Pubdate: Thu, 27 Jan 2000
Source: Press-Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Press-Enterprise Company
Contact:  3512 Fourteenth Street Riverside, CA 92501
Author: Aldrin Brown,  The Press-Enterprise


Giving up the drug for good is a long and difficult process, say experts, 
but treatment programs can help.

Drug counselor Michael Halcomb knows what he's talking about when he warns 
clients about the cravings, sleep disorders, concentration problems and 
emotional instability common to recovering methamphetamine addicts.

Three years ago, Halcomb received counseling himself through the San 
Bernardino County Drug Court program for his own meth addiction, after 
serving a year in jail for methamphetamine manufacturing.

"I see a little bit of myself in each of them," said Halcomb, 42, a 
certified drug and alcohol counselor with the Drug Court program. "It's not 
so long ago that I was where they are."

Although success stories abound, overcoming an addiction to the powerful 
synthetic stimulant is an excruciating, lifelong process.

The disruption to brain activity that causes the euphoric high also results 
in irreversible damage to normal brain function.

After an initial period of detoxification that can last up to a week, 
long-term methamphetamine users experience an array of physical disruptions 
that often add to cravings for the narcotic.

Post-acute withdrawal (PAW) symptoms, as they are called, include an 
inability to think clearly, memory problems, vast mood swings and a lack of 
physical coordination.

The symptoms are aggravated by stress.

"The higher the stress, the more intense the PAW symptoms. The greater the 
PAW symptoms, the greater the stress. It's a cycle," Halcomb said. "We 
address each of those issues, and the person just learns to adapt to it 
until the stress level goes down."

For many meth users, the symptoms N which peak about six months after 
methamphetamine use ends N can be too much to overcome.

Success often depends on the users" mental health, whether there is a 
family history of drug use, the quality of the drug used and the method 
used to administer the drug.

Addicts who have smoked or injected methamphetamine for long periods face a 
difficult time quitting.

"The main route of manufacturing methamphetamine these days is with 
ephedrine," said Janice Stalcup, who heads New Leaf Treatment Center in 

"It gives you a very pure drug. It's basically about twice as strong as 
what the old bikers used to make," Stalcup said.

"If you smoke it or inject it, it's a very intense high."

Nearly a third of addicts at New Leaf are recovering from meth addiction. 
Four years ago, Stalcup's firm treated mostly cocaine users.

New Leaf researchers are 18 months into a three-year federally funded study 
to compare two widely used models for treating drug addicts.

One relies heavily on education and family support. The other focuses on 
intensive one-on-one counseling to help addicts manage their drug cravings.

Other models also show promise.

In the Drug Court program, nonviolent addicts convicted of crimes get 
counseling in every aspect of their lives: education, employment, family 
and drug use.

Failure to follow through with the program can land them back in jail.

Drug courts have been criticized by some prosecutors, who complain

that the program coddles criminals N particularly addicts convicted of 
manufacturing or selling small amounts of methamphetamine.

Dale K. Sechrest, professor of criminal justice at California State 
University, San Bernardino, helped write a limited 1998 study on the 
success rate of Riverside County's Drug Court program.

Of 38 participants who graduated from the yearlong program, just two were 
arrested within 18 months.

Of 38 participants who were removed from the program, 13 committed new 

Researchers used the study to demonstrate that, among a select group of 
addicts, the program could reduce the need for jail beds and reduce court 

"It's not a panacea, but there are some people that we can help, and we 
ought not stop doing that," Sechrest said.

The drug court model is less effective for younger addicts, the study found.

"You try to work with a 21-, 22- or 23-year-old speed user, and it's 
extremely difficult," Sechrest said.

"They can"t even get them into the program. They"re screened out. They've 
committed violent crimes or they"re not committed to the rehabilitation."

Consistency is key to recovery, many drug experts say.

"Treatment really does work," New Leaf's Stalcup said.

"There's some matching between clients and treatment methods that has to 
happen, but no matter what the method, if you stay in treatment, you can 
get well."
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