The audience gathered inside the Fletcher Warren Civic Center Tuesday night heard some hard facts about the hazards of drug abuse, especially the addictions caused by methamphetamine.

For instance, intravenous drug abuse is responsible for the spread of many dangerous diseases, including the deadly MRSA “super” version of staphylococcus, said Tom Owens, a licensed vocational nurse and one of the founders of the “Healing Helpers Coalition”, which sponsored Tuesday’s forum.

“Infectious disease is the single most devastating result of drug use,” Owens said.

But as scary as the information was, there was some reason for optimism also presented.

Dr. S. Michael Owens, a professor and the director of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has been researching the causes and impacts of methamphetamine addiction for 20 years and said those who partake of the drug typically either develop a long-term recurring illness, are sent to prison and/or die.

“Very few escape it when they get really addicted,” Owens, who is not related to Tom Owens, said. Although the numbers of patients in methamphetamine treatment programs increased by 340 percent in 10 years, Owens said there remains no specific medicines for treating methamphetamine addiction.

The strongest attraction to the drug comes with its first uses, he said.

“The first few times are literally orgasmic ... because it captures the pleasure centers,” Owens said. “The bad news is that it doesn’t last very long and you wind up with an addiction.”

Owens said the best chance for kicking the addiction for a year or more is a combination of strict counseling and medication, the latter of which he is developing through active and passive immunizations, both of which are expected to soon be tested in clinical trials.

Tom Owens and his wife, Dru Driver, helped begin the Healing Helpers Coalition in 2004. The organization was based in the DeKalb area and initially worked to reach drug-endangered children in the northeast corner of Texas. Recently, the group has been expanding its operations to cover the entire Northeast Texas area and into Louisiana and Arkansas.

Owens said his specialty has been identifying infection control, which has been made worse due to illegal drug use.

“Drug abuse is an instrument which has achieved this particular problem,” he said, noting that the spread of such afflictions as HIV, sexually-transmitted diseases, hepatitis and streptococcus are just a few of the dangers which can affect the general population as the result of drug abuse.

Of late, much of the attention has been focused on the drug-resistant MRSA form of staph infection, the so-called potentially fatal “super bug.”

“It is currently the leading bacterial infection in the United States,” Owens said. “It is no longer associated just with intravenous drug use.”

Owens said the best safety method is avoid contacting the source of the infections.

“The only way to solve this particular problem is through prevention,” he said. “It is simply to not put yourself in the way. Your first line of defense to infection is your unbroken skin, and wash your hands. It is common sense stuff.”

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