Longform

Meth Treatment

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Now they have another little boy. They're both going to school and working.

"I wanted a family," Hight says. "And I don't want to do anything to mess that up."

But the courts don't take every case as seriously as they took Hight's.

The system can't afford it.

New Arizona Family has just 30 beds. In Hight's case, having a baby made her eligible for the government assistance that helped finance her stay.

If she hadn't been pregnant, her best hope undoubtedly would have been outpatient treatment.

Studies suggest she would have had a much harder time making it.

A 2005 study from UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, surveyed 350 meth users.

It found little statistical difference between patients who'd come to rehab because they were forced by court order and those who came willingly.

Overall, 70 percent of users relapsed within two years.

But 30 percent made it. And it's worth noting the factors that made a difference.

The study found a significant relationship between longer treatment times and success. "The strongest predictor," the authors reported, "is the number of months in treatment, with longer time in treatment associated with more positive outcomes."

Also significant: Addicts assigned to inpatient programs were 2.4 times greater to finish treatment.

It's obvious why courts don't mandate inpatient programs for everyone. With such programs being as expensive as they are, most defendants would probably just end up back in jail because they couldn't afford to comply.

It's much harder to understand why probation officers don't insist on longer stints in outpatient therapy.

Tammy Quarelli, a substance abuse counselor with Dynamic Living, gets most of her clients through court order.

She claims good success with meth users, even on an outpatient basis, if she can get patients who are mandated to see her for six months.

But many probation officers set the bar much lower, she says.

"I get so mad when I see a referral for two months," Quarelli says. "The physical part, you can get done with that in a few days. But the psychological part -- that just goes on and on."


At 21, Georganne Bickle's daughter has been using meth for five years. In the photograph Bickle carries in her wallet, the girl is fresh-faced and beaming at her high school graduation, a perky kid in white robes and a funny hat.

"She's a beautiful girl," Bickle says, and then hastily corrects herself.

"She was a beautiful girl." Now her skin is pocked with the sores that plague serious meth addicts: "She's got meth bites."

Bickle's daughter, whom Bickle asked New Times not to name, once dreamed of being an actress. Instead, she's working as a stripper.

She's been to the emergency room, after taking meth mixed with rat poison. She's dropped out of college and stopped acting. She's been arrested, for assaulting Bickle while in a meth-induced rage. She's been in three different psych wards.

Bickle has spent five years seesawing between hope and despair.

"Every time she's gotten up to 90 days clean and sober, she's said to me, 'Thank you for pushing me into rehab. I want to go to college. I want to study film,'" Bickle says, and her dark eyes are weary.

"And as soon as she picks up meth again, all these dreams die. Again."

Because Bickle was tired of feeling helpless, she made a flier announcing a new organization called "Fight Against Meth."

She faxed her flier to all the media outlets she could think of, but only one bothered to call her: the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Bickle lives in north Phoenix.

But the newspaper's short story drew immediate attention. Bickle started getting e-mails. And phone calls.

Her first meeting drew almost a dozen strangers, united by stories just like hers: Their daughters were meth addicts. Or their sons. Or their nieces.

They didn't understand why their kids couldn't stop. And, even more than that, they didn't understand why it was so hard to find treatment.

They returned to the topic, unsolicited, at their second meeting.

"It's like this underground thing," explained Paula, whose son is a meth addict. "Who to go to or how to find a psychiatrist or how to pay for it. No one explains anything."

Once, Paula got her son into rehab only to have her insurance company cut him off after 10 days.

And though Alice is thrilled that her son is about to finish a year at an inpatient center in Wickenburg, she's not so thrilled at the cost: $6,000 a month, without a dime from their insurance company.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske