Monday, March 3, 2008

Capps, local officials to address meth epidemic


Methamphetamine has become the drug of choice in Santa Barbara County.
It’s an undeniable fact that Congresswoman Lois Capps faced as she joined dozens of local drug and alcohol treatment officials at Casa Serena on Monday for a discussion of the highly addictive drug and its far-reaching impacts.

“In 31 years, I haven’t seen a more dangerous substance for people to abuse,” said Craig Belknap, executive director of Casa Serena, a residential treatment center for women addicted to drugs and alcohol.
When he started in the treatment field decades ago, he saw mainly alcoholics and a few drug addicts. Since then, he’s seen a steady transition to crack cocaine, ecstasy and, most recently, meth.
“Places like Casa Serena represent where the rubber meets the highway,” he said.
Of those in treatment centers countywide, 67 percent are there because of a meth addiction, authorities said. Meth arrests are on the rise and the strain on foster care services is increasing exponentially.
“That statistic is what led us to embrace the issue of meth,” said Kathy Gallagher, director of the county department of social services.
A summit held in December 2006 led to the formation of the Methamphetamine Prevention Network, a group of stakeholders that meets bimonthly to discuss strategies to combat the meth epidemic.
With task forces formed to address education, safe neighborhoods, funding, outcomes, and meth-free individuals, families and children, the network hopes to put together a roadmap designed to address the addiction.
“By October 2008, we are going to have a set of strategies to implement,” Gallagher said. “…We want families in Santa Barbara County to be drug-free and self-sufficient.”
But they are facing a common problem: a lack of funding. The biggest need, Gallagher said, is money for treatment programs targeted at families, rather than individuals. But federal legislation doesn’t allow that type of program to be funded.
“It’s a Catch-22,” she said.
A disconnect between foster care laws and the amount of time needed for meth-addicted individuals to work through the recovery process is also pulling families apart, despite research that shows more positive results when families recover together.
“Women will drop out of the recovery program just because they can’t be with their child,” said Nancy Belknap, a counselor with Casa Serena.
Children are only allowed to be in foster care for 18 months before adoption procedures must start, authorities said, but getting people off meth is a process that is only starting at that point.
Withdrawal symptoms from meth last far longer than other addictive substances, such as cocaine or alcohol. Meth-addicted patients are erratic, scared, tense and anxious, making it difficult for staff to work with them.
“It requires a lot more patience and time,” Nancy Belknap said. “…It’s a much longer and harder road.”
The stimulant has numerous toxins and chemicals that destroy teeth, hair and skin, she said, and sometimes the damage is irreparable.
“It’s a pharmacological sledgehammer,” she said.
Also challenging treatment officials is a lack of a countywide database between the Sheriff’s department, probation officials and treatment agencies.
“We did not have good meth data,” said Amy Ratliff, chair of the taskforce on outcomes and evaluation.
Creating such a database will allow authorities to determine what programs are working and to share information, she said, but confidentiality issues built into each organization’s individual databases is causing difficulty.
“With the technology we have today, it’s kind of a shame, even with the privacy issues, that we can’t put something like that together,” Congresswoman Capps said.
After hearing from treatment officials, she admitted the federal government has been lagging behind on addressing methamphetamine issues, characterizing Congress as being asleep at the wheel for years.
“We are way behind,” she said. “Many people in Congress know we have been ignoring this meth epidemic.”
She said legislation needs to be more flexible when it comes to foster care and child support services. Identifying programs that are working is also crucial, Congresswoman Capps said, as is providing funding to support those programs. She said she has staff working on the issues and is dedicated to targeting the unique aspects of meth addiction.
“Every month, year we wait, it is so costly for the community.”

No comments: