Pubdate: Wed, 03 Mar 2010
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2010 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Garry Pettus
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Brains Altered; Families Broken

Methamphetamine wrecks lives because it wrecks the brain. And it
destroys self control.

So says Cathy Dixon, a Jackson-area psychologist and consultant who
lectures on meth abuse.

"The first thing you're going to find in a home where meth is abused
is pornography," she said.

"The second thing is weapons."

Meth is a pervasive, illegal stimulant the Drug Enforcement
Administration calls the fastest-growing drug threat in Mississippi.
Last year, at least 620 seizures of meth laboratories were made by law
enforcement - more than double the number in 2008.

For those who go into rehabilitation for meth abuse, the recovery
phase can be a lengthy, difficult process. That's because, depending
on the severity of the addiction, repairing the brain offers a unique
challenge to mental health experts.

The average rehab period for a meth user is nine months, said Judge
William Skinner, who presides over Hinds County felony drug court.

It's only about a month for a crack addict, he said.

About 10 percent of meth users he sees are successful in rehab,
compared to 40 percent of crack addicts, he said.

"Meth overtakes people," Skinner said. "Parents who have been on
marijuana or cocaine will try to do all the things they must do to get
their children back from state custody.

"I haven't had one crystal-meth parent even try."

Skinner and others who confront meth abuse expect to get a break
starting July 1.

That's the effective date of a law restricting the purchase of
pseudoephedrine-containing medications to prescription only.

Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in meth, is
found in cold-symptom remedies such as Sudafed. For the past few
years, the so-called precursor law has put limitations on the sale of
those products.

But with no central database in place, meth makers can go to multiple
stores to buy the drugs, a practice called "smurfing."

The new law should make it much tougher to manufacture meth in
Mississippi, said Marshall Fisher, head of the Mississippi Bureau of

Citing the new prescription requirement, Fisher said, "It's a whole
lot easier to deal with a bad doctor writing bad prescriptions than it
is to deal with 600 labs."

In the meantime, at least, those who treat meth addicts don't expect
the wave of cases to abate.

At the Friendship Connection, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehab
program for women released from prison, the number of former meth
abusers has shot up about 15 percent over the past five years.

That's the best estimate from Terri Micou-Smith, executive

Asked if she believes meth abuse is harder to overcome than other
addictions, Smith said, "All drugs are hard to deal with if the person
has no desire to stay clean and sober.

"Or if they don't understand that the results will be the same if they
go back to the same environment."

Before rehab, making good decisions is not a meth abuser's strong

"What makes this really difficult is meth affects the area of the
brain that affects judgment," said Michael Spradling, a certified
alcohol and drug counselor for Region III Chemical Dependency Services
in Tupelo.

"You don't know your brain isn't working right."

Of the three or four people his facility admits daily, at least one
will be on crystal meth or opiates - heroin, morphine, methadone, etc.

"We used to see a lot more cocaine and alcohol," he said. "We see very
little of that anymore."

Treating meth addicts is a matter of "physical, mental and spiritual
rehabilitation," he said.

"People have said it's like treating stroke victims.

"You help them regain their status and normal function in society
because meth causes changes in the brain."

Those changes pump up the addiction, Dixon said.

"The more a person takes it, the more the person craves it. That is
unlike cocaine."

The brain is retooled as a factory of paranoid, erotic and violent

"The chance of a (drug agent) running into gunplay increases
exponentially with a meth operation," Fisher said.

The drug boosts the human libido, or sex drive, Dixon

That's why agents often uncover pornography in a meth home. And,
sometimes, abuse.

"Neglect is the first line of suffering children typically
experience," Dixon said.

"Beyond that, they are exposed to violence, drug use, drug

"There's a very high rate of domestic violence, and very high rates of
sexual abuse.

"If we can get a handle on this drug, we can save a lot of

Dixon, Fisher and others say the state has come a long way in battling
meth addiction by passing the prescription law and by establishing
drug courts like the one Skinner oversees.

Those courts mandate accountability, follow-up and support for
recovering addicts of all stripes.

Still, Mississippi needs specialized treatment programs, Dixon

"Sending someone to treatment to detox for 30 days is not going to
touch meth addiction.

"Clearly, that's a whole population of folks who aren't getting proper
treatment - because, as Judge Skinner says, they never come back for
their children." 
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