COMA meeting reacts to drug abuse pictures

Rock band OneRepublic's "Stop and Stare" set a somber tone as one drug-ravaged face after another was projected onto the screen.

The presentation was part of the Communities Against Meth Abuse public information meeting at the Moffat County School District Administration building.

Audience members gasped and recoiled at the comparison between the addicts' before and after pictures, noting the change in the Craig residents' physical features - including weight loss and diminished dental hygiene - as a result of methamphetamine usage.

COMA's seminar went on to give details about the drug's presence in Moffat County.

Moffat County Sheriff's Office Deputy Ryan Hess created the slideshow presentation. Afterward, he spoke about additional facts regarding methamphetamine addiction.

"Scientists at UCLA performed an experiment where they deprived lab rats of food," Hess said. "Once they fed them, their dopamine levels were high."

Hess explained that dopamine is a hormone in the brain associated with pleasure.

"Then, they gave the rats some meth, and their dopamine levels were about five times higher," he said. "It's the same in humans. The meth gets blocked in the body's system, and it makes a super-concentrated buildup of dopamine. It's like extreme pleasure for people who use it, but once it's gone, their body is fried and they crash."

Former methamphetamine user Tom Cramer - Hess's fellow presenter and a recovering addict - is familiar with highs and lows. He struggled with addiction for twelve years before confronting his problem nearly five years ago.

Cramer gave a former addict's perspective, speaking about the mindset of a user and how their behavior is difficult to target as "drug abuse."

"I got arrested a lot for fighting but not for meth use," he said. "All my arrests were fueled by meth. You'd be surprised how many people in jail for theft or spousal abuse are on it. It's the cause of the crime but not what they get arrested for, so once they get released, they just start doing it again."

Cramer choked up when he recalled his past, which nearly involved a lengthy prison sentence. He thanked audience member Michael O'Hara for his part in his turnaround.

O'Hara, chief judge of the 14th Judicial District, was the judge who allowed Cramer to undergo rehabilitation in lieu of prison.

"I almost didn't remember doing that for Tom until he mentioned it," O'Hara said. "I see so many faces of meth users, it's getting harder to tell them apart. I knew everybody in that slideshow, and it was hard to watch."

O'Hara spoke to the crowd about Craig's Drug Court - which offers drug offenders the opportunity to improve their legal standing - and entertained questions from the crowd of about 50.

Irene Losolla, parent of a middle schooler, asked about the methamphetamine situation in Moffat County High School.

"I'm concerned as a parent," she said. "I'm curious about how prevalent meth is in the high school because my daughter will go there soon, and I need to know."

O'Hara was unable to provide Losolla with solid data. He maintained that a problem in the high school was quite possible.

Sheriff Tim Jantz neither confirmed nor denied a drug problem in the school but focused on the turnout of the meeting.

"We're overwhelmed by how many people showed up," Jantz said. "Our ultimate goal would be to just make meth nonexistent. Obviously, that won't happen, but COMA is all about strengthening the community to cope with these problems."

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