The Faces of Meth: Meet recovering addicts in Hampton Roads


by Regina Mobley

Posted on May 8, 2012 at 5:16 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 8 at 6:44 PM

NEWPORT NEWS -- It's the 1980's, and a cute Italian teenager named Patricia was making a name for herself on the modeling scene in Virginia Beach.  She loved the camera and the camera loved her. But for Patricia, there was a dark side to the glitz and glamour of the runway.  To stay runway-thin, Patricia turned to methamphetamines.   

Initially, her delivery method was to swallow the drug, but curiosity led to intravenous use of meth.  But it was the I.V. use of meth that would end her modeling career.  The tracks on her arms were a dead giveaway, and she was banned from the runway.

Patricia, still a minor, made her way to the go-go bars of Norfolk where there was a seemingly endless supply of money, men,meth, and any other drug she wanted.

"I was around people who had a lot of money and a lot of drugs... it was the fast way of living and it was the beginning of my destruction," says Patricia.

It's the 1990's, and the course of destruction was already underway for Steven McFerrin who was only 13 years old. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth were among the drugs the Portsmouth teen used on a regular basis.  

"Whatever you put in front of my face, I would do it with you," said McFerrin.

Patricia Burnell is now 44 years old and Steven is 32 years old.  After brushes with the law, they landed in a faith-based residential treatment program in Newport News called Youth Challenge.

Youth Challenge program director Travis Hall, himself a former meth addict, says meth is one of the hardest addictions to beat.

"It just consumes every bit of your being and you've got to have it," says Hall.

Hall says Patrica and Steven still have a long way to go in beating addiction.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, meth use was halved over the past five years.

But another set of numbers from the Drug Enforcement Administration points to a disturbing trend in Virginia that contradicts findings in much of the nation.  In 2009, federal agents discovered only 28 meth labs in Virginia.  Agents discovered 107 labs in 2010, and the DEA busted the operators of 167 meth labs in Virginia last year.  For more information, click here.  

Addiction specialists across the region say they have not treated teenagers in Hampton Roads for meth addiction, but it's only a matter of time before the dangerous drug makes its way to the youth of Hampton Roads.

Sandy Fagan is the executive director of Bacon Street in Williamsburg, which is a facility that specializes in treating the teen drug addict.  He says his antenna is up and his radar is on. 

"We know we are going to be dealing with a population that begins to experiment with this drug and experimental use leads to regular use... addiction takes place very quickly with methamphetamines," stated Fagan.