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Community takes hard look at meth

Lots of you called and wrote concerning last week’s idea of a Nevada County Methdown, a communitywide effort to rid our county of methamphetamine dealers and users. It appears many are seeing that problem and want to do something about it.

And, since last week’s column appeared:

– A raid on a home on Squirrel Creek Road resulted in several arrests (including a 14-year-old girl) on suspicion of methamphetamine use and sale.



– Two people suspected of selling meth from a motel room up near Lyman Gilmore Middle School pleaded “no contest” in court to possession of a controlled substance. In return for those pleas, several other charges were dropped by the DA’s office. And here I thought we were serious about getting tough on people accused of peddling drugs near schools. Instead, it appears we have reruns of “Let’s Make A Deal” going on up at the courthouse.

– A man suspected of being high on methamphetamines when he stole a truck and used it to kill a local UPS driver was in court, where two psychologists differed on whether he is competent to stand trial. This one sounds as if it will take months to adjudicate, as various “experts” are paraded in to make certain the crank head is given every opportunity to prove that he was merely a victim of circumstance … over and over and over again.




– Another young man led police on another high-speed chase through our country roads this past weekend, reportedly reaching speeds of 75 mph on Bennett Street. He was eventually arrested on suspicion of several charges, including “possession of controlled-substance paraphernalia.”

And, if you’re thinking I’m just beating this issue to death, you should have listened to National Public Radio’s “Talk of The Nation” program last week, which focused on the meth problem that is destroying communities such as ours across the nation. Referring to the drug as “Hillbilly Heroin” because it’s cheap to make and stupid to use, the program featured a state lawmaker from New Mexico, who said his state had passed two recent bills to address the growing drug problem there. The first one was a child endangerment law and the second was tied to the state’s pharmaceutical board, in an effort to make it a little more difficult to buy the chemicals needed to produce meth.

Sometimes we forget about the children, those innocent bystanders who get caught in the crossfire of this national epidemic. They estimated that 30 to 35 percent of all meth users have children. One man on the NPR program told of his grandchild, who started getting a red tint to her hair from exposure to the phosphorous used to manufacture meth. Then there’s the hydrochloric acid that sits in a jar just waiting for a child to mistake it for grape juice.

Parents and other caregivers addicted to meth have a tough time raising a child because they don’t know what time it is.

One man called into the radio program to tell a story of a meth lab mistake that “turned everything in the garage orange” and how he and his friends didn’t care because it was more important to get high.

Another called from Michigan to say they’d been cooking the drugs inside a fishing shack and dumping the leftover chemicals into the lake.

A guy named Mark e-mailed me to say that his 50-year-old sister has been fighting the drug problem most of her life. “When she was younger she was bright, smart and fun to be around,” he wrote. “Now, when you talk to her it’s like talking to a brick wall. I love my sister but have always felt that the safest place for her would be jail.”

A woman from a mental health facility expressed frustration that the meth problems are being dumped at their doorstep but that there is no funding to do the job. “The cops keep bringing them in and when they get here, they are generally psychotic, paranoid and dangerous,” she said. “We give them something to sleep with, but they keep coming back. It’s an incredible problem.”

A woman from the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota (www.hazelden.org) told NPR that meth is a central nervous system stimulant that is much longer lasting than cocaine. “It feels seductive at first,” she said. “You feel more alert, more plugged in, lots of energy. You can multi-task, which is a good thing in today’s busy world.”

Within months, the drug takes over. “There are severe paranoia delusions, psychosis. It also takes a strong physical toll. No sleep, no eating, discolored hair, chemical odor, skin lesions, a marked change in appearance.”

Take a close look at the mug shots we run with our meth-bust stories. The dead eyes. The hallowed, empty look. It has also been referred to as the “Devil’s Drug.”

One guy e-mailed to say that the “Methdown” idea was “the stupidest I have heard in the last six months!” I didn’t ask him what stupid idea he’d heard prior to mine, but I was curious. “Wanna stop meth in this county, then let the powers that be know we want it stopped dead NOW!” he wrote. “I have personal experience with the issue, and I can tell you that at every step of the legal process, the meth user has a backpack of rights while law-abiding citizens have to put up with numerous crimes and indignities.”

He’s got a good point. The California Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, placed a focus on treatment in dealing with the meth problem. Unfortunately, it didn’t contribute the money needed to provide the treatment (minor technicality), hence the revolving door we see today … treatment, burglary … more treatment, more burglaries …

One man telephoned to suggest a more focused Neighborhood Watch program. “It’s going to take all of us to drive this stuff out of our community,” he said. “We need to let them know they are not welcome.”

Many are taking action. County Supervisor Robin Sutherland just sent me a letter asking for support of the Nevada County Substance Abuse Advisory Board, which is trying to fund an extensive education campaign. If you’re interested in helping, contact that board’s chair, Ed Peevey, at 913-8323. I told Robin we’d help get the word out.

Another note arrived from a woman named Alice. “A small (so far) group of parents (who work in Community Health) have been meeting and talking about what we can do as a parents group to address the alcohol and drug problems in our schools and community,” she wrote. She said they were reviewing school curriculums from Hazelden for the sixth, seventh, eighth, and high school grades and that they want to take them to each school for review. “It is frightening as a parent of a high school student to know that your child can buy any kind of drug on campus,” she wrote.

Finally … I heard from a father whose 33-year-old daughter recently died after a lifetime battle with drugs, leaving behind a small child. He wants to do what he can to make sure no more families suffer.

I know many of you are getting tired of me writing about this problem week after week, so I’ll try to mix it up with some political relief from time to time. But I think perhaps it’s starting to get a focus and that’s really all I hope to do. If we’re going to clean up Nevada County, it’s going to take all of us stepping up to say, “Enough already.”

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears each Tuesday.


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