12-step program for crystal meth users launched in Ceres

kcarlson@modbee.comJanuary 27, 2014 

— There’s only one requirement for membership in the Crystal Meth Anonymous group that started this month in Ceres – the desire to quit.

In a region that was a breeding ground for methamphetamine in the United States, which later left a trail of ruined lives across many states, it’s hard to fathom that the CMA group is a first for Stanislaus County.

Lon Stromnes, general manager of Valley Sober Living, said people trying to break away from crystal meth have typically blended with other drug users in Narcotics Anonymous or other groups.

“All 12-step programs are run on the same principles, the only difference is this one is focusing on crystal meth,” Stromnes said. In July, Valley Sober Living opened a Fifth Street apartment building in Ceres for about 25 residents who are committed to breaking their addictions, and it helped get the CMA group started this month.

“When you hear their stories, they are much different than the stories told by alcoholics,” Stromnes said.

The hourlong meetings are at 6 p.m. Mondays at the Center for Human Services’ facility at North and Fourth streets in downtown Ceres. About 18 to 20 people have attended the 12-step meetings this month, and there’s room for twice that number, organizers said.

Stromnes said about half the residents of the Valley Sober Living apartments in Ceres have been addicted to crystal meth and are trying to stay clean.

A woman identified only as Chelsea D. said she has taken drugs such as opiates and meth for about half her life. The 25-year-old had her belongings in a pillowcase when, in September, Stromnes picked her up outside a 7-Eleven store and took her to the sober living apartments, where she now lives in a unit for women.

Her two children, ages 2 and 4, are living with their father. She is one of the leaders of the CMA group and for the first time has a sense of purpose, she said.

“The people I was hanging out with were going to jail. They were getting in fights. I started selling it,” Chelsea said. “One day, someone asked me what I liked to do for fun. I had no idea. Drugs and alcohol were the only thing.”

She said she has worked with a founder of the CMA fellowship in Stockton to run the Ceres group. Crystal Meth Anonymous got its start in Los Angeles in 1994 and has numerous groups in California, other states and other countries. But somehow the movement bypassed Stanislaus County until this month.

“We share our experiences, our strengths and hope with one another,” Chelsea said. “We talk about the things we have lost, but also make it more about how we are getting out of it and how we are changing our lives.”

The chemicals in crystal meth are highly toxic, and the group members are on common ground when they talk about the health effects. Chelsea said it is a spiritually based group with no connection to a religious faith.

Art de Werk, acting city manager and police chief of Ceres, said Monday that he was not aware of the initiative to start the 12-step group but said it is needed.

“There is no productive way to get people off of meth with the system we have now,” he said. “If you are addicted to meth, you usually end up in jail and in some form of short-term treatment. The fact that this is taking place at a community level is an ideal approach.”

Stromnes said those interested in joining what’s listed online as the “Downtown Ceres CMA Unspun” group are encouraged to attend a meeting or can call Chelsea at (209) 272-1285 for more information.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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