The Herald Bulletin

February 22, 2014

Most addicts won't seek treatment — until police intervene

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — While methamphetamine withdrawal typically doesn’t cause severe physical sickness associated with other drugs such as heroin, meth users still face an intense battle to break free from addiction.

“The problem is that most get arrested and run into legal trouble before they seek help,” Dr. Andrew Skinner said of meth addicts. “With other drugs, unless you’re in a big city like Indianapolis, the supply will dry up, and the symptoms will get so bad that you need to seek medical intervention.

“With the spread of meth production, there’s typically a plentiful supply, even in smaller towns. You can make it yourself.”

Skinner is the medical director of St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital’s Anderson Center, which deals with substance abuse and mental health.

He likened meth to cocaine, in terms of addiction. But the high for meth is so much more intense, that it’s even harder for addicts to break away. Still, he said, meth patients who find assistance at intensive outpatient programs usually do as well as other drug addicts in recovery. The issue is getting addicts help before their lives crumble.

George Wilder, a substance abuse counselor at Sowers of Seeds Counseling in Anderson, said he rarely sees meth patients seek help on their own. Most are sent to the program through the criminal justice system.

“So, it’s an intervention by law enforcement or after spending time incarcerated,” Wilder said. “From the stories I’ve heard, it’s a really rough drug to get started on, but once they do, it’s easy enough to find.”

When coming down from a high, a user is erratic, unpredictable and highly paranoid, Skinner explained. The low-trust, high-fear atmosphere is especially dangerous for children of addicts.

“And there’s the danger of exposure to all the chemicals used to make it,” Skinner said.

Hyperactivity, irritability and lack of sleep are dangerous short-term side-effects of meth abuse. But the user faces even more perilous long-term effects. Because methamphetamine is a neurotoxin, steady use leads to degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, an inability to control impulses, memory loss and lack of empathy.

“We see these symptoms start to take effect after about a year of sustained use, and the effects could be cumulative,” Skinner said. “You also run the risk of passing these mental health issues and addiction predispositions to any offspring.”

Unlike treatment for other drug addictions, no chemical treatment exists for meth addiction, and no “magic bullet” drugs have appeared on the horizon.

Skinner and Wilder believe the best solutions to meth use lie in increasing awareness of the dangers of the drug, as well as support from friends and family who can encourage addicts to seek help before they land in jail.

“I think the best thing we can do is direct more resources toward treatment,” Skinner said. “But bottom line, if you don’t use the drug, you won’t become addicted.”

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