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Hurricane Katrina Leaves Mental Scars in New Orleans


A survey released this week in New Orleans indicates that alcohol and drug use has increased and many more people suffer from mental health problems as a result of devastation and displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina last year.

The annual survey released by the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, or CADA, for the New Orleans area shows a strong increase in drug and alcohol abuse linked to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The study shows about one in seven people who responded to the survey are drinking more than they did before in order to cope with emotional stress. One in nine say they are using more prescription drugs than before.

CADA Executive Director John King says mental stress is especially high for people who have returned to flood-damaged homes.

"We consistently see evidence of frustration and anger and depression among returnees to their homes," said John King.

King says the results of the survey coincide with observations he and other CADA staff members have made in the area over the past several months. He says local clinics and treatment facilities are understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with the problem. He argues that the federal government should be doing more in general to provide treatment and rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abusers.

"The federal government spends about 70 percent of its dollars in its so-called war on drugs in protecting our borders, throwing people in jail and keeping them there," he said. "Most policemen would tell you that simply throwing people in jail is not sufficient."

King says mental health practitioners are also under increased stress as a result of Katrina's effect on them and their families and the increased demand for their services. He says they expect an even greater increase in stress-related disorders when the new hurricane season begins on June 1.

Close to 25 percent of the 603 people selected randomly for the survey said their homes or families were severely affected by Katrina. The study also shows an increase in drug use among transient workers who came to the city after Katrina to work on recovery projects. But about two thirds of those polled also expressed optimism about the city's eventual recovery and indicated that it will once again be a good place to live.

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