Meth takes hold of community
Over and over again JoAnn Garay's clients describe methamphetamine as a drug that can steal the soul.
Based on what she has seen during the last 12 years spent as a chemical dependency therapist at Cottonwood's Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, Garay agrees.
About 80 percent of the clients she treats are either addicted to or recovering from meth. Even though methamphetamine has been around for decades, Garay said it's just been within the past five years that the drug has really taken hold of so many in this community.
Describing meth as the drug that morally and socially debilitates a person quicker than any other, Garay has seen use of the drug spread.
"It's a big problem," she said.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant that can be injected, snorted, smoked or taken orally. According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, meth users feel a short, intense rush when the drug is taken. Those effects include increased activity, decreased appetite and a general euphoria that can last up to 12 hours.
Verde Valley Guidance Clinic CEO Robert Cartia says that high is very addictive for the users.
"People stay up for days," Cartia said.
Users experience sustained bursts of energy, he said, but "the come down is very bad." Meth addicts at that point will usually use more to achieve another high.
"That's the vicious cycle," he said.
Chronic users become paranoid. The drug can sometimes lead to psychotic behavior and even brain damage. The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that the brain damage in addicts is detectable months after using the drug. The damage is similar to what is caused by epilepsy, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.
Donald Curran recently joined the staff at the Verde Valley Medical Center. He now serves as the medical director for VVMC senior lifestyles but worked at an inpatient psychiatric center in Kansas for many years. That's where he became familiar with methamphetamine.
He describes meth as having a toxic reaction with the body. Users feel that high, but begin to lose the ability to concentrate. Sometimes they will try to get off the drug on their own, he said.
"They may substitute tranquilizers Š or sleeping medicines to try to sleep," he said.
Curran said addicts usually do sleep at that point, sometimes for days. But usually the addiction is too strong.
"At that time they'll probably resume their habit because they've acquired a dependency," he said. "That's a bit of the cycle."
Monty Bondurant, the adult programs director at the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic, said the effects of the drug are due to what happens in the brain.
"It's believed that the major change occurs in the neurotransmitters," he said.
That change leads to the euphoria at first, but eventually impacts functioning. Other stimulants, such as cocaine, cause problems as well, Bondurant said. But the difference is that meth stays in a person's system longer. Cocaine may last up to 30 minutes but methamphetamine can stay in a person's body for hours. Bondurant said that's the appeal for users, but the drug accumulates in the brain.
Then it speeds up body functions, heart rate and even the aging process. Bondurant said users are more prone to strokes, heart attacks and if they smoke the drug, lung infections. Users will also lose weight and have many dental problems.
However, recovery from a meth addiction is possible. Curran said it is unusual that problems with memory, delusions and paranoia can be permanent. But that does happen in some.
"A common durable problem can be chronic depression," he said. "Problems with motivation, reduced energy."
Because of that depression and lack of motivation, Garay said treating a meth addict requires a lot of work. Substance recovery isn't enough. Treatment at the Guidance Clinic emphasizes abstinence from the drug.
A majority of their services are outpatient, but staff can refer patients to residential treatment centers. The Guidance Clinic includes group and individual therapy to help those in need.
Garay said she often has to work with a meth addict on the very basics, building up their life again.
"There's no such thing as a short-term treatment for methamphetamine addicts," she said.
As someone with insight to the problem, Curran says public education and better access to treatment is the way to help fight the meth problem.
Bondurant says there needs to be a multi-faceted approach. Reducing the supply while reducing the demand for the drug through education, community awareness and treatment is important, he said.
"It's everyone's problem," Bondurant said. "Unfortunately there's no magic bullet."
For more information on the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic and its treatment programs, call 634-2236.