Pubdate: Tue, 27 Sep 2005
Source: Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, IL)
Copyright: 2005 Southern Illinoisan
Author: Andrea Hahn
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


HERRIN - Administrators at Herrin Hospital are being praised for 
revamping their record-keeping to better track 
methamphetamine-related incidents at the hospital.

They specifically began tracking meth incidents late last week, and 
already they have three entries logged, said Brad Graul, an emergency 
room nurse.

According to members of the Williamson County Coalition Against 
Methamphetamine Abuse, obtaining statistics specifically referring to 
meth has been a challenge at almost every corner.

Kathleen Cox, manager of the dietary department at Herrin Hospital 
and a member of the coalition, said the Department of Children and 
Family Services began to track the effects of meth on children and 
the foster-care system almost nine months ago.

In the past, a neglect case caused by a parent's struggle with meth 
addiction would have been listed as neglect. Now, it will be flagged 
as a meth-related incident.

The situation is similar at Herrin Hospital. What might once have 
been classified simply as a burn may now be recorded as a 
meth-manufacture chemical burn.

Tracey Glenn, chairwoman of the media relations and legislation 
subcommittee of Williamson County CAMA, praised the hospital for 
realizing the need to single out meth and its effects on the 
hospital's resources. She said meth is such a serious problem that 
lumping it in with other drugs or other problems can disguise its true impact.

Graul said the hospital decided to revamp its statistical system in 
the hopes that the ability to provide hard data detailing the strain 
meth use has put on the facility will help when it comes to receiving 
grants and other funding opportunities.

He said Southern Illinois health facilities have been dealing with 
meth for years without much in the way of additional funding. The 
emphasis on tracking meth-related incidents will give the hospital 
administration a better idea of how often meth contributes to the 
day's caseload.

Examples of "meth incidents" are any time meth contributes to a 
person's need for hospital care. If there is a chemical burn caused 
by meth production, for example, it will be listed as a meth incident 
- - not merely as a burn.

"We need to be able to show how many people are coming here (in 
meth-related incidents)," Graul said. "I don't think people realize 
how many there are."

Graul said the impact on hospital resources varies depending on the 
situation. An exploding meth lab, for example, requires more medical 
staff hours than treating an individual who happens to test positive 
for meth use. However, he said, extra precautions are almost always needed.

"They may be paranoid when they come in, or they may be so jacked up 
they are just wired," he said. "When they come down, they sleep for 
several days. They usually take at least one nurse to be dedicated 
just to that patient. There can be security problems. They may be 
contaminated. We hope the state will pick up some of the bill. It's 
real hard to find places for these people."

He said keeping such specific statistics will also help the hospital 
target the dollars it does get to help fight meth. He said he heard 
of a program recently that targets juveniles addicted to the drug. 
Sounds good, he said, but he expects the data will show there are 
greater areas of need in fighting meth.

"It's not our juveniles who are having the problem with meth - it's 
our adults," he said. "Some of the programs look good on paper, but 
as far as really helping - they're not."

Another reason for keeping track of meth specifically, he said, is to 
better serve children who may have been exposed to meth in their 
homes. The hospital is also one of the first in the area to establish 
a standard protocol with area law enforcement for helping children in 
meth-laden environments.

"It seems like the children are the ones falling through the cracks," 
he said. "If we can get the kids in here and get them tested, we'll 
be able to treat them."

Graul said the toxic gases that are a byproduct of meth production 
are heavy gases that seep into the floors and low furniture - where 
young children play. He said some of the children who have been 
exposed to meth exhibit some of the same symptoms of those who take 
the drug on purpose - hyperactivity and withdrawal, especially.

Graul said the importance of a standard protocol when children are 
involved in a meth incident is that it helps law enforcement agencies 
know the best ways to help the children - who to call, where to take 
them, what can be expected.

Graul credits individuals connected with the meth coalition with 
bringing the statistics-keeping changes to Herrin Hospital.

"A lot of us have gone to conferences about meth, and when you've 
seen it a few times you start to know what to look for," he said. 
"We've had some people really on the ball (when it comes to realizing 
the potential problems with meth) and we've just gone from there."

Glenn said she hopes other hospitals in the area will follow Herrin 
Hospital's lead and gather meth-specific statistics. She said 
reliable data is necessary to get a handle on how much meth is 
affecting the community - and how effective the community is at fighting it.

For more information about the Williamson County Coalition Against 
Methamphetamine, call Michelle Hamilton at John A. Logan College, 
(618) 985-3741 x. 8510. Information for other counties may also be available.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman