Oct 162006
 
Authors: Sara Crocker The Rocky Mountain Collegian

LOVELAND – Deb Hill sat in front of a four-foot tall photo of her former self.

Hill, a recovered methamphetamine addict, gazed at the picture. In it, she was thin; a white T-shirt and sweat pants hung from her body, and her hiking boots were too wide for her ankles.

It would take nearly two more years for the girl in the picture to decide to get clean.

Six years later, Hill sits before nearly 80 people, telling her story of recovery, with heavy breaths between each sentence.

Hill, like many others, was introduced to meth by a family member. It was the night before she graduated high school. She said that after using it for the first time, she knew that everything in her life would be different.

“I felt empowered, I felt energetic, I felt witty,” Hill told the group, brought to the 4-H, Youth and Community Building at The Ranch for the first ever Meth Summit Monday.

Hill continued to use on and off for the next eight years. At first it was something she would just do recreationally.

“I would use for a weekend and stop in time to go to work on Monday,” she said. “(Then) it started seeping into the workplace.”

Her habit then became a daily necessity for eight more years; part of this time she was homeless. Meth had taken over her life.

“My reality was that I desperately wanted someone to save me,” she said.

At 36, her savior came through social services and the threat of losing her children – she is a mother of three – unless she got clean.

After relapsing twice, Hill says she is now clean and has been since Aug. 2, 2000, the same day as her son’s birthday.

Hill now works as a drug and alcohol counselor for Island Grove Center, a treatment facility in Greeley.

She and others from the center were just a few of the dozens who descended on the fairgrounds area to discuss meth and how to combat it in Larimer and Weld counties.

Different groups, from elected officials to police to business owners, were in attendance to discuss how all these agencies can begin to work together to build a more comprehensive plan for combating the country’s newest drug of choice.

Meth has become cause for concern among the community, organizers say, because it is highly addictive and crimes related to meth — domestic and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect and theft – are filling jails.

“Methamphetamine has basically clogged the criminal justice system,” said Cliff Riedel, assistant district attorney for Fort Collins.

It is also a wide-spread drug that counselors say appeals nearly equally to men and women.

“I don’t think anyone is exempt from methamphetamine as a problem,” said Averil Strand, from the County Department of Health and Environment.

Another problem is the environmental impact of meth. For every one pound of meth produced, five to six pounds of hazardous waste are created, according to Donna Goldstrom, a certified addictions counselor from the Health District of Northern Colorado.

But most acknowledged that while meth use is an ongoing problem, recent legislation, like removing access to the household supplies that meth is made from, has helped curb the number of meth labs in the area.

Now, they say, it is a matter of working together to manage and eventually eliminate the problem.

“It’s silly to think if we attack just one problem that the whole (problem of meth) is going to go away,” Hill told the Collegian. “I love the idea of it being less divisional. Ideally, there could be one point of entry and the resources come to the client.”

However, advocates worry that there aren’t enough funds to create the cohesion discussed at the summit. Kendall Alexander, executive director of Island Grove, said Colorado is 49th in the nation in funding for prevention, treatment and research, spending 6 cents of every $100. The other $99.94 goes to other public programs affected by substance abuse, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Because of this, Hill said she is in strong support of the five mill initiative slated for the November ballot that would expand jail facilities and construct mental health and detox facilities in the county.

Organizers said that while some may have left the building frustrated, this summit was merely a first step in a long process.

Craig Secher, president of Realities for Children, an organization that supports children who have been abused and neglected, was optimistic about the summit.

“I hope it does call us all to a level of action,” he said.

News Editor Sara Crocker can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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