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
"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,
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
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
"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
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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