Louis Porcelli didn't care much for a drug that made him want to steal his mom's last $20.
So, six years ago, Porcelli, 28, swapped crack cocaine for a drug he could cook with items snagged from garages, medicine cabinets and local farms.
But methamphetamine has cost him more than crack ever did. Porcelli is behind bars in Smithfield now, charged with manufacturing the highly addictive drug. It's a charge that, if proven true, could keep him in jail a decade or more.
"I love meth," said Porcelli, a slim shadow of a once handsome young man. "It deteriorates your body, but I ain't gonna lie, I like the way it makes me feel."
Porcelli ticks through meth's virtues as he shifts on a metal stool in the Johnston County jail.
When he used, Porcelli stayed awake for weeks on end. A half-hour nap felt like a full night's rest. He could work twice as hard as any other laborer at construction jobs. He was alert, satisfied, sexually virile.
"I felt like nothing could stop me," he said. "I'd never felt that way before."
Johnston County Sheriff's drug agents did stop him last fall. They say Porcelli was one of a dwindling number of meth addicts bothering to circumvent obstacles to secure cold medicine, which contains pseudoephedrine, one of the key ingredients used to cook meth. In January 2006, a new law pulled cold tablets off the shelves and put them behind counters under the watchful eye of pharmacists in an effort to help curb the number of homemade laboratories.
Porcelli has yet to face a judge on charges of making meth, so he and his attorney, Craig James of Smithfield, declined to describe what, if anything, Porcelli was doing when Johnston County Sheriff's deputies showed up at his home in October. A few years ago, though, Porcelli pulled a 10-month stint in state prison for possessing another ingredient to make meth; Porcelli said he snatched a tank of anhydrous ammonia from a hog plant in Duplin County.
Porcelli admits that he mastered the recipe needed to make the white, powdery substance he prefers to swallow raw. His supplier, a friend, taught him how to make it several years ago after getting busted and being put on probation. Porcelli learned after one tutorial, he said.
"I was a natural," he said.
Porcelli concedes that state officials managed to make it tougher to make meth when they created laws that limit shoppers to just two packs of cold medicine and forced them to show a photo identification. But such limitations were an aggravation, not an impassable barrier, he said.
Crack addicts eager to collect $20 or $30 to buy their next hit would agree to pharmacy-hop. Even if it took a whole day to snag enough pseudoephedrine to make a sizable batch of meth, it's worth the cost of paying a middle man, Porcelli said.
Porcelli hasn't tasted meth since he landed in jail four months ago; he is under a $300,000 secured bond he can't post. He'd like to kick the habit one day, but he's realistic.
Of the hundreds of meth addicts he's known, Porcelli has never seen one beat the addiction.
"It's just that good," he said, running his hand through his hair. "Real good."