Utah County substance abuse poses special problems


    By Elizabeth Stohlton

    While substance abuse in Utah County is lower than the national average, the Utah County Division of Human Service is not ready to congratulate itself just yet.

    “The good news is we have far less than the rest of the country,” said Bruce Chandler, Program Services Manager for the Utah County Division of Human Services. “The bad news is we do have some.”

    B.J. Van Roosendaal, public information officer for the state, said substance abuse is prevalent in all socioeconomic levels, among all religions and among both men and women.

    “Being LDS is not any safety,” she said. “Lots of LDS have substance abuse problems.”

    Chandler said many people, especially those affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ, believe if they start abusing drugs and alcohol, there is no hope for them.

    “Because of the LDS influence, we have less people start,” Chandler said. “However, those that do it in their adolescents do it faster and harder.”

    The most common substances people abuse are methamphetamines, prescription medications, alcohol, marijuana and tobacco, he said.

    “For our county, we get more admitted for methamphetamines than marijuana,” said Richard Nance, director of Utah County Division of Human Services.

    Nance said 56 percent of methamphetamine users are women.

    Chandler said one reason for this is because the women enjoy the increased energy and the weight loss.

    “It helps them be super moms,” he said.

    He said most people don”t know the side effects of using methamphetamines and are unaware they could lose their teeth or suffer other side effects.

    Nance said Utah County has a higher number of people who abuse prescription drugs than the national average.

    Nance and Chandler said they believe this is because many people think they can abuse prescription drugs and still say they keep the LDS Word of Wisdom.

    The Changing Faces of Drug Use in Utah County

    The faces of drug users have changed over the years.

    For 20 years, the majority of people were old, male alcoholics, Chandler said.

    “We rarely get just an alcoholic anymore,” he said.

    Most substance abusers are introduced to drugs or alcohol for the first time when they are 12-years-old, Chandler said.

    “It”s not old, nasty junkies waiting on the school yard,” he said. “It”s family and friends.”

    Nance said the typical heroin user has also changed and has become more mainstream.

    “We do have a heroin problem in Utah County and it”s centered in Springville,” Nance said.

    He said his office has not figured out why they are centered in Springville, but the Utah County Department of Health is continuing its investigation.

    Chandler said smaller drug rings, like the one in Springville, are part of a larger geographic network.

    He said there are three stages of drug use: use, abuse and dependency. Use is occasionally drinking beer. Chandler said abuse is typically considered binge drinking by college students and dependency is where the user has crossed the line into obsessing over the drug.

    “When that line is crossed, you”re dealing with a different animal,” he said.

    Addictions lead to problems vocationally, socially and legally, he said.

    “Addictions shatter family relations,” he said. “it not only shatters the family system, but the individual.”

    Nine thousand people in Utah County have a substance abuse problem, Nance said. However, the Utah County Department of Health is only able to provide 1900 people with help.

    Van Roosendaal said there are 13 clinics around the state that treat individuals with substance abuse. All of these clinics receive state and government funding

    “We look at addiction as an illness and think that people who have it need treatment and not to be locked up,” she said.

    She said there is a stigma attached to people who have this kind of a problem, which may be why more people don”t seek help.

    Chandler said the Utah County Division of Human Services primarily helps those who can”t otherwise access treatment.

    In 1998, drug courts, patterned after drug courts in Florida, were established in Utah County. Drug courts are courts set up primarily to deal with those addicted to drugs or alcohol, who have never been in trouble with the law.

    They are a marriage between the court and the person, Chandler said. He said so far the success of drug courts is light years above and beyond other treatments.

    Qualifying for drug court is not that easy. The offense by the individual must be the first non-crime offense and the individual must plead guilty to a felony, Nance said.

    Drug Court is a one year commitment, where an individual where receive treatment.

    “We can fix nearly anybody given enough time,” Nance said.

    Nance said the drug courts are better than the three strikes and you”re out program used in other states to determine individuals from using drugs. He said that program doesn”t address the real problem or provide the individual with treatment.

    Women in Utah County have a few more treatment options available. The House of Hope, a patient program for women, opened on Jan. 27. The Promise of Women and Families is another treatment center for women and children.

    “Family preservation is our primary goal,” Nance said.

    Nance and Chandler said women are reluctant to receive treatment if their children aren”t going to be taken care of. They said many women are concerned that if they seek out treatment, they will have to give their children to the Division of Children and Family Services.

    With the addition of these programs, women are able to bring their children with them when they go for treatment.

    Building a Force for Prevention

    Because so many children start using drugs at an early age, the Division of Human Services works to teach prevention.

    Steve Allred is the Prevention Program manager for the Division of Human Services in Utah County. Of the $900 million state budget for human services, 20 percent is dedicated to prevention.

    Allred said there are positive and negative factors that contribute to whether someone is likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. You have to look at what factors contribute to their community, family, school and individual self, he said.

    Allred said to raise children individuals need to establish clean standards and healthy beliefs, bonding-attachment and commitment, and opportunities. He said children need to be involved and they need to learn skills and have rewards.

    The Prevention Program teaches stress management skills and refusal skills. Allred said individuals need to know how to say no and how to reinforce the no.

    “They”re learning the skills to succeed in life,” he said.

    Allred said no one is telling children when they are doing a good job. He said most of the children he deals with are brilliant and they just need to be headed in the right direction.

    Allred and his team is working on developing additional programs to reinforce skills and reward those who are staying away from drugs.

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