Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Napolitano unveils new weapons in fight vs. meth

ERIC SAGARA
Tucson Citizen

Gov. Janet Napolitano is calling for a crackdown on cross-border methamphetamine traffic and an expansion of addiction treatment to combat the growing threat to public health and safety caused by the illegal drug.
At a news conference this afternoon, the governor presented the recommendations of the Arizona Methamphetamine Task Force she appointed in August. The 32-member task force was chaired by Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall.
The recommendations include increasing prevention efforts by funding local community organizations such as Tucson's Meth Free Alliance and requiring in some cases new laws and action by the state Legislature.
Last fiscal year, 60 percent of the methamphetamine seized by federal agencies was found at ports along Arizona's border with Mexico.
Michael Johnson, a 36-year-old recovering meth addict here, said low-grade meth from Mexico is a lot easier to find now that the sale of pseudoephedrine, a chemical used to make meth, has been restricted here.
"It's just like water now," said Johnson, who has been in treatment at Compass Health Care since March.
The task force recommends increased coordination among state, local and federal law enforcement agencies to crack down on the smuggling of the dangerous drug.
The treatment program operated here by Compass Health Care and La Frontera Center was recognized by the Arizona Department of Health Services as a Best Practices Center for Excellence and by the White House drug policy office as "unique in the country."
Johnson's mom bonded him out of jail so he could go into treatment. He said he is facing a 15-year sentence for a methamphetamine possession conviction and he's worried that he won't get the treatment he needs in prison.
Napolitano's task force calls for more rural and tribal treatment programs and calls on the state Legislature to fund expanding Arizona's treatment network.
Danny Soatikee, a member of the Gila River Tribe, is another recovering addict seeking treatment at the Compass's New Directions treatment facility near Dodge Boulevard and Glenn Street.
The 42-year-old sold his house in Casa Grande and drove to Tucson to enroll in a treatment program. The tribe is in the process of building a facility, but Soatikee said the options are limited until then.
"My whole life was centered on getting high," he said. "I remember hitting the pipe, tears coming out of my eyes, telling myself that this is not good and not being able to stop.
"I didn't know how to get help other than getting to the emergency room," Soatikee said. "When people hurt, get them in (treatment), because they change their minds seconds later."
Cynthia Klein, director of community relations for Compass, said funding will be one of the largest challenges that Napolitano's plan will face.
"If we can pay for it, if there was unlimited funding, we could really make great strides in treating all sorts of addictions," she said. "We need a lot of funding. So many people don't have the resources to pay for the treatment.
"Most people that need treatment don't realize that they need treatment," Klein added. "What we need is the ability to intervene with these people and get them into treatment."
Meth-related admissions into Arizona hospitals tripled from 2000 to 2005, according to the task force.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, methamphetamine was responsible for 10.5 percent of the admissions into treatment facilities statewide in 2005.
Alcohol accounted for 10 percent of the admissions and alcohol with another drug accounted for 9.3 percent. Marijuana admissions accounted for 8.4 percent.
But treatment is just the first step for Soatikee, who says he can't say he will never do meth again.
"Methamphetamine has destroyed my whole life, and the sick part is that I still like it," Soatikee said. "I don't trust myself, my own thinking, and that's a good thing because I need to surround myself with recovery.
"I have a healthy fear now of losing what I have. I was pretty sick and I don't want to go back to that. I have choices in my life now.
"There are a lot of sayings and slogans in (Narcotics Anonymous). The most important one is 'One day at a time.'"