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Group Works To Head Off `Meth'
December 18, 2004
By GARRET CONDON, Courant Staff Writer

Hartford's Hispanic Health Council hopes to galvanize a regional effort to stop an illegal drug-use epidemic before it begins.

Merrill Singer, director of research at the Hispanic Health Council, told a small gathering of individuals from community agencies, hospitals, law enforcement and state government on Friday that the time is now to help protect Hartford and the region from an onslaught of methamphetamine abuse.

"We've been presented with an opportunity to do what rarely gets done in public health - primary prevention," he said.

Methamphetamine - called "meth," "glass," "ice" or any number of other nicknames - is the most widely used illicit drug in the world, after marijuana, according to the World Health Organization. More than 12 million Americans over the age of 12 report that they've tried it at least once. Singer called it a "drug that has diversified in a number of subgroups," including gay men, injection-drug users, Latinos, African Americans, youngsters and others.

It is relatively easy to manufacture and convenient to use, as it can be snorted, swallowed, smoked or injected. And it produces a high that can last from 8 to 24 hours - much longer than the typical 20- to 30-minute high that cocaine produces.

Although it has long been a major drug of abuse in such cities as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver, it has come east in recent years, first to the Midwest and the South and more recently to New York, Philadelphia and Boston. It is not yet a common street drug in Hartford, Singer says.

A research team at the Hispanic Health Council, with funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been conducting regular interviews with drug users and those in the drug treatment community in Hartford to track trends in drug use. Results of these surveys are quickly turned over to a response team made up of researchers, health care professionals and community members.

While it hasn't arrived in a big way, "there is no reason to feel that we're shielded in some way," Singer said. He noted that Hartford is a major regional distribution area for illegal drugs and has a high rate of injection-drug use. The dominant street drugs are heroin, cocaine and marijuana, he said.

"The base for potential jump-off into an epidemic is certainly here," he said. As an injectable drug, with a reputation for enhancing sexual enjoyment and endurance, it can play a role in the spread HIV and hepatitis. It also can cause disabling skin infections, stroke, heart disease, violent behavior, nervous-system damage and a long list of other health problems. There are also special dangers for pregnant women and their fetuses.

Singer said the region had "a golden opportunity to keep the cat in the bag," and called for a well-coordinated campaign sponsored by community organizations and government agencies to keep methamphetamine use at bay.

He said his organization would urge a wide range of groups and institutions - from churches and schools to drug treatment centers - to reach their members, students and clients with the same message about the drug's danger. He said it is important that various groups get the information from sources they consider to be believable, and suggested that peer education might be effective among current drug users.

"We have to take advantage of the research, of our understanding of how people interact with drugs, what messages work, what message don't work and what are credible message-givers," he said. In addition to a broad education effort, he said the campaign also should push for active monitoring of the sale or theft of chemicals that go into making methamphetamine.

Ramon Rojano, Hartford's director of health and social services, said he supports the Hispanic Health Council's efforts and leadership on the issue and intends to bring the matter before the city's substance abuse commission to help shape the city's formal response to the prevention campaign.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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