This is dedicated to Travis Holappa who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered on July 25, 2004 in Northern Minnesota. This was all due to meth. I am Travis' mother and I wish to make this devastation turn into a better thing by educating and exposing the truth about meth, the dangers, and the deadly consequences it brings about to individuals and communities.

My Photo
Location: Colorado, United States

I want to do what I can to educate people about what is going on around the world with the meth problem. I want people to know about it BEFORE they even get the idea to want to try it. It is a dangerous drug and will ruin your life as well as all those who love you. I am on a mission on behalf of my only son, Travis.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Officials: Beating meth will take multi-pronged effort (Minnesota)

By Marshall Helmberger

For people working the fight against methamphetamine, there are signs of progress along with frustration that so much more still needs to be done to slow the destruction wrought by this powerful drug.
The good news can be found in growing awareness on the Iron Range of the dangers posed by meth. It can also be seen in the noticeable drop in the number of meth labs that are being found in northeastern Minnesota. But a sense of progress is tinged with the growing understanding of how broad meth’s impact has become within society and how much more it will take to bring those addicted to the drug back to normal life.

And like so much in this story, the good news can have an edge to it. Take the falloff in the number of local meth labs, a development that law enforcement officials attribute to the statewide ban on cold pills that are commonly used in the manufacture of meth. According to St. Louis County investigator Tim Harkonen, any decline in local production has been more than made up for in imported supplies of the drug. “There’s still lots of availability, at about the same price,” he said.

Citing statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Harkonen said about 80 percent of the U.S. meth supply is now coming from superlabs in Mexico or the southwestern U.S., and much of that supply is being distributed through gangs. “We’re seeing Mexican gangs from the metro area working with local distributors here on the Range,” he said.

The easy availability and continued demand for the drug means meth-related arrests are running at the pace of recent years. And perhaps more troubling for the general public, property crimes have risen significantly over the past five years, according to Harkonen, as meth users turn to burglary, theft, and other means to obtain money for their next fix. An increase in violent crimes is also linked to meth use, says Harkonen.

While Harkonen is perhaps most familiar with the law enforcement side of the meth problem, he said it will take a multi-pronged approach to beat the drug. That’s why he’s also working with the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, which has been sponsoring regular meth forums across the Iron Range. Those forums have been drawing large numbers (one in Ely drew close to 800 according to organizers) and have become increasingly effective at getting the word out to families and communities affected by meth.

“It’s been an unbelieveable response,” said Shelley Renner, executive director of the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota. “The awareness really helps. The biggest change we’ve seen is with the families of users. They now understand how to respond.”

The effectiveness of the forums has increased demand for the service. According to Renner, her forum panel is on the move frequently, conducting forums for the general public in the evening and working in schools, colleges and other institutions during the day.

Renner says it’s been a challenge to keep up with the demand as well as the constantly-changing information on the issue. “We’re always developing new information so we have the most up-to-date presentation,” she said.

Pat Grahek, a treatment counselor at the Arrowhead Center, as well as a frequent presenter at United Way forums, said the public response to the issue has made him more hopeful. “I have never seen the public interest in anything like this before, and I’ve been in this business a long time,” he said. “I am very heartened by that, because people are getting behind it. In some places, people have decided the problem is too big. We’re not doing that here.”

Harkonen says education, combined with treatment and effective law enforcement are the keys to keeping meth from doing to the Iron Range what it has done to so many other rural parts of the Midwest.

Getting off meth

is hard to do

While the public has clearly responded to educational efforts focused on meth, those active on the issue say treatment for meth addicts and users continues to be the biggest challenge– and Grahek it’s a matter of money. He said insurance companies don’t like to pay for treatment. Counties, which must pick up the bill for treatment of meth users without private insurance, are also reluctant to for treatment that can easily cost $15,000 a month, according to Grahek for residential treatment.

Treatment of meth users often takes longer than 30 days, since it can take up to six months for the drug, which accumulates in fatty tissues, to fully leave the body.

Harkonen said the state needs to be contributing more resources towards treatment. “Cities and counties can’t afford this,” he said. “The plea that we would have is for more state-funded treatment facilities. We need to give them a good shot to get off of meth.”

Such pleas, however, have yet to prove effective in St. Paul. Far from improving funding for treatment, the state recently eliminated treatment funding for chemically-dependent Minnesotans classified as Tier 2, under the state’s Rule 25. First tier individuals are those who are classified as nearly destitute, while those on the second tier would best be described as “working poor,” according to Grahek. The cuts “have made it tougher,” Grahek said.

The push for treatment is running uphill, said Grahek, in part because of the perception that meth dependence isn’t as easy to treat as other forms of addiction. “Many are saying there’s no hope for these people. That’s not true. I know because I get to see the ones who do make it.”

Grahek said many meth users are perceived by society as unworthy of help, but he said most are just average people, with a problem. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some people who should be in jail, but a decent assessment can tell you who’s got a shot and who doesn’t,” he said.

While most studies show that treatment is effective with meth users less than 25 percent of the time, Grahek said those numbers can be misleading. He said the skills taught in treatment can help users escape their addiction eventually, even if they don’t make it the first time. He said his own battle with addiction took more than one try, a fact that would have listed him as a failure in treatment. “I’m not too discouraged by those numbers, because I know what makes them up,” he said.

More money for treatment would help, said Grahek, but he said more resources are needed for law enforcement and education if the state is going to turn the corner on meth. “Everybody has to be pulling together,” he said.

Harkonen agrees. “There’s no easy or short term solution. I can tell you that.”


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