Small towns, big problem

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

Editor’s note: This is the first in a
three-part series dealing with the growing problem and unique challenges posed by addiction to the manmade chemical of methamphetamine. Meth, which is said to be mostly a “small-town America problem,” is being attributed locally as a reason for increased crime and calls for help.

Since Meth Watch began in 2005 in New Mexico, area law enforcement officials are not getting many calls about potential methamphetamine manufacturers. They are getting many calls, however, from people concerned about loved ones addicted to meth.

“I have had parents here in tears, saying, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry. “I have people calling me who own businesses and are involved in the community and say they have a family member involved with meth,” Berry said.

Clovis Police Chief Dan Blair said, “We’ve had people walk through our doors saying, ‘Hey, I need help!’ But the sad thing is that many of them do not have any type of health insurance and there are no rehabilitation facilities in this immediate area.”

According to an Office of National Drug Control Policy report, long-term cure rates for meth may be less than 10 percent and statistics show high relapse rates six months after treatment.

Berry said meth-related arrests have increased in Portales, although he could not say exactly by how much.

“Right now, we are picking up a lot of meth. A while back it was cocaine,” Berry said.

He said the problem is affecting rich and poor, young and old, so the city is looking at starting a drug court for juveniles.

In Clovis, Blair said, “When we look at crime statistics, burglaries, robberies, homicide and even overdoses, most of it goes back to meth and illegal drugs.”

He could not give specific numbers on meth-related crimes either.

Lab seizures down, meth seizures up
In January, U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., secured almost half a million dollars for a statewide education program to address meth abuse among high school students.

“Meth is not only the No. 1. crime problem in many communities throughout our state, it is also devastating families and ruining lives,” Bingaman said.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, clandestine meth lab seizures in New Mexico have dropped over the past year by 200 percent. This is largely attributed to the Meth Watch program under which retailers closely monitor the sale of precursor products used to make meth, such as cold medicines. They may also impose purchase limits and alert authorities as to suspicious activity.

However, with Meth Watch’s success in the United States has come a sharp increase of seizures of Mexican-produced meth at border checkpoints.

According to a DEA fact sheet, the majority of meth seized originates in Mexico, but it arrives in New Mexico from distributors in Los Angeles and Phoenix. The DEA sheet also states meth investigations are prevalent especially in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, and along the eastern New Mexico and West Texas borders.

When District Attorney Matt Chandler launched the area Meth Watch a couple of years ago, he said, “Contrary to popular belief, methamphetamines and the use of meth is not a big city problem. It is more of a small town America problem.”

Law enforcement: Meth greatest threat
According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center, 75 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies in the Southwest report meth as the greatest drug threat. Additionally, it reports that the number of meth-related treatment admissions more than doubled from 2000 to 2004.

According to the World Heath Organization, meth is second only to marijuana as the most widely abused illicit drug in the world and meth can become addictive after taking it only three or four times.

Blair has seen firsthand how demand becomes a priority for people who’ve become dependent on the highly addictive drug, and will often resort to any means to get it.

“In my head, I can think of people who have lost everything because of meth,” Blair said. “Can I say that with people on cocaine and heroine? Yes. But it is even more obvious with meth.”

Particularly disturbing is the frequency in which officers find children at meth scenes.

According to New Mexico Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, last year there were small children involved in a third of the meth lab busts in New Mexico. There are also a disproportionate number of meth addicts who are women with kids, according to Denish.

What makes meth attractive
There is no simple answer as to what attracts people to meth. According to an anti-meth Web site, athletes and students use meth because of the initial heightened physical and mental performance the drug produces. Blue-collar and service workers may use the drug to work extra shifts while women often use meth to lose weight. In addition, meth is less expensive and more accessible than cocaine.

Berry and Blair said it will take a communitywide effort to adequately address the meth problem. The respective police departments have educational programs that they take to area public schools.

“We can’t look to law enforcement or schools, or the courts to solve the problem by themselves,” Berry said. “We have to have even more involvement from the community, support by those not affected directly. That is the only way to solve the problem.”

He added, “Short-term rehab doesn’t work and warehousing people in the pen doesn’t work.”

Berry said success rates go up the longer a meth addict is in rehabilitation. However, the cycle goes back to square-one again because of a lack of rehab facilities.

More on Meth

Methamphetamine, or meth, is also referred to on the streets as crank, ice, chalk, tweek, crypto, glass and white cross, as well as other names.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked or ingested orally.

Meth is odorless and looks like white crystalline powder, soluble in water or alcohol and bitter tasting.

Easily made with relatively low-cost materials, the active ingredient in meth is either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. Both are found in over-the-counter cold medicines.

Meth “cookers” use products such as drain cleaner, lithium batteries and engine-starter fluid to make a powder that can be smoked, snorted, injected or added to a beverage.

Methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse and may lead to psychological or physical dependence. Its accepted medical uses are severely restricted.

Source: 4Therapy.Com Network.