Missouri mother, daughter help addicts defeat meth

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Missouri - Back when she was using methamphetamine, all day, every day, the drug made Karen Daugherty feel so powerful and so efficient that sharing a hit with her 16-year-old daughter seemed like a good idea.

Stacy Sullivan-Jones thought the experience was fun. On meth, she could go days without sleep and finish numerous projects. But the notoriously addictive substance became an obsession that for 17 years ruled her life, just as it did her mother's; as addicts, they shared the experience of being unable to get out of bed without getting high first.

"It's very addictive because it gives you this false sense of you can do anything. You can clean a house for days, you can work, you can run," Sullivan-Jones, who has been sober for eight years, told The Southeast Missouri. "You feel like Superwoman."

Then the mother and daughter shared another nightmarish part of the meth life -- quitting it, a process that Sullivan-Jones, a recovering addict since 2006, describes as an infuriating "crash" marked by anger, agitation, paranoia and illness.

Today, the mother and daughter are using their experience to help other women overcome meth addictions. Though neither are medical professionals nor certified counselors, they administer empathy and tough love to the women who stay at Mending Hearts, a 10-bed transitional housing facility for those in the early stages of substance abuse recovery.

The Cape Girardeau home is meeting a sharply growing need in Missouri for the especially difficult process of kicking meth.

According to Missouri Department of Mental Health's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, which oversees the state's publicly funded substance abuse treatment centers, there were 4,375 admissions through November last year for people seeking treatment for methamphetamine addiction. In 1993, there were just 146 admissions related to meth use. The number skyrocketed to more than 6,000 in 2005, just before the federal government passed the Combat Meth Act, a law that regulated the sale of over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine.

On average, 58,000 Missourians are struggling with an addictive disorder every year, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety. A total of 7.5 percent of the 58,000 have identified methamphetamine as their drug of choice, said Mike O'Connell, public affairs officer with the department.

Bob Bax, director of public affairs for the Department of Mental Health, said there are 23 treatment programs within 50 miles of Cape Girardeau. Treatment for meth addicts accounts for about $8.3 million of the annual treatment budget for the department.

"We know that methamphetamine use is a serious problem and all treatment programs must be prepared to help those with this addiction," Bax said. "Treatment success is more likely when services focus on the individual person's needs and recovery means a return to work, stable housing, better relationships and less criminal activity."

At the Gibson Recovery Center in Cape Girardeau, executive director John Gary said recovery from meth use is especially time-intensive. Recovering addicts can spend up to 12 months or longer in the center's outpatient treatment program.

Sullivan-Jones, whose mother quit the drug first, began the first month of her own recovery sleeping in the basement of Daugherty's sponsor. After six months, she entered roughly 18 months of intense counseling in which she learned the nature of her addiction and developed new behaviors.

At Mending Hearts, Daugherty and Sullivan-Jones use what they've learned to guide other women through the beginning stages of recovery. They know it's not easy for their clients.

"I'm the cop here," Sullivan-Jones said. "I think using ... it's absolutely ridiculous. And I'm tough. These women can turn their lives around if they would just listen."

They know the women will succeed only if they're determined to quit. Not all are; of five women who've applied to enter Mending Hearts in the next few weeks, it's uncertain how many will actually do so.

"Maybe out of the five, three will come. If you're not ready, you're not; I'm not mad at you," Sullivan-Jones said. "But don't come here and play the game. What's going to happen if you go back out there, you're either going to die or you're going to go to prison."
 

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