Dell Humbert decided to take a different direction in his life 19 months ago -- that's when he brought a stop to his addiction to methamphetamine.
"I was an everyday user for 22 years," the Merced resident said. "I was 18 years old when I started."
In 2005, Humbert's wife died and he became a single father of two boys, who are now 9 and 12. His addiction peaked back then, and he was spending an average of $200 a day on meth.
Humbert lost custody of his two children, which is what made him realize that he had to turn his life around.
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Now, he said he's gained his life back. Not only is he regaining custody of his two sons early next month, but he also helps other meth addicts who want to get clean. "I'm able to give back what was given to me, and that's a wonderful feeling," he said.
Humbert was among hundreds of people who took part in the fourth annual Say No to Meth March and Bike Run on Saturday at Courthouse Park. The event was sponsored by This Ain't Your Mama's Church in Merced.
Meth -- a toxic central nervous stimulant -- can lead to malnutrition, paranoia, confusion, anxiety, aggressiveness, heart failure, seizures, coma and even death, according to a 2009 report by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.
Meth was the most commonly reported primary drug in publicly funded treatment programs in California in 2008, according to the CDADP's report. In Merced County, the number of meth addicts admitted to treatment programs was 410 in 2000, but that number more than doubled to 892 in 2005, according to the most recent figures.
April Schrader, of Merced and a former meth user, said she has been clean for almost two years. She started using meth when she was in high school, and was on it off and on for 17 years before she quit for good. "It was very hard. It's a hard battle to deal with," she said. "I tried to quit three times."
Schrader said the drug destroyed her, and as a result of her addiction she lost her marriage and two children. However, now that she has been clean for a while, she's moving on with her life. This is her first semester taking classes at Merced College with the hope of becoming a photographer.
Kathy and Jack Barham, also of Merced, used meth together for 13 years. But they say they've been clean for three and a half years now. "At the beginning we were our own triggers, but then we decided we couldn't do this anymore," Kathy said.
Like Humbert, Kathy now helps counsel people who want to end their addiction as well.
Kelly Wissert, who helped organize the Say No to Meth March and Bike Run, said the event was to reach out "to meth addicts who are still suffering and let them know that there's help in the community to assist them to get off meth."
Meth is a plague, she said. "It's everywhere," she added. "It affects so many families in our neighborhoods."
But at least on Saturday, rays of hope mingled with the sunshine through the trees in the park.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 388-6507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.