Legislative committee looks at meth battle | NevadaAppeal.com

Legislative committee looks at meth battle

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer

A group of Carson City officials descended on the capital Tuesday to talk about the problems associated with methamphetamine abuse.

Mayor Marv Teixeira, Sheriff Kenny Furlong and District Attorney Noel Waters were among a group of speakers from across the state providing information about how the use of this illegal drug has affected Nevadans – and primarily local governments.

Carson City’s community efforts through Partnership Carson City is why Washoe put its group together, said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Washoe County.

The state’s Legislative Committee on Health Care is seeking ways to help cities provide all the resources necessary to curb abuse, treat recovering addicts and assist their families through its Subcommittee to Study Services for the Treatment and Prevention of Substance Abuse. Leslie is vice chairwoman of the committee and chairwoman of the subcommittee.

What Carson City seeks are a small number of “tweaks” to state law during the next session, many of its changes will be in local ordinances. The idea is to not create “feel-good” or “cookie-cutter” laws that won’t be effective or are too difficult to enforce, Teixeira said.

“We want to make it uncomfortable for people to carry on their activities,” Waters said. He suggested a potential revamping of nuisance laws to achieve this.

Law enforcement, health care, protective services and courts are dealing with the problem first hand. Meth use still is on the rise, and some Nevada communities have formed groups that focus on combating its use.

Partnership Carson City, the meth coalition headed by Teixeira, was started about a year ago to address problems facing the community associated with use of the illegal drug. Along with a core membership, there are five subcommittees that focus on awareness, education, treatment, policy and enforcement.

When the city took a survey last year asking residents what they believed the top three local concerns were, the top response was “Illegal drug use and distribution.” It was picked nearly two-thirds of the roughly 350 respondents, and garnered more responses than possible property tax increases, a lack of affordable housing and dearth of retailing in importance, Teixeira said.

The number of people being treated for meth abuse rose dramatically between 2004 and 2005, he also said. For example, while 29 percent of substance abuse patients at Community Counseling Center in 2004 were primarily taking meth, this number reached 55 percent of the center’s patients in 2005, according to the city.

“We as a community are going to do everything to fight this,” Teixeira said.

And for law enforcement, growing use of the drug has brought with it an assortment of ills – and not just an increase in the number of calls. Users and manufacturers become more violent, paranoid and unable to act with a sense of conscience over time, bringing “grave danger every time (officers) step near a user,” Furlong said.

Furlong said he is happy to see some of the developments during the past year, such as community meetings, a hotline devoted to meth complaints and community meetings that have focused on stopping youths from trying the drug.

Furlong also said he hopes to see even more local meth-eradication community groups form across the state and considers having a regional task force “absolutely critical.”

A doctor from Albany, Ore., who has dealt extensively with children who have been taken from parents who abuse or manufacture meth, talked about the forms of abuse these youths often receive.

Dr. Carol Chervenak echoed Furlong’s assessments about how the drug affects those who take it. Meth forces a user’s brain to release large amounts of dopamine – the natural substance that allows people to feel pleasure – for long amounts of time, she said.

Eventual brain damage occurs from all of the overstimulation causing psychosis, paranoia, lack of inhibition, and harm to memory, motor skills and a variety of other types of brain damage. “Can you imagine if someone like that was your caretaker?” she said.

Neglect is only part of the abuse many of these children suffer. Abuses to children who come from these homes include: Serious illness or injury from exposure to meth chemicals, including burns; injuries from razors, syringes and other paraphernalia. Such horrors as severe mental abuse, beatings and sexual abuse can occur because of the lack of inhibition from use. Sometimes parents are the direct abusers; other times it is drug-using acquaintances, Chervenak said.

This is the subcommittee’s second meeting. Any information from these meetings could be used to craft legislation for the 2007 legislative session. The subcommittee will meet again April 25.

— Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.