VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Methamphetamine took everything from Rachel Sowder.

“It gets to a point where you don’t just use the drugs for fun anymore, you use it ‘cuz you have to use it,” Sowder said.

She began using drugs as a teenager, and said her meth addiction changed her physical appearance to the point she had to have several dental procedures to undo damage to her teeth.

Sowder also recalled how her addiction kept her secluded from people.

“I had a severe fear of being out in public,” she said.

Even though Sowder was arrested several times for crimes stemming from her addiction, she said she continued to go back to the same crowd and participate in the same activities each time she was released.

The cycle Sowder described is not uncommon in addicts, and her story is an all-too-familiar one in the Wabash Valley.

“I’m sure in your area you can go basically to any house, knock on the door, and say ‘how has your life been impacted by methamphetamine?’ and someone will tell you a story how that has devastated their family, their career, their life,” US Attorney Josh Minkler said.

DEA Agent Michael Gannon describes the effects of meth:

Despite the negative side effects related to meth use, recent data shows more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. reported using the drug over the course of a year.

Vigo County’s daily booking and release reports showed 12 arrests related to meth from Jan. 31 to Feb. 11; an average of one arrest per day.

Meth isn’t a new drug, but rather a drug that has evolved over the years to create new levels of demand and addiction.

“The methamphetamine that was available in the Southern District of Indiana was cheap, but it wasn’t very high quality,” said Minkler, recalling his early days prosecuting drug crimes in the 90s, “At the time, it was what I’d call or refer to as ‘homegrown’ or ‘bathtub methamphetamine.'”

The drug’s evolution can be attributed in part to the rise of Mexican drug cartels.

“They have these super labs set up in Mexico,” DEA Special Agent Michael Gannon said, “They’re able to make ton quantities of methamphetamine; the potency is the highest it’s ever been.”

US Attorney Josh Minkler explains the priority of helping addicts:

Distribution possibilities are also high, with drug operations making their way across the southern border and into local communities.

Drug organizations such as the “Operation Momma’s Boy” ring recently busted in Terre Haute operate around the distribution of a newer, more potent crystal meth that has only heightened meth addiction.

“Once that hit in the Southern District of Indiana, methamphetamine took over as the drug of choice,” Minkler said, “More than marijuana, more than crack cocaine, more than heroine; methamphetamine became the drug.”

With overdose deaths keeping opioids in the headlines throughout Indiana, Minkler said it’s important to remember the continued grasp meth has on many local communities.

“Opioids got a lot of attention, as it should, we paid a lot of attention to that,” Minkler said, “But that doesn’t mean that there was an absence of methamphetamine. Methamphetamine never left, it was always the most popular, most in demand drug here in Indiana.”

US Attorney Josh Minkler describes the prevalence of violence in drug trafficking:

According to state data from 2018, Vigo County had the second most meth lab busts in the state with 15, while Knox County had the third most with nine. Officials said these numbers showcase the efforts of the local law enforcement agencies such as the Vigo County Drug Task Force.

“Where you see those higher numbers of busts, you also have the most tireless drug task forces,” Minkler said.

Gannon said the DEA has been seizing “hundreds of pounds” of methamphetamine in the past several years, and that meth can be found in any neighborhood.

“When it comes to drugs such as methamphetamine, socioeconomic factors don’t play a role,” Gannon said, “It has no boundaries.”

Boundaries were nowhere to be found in Sowder’s addiction for years, as she said her life continued to spiral out of control to the point where she contemplated suicide.

“I was homeless, helpless, hungry, I was broke,” she said, “I was just defeated, completely defeated.”

Then, on Sept. 20, 2018, Sowder made the decision to get clean while sitting in a jail cell. Not long after, she received a sign that made her more confident in her chances of staying sober.

“I went to court that day, and it just so happened that the mail had come that day before I went to court, and I had an acceptance letter for a sober living house in Vincennes.”

Rachel Sowder shares her journey to recovery:

Sowder has now been sober for over 16 months, has a job and is taking college classes at Ivy Tech in Terre Haute. She said she has been able to make amends with people from her past and is enjoying her relationship with her daughter, who she calls her best friend.

“My transformation, it just seems unreal every day,” she said, “It’s like it was not even my life.”

Sowder added that her time at the sober living house, and the sense of community that program gave her, are huge parts of her successful sobriety. Although her journey is far from over, Sowder said she’s already noticed a change in herself that she hopes to inspire in others.

“I just try to help others, point them in the right direction, as far as making that first call.”