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Statistics show that Bartholomew County has a serious methamphetamine problem and has had one for a while.
Because several years are often needed to treat a meth addict, some area leaders are calling for a community-wide response to the meth problem that goes beyond the judicial system, to include better treatment options and education.
“The approach must be holistic,” said Linda Grove-Paul, vice president for recovery and innovation for Centerstone Behavioral Health Center. “It’s not just up to law enforcement to handle this.”
That conclusion also was reached several months ago by Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, who in March brought together 26 representatives from the medical, mental health, education, judicial, social services and funding sectors to begin addressing methamphetamine and prescription drug addictions.
The group is still working through how best to approach the complex issues while also trying to address a growing heroin problem in the community. But the mayor said the group’s formation should send a clear message.
“We are acknowledging that (meth, prescription drug addiction and heroin) is a community-wide issue,” Brown said. “It’s time for folks to come together and address it.”
Addiction fuels crimes
Bartholomew County ranked sixth in the state for meth lab seizures in 2012, according to state figures, and police say the county has consistently placed in the Top 10 for several years.
Columbus has been averaging four meth-related arrests every three weeks, slightly ahead of the city’s 52-week average from 2012, Columbus Police Department data shows.
“Like kudzu, once meth burrows into the community, it’s very invasive in the way it grabs an individual and their family,” Grove-Paul said. “As the drug gets hold of a person, it literally hijacks the brain for a number of years.”
Brown said a holistic approach has not been done in the past because addiction is an extremely problematic issue that is not easily resolved. However, she and Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann believe meth has become too costly an issue for the community to ignore.
“Addiction is driving a lot of our property crime,” Brown said. “It’s also a major contributor to violence, child abuse and child neglect.”
In fact, Heimann said it could become more expensive for taxpayers to continue with the status quo.
“We’re having a tremendous number of defendants coming through who are using and abusing those substances,” Heimann said. “If the underlying issues aren’t taken care of, think of how many more car break-ins, thefts, burglaries and many other crimes we might see.”
In-patient programs lacking
While the mayor said she’s seen studies that indicate jail or prison is more costly to taxpayers than treatment, Brown said there is insufficient funding available for all the demand of treatment services.
Brown also shares the viewpoint of some law enforcement officials that most meth addicts don’t want to kick their addiction.
“Once you get addicted on meth, the statistics are bleak concerning the number of people able to get off of it without dying or going to jail,” Brown said.
According to an Australian study recently published in the Addictions journal, 88 percent of all meth addicts relapse after three years of seeking treatment.
Heimann said an 18-county regional treatment center for male offenders proved to be effective in treating many addicts with 90-day in-patient programs.
However, the Jeffersonville-based treatment cent er operated by Centerstone Behavioral Health, which first opened in June 2008, lost its funding last summer as part of a large round of state budget cuts. As a consequence, there is no longer any in-patient treatment for male offenders in the Columbus area.
There is a regional addiction-prevention program for local addicted female offenders available through the local court system, which Heimann said has demonstrated an acceptable degree of success. But the judge said much more needs to be done.
“What we need is an intensive in-patient program that will provide 90 days of intensive therapy because we aren’t having very good success at all with out-patient treatment,” Heimann said. “You can’t put a Band-Aid on a severed limb and expect it’s going to work.”
Grove-Paul, who advocates creating a recovery engagement center for drug addictions, said it often takes up to two years of treatment for a meth addict to make a full recovery. She said most employers, insurance providers and many others are unwilling or unable to commit resources for that length of time.
That attitude could change, she said, if the public begins to perceive meth or prescription-pill addiction for what it is: a chronic and relapsing disease not unlike diabetes.
“We have confirmation that long-term, cognitive-behavioral treatment works,” Grove-Paul said. “But funding is not as stable as it is for other diseases, in part, because of the value judgments and stigma we place upon it.”
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