One hundred percent of the methamphetamine problem is caused by one thing - addiction to meth. Without addiction there is no demand, therefore, no labs, no crime, no child abuse related to meth. Addiction is the root of all other meth problems. Meth-addicted parents have been the biggest drug problem in Oregon's child welfare system for the last 10-12 years, not just the last two. It's here to stay, and it may get worse before it gets better. In that case, here are some thoughts to keep in mind when responding to the realities and hype that are surfacing around this drug.
First, a comparison. Every drug people have the misfortune of becoming addicted to comes with a unique set of societal side effects. We demonize specific drugs in the media based on those side effects, rather than responding to the big and more complex issue of the disease of addiction. Alcohol, for example, has always been known as addictive, but it took drunks in cars, hurling down highways, killing and maiming people in record numbers to get the public at large to respond. Increased law enforcement, tighter drunk driving laws and changes in societal norms (concepts like the "designated driver") came about as a result of drunk drivers killing people at the rate of one every 15 minutes. Insurance companies taking huge losses in relation to the carnage of death, permanent injuries and property loss prompted change. Like alcohol, meth is a multi-problem monster with labs, crime, child abuse and the addiction itself. Meth labs pose an incredible health danger, especially to children present during the manufacture of the drug. The cooking process is ripe for explosions, fires, poisonings, toxic fumes, etc. People have been hurt and children have been killed. Property owners are out big money, and cleanup and law enforcement costs are huge.
The good news? Oregon leads the nation in a legislative- and community-based effort that has dramatically reduced the danger of labs by almost eliminating them. Our governor and legislature deserve thanks for this effort. Their job is not done, however. In recent years we've reduced the overall treatment capacity of our state. Fewer people who need help can get it. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of meth addicts are not horrendous child abusers. The majority of meth addicts do have the possibility of recovery. Hundreds of parents addicted to methamphetamine have found recovery. Many lost their children to the system, regained the right to parent them and are out of the system. Their recovery saves the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in foster care costs.
It is inaccurate, and unethical, to operate as if meth is somehow so diabolical that people can't recover from addiction to it. They can and do. The answer is not to pit treatment against criminal prosecution and decide which to fund. As it always has been, the answer is to save money by funding both, but demanding their integration. We can't afford to keep people who can recover in our very expensive systems for incarceration. No, I'm not naive. There are bad guys, people who need to be locked up and for a long time. Those who choose to walk away from treatment, endanger our children and communities, and wreak havoc through crime to continue their addiction need incarceration. The concept is easy, the details are difficult, but the rewards are huge. We need protection from people addicted to this drug. But to create change in our communities, and for these individuals, we also need to create more opportunity for recovery. That starts by understanding that recovery saves money and believing that recovery is possible.