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Week of 5.23.08

Counseling Meth Addicts: What Works and What Doesn't

Dana Schuck Dana Schuck is drug and alcohol intervention counselor in Canyon County in Idaho. Schuck, a former drug addict herself, talks to NOW about the challenges of treating people addicted to meth. This is an edited transcript of our interview with Schuck.

NOW: Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do?

Dana Schuck (DS): I spend most of my time working with inmates in jail. Eighty-five percent of them are drug addicts and they're in the jail for other crimes. We spend very little time talking about drugs, and focus on behavior-modification. If you took drugs out of their life, they would still have behavioral issues that need to be addressed. So we work on those.

NOW: How do you modify behavior?

DS: We talk about forgiveness. We talk about control issues. We talk about health issues. We show films on what physical things the drugs do to the body.

NOW: Are you focused primarily on methamphetamines?

"Most addicts will use three or four different drugs at once."
DS: We focus on methamphetamines the most. We found out in a hurry that most addicts will use three or four different drugs at once. Some of them are so addicted to methamphetamines that they have to drink a certain beer when they're taking meth or they have to smoke a certain kind of marijuana. So, it's not just one drug when we're talking about methamphetamine addictions.

NOW: There is a big dilemma about how to deal with meth offenders—whether to incarcerate them or treat them with therapy. What's your position?

DS: Incarceration has not helped over the years. The numbers in prison are just getting higher and higher. I think the therapeutic community—halfway houses, anything we can do to help them on their journey—is the right thing to do. It's the moral thing to do. It's the financial responsible thing to do, and it will help people grow.

NOW: What are some of the causes of drug addiction?

DS: I believe we're all addicts in one way or another and we all come from dysfunctional families in one way or another. But when you hear addicts stories, their stories are so unbelievable, starting at a very early age. When it comes to drugs, their backgrounds are just horrendous. I think that's the primary difference between the ones who use and the ones who don't. The good news about drugs is that most people quit on their own. I quit when I was 32. And there had to be enough pain in my life that I wanted to change.

Most drug addicts will tell you it's a blessing to be in jail because I know they're clean. When they come to the classes before they leave prison, I guarantee them that they will either get better or get worse. I tell them, "You're not going to stay the same because staying the same got you here. And I'm betting if you modify your behavior, with support, you're going to be successful."

NOW: For it to really have effect, it has to be a long-term relationship.

DS: That's right. It's a life change. It's not just a diet—it's something you have to do every day.

NOW: It sounds like a great support-system for inmates. But what happens when they leave the prison system?

"I believe we're all addicts in one way or another."
DS: One of the things we talk about, with probation, parole, and also our programs, is coming up with a plan before they get out. If they don't have a plan before they get out, statistics say 76 percent of people will use within 72 hours. That tells you how important it is to have a plan the day you get out. That's seeing your parole officer, having a place to live, finding a job, it's getting some good food to eat. It's going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous those three days to get you bridged into another sphere of influence in your life that will help you in a positive way.

NOW: Have you seen the Idaho Meth Project ads?

DS: I have. I watch them all the time on TV and they're very impressive. They're scary, but they should be.

NOW: What impact have methamphetamines had on the community here?

DS: It touches everybody's life. Just about everyone has had someone—a child, a nephew or a niece, an aunt or an uncle, a grandparent—that's affected by it.