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Sun, Dec. 15

MATForce expands anti-meth program

If it takes a village to raise a child...maybe that same village can help to heal a child addicted to methamphetamine.

That is the philosophy behind MATForce, bringing together experts and lay people to correct the course of a wayward society whose magnetic attraction to meth is scarring surrounding lives and hiking costs of prosecution and rehabilitation.

Friday at Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, the MATForce Council used a slide show, stories and studies to tell where they've come, what they are doing, their successes and needs. They hope to bring more of the village to bear against the meth scourge.

The audience came from all walks of life, but many were community leaders and officials. They were treated to PowerPoint presentation of emaciated people with sores and rotten teeth to show what less than a Sweet and Low packet of meth each day can do over seven months time or longer.

A stunning Theresa Lee of Cottonwood, who has been "clean" for four years, two months and 28 days told her story of being caught up in the tangle of meth use and losing a connection with her young son and her surroundings.

First turned on to meth at 15, Theresa described the timeline over which she went from an honor student to an intravenous meth user. She said her child came home with her partner one day, after an unexplained five-hour absence. The boy's head was swollen and he was bruised all over. Because of her drug use, "I couldn't call police or take him to the emergency room. I only got high."

When the child returned to school with the bruises, Child Protective Service stepped in. "I appreciate that CPS did what they did." It was the first step toward her recovery.

At another time, she was caught in gunfire among users and dealer.

The young woman was later to have twins and CPS placed Theresa in a maternity home in Show Low.

The boy, apparently abused, still has "issues and questions" and goes to counseling.

Theresa Lee told the audience that recovery "is not an easy process ... it is not an easy pill. Meth consumes your life, you can't stop it."

County Attorney Sheila Polk said MATForce has a two-pronged approach: Prevention of Use through Education and Prosecution and Treatment.

The public-private organization has raised awareness though a speaker's bureau, Web site and targeted educational programs as well as posters. Dubbed the Ugly Side of Meth and The Uglier Side of Meth, the posters showed dramatic physical and environmental results of meth abuse. A third poster depicts a body on a slab in a morgue, The Ugliest Side of Meth, was just released last week.

Polk says the organization is coordinating to provide aggressive prosecution and appropriate treatment, and consequences. The county, according to Polk, is actively using a new state law that requires mandatory prison time for manufacture and sales of methamphetamine. Three drug courts, for juveniles, adults and families, already operate in the county.

Advisory groups and working groups research different avenues of the meth issue.

Polk urged the public to become involved and help to solve the community problem "We don't want to sit at the top and believe we know everything about them. We don't have all the answers."

The group has already qualified for some grants, but could win a $200,000 grant in the future because its work is advanced, according to the County Attorney. Representatives of Yuma and Pinal Counties attended the Friday session to get ideas and guidance.

Cottonwood Police Chief Doug Bartosh compared the invasive meth problem with the 9-11 attacks: meth comes from outside the country and often results in death and collateral damage he noted.

"In the rural communities, meth is our terror," proclaimed the chief.

A MATForce survey of impacts during a single week shows the pervasive tentacles of the meth monster.

Yavapai Regional Medical Center had three ER admissions every day of which the primary diagnosis was meth. It recorded six OB-GYN cases affected by meth.

36 percent of all contacts by Cottonwood Police have some methamphetamine involvement.

90 percent of all inmates in the Yavapai County Jail use or are addicted to meth.

52 percent of all patients see by the Verde Valley Guidance Center are meth users.

57 percent of all kids seen by Juvenile Probation have used meth.

Interviews of 19 recovered users show that 'a carrot and stick approach' worked for them, in what Don Ostendorf describes as a 'peek' into their lives, a non-scientific survey. Surveyors wanted to know how the users "got clean and sustained recovery."

He summarized: "without enforcement they would not have gotten treatment. Without treatment they would not have achieved recovery. Without recovery, they would still be in jail."

The subjects, including three from the Verde Valley, average 39 year of age, used meth for an average of 14 years and have recovered for three to five years.

Among their comments, some said they started recovery because: "I was ashamed," "I was tired of being sick," "it was very lonely," and "I knew I was dying."

The MATForce Council next meets Sept. 29.

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