Ex-addicts tackle meth head-on

More on meth:
The next town hall meeting will be 7 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 16) at Paradise High. Visit the Butte County Methamphetamine Strike Force online at www.2stopmeth.org.

“Hi, my name is Jessica, and I’m a thankful recovering addict. I’ve been clean for 128 days now.”

Applause rang out, and Jessica began to cry.

“I just feel so bad because here we are talking about meth labs, and … I used to cook meth. And I used to sell it to people in this town.”

No, this wasn’t the scene of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. But it sure felt like it at times—at least to an outside observer. Those in the room likely knew each other.

Dozens of Jessica’s neighbors, from Gridley and Biggs (which have a combined population of 7,000), stood up and told their stories of how methamphetamine use had affected their lives. Many of them were former addicts. Many had family members or students or friends who were dependent on the drug.

Since meth came to Northern California in the late ‘70s, its seems that the poor man’s coke has turned into the everyman’s coke. For one, it’s relatively easy to make, considering all its ingredients are perfectly legal (though cough syrup now requires an ID). Second, it’s cheap. And third, it’ll get you high—and for longer than cocaine.

“You gotta tell people that it’s never the same as that first hit,” one man told the group of 50 or 60 gathered in the Gridley Community Center Monday night (Oct. 8). They were there for a meeting of the Butte County Methamphetamine Strike Force. After all, who better to offer ideas on how to stop meth use than former users?

The scary thing is most of the people who had abused the drug said there was little that could have been done to keep them from it.

Perhaps the biggest concern, they agreed, are the children affected by parents who abuse meth. Some of those parents spoke.

Tears flowed freely down Jessica’s cheeks as she described losing her son six years ago, because of her drug use. He’s now 8, and she hasn’t seen him since.

An older man described camping out in a shed in his back yard with his wife. They’d hang out there, getting high on meth. Their children would yell for them to come back into the house, and they would scream back to leave them alone. When he was finally given an ultimatum—your children or your drugs—he quit. He’s one of the few to do so.

Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff asked the crowd: Of 200 children taken from their homes in the county in 2002 because their parents were junkies, how many of those kids’ parents cleaned up to get them back? The answer was shocking: just 15.

This was the third in a series of town hall meetings throughout Butte County to address methamphetamine use and get ideas in order to determine a plan of action. It’s all paid for by a grant from the California Endowment, which recognized the mostly volunteer-based work of the Butte County task force, formed in 2002, as going above and beyond that of other rural areas.

While the Chico and Oroville meetings were packed with people, Gridley and Biggs’ turnout left a bit to be desired.

“I would have liked to see this whole place packed,” said Reniff.

But in the end, it was all part of the learning process. Many in attendance offered solutions to the problem that plagues their community, even though arrest numbers have dropped in the past two years. Reniff attributes fewer lab seizures and arrests to the fact that cough syrups are now regulated.

As for solutions, Drug Court and Prop. 36 Court (which emphasizes treatment instead of incarceration) were highly touted. “Drug Court saved my life,” exclaimed one man.

But without the will to quit, it can be extremely difficult to detach oneself from the lifestyle, another said. Nine out of 10 drug users, once clean, will go back to using. Offering help, such as job skills and placement, after Drug Court could change those numbers.

Others said they believed education was the key. And education by cops or even health professionals wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

“Nothing parallels an addict helping an addict,” one man offered. Others agreed, suggesting former addicts reach out, however painful it might be, and talk to kids in juvenile hall and high schools. “And tell them the bad stuff.”