Pubdate: Wed, 29 Feb 2012
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Copyright: 2012 The Albany Herald Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Jennifer Maddox Parks


ALBANY -- With 42 percent of child endangerment cases and 43 percent
of federal convictions in Georgia involving methamphetamine use,
officials say it is time to attack the problem on a regional level.

That message came to Albany on Wednesday.

The Georgia Meth Project, in partnership with Phoebe Putney Memorial
Hospital and the Dougherty County School System, hosted a community
forum at Phoebe Northwest Wednesday to educate the public on the
dangers of meth use -- and to get more area volunteers on board the
prevention effort.

Georgia Meth Project Executive Director Jim Langford kicked off the
forum by providing background on the project and discussing the need
for it at a time in which officials perceive the state's meth problem
as getting bigger.

"We have had great success with educational outreach in schools, and
one of the most important parts of our campaign is community
outreach," Langford said. "So, we are here to recruit volunteers and
engage young people.

"If we do a good job here, it will help us in surrounding areas.
Albany has a big influence on surrounding counties."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, meth is one of the
greatest drug threats to the nation. The agency recently reported that
the drug is at its highest levels of availability, purity and lowest
cost since 2005 due to increased quantities of the drug being imported
from Mexico and growing rates of small-scale domestic production. It
is estimated that meth costs the country between $16.2 billion and
$48.3 billion per year in treatment, health care and foster care
services, as well as the costs of crime and lost productivity
associated with the drug.

It costs the state of Georgia alone $1.3 billion a year, officials
with the project say.

Langford, as well as as a few others associated with the organization,
have said that based on response from area partners so far, it appears
the campaign will have a big impact on Albany.

Darrell Sabbs, community benefits coordinator at Phoebe Putney
Memorial Hospital, said Phoebe is actively working through specialists
to help not only the meth users who come into the hospital, but
everyone they touch as well.

The best way to combat the problem, officials say, is to not let it
become a problem to begin with.

"We just felt that being a leading health care provider, it was
important for us to sound the alarm on this devastating crisis in the
community," Sabbs said. "We see burn victims (from meth labs), and we
see devastated families -- and we want to get ahead of that."

The forum was intended to encourage conversations between parents and
children, and initiate community dialogue about the impacts of meth
use not only in Georgia, but also in the Albany area.

Recent examples of local impact include two meth busts in late
December within days of each other -- one in Albany and another in Lee
County -- as well as the discovery of what remained of what
authorities described a "mom and pop" meth operation on Sylvester Road
earlier this week.

Ralph Craven, now 35 and living in Leesburg, is also an example of
local impact. At age 22, he was given a drink at a party unaware it
contained crystal meth.

After that, he was hooked on the drug for 12 years. Coming off roughly
a year in jail, he is now sober. Since getting out of prison, he has
been involved in the movement to prevent the spread of meth use by
talking to students about his experience.

"When I was first given meth, I didn't know what it was," he recalled.
"It turned me on like a light switch. Whenever I got sober, it seemed
like there was an excuse to do it again.

"It tore my family apart."

Attendees were given an opportunity at the forum to learn more about
the risks of using meth, and ask questions to local experts in law
enforcement and health care on the subject.

Among those panelists was Barbara Turner, student support services
director for the Dougherty school system, who said that the message of
meth prevention is already being presented at the schools through
trained peer leaders as well as others that deal with it firsthand,
including counselors and school nurses.

Even though the target group is ages 12-17, Turner said there are
plans for the peer leaders to eventually take the message into
elementary schools.

"You never know when a child will be presented with the opportunity,"
she said. "When a peer tells them not to get involved, they will
listen to them."

The Georgia Meth Project, launched in 2010, is a non-profit
organization that implements a range of advertising and community
action programs to reduce meth use in the state. It is affiliated with
the Meth Project, a national non-profit organization headquartered in
Palo Alto, Calif., aimed at significantly reducing first-time meth use
through public service messaging, public policy and community outreach.

Founded by businessman Thomas M. Siebel as a private-sector response,
the research-based campaign has been cited by the White House as one
of the most effective prevention programs and a model for the nation,
officials say.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.