Pubdate: Wed, 14 Feb 2007
Source: Appeal Tribune (OR)
Copyright: 2007 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon
Author: Kathleen Ellyn
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Meth Is The Drug Of Choice To Self-Medicate Mental Illness, Officials Say

The fight against methamphetamine in Marion County will require a 
multi-pronged attack, according to Rod Calkins director of the Marion 
County Health Department, because it is an all-out battle that 
effects every aspect of local government.

"Meth is a huge problem in our communities, there is no denying 
it,"  he said. "It challenges our public safety, our law enforcement, 
and our infrastructure -- it is also a huge medical issue."

It's a huge problem, he said, because even as progress is made in 
restricting access to the raw materials to make meth, little is done 
to create new treatment facilities and programs for Marion County 
residents addicted to the drug.

"What we know from addictions literature is that meth is a bit 
different and a bit the same,"  he explained. "What we've found with 
substance abuse is that substance abuse is something like a balloon 
in that if you push in on one side it tends to pop out on the other 
side. As a number of the panel members have said this morning, you 
don't arrest yourself out of that problem. What you need to do is 
find some way of taking the air out of the balloon. And the way you 
do that is prevention and treatment."

Calkins and other Marion County officials discussed the challenges of 
conquering methamphetamine abuse with leaders from numerous cities 
earlier this month. Marion County Sheriff Raul Ramirez told the city 
officials he estimates more than 85 percent of inmates at the county 
jail were there on charges involving meth.

Unfortunately, Calkins said, many addicts who would seek treatment 
are unable to because they lack medical coverage and few public 
programs exist. So as users' lives spiral into addiction they suffer 
from poverty and often turn to crime to fuel their habit.

"That's a huge expense that our community is bearing,"  he said.

The health issue is not just an issue of bodily health, either, 
Calkins said. Meth use can lead to psychiatric problems including 
paranoia and psychosis, throwing addicts into yet another category of 
marginalization and making their potential for incarceration even more likely.

"In and of itself meth can produce those problems even in folks who 
do not have those problems to begin with,"  he said.

And for people with undiagnosed mental illness, methamphetamine is 
the drug of choice for self-medication Ramirez said. It is the 
cheapest drug to obtain, readily available and drug dealers don't 
require a prescription like pharmacies.

"Thirty to 40 percent of the population of your jail have some sort 
of mental illness and out of that population we're seeing an increase 
of their medicating with meth since they don't have access to (legal) 
medication," Ramirez said.

The penal system has become a revolving door for people struggling 
with mental illness and addiction, he added. According to a study of 
mentally ill inmates at the Marion County Jail, mentally ill people 
were incarcerated 25 percent longer and 23 percent more often than 
inmates in comparison group; they committed 17 percent more crimes; 
and a higher number of mentally ill offenders than comparison inmates 
committed multiple crimes.

The solution for this mental health crisis calls for a multi-pronged 
attack, panelists agreed.

"We're moving forward, we're developing strategies, but we still have 
a long way to go,"  Ramirez said. "We have 400 to 500 slots for drug 
treatment, both residential and in-custody, those slots are not 
enough slots in this county when you think of the need in the 
thousands. Short of treatment (drug users) will continue down that 
path of addiction."

They'll continue down that path because they have little choice, 
Calkins said. Recent changes to the Oregon Health Plan and Social 
Security have excluded many Oregonians from treatment programs, Calkins said.

"Those cuts have not been restored,"  Calkins said. "What we need to 
be pushing for is to restore that money and push for innovative 
programs like the rest of the panel has been talking about. Some of 
the programs that have been started here have been incredibly 
innovative and we need support both locally and at the legislature 
for more of those kinds of programs."

The Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Council has chosen to 
make the support of existing programs and introduction of new 
programs a priority.

According to their investigations 70 to 80 percent of juvenile and 
adult offenders should receive mandatory alcohol and drug treatment. 
Furthermore, drug treatment programs must be flexible enough to deal 
with the unique addiction characteristics of several drugs.

"Almost no one comes in with a single drug addiction,"  Calkins 
explained. "Poly substance abuse is the norm. We need to add 
resources to our current system, it's not a matter of shifting from 
one drug treatment to another" we need them all. Treatment works. 
Treatment for meth addiction works."

The Marion County Public Safety Coordinating Council presented a $14 
million basic law enforcement four-year levy in 2002 to address many 
of the issues still being discussed, but it failed at the polls by a 
margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

MCPSCC decided to focus on research and the dissemination of 
information to the public after the failure, and plans for another 
broad levy are not currently in place, according to Marion County 
Commissioner Patti Milne.

Residents of Marion County can still light a fire under their 
representatives Fred Girod, Vic Gilliam and Roger Byer, according to 
Patti Milne, by writing or calling them a stressing the importance of 
funding for public safety and treatment for addictions.
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