CPGH feels effects of meth

Hospital says users visit emergency room but can rarely pay

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2006

As methamphetamine strengthens its hold among drug users on the Kenai Peninsula, it also is drawing greater attention from local health-care providers.

Few methamphetamine users are insured and can rarely pay, harming not only themselves but the financial end of a community’s health center, said Ryan Smith, chief executive officer of Central Peninsula General Hospital.

“One emergency room visit by one of these patients that have had either an overdose or some kind of exposure to chemicals (used to make methamphetamine) can have an adverse effect first, on the patient, but then also on the financial well-being of the hospital,” Smith said.

And on top of emergency room visits, the hospital also absorbs costs associated with long-term treatment of methamphetamine addicts, he said.

In an effort to put the brakes on the negative health impacts associated with methamphetamine use on the peninsula, Central Peninsula General Hospital joined a tri-borough campaign last week to educate the public about the harmful effects of the drug with a contribution of $25,000.

Smith said CPGH has seen an increase in the number of patients received due to methamphetamine-related health issues and is interested in taking a preventative approach to the problem.

“Anything we can do to help prevent the use and prevent those patients from having to receive treatment would be better than treating them,” he said.

Ample privacy has made the peninsula is an attractive place for people to produce and distribute methamphetamine, said Matthew Dammeyer, CPGH director of behavior health, which runs the hospital’s residential substance abuse program.

“People can sort of literally hide in the woods and still have access to a ready supply of materials,” he said.

Although methamphetamine can cause a laundry list of health problems, including high blood pressure, internal bleeding, seizures and kidney problems, Dammeyer said he is most concerned with the drug’s deterioration of a user’s cognitive abilities.

But methamphetamine-related health issues extend beyond addicts and methamphetamine cooks.

The toxic chemicals used to make methamphetamine en-compass several long-lasting and dangerous chemicals that harm not only the people who use and produce the drug, but also the people living in and around the homes being used to produce it.

“A meth cook in a house leaves chemicals on the walls, the floors, stains, they pollute the water table, there’s numerous health risks,” said Thad Hamilton, an investigator with the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement in Soldotna.

The recipe used to cook up a batch of methamphetamine includes cold and allergy ingredients, such as Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, lithium batteries, starter fluid and acetone.

“A lot of these trace elements that are left on the walls and in the ventilation systems, they could be hazardous, if not deadly, for years and years,” Hamilton said.

Children found in homes that produce methamphetamine have to be stripped of all of their clothing and toys, and relocated to protect them from the dangerous chemicals that have accumulated on their belongings and in their homes.

Methamphetamine use has become a pressing problem in communities big and small throughout the United States, and the peninsula is no exception, Hamilton said.

“We have our meth labs, we have our transporters — we have it all,” he said. “It’s a problem everywhere, and we’re no different than anywhere else in the United States.”

Dammeyer, who grew up in Alaska but spent 15 years living outside of the state, said he saw a lot of methamphetamine use while studying in the Midwest when the drug was still a relatively minor concern in Alaska.

“When I came back to Alaska in 2001, methamphetamine was not the issue here that it was in the Midwest, but it was just a matter of time,” he said. “We are really seeing that now. Now we’re catching up to some of the other areas in the country where methamphetamine is really the dominant problem.”

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