Our View: Owning up to the meth problem


Inside today's Daily Press you'll find a 20-page special section that includes all the stories from our series on the methamphetamine problem in Moffat County.

The stories paint a picture of a problem with serious consequences for our community. Experts cited increased rates of child abuse and neglect, psychotic episodes, violence, school and work absenteeism, fraud, crime, health scares and financial problems.

The court docket is clogged with meth cases, and the jail's population has doubled since the new Public Safety Center opened. Officials attribute these social ills to the rise in methamphetamine use.

In the face of such overwhelming evidence, it's hard to deny there's a problem. But local officials, from police to social workers, seem to have few answers about what to do about it.

Dr. Nicolas Taylor, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified addictions counselor from Montrose, is well known for his research regarding methamphetamine abuse in rural communities. He's watched his community go through similar trials and tribulations regarding escalating meth use.

"There's no clear answer," he said.

Every small community is so unique that there's no blueprint for how to deal with meth. But there are aspects of the culture of people who use meth that have to be understood, otherwise efforts to intervene will fail, he said.

The first step is acknowledging there's a problem, Taylor said. He calls it "the community education experience," and the education should come from local sources. Hiring an outside expert, such as Taylor, to come educate people about meth doesn't have the same impact as having police, recovering addicts and case workers meet with public officials and the community to provide the intimate details about why meth is such a tricky problem.

"After the level of awareness is reached -- once people know about it -- then there has to be a separate get-together and see where to go from here," Taylor said. It can be an overwhelming, draining experience. In Montrose, the community formed a Citizens Against Meth Coalition that examined different avenues for solving the meth problem, including interdiction and treatment.

Taylor said it sounds corny, but "it takes a village" to make the treatment component work.

"The biggest problem in rural communities is that they're underserved in terms of treatment resources. They don't have the tools it takes," he said.

Some of the resources needed to make treatment work include vocational services to provide jobs and training for recovering meth addicts, housing services to give people a place to live away from their meth associates, and medical services. All resources have to be working together with a treatment provider. It's expensive and complicated.

Communities essentially have to create their own treatment programs. But even if they do, the inpatient care is only as good as the outpatient follow-up, Taylor said. "Successful communities seem to be putting together their own intensive outpatient programs," he said.

Many communities are discovering that "therapeutic prosecution" or sentencing offenders to treatment and aggressively monitoring their compliance is the way to deal with the problem. Others put together a patchwork of probation and social services programs that may not be ideal but are better than nothing.

But the communities that successfully combat the meth problem often come up with creative strategies from every corner of the community. Businesses donate things such as free passes to the gym or the movies so recovering meth addicts can relearn how to experience pleasure without drugs. Community colleges may offer free pottery lessons, and churches open their doors with Bible support groups for addicts who don't like Narcotics Anonymous. All of the efforts are aimed at keeping people clean.

We think it's time for Moffat County to own up to its meth problem and begin exploring solutions.

As former Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Waite summarized, we haven't solved the alcohol problem by prosecuting drunks. And we won't solve the meth problem simply by prosecuting drug offenders.

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