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Meth in Minnesota revisited: It requires an unrelenting, organized response

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The data regarding methamphetamines (meth) show increases that surpass the topmost levels reached in 2005 at the height of the last meth epidemic.

Methamphetamines have returned to Minnesota. No corner of the state is untouched.

The data regarding methamphetamines (meth) show increases that surpass the topmost levels reached in 2005 at the height of the last meth epidemic. To better understand this resurgence, let’s flash back to 2005 when methamphetamine abuse was at its peak.

By 2005, Minnesota had endured five years of devastation attributed to meth production, distribution, abuse and addiction. Media outlets told gruesome stories of child abuse and neglect at the hands of meth-addicted parents. Makeshift meth labs wreaked havoc on the environment in rural and urban areas alike, while law enforcement agents scrambled to shut them down at risk of great bodily harm. Minnesota courts realized the consequences of meth addiction and production, as did our correctional and health-care systems. Minnesotans drove by billboards featuring people whose faces and teeth had become horrifically disfigured by meth addiction.

Meth addicts flocked into treatment centers in record numbers, as distraught families feared that there was no effective treatment for this special type of addiction. Communities, big and small, convened town hall meetings in church basements, high school gyms, and civic auditoriums.

Laws restricting the over-the-counter retail sale of products containing pseudoephedrine (a key ingredient used to make methamphetamines), were passed in Minnesota and 34 other states, before the federal law was passed in 2005, spearheaded by our then-Sen. Norm Coleman.

Relief was short-lived

That federal law, heralded as one of the most effective legislative responses to the drug abuse problem in this country, seemed to swiftly and significantly curtail both small, mom-and-pop meth labs and super labs. Multiple indicators of meth abuse and addiction precipitously declined. Gradually people breathed a sigh of relief.

Yet the significant declines were relatively short-lived. Meth made in Mexico gradually replenished the supply. Starting in 2009, the indicators quietly began to rise again and now surpass those 2005 peak levels. Again methamphetamine casts its looming shadow across Minnesota and America.

What's different now? With this wave of methamphetamine abuse and addiction there are fewer meth labs. We are also in the midst of a burgeoning opioid epidemic, an onslaught of increasingly deadly synthetic drugs, and the illicit sale of counterfeit pills. In terms of our mostly widely used illegal drug, marijuana smoking among adolescents exceeds cigarette smoking, and more Americans than ever (60 percent) favor its legalization.

Meth is plentiful; use is widespread

What remains the same is that the methamphetamine supply is plentiful and its use is widespread. Confiscations of meth by law enforcement are again breaking records. Once again Minnesota treatment centers are filled with meth addicts seeking help. And yes, meth addiction is treatable.

People take drugs to feel good or feel better. It is that straightforward. The likelihood of any individual developing addiction is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some prefer stimulant drugs like methamphetamines, while others prefer depressant drugs like opioids and alcohol.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that changes the structure and function of the brain and is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Yet unlike other chronic diseases with behavioral components, such as diabetes, hypertension or asthma, most addiction goes untreated, thereby threatening the public safety and damaging individuals, families and entire communities.

Headlines disappeared; meth stayed

Let this resurgence of methamphetamine serve as a reminder that even though a certain drug disappears from the headlines, it does not disappear from our streets. Meth is a long-acting stimulant drug that heightens alertness and suppresses appetite. The lure of these effects has not diminished over time, nor has the desire of people to feel good or feel better.

The illegal drug business is ruthless and profitable, organized and unrelenting. It is always seeking new customers.

We need to be equally unrelenting and organized in our prevention, law enforcement and treatment responses. When it comes to effectively curbing drug abuse, it's everyone's business.

Carol Falkowski is the CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, a training and consultation business. She is the former director of the alcohol and drug abuse division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, former director of research communications at Hazelden, and has been part of nationwide drug abuse epidemiology network since 1986. Her most recent report is Drug Abuse Trends in the Twin Cities [PDF].

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