Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2001
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Olympian
Author: John Graber

Part 1 Of 2


Lives Ruined, Lives Recovered

People Unite To Fight Drug's Devastation

"It's an epidemic, and it's not going away." -- Erik Landaas, Thurston 
County Chemical Dependency Program

THURSTON COUNTY -- Methamphetamine took South Sound's illegal drug market 
by storm in the early 1990s, but local experts say they are only now 
beginning to take the integrated approach necessary to defeat the problem.

That means the scourge is likely to be with us for years to come, Thurston 
County Narcotics Task Force Capt. Jim Chamberlain said.

"Unfortunately, I think we are a reactionary society," Chamberlain said. 
"We wait until something is a big enough problem to focus assets on it. 
This one has now become one that is big enough that it's grabbed 
everybody's attention."

It has grabbed Dr. Thomas Burke's.

"I think methamphetamine is by far the most dangerous illicit drug out 
there, and I think most of the medical community would agree," said Burke, 
an emergency room physician at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

He can make a case to back up his statement:

- - The euphoria the drug produces is so intense that it takes almost no time 
at all to get caught up in an addiction.

"They feel powerful and godlike," Burke said.

The feeling is so powerful that users often are incapable of feeling any 
pleasure without the drug. They often lose even their sexual appetite once 
they get off the drug.

- - "This drug leads to permanent psychosis -- essentially schizophrenia," 
Burke said.

It is not clear if the drug is creating the psychosis or simply uncovering 
it, but the incidence among meth users is too high to be a coincidence, 
Burke said.

- - "The methamphetamine subculture is very different than other drug 
cultures," Burke said. "It's very aggressive."

The drug makes users violent and fearless. It is not uncommon for meth 
users brought into the emergency room by police officers to require eight 
to 10 people to hold them down while physical restraints are placed on 
them, Burke said.

"There can be 30 patients in the emergency room, and one patient is using 
more resources than all of the others combined," he said.

- - Methamphetamine is a stimulant, and it is not uncommon for people using 
it to stay awake for four days or longer.

"It would be like using an engine 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Burke 
said. "We all need sleep. We all need food."

- - Meth is made with things such as drain cleaner and engine coolant that 
physically destroy the brain.

These solvents "create lesions in the brain," Burke said.

The Trend

Another of meth's traits is staying power. While LSD, cocaine and heroin 
have gone through phases when they were the drug of choice, they have 
fallen out of favor largely on their own.

But few who deal with meth and its users think it is a fad that will die 
out on its own.

"It's an epidemic, and it's not going away," said Thurston County Chemical 
Dependency Program Coordinator Erik Landaas. "It seems to have taken on a 
life of its own."

Landaas thinks that's because it's cheap and easy to get.

The effects of meth are similar to cocaine, but it's much less expensive. 
While a cocaine habit can cost between $150 and $200 a day, the same 
effects can be achieved with meth for about $20 to $50 a day, Landaas said.

That's because meth is much more potent. A dose of meth can keep a person 
high all day, while cocaine needs to be used as often as every 20 minutes 
to maintain the high.

Meth also is easy to make with household chemicals and often is created 
near where it's sold. For instance, there were 59 meth labs found in 
Thurston County last year, according to the federal Northwest High 
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Importing drugs such as cocaine and heroin across international borders 
makes them difficult and expensive to get.

"If you don't want to wait for some black tar heroin to come out of Mexico, 
you go buy some meth that was made in the next neighborhood," said Lacey 
Police Chief John Mansfield.

While LSD is often made inside the United States, it is considerably more 
difficult to make, Mansfield said.

Unfortunately, meth also has led the way for a resurgence in the popularity 
of heroin.

"Five years after methamphetamine has hit an area, it really seems that the 
incidence of heroin goes up precipitously," Burke said.

