(L-r) Supervisor Ron Roberts, Alcohol and Drug Services deputy director Connie Moreno-Peraza and Dr. Nancy Bowen unveil a bus stop advertisement for San Diego County’s Crystal Mess harm-reduction campaign.
san diego
County Health Department launches Crystal Mess campaign
Study: funding, increased training needed for area service providers to treat meth users
Published Thursday, 03-Aug-2006 in issue 971
Pedestrians and drivers in the Hillcrest area may have noticed a new series of bus stop advertisements and billboards displaying disturbing images of the physical effects of methamphetamine use along with the slogan “Crystal Mess.”
The ads are part of a countywide harm-reduction campaign targeting crystal meth users that was launched by the County Health Department after a needs assessment conducted last year found that meth use is on the rise in certain populations and there is a need for more services to curb its use.
“We have a lot of challenges working with meth users,” said county public health officer Dr. Nancy Bowen at a news conference last week in Hillcrest announcing the social-marketing campaign. “There’s low cost and great availability of methamphetamine. Many of our clients that are heavy into meth use don’t have housing; they don’t have health insurance. We need messages for meth users or those who may start using that they will pay attention to.”
The needs assessment was conducted last fall by area HIV/AIDS service providers and alcohol/drug service providers to understand the prevalence of meth use among their clients. Data compiled from the three-part needs assessment – written surveys, interviews and focus groups – showed 46 percent of HIV/AIDS provider respondents reporting that more than 50 percent of their clients use meth and 78 percent of alcohol/drug service provider respondents reporting that more than 50 percent of their clients use meth.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said discussions with City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez several months ago prompted the supervisor to meet with health experts and begin generating public awareness of the issue.
“We saw that there was basically an increase in HIV/AIDS in our community and that there was a correlation, a relationship to the increased use of methamphetamine,” Roberts said at last week’s press conference. “Neither of those are desirable things. We also realized that nothing was being done and there seemed to be a lack of funding to do anything.”
Last year’s needs assessment also found that the needs of both meth users and service providers aren’t being met. Along with a lack of funding for programs and services, the study found that substance abuse providers lack sufficient skills to talk about sex-related issues and training that includes specific interventions.
All focus group participants and interviewees reported a meth-sex connection among men who have sex with men.
“Studies have shown that men who have sex with men who use methamphetamine have three times the risk of contracting HIV compared to men who do not use meth,” Bowen said.
Respondents also reported a need to integrate mental health services with substance abuse services, and to support providers in addressing and preventing burnout among staff who work with clients who use meth.
Bowen said the county Health and Human Services Agency is addressing those concerns, and will conduct a client needs assessment.
The county has rented five bus stop advertisements in the community and two major billboards for the Crystal Mess campaign, Roberts said. The campaign, which borrows heavily from a social-marketing campaign targeting crystal meth users that was launched in San Francisco, will also distribute mini-versions of the advertisement in local businesses. The pamphlets will feature the ad on one side and information and resources on where to get help on the other.
“The whole idea behind this is we want people to be aware,” Roberts said. “We want to increase the public awareness of the dangers of the methamphetamine, or, as we say, crystal mess.”

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