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Report says Sonoma County is meth distribution hub

By James Lanaras, Bay City News Service

July 25, 2006

SANTA ROSA (BCN) - The rate of methamphetamine use in Sonoma County exceeds the national rate and the county has become a hub for trafficking the drug to other counties and the Western states, according to a report compiled by the county's Department of Health Services.

The report, requested by Supervisor Valerie Brown in March, was presented to the full board this morning. It estimates that more than 4,800 of the county's 478,400 residents aged 12 and over are likely to have used methamphetamine in the past year and that as many as 2,400 residents are likely to have used it in the last 30 days.

Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Bertoli told the board the highly addictive drug became a problem in the county in the early 1990s and undercover narcotics agents were purchasing it for $4,000 to $5,000 a pound to get it off the street. The drug currently sells for $8,000 a pound and crystal methamphetamine is commanding as much as $10,000 a pound.

Bertoli said Sonoma County is well known as a distribution hub for the drug, which has come from Mexico and the Central Valley since local production of methamphetamine was curtailed in the late 1990s. The department still raids four or five local meth labs annually, according to the report.

Bertoli said there has been a spike of meth-related crimes such as burglaries and identity theft in the past four years.

Carol Bauer, director of the county's Family, Youth and Child Services Department, said the county's Child Protective Services is experiencing a growing number of cases related to methamphetamine use.

"It seems to be getting worse,'' she said. Supervisor Brown said the addiction rate is 47 percent after first time use and 60 percent after second use and that 71 percent of cases in the county's drug court are related to methamphetamine. She estimated the county spends $20 million annually in meth-related court and treatment costs.

"We are not alone. Every county is experiencing this beyond belief,'' Brown said.

There are a lot of statistics in the report, but two former methamphetamine users put a human face on the drug regarded as a scourge nationwide.

Aldona Dement said she started using methamphetamine at 18 and continued for 20 years. She was arrested for burglary in 2001 and decided she needed a strict recovery program. Her treatment through the drug court lasted 19 months and she has been clean for more than four years, she said.

Now the mother of a 17-month-old child, she is attending school to become a drug and alcohol abuse counselor and takes simple pleasure in having her own apartment, a car, driver's license and checking account.

Dennis Woodson said he first used methamphetamine at 19, stayed awake for two days and slept for two days in his vehicle. He said he was arrested 12 times, went to jail eight times and wanted to quit but his body wouldn't let him. His weight dropped to 159 pounds.

"I was pale and pock (mark) faced. You didn't see me in the daytime. I was out driving at 3 a.m., up to no good,'' Woodson said.

He quit using meth at 31 and he said the drug court treatment program saved his life.

"It instilled discipline. There was no room to be lazy and not do what you were supposed to do," he said.

Jail "was the best thing that ever happened to me,'' he said. He too is attending school and now weighs 240 pounds.

The good news in the report is that treatment works, Sonoma County Public Defender John Abrahams said.

Some 60 percent of former methamphetamine users stay drug and crime free in the two years following treatment, he said.

Brown said that while she believes the county has to increase support services, it's clear law enforcement and the drug court help keep methamphetamine users in the recovery process.

"We can't deal with this on a department by department basis,'' Brown said.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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