Meth addicts keeping county’s supply high

Two years into a federal program to stop the bleed of methamphetamine onto U.S. streets, the stimulant’s supply continues to hemorrhage into San Mateo County and feed a steady population of Peninsula addicts, according to local authorities on the front lines of addiction.

The federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which was signed into law on March 9, 2006, aimed to regulate over-the-counter sales of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, which are found in many cold, cough and allergy medications and are necessary ingredients to make the powerful stimulant.

“We’ve definitely seen a shift since the law went into effect,” DEA Special Agent Casey McEnry said. “We have disrupted the supply.”

But in San Mateo County, addiction treatment professionals, police officers, prosecutors and addicts themselves say the supply is still plentiful.

“Even if meth is being manufactured elsewhere, it’s still making its way here, because we still have a steady clientele of users,” San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.

Among clients in San Mateo County treatment centers during fiscal year 2006-07, approximately 46 percent identified methamphetamine as their primary problem, according to county health department data.

Brian Rabbitt was a 28-year-old technology manager when he began using methamphetamine. Two years later, he had lost everything to the drug, had filed for bankruptcy and was close to homelessness.

Today, Rabbitt, 32, has been sober two years and runs his own demolition company thanks to a long-term outpatient program at the Bridges rehab center in Redwood City. But when he thinks back to the days of scoring the drug in San Mateo County, he is struck by how easy it was to purchase the drug and says he isn’t surprised the problem persists.

“It’s as easy as buying cigarettes,” he said.

Lt. Mark Wyss, commander of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force, acknowledged that methamphetamine remains a real problem, but where the federal law seems to be making a dent is in raising the drug’s street price.

Less than two years ago, Weiss said, an ounce of methamphetamine sold for $650 to $1,000 in the county. Today, the same amount is worth $1,200 to $1,400.

While it’s unknown if the rising cost will result in a decrease in users, finding treatment for addiction is becoming more difficult. The proposed state cuts to Proposition 36, which voters passed in 2000 to offer nonviolent drug offenders treatment instead of jail, will slash $700,000 in publicly funded rehabilitation for San Mateo County residents, said Judy Davila, manager of drug and alcohol services for the county’s health department.

Janine Smith, executive director of Pyramid Alternatives, said the cuts in funding are already affecting her drug treatment clients. Beginning June 1, she said, the number of monthly counseling sessions will be reduced by half.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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