July 1, 2014

Panel: Fight Against Meth Abuse Is A Shared Effort

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Fifty people attended a July 1 forum on fighting meth abuse, co-hosted by IowaWatch and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

Fifty people attended a July 1 forum on fighting meth abuse, co-hosted by IowaWatch and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

COUNCIL BLUFFS – Several organizations working together can fight the spread of methamphetamine use and create hope for those addicted to the drug, speakers at a forum co-hosted on July 1 by IowaWatch and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil said.

Organizations that provide health, support and recovery services in Pottawattamie County, the southwest Iowa county where the forum was held, are chipping away at the problem, said Alegent Creighton Behavioral Health Director Haley Ehlers.

Panelists talk about curbing meth abuse at a July 1 IowaWatch/Council Bluffs Nonpareil forum in Council Bluffs. Left to right are: Katie Kuntz, producer of an IowaWatch documentary 'Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in the Heartland'; 4th Judicial District probation officer Keith Roman; Alegent Creighton Health Director Haley Ehlers; and addiction treatment counselor and recovering meth addict Glennis Guerrero.

Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

Panelists talk about curbing meth abuse at a July 1 IowaWatch/Council Bluffs Nonpareil forum in Council Bluffs. Left to right are: Katie Kuntz, producer of an IowaWatch documentary ‘Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in the Heartland’; 4th Judicial District probation officer Keith Roman; Alegent Creighton Behavioral Health Director Haley Ehlers; and addiction treatment counselor and recovering meth addict Glennis Guerrero.

“That’s the ‘village’ part of it when you look at it organizationally,” Ehlers, one of four panelists invited to talk at the forum about meth addiction’s impact on communities and efforts to battle that addiction.

Still, the problem persists.

“Meth is probably one of the worst drugs that could be,” Glennis Guerrero, recovering from meth addiction and living in Council Bluffs, where she helps counsel others who deal with addiction. “But it has such a strong hold on you. Many people can’t make it out.”

The forum was related to an IowaWatch documentary by Katie Kuntz, “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction In The Heartland,” which was shown before a panel discussion at the Council Bluffs Public Library. The problems associated with methamphetamine use are not restricted to southwest Iowa, though. Meth use across in Iowa has been growing this decade at a rate that alarms public safety officials.

Alegent Creighton Health’s Mental Health Services and Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs sponsored the July 1 event, which was part of a new IowaWatch audience engagement project called the IowaWatch Connection.

Ehlers said hope can emerge from a combination of education, prevention programs and other programs that include family systems treatment.

Panelist Keith Roman, a 4th Judicial District probation officer, said the Iowa Legislature could help by putting more emphasis at the state level on supporting treatment programs. “Putting someone in prison is not going to help them with a drug problem,” he said, responding to a question from the audience about what the Legislature should consider.

Roman painted a grim picture of what he deals with on the correctional side of drug abuse. Clients he hears in the corrections system talk about using drugs for the first time at ages ranging from 15 down to 5 years old, he said. “To me, that is extremely scary,” Roman said.

Changing ingrained behaviors stemming from those experiences is difficult, he said. “Everything in their life really needs to change,” he said. “There’s a really long road to recovery.”

Roman said the addiction problems for people in the corrections system he has dealt with over the years have shifted from being predominantly about alcohol to involving multiple drugs.

In the last five to 10 years Roman, a probation officer for more than three decades, said he also increasingly has seen co-existing mental health problems with those trying to get treatment for drug addictions.

Fifty people attended a July 1 forum on fighting meth abuse, co-hosted by IowaWatch and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

Fifty people attended a July 1 forum on fighting meth abuse, co-hosted by IowaWatch and the Council Bluffs Nonpareil.

The documentary refers to studies that show that children of drug addicts are more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps. That is a chief concern of Guerrero, who was a forum panelist.

Guerrero, sober for almost 12 years, talked about using meth daily when she was in the throes of her addiction.

“That was my life for 10 years. If I wouldn’t have gone to prison I would have died,” she said, referring to prison time she served for drug abuse. She lost custody of one of her four children because of the mess she was when using meth.

The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy reports that methamphetamine users can be prone to violence and child neglect. Moreover, Jean Stephens, who works with recovering addicts at the C0uncil Bluffs faith-based program Hope Net Ministries, said 75 percent of the female users she sees have been abused or traumatized at an early age.

Stephens made the comments from the audience while attending the forum. Roman added that men are more likely than not to have the same kind of background of abuse or trauma in their lives.

State law controls the sale of pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient used to make meth, but new ways to make meth have surfaced, the agency reports the agency reports on its web page. Prominent are the use of one-pot, or “shake ‘n bake” labs, that use less pseudoephedrine and produce meth in smaller quantities.

“Very significant challenges remain, including a steady out-of-state supply of meth,” the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy states on its web page.

Kuntz, originally from Council Bluffs, produced the documentary over parts of 2013 and 2014 as an IowaWatch project during her senior year as a University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication student.

She said she was drawn to the stories of Guerrero and another woman featured in her report, Lesa Rios; their willingness to open up about their pasts; and how they changed their lives.

“That was important for me – that ‘hope’ aspect,” Kuntz said, recently hired to be a reporter for the nonprofit investigative news organization I-News Rocky Mountain PBS.

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