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(L to R) Becki Hornung, Johanna Garrison, and Karen Nichols.

UMD staff members Becki Hornung (right), Johanna Garrison, and Karen Nichols were inspired to create a Web page to help people seeking resources for dealing with methamphetamine issues.

Meth abuse leads to new U Web site

May 30, 2006

When three members of the University of Minnesota, Duluth's (UMD) department of social work decided to convene a conference on the impact of methamphetamine, they didn't know how desperate the need for information had become. The deeper they became involved in the issue, the more they saw how many people needed the resources: social workers, educators, medical professionals, and law enforcement personnel, among others.

Johanna Garrison, outreach and curriculum development coordinator; Becki Hornung, instructor and child welfare student support coordinator; and Karen Nichols, associate administrator--all in the department of social work--organized the conference, "The Impact of Methamphetamine on Children and Families: Research and Community Response," held in February at UMD. The sessions filled immediately.

"We were overwhelmed by the response. Child welfare practitioners, many of whom are our graduates, and other professionals needed research-based information," says Garrison. "It was a good fit for UMD to put on the conference."

Since the conference, the social work department has posted and maintained a UMD Web page for people seeking resources for dealing with methamphetamine issues. "We realized that one conference was hardly enough," says Garrison. "We had to do more to help, so we started gathering research and posting it on the internet." The methamphetamine resources Web page is located at the department of social work.

According to President Bush's National Drug Control Strategy for 2006, methamphetamine use is rising--treatment admissions for amphetamines and methamphetamines have increased 500 percent since 1992, and positive drug tests in the workplace have increased 200 percent since 2001. A survey of 500 sheriff's departments in 45 states found that methamphetamine abuse has become the nation's leading drug problem affecting local law enforcement agencies. It's packing U.S. jails.

UMD's department of social work is especially concerned because arrests have swamped agencies that care for children whose parents have become addicted. The treatment time is long; it takes at least a year for the drug to clear out of an addict's system. Child welfare laws only give a parent six months after an arrest to get their life back on track before their children are put up for adoption. "Parental methamphetamine use has become a leading cause for the removal of Minnesota children from their homes," says Hornung. "Social work professionals, many of whom are graduates from our [master of social work] program, are inundated, and they need any help we can offer."

According to a survey of 500 sheriff's departments in 45 states, methamphetamine abuse has become the nation's leading drug problem affecting local law enforcement agencies. It's packing U.S. jails.

Meth use and production is a significant and complex problem in the Midwest. According to a Drug Enforcement Administration study, more than 50 percent of all meth lab incidents in the United States have happened in the Midwest.

The issue is new and the research is hard to find. UMD brought two prominent researchers to the conference: Wendy Haight, an associate professor with the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and James Black, a medical doctor and neuroscientist from Southern Illinois University. UMD currently provides information about Haight's and Black's studies on child welfare issues on the UMD methamphetamine research Web page (see above).

Karen Nichols says that UMD recognizes that agencies such as social services, law enforcement and public health need to work together closely. "The multidisciplinary approach is important when dealing with children impacted by methamphetamine," she says. UMD also provides information about a landmark coalition pioneered in Wright County. Families, neighbors, school personnel, law enforcement, county agencies, faith communities, and municipalities have succeeded in educating the public about the dangers of methamphetamine.

The conference was sponsored by the UMD Center for Regional and Tribal Child Welfare Studies, the Center for American Indian and Minority Health at the U of M Medical School Duluth, and the U of M Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment and the Life Sciences.