State Rep. Mary Mascher stepped up to the microphone and said those intent on abusing methamphetamines always are ahead of laws that state legislators can muster to stop the abuse.

“We’re dealing always with the symptoms instead of the prevention,” Mascher, D-Iowa City, said at a Thursday, Nov. 20, public forum organized to explore ways to stop a growing cycle of meth abuse in Iowa.

Mascher then asked what the Iowa Legislature can do to get ahead of the curve. Jessica Peckover, jail alternatives coordinator in Johnson County, was quick to respond:

“Fund treatment.”

Jessica Peckover, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office jail alternatives coordinator, speaks at an forum in Iowa City on Nov. 20, 2014, about fighting meth abuse in Iowa. Other panelists are, left to right, former IowaWatch reporter Katie Kuntz, Glennis Guerrero of Council Bluffs and, to Peckover’s right, MECCA Services clinical director Fonda Frazier. The panel moderator at far left is Emily Nelson, the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s community content and engagement editor. Credit: Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

The value of treatment – with funding but also at the hands-on level where medical help, counseling and social work attacks the problem – is a common theme among those helping Iowans addicted to meth kick the habit. Several of them expressed that view in two forums held in this month. Another was prevention programs.

“The younger you can reach somebody the better,” Glennis Guerrero, a recovering meth addict from Council Bluffs and 12 years sober, said at the Des Moines forum.

Scott Nicholson, Jasper County’s first assistant attorney, added that those prevention programs need teeth in order to be effect with young people. “We need to scare the hell out of them,” he said.

The forums, in Des Moines on Wednesday, Nov. 19, and Iowa City on Thursday, Nov. 20, were related to a documentary by former reporter Katie Kuntz, “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction In The Heartland,” that explores in depth how much meth use in Iowa is growing this decade. They were part of an IowaWatch Connection effort to engage Iowans in discussion about issues facing the state.

While the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy reports a drop in meth lab incidents from a peak in 2011 to 2013, drug policy and treatment officials agreed that methamphetamine use in Iowa is increasing. Equally alarming, the number of children in whom illegal drugs of any kind, including meth, are detected, has grown rapidly the last five years from 633 in 2008 to 1,172 in 2013.

But Iowa’s Department of Education no longer funds a Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program that had included prevention training programs in schools. Some federal funding exists but the programming that was in place a few years ago is gone.

Moreover, learned after its Des Moines forum, the Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children program that has supported a website,, has been eliminated. It has been folded into the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy because federal funding was yanked, Dale Woolery, associate director of that office and a forum attendee, said.

Kuntz, now a reporter with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News in Denver, and Guerrero appeared on panels at both forums. Nicholson and Mike Edens, a counselor at the Powell Chemical Dependency Center in Des Moines, appeared in the capital city event. Peckover and Fonda Frazier, clinical director at MECCA Services, took their places on the Iowa City panel.

The Des Moines forum was co-sponsored by UnityPoint Health of Des Moines and Register Media. The Iowa City forum was co-sponsored by MECCA Services and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Frazier said one step that could lead to dealing better with addictions to meth and other drugs is to remove the stigma attached to meth addiction.

Twenty percent of MECCA’s clients name meth as their drug of choice, which draws public attention but alcohol is, by far, clients’ No. 1 drug of choice, Frazier said. “Because it’s legal we don’t talk about it,” she said.

Mike Edens, a counselor at Powell Chemical Dependency Center of Des Moines, speaks at the Register Media Community Room Nov. 19, 2014, about the need for meth addiction treatment in the criminal justice system. Left of Edens is Glennis Guerrero, a recovering meth addict 12 years sober from Council Bluffs who now helps others recover from drug addiction. Credit: Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

Edens said the Powell Chemical Dependency Center has the same experience when it comes to its clients’ drug of choice.

“A lot of people don’t understand addictions,” Edens said. “It’s a lot more than just, ‘make better choices’.” Addicts suffer a chemical imbalance in their brains and have to change lifestyles to have a chance at licking their problems, he said.

Like Guerrero, Edens is a recovering meth addict who learned lessons the hard way – in prison. Also like Guerrero, he said he is glad he ended up there because it forced him to change his lifestyle.

Edens said he got out of prison in 1998. He got his big break, he said, when a judge recognized the importance of substance abuse treatment in a sentence instead of simply punishment.

“I owe the last 14 years to the people of Iowa who supported treatment programs,” said Edens, now a certified drug counselor whose various roles at the Powell Chemical Dependency Center have included overseeing aftercare and continuing care groups and, currently, as a residential treatment and intensive outpatient counselor.

“Treatment helps. It really changed my life,” Edens said. “I tell people I didn’t get arrested. I got rescued.”

This story was published by The Des Moines Register IowaWatch’s mission of sharing its stories with media partners.

A panel of experts on meth addiction listen as former IowaWatch reporter Katie Kuntz, now with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News in Denver, talks about what she learned when producing a documentary, “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in the Heartland”. Pictured are (left, standing) panel moderator Amalie Nash, executive editor and vice president for news and engagement at The Des Moines Register, and panelists (left to right from Kuntz) Glennis Guerrero of Council Bluffs, Powell Chemical Dependency Center counselor Mike Edens, and Jasper County Assistant Attorney Scott Nicholson. Credit: Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

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