explains.
Amy didn't even do drugs -- any drugs -- until she was married with children. But when she started, she went straight for the hard stuff -- "massive amounts," she said, "every day."
Her drug problem didn't really spiral out of control until she met Zach. Amy's marriage was headed for divorce, Zach was grieving the death of a close friend.
"We were both kind of at low points," Zach said. "So our low points pulled us even lower."
The pair began using bath salts. When those became illegal, they returned to snorting meth -- and hit it harder than ever.
Amy kept her drug use secret for many years. Even after things got bad, she did her best to hold it together for her three children.
"I would hide from my older two kids," she said, "because they know me so well, all they have to do is look at me and know something was wrong. My little girl, I'd fake a smile and pretend everything was OK."
But last summer, the drugs took their their toll. "I couldn't get out of bed," she said. "I couldn't take it anymore. Every day, I wanted to die. I didn't want to live anymore."
Amy's kids never missed school, they didn't go hungry. But living around drug abuse can be damaging to a child.
Dr. Randall Alexander, chief of the Department of Health's Statewide Child Protection Team, has seen kids in terrible circumstances from meth -- sometimes so contaminated that they need immediate medical care. Even when they aren't directly exposed, he said, there is almost always some fallout.
"People in meth houses aren't paying great attention to their kids," he says. "So neglect can happen, physical abuse -- there can be other kids of abuse, because meth enables it. Neglect is the big one. And the deadly one."
In some cases, the worst happens. Stories of meth moms fill the headlines -- moms whose kids have been injured in meth lab blasts, kids who've ingested meth.
Amy insists things never got like that for her kids. She never smoked meth around them, never cooked it. But she's under no illusion about what her addiction cost her family. "I felt like a horrible mother," she said, "absolutely a horrible mother."
In the end, the couple said their salvation was nothing short of divine intervention. On Aug. 8, 2012, they kicked it, cold turkey.
"It was God, obviously. I can tell you that straight up," said Zach.
Their recovery wasn't easy. When they first arrived in Jacksonville, they were broke. "We first got here were waiting in line at Salvation Army for food," says Amy. "I sat on sidewalk and bawled."
But they stuck it out. And today, nine months clean, they consider themselves living proof that there is life beyond meth -- and an example they hope others follow.
"That's what he keeps telling me," said Amy. "If you can save one person in the same shoes you're in, then why wouldn't you do it?"
First Coast News