Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sheriff: Education key to stopping meth use

Express Staff Writer


In a crusade to stop the social and health impacts of methamphetamine use in Blaine County, Sheriff Walt Femling last week lectured that communication and education for families about the drug is a key component of combating a problem that is striking "all walks of life."

Femling spoke Thursday, Sept. 14, on the impact of meth production and use on the community. The lecture at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, south of Ketchum, came in advance of a free address by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, who will be speaking at the St. Luke's Center for Community Health annual fall conference, Saturday, Sept. 30, on the "7 Habits of Highly Effective Families."

As Femling gave a computerized slide presentation, pictures of "crank bugs," "meth mites" and "speed bumps," all skin afflictions caused by long-term meth use, popped onto the screen to the audible horror of those in attendance.

Femling also related personal experiences wrestling with meth addicts at the county jail. He told a story about an inmate who, in an alleged meth-induced psychosis, screamed and banged on the cell bars constantly for three days, unnerving jail staff ill-equipped to deal with the mentally debilitating effects of meth abuse.

Methamphetamine, also known as "crank," "speed," "crystal" and "ice," is a central nervous system stimulant that triggers and kills dopamine receptors in the brain when it is smoked, snorted, injected or administered orally.

"It is described as the most unbelievable high," Femling said, emphasizing the highly addictive and toxic quality of the drug, which forms a "perfect fit" as it taps the neurological pathways typically reserved for endorphins.

The lecture, sponsored by St. Luke's Center for Community Health, prompted questions to Femling about the drug, its prevalence in the valley and what the community is doing to combat its negative health and social impacts.

"Methamphetamine manufacture and use is the number one public health issue," Femling said, reiterating a view taken by the National Association of Counties, of which Femling is a member.

Following the graphic slide presentation depicting the downfall of meth addicts, Femling said the national problem was one that his department has been dealing with for sometime. He said his experience on the national stage helped him to understand the pervasiveness of problems related to the drug, and motivated him to pursue an educational tact to combating it.

Femling said that in his interactions with young meth users many have said they wished they had known more about the risks of doing meth before they took the drug.

The goal, Femling said of his anti-meth crusade, is to see that in the future at least "the drug of choice will not be meth."

Apparently, the word about the dangers of meth is getting out to youths. On Tuesday, addressing the Community Justice Council, Femling reported that as young people learn more about the ill effects of meth, cocaine use is going up. Participants who attended the meetings and the lecture said they were encouraged to see community organizations reaching out to families and youths about drug addiction. Some stressed that the free Covey keynote address will be an important precursor to an annual drug awareness event.

Despite relative progress being made to inform the community about meth, Femling said his department sees environmental damage due to the toxic nature of drug manufacture, which in many cases puts children who may live in domestic meth labs at risk. He also said meth-related health problems tax hospitals and increase crime related to the drug is filling jails with meth addicts, many of whom do not see appropriate treatment until they reach a mental-health facility.

"(The sheriff's office is) dealing locally with six 'meth mothers' with children between 6 months and 4 years old," Femling said. "What surprised me is how many kids started in middle school. In my 26 years (of law enforcement), I've never seen anything like it. It affects the community in so many ways."

In conjunction with the county school system in October, Femling said he is planning to show to school health classes a video produced by filmmaker Matt Farnsworth that focuses on meth abuse. As Farnsworth was working on a feature film released this year titled "Iowa," which follows the downward spiral of two young lovers who decide to produce methamphetamine, he documented the lives of actual meth addicts while living with them. Some of the footage has been turned into the educational video Femling said he intends to take to the schools.

The Covey address will be held at the Community Campus in Hailey. For more information and to register for the free event, contact St. Luke's Center for Community Health at 788-0968 or register online at

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