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Court-pushed rehab beneficial

Blanketed in tattoos, Greg Johansen sat in a chair Friday morning, his hair combed back and goatee neatly trimmed, facing a room of more than 50 people.

"For 38 days I've been clean now," he told the group.The room erupted into applause.

Johansen, a recovering methamphetamine addict, remained poised as he fielded questions about his ongoing recovery at The Haven, a drug rehabilitation clinic in Salt Lake City.

He even admitted to craving the drug just moments before, as The Haven's clinical director, Dr. Gary Jorgensen, spoke on Utah's growing meth problem during a session of the School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies at the University of Utah.

But for all his struggles, Johansen is the type of success story that gives credibility to sending meth addicts to rehabilitation instead of prison, Jorgensen said.

"Greg is just one of many people who are doing very, very well," Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen isn't alone in his theory. At a Thursday session of the school, Dr. Darryl Inaba, who works at a drug rehabilitation center in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, said a recent California study showed that sending meth addicts into rehab resulted in a 75-percent drop in crime among that group. Every dollar his state put into treatment resulted in a $7 savings compared to imprisonment, he added.

The bottom line, according to Inaba and Jorgensen, is that addicts who are put into rehab programs by the criminal justice system fare much better than those who enter voluntarily or go to prison.

"Nowadays meth freaks are paranoid of probation officers," Inaba said. "If you're clean long enough something starts to happen."

What's happening, according to Inaba, is California is overcoming its once-rampant meth infestation.

"I predict in just a few years we'll be over our meth problem," he said.

According to Jorgensen, Utah usually runs five years behind California in drug trends.

Five years ago Jorgensen said every 20th admission to his clinic would be a meth addict. Today, he estimates, 40 to 60 percent of his patients are meth addicts.

Before treatment, Johansen's life was typical of most meth addicts: a revolving door between abusing and going to prison. He used meth for a year before being locked up. He was released and used meth for eight months before going back. He stayed clean for three months after his second release but then relapsed for six.

That's when he checked himself into The Haven with the approval of his probation officer. He's been out of prison for 10 months now and has no intention of returning to either the slammer or his drug habit.

According to Jorgensen, such recovery wouldn't be possible without the combined efforts from drug clinics and the law.

"I want (addicts) to have to answer to someone besides me," he said.

But pooling efforts solves just part of the problem, according to Inaba, who said his clinic turns away more than 400 people a month.

Salt Lake rehab programs are feeling the squeeze as well.

"It would mirror that," said Larry Petersen, treatment manager for the Salt Lake County Division of Substance Abuse Services. "We've got waiting lists virtually for every program."

With so many meth addicts -- Utah is third in the nation for meth lab seizures -- there seems to be no simple solution.

"If you have a drug problem," Inaba joked, "go throw a brick through a cop car's window and go to prison, and maybe then we can help you."