“I was a shell of the person I used to be.”
That’s how recovering methamphetamine addict Chelsea Sutherland explains the drug that consumed her life.
The 26-year-old Frankfort mother of two sons found herself stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction. She began smoking marijuana when she was 12. At 18, she dabbled in pain pills and serenity, a marijuana substitute. She tried heroin when she was 22, but she didn’t like constantly nodding off.
“I experimented with cocaine, but it wasn’t strong enough,” Sutherland explained, adding that she wanted something to keep her awake, as she was dealing with a husband undergoing medical issues and two young children.
That’s when she found meth.
“It was a done deal and sealed — that’s what I wanted,” she said.
In the throes of her drug habit, she lost 50 pounds in six months and sleep was impossible. On a typical day, she’d wake her kids in the morning, maybe feed them, maybe not and then leave to go hunting for meth.
“Once I was up for almost 27 days straight. When I crashed, I slept for five days,” she said of her out-of-control lifestyle. “I didn’t care about anything or anyone else but myself and my drugs.”
Her arrest on July 11, 2016, which garnered news coverage, was rock bottom.
Franklin County sheriff’s deputies pulled Sutherland over after witnessing her swerve into the median along U.S. 60, near KY 127. She passed a field sobriety test but admitted she had marijuana in the car. Authorities found marijuana, methamphetamine, a loaded .25-caliber handgun and a knife wrapped in a towel inside the car.
A search of her home turned up a stolen credit card, fraudulent checks and her two sons, 3 and 4 at the time, home alone.
She was charged with first-degree enhanced possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), first offense, a Class C felony; enhanced possession of marijuana, a Class D felony; carrying a concealed deadly weapon, a Class A misdemeanor; and failure to produce an insurance card, and reckless driving, violations.
“I lost my kids, my home, who I was,” she said. “I was trapped in that lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, the number of local meth cases is on the rise.
Last year, in Franklin County, the total number of cases involving methamphetamine (possessing, trafficking or manufacturing) skyrocketed to 191, from 121 in 2016.
The Frankfort Police Department handled 69 meth cases in 2017, compared to 47 the previous year. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office processed 122 last year, up from 84 in 2016.
Of the 191 methamphetamine-related cases last year, the total number of people arrested nearly doubled from the year before. In 2016, 180 people were arrested on meth-related charges, compared to 320 arrests that were made last year.
Of course, with more arrests come more cases. Cleveland and his prosecutors were busier than ever in 2017 with 513 cases — 84 more than the previous year and 136 more than in 2015.
For Sutherland, it was the first time she had ever been in trouble with the law. She’d never even had a traffic violation. Facing three years in prison, she spent 30 days in jail before being admitted to Franklin County Drug Court, an intensive, court-supervised treatment offered as an alternative to incarceration. She also enrolled in a 90-day treatment program that helped her kick the habit.
It wasn’t an easy road, but Sutherland’s been clean for a year-and-a-half. She still participates in the drug court program and is on track to graduate in July.
She shared her story to let others know recovery is achievable.
“It’s possible to turn it around,” she said. “I have my kids, a home, a job and a great boyfriend.”
In fact, her job was in jeopardy this week when an attic fire forced the Captain D’s Seafood restaurant on Versailles Road, where she cashiered, to close its doors. Fortunately, she was one of three employees given the chance to transfer to the west-side Captain D’s.
Not every addict’s story is like Sutherland’s. Many meth users can’t break the bonds of addiction and, oftentimes, relapse. Many cycle through the court system for years.
“As a motive or causative factor for crime, the percentage of drug-related cases is probably 95 percent,” said Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland. “(When you’re talking about) crimes committed for money to buy drugs and robberies, drugs are a motivating factor in just about all the cases.”
But Cleveland doesn’t believe stiffer penalties will deter illegal drugs.
“There are harsher penalties now with trafficking, but it doesn’t seem to be curbing criminal activity,” he said. “I think it is more demand-driven than supply-driven.”
Last year, FPD and FCSO collected a combined total of 3,967.4 grams of methamphetamine — more than double the 1,659.1 grams the agencies collected in 2016.
“Meth is more available and cheaper than I have ever seen it in my 20-plus years in law enforcement,” said Ron Wyatt, an investigator and public information officer at the Franklin County Regional Jail.
The jail is not equipped to handle the rehabilitation of addicts. Many are in need of long-term substance abuse treatment, family support and programs such as drug court.
The addict also has to want to recover.
For Sutherland, sobriety is hard-fought. Occasionally, she’ll see a former friend still trapped in that lifestyle and she remembers how she felt trapped in addiction’s cycle.
“I didn’t take care of my kids. I was there, but I wasn’t there for them,” she said. “But, there are ways out of the misery.”
Sutherland takes steps each day to better herself, whether it’s art therapy at Hands Healing Hearts or working the register at Captain D’s.
“I wanted myself back,” she beamed. “I wanted a better life for my kids.”