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Meth Action Coalition

Working to Stop the METH Epidemic in Deschutes County, Oregon


What Do You Do

A book for the families of addicts:

A Very Fine House: A Mother's Story of Love, Faith and Crystal Meth
by Barbara Cofer Stoefen

Past President of the Meth Action Coalition, Barbara Stoefen, has written a book about her journey through her daughter's meth addiction and recovery. She shares what she learned, how she coped, and the details of how her daughter entered into recovery. The book is titled, A Very Fine House: A Mother's Story of Love, Faith and Crystal Meth and it will release on September 23, 2014. You can read about it here. The book is now available to pre-order on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

So You've Got a Loved One Who's on Meth:  What Do You Do?

The following was a collaborative effort by founding members of the Meth Action Coalition Friends and Family Support Group:

Do you suspect or know that someone close to you is using meth?  Is it destroying their life and yours?  There are people within our community who have walked down the same road you're traveling or are about to travel.  They've asked the same questions you are probably asking yourself.  Here are some of the questions. And, here are answers they've put together to help you.

What to Expect:

1.  Where do I start?

You can start by knowing you are not alone.  The Meth Action Coalition and our Meth Family and Friends Support Group are one place to start.  Another good step is to start protecting yourself - love the person, not the disease,  and do what you can to take care of yourself first before you start trying to take care of your loved one on meth.

2.  What are signs of meth use?

You might notice an unusual chemical smell on the clothes or the person's body.  (Some have described the smell as similar to cat urine.)  The person may seem very jittery or unable to stay still.   There will be changes in behaviors such as missing school or work, mood swings and irrational behaviors.  The person may engage in unusual body motions, rapid talking or rapid movements. There might be actions like going on a cleaning frenzy or engaging in a repetitive activity.  There will also be loss of interest in typical activities such as sports or hobbies.  Look for unusual skin breakdown (e.g. rashes and sores).

Heavy meth use is indicated by paranoid behavior such as the person imagining they are being followed.  A meth user will often stop eating.  You'll get excuses like, "I stopped for a hamburger - I'm not hungry."  Typically there will be dramatic, initial weight loss and the meth user may wear extra layers of clothing to hide it.   Meth use is also characterized by an inability to sleep, although during a coming down phase ("the crash") there can be excessive sleeping.  Finding empty small, clear plastic bags or pieces of such bags, on the floor, in drawers or in clothing also indicates meth use.

It is important to remember that these are generalized behaviors - not all meth users lose weight and sometimes these tweaking behaviors will not show up until later.

3.  What should I expect?

Expect to be strongly manipulated.  Expect to be given constant promises of getting help, of changing their ways.  Expect a constant stream of "I'm sorry's" coming to you from the meth addict.  Expect to be called at all hours of the night and expect excessive mood swings.  Expect to have property taken, money missing, sudden disappearances of the meth addict for days on end and other unexplained absences.  Expect to be blamed for their choice of lifestyle.  Expect a new set of friends who are engaging in similar conduct.

4.  What if they're an out-of-control juvenile who constantly runs away and doesn't come home for days?

You've got to be prepared to file reports with law enforcement and be prepared for lots of paperwork. Also, be prepared initially for the frustration of paper ticket after paper ticket (police citations).  One important piece of advice is to get a paper trail going.  (To protect yourself, you can go to the Courthouse Records Department and, at no charge, file a "Juvenile Out of Parental Control" form).

Document everything so you can present it to juvenile authorities.  Parents have advised us that it may take 3 or 4 runaway reports before you can get juvenile authorities involved.  Call the Deschutes County Juvenile Community Justice Center (541-388-6671) and Cascade Youth and Family Center (541-382-0934) for more information.

5.  What factors do juvenile authorities take into consideration in determining whether to take into custody a juvenile who has gotten involved in meth use?

Juvenile authorities take many factors into consideration when determining whether or not to hold a youth.  A history of drug use is certainly one of those factors.  Oregon law is very specific regarding what youth are appropriate to hold in detention - the general guideline is to look at the underlying offense and determine whether it is a detainable offense.  If it is, then authorities can take the next step of looking at whether the youth is a danger to self, to others, or a FTA (failure to appear) risk.  If the child is a public safety risk based on these factors, they will be held for a detention hearing.

Important note:  In the State of Oregon it is illegal for both minors and adults to be in possession of a controlled substance.  Crazy as it may seem, however, it is not illegal to be under the influence of a controlled substance (unless driving impaired).  That is, it's illegal to have drugs in your pocket or backpack, but not illegal to have it in your body.

Treatment Questions:

6.  Where can they get treatment?

Treatment is expensive.  There are many state-certified treatment programs as well as alternate resources.  Please refer to the Meth Action Coaltion's list of treatment providers in the State of Oregon. Click here to download the pdf.

