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Eighth-graders respond to meth program message

| March 30, 2006 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Libby Middle School eighth-grader Jackie Mee wants to become either a lawyer, pilot or professional basketball player.

She's not about to let methamphetamine ruin her plans.

"I have a good life, I play sports and have good grades," Mee said. "I wouldn't want to put battery acid in my body."

A straight-A student who participates in basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, golf and track, the 13-year-old was among 350 Libby students in fifth through eighth grades who recently heard about the evils of meth.

After listening to the presentation from Ralph Stever, a substance abuse counselor with the Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic, it reinforced Mee's earlier beliefs about the highly addictive, yet easy-to-make drug.

"He showed us how it changes people," she said, referring to photos of users who had lost weight and aged.

Classmates Levi Neubauer and Lewis Brossman said it further convinced them not to try it.

"He gave me a lot more reasons not to try it," said Neubauer, 14.

"I wouldn't try it unless I was forced to - only if it meant death," added Brossman, 13.

Stever's presentation is an ongoing effort to educate Libby's youth about the dangers of meth.

After the presentation, Principal Ron Goodman told the school board it might be time to add more drug and alcohol education to the health curriculum.

"Kids begin decision-making at age 12. Nationally, it used to be age 15, now it's 12," Goodman said. "That's us, in the middle school. Montana is third in the nation per capita for drinking and drug use. Lincoln County is third in the state. That puts us at the epicenter."

Speakers like Stever's are effective, yet not enough, he said.

"You can tell kids all you want, but I think if we can do more to teach it better," Goodman said. "This is the battle ground at the middle school."

Meth use has reached epidemic levels across the state, according an Montana Meth Project. The organization targets 12- to 17-year -olds in hopes of reducing the prevalence of first-time meth use.

Montana ranks 11th for meth use in the 50 states. Sixty-five percent of the state's youth says it's readily available; 33 percent say they were offered the drug in the past year; and 23 percent have close friends who use meth.

Mee, Neubauer and Brossman would basically agree with those statistics.

"It's available (here)," Brossman. "I know a few classmates (who have tried it),"

The students appreciated Stever's presentation.

"He gave us more reasons not to try it," Neubauer said. "He was good about the way he said things."

Stever claims that although 90 to 95 percent of Libby's middle school students admitted to knowing someone with an addiction, the number was lower when it came to those who have been educated about alcohol and drugs.

"We're pushing to bring education into the schools," Stever said. "Three to four years ago, 60 percent of our clients were meth related with an average age of 21 to 25."

Between the late 1990s and 2004, officials busted roughly 19 meth labs in Lincoln and Sanders Counties, he said. Public education, including asking retailers to keep an eye open for anyone buying the ingredients for making meth, has helped.

"That seemed to reduce the meth labs," Stever said. "That's not to say the problem is over. Most labs busted in Lincoln County were "mom and pop" operations."