Forum: Meth overwhelms users and the system

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 1, 2006

Methamphetamine can deaden an addict’s ability to enjoy most of life’s pleasures —including food and sex — long after the drug use stops.

Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, explained on Monday the adverse affects of meth on the brain.

He told a Hood River audience of law enforcement officials and community members gathered in the county library that meth stimulated the production of dopamine far above normal levels. Since that chemical creates a sense of enjoyment for the body, the price of over-production, said Bovett, is a shutdown of overloaded brain receptors that serve as dopamine pathways.

So, for up to 14 months after recovery begins, the addict may be unable to truly find any happiness in life.

z And that increases the odds the individual will become discouraged and relapse.

“It’s not that treatment doesn’t work, it just takes longer. Our challenge is keeping them off meth long enough to complete the treatment,” said Bovett, a nationally known expert on the meth epidemic.

At the June 26 forum hosted by Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, Bovett also said meth use destroyed and injured brain cells. That damage, he said, could leave addicts with long-term or permanent loss of memory, motor skills or emotions.

Bovett said meth addiction also was largely responsible for the growing crimes of identity theft and fraud. He said addicts were looking for ways to fund their habit — but were no longer able to concentrate enough to hold down a job. So, robbing bank accounts was one way for them to obtain the money they needed.

“As I talk to people, it is amazing just how much of an impact this drug is having on the community. It affects all families; it isn’t a drug that has an impact on only one class of people,” said Metsger.

He said more treatment and prevention dollars needed to be made available. And that the state legislature needed to find that money, even if it meant a modest increase in the cigarette tax. He said Oregon actually rolled back its cigarette tax by 10 cents per pack when voters defeated Measure 30 in 2004. He said the current price of a pack in Oregon was almost $1 less than in Washington.

Metsger believes the majority of citizens would support restoring the 10 cent charge. He said that move would generate $15 million more each biennium. And that would mean a 500 percent increase in funding for state drug courts.

Metsger invited Hood River County Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley to share information on the local drug court. The judge said the program blended treatment with judicial oversight. And, although the chosen participants were rewarded for recovery efforts, they also had swift consequences for infractions.

“If you take a meth addict and put that person in prison what do you have when they get out? You still have an untreated meth addict,” said Crowley.

He said all the members of the drug court team volunteered their time since there were no extra funds available for the program.

Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler said that 100 percent of local identity theft crimes had been tied back to meth users. He said it created a budget problem when addicts were hauled off to jail with poor health. In fact, Wampler said he had spent $40,000 over his regular medical budget to deal with inmate illnesses.

“Just arresting people isn’t going to solve anything, it’s just a revolving door,” he said.

Chief Deputy Jerry Brown said, because of funding shortfalls at treatment centers, it was an arduous process to get help for an addict. He cited a case where deputies had to wait nine hours before a mental health patient could even be lodged in a facility.

“The problem is not going to get any better without more resources, it’s going to get worse,” he said.

Bovett said there had been nine factories in foreign countries that produced pseudoephedrine, which was essential for meth production. He said since Sudafed and other cold medicines containing the ingredient were no longer sold from store shelves in many locations, one of the manufacturers had shut down.

He said an international movement to more closely monitor shipments of pseudoephedrine was ramping up. And if more states followed the example of Oregon and Oklahoma to require a prescription for Sudafed and similar drugs then it might make it even more difficult for meth cooks to get supplies.

However, Bovett said the best weapon in the battle against meth was, and would continue to be, prevention programs.

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