Meth use not just a legal problem

Few rural treatment options make it a public health issue

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- Health care options need to be accessible to help stem the spread of methamphetamine use in a community, said Steve Koester, associate professor of the department of Health and Behavioral Sciences at University of Colorado at Denver.

About 20 employees of the Yampa Valley Medical Center watched Koester outline social factors that are common among meth users in Colorado's rural areas during a live videoconference Tuesday.

According to a study of 41 meth users in the state's Western Slope and Eastern Plains, a lack of community health care and an area's demographics are two factors common to meth use, he said.

"The problem is small communities don't see meth as a public health issue, but as a legal problem," Koester said. "For meth we don't have a magic bullet (to cure addiction) and treatment is not always easily accessible."

Koester said he started the study when 46 cases of acute Hepatitis B appeared in Wyoming. All of those infected turned out to be meth users who injected the drug, he said.

Meth users generally start using the drug with clean needles, but after hours of binging, the risks for infections increase as users share needles.

Although needles are available in rural areas, users are less likely to purchase supplies in small stores for fear of being noticed by someone they know, Koester said.

Generally, meth use is less common among professionals, but showed up with people who worked in "difficult" occupations, such as construction.

Dubbed the "white-collar working-class drug" because of its relatively low cost to make and buy, meth use can span an array of occupations.

"(Meth) is something that's helpful, that can keep you up and going," Koester said.

Ellen Pugh, an educational coordinator for the hospital's obstetrics program, said cases of hepatitis probably are under diagnosed.

"Meth is probably a bigger problem than we realize," she said.

Koester said that 95 percent of the meth users in his study reported sharing needles.

Rehabilitation of meth addicts may require breaking social ties with other users and training addicts in new job skills, Koester said.

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