More public servants could join detox regimen

Meth cops: Congress, state has appropriated money but scientists are skeptical.

The Salt Lake Tribune/March 26, 2010

A detoxification program for ill police officers exposed to methamphetamine that has received more than $500,000 in public funding could soon expand to include firefighters and veterans.

Sandra Lucas, director of the Utah Meth Cops Project, said efforts are under way to raise enough money to begin this year treating firefighters and soldiers returning from war. She suggested the regimen could help firefighters and soldiers who have worked around burn pits used to dispose of everything from weapons to chemicals in Iraq.

The project received a $200,000 earmark from Congress this year, but that money can probably only be used to treat police officers. Fundraisers beginning this month will benefit Meth Cops and a newer organization, Heroes Health Project, created to help firefighters and veterans.

Lucas and Darin Farr, who works in outreach and special projects for the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, plan to visit the state conventions of organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars later this year to discuss the treatment.

"The VA and the veterans community is looking at getting her some volunteers [to undergo the treatment]," Farr said.

Jack Tidrow, president of Salt Lake City Firefighters Local 1645, said three firefighters were screened to undergo the regimen but none participated because of medical or scheduling conflicts.

Utah Meth Cops participants are current or former narcotics officers who have complained of ailments ranging from trouble sleeping to cancer. The treatment, created by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is intended to force the officers to excrete poisons and includes up to seven hours a day of exercise and sauna time at the Meth Cops Project clinic in Orem. Participants also eat a diet high in antioxidants.

At least $390,000 in state money has been spent on the detoxification program since 2007, though no money was appropriated in the state legislative session that ended this month. The recent earmark was requested by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has been the most vocal public official supporting the project. The earmark was sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop and both Utah senators.

Shurtleff earlier this month said he plans to try to raise more money -- both public and private -- to expand the program. That irks some toxicologists who argue the treatment does not do what it claims: remove toxins from the body.

"If taxpayers' money were used for this, then this is even more preposterous than the bridge to nowhere," said Utah State University toxicology professor Roger Coulombe, referring to a partially-built Alaskan bridge.

Coulombe believes police officers' claims of being sickened by methamphetamine and its precursors, but says those illnesses should be treated with conventional medicine. Coulombe said he knows of no peer-reviewed, published research supporting the regimen purges poisons.

"You and I would certainly feel better getting pampered at the spa, but in terms of it doing the things [Utah Meth Cops Project is] actually claiming, like getting rid of toxins ... those compounds are very rapidly absorbed and rapidly excreted."

Literature promoting the Hubbard method says fatty tissues store the toxins unless the body is forced to excrete them.

Raymond Harbison, a professor of toxicology at the University of South Florida, said while fatty tissues can retain chlorinated hydrocarbons, like those found in pesticides, such compounds are not ingredients of methamphetamine and its building materials.

Harbison, who has examined sick narcotics officers in Florida, said there's no study showing methamphetamine has made police sick, and a study should be done for returning soldiers before assuming burn pits made them ill.

"I would advise the citizens ask questions of the [Meth Cops Project] and whether competent medical people are involved," Harbison said.

Lucas said 68 current or former Utah police officers have completed the detox regimen. The officers who have spoken publicly about it have said their health improved.

Lucas said she would like to expand the detoxification program beyond Utah and has spoken with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association about treating sickened officers nationwide. And, Lucas said, there is a registry of 100,000 military veterans with disabilities, including some who say a chemical exposure sickened them.

"We're going to have to have clinics in other states," Lucas said.

Tidrow points to testimonials from treated police officers in explaining why he wants firefighters to undergo the regimen. He is confident Salt Lake City leaders will give firefighters paid time off for the program and not concerned by the regimen's affiliation with Scientology.

"It just so happens Doctor Hubbard is the one who launched this medical procedure," Tidrow said.

Farr said the regimen does not necessarily need to remove toxins, just make returning soldiers feel better.

"If there's a possibility of it helping veterans, that's my interest," Farr said.

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