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Methamphetamine

Scope of the problem
What is methamphetamine?
What is the extent of abuse?
How is methamphetamine used?
What are the short-term effects of meth abuse?
What are the long-term effects of meth abuse?
How is meth different from other stimulants?
What are the medical complications of meth abuse?
Are meth abusers at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS?
What treatments are effective?

One Woman -
120 months of Meth Use

CLICK HERE to see "A Meth Story"

Scope of the problem

The abuse of methamphetamine - a potent psycho stimulant - is an extremely serious and growing problem. Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant associated with serious health conditions, including memory loss, aggression, psychotic behavior, and potential heart and brain damage; it also contributes to increased transmission of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects the central nervous system. The drug is made easily in clandestine laboratories with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients. These factors combine to make methamphetamine a drug with high potential for widespread abuse.

Methamphetamine is commonly known as "speed," "meth," and "chalk." In its smoked form it is often referred to as "ice," "crystal," "crank," and "glass." It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. The drug was developed early in this century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Methamphetamine's chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, but it has more pronounced effects on the central nervous system. Like amphetamine, it causes increased activity, decreased appetite, and a general sense of well-being.

The effects of methamphetamine can last 6 to 8 hours. After the initial "rush," there is typically a state of high agitation that in some individuals can lead to violent behavior. Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant, which means it has a high potential for abuse and is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. There are a few accepted medical reasons for its use, such as the treatment of narcolepsy, attention deficit disorder, and -- for short-term use - obesity, but these medical uses are limited.

What is the extent of methamphetamine use in the United States?

According to the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an estimated 4.9 million people (2.3 percent of the population) have tried methamphetamine at some time in their lives. In 1994, the estimate was 3.8 million (1.8 percent), and in 1995 it was 4.7 million (2.2 percent). Data from the 1996 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which collects information on drug-related episodes from hospital emergency departments in 21 metropolitan areas, reported that methamphetamine-related episodes decreased by 39 percent between 1994 and 1996, after a 237 percent increase between 1990 and 1994. There was a statistically significant decrease in methamphetamine-related episodes between 1995 (16,200) and 1996 (10,800). However, there was a significant increase of 71 percent between the first half of 1996 and the second half of 1996 (from 4,000 to 6,800).

Methamphetamine and amphetamine use is on the rise

Drug abuse treatment admissions reported in December 1996 showed that methamphetamine remained the leading drug of abuse among treatment clients in the San Diego area and was second only to marijuana in Hawaii. Stimulants, including methamphetamine, accounted for smaller percentages of treatment admissions in other states and metropolitan areas of the West.

How is methamphetamine used?

Methamphetamine comes in many forms and can be smoked, snorted, orally ingested, or injected. The drug alters moods in different ways, depending on how it is taken. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it intravenously, the user experiences an intense rush or "flash" that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria -- a high but not an intense rush. Snorting produces effects within 3 to 5 minutes, and oral ingestion produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.

As with similar stimulants, methamphetamine most often is used in a "binge and crash" pattern. Because tolerance for methamphetamine occurs within minutes -- meaning that the pleasurable effects disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly -- users try to maintain the high by binging on the drug. In the 1980's, "ice," a smokeable form of methamphetamine, came into use. Ice is a large, usually clear crystal of high purity that is smoked in a glass pipe like crack cocaine. The smