If you use your computer to Google "The Faces of Meth," you may be shocked by what you find.
A photograph of a 30-something man with a trim mustache dressed in a gray business suite. Next to that picture is a mug shot of the same man, 2 months later, 30 pounds lighter, his gaunt face covered in scabs and stubble. This is just one of the many faces of methamphetamine.
Friday marks Meth Awareness Day in Indiana. The event allows those Putnam County officials on the front lines of the battle against methamphetamine to reflect on the war's progress.
Meth abuse was at epidemic proportions in Putnam County as recently as 2005, Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said. That year, his office prosecuted 75 meth related cases. In 2006, the number plummeted to just 25. So why the drop?
"The state law against Ephedrine was a huge help," Bookwalter said. The law stipulates that no more than two packages of medication containing Ephedrine can be purchased at one time, all products containing Ephedrine must be kept behind the counter, and allows local law enforcement to track who is purchasing the drug, and arrest those in possession of illegal quantities.
Consider the progress:
According to Indiana Department of Corrections statistics, the new measure sent ripple effects throughout the state. The number of meth labs seized annually dropped 43 percent, from 1,113 in 2004 to 758 in 2006. That statistic is mirrored by arrest rates for meth related crimes.
Controlling meth ingredients was coupled with a countywide initiative including local judges, who set high bond for meth related offenses. Also, a swift crack-down by local law enforcement and specialized treatment programs for meth users, all made the difference in Putnam County.
"The police aggressively rounded up the big meth dealers," said Bookwalter, who helped to launch the countywide meth program in the spring of 2005. But he was quick to add that arrests are only one piece of a complex puzzle. Without treatment, offenders will quickly find their way back to a jail cell.
"You can't just lock up meth users," Bookwalter said. "They need about 60 days in jail to get it out of their heads before they are amenable to any treatment."
The fast acting, instantly addictive nature of meth, known to many as "the working man's drug," makes treating meth addicts far more difficult than the typical substance abuser, said Dr. Bill Nunn who heads up Putnam County's aggressive outpatient meth treatment program at the Hamilton Center.
"Meth is very addictive and it also creates neurological changes relatively rapidly," Nunn said. "It is associated with violent, erratic behavior, but the longer you use it the more disruptive it becomes to brain function."
According to Nunn, changes in the brain's chemistry caused by meth disrupt memory, cause confusion and psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and paranoia in heavy users.
"We've found that if someone using at high level quits, it can take 2 to 4 years, or even longer, to recover," he said. "Some of that brain damage may be permanent."
Though the outlook for meth users may seem bleak, programs such as the one run at the Hamilton Center are showing signs of success. The 12-week outpatient program uses a cognitive behavioral approach, including daily group therapy, regular meetings with a case manager and random drug screens. When that program is completed, each patient is transferred into 12 weeks of relapse prevention work.
As Putnam County struggled to contain the spread of meth in the community, stiff prison sentences for meth-related crimes forced the Indiana Department of Correction to address meth addiction inside the walls of its prisons.
"The majority of our offenders will return to the community," explained Jerry Vance, of the Indiana Department of Correction.
"They don't get locked up forever. The department has taken the responsibility to return these people to the community drug free," he said.
According to Vance, the correction department responded to the meth crisis in April of 2005 by opening the first Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever (CLIFF) Unit, a 204-bed methamphetamine therapeutic community for male offenders at Miami Correctional Facility, near Kokomo, Ind.
The CLIFF program employs similar cognitive behavioral techniques as those in Putnam County's outpatient program, and usually lasts 6 to 9 months.
"If you don't also deal with the thinking patterns that go along with addiction, in addition to the criminal behavior, they won't do well," Vance said.
Soon after measuring the initial success at the Miami facility, CLIFF Units were introduced in prisons throughout the state, including juvenile facilities.
Preliminary recidivism rates indicate that of the 455 men to graduate from the CLIFF Unit at the Miami Correctional Facility, only 8.3 percent have been charged with a meth related crime after one year, compared to a rate of 17.5 percent of non-CLIFF graduates.
Though the numbers sound promising, Vance warns that early data can be deceiving.
"The rubber doesn't really meet the road until about three years out," he admits, and the department must continue keeping track.
As Prosecutor Bookwal-ter prepares to calculate the Putnam County meth numbers for 2007, he says he is not entirely confident that numbers will continue to drop.
If Bookwalter is right, the Putnam County battle against meth will be a long one.
"If you pick up 20 dealers and put them in prison, eventually they will just be replaced by 20 more," Bookwalter said.
Sheriff Mark Frisbie, who is widely credited for the progress Putnam County law enforcement has made against meth, was unavailable for comment.