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Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 4.10.08




Kroger's Intensity

AG candidate pushes meth intervention

BY MARY O'BRIEN

A few weeks ago, I was looking at the photo series of increasingly ravaged methamphetamine users in a window of the Eugene bus station, when an acquaintance walked up.

"See any of your friends there?" he joked.

"Yes. My brother," I responded.

He tilted his head quizzically. "My brother used meth for several years," I said. I told him how one Christmas Day my brother arrived at our family gathering on his custom-designed motorcycle. He looked as much like Death as the small skull with glowing red eyes that was embedded in the bike's body. My brother: skinny, hollow cheeks, deep-sunken dark eyes, bad teeth. Like the Presbyterian minister father of Norman MacClean's self-destructing brother in A River Runs Through It, my Presbyterian minister father never could fathom what had gone wrong.

But for all his adult life, my brother, like my sister, has suffered from severe bipolar disorder. When they're up, they're manic and can be wildly irresponsible. When they're down, they can pass days in a fetal position. When you're down, there's nothing quite like meth to chemically lift you up. For a while.

A few days after pondering the meth photos, I heard Oregon attorney general candidate John Kroger speak about his intention to bring Oregon up from its shameful 45th position among the 50 states for access to meth treatment. He spoke of the folly of simply imprisoning meth users while out-of-state drug cartels fill the void left after Oregon's Legislature wisely took psuedoephedrine off pharmacy shelves. The Legislature effectively shut down most do-it-yourself meth labs but not the stream of meth into and through our state.

Meth can sound an irresistible siren song for some who are lonely, sad or working too hard, for instance, in slaughterhouses and oil fields or as a single parent holding two jobs. Mimicking adrenaline, meth offers the user some momentary pleasure, a huge energy boost and freedom from inhibitions. It suppresses appetite, promising weight loss. At no extra cost, it often throws in psychosis, brain damage, paranoia, cognitive impairment, HIV transmission and violent behavior. And it can be instantly addictive, with some effects of a single use lasting days to months. With continued use, the user's body gradually adjusts, cutting back its own production of pleasure-inducing endorphins and requiring more and more meth to provide ever-diminishing highs. A true hell hole.

While most property crime in Oregon is due to users' endless quest for money to feed their drug (especially meth) supplier, the most appalling fallout of meth use is users' abuse of their children. Imagine being the 2-year-old child of an Oregon meth addict who is turned away from drug treatment because of lack of funding. This, I sense, is a major source of Kroger's intensity about treating meth users while prosecuting established drug cartels.

 

Is it possible for a user to crawl out of her or his meth hole? Yes (for example, my brother did it), but not in a day or on a dime. Research shows that extended residential treatment offers the greatest turn-around potential, followed by months and years of vigilant social support. This isn't cheap, but, as Kroger points out, the most expensive in-patient treatment costs approximately two-thirds of the cost of keeping a meth user in jail, plus the recidivism is less. Moreover, states more progressive than ours regarding meth claim incarceration savings of four to seven dollars for every dollar spent on treatment.

We have the chance to elect an attorney general who would help Oregon's justice staff go after a whole host of gripping problems, e.g., meth, global warming, consumer fraud and pollution, with intellect and energy — and a sense of what will really work. There's nothing incongruous at all about a determined prosecutor who advocates for prevention, treatment and supportive social networks throughout the state. It's just smart.

I wish I could report that everything's peachy with my brother now. The combination of bipolar disorder, diabetes, alcoholism, gang activity and meth addiction have taken their toll. He's nearly blind, and his feet hurt too much to walk to the end of his block. But he's not a meth user. He's no longer raising or in hell. There's something to be proud of there.

Mary O'Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached at mob@efn.org.