Georgia Meth Project bringing campaign to Albany

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Meth Project as well as local law enforcement, physicians, substance abuse professionals and even a coroner are expected to come together to discuss the dangers associated with what officials consider to be the most addictive drug out there.

On Wednesday, from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m., there will be a community forum -- catered primarily to area teens -- at Phoebe Northwest on Dawson Road intended to discuss the dangers of methamphetamine use.

Officials say the purpose of the event is to not only encourage conversations on the topic, but to establish a Georgia Meth Project presence in Albany.

"Our interest is to get the message out all over the state," said Latrina Patrick, program manager for Georgia Meth Project. "We have identified gaps in the state (in which we have not been), and Southwest Georgia is one of those areas.

"The first thing we did was reach out to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to find out how we can do something. We decided that a community forum would be the best way to (establish a connection with the community)."

The forum is free and open to the public. While the message is geared toward youth, officials ask that children under age 12 not attend because the Georgia Meth Project is showing a new wave of its graphic commercials at the event.

As officials have pointed out before, meth can be more of a problem than people realize. In December, there were two meth lab busts in the area within three days. One was in a shed in Lee County, while the other was a mobile lab found during a traffic stop in Albany.

"It's an issue that is affecting us directly and indirectly, and it is costing the state $1.3 billion a year," Patrick said.

Darrell Sabbs, community benefits coordinator at Phoebe, said the hospital was influenced to get on board from a prevention standpoint.

"We see it on the end of how it affects emergency rooms, neighborhoods and families," he said. "It is a very dangerous drug. There is an influx in the ER to where we are just getting to learn how to handle it.

"It is so important to get ahead of this issue, and we are told young people are the newest customers."

Patrick said that attitudes toward meth usage is the primary thing the organization is looking at. In 2010, surveys showed that 35 percent of teens in Georgia saw little to no risk associated with using meth.

"Some even thought there was an added benefit to using it," she said.

By the next year, that number had dipped to 28 percent.

At the forum, parents should be able to get an idea of what the signs of meth use are. As a community, the overall goal is to get ahead of the drug, officials say.

"You use this one time and you are gone. You are a slave to the drug," Saabs said.

To this effect, the Georgia Meth Project's slogan is "Not Even Once."

The forum, Patrick said, is just the first step the organization plans to take in battling the problem in Albany.

"We want to walk away from the forum with the next step," she said. "We want to go into health classes.

"We just want to make a difference here. What works in Futon County might not work here, and we won't be successful if the community does not buy into it."

There are other communities in the state the organization is hoping to hit next. Among them are Macon and Augusta, Patrick said.