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The before-and-after photos of methamphetamine addicts were nearly as jarring as the Shasta County drug-use statistics presented at the Wednesday Women’s Fund Community Forum held at the Redding Library.
The forum topic – “Drugs: Stealing Our Community’s Future” – was presented to a standing-room-only lunch-time crowd. The audience heard a panel comprised of Lt. Jeff Wallace of the Redding Police Department; Elsbeth Prigmore, principal of Pioneer Continuation High School and Plus High School; Pam Ikuta, Mercy Medical Center emergency room physician; Cindy Diezsi, Shasta County Chemical People, Inc., program manager; Cara Beatty, Shasta County Superior Court judge; and Kareen Williams, a former methamphetamine addict.
About those statistics, compiled by Shasta County Public Health:
- Shasta County had the second highest rate of perinatal alcohol and drug use of all 58 counties from 2006 to 2008. That’s four times higher than the state rate.
- Since 1999, Shasta County’s drug-related death rate has been higher than the state rate, and its numbers continue to rise. Between 2007 to 2009 Shasta County residents died of drug-related causes at a rate almost three times higher than the rest of the state.
- From 2007 to 2009, Shasta County saw 173 drug-induced deaths; 39 percent were women.
- In 2010, more than 230 Shasta County children were victims of substance-abuse related child abuse.
The Women’s Fund provided $5 sack lunches for those who wished to eat during the event.
With a noon-to-1:30 p.m. deadline, each speaker conformed to a strict 10-minute presentation. A question-and-answer session followed the panel’s remarks.
Lt. Wallace, who arrived armed with his own statistics and photos (see before-and-after mug shots, above), spoke first. He talked about the toll drug abuse takes on users, and how Shasta County once had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in meth use. He said Shasta County has two-and-a-half times the rate of drug overdoses than the state average.
He said that Redding – renowned as a “sanctuary city” for marijuana users – has 17 medical marijuana collectives, with a combined 40,000 members. “That’s out of a city of 90,000,” he added.
Wallace said that the levels of THC – marijuana’s active ingredient – went from between 1 to 4 percent in the 1960s, to today’s THC levels of between 10 and even 30 percent. He said he sees marijuana as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances, such as methamphetamine.
Wallace was followed by Elsbeth Prigmore, Pioneer Continuation High School principal, who said that the numbers of drug-related student suspensions have escalated in Shasta County schools, as have the levels of confiscations of both prescription and illegal drugs.
- Family history of alcoholism
- Family history of criminality or anti-social behavior
- Family management problems
- Early anti-social behavior and hyperactivity
- Parental drug use and positive attitudes toward drug use
- Academic failure in mid- to late elementary school
- Little commitment to school
- Alienation, rebelliousness and lack of social bonding
- Antisocial behavior in early adolescence
- Friends who use drugs
- Favorable attitudes toward drugs
- Early first use of drugs
She showed slides of brain scans, both with and without drug effects, and the physical damage to the brain caused by drugs. Prigmore said that parents and teachers have an obligation to educate youth about how their brains work, and to provide information about the potential damage drugs can inflict upon brains.
Next came emergency room physician Pam Ikuta, who also brought images of drug-user’s brains, pointing out that even in the brain of someone who’d not used cocaine for 100 days, the negative effects remained. She provided an overview of the physiology of addiction, and said that addictions can develop despite a person’s best intentions and despite strength of character.
She talked about American society, where there’s a drug for nearly anything, from extreme sadness to excess happiness. Ikuta provided a laundry list of prescription drug examples: opiodis (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Heroin), sedatives (Valium, Xanax, Ativan), stimulants (Ritalin, Concerta, meth and nicotine), erectile dysfunction drugs (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra), anabolic steroids, inhalants (cooking spray, paint, glue, nitrous), hallucinogens (Ecstasy, PCP, LSD), and designer drugs (even found in some special bath salts, Ikuta said).
Ikuta said that over a 5-year period, drug-related emergency room visits have increased 81 percent. She said that while marijuana has legitimate uses, such as to increase cancer patients’ appetites, when it comes to recreational use of marijuana, the negative considerations include a five-fold increased risk of a heart attack, and more than 50 percent more carcinogens present in marijuana than tobacco smoke.
