By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, December 5, 2005
A panel of experts in law enforcement, addiction treatment and toxic cleanup spoke Friday about the methamphetamine addiction in Tucson, a problem that seems slim among college students, officials said.
The cheap, easily manufactured chemical is extremely addictive and has proven to be a costly strain on the Tucson community for a variety of reasons, said Capt. David Neri, a 26-year veteran of the Tucson Police Department who spoke at the meth luncheon in the Tucson Convention Center.
"Meth is the largest single threat our community faces. It is responsible for the largest volume of crime," Neri said. "Conservatively, we estimate 50 percent of the property crime in metropolitan Pima County are related to meth abuse."
The clandestine manufacture of meth, which often occurs in homes within the city, is an "invisible problem" that affects everyone because "cooks" often create toxic and explosive hazards with the chemicals used in the drug's manufacture, Neri said.
Attendees were given pamphlets illustrating the cold medicines, cleaners and other household ingredients cooks use to manufacture the drug.
"The first thing I said when I saw this (list of meth ingredients) was 'Wow, I've got all that stuff in my house right now," Neri said. "And I'm sure many of you do as well."
Meth is also a problem because of the nature of its addiction, said Javier Herrera from COPE Behavioral Services who also spoke at the event.
"Meth is a very hard-to-break habit," said Herrera, who is also part of the Meth-Free Alliance. "Treatment is very outpatient intensive, with a patient often needing check-ups three or four times a week."
Despite the growing problem of meth in Tucson, the university community has seen less of an impact than other areas, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, University of Arizona Police Department spokesman.
"It's very rare that we encounter meth on campus," Mejia said. "When we do, it is generally from outside sources, such as bike thieves and transients."
Mejia said the consuming nature of meth addiction accounts for the drug's rarity within the campus community.
"It is one of those drugs that is very easy to become addicted to, and once addicted, an individual pretty much loses all reason and ability to function normally," Mejia said. "Not too many students could be on meth, or else they wouldn't be students for very long."
This year's Health and Wellness survey, which polls undergraduates about their use of a number of illegal drugs, did not have a question about meth use.
David Salafsky, health educator for Health Promotions and Preventative Services, said previous surveys included a question about amphetamines in general, but not specifically for crystal meth.
"Last year's numbers were so small we didn't think it was necessary to keep it on the survey," Salafsky said. "We thought we'd save some room for questions about other illegal drugs."
In 2004, 4.8 percent of students polled said they had used amphetamines of any kind in the past three months.
Nine UA students were in the audience, who all came as part of the Arizona Blue Chip program, a four-year undergraduate leadership program that "helps students make the transition to college and introduce leadership models," said Judy Kiyama, the program's coordinator.
The program focuses students' interests in leadership and volunteering into one of five themes: the environment, arts, service, global and social entrepreneurial. Third- and fourth-year students are required to do independent work in outside organizations related to their particular theme.
Students in the program are also required to attend seven leadership workshops, like Friday's luncheon, though the reasons these students chose this particular issue were varied.
"I wasn't really aware Tucson had a big meth problem, so I came to inform myself about the issue," said DeArla Heller, a pre-pharmacy senior and Blue Chip student. "I think it's important to be involved in the community where you live because so often as students we get caught up in the college bubble."
Katlyn Evans, a sociology sophomore who is interning with the Social Justice Leadership Center, said she also felt it was important to gain insight into the issue even though it is not directly related to her work.
"I don't know a lot about the meth situation, but it's a growing concern and I want to be educated on the issue," Evans said. "By being more educated on the issue, I'll make a better effort to inform others."
Other students have seen the impact of meth on Tucson directly as a part of their work with Blue Chip.
Kristina Alev, an undeclared sophomore, said she volunteered for the Grace Home this semester helping displaced children as part of her work in the Blue Chip program. Parents who are addicted to the drug have neglected many of the children she works with, Alev said.
"I came to increase my awareness about the whole situation," Alev said. "What kinds of things to look for and how kids and other people are affected by meth."