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University of Iowa News

Jan. 25, 2006

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UI Expert Comments On Meth Report, Other Substance Abuse In Iowa

A University of Iowa expert on methamphetamine and other substance abuse finds some positives in a recent state report on meth lab reduction in Iowa. However, the report also underscores ongoing meth supply and use problems in the state. 

The report issued Jan. 17 by the State of Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy credits the state's pseudoephedrine control law (Senate File 169), enacted in May 2005, with a decrease in meth lab incidents from an average of 119 per month before the law to 20 per month since the law was passed. Pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in some cold and flu medications, is also a main ingredient in meth production. The law put the medications behind lock-and-key at pharmacies.

However, the report also states that the law has not reduced the supply of imported meth or demand for the drug.

"The report recognizes that the law was specifically targeted toward the lab problems and not toward the meth problem more broadly," said Stephan Arndt, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and a non-voting member of the state's Drug Policy Advisory Council.

"The law produced significant benefit in reducing a host of problems associated with meth production, but the report also makes it clear that the overall dangers of meth still need to be dealt with, including prevention and treatment. So the report has an additional indirect positive benefit by highlighting that need," said Arndt, who also directs the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation, housed at the UI.

As an illustration of reduced meth lab incidents, the report stated that the Burn Treatment Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics had fewer meth-related burn cases in 2005 when compared to the same seven-month period in 2004. Cases decreased from 14 to 4, which also represented an estimated cost reduction of just over $2.5 million.

"Meth manufacturing is environmentally unsafe, a fire hazard, produces noxious waste and is just very, very dangerous," Arndt said. "Production sometimes is done in the presence of children, so there are definite problems the law has controlled and will continue to control. However, the law hasn't done anything about addiction, use or some of the other negative consequences."

For one, because imported meth is more pure, it increases people's chances of dependence and any associated medical problems. In addition, child endangerment and abuse problems overall have not been reduced because they are related to people's use of the drug, not its manufacture, Arndt said.

The Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation has been evaluating meth and other substance abuse prevention and treatment programs that are publicly funded. Meth treatment programs have a 65 percent success rate while alcohol treatment programs have a 47 percent success rate, the consortium reported in a September 2005 client treatment outcomes report.

"Contrary to some national news reports, meth treatment programs make a notable difference. Paradoxically, meth's downside is one of its benefits toward treatment -- it's highly addictive so the speed at which people bottom out and need help is greatly accelerated," Arndt said.

In just one year, people on meth can lose their jobs and families, be arrested and receive prison sentences. Yet people with alcohol or marijuana abuse can go decades without any obvious adverse affects or legal problems.

From the sample of 1,039 Iowans in publicly funded treatment programs, 45 percent were being treated for alcohol, 25 percent for marijuana and 20 percent for meth.

"People tend to forget that alcohol remains the number one drug of choice and one of the hardest drugs from which to abstain," Arndt said. "It's a whole other issue, but we need to rethink prevention and rational use approaches when it comes to alcohol."

Arndt said that cocaine use is the fourth most commonly treated substance problem in Iowa and that the drug is used more often by blacks than by whites. "When you consider the percentage of blacks in Iowa to the percentage of whites here, cocaine is hitting the black community much harder than meth is hitting the white community," Arndt said.

Whatever type of substance abuse is at issue, initial research shows that longer treatments  -- 90 days or more -- increase the chances of success. In addition, treatment approaches have shifted over the past 20 years from a confrontational to motivational approach, and studies show the improvement.

To help extend substance abuse research nationwide and worldwide, Arndt initiated a new online journal: "Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy." The peer-reviewed journal is open access, meaning anyone can read its articles for free at http://www.substanceabusepolicy.com/.

"Iowa is not alone in its substance abuse problems. Drug problems clearly cross national boundaries, and solutions will involve international cooperation both in law and treatment," Arndt said.

The September 2005 client treatment outcomes report, also known as the "Outcomes Monitoring System: Iowa Project Seven-Year Report" is available online at http://iconsortium.subst-abuse.uiowa.edu/.

For more information about the state's meth report and the law, visit www.state.ia.us/government/odcp/information_trends/Pseudoephedrine.html

The Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation is located at the UI Oakdale Research Campus. The consortium is a center committed to strengthening substance abuse prevention and intervention activities in Iowa through research and evaluation. The alliance is made up of academic institutions, policy makers and treatment centers working together to enhance substance abuse research.

The research center includes representatives from the UI, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, various state agencies and Iowa's substance abuse treatment centers.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660 becky-soglin@uiowa.edu