Cindy Diezsi spoke next. She’s the program manager for the Chemical People, Inc., a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to work with youth to prevent drug use. Diezsi opened her remarks by introducing a children’s book, “It’s Just a Plant” that downplays marijuana use. She gave an overview of the laws that have led to the “normalization” of marijuana use. She told of youth who go “medicine cabinet shopping” in their homes or the homes of friends and relatives, and of “pharm parties” where young people bring a collection of prescription drugs to sample.
Diezsi said there’s a prevailing mind-set about prescription drugs that “if they’re prescribed by a doctor, they must be good.”
She offered suggestions, such as teaching youth “resistance skills” and to properly dispose of prescription drugs (not in the toilet, because it gets into waterways).
Judge Cara Beatty was the next presenter, and she added more to the meth users’ before-and-after meth photos, which dramatically illustrated how appearances of those who use meth can deteriorate drastically, sometimes even over a few months.
Beatty told how she’d started her legal career in Humboldt County, “the marijuana-growing capitol of the world,” a place where Beatty said many marijuana growers rationalized a worthy trade-off to spend about 16 months in jail if it meant earning about $1 million in marijuana production and sales.
As a judge, Beatty said she sees family cycles, where the children of drug-using parents and grandparents also turn to drugs. Beatty said she’s also seen successes achieved in helping drug-users, such as via churches, mentors, families, friends, guardians, and organized resources like Peer Court, Kids Turn (for children of divorced or separated parents) and the Addicted Offender Program.
Beatty urged the audience to combine resources, become educated about drug-use, to suspend judgemental-ism, and to consider giving a hand to former drug users by offering them work.
The afternoon’s final speaker was Kareen Williams, a former meth addict. Williams started by giving thanks to God for helping her go from drug use to a clean life. She described her back story as someone adopted by well-adjusted, loving parents – a highway patrol father and a stay-at-home mother. She said she discovered meth in her mid-teens and didn’t get completely off drugs for a few decades. But in the meantime she was in and out of jail, and turned to prostitution to pay for her habit, served three prison terms, and eventually lost custody of her child.
Williams spoke of her former love of meth, and how effortlessly she relied upon it. “Break a nail, get high.”
Williams said she entered the Addicted Offender Program in 2008 at a time when she realized, “Only one thing had to change: Everything.” She traded her old acronym for the word ‘fear’ (f— everything and run), for a new one: face everything and recover.
She told the audience that if she could ask them to change one thing, it would be for people to withhold judgement. Her talk was received with a standing ovation.
The forum concluded with audience questions and panelists’ answers. A sample included:
Someone asked Dr. Ikuta to name some non-narcotic pain relievers, to which the doctor replied that there are many, such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and even meditation and yoga.
Lt. Wallace was asked what it was about Shasta County that it had such dire drug-use numbers. He replied that the most simple answer could be found in the rural, secluded areas, and its depressed economy, but beyond that, he wasn’t sure.
Another woman asked Lt. Wallace about the prescription-drug drop-off boxes around Redding that were not in use because there were no police to empty the boxes and dispose of the drugs. Wallace said that it was a matter of a lack of funding and enough officers to monitor the boxes.
This reporter asked Lt. Wallace about the 40,000 members of Redding’s 17 marijuana collectives, and if there was any way to determine whether they were all from Redding, or elsewhere. He said it’s possible members could come from cities outside Redding. To the follow-up question, he said members are not allowed to have dual-collective memberships.
The final question of the day was posed by a mother of an adolescent, concerned about her child’s future. She asked Williams what parents could do to help their children avoid drug abuse. Williams conceded that, as a teenager, she had fallen in with the wrong crowd of kids, but that ultimately, she made the choice to use drugs. Even so, Williams said that there was no easy answer, because sometimes, even when a child is raised in a good home by a loving family – like hers – in the end it all comes down to that young person’s decision.
“You can’t overprotect,” she said. “There’s only so much you can do.”
“Faces of Meth” photos are originally from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon.
Forum photos courtesy of The Women’s Fund Facebook page. The Women’s Fund is a program of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation. Click here to read about the January forum, about foster care in Shasta County.
Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.