7.  How much does treatment cost?

The cost varies according to the type of treatment (inpatient or outpatient) and the treatment provider.  Inpatient treatment will easily run a minimum of $300 a day for a 28-day treatment program, but will probably cost much more - as much as $400 to $500 a day for a 28-day inpatient program (some of the nation's top, most exclusive programs, can be $1,500 per day!).  Outpatient treatment will easily run a minimum of $3,000 for a 90-day outpatient program but will also probably cost more - as much as $4,000 to $5,000.

Don't despair.  There is potential for sliding-scale fees and indigent beds (see Question 8 below).  Many residential facilities receive federal funds which require that they provide treatment opportunities. The majority of faith-based facilities are free or only minimal cost.

8.  I don't have insurance or the insurance covers me but not my child because they're an adult or they've been emancipated.  What can I do about high treatment costs?

Call programs on the state-certified treatment program list and ask about indigent beds.  State-certified programs typically set aside a limited number of beds for indigent clients.  There is typically a long wait for a bed opening, but at least you can make the effort to get on a list.  Be persistent - keep calling.   Beds might open up because of a release or a cancellation, sometimes on very short notice.  Some have found that clinical directors were good about informing those people who kept in regular contact about bed availability.  Don't be surprised if you encounter informal preferences - like giving priority for admission to pregnant women.  Also, some treatment centers offer federally-funded beds, as well as accepting Oregon Health Plan clients.

9.  My meth addict is psychotic now - what can I do?

If the meth addict presents a danger to him/herself or to others, call police.  Get the addict to an emergency room or to a detox facility.

10.  If I can get a bed in a residential treatment facility, is there anything else I need to know/do?

Some treatment facilities may require that a certain number of hours have passed since the meth addict last used (e.g. 72 hours), which may require that the addict go through a detox facility first, or someone be able to certify when last use occurred.

11.  Which is better - outpatient or inpatient (residential)?

Because of the highly addictive nature of methamphetamine, inpatient treatment appears to have a higher chance of keeping meth addicts clean who have never been in treatment before.  If a person is highly motivated to get clean and has a strong family support system, outpatient treatment as a first-time option has a chance of succeeding.

A preferred treatment approach would be an inpatient residential program, followed by intensive outpatient with a one-year follow-up of aftercare.

Please note that if your loved one suffers from a co-occurring disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, or others, you will want to find a treatment center that can address this also.  Undoubtedly drugs use was part of a personal prescription to feel better and without treating the other disease, it will be nearly impossible for the addict to give up drugs.

12.  Does treatment work?  Yes.  But don't expect miracles on the first treatment try.  With meth, treatment professionals say at least a year of "clean time" is needed before treatment gains start to take effect.  Expect frequent relapses.  But after a meth addict becomes exposed to treatment, the addict has an increased chance of staying clean longer after each return to sobriety.

Family Life Matters:

13.  What can I do to motivate a meth addict to get treatment?

The brain has been hijacked by meth, but seeds of doubt can be planted.  In conversations with the addict, ask questions designed to create that doubt and get the addict thinking.  Questions like, "Are you going to use again?" won't work at all.  You'll get an automatic "No" which is a lie.  But, asking questions that create a sense of doubt in the addict's own mind that his/her lifestyle is working will move the addict toward making a decision to get help.  The old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" may be true, but you can sure make them thirsty thinking about the water!  No matter what, any treatment is better than no treatment.  Mandated treatment (whether by court or a family in an intervention-type setting) has a proven success rate equal to that when treatment is sought voluntarily.

Approach the addict with love.

14.  What if my meth addict says they'll only drink beer or smoke pot?

Besides pot being illegal, alcohol and pot reduce inhibitions and create an increased risk of meth use for an addict.  Don't buy into it.  If you have contact with a meth addict who says they've quit using meth but who says he/she is just drinking or smoking pot, and you continue to have voluntary contact with the addict, do so only to motivate the meth addict to get into treatment.  Once the brain has been hijacked by any addictive substance (alcohol, pot and meth are all addictive), it doesn't matter whether the addictive substance is a depressant (alcohol and pot) or a stimulant (meth).

15.  Should I loan them money?

No.  The meth addict will constantly seek money to pay rent, pay utilities, buy gas for the car, and buy groceries.  If you give the addict money, it won't be spent as promised.  If you do anything financially for the addict, pay the money directly to the landlord, to the utility department, go to the gas station with them, etc.  Never give an addict money for anything.   If you give them clothes give them used clothes.   Or if you give them new clothes or other items, take the items out of the package and don't give them the package.  Meth addicts will return new items to stores to get money for drugs.

By giving to the addict, you could be enabling their continued drug use.  You might choose to give the addict nothing and allow them to experience the consequences of their addiction.

