GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Amid the government-led crackdown on opioids, those who struggle with substance use disorders in West Michigan are increasingly turning to crystal meth.
But this isn’t the one-pot meth made in rural basements a decade ago.
This meth is much more potent, and it comes from traffickers in Mexico.
As its use in West Michigan grows, so does the risk of meth-induced psychosis and the violence it sometimes generates.
In one recent potentially meth-related case, a man died after a scuffle with his girlfriend in a Kalamazoo County home.
The sheriff’s department declined to confirm if meth played a role in the domestic dispute, but the girlfriend’s sister was certain the drug was a factor.
“She can’t handle it. She just can’t handle the drugs,” said Cheyenne Contreras, referring to her sister’s use of methamphetamine. “She just hallucinates — thinks she’s seeing something, and she’s not.”
On Sunday afternoon, deputies were called to the home in the 5500 block of Electra Street in Comstock Township – a neighborhood in which meth has carved a foothold.
They found Lyle Hess, 38, dead from an undetermined cause.
Deputies initially arrested and booked Hess’s girlfriend on suspicion of murder.
But prosecutors never officially charged her, and she was released from jail.
Investigators are awaiting the results of Hess’s autopsy, including toxicology testing, to determine his exact cause of death after which they’ll submit the case to the prosecutor for potential criminal charges.
Contreras said, if her sister caused Hess’s death, it was accidental and likely the result of mental health issues exacerbated by her use of methamphetamine.
“(When she’s on meth), she’s 20 times worse than her normal self. She thinks everybody’s out to get her,” said Contreras.
Michael Wolff, a clinical neuropsychologist at BRAINS Counseling in Grand Rapids, told News 8 his industry has long recognized that stimulants like meth and cocaine can cause psychosis.
“Using a chemical like methamphetamine that releases (the brain chemical) dopamine into their system in unusually strong doses gives them symptoms of schizophrenia,” said Wolff from his office off the East Beltline Avenue. “Paranoia is going to come into play, visual and auditory hallucinations, irritability, anger, confusion, sleep difficulties.”
Chronic, heavy use of meth is more likely to result in psychosis, though one dose can trigger it.
Opioids, which can cause confusion and disorientation, do not generally induce psychosis, in part because opioids have the effect of sedatives, not stimulants.
Wolff said meth can cause a mild-mannered, non-aggressive person to become violent.
He has witnessed it firsthand.
“I, unfortunately, have a very close family member who was addicted to meth and spent years in and out of prison… and has actually gone through that paranoia, and the threatening and aggressive behavior,” recalled Wolff.
He said meth users with psychotic symptoms will lash out in their own defense because they wrongly believe people are out to hurt them.
William Paul Jones, the suspect in a deadly home invasion in early December, allegedly thought people were following him when he burst through the back door of a stranger’s home in Kalamazoo County.
Chris Neal, the young dad and Navy veteran who lived at the home with his wife and young daughter, told dispatchers that Jones told them to lock the door and call 911.
Neal heroically told his wife and daughter – who survived the ordeal – to hide upstairs.
When police arrived, they found Jones holding Neal hostage behind a closed door in a first-floor bedroom.
Police reported that Jones, who at one point said he did not believe the officers were truly police, began shooting through the door and wall without warning.
The gunshots struck three officers.
They survived, but Jones shot and killed Chris Neal.
According to the police report, Jones had used meth the day before the fatal home invasion.
Police declined to confirm to News 8 if they think Jones was high on meth at the time of the break-in.
However, in the section of the police report detailing the murder charge, below a line titled “Alcohol, Drugs or Computers Used,” there was a checkmark in the box that said “drugs.”
Wolff noted that, even if a defendant had meth-induced psychosis, they’re still criminally responsible for their actions.
“Michigan law says if you willingly take an illicit substance and you commit a crime while under the influence of that, you are legally culpable for that behavior even though (the drug) might have changed the way you would have acted normally,” explained Wolff.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting agreed with Wolff’s assessment.
“In general, I will say that drugs influence people’s behaviors,” wrote Getting in an email exchange with News 8. “Meth definitely can and does. Especially for heavy users that are on a binge. But a person being under the influence of voluntarily consumed drugs is not grounds for a finding of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity.’ Legally, they are still responsible for their actions.”