Pubdate: Fri, 19 Oct 2007
Source: Alamogordo Daily News (NM)
Copyright: 2007 Alamogordo Daily News
Author: Laura London, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


The Otero County Meth Coalition got people talking about meth 
Thursday night at its Methamphetamine Awareness Community Forum at 
First Assembly Worship Center on the corner of 10th Street and Florida Avenue.

Sylvia King, substance abuse counselor and president of the Otero 
County Health Council, opened the forum by thanking the church and 
its staff for the use of their facility. She also informed everyone 
the Meth Coalition meets the second Tuesday of every month and the 
meeting is open to anyone interested in attending.

King said this was the third forum the coalition has hosted, the last 
having occurred in April, and that each forum garners higher 
attendance. Thursday night found 45 to 50 people at the forum.

She then introduced a 26-minute documentary titled "Meth in Las 
Cruces," featuring interviews with police officers battling the 
problem on the streets as well as ex-addicts battling it in their 
heads. The DVD began to skip as the documentary moved into several 
close-ups of meth addicts' rotten and missing teeth, also known as 
"meth mouth."

"That was kind of gross anyway," King said as the movie was stopped. 
Several audience members commented on the meth mouth phenomenon once 
the question and answer session later ensued.

She then introduced the Meth Coalition panel.

Dr. Gil Heredia of White Sands Family Practice was the first of the 
panel to speak. He began by explaining that as a physician, he likes 
to get patients to think out of the box.

"We prefer to practice evidence-based medicine," Heredia said, then 
explained the difference between that and anecdotal medical 
information or, the difference between something that can be proven 
in a laboratory as opposed to something that is never proven 
anywhere, merely passed by word of mouth.

Heredia said getting patients to think more like doctors, in terms of 
evidence rather than stories, is more productive to the healing 
process and that the rational approach may lead to the discovery of 
less obvious information.

He then read some statistics as listed in a federal survey on drug 
usage and remarked that meth usage increased steadily between 1992 
and 1998, but since then there has been no significant change. He 
said according to officials, legal restrictions that have been 
imposed on the sale of cold remedies one source of meth-making 
ingredients has helped production go down; however, the use rate 
remains the same.

According to Heredia, the cold remedy restrictions have simply 
changed the way meth dealers do business rather than making the drug 
locally, they import from Mexico, where the meth happens to be made 
in more pure form.

Heredia feels that the meth problem cannot be treated through law 
enforcement alone, and that the War on Drugs may itself be a culprit 
as far as aggravating it. He said meth addicts are very difficult to 
rehabilitate but they can be treated if significant resources are committed.

"Meth is not a police issue, it's more of a community issue," Heredia 
said. "... As a physician, I am frustrated at the lack of treatment 
options available."

Heredia thinks the War on Drugs makes it more difficult for addicts 
to seek help as the fear of prosecution deters them from asking. 
Also, he said roughly 7,000 deaths per year in the country are drug 
related, and often happen because of impurities in the drug supplies.

"I think if drugs are legalized, or at least decriminalized, it would 
do a lot to help that problem," the doctor said.

Heredia also noted public monies are generally spent on police 
efforts, not drug rehabilitation. He said "no offense to law 
enforcement," but money should be spent on rehabilitation and 
prevention as well.

Otero County Narcotics Enforcement Unit Agent Rick Ramsdale next took 
the podium and explained some of what his unit does. OCNEU is a 
federally funded task force that coordinates different law 
enforcement agencies, as well as engages in typical law enforcement 
activities, in the name of policing narcotics. He mentioned OCNEU 
also does meth awareness training incidentally his purpose at the forum.

Ramsdale agreed with Dr. Heredia that meth in Otero County comes from 
Mexico, and there is a lot of it. He said dealers in Mexico practice 
business "just like Wal-Mart does, high volume and cheap."

Ramsdale mentioned he has filled various roles in law enforcement 
over the past 14 years, with over half that time spent fighting 
drugs. He noted other countries focus more on prevention in their 
anti-drug efforts, and this seems to Ramsdale a more effective course.

