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Karen Wheeler & Jay Wurscher
Published: 08 February 2006

"Study finds possible treatment for meth addicts."

Besides offering hope for a new weapon against addiction, that headline in an Oregon newspaper unconsciously fueled a common misconception: "People don't recover from meth."

That view is so widespread that a survey of about 20 state alcohol and drug program directors found that this was the principal myth they are battling. As one of our colleagues likes to say, "Recovery is the most invisible part of addiction."
In fact, meth addicts recover at the same rate as people addicted to cocaine, barbiturates and other stimulants. But many people believe otherwise, presumably because of the onslaught of news about "meth mouth," "meth babies," "meth houses" and meth-linked criminality.

We know people in southern Oregon who were forced to live with family in cramped quarters because no one would rent to them as a result of their association with meth — even though today they're employed, in recovery and probably a better bet than some renters about whom a landlord knows nothing.

Most news stories link meth use to criminality: people who abuse or neglect their children, who cook and sell meth, or who commit other crimes. But most meth addicts are not criminals. This may surprise you, but most addicts are working.

If you work in an organization of 100 people, data shows that two or three of your co-workers are meth users. Yet they aren't abusing their kids or committing other crimes, although they may sometimes miss work. Normally, meth isn't sold on the street but, instead, is shared with co-workers and other known associates.

Contributing to the myth that meth addicts can't recover is the experience of knowing about someone who "went through treatment" but relapsed. Sure, it happens, just as treatment for other chronic diseases doesn't always "take" on the first try.

The American Medical Association and other experts agree that meth addiction is a chronic disease just as asthma, diabetes and heart disease are. Recovery is a lifelong process — if a heart patient has quadruple bypass surgery but makes no diet, exercise or other lifestyle changes, the surgeon's effort will have been in vain.

Oregon admissions for meth treatment are now second only to those for alcohol. But even though treatment for meth addiction is very often successful, it is harder to find in Oregon. As a result of budget cuts, the state will spend less on alcohol and other drug treatment in 2006 than it did in 2001.

There's good reason not to experiment with meth and to discourage your kids from doing so: Use leads to dental problems, paranoia and depression, difficulty concentrating, impaired short-term memory, inability to experience pleasure, trouble grasping abstract concepts and accelerated brain aging. Meth-induced behavior can result in hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases and increased risk of unwanted pregnancy.

If you or someone you know is ready for treatment, call your county's alcohol and drug program. By getting into treatment, you can become a member of the invisible population that is proving every day that meth addicts can recover.

Karen Wheeler is addiction policy manager and Jay Wurscher is child-welfare alcohol and drug coordinator for the Oregon Department of Human Services.

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