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Tailored Meth Treatment Lacking, Experts Say

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Methamphetamine users have unique treatment needs but typically receive the same type of therapy as those addicted to other drugs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported July 6.

“If someone needs treatment now, they might as well go to any place for any kind of addiction, because there's no specific treatment for methamphetamine. And the programs we have don't work that well,” said John Mendelson of the Addiction and Pharmacology Research Laboratory at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. “We're learning that methamphetamine is not heroin, prescription opiates or alcohol. It's a different problem with a different set of treatments that are going to be, hopefully, effective.”

Withdrawal from methamphetamine isn't as grueling as for other drugs, but quitting meth can lead to long-term depression and insomnia, which in turn can trigger relapse. The drug also is popular among people with co-occurring mental-health conditions, and users often feel like they need the drug to stay alert and physically active.

Programs at California Pacific and other treatment centers are treating meth addicts with experimental drugs and different counseling approaches, such as motivational therapy, which allows users to step down their drug use.

“There's a history in the addiction field that you have to stop using immediately — you have to hit bottom and realize you can't use anything at all, and that's the place when you begin treatment,” said researcher Douglas Polcin of the New Life Treatment Center in Lafayette, Calif. “But with motivational therapy, you meet the client where they are, which may be a very mixed place. There's certainly no magic bullet out there. But there are a few studies that are encouraging.”

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