Gleason heads up anti-meth task force

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Gleason heads up anti-meth task forceFollowing through with an early promise to reduce the abuse of methamphetamines and their negative impact on communities, Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason was recently named chair of the Kern County Meth-amphetamine Reduction Task Force.

“I don’t think the average citizen is aware of the debilitating impact this drug has on our families, our schools, our budgets and our community identities,” said Gleason. “This task force is trying to put some juice into energizing the county and communities into improving the level of awareness into exactly what the problem is, and put together teams to find solutions.”

According to the website www.kernstopmethnow.com, the Board of Supervisors directed the county Mental Health Department to examine the impact meth use has on county services, as well as on the fabric of local communities. That investigation yielded disturbing data that prompted the county to form the task force.

Data show that 39 percent of all felony prosecutions in Kern include meth-related offenses. About a third of emergency room patients at Kern Medical Center have used meth. More than 50 percent of the substance-abuse treatment admissions are for meth-related disorders.

Exposure to meth often begins in early childhood. Gleason said the average age of first exposure is 13.

According to www.escapemeth.com, meth addiction is one of the fastest growing in America. One study showed that from 1996-2006, meth abuse grew by 364 percent. Kern County also eerily reflects the biggest demographic of users — caucasian, low-income and rurally based.

“More than 50 percent of inmates in Lerdo County Jail are there for some reason associated with meth,” said Gleason. “This is a problem that can’t be ignored.”

But because the problem starts in the community, Gleason said he is working to engage community leaders — from churches to community service clubs to schools to business owners — to become a part of the solution.

“We have great support from the county, including the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services. But this is a problem that is beyond county resources. It’s a cause we need to take up in our communities.”

The physical effects of meth on the user include severe organ damage, extensive nerve damage, increased risk of heart failure and a risk of overdose that carries no warning signs. But in addition to absorbing the resources of law enforcement and medical facilities, some of the most tragic victims are the children of abusers.

From heinous acts of physical violence to extreme neglect, the children of meth addicts are among those who feel the most acute effects of the drug.

“This is one of the reasons why we need to inform ourselves,” said Gleason. “All of us need to know how to look for the signs and how to report them to the right agency.” He noted that it is also important to give public schools — the primary social safety net —the tools they need to prevent these children from falling through the cracks.

The task force is planning a big event on Saturday, July 6, at Riverside Park in Kern River Valley.

“We are bringing together donors and volunteers to plan some fun activities for our community,” said Gleason. “Residents can bring their families to enjoy some fireworks and barbecue, as well as a day out of the heat, while learning more about this program.”

He said that while the task force is reaching out to donors and at-risk youth across the district, Ridgecrest is leading the charge in raising donations.

Gleason said that the collaborative approach is in keeping with other county initiatives to more efficiently leverage resources in times of diminishing budgets. “I think you can help a great number of people when you focus your resources on a common goal.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-01