Meth ruins lives.

Our nation is in the midst of a public health crisis, and chances are you know someone caught in the middle of it. Once called the poor man's cocaine, crystal meth used to be a small-town problem. It was only popular among truck drivers and factory workers struggling to stay up all night. Over the years, the epidemic has spread to infect all corners of mainstream America.

According to the U.S. Attorney General, meth is now the most dangerous drug in America. Some law enforcement officials say it is the biggest drug problem they face, with home meth labs either showing up or blowing up in all 50 states.

It has seduced soccer moms, robbed children of their parents and parents of their children and destroyed families.

The Oprah Winfrey Show's first investigation into this insidious drug occurred earlier this year when we met Chantel, a blonde, 17-year-old, all-American addict.

After an on-air intervention conducted by Chantel's mother, Penni, sister Kortnie and addiction specialist Debra Jay, Chantel left our stage and headed to rehab. On her ride to the airport to transport her to rehab at the Caron Foundation, Chantel pleaded to be able to not go.

Chantel did go, however, and weeks later spoke from rehab about her struggles with cravings. "I had a really bad one the other night. I really tasted it, and I just thought about all the bad things that the drug has done to me, and it made the craving go away."

"What was harder than I thought it would be was caring about people," Chantel says. "I've always had the drugs to cover up my feelings. You have to deal with it here: If you fight with your parents, you don't have drugs; if you have a fight with one of the girls, you don't have drugs.

Halfway through her scheduled stay in rehab, Chantel was asked to stay for an additional 30 days. At first, she resisted, but Chantel came to realize she needed more time and asked to stay for an extra three months. "In some ways, I'm scared to leave. Just going back to my hometown is going to be like a huge trigger for me to want to use."

After a total of 122 days in treatment, Chantel left for home. After six weeks, Chantel and her family were starting to feel the pressures of her habit. "Being in rehab, I thought I'd come home and everything would be good. Nothing bad would happen to me anymore."

It certainly has been far from easy. Penni, Chantel's mother, describes the days after Chantel's return as being "very much like a roller coaster."

Chantel felt torn between doing what she needs to do to stay clean and drifting back to her old crowd—all of whom "are into meth or have done meth," she says.

At one point, Chantel did meet up with old friends, prompting her stepfather to kick her out of the house. Chantel then sent messages to Penni, saying that if she suffered a relapse, she would blame her for pushing her to it.
Chantel and Penni

Chantel says that though she has not used meth since coming home from rehab, when she was kicked out of her house, she was tempted. "I called my mom because I wasn't using but I felt like I was living the lifestyle of using."

Part of that lifestyle included a posture of blaming her mother. "I was mad and angry, and I got my addict behaviors back. I was blaming her for kicking me out, blaming her for everything that's ever happened to me."

This posture does not fully explain things, Chantel says. "Our relationship has been rocky, but it's getting better."

Penni admits she was not entirely prepared for what would happen after Chantel returned from rehab. Just as Chantel did not anticipate the difficulty in avoiding all of the bad influences and habits in her hometown, Penni harbored unrealistic expectations for Chantel's recovery.

"I thought you put your car in the shop and it comes out repaired, and I thought that's what would happen with Chantel," Penni says. "Obviously it's not what happens."

After a period of re-entry marked by heated confrontations, Penni says she sees positive growth. "I'm learning also how to take care of me and what I'm doing wrong," she says.
Debra Jay

Addiction specialist Debra Jay, who organized our initial intervention for Chantel with Penni and Kortnie, highlights the fact that "treatment isn't recovery...treatment is discovery."

She has advice for Penni and Chantel. "I think what's happening right now is that you both are doing some good things. You've got that program of recovery started."

Debra is worried about Chantel's tendency to take her addiction lightly, increasing the possibility of relapse. "You have to take it day by day."

One way for Chantel and Penni to refocus their energy, Debra says, is by focusing less on everything that's wrong. She encourages Penni to think about what Chantel is doing: both wrong and right. Debra tells Chantel to ask one question: "'Am I being trustworthy today?' You see how different that is than 'Will you trust me, Mom?'"

Megan was a pretty, vivacious and loving daughter...whose addictions began when was just 12 years old. She started with pills and marijuana, and, at 15, began using crystal meth. This new drug soon took over her life, and her family began to notice dramatic changes in her mood and appearance.

On the day of Megan's prom, her frayed relationship with her family finally broke. Megan's mother, Robyn, kicked her out of the house, and for seven days, Megan went on a binge that made her previous drug use pale in comparison.

Megan's whereabouts unknown, the family happened to see The Oprah Winfrey Show the day Chantel spoke of her addiction to meth. Robyn did the math and realized that Megan was hooked on meth. "It could have been Megan sitting on the stage at that point. I thought, 'That's her. That's what she's doing. She's doing meth.'"

Robyn began a seven-day search for Megan, praying she was still alive. When Megan returned home, Robyn asked Megan to watch copy of the show featuring Chantel.

"I was like, 'What are you talking about? I just want to go to sleep.' And she said, 'No, I really want you to watch this.' I did and my eyes were wide open. It was really inspiring."

Megan finally admitted she had a drug problem and agreed to go to rehab.
Chantel and Megan

In rehab, Megan had a startling moment. Chantel, Megan's inspiration for rehabilitation, was still a patient at the Caron Foundation.

"I saw her and I said, 'I'm here because I watched the show. You inspired me. Just being there and making me understand that if you can do it, then those millions of people who are watching the show in my position can do it too."

Chantel and Megan bonded and became close friends. They haven't seen each other again until today!
Michelle's downward spiral.

