‘They have no idea how scary this stuff is’|[9/11/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 11, 2006

David Parnell tried to hang himself when he heard imaginary voices telling him he was an awful person and that no one would forgive the bad things he had done.

He shot himself in the face after his wife told him she and their children were leaving him and his drug abuse.

He was hooked on methamphetamine for 15 years, and, he said in Vicksburg last week, he thanks God every day that his attempts to kill himself weren’t successful.

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Parnell, now 39, has been clean for three years. His addiction, he said, was selfish – but meth is a powerful drug.

&#8220It’s one of the most addictive and most destructive drugs I think our country has ever seen,” he said to an audience of about 200 students at City Auditorium. &#8220It is a true epidemic.”

Known on the streets as &#8220crystal,” &#8220crank,” &#8220ice,” &#8220speed” or &#8220glass,” crystal methamphetamine has been one of the fastest growing drugs in the United States. In 2005, 120 pounds of meth was seized by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, trailing only behind marijuana and cocaine.

&#8220The problem with it spreading like it has is it’s so easy to get the ingredients to manufacture it. You could get all you need at a hardware store and from over-the-counter cold medicine,” Parnell said.

Laws limiting access to some components have been enacted in many states, including Mississippi.

&#8220With the Internet, there are new recipes posted every day on different Web sites,” he said. &#8220But unfortunately, this is what is happening every day. These kids are killing themselves trying to manufacture this stuff.”

Parnell’s story is a gruesome one. But it’s the truth, and though he cautions his audiences as to the brutality of it all, his hope is to scare people – especially teens – out of trying the drug.

A Kentucky native, Parnell was raised by his mother, an avid Christian. His father wasn’t really in the picture until he was a preteen. At 13, he started getting high on marijuana with his dad, a regular drug user.

By the time he graduated high school, he was on to cocaine, and at 21, meth.

&#8220I moved to Dallas and moved into a crank house. I had heard that 95 percent of those who try meth get hooked, but I didn’t believe it,” he said. &#8220In the beginning, it made me feel strong. I felt like I could think clearly. I only did it on the weekends; I didn’t feel like I was hooked.”

Parnell moved to Tennessee and met his wife, Amy.

&#8220I got her pregnant, but instead of marrying her, I decided to sell dope to get some fast money. I got caught and thrown in prison,” he said.

After a few years in custody, Parnell came back home, married Amy and started using meth again.

&#8220I was using more and more. I’d stay up for four to five days hallucinating,” he said.

&#8220My wife would beg me to quit, but I decided I needed to get her to start using. If I did that, she’d be off my back,” he said.

Parnell said he used the fact that his wife wanted to lose weight against her.

&#8220She tried it, started seeing weight loss results and she was hooked,” he said.

&#8220The thing was, back then I would have told you I thought I was a good dad,” he said. &#8220If my kids needed me, I was always in the back room cooking meth. They could just knock on the door. But if they ever did, I’d yell at them to get out.”

Parnell’s drug abuse escalated until during one fight with his wife, he tried to shoot her.

&#8220Luckily, the gun wasn’t loaded, but she called the cops. Thank God,” he said.

After a brief stint in prison again, Parnell became suicidal when he found out his wife and children were leaving.

&#8220I heard voices telling me I was no good, that even Jesus wouldn’t forgive me. So I headed out to the garage and tried to hang myself,” he said.

Parnell’s sister found him about 15 minutes later, and though unconscious, he wasn’t dead.

&#8220The rope broke,” he said.

He decided it was time to clean up his act. He started going to church and was sober within five months.

&#8220But then I decided it was OK for me to go back to my old job and hang around all my old friends. Within three weeks, I was using again,” he said. &#8220I gave up the fight.”

It was a few weeks later that Parnell tried to convince his wife to come back to him.

&#8220I just wanted her to lie down next to me. I figured if I could get her to lie down with me just one more time, then I could convince her to stay like I had so many times before,” he said.

She agreed, but then told him she still planned on leaving.

&#8220I reached across her and grabbed the SKS assault rifle and put it under my chin and I really thought that was just it,” he said.

The shot went straight through Parnell’s chin, shattering every bone except his left eye socket.

&#8220Everyone thought I was dead for sure,” he said. &#8220I should have been.”

But he wasn’t.

&#8220I woke up three days later, and my wife was standing by my bed. She said she loved me, and during her three days in the waiting room, she found out she was pregnant with our seventh child. That was all I needed to hear,” he said.

It’s now three years and more than 20 reconstructive surgeries later, and Parnell has changed his life.

He now travels around the country during most of the year to speak to various civic and school groups about his life on meth.

And while his presentation includes morbid photos of makeshift meth labs, children abused by meth-addicted parents and before and after photos of meth users, the message conveyed is clear.

&#8220I should have died twice from meth. There’s a reason I didn’t,” he said.

&#8220This drug crosses every boundary – I’ve known teachers, bus drivers and deputy sheriffs who use. I’ve seen labs in hotel bathrooms, the back of rehab units and children’s bedrooms,” he said. &#8220It’s nasty.”

And a scary statistic, Parnell said, is that one pound of meth can get about 1,800 teens high for about 12 hours.

&#8220They have no idea how scary this stuff is,” he said.

Parnell was to speak to high school students at Vicksburg High, Warren Central, Porters Chapel and St. Aloysius this week.

The visit was sponsored by the Make A Promise Coalition for a Drug-Free Warren County.