"I agree with the doctor (Heredia)," Ramsdale said. "Law enforcement 
alone won't fix it."

Ramsdale advocated the one-two punch: maintain police efforts, but 
also work more on proactive measures, such as educating the public 
through things like the Methamphetamine Awareness Community Forum.

Ramsdale said OCNEU has located three meth labs this year, and 
another three dump sites where the toxic byproducts have been discarded.

"That's not many labs, but we're right on the smuggling artery so 
there's plenty of meth here," he said.

Even so, methamphetamine is not the number one drug here; marijuana 
is, according to Ramsdale.

"But meth causes a lot more problems," he said.

The forum took a break after Agent Ramsdale's words, at which time 
Michael Mirabal, supervisor of the Alamogordo Department of Public 
Safety Narcotics Enforcement Unit, mentioned he agreed with most of 
what was said by Dr. Heredia and Agent Ramsdale. However, he 
maintained that the most important component to meth control is law 
enforcement. He also disagreed somewhat with Dr. Heredia as to those 
seeking help "If you want help, we won't prosecute."

"Meth is the worst thing to hit New Mexico," Mirabal said. "It 
creates jobs in law enforcement."

Although Mirabal is retired, he continues working on contract for DPS 
because he loves his work and wants to help the community.

"I'm here with my wife's permission," he joked, but not really.

Following the break were more speakers, including Mirabal; Steve 
Hicks from the Border Patrol; Santiago Rodriguez, executive director 
of the Otero County Council on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction; and two 
ex-addicts, complete with horror stories.

A woman introduced simply as Kim shared her addiction story. She said 
she began her drug experience with marijuana and alcohol in her early 
teens, and by age 17 was a regular meth user.

"I was dead in every sense except I had a pulse," she said.

Sometime in her late 30s, Kim said she was overwhelmed by the 
horrible condition of her life.

"I said, 'God, help me!' And then I got in trouble," she said.

Kim said getting in trouble was an answer to her prayer not the 
answer she expected, but it probably saved her life.

"It's a relief to know there's help out there," she said. "I'm so 
blessed. I have everything (I lost) back and then some."

Ken Larson, another recovering meth user, also shared his horrors. He 
was once a truck driver, and spent 18 years in the drug's power. He 
said he served time for writing hot checks, in order to buy meth. He 
also shared about the time he left a brand new semi truck in Phoenix, 
took his last two paychecks from the trucking job and moved into a 
shanty town meth community.

"My addiction told me I needed to live on the streets with the 
tweakers," Larson said.

Larson said he eventually left the shanty town not to be with his 
wife, who was in New Mexico at the time, and certainly not to go back 
to work. His departure was inspired by an incident with the police, 
who he said would visit the area regularly to check for needles and 
nefarious activities. During one such occasion, a strung-out shanty 
town resident beamed an officer in the head with a rock.

Larson said the officer was nice about it, warning the man not to 
persist in such behavior. So the man threw another rock, again 
hitting the officer's head. Police then stopped the man via several 
9mm rounds in the chest.

Larson returned to Otero County after leaving Phoenix. What finally 
interrupted his meth habit, he said, was being "busted by Officer 
Prudencio for DWI, twice."

He said he first appeared for treatment with no teeth and only 104 
pounds of weight Larson is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

He is now studying to be a counselor and has been clean and sober for 
two and a half years.

During the question and answer session that followed, a man asked 
about the long-term health effects of the drug and whether ex-addicts 
can have a normal life.

"Yes," Heredia said. "The key is getting them off meth." Heredia 
explained a risk of depression and suicide exists for those who give it up.

"Well, I noticed in the video some of those people (ex-addicts) look 
pretty normal, and I noticed Ken (Larson) grew his teeth back," the man said.

"It was $7,000 to make my teeth grow back," Larson said. "And, I had 
a heart attack at 43 years of age."
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