The Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health says methamphetamine has been the No. 1 drug of choice for patients admitted to public substance-abuse programs since 2001. Utah has the fifth highest rate of methamphetamine use in the country.
Meth addiction accounts for about 90 percent of all amphetamine abuse in the United States, experts say. The data was released last week at a congressional hearing.
This "confirms that meth is a big drug problem," said Richard Rawson, associate director of UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Program, which has treated about 7,000 meth addicts.
"This epidemic is not going to stop on its own," Rawson testified before the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. "It's going to continue to spread to the East Coast and urban centers."
Among the 15 states, there were 102,378 admissions for amphetamine treatment compared to 73,454 for cocaine and heroin combined, according to an April study by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration. In Utah, amphetamine treatment admissions are more than double cocaine and heroin treatments combined. The data is based on 2004 drug treatment admissions.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, testified she is concerned about the growing problem of meth addiction. Volkow told the panel that meth has "powerful addictive potential and high toxicity, which translates to more addicts and more devastating consequences for individuals and communities."
In a National Association of Counties survey in 2005, 58 percent of counties in Utah named methampetamine abuse as their biggest problem. The same survey reported that meth arrests in Utah were up 100 percent, although the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency reported that meth-lab seizures in 2005 had dropped 84 percent since 1999.
Aaronette and Darren Noble of St. Charles, Mo., said meth addiction almost destroyed their family.
"My teeth and my hair were falling out, and other people had custody of my children," Aaronette told the committee. "My husband and I were homeless and sleeping in our car."
Both had served prison terms, and their daughter Summer, 7, was born addicted to meth.
A family treatment program helped the Nobles conquer their addiction.
But there are not many family treatment programs available for meth addicts, particularly in rural areas where the problem is worse, state officials told the subcommittee.
"An absence of qualified staff and no money for treatment" is slowing local efforts to treat meth addiction testified Leah Heaston, a health official from Noble County, Ind.
Heaston said that was a major problem for the states because it's "cheaper to treat methamphetamine users than incarcerate them," she testified.
This is especially true when methamphetamine users have children. To pay for the incarceration of a woman and foster care for her two children costs Salt Lake County close to $100,000. It would cost the county around $15,000 to place that same woman and children in family treatment.
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