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Meth Epidemic Draws Capps’ Attention

Congresswoman hears from treatment providers, law-enforcement officials as society's costs grow.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, hosted a roundtable luncheon Monday on the topic of methamphetamine, which officials say is now the top drug of choice for most of the addicts in treatment in Santa Barbara County.

Largely with an eye toward protecting federal funding for existing programs, Capps sought to gather information from a variety of stakeholders, as well as to encourage them to talk with one another, said Emily Kryder, Capps’ spokeswoman.

The event took place at Casa Serena, a treatment center for women located in a Victorian house on Bath Street, and included members of nonprofit treatment centers as well as law-enforcement officials.

“We have been ignoring this epidemic,” Capps said. “It hasn’t gotten the kind of attention that it needs.”

In an illustration of how bad the meth problem is getting in the county, parental abuse of the drug led to a one-year, 25 percent increase in the number of foster children in Santa Barbara between 2006 and 2007, said Nancy Gottlieb, a program manager with the county Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.

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“It’s so damaging to the brain, and so insidious,” she said. “People get strung out on coke, but they’re still functional. On methamphetamine, people just lose track of everything. To get somebody into treatment you practically have to tie them down.”

In the North County, 70 percent of the addicts in treatment list methamphetamine as their primary drug of choice, she said, adding that on the South Coast, the figure is 60 percent.

In recent years, the federal government has sought to crack down on the manufacturing of methamphetamine by placing restrictions on purchasing some of its over-the-counter ingredients. For instance, Sudafed was pressured by drug enforcement officials into making a weaker version of the cold remedy for over-the-counter sales. To purchase the older version, which still contains the pseudoephedrine that historically has been extracted for making the illegal drug, people must produce some form of identification proving they are at least 18 years old. Their names are recorded, to ensure they are not purchasing the drug in suspiciously large amounts.

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