Michelle was a typical 35-year-old soccer mom who had never done an illegal drug in her life. Three years ago, she was living the American dream with her successful husband and their son. She even taught Bible study classes in her established suburban neighborhood.

Michelle says that, after 14 years of marriage, her relationship with her husband began to change. The couple lacked intimacy, and Michelle says she began having an affair. Her new boyfriend introduced her to crystal meth. "I had no idea what meth was," Michelle says. "I'd never seen it. Never used it. I thought, 'Oh, I'll just do this recreationally whenever someone has it...but I was instantly hooked."

Soon, Michelle says, she felt the need to use the drug every day, and it quickly began consuming her life. Michelle kept her addiction a secret, but not her affair. Still, she rejected her husband's plea to work things out and, she says, even stopped caring about her son. Eventually, her marriage was over, and she lost her job as the gnawing addiction worsened.

"All I cared about was my drug," Michelle says. "I had no sense of being. I had no sense of caring. I had no sense of emotions. I had nothing."
Michelle reaches out for help.

Michelle saw Chantel's first appearance on The Oprah Show and was deeply moved. Then came a wake-up call when a friend of Michelle's who was also an addict got arrested. "She was losing her child, her family," Michelle explains. "And I knew that if I continued to use, that that's what was going to happen to me."

Michelle reached out to friends who helped her pack her bags and check into rehab. Even though they're no longer married, Michelle credits the love and support of her ex-husband, Mike, for helping her recover. "He is my backbone," she says. "And I called him every day. I checked in with him every day and said, 'Mike, I'm two days clean...I'm 10 days clean!'"

When Michelle shared her story, she announced she's been clean for 42 days. But before entering rehab, she made a shocking discovery.
Chandler, Michelle's son.

When Michelle was hooked on meth, she found out she wasn't the only one in her family with a problem—her 13-year-old son, Chandler, was using the drug, too. Michelle and her ex-husband discovered Chandler was smoking meth by using a common household lightbulb.

Michelle and Mike confronted their son and took him to rehab. On the ride home, all Michelle could think about was her next fix. "I felt guilty," she says. "How can I say, 'Chandler, this is what you need to do,' when I've gotten high?"

Chandler learned of his mother's addiction a few weeks before appearing with her on the show, which left him feeling upset. But he's happy to share that he's been drug-free for five months.
Debra Jay tells Michelle how to stay sober.

Debra says Michelle has the determination to recover, but she still has a long road ahead of her. "Right now, what's going on with you is what's called 'white-knuckle sobriety.' Every day you're just hanging on for another day, but you don't have recovery. Not using the drug is not recovery—it's just the gateway to recovery. It just gives you the right to belong to the group."

Friends and family can be helpful, but Debra Jay says they can't give Michelle the support she needs. "They don't have it to give," she explains. "You need other recovering women in your life. I would love you to make a commitment. ... Because the way people stay sober in a 12-step group is by helping other people. And that's what you can do. And that's how you'll stay sober."

"I will make that commitment today," Michelle says.
Jay's reckless addiction to meth

At 25, Jay was a young gay man living a fast-paced life in New York City, working in corporate real estate. Devastated by a bad relationship, he turned to crystal meth to deal with his depression. He took his first hit in a nightclub, and says the drug instantly made him feel like a rock star. At his worst, he used the drug daily, spending $25,000 in less than a year to feed his addiction.

Experts say crystal meth erases inhibitions, increases sexual appetites and gives addicts the energy to have sex for days. To satisfy his meth-induced sexual cravings, Jay would frequent all-male bathhouses. "These bathhouses are dark, cavernous, multi-level facilities," Jay says. "They have larger dark rooms with just platforms and benches and chairs where you can't really see who you're having sex with. You're groping and grabbing and fondling one another in the dark."

Whether in bathhouses or hotel rooms, Jay says his only concern was finding drugs and sex. "The whole idea behind sex parties is extended periods of time in someone's home, a hotel room, and you're walking around naked. ... I would be so high it would be nothing for me to be with 15, 20, 25 men in a night."

Experts claim that crystal meth can dramatically increase reckless sexual behavior and has led to rising rates of HIV in gay and bisexual men. Jay, who became HIV positive while addicted to meth, agrees. "It was never part of my agenda to practice safe sex. Wearing condoms is the rare thing when you're high on crystal meth."

As the drug ravaged Jay's body and spirit, he decided to end it all and jumped headfirst 32 feet into a construction pit...
Jay on recovery and reaching out.

After hitting rock-bottom and surviving his suicide attempt, Jay says he turned his life around. When he appeared on the show, he shared that he's been off meth for one and a half years. How did he finally quit?

"I think that it's a combination of going to [12-step] meetings every day," Jay says. "Working with a sponsor...telling the therapist and myself the truth...doing the work that is required to face the ugliness of myself. I mean, I was the most self-absorbed, bitchy, materialistic little queen that you could possibly want to meet."

Today, Jay is working to bring education and awareness to the gay community—a mission he says helps keep him sober. And for those battling addiction, Jay offers a hopeful message. "Find somebody who has been sober for two years, and get them to start a 12-step meeting," he says. "Take care of ourselves and start loving one another."
Debra Jay warns that crystal meth is everywhere.

Debra Jay stresses that crystal meth affects people from all walks of life. "It's everybody, everywhere," she says. "Nobody's immune. And people think, 'Oh, it could not happen in my family' because they think, 'Well, we're different than that.' But what we're really thinking is, 'We're better than that.' And guess what? We're not."