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Meth resource center: Did the $600,000 agency turn out to be what leaders envisioned?

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Meth resource center: Did the $600,000 agency turn out to be what leaders envisioned?
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Minnesota's new information center and training ground for methamphetamine treatment is slowly taking shape in Willmar.

Called the Minnesota Methamphetamine Resource Center, the small office is located in the Medallion building on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

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An executive director and administrative assistant have been hired, a training workshop is planned for September and a primary component of the program -- a Web site -- goes online for the first time today.

The 2005 Legislature provided $600,000 over two years to create the center in response to the growing concern about meth use in Minnesota and the lack of accurate information about how to treat people addicted to the stimulant, said Doug Seiler, regional administrator for the State Operated Services Division of the Department of Human Services.

Anecdotal information with worst-case scenarios about meth addicts was being taken as gospel by the public, and professionals -- including treatment counselors, law enforcement and educators -- were struggling to find accurate information on the best treatment practices and different models of treatment, said Seiler.

The center will help meet those needs by providing easily accessible information through the Web site that focuses on fact instead of fiction, he said.

Workshops that will feature well-known and well-respected meth treatment professionals from around the country will be held around the state to provide Minnesota meth counselors and community members new treatment information.

The office in Willmar will host a library for hard-cover resources and help direct people to find information they need.

While it may be a good start, Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the center is "not exactly" what he envisioned when he and Gov. Tim Pawlenty negotiated the funding for the program in Willmar.

Johnson said $600,000 should "buy more than two employees and a Web site."

With its current plan, the center won't provide the kind of deep, day-to-day training of meth counselors that Johnson had in mind.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, also said he thought the center would "become a practicum for meth treatment" where meth counselors could spend days or weeks doing hands-on training in Willmar.

Johnson said he's not making accusations of wrongdoing but said the department may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the agreement he and Pawlenty had regarding what would be happening at the meth treatment center in Willmar.

Johnson said the Department of Human Services has "been a little on the cheap" in developing the center that is needed to address "the most plaguing problem in our state and in our nation."

With a budget of $600,000, Seiler said he knew they wouldn't be opening up a multibed treatment facility and decided the best use of the taxpayer money was to create a resource center to provide accurate information and education to professionals and the public about addiction and treatment as well as awareness of meth issues and other chemical abuse and addictions.

The center was never designed to be a facility to house and treat meth addicts, Johnson said, but it was supposed to provide in-depth training for meth counselors on the Willmar campus.

Johnson said he thought the center would provide "eyeball-to-eyeball" interaction and training on the Willmar campus, where other drug and alcohol treatment programs are already taking place.

Juhnke said he envisioned the center being a "kind of a hands-on research facility that would explore best practices for meth treatment."

Gathering information that others have done about meth treatment is a good first step, Juhnke said, but he believes the intent of the legislation and the funding was for the center to actually put those best treatment practices to use in a clinical setting on the Willmar campus, where chemical dependency programs are already taking place.

Wording in the legislation says the money is to be used to "support research on evidence-based practices for the treatment of methamphetamine abuse."

The meth center -- which the Legislature specifically said was to be located in Willmar -- is also supposed to disseminate the results of the research and "create training for addiction counselors specializing in the treatment of meth abuse."

The meth center Web site says, however, the mission of the Minnesota Methamphetamine Resource Center is to "give the public factual information on methamphetamine and help the public make more informed decisions on methamphetamine issues that face Minnesota."

Besides an apparently different direction in the mission, the center also has a different name than what Johnson and Juhnke anticipated. The two legislators have consistently referred to the facility as the "center for excellence" for training meth counselors.

Seiler said that name was a bit presumptuous. He said if the center proves itself to successful that name could be added in the future.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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