The increasing challenge of fighting meth's grip

Monday, March 6, 2006

Editor's note: The names of Family Counseling Center patients have been changed to protect their identity.

With the number of people seeking help for methamphetamine use increasing at least one Southeast Missouri treatment center can hardly keep up with the demand.

"This phone rings off the wall begging me to get people in," said Jim Ray, clinical supervisor for Family Counseling Center Inc., 20 S. Sprigg St. Since the center opened in Cape Girardeau in 1989, Ray said there have been a growing number of clients in for meth use.

"There just seems to be a real increase for this," he said. "About everybody's coming in for meth."

Ray said he receives about 10 telephone calls a day requesting admission to the center, and he has to turn many of them down.

The number of meth users admitted to substance-abuse clinics more than quadrupled from 1993 to 2003, according to a review by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's not that the prevalence of meth is changing, but the addictive nature of this drug and the meth crisis is showing up in the drug treatment programs," said Mark Weber, an associate administer for the agency. "They're being overwhelmed by the number of people showing up for treatment."

Nationwide, the admission rate for treatment of meth or amphetamine abuse rose from 28,000 in 1993 to nearly 136,000 patients in 2003, the report stated. Missouri was one of 18 states where meth treatment rates were higher than the national rate.

The Family Counseling Center, which treats women and adolescents with addictions, can accommodate 32 women. Another treatment facility in Cape Girardeau, the Gibson Recovery Center, treats men.

Of the 27 women currently staying at the Family Counseling Center, 12 are in primarily for meth use, Ray said, adding the majority of the women at the center have also used the drug.

"This meth that they're using is just tearing them up," Ray said.

One woman, "Susan," staying at the center blames meth for destroying her family and her body.

"I just lost everything. I'm just tired of dealing with the situation," Susan said.

She lost her teeth from the drug, acquired hepatitis C, and her son was sentenced to prison for meth. He was expected to be released this month.

"It made me feel alive," Susan said of the drug. "I didn't have to face my problems. I felt in control."

Susan, 36, has been in and out of prison and drug rehabilitation centers in the past, including the Family Counseling Center.

"I just wasn't ready to quit," she said of her relapses. In her most recent relapse, Susan was walking around her hometown at 5 a.m. and realized she had hit "rock bottom," prompting her to return voluntarily to the center.

When she completes her 90-day treatment this week, Susan said she would stay away from her hometown because of the temptations there and would try to make a clean life for herself in Cape Girardeau.

There are 16 beds available for residents, who are not allowed to leave the Family Counseling Center, and 16 beds available for transitional clients, who are allowed to leave for certain reasons such as job searching.

The women stay at the center as residents for about 30 days, then as transitional clients for 90 days, followed by outpatient treatment for three months. Even after outpatient treatment, some former clients continue to stop by the center to let its workers know how they are doing, Ray said.

Another client named "Cathy" was also expected to complete her 90-day treatment this week.

Cathy, 44, began taking meth just to give her the energy for raising her two children. Eventually, meth opened the door to cocaine.

From taking the drugs intravenously, she nearly had to have her arm amputated as her veins had become so corroded from intravenous use.

Cathy said she was so into drugs she named her daughter Crystal after her drug of choice at the time.

"That's a very sick mindset, to name your daughter after a drug you worship," she said.

Cathy had just been released from jail following a 10-month stay, and after about two weeks, she tested positive for drugs.

"I contemplated using before I got out," she said.

Cathy was told by her probation officer that she could either receive treatment or face going back to prison.

Recently, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would limit the sale of non-prescription medications that can be used to make meth. The bill would require medications, such as those containing meth-making properties of pseudoephedrine, to be placed behind the counter.

Under the bill, which was part of the USA Patriot Act reauthorization, consumers would be limited to 3.6 grams, or about 120 cold pills, per day, and 9 grams, or about 300 pills, per month. Buyers would be required to show photo identification and sign a logbook.

While Missouri already has a similar law on the books, Illinois does not.

Both Susan and Cathy from the center see the law as a positive step, especially from several years ago where there were no restrictions.

"I think it's a good law, but it's still accessible," Cathy said of meth-producing drugs.

The House is expected to pass the Patriot Act this week and sent it President Bush, who has promised to sign it by Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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