A nationally known expert on combatting the methamphetamine crisis told Nevada lawmakers Wednesday that, contrary to popular belief, the addiction is treatable and both the use and availability of meth can be reduced.
"The truth is, meth addicts in the long term recover at the same high rates that any other type of addicts recover," said Rob Bovett, who led Oregon's anti-drug campaign and has worked to encourage change at the national level as well.
Bovett testified before a joint meeting of the Assembly Health and Human Services and Senate Human Resources and Education committees.
He said Nevada must act because it has the highest per-capita rate of methamphetamine use in the nation.
The difference, he said, between meth addiction and other drug problems is the collateral damage to families and society.
"There's a strong correlation between meth addiction and property crimes, prostitution and other crimes," he told members and a packed house of more than 200 people. And, he said, a large percentage of children taken from their parents can be blamed on meth addiction.
"It's not that they don't want to be parents," he said. "This particular drug seems to deny them the ability to be parents."
Bovett said Nevada should fund strong treatment programs for those addicted, implement comprehensive public school prevention programs and help law enforcement, who he said are being overwhelmed by meth-related crime. He urged Nevada lawmakers to focus on proven programs.
"We know what works. We know what doesn't work," he said.
Treatment, he said, may not work the first time so the system should be prepared to repeat it when addicts relapse. He said those programs take nine months or more to wean addicts off the effects of meth.
On prevention, he said, the now well-known photographs of addicts before and after showing dramatic aging and degeneration of people from meth use have "a really strong impact for a very short period of time."
But in the long run, he said, "scare tactics don't work." He said those photos must be followed with prevention education programs for young people.
Bovett said one area where the state can make significant progress is reducing the supply. He said law enforcement has cut the number of meth labs in Nevada by more than 80 percent in the past five years.
But, he said, it has been replaced by meth produced in Mexico, and that almost all the basic pseudoephedrine needed to make the drug is produced in five plants in India and two in China.
Bovett said the U.S. and the international community are making progress now by reducing the amount of that drug imported into Mexico, the home of what he called the "super labs" making most of the meth imported into the U.S.
Mexico this year, he said, will import less than one-third the amount of that drug the country did in 2004.
He also urged lawmakers to make the decongestant and sinus medications containing that substance available by prescription only.
At present, no prescription is required.
Assembly committee Chairwoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said her goal this session is to increase the amount of money the state dedicates to drug treatment.
And while she said meth is "the worst drug out there," she said those treatment and other programs will have to deal with other drugs as well.
"It's not restricted to meth," she said. Meth is the worst drug, but if we eliminate meth, they'll just go on to other drugs."
First lady Dawn Gibbons also addressed the committee saying she has seen the tragic effects of meth addiction in friends and children of people she knows.
"These drugs are going to kill our youth," she said, offering her time and services to the campaign.
Leslie said there will be more hearings to develop programs to combat the problem and, hopefully, legislation to implement some of Bovett's recommendations.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.
Gov. Jim Gibbons has formed a 15-member task force to study the issue and make recommendations to lawmakers, he hopes by April. His $7 billion budget contains $17.4 million to fight methamphetamine addiction.