Monday, February 18, 2002

Chemical castration becomes issue


Drugs reduce sex drive

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Security camera videotapes of a registered sex offender fondling himself while stalking a girl through a store have created an outcry that could shape public policy for the entire region.

        The incident, which occurred in a Covington Value City Department Store, has legislators on both sides of the river advocating chemical castration, the practice of administering testosterone-reducing drugs to repeat sexual offenders.

        But any move to mandate such treatment likely will put civil-rights leaders, politicians and mental-health experts at odds.

        “Chemical castration was not on our radar screen until this department-store incident appeared on the evening news,” said Ohio House Speaker Pro Tem Gary Cates, R-West Chester Township.

        He is researching the possibility of introducing chemical castration legislation.

        In Kentucky, when video clips appeared on Louisville TV stations, state Rep. Ron Crimm, R-Louisville, used the incident to drum up support for his chemical castration bill. The bill has since stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

        “We would oppose any such law because it is barbaric,” said Scott Greenwood, a civil-rights attorney and general counsel for the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We don't hack off body parts here, or use chemicals to achieve the same effect.”

        A leading psychiatrist in treating sexual disorders says using testosterone-reducing drugs may be a useful treatment, but he is against laws mandating the practice.

        “Chemical castration is not a panacea,” said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the sexual-disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. “It doesn't work every time.”

        Dr. Berlin said the treatment isn't effective on men who become sexually abusive because of problems with authority, a desire to break rules or who are seeking power.

        “To think we are going to legislate this problem away is false and such laws can give a false sense of security to the general public,” Dr. Berlin said.

        However, there is some evidence to show chemical castration can work when used properly. He said one study found only 8 percent of 629 men receiving testosterone-reducing drugs re-offended after five years. The study was conducted by Dr. Berlin in the early 1990s.

        Studies vary when attempting to measure repeat offense rates for noncastrated sex offenders. In 1998, the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reported fewer than 20 percent of sex offenders committed another sexual offense.

        In California, 27.3 percent of child molesters re-offended within a year before a chemical castration law was introduced. A German study showed a re-offending rate of 3 percent among offenders who volunteered for surgical castration, compared with 46 percent for noncastrated offenders.

        Chemical castration is not the removal of a man's testicles. It involves treating a man with medication that lowers the testosterone level, blunting the sex drive. Men on the medication can generally still have intercourse, Dr. Berlin said.

        He said the most common drugs used are Depo-Lupron and Depo-Provera. Depo-Lupron, not yet sold in generic form, is administered in monthly injections that cost about $450 each. The less expensive Depo-Provera, costing $160 per month, must be administered weekly.

        Similar drugs act as oral contraceptives in women.

        In 1996, California became the first state to pass a chemical castration law. It required chemical castration of any person found guilty a second time of specified sex offenses. Other states, including Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Louisiana and Montana, followed with similar laws. Indiana has no such law.

        The Boston-based Center for Sex Offender Management, a federally funded project to support local officials in effective treatment of sex offenders, does not know how many states have mandated castration laws.

        Center researcher Scott Matson said treatment providers in nearly every state offer voluntary chemical castration, but the majority of states do not mandate such treatment.

        “Chemical castration is not appropriate for every offender, and it is not appropriate to be used alone,” he said. “I think that is why it hasn't been mandated more.”

       



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