7/31/2014

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Local & Regional

Methamphetamine crisis in Kern County examined

Methamphetamine crisis in Kern County examined

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Graciela Salazar once worked as a police dispatcher.  She lost her job and was separating from a troubled relationship while raising five children.

"I was a single mom with five kids and trying to figure out how I was going to put food on the table," said Salazar.  Then she started smoking methamphetamine.

"It helped me escape from whatever problem was going on at the time," she said. Salazar also ended up homeless.

By all accounts, methamphetamine use in Kern County continues to grow.  It is the drug of choice and it is cheap to buy on the street.  According to a county study, up to 39 percent of all felony prosecutions in Kern County include methamphetamine offenses.  Approximately one-third of emergency room patients at Kern Medical Center have used methamphetamine.  And well over 50 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions in Kern County are for methamphetamine-related disorders.

"Communities have become I would say almost hopeless and in despair around the drug problem," said Lily Alvarado, Assistant Director at Kern County Mental Health.  Alvarado is also executive director of Kern Stop Meth Now, a collaborative county-wide effort that works with communities to fight the meth problem.

"One of the things that we've been really excited about is partnering with the sheriff's department.  We are delivering treatment right inside the Lerdo jail," said Alvarado.

The goal is to empower communities by making use of as many resources as possible, including faith based groups and educating families about breaking the cycle of drug use.

The group meets on a quarterly basis at the Kern County Mental Health Department, 3300 Truxtun Avenue.  The next meeting is scheduled for April 28 at 10 a.m.

Graciela Salazar has been clean since 2005.  After hitting bottom, the key for her was getting and staying in treatment.  Salazar now works as a substance abuse counselor for the Kern County Hispanic Commission which works with clients dealing with alcohol and drug abuse issues.

"I'm the one who created this mess ... and I needed to take responsibility for my own actions," she said.

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