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US CA: Addiction Teaches Lesson

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Votes: 3
Pubdate: Wed, 26 Apr 2006
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2006 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: John Scheibe


Ex-Professor Learns About Drugs The Hard Way

There were times when Wayne Mellinger felt as if he were standing on the peaks of heaven, filled with a euphoria he'd never experienced.

Drugs seemed to transport the former Ventura College instructor to a faraway place where the problems and the struggles of day-to-day existence weren't allowed in.

But drugs also brought Mellinger plenty of hell, most recently on Tuesday, when he was sentenced to 240 days in County Jail.

A year ago today, Mellinger found himself handcuffed and lying on the ground in downtown Ventura, his face pressed to the sidewalk.  Ventura police had arrested the sociology instructor on suspicion of dealing methamphetamine along the west side of town.

Mellinger was taken to county jail, where he spent his 47th birthday with bail set at $50,000.  He was released after posting bail four days later.

How Mellinger, who has a Ph.D.  in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found himself behind bars is a story of someone who slowly drifted into drugs, until one day he was firmly in their grasp.

Mellinger knew drugs controlled his life and that they would eventually kill him if he continued to use them.

But at the same time, he felt powerless to do anything about it.

"Whether it's meth, cocaine, alcohol or tobacco, addiction is a very powerful thing," Mellinger said on Tuesday, hours before Superior Court Judge Bruce Clark sentenced him to eight months behind bars.  The Massachusetts native had never used drugs before moving to San Francisco in 1981 at the age of 23, determined to be a writer.

Mellinger had romantic ideas about drugs back then.  He thought of Edgar Allen Poe, Aldous Huxley and other writers known for their drug use.

"I thought of genius and altered states of consciousness, not someone passed out on the bathroom floor with a needle in their arm."

Mellinger started experimenting with pot, cocaine and speed, almost playfully at first.

It was only later, when he enrolled in the graduate sociology program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1983 that his drug use increased.

Even then, it was pretty much only marijuana, he said.

Mellinger fell into a routine in which he'd get stoned, go to class, and later teach.  All the while he was able to not only earn a master's degree, but a Ph.D.  as well.

"I was a functional drug user."

After receiving his doctorate from UCSB in 1990, he taught for two years at University of California, Santa Cruz.

But two years later, he found himself unemployed.  Depressed, he started to drink heavily.

"It got to the point where I was drunk by noon," he said.

Life got better when he landed a job at Ventura College in 1995.  Other jobs soon followed, including one as a full-time faculty member at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.  Mellinger also started teaching at UCSB.

He bought a home above Ventura College.

"I felt like I had finally made it," he said.

To keep himself going, he used methamphetamine and crack cocaine.

All of the hours spent away from home teaching took a toll on his home life.

Mellinger came home one day to find the house vacant, his partner of 19 years having moved out.

Alone, his drug use increased.

He eventually started to miss work and was fired from both of his Santa Barbara jobs.

Mellinger entered two drug treatment programs in 1999 as he struggled to control his addiction and his life.

But the programs didn't last long enough.  He eventually slipped back into drugs, using methamphetamine mostly.

He would tell himself that he wasn't like the other methamphetamine users: He didn't have a needle in his arm.  He wasn't homeless.  He was different.

"I wasn't like the tweakers," Mellinger said of the out-of-control methamphetamine users, who take a couple of hits off a pipe and feel like bugs are crawling under their skin and run down the street screaming.

Mellinger classified himself as a "keep-it-cool" methamphetamine user, "someone you would never suspect was high or used the drug."

Unable to support himself as a part-time instructor at Ventura College, where he earned less than $30,000 a year, Mellinger lost his home.

Mellinger also was unable to support his drug habit, which cost him $900 or so a month.

So he started dealing methamphetamine.  He said his arrest in 2005 came after someone he knew told police he was dealing.

Mellinger said he's worked hard to rebuild his life since his arrest.  He's been in a drug treatment program at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission for 11 months.  He's also enrolled in an alcohol and drug counseling program at Santa Barbara City college.  He hopes to become a drug counselor someday.

John Jenks, a former Port Hueneme police officer who lost his job to drug use and who today works with drug users, helping them to recover, said Mellinger is a great example of someone who can turn his life around.

"He's a brilliant man who knew his life was being destroyed by drugs.  yet he felt powerless to do anything about it," said Jenks, who persuaded Mellinger to enter the drug-treatment program in Santa Barbara.

"As a former drug user myself, I have a lot of compassion for people who find themselves in his situation," Jenks said.

Jenks said Mellinger will go on to help other users beat their addiction someday.

"Having been there himself, he knows what it takes to turn your life around."

MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman

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