You Do the Meth

Police raids bust up drug labs. But they also bust up families.

And, contrary to popular thought, Moriarty discovered that the disease could be treatable. "In a lot of parts of this country, there is a belief that meth users do not respond to treatment like other alcohol and drug abusers do," says Richard Rawson, associate director of Integrated Substance Abuse Programs at the University of California, Los Angeles, who found that about 35 percent of meth users respond favorably to so-called matrix models of treatment, a combination of empirically based outpatient programs including relapse prevention, counseling and drug testing. "When you look at the data, meth users are no more or less treatable than anybody else who has a substance-abuse disorder." Talking with innovative drug-treatment managers like Nicolas Taylor, a clinical psychologist and addictions counselor in Montrose, and Judge Regina Walter, head of the family treatment drug court in El Paso County, Moriarty learned that they had found a way to overcome the fact that Colorado had one of the lowest rates of drug-treatment funding in the country. The trick was focusing on community-based matrix treatment models that avoided the excessive costs of inpatient treatment — models that, in the case of some meth-using parents, incorporated the possibility of keeping families together as an incentive for success. "What we are forcing to have happen is for the client to associate feeling good with good things that are happening in their life. We want to break that association with meth," says Taylor. "A family, especially children, provides us with an opportunity to reaffirm activities in a sober lifestyle. The beauty of a relationship with a child is that it can be as primitive and powerful as an addiction to meth."

Moriarty finally got it. "If treatment can work, we have to find those parents who can recover from their addiction," she says. "If there is a percentage of families you can put back together, we have a responsibility to do that." She began to incorporate treatment providers into her DEC case-flow models. She went back to the communities where she'd already spoken, back to the child-dependency judges, and told them she was wrong — that some meth addicts could recover, and that terminating parental rights wasn't necessarily the way to go.

After one of her presentations in Mesa County, a man in his mid-twenties came up to Moriarty. He said he was a recovering meth addict who'd seen her talk the year before, when her attitude toward people like him was very different. "I was so mad at you," he told her now. "You weren't giving anyone in the audience hope. But you have grown so much in the last year. It gives me hope that others can change their opinion of us, too."

Police commander Lori Moriarty is now leading a nationwide effort to help drug-endangered children.
Anthony Camera
Police commander Lori Moriarty is now leading a nationwide effort to help drug-endangered children.
On drug raids, Colorado law-enforcement agencies found not just dangerous chemicals, but children who'd been living in the labs.
On drug raids, Colorado law-enforcement agencies found not just dangerous chemicals, but children who'd been living in the labs.


To see a slide show related to this story, click here.
For video of a North Metro Task Force raid click here.

"It was a hugely rewarding experience for me that a recovering addict could say to me, a cop, that I had grown," says Moriarty. "There was hope for both of us."

In March 2006, Lopez got a very different kind of phone call from Vince. Miranda was gone, he cried hysterically. Vince and the kids didn't even get a chance to say goodbye.

Vince and Miranda's charges from the December 2004 drug raid had finally come down: felony possession and distribution, which they both pleaded down to felony possession. Vince was scheduled to go before a judge in a few weeks for his sentencing; Miranda had just gone before 17th Judicial District Court Judge Edward Moss, who'd been mayor of Westminster — Vince and Miranda had dealt meth to his constituents — before becoming a judge and getting assigned to the criminal division four months earlier. Everyone expected Miranda to get probation: She was a non-violent offender with no previous felonies who'd been clean fourteen months and had won her kids back. Her defense attorney was asking for probation, social services was asking for probation, the prosecutor was asking for probation.

But that's not what Miranda got. "The one thing everyone agrees on is that sales of methamphetamine is a gruesome, gruesome crime. Not only does it involve injury to your family, but it involves injury to all the other people that you and your husband were selling to," Judge Moss said. "And while we have many, many people trying to improve our community, we have people who tear it down. I'm going to sentence you to four years in the Department of Corrections plus three years of mandatory parole."

"The whole courtroom gasped," remembers Miranda. "I didn't get a shot at probation. I didn't get to prove that I can change, that there is more to me than a drug addiction."

"Of the 1,500 or so cases I have handled, I have never had a client do as much as Miranda to turn her life around," says David Beller, Miranda's public defender. "I have also never seen as many people in the legal community plead for the court to understand how much probation would help ensure the permanency of the law-abiding life she and Vince had made for themselves and their children. The criminal-justice system is designed to put an end to a criminal cycle. Everything that happened up until sentencing satisfied that purpose. With the single five-minute imposition of an unjust sentence, that was all lost."

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