EDITORIAL: The 20-year meth scourge in the Central Valley

The Fresno BeeJuly 20, 2013 

Drug fads come and go in California. But not methamphetamine. This highly addictive, widely available, dangerous drug has been a 20-year scourge that shows no sign of abating in Fresno, Sacramento and other Central Valley counties.

How addictive? A Sacramento County undercover agent told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board that people get addicted "so fast" and some get so desperate that they will fry their own urine in a frying pan to extract meth crystals.

How available? It comes across the border from superlabs in Mexico and is sold by street dealers, most often gang-related, for $20-$30 for a "teener" (1/16 of a gram) or $40-$80 for a gram.

How dangerous? Counties are on the front lines of seeing people with psychiatric emergencies. In Sacramento County, director of Health and Human Services Sherri Heller points out that "meth is the single-most impactful drug causing psychiatric emergencies."

She continues: "There is so much brain trauma with meth." Those who are "tweaking" exhibit poor judgment, strange sleeping patterns, agitation, confusion, anxiety, paranoia, violence and perform repetitive tasks over and over.

Not surprisingly, where there is meth, there is theft; addicts steal to feed their habit, driving up burglaries, fraud and robberies. Addicts desperate for copper wire to sell have decimated Fresno street lights.

The toll on children can be horrific. Remember Aide Mendez? Before she committed suicide, the 23-year-old Fresno mother murdered her baby and toddler and her husband's cousin after smoking meth last year.

Those who deal with the effects of meth agree that we need a three-prong approach: prevention, treatment and police interdiction. All came under hard times during the Great Recession.

Voter-approved Proposition 36 in 2000 diverted those convicted of non-violent drug possession offenses to drug treatment, but the money ran out after five years. So we wait until they commit crimes that send them to drug court and into treatment.

Heller notes that getting people into treatment early is important to keep users from experiencing long-term irreversible damage to their brains. Chronic users show up to emergency facilities needing a three-day meth detox, residential or outpatient treatment of 90 to 120 days and, for many, a transitional sober-living environment for a year so they don't return to the drug environment. And they may need to go through several relapses before the intervention is successful.

But we should not wait either for psychiatric emergencies or for people to commit crimes to treat them. With attention and focus on front-end strategies that work, Californians can take on this 20-year scourge — a quality-of-life issue for us all.


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