16.  Should I pay their rent?

We'd recommend not.  A dose of reality by the meth addict that he/she really is in the process of losing everything may be the first step on the road to recovery.  A meth addict with an apartment or a house winds up providing a place for other addicts and dealers to hang out and use.  If you decide to pay the rent, do not give the meth addict the money for the rent, but pay the landlord directly.

17.  Should I bail them out of jail?

We recommend not.  Initially it will be heart-wrenching, but the safest place for the meth addict is in jail.  It is a place where they can start coming down from the physiological effects of meth and begin to have some clear thinking.  With the meth addict in jail, concerned family and friends have an excellent opportunity to begin pitching the benefits of treatment.  The addict may agree to go to treatment as a condition for getting out of jail.  It can also serve as a place where the meth addict can remain safe and ride out the waiting period until a bed is open in a treatment facility.

18.  What if they steal money from me or take my property, or I suspect that they have?

We recommend that you report it.  File a police report and list the meth addict as a suspect.  If your property was taken, visit all local pawn shops and notify them of property that was taken.  Second, take steps to ensure that it never happens again.  If the meth addict has a key to your house, change the locks.  If the meth addict comes to your house, never leave them unattended.  Never let the meth addict come to your house with another person while you're drawn off guard by one person, the other might use the opportunity to take money or property without your noticing it.

19.  Should I give them a place to sleep?

Probably not.  A meth addict asking for a place to sleep is likely the addict simply looking for a place to crash or use, or to have a base from which to operate, or a chance to find money or property that can be used to get more meth.  Meth addicts are also prone to binge and crash.  During the "crash" the addict might sleep for days.  While it may seem humane to let the addict stay and sleep it off, that is simply giving the addict a chance to recharge batteries and go out for another run.  Unless you are prepared to watch the meth addict 24/7 while the addict is at your place, you should probably not let the meth addict stay.

An alternative to letting them stay is to offer a ride to a treatment or detox center.  If the addict really needs a place to stay and are not out to set you up, hopefully, they will agree to go.  On the up side, if you do let the meth addict come for a place to sleep, it can in some instances provide an opportunity to start talking to the addict about treatment.

20.  How many times should I let them come back?

That is a personal choice.  How many times do you want to be hurt?  The sooner the meth addict is required to take responsibility for his/her actions, the sooner the addict will become amenable to treatment.

21.  Do I call the police?

Many of us at the Meth Action Coaltion have wrestled with this question and many have decided "yes."  If your loved one is breaking the law, and virtually killing themselves, consequences are a good thing.  They may hate you for turning them in, but better they hate you than be dead.

If you are aware that the meth addict has outstanding warrants and/or you have personally observed the meth addict in possession of drugs or paraphernalia, you may choose to contact authorities.  File a report with the police if you are threatened by a loved one or your property (house, car, etc.) is vandalized or stolen.  

One addicted person we know broke into the family home, accompanied by other addicts, and stole several thousand dollars worth of personal property.  The family called the Sheriff.  When the young woman was later arrested, she screamed, "what kind of parents have their child arrested?!"  We say the real question is, "what kind of child steals from his or her own family and puts them at risk?"  That young woman is now 7 years clean and professes that her family did the right thing.

22.  Do I press charges if I know they're in possession of drugs or trafficking in drugs?

Yes, but in order for you to press charges, the illegal conduct must have occurred on your property.  You can also file a report with police if you suspect that the meth addict is trafficking in drugs or is in possession of drugs.  That information, given to police, may provide the basis for the police to open a new case, strengthen an existing case, or help to obtain a search warrant.

23.  What about the grandkids?  I can't turn them in to the Dept. of Human Services because DHS might take my grandkids - what should I do?

You are not protecting the grandkids if you know that the primary caretaker is using meth and you decide not to say anything.  Meth addicts are incredibly manipulative.  If a meth addict has custody of a minor child, they are prone to place the child in danger - either taking the child along on drug runs, leaving the child unattended or leaving the child with undesirable persons.  Or, the meth addict may leave the child for days on end with a grandparent, then appear suddenly with no notice to reclaim the kids.  Often the meth addict will hold the grandparents hostage by threatening to cut off contact with the grandkids.  There might be threats like: "If you report me and they take my kids away, if I ever get them back you'll never see them again."  Or the meth addict might lay a guilt trip on the grandparents to get more money for drugs:  ("If you don't give me money for rent or food, you're hurting your grandkids.")

It may hurt, but this is the bottom line:  If you suspect that a child close to you is in danger of abuse or neglect because of close contact with a meth addict, it is in the best interest of the children to file a report with Department of Human Services.  (DHS can be reached at: 388-6161)

24.  What should I say to my meth addict?

Don't try to lock them in and force them to make the promise - "I won't use."  Instead, create ambiguities in their mind about their current choices and their lifestyle. 

Be supportive, without enabling.  Keep the door open (figuratively).  Offer your love.  Let them know you will help get them to treatment whenever they're ready.  Stage an intervention if you can. 

 And get on with your own life.