State Rep. Mary Mascher stepped up to the microphone and said those intent on abusing methamphetamines always are ahead of laws that state legislators can enact to stop the abuse.
“We’re dealing always with the symptoms instead of the prevention,” Mascher, D-Iowa City, said at a Nov. 20 public forum IowaWatch.org organized to explore ways to stop a growing cycle of meth abuse in Iowa.
Mascher then asked what the Iowa Legislature can do to get ahead of the curve. Jessica Peckover, jail alternatives coordinator in Johnson County, was quick to respond: “Fund treatment.”
The value of treatment — with funding but also at the hands-on level where medical help, counseling and social work attack the problem — is a common theme among those helping Iowans kick meth addictions. Several of them expressed that view in two forums IowaWatch.org held this month.
Another theme was prevention programs.
“The younger you can reach somebody, the better,” Glennis Guerrero, a recovering meth addict from Council Bluffs, said at the Des Moines forum.
Scott Nicholson, Jasper County’s first assistant attorney, added that those prevention programs need teeth to be effective with young people. “We need to scare the hell out of them,” he said.
The forums, in Des Moines on Nov. 19 and Iowa City on Nov. 20, were related to a documentary by former IowaWatch.org reporter Katie Kuntz, “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction In The Heartland,” that explores in depth how much meth use in Iowa is growing this decade.
They were part of an IowaWatch Connection effort to engage Iowans in discussion about issues facing the state.
While the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy reports a drop in meth lab incidents from a peak in 2011 to 2013, drug policy and treatment officials agreed that methamphetamine use in Iowa is increasing.
Equally alarming, the number of children in whom illegal drugs of any kind — including meth — are detected has grown rapidly the past five years, from 633 in 2008 to 1,172 in 2013.
But Iowa’s Department of Education no longer funds a Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program that had included prevention training programs in schools. Some federal funding exists, but the programming that was in place a few years ago is gone.
Moreover, IowaWatch.org learned after its Des Moines forum that the Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children program that supported the website iowadec.net has been eliminated. It has been folded into the governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy because federal funding was yanked, said Dale Woolery, associate director of that office and a forum attendee.
Frazier said one step that could lead to dealing better with addiction to remove the stigma attached to it.
Twenty percent of MECCA’s clients name meth as their drug of choice, which draws public attention, but alcohol is by far clients’ No. 1 drug, Frazier said.
“Because it’s legal we don’t talk about it,” she said.
Edens said the Powell Chemical Dependency Center has the same experience when it comes to its clients’ preferred substances.
“A lot of people don’t understand addictions,” Edens said. “It’s a lot more than just, ‘Make better choices.’ “
Addicts suffer a chemical imbalance in their brains and have to change lifestyles to have a chance at licking their problems, he said.
Like Guerrero, Edens is a recovering meth addict who learned lessons the hard way — in prison. He is glad he ended up there because it forced him to change his lifestyle.
Edens said he got out of prison in 1998. He got his big break, he said, when a judge recognized the importance of substance abuse treatment instead of simply punishment.
“I owe the last 14 years to the people of Iowa who supported treatment programs,” said Edens, now a certified drug counselor.
“Treatment helps. It really changed my life,” he said. “I tell people I didn’t get arrested. I got rescued.”