Talk outlines Humboldt County's meth woes; funding pinch requires creative solutions, officials say

Humboldt County has methamphetamine to thank for almost a quarter of its probation cases, the Board of Supervisors was told at its Tuesday meeting, but not nearly enough money to cope with the problem.

County Department of Health and Human Services Director Phillip Crandall said that the county will have to look to funding sources other than the state.

"The department of health and human services has no indications of additional funding for either mental health or alcohol and drug programs coming into the county," he said. "At the county level, we're capped, and we're going to have to be creative."

Department Senior Program Manager Mike Goldsby provided the Board of Supervisors a brief overview of the county's methamphetamine history, treatment statistics and prevention programs currently in operation.

"Recovery is possible with support," Goldsby said. "There are a variety of outpatient, counseling programs, private therapists. The DHHS does provide partial funding to several of these programs."

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that the county must look at meth addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

"There is no model of who a likely meth user is," Lovelace said. "... but we do know that fear, shame and punishment -- the old model for dealing with these things -- doesn't work. We're going to have to take a compassionate approach to deal with this through prevention and treatment."

According to the presentation, about 22 percent of the nearly 1,700 probation cases in the county are a result of meth-related violations of the state health and safety code. About 30 percent of county residents seeking drug treatment in 2012 stated meth as their main addiction.

Even with the programs in place, 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that further legislative action must be taken.

"It's still here, and it's still impacting the community despite all these programs," Fennell said.

County Chief Probation Officer William Damiano said the county used to receive about $500,000 annually under the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000 -- also known as Proposition 36 -- for drug treatment programs.

"Funding for that program went away," Damiano said. "Now we still have the mandate to treat addicts, but not the funding to treat them. ... Certainly, having additional support through state legislation and restoring some of those funds we used to receive would be helpful."

Despite a lack of funding, North Coast Substance Abuse Council Executive Director Diana Livingston said that space is available in many programs.

"Today, there are six men in our 16-bed men's treatment program," Livingston said.

First District Supervisor and Board Chairman Rex Bohn said that the January public forum on meth abuse held in Eureka was a clear indication of the community's growing concern.

"It's frustrating for the regular citizens that don't understand it," Bohn said. "I know you guys are doing a great job, but we're getting to the point that I don't know if it can get any better. We're hoping that it can get better."

Should any solution arise, Goldsby said it would come out of a collaborative approach.

"I don't think there are any simple answers," Goldsby said. "I think it requires collective impact; that's a variety of people working together with the same common goal. No one person or program can deal with this."

Representatives from Humboldt Made -- an organization which seeks

to promote and cultivate Humboldt businesses and products -- also gave a presentation to the board on their current progress and future plans.

The organization became its own entity more than a year ago with the aid of the county, the Headwaters Fund, the Humboldt Area Foundation and other organizations. In the presentation, Humboldt Made Executive Director Angeline Schwab presented several of the organizations promotional videos highlighting local businesses and artisans.

Program sponsor Kathy Moxon of Redwood Coast Rural Action said that these promotions will help reduce the stigma of Humboldt County being known for its marijuana.

"One of the important things about Humboldt made is the image it provides for people on the outside," Moxon said. "We know what a lot of people think about Humboldt. It's time to put images that really let them know what Humboldt is all about."

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said that the image change will make the county more appealing to potential business owners, as well as tourists.

"The change in that dialogue and presenting this in professional and creative ways; I think it's just killer," Sundberg said.

Most recently, the organization has applied to become a public benefit corporation, is undergoing a membership campaign and is inviting several national retail buyers to meet with several of the businesses.

"Those kind of investments are going to really keep Humboldt Made vibrant," Schwab said. "We have reached out to about 200 businesses, and its just getting a round up."

As the organization is still waiting to see how many businesses buy a membership, Schwab said that she "didn't come to make a proposal" for funding during the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved 540 more extra help hours for a county Public Defender's Office worker in order to deal with the office's increased work load. The hours for the office assistant position will cost the county about $6,000, but will be offset by about $3,000 due to additional funds saved from the office's vacant legal secretary position.

Further information on drug abuse treatment programs in the county can be found at

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or Follow him on