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The Numbers Have Dropped But Meth Still Takes Its Toll


Police were pleased to see arrests for meth possession drop after the state cracked down on pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in home-made meth. But the anti-meth policy hasn’t completely insulated Oregon from meth abuse.

Now, arrest records show those numbers are starting to climb. April Baer reports certain populations still appear dangerously vulnerable.


The graph of Oregon’s methamphetamine arrests draws a downward slide, starting around March of 2007.

That month, 956 people were arrested for either making, selling, or just having meth. The numbers drop lower, and lower, bottoming out in December 2009, at 542.

All this as the state was tightening access to a key ingredient to illegal meth, pseudoephedrine. It now only sells with a doctor’s prescription.

Joe: “I don’t believe that the legislation toward pseudoephedrine was the end-all, but it definitely assisted us in different avenues of the impact of methamphetamine in our communities.”

You’re hearing a man we’ll call Joe. He’s an employee of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and works on undercover drug cases.

He asked us not to use his real name, to protect his safety. Standing across the street from a green house in Salem where his department made its latest large bust, he says there’s some good news.

Joe:  “What we don’t see is a lot of the kids suffering in the houses where it’s being manufactured.”

Joe and his colleagues no longer routinely find so-called mom-and-pop labs. But he’s still busy. He and colleagues seized five pounds of meth in the green house earlier this month.

And according to statewide figures, meth arrests started to rise again after 2009. There were just under 700 arrests in February of this year. That’s 100 more arrests than in February of 2010.

Police say dealers are selling more meth from California and Mexico.

While the mom-and-pop labs are largely a thing of the past, the state still struggles to get Mom and Pop themselves off meth. Especially Mom.

Sarah Goforth “At our residential pregnant women and children’s treatment center, it’s still the primary drug and it’s amazing.”

Sarah Goforth is Director of Recovery and Mental Health Services at Central City Concern in Portland. She says the admission diagnoses at even one Central City facility would suggest the meth supply chain is going strong.

Sarah Goforth “At one point a year or two ago, it was really kind of evening out: heroin, alcohol, marijuana and meth. And I thought OK, we’re finally seeing a downward trend. Today if I called over there, it’s probably 75 percent meth, and they’re women”

It’s difficult to track who’s using meth in Oregon with precision. Treatment centers can’t afford to place everyone who wants help in residential or outpatient programs. So no reliable record exists of people who wanted help.

In 2010, the last year for which the Department of Human Services published records, meth was the third most common drug reported as the reason for seeking addiction treatment. 

Alcohol and marijuana were first and second, respectively.

Goforth has a theory about why meth addiction has stayed strong, even amid the ups and downs of the economy.

Sarah Goforth: “I’m always leery when I do these interviews because I know there are scientists who would refute this, but I just know from my many years of doing this work. Here you are, you’re a young mom, you start using meth, and you can get stuff done, you can clean the house and ‘Oooo, look at this I’m losing weight!’ And you begin to depend on that level of energy.”

Goforth says meth is a way for women who use it to get by, until the day when it doesn’t work, and the user needs more. She calls meth one of the tougher addictions to break.

One former meth user in recovery can attest to that.

Amber Parke “It’s not just the meth. It’s the gambling, it’s the crime, it’s the criminality, and all that.”

Amber Parke is a mom and a masters’ student at Portland State. She holds down a job at Portland Community College, where she was a decorated undergraduate.

Many of her classmates didn’t know she’d overcome years of drugs, including meth. She started around 13, even using meth with her mother sometimes.

While her life descended into a fog of petty crimes to fund her addiction, Parke says she ultimately turned things around through 12-step meetings.

Amber Parke: “I remember some of those people sitting in the meetings, and some of the stuff that they talked about that I thought they were all lying about - about how their lives had gotten so much better. It wasn’t really one thing they’d said, it was more the impression of, like, I knew it had worked for somebody. I decided I was going to get clean.”

The kind of recovery Parke is talking about hinges on treatment. And with the state looking at budget cuts this year, it’s not clear how much money there will be to fund state treatment programs.

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