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Study: Meth use
in rural areas riskier

Study: Meth use
in rural areas riskier

Methamphetamine abusers in rural areas have more medical and psychiatric problems that may inhibit recovery than their urban counterparts, according to a new study that compares the two groups.

Experts say the findings are unsettling because rural addicts have limited access to treatment facilities and health professionals.

"Rural methamphetamine is worse in a lot of respects," said lead researcher Kathleen Grant, who works at the Omaha VA Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Meth is an addictive stimulant that can be prepared or "cooked" in makeshift labs with over-the-counter cold tablets, common household chemicals, and fertilizers.

According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 11.7 million Americans ages 12 and older said they've tried methamphetamine, and 1.4 million said they'd used it in the past month.

The study, funded by the state of Nebraska, compared addicts from a 20,000-square-mile region who sought help at the nearest treatment facility in Grand Island with those living near and seeking help in the state's two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. In all, 172 meth abusers were interviewed between July 2004 and July 2005.

The study showed that rural addicts began using meth at a younger age, were more likely to use the drug intravenously, and were more likely to also be dependent on alcohol or cigarettes. They also exhibited more signs of psychosis than urban addicts--45% versus 29%, according to the study.

Grant said the findings, released in the March-April edition of The American Journal on Addictions, suggest rural addicts are at higher risk for psychiatric and medical problems such as infectious diseases and lung and liver cancer. That's troubling, she said, because addicts living in rural areas have less access to care--because of distance and transportation issues--than those living in cities.

"These people continue to slide into addiction and are not able to get the treatment they need," said Jennifer Sharpe Potter, an opiate specialist at Harvard University-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

She said meth addiction is difficult to treat because there are few treatment options available, and often the options that work best are not available in rural areas. That points to what she calls a long-standing problem that reaches beyond drug treatment: the availability of health care services in rural areas.

Recovering meth addict Barry Schmidt, 49, said he had to move from Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Omaha in order to get the help he needed to overcome a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse. He left his wife and gave up seeing his father, who lives in a nursing home there.

"I changed my playground, playmates, and playthings," he said. It was difficult but something he said was necessary to get over his addictions.

Schmidt said he's been in treatment 19 times over the past 30 years, the first time when he was 19. His environment and a lack of recovery support were obstacles to staying clean, he said.

But things have been different in Omaha. Schmidt said he's graduated from the VA hospital's treatment program and attends six to seven recovery meetings a week. He credits those meetings and the people he meets there with his success so far. "I know that if I called any one of them at any given time and said I'm thinking of using and I'm in a bad place, they'd be there for me." (Timberly Ross, AP)

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