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Mother's (Dangerous) Little Helper

It's so addictive it makes those pills Grandma took seem like candy. Methamphetamine is furiously spreading from rural areas, where it's home-brewed, into our cities and suburbs. Who is vulnerable? Often, exhausted new moms with 24/7 demands. Here's the cautionary tale of one mom-next-door who fell into addiction and then fought her way back

When the police car pulled me over, my first thought was "Why am I getting a ticket?" It was 8:30 p.m. and I was on my way home from Target. My baby girl, Cameren, was asleep in her car seat. After telling me that I was driving five miles over the speed limit, the officer started asking my partner, Derek, a lot of questions. Who was the man who'd talked to Derek in one of the store aisles? We didn't know  -- just a stranger who'd said hi. Did we have a walkie-talkie? No, I said, getting more bewildered by the minute.

All of a sudden, five more patrol cars pulled up, their lights flashing. The police ordered us out of our car so they could search it. Derek told me not to worry: The police would realize that they'd made a mistake and let us go. But there was something I'd forgotten. "What's this?" an officer demanded, holding up a capsule of white powder from my purse.

I'd never been so terrified in my life. I'd just been caught with methamphetamine. I didn't know it at the time, but the man in Target had been caught shoplifting Sudafed, which contains ingredients used to make meth, and the police thought Derek and I might be running a lab. The officer told me to get into the patrol car with Cameren, while narcotics detectives tested the powder. Soon a female officer got into the car and read me my rights. I burst into tears when she patted me down. How could this be happening? I was barely 20 years old and had never been in any trouble.

By the time I arrived at Linn County Jail, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on that March night in 2005, it was close to midnight. I had to get naked in front of a female sheriff for a humiliating body search; then I was given a green jail uniform, photographed, and fingerprinted. I was escorted to a cell and locked in with three sleeping women. I lay down on a metal bunk bed as quietly as possible. All night long, I shivered under the thin prison blanket. I was afraid I'd just ruined my life  -- and I nearly had.

Lisa Collier Cool is an award-winning medical writer and mother of three in Pelham, New York.