"It's not that people are using heroin right away, but after some time on 
methamphetamine, they are getting so strung out and so wired that they are 
not sleeping and becoming debilitated. They actually turn to heroin to 
cushion the blow of when they are not on methamphetamine or when they are 
coming off methamphetamine. In a sense, they use it as a way of sedating 
themselves, as a way to survive that blue time -- that horrible time when 
they are not on methamphetamine, when they are not feeling great."

But if methamphetamine is a fad, heroin is not likely to be the drug that 
replaces it because it still has to be imported, according to Mansfield's 

"If something else comes along that's even cheaper and easier to get (than 
meth), they will go to that," Mansfield said.

The Solution

Officials say they are just beginning to see the big picture and the 
variety of problems meth causes from its creation, its use and its often 
violent results.

For example, people who make meth often pour the highly toxic byproducts 
into the ground. Specially licensed and equipped cleanup crews from the 
state Department of Ecology are needed to remove the residue.

The toxic chemicals not only create an aggressive and violent high for 
users -- which can harm innocent people who have never touched the drug -- 
they can quickly cause lasting physical problems.

Moreover, users often resort to theft and other crimes to pay for their habit.

It is the wide-ranging ramifications that have prompted about 40 Thurston 
County officials to form a task force to discuss how to tackle the 
problems. They first met at the end of September, and among the 
participants were county commissioners, law enforcement officials, 
treatment and substance abuse prevention specialists, state legislators and 

They intend to meet regularly to find ways to work together to fight the 
drug use.

"This is the first time we've had kind of an interdisciplinary, holistic 
approach," said Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe, who is a former 
state legislator.

Some local officials say now that they've been slow to react. They also 
contend that many people in other parts of the country are still not aware 
of meth and its effects.

Anne Linskey, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Brian Baird. said that's why Baird 
is a founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Methamphetamine Caucus: 
to educate others about the drug. He also is supporting a $27 million 
increase in federal drug law enforcement in next year's budget, which would 
likely make it possible to put Thurston County on the list of 
high-intensity drug trafficking areas. With that designation, the county 
would be eligible for increased federal money to fight the drug war, 
Linskey said.

"We're basically trying to address this from every avenue: prevention, 
enforcement and treatment," Baird told the caucus.

If a united approach is needed to fight the problem, have earlier efforts 
been wasted?

Absolutely not, Wolfe said.

"We're making a lot of progress in individual areas," she said. "This is 
just going to make it that much more effective."

John Graber covers law enforcement for The Olympian. He can be reached at 

Town Hall Forum

The Olympian, KGY radio and Thurston Community Television are sponsoring a 
town hall discussion from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Lacey Community 
Center, 6729 Pacific Ave.

For those who cannot attend Tuesday's town hall meeting, KGY will broadcast 
it live on 1240 AM. A TCTV crew also will tape the meeting for broadcast at 
the following times: 7 p.m. Oct. 31; 2 p.m. Nov. 3; noon Nov. 5; 7 p.m. 
Nov. 7; 1 p.m. Nov. 10; 10 a.m. Nov. 12; 7 p.m. Nov. 14; and 3 p.m. Nov. 15.

The first half-hour of the discussion will be dedicated to five-minute 
presentations by local experts on the issue. Speakers will be:

- - Capt. Jim Chamberlain, head of the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force. 
He will tell the audience what meth is, why people use it and how meth use 
affects police officers and local crime statistics.

- - Jody Sheridan, Thurston County's Court Appointed Special Advocates 
program coordinator. She will talk about the effect meth use has on the 
family of an addict.

- - Dr. Thomas Burke, an emergency room physician at Providence St. Peter 
Hospital. He will offer the perspective of someone who sees meth users at 
their worst.

- - Gerald Tousley, Thurston County hazardous waste specialist. He will speak 
about cleanup issues and the hazards meth chemicals pose to others.

- - Brandon Schneider, a recovering methamphetamine addict. He will talk 
about his descent into addiction, and his experience with drug court, drug 
treatment and recovery.

The last hour of the program is reserved for citizens to ask questions.
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