Ely set to address meth issue

by Tom Coombe

Amid alarming statistics and evidence of a growing problem in the community, Ely is about to shine the spotlight on methamphetamine use.<BR><BR>Next month, Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital will host a public forum on the issue, aimed both at raising awareness and educating people about the destructive stimulant.<BR><BR>On Nov. 16 (7 p.m.) at Washington Auditorium, those attending will hear from Brian Poppenberg, a St. Louis County employee who has dealt with the issue through his work in the county’s employee safety and development department.<BR><BR>Poppenberg briefed Ely school employees earlier this year and last Thursday, he provided a sneak-preview of his upcoming presentation to members of the Ely Meth Community Awareness Team, a group formed by the hospital in response to a series of meth-related crimes in Ely.<BR><BR>About 20 people, including hospital employees and representatives of various local groups, got the lowdown on a drug that authorities say is highly addictive.<BR><BR>“I’ve had people tell me that heroin is easier to get off of,” said Poppenberg. “The best number I have heard is that 12 percent of the people who enter rehabilitation will get off their addiction.”<BR><BR>Known in some circles by different names, such as crank, glass, speed, ice, chalk or crystal, methamphetamine is a man-made drug that stimulates the central nervous system.<BR><BR>Statistics show that more than 40 percent of first-time users will be addicted, and the addiction rate rises to 84 percent for those who use it a second time.<BR><BR>Meth may be smoked, snorted, orally ingested or injected, and it creates a long-term intense high that last several hours.<BR><BR>“If you take cocaine, the high lasts two to four hours,” said Poppenberg. “With meth, an individual can be high from four to 24 hours.”<BR><BR>The drug quickly sucks the user in, experts say, and its long-term impact is damaging.<BR><BR>Poppenberg said that meth users often suffer from extreme paranoia, anxiety, confusion and insomnia.<BR><BR>Violent behavior is also possible.<BR><BR>According to Ely police officer John Saw, it took several people to subdue a meth user who was taken in for treatment to the hospital earlier this year.<BR><BR>Further effects include increased blood pressure and heart rate, kidney and liver failure and lung disorders.<BR><BR>Some meth users also suffer extreme changes to their physical appearance. Many fail to eat while on several-day highs and Poppenberg showed chilling photographs that revealed vast changes in the facial features of users. Meth use also results in rotting teeth and some have scars or lesions on their arms.<BR><BR>“They don’t eat (while on a high) and some go for a few days, sleep for a couple days and start the cycle all over again,” said Poppenberg.<BR><BR>Meth use is sprouting up, especially in rural areas, because it’s easily produced in small laboratories and that items needed to produce it - such as over-the-counter cold medication and ammonia - may be legally purchased.<BR><BR>“If you can make chocolate chip cookies, you can make meth - it’s that simple,” said Poppenberg. “And you can go to Wal-Mart and get everything you need to make meth.”<BR><BR>Authorities say that up to 80 percent of northeastern Minnesota’s meth is produced in Mexico, but they’re finding some meth labs around the county.<BR><BR>The county sheriff’s department has seized 18 meth labs since the start of 2002.<BR><BR>The internet has helped meth users make their own product, as search engines provide hundreds of sites that include recipes, tips on making a better drug and even advice on how to elude law enforcement.<BR><BR>It’s also relatively inexpensive, since about $200 in materials produces about $2,500 worth of meth.<BR><BR>The street price for meth is decreasing in the region, according to Poppenberg.<BR><BR>Saw said that a user could spend $100 for a ‘bindle.’ Depending on the user, the high from such a purchase could last anywhere from a few hours to much longer. Sheriff deputies have arrested users who have spend as much as $600 to $800 per week for meth.<BR><BR>That’s led to an increase in crime, Poppenberg said, including theft as users look for ways to support their habit.<BR><BR>Those attending Thursday’s session questioned Saw about enforcement. He claimed that limits on authorities, reluctance by prosecutors and a court system that dishes out lenient systems were partly to blame.<BR><BR>“The sad thing is if you get a speeding ticket, you’ll get more of a fine than a first-time meth user,” said Saw.<BR><BR>Poppenberg warned that meth can have an impact even on those who don’t use the drug.<BR><BR>A deputy sheriff is still feeling the effects from entering a meth lab three years ago, he said.<BR><BR>People who come into contact with a meth lab and breathe in fumes from the drug may encounter the same symptoms as drug users.<BR><BR>Residues remain in porous materials such as carpet, wood, fabric and ceiling tile.<BR><BR>About three-quarters of the state’s meth labs are in rural areas, and they can be located just about anywhere, including private homes, mini-storage sites, wooded areas, even fishhouses.<BR><BR>Those who think they may have encountered a meth lab are urged to immediately leave the area without touching anything, and calling 911.<BR><BR>• The Nov. 16 forum is set to include a presentation by Poppenberg, a panel discussion involving five community participants, and a question and answer session.