Hospitals across the country are reporting a surge in the number of methamphetamine patients showing up in emergency rooms. The New York Times says 57 percent of hospitals in the Northwest point to meth as the reason for more emergency-room visits than any other drug. As the medical director of ABC House in Albany, Carol Chervenak sees firsthand the effects of meth addiction on the drug’s youngest victims.
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?”
Carol Chervenak, M.D.
Medical Director, ABC House
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: Carol Chervenak, M.D.
I met Vanessa, a slim 9-year-old girl with long dark hair, in the waiting room of the child abuse clinic where I work. I introduced myself as the doctor and explained that I would be doing her checkup to be sure that she was healthy and safe.
In the exam room, I asked Vanessa if she had any worries about her body. She told me that she had blurry vision, poor hearing, dizziness, itchy skin and upset stomach. She worried that the drugs that her dad had “cooked with the science equipment stuff” had made her sick. She described the “cooking” process in detail, which she had learned from her father as he illicitly manufactured methamphetamine in their home.
I ask Vanessa to tell me about life in her home. She recounts the in’s and out’s of drug trafficking - how her father has her “taste the white powder” he produced, making her feel sick and woozy. She describes brutal physical fighting between her parents. She details neglectful caretaking and discloses physical abuse.
I listen to her breathing to make sure the toxic gases from the illegal drug lab haven’t damaged her lungs; I inspect her skin, checking for chemical burns and inflicted bruises. Her urine and blood are tested to see if she has breathed in a significant amount of methamphetamine or other chemicals.
Vanessa is one of hundreds of similar children in our community that come to the attention of physicians, social workers and law enforcement because of their parents’ involvement with methamphetamine.
Users of this drug, initially drawn to its intense euphoria, increased energy and heightened sexuality, inevitably experience meth’s dark side: paranoia, impulsivity and psychotic thinking that results in bizarre, abusive and violent behaviors. Hours and days of excessive brain stimulation are followed by prolonged periods of “crashing” characterized by unresponsive sleep. Infants and older children are left to fend for themselves, sometimes for days at a time. Older children parent younger children. Toddlers scavenge for food. Baths and bedtime routines are foregone.
Why is it that parents choose this bitter powder over their children? The answer is sadly simple: These parents have the disease of addiction. Their primary commitment is to a powerfully addictive drug and not to their children. All drugs of abuse have an impact on the user’s ability to parent, but the consequences of methamphetamine addiction stand out in the extreme.
The important efforts to reduce the supply of methamphetamine have been compared to removing one’s fist from a bucket of water: The demand remains, the hole fills up, the addiction continues. Our communities must address the complex and multiple causes of this problem in order to reduce the demand for this drug. There needs to be more effective long-term drug treatment available. Parents need to be held accountable. Children need to be protected from caretakers who continue to succumb to addiction.
As a physician, I can diagnose Vanessa’s medical conditions, prescribe treatment and recommend counseling. But I cannot write her a prescription for what she needs the most: healthy, nurturing, protective parents - parents who see her clearly, recognize and respond to her needs, delight in her smile and simple accomplishments and watch her grow into a healthy adult.
- 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)