Stories of meth use and abuse permeate the news, leaving a string of tragic milestones, murders, domestic violence, and officer-involved shootings where a suspect’s meth use provoked the response. As disturbing as those stories are, there are also positive milestones. The County of San Diego Meth Strike Force has worked diligently to reduce meth problems through prevention, enforcement and treatment.
The following story is just one news-making incident of a meth-afflicted life gone wrong. In 1995, Army veteran Shawn Timothy Nelson, his life in a downward spiral due to meth use, slipped into a San Diego National Guard Armory. Nelson pried open the hatch of an M-60 Patton tank and went on a demolition mission along San Diego streets. He flattened cars and bulldozed fire hydrants before getting stuck on a median on Highway 163. Nelson’s life ended when he attempted to dislodge the tank and drive it into oncoming traffic. He was shot to death by a police officer. This story received a great deal of attention, but it only scratches the surface of the destruction that can be attributed to meth use.
In 1996, in response to growing meth problems, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob established the Meth Strike Force (MSF); a multi-agency partnership charged with addressing meth-related issues in the region. It was the first, in what has become a long list, of milestones in the fight against meth in San Diego County. The following are several other positive milestones:
In 1998, San Diego County was one of the first to establish local limits on the sale of precursor chemicals used to manufacture meth. This became a State Law in 2001 and a national standard in 2005.
The Vista Partners Project began in 1999; a multi-pronged, intensive, local community effort to reduce meth problems in partnership with MSF and the City of Vista.
Supervisor Jacob convened a Board of Supervisor study session on women and meth, laying the groundwork for gender appropriate services in 2004.
Also in 2004, the MSF held the first of several large conferences at Marine Corp Air Station Miramar to ensure a common understanding and knowledge base regarding meth and meth-related issues.
In 2005, the Stop Meth Associated Crimes, or SMAC, campaign targeted meth-fueled identity theft, helping to enact a State standard blocking key credit card information printed on sales receipts.
Prevention specialists and law enforcement teamed to eliminate drug paraphernalia sales in 2006.
In 2007, the documentary Crystal Darkness aired in San Diego, resulting in numerous calls to the Meth Hotline.
MSF began Operation Tip the Scale in 2009, a first-of-its-kind project linking law enforcement with drug treatment counselors for the purpose of providing treatment options to offenders in lieu of jail. The operation continues today, including “tip to treatment” where arrestees are taken directly to treatment.
In 2010, the county adopted a crime-free multi-housing ordinance that requires managers of problem apartment and condominium complexes to get training in recognizing and preventing drug-related problems through lease conditions and environmental design.
The Tip the Scale campaign won an award from the National Association of Counties in 2011 for innovation in addressing meth abuse issues.
These milestones give hope that soon the tide will turn in the meth epidemic. Yet, meth use continues to be a problem locally and nationwide. Readers can help by using treatment and recovery resources, reporting meth-related crime and encouraging people with meth use histories to seek help. For more information, visit www.no2meth.org.
Angela Goldberg is the Facilitator, of the San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force (MSF) and also the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force (PDTF).