LINCOLN (AP) -- The Norfolk Regional Center should be transformed into a treatment center for methamphetamine addicts sentenced to prison, a new study commissioned by the Legislature and released Friday said.

The idea won immediate endorsement from state Sen. Kermit Brashear, the Legislature's speaker and a member of the Nebraska Community Corrections Council, which received the report.

"It boils down to: There is no other choice, and Norfolk works," Brashear said.

State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk said he hoped the governor and Legislature would work to keep the Norfolk facility open to treat meth addicts.

Gov. Dave Heineman has not had a chance to review the report, his spokesman Aaron Sanderford said.

The regional center is set to downscale the number of people it treats as part of the state's plan to move toward more community-based care for those with mental illnesses. While some improvements and security changes would have to be made, according to the report's author T. Hank Robinson, those challenges are not insurmountable.

A statewide treatment center as envisioned in Norfolk, which would receive prison inmates addicted to meth, was one of several recommendations contained in the report written by Robinson, a researcher at the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Using Norfolk for the prison treatment center makes sense because it is the only city in Nebraska that has at least a temporary surplus of alcohol and drug counselors and other professionals, the report said. Using the existing facility would also negate the more expensive alternative of building something new, the report said.

Norfolk is a better option than the Hastings Regional Center, Robinson said, because the needed therapists and counselors at that facility have already dispersed.

The council planned to meet again on Dec. 16 to discuss the report in more detail and craft recommendations for the Legislature.

Brashear said implementation of the recommendations will have to begin immediately.

"We can only go as fast as we have the capacity and capability," he cautioned.

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And while there is about $7.5 million already appropriated in the area, Brashear said, more money will have to be sought to meet the report's recommendations.

Those include developing more meth treatment professionals throughout the state, an increased use of the McCook work ethic camp for meth addicts, and ongoing research on the effectiveness of treatment programs.

Meth is a growing problem in Nebraska, as evidenced by data that showed the number of people admitted for treatment for meth in Nebraska exceeds the national average and is higher than other states in the region except for Iowa and Wyoming.

In 1992, 5.5 per 100,000 people in Nebraska were admitted for meth abuse. That jumped nearly 20 times to 99.1 per 100,000 in 2003. The national average that year was less than half that at about 40 admissions per 100,000.

There are about 20,000 people in Nebraska with a meth problem, Robinson said.

"The challenge facing Nebraska lies not in the complexity of the response needed to combat methamphetamine addiction, but in manifesting the will to establish a complete continuum of assessment, treatment and recovery," the report said.

The state can't buy its way out of the problem quickly either because of the severe shortage of substance abuse clinicians and treatment professionals, the report said.

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