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Doc: Insurance Status Affects Meth Treatment

Kealey Bultena
SF Public Health Dir. Jill Franken talks about meth with physician Dr. Jennifer Tinguely, dentist Dr. Stephanie Schmitz, and licensed addiction counselor Sheri Nelson

A Sioux Falls doctor says insurance status often dictates resources available for meth users who want to break free from the drug. Health leaders say meth is a dangerous substance with devastating physical, mental, and social ramifications.

A typical poster condemning meth use displays a disheveled person with a miserable gaze, ashen skin and open sores. Doctor Jennifer Tinguely with Falls Community Health in Sioux Falls says meth affects every system of the body. She says the drug triggers a rush of hormones including dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin.

"A person who’s using meth gets all of that essentially at the same time. They feel fantastic.  They feel on top of the world. They’re high," Tinguely says. "And that is a feeling that I think people want again, but what happens is the body actually stops producing those hormones on their own, and so the only way they can feel good without it is to use it again."

She says doctors don’t have pharmaceutical options to help patients detox and stay off meth.

"There’s nothing that I can prescribe that will treat that addiction or that will block their need for it or that will make them really sick if they use it," Tinguely says. "I mean, there’s nothing available to me at this time. I wish there was, because I’m seeing a lot of success with our office-based opioid dependence programs. I see alcoholics that doing well, and it’s just through medications that we can provide. But meth is certainly a challenge."

Tinguely says meth lingers in the body after use. She says she’s seen patients who admit to using the drug days earlier still feeling physical effects like anxiety. Tinguely says people crash when the drug wears off and can’t take care of themselves.

The doctor says handling meth addiction requires physical treatment plus mental health services and addiction counseling. Tinguely says meth destroys the body, the mind, the family – and finances. She says that means necessary intensive treatment is not always an option.

"When somebody doesn’t have insurance, where can I go then to get them those resources?" she asks. "I know there are scholarships available at certain facilities. Those tend to, I hear anyway, getting whittled down quickly. Then we just do the best we can in the office, but it’s very, very challenging."

Tinguely says she once had to call the police because a woman admitted to using meth and had children with her. Otherwise she says patient confidentiality exists, and she's not interested in getting people in trouble but wants instead to get people help.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).