The National Association of Counties reports that health officials nationwide say there is a growing need for programs to treat methamphetamine addicts, and that meth addicts need to be in treatment longer than those who use other drugs. As the director of OnTrack, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment program in Medford, Rita Sullivan knows just how difficult it is to break the cycle of addiction … and how easy it is to pass it on to the next generation.
Radio: Voices from the Front
To get a personal perspective on the meth problem in Oregon, we’ve asked four people who are living and working on the front lines to answer the question:
“If you had the power, what one thing would you change in Oregon to address the meth problem or its consequences here?”
Therapist and director of the nonprofit substance abuse treatment program OnTrack
Voices from the Front Commentaries
Rita Sullivan — Therapist and director of the nonprofit substance abuse treatment program OnTrack
- Carol Chervenak, M.D. — Medical Director, ABC House
- John Trumbo — Sheriff, Umatilla County
- Carla George — Recovering drug addict who has been clean and sober for nine years.
Share your ideas and solutions to the meth problem in Oregon.
Transcript: Rita Sullivan
Methamphetamine is easily available, incredibly addictive and creates a seductive sense of well-being and unbound energy. It also causes brain damage. While we know that the use of methamphetamine crosses all socioeconomic and cultural barriers, my concerns today are for the youngest casualties of the methamphetamine epidemic in Oregon — babies; those born and yet to be born, lives already scarred by exposure to parental methamphetamine abuse.
We will do little to affect the long-term prevalence of the use of methamphetamine or attendant problems if we do not ensure that today’s children are protected from the effects of direct meth exposure: conveyed in utero, transmitted to a nursing infant through mother’s milk, absorbed as the child crawls on the carpet in homes where methamphetamine has been made, or exposed in the arms of a parent who has been using. Once born, these children must be raised in clean and sober homes. Only then do we have a fighting chance to substantially impact the number of Oregonians affected by this drug.
Every day I see children so injured by parental substance abuse that they are happy if they “get to” stay in a treatment program. Because their parents are deeply involved with methamphetamine, these children don’t know where they will end up each night, what stranger’s face they will see, or what chaos will surround them as the aggression, paranoia and violence associated with methamphetamine use escalates. When parents use drugs, their conventional priorities are shattered and their perceptions skewed. They may think they are taking care of their children, but they are not. These drug-affected families drive our system of care including the courts, child welfare, hospital emergency rooms, foster-care systems, jails and prisons.
So the one thing I would do to affect methamphetamine use in Oregon is to ensure that we have enough beds to treat every methamphetamine-abusing pregnant woman, mother or father — in treatment programs designed specifically to accommodate children. Health-care professionals who deliver should be encouraged to screen all pregnant women on the first prenatal visit. Those using substances should be referred to family-based programs that can keep children safe and maintain bonds while parents undergo treatment for their addiction. Family-based treatment improves the parent-child bond, builds parenting skills and addresses the mood disorders that accompany cessation of methamphetamine abuse. Children need to be cared for in a nurturing environment. Treatment must last long enough to ensure that addiction and its accompanying problems have been thoroughly addressed, and alternative behaviors and new ways of thinking are in place. Parents should have strong recovery support and relapse prevention strategies ready before they are discharged. Finally, all graduates must acquire adequate housing and jobs that will help them to become independent and maintain healthy, stable family lives.
Family-based treatment is a cost-effective and compassionate response to methamphetamine-related problems. Sensible public policy must target the availability of treatment on demand. In the short run the alternatives — overburdened courts, exploding foster-care caseloads and packed jail cells — cost a lot more. Without this kind of treatment, we will cultivate the next generation of meth-addicted parents. We must end the intergenerational cycle of addiction. I know that the mothers and fathers we are treating today were those children not many years ago.
- Stats on Meth
- Fifty percent of the children in foster care in Oregon are there because of meth.
- Source: Oregon Dept. of Human Services
Meth in Oregon: How and why Oregon has become a key front in the fight against meth.
- More from OPB Radio:
- Governor Signs Anti-Meth Legislation Into Law (8/16/05)
- Oregon to Have Nation's Toughest Anti-Meth Law (8/1/05)
- Oregon Senate Concerned About Federal Combat Meth Act (7/27/05)
- House Votes to Make Pseudoephedrine Prescription-Only (7/20/05)
- Momentum to Ban Hard Tablets Used to Make Meth (6/1/05)
- Oregon Territory: Methamphetamine Epidemic (1/28/05)
- Recovering Addicts on What to Do About Meth (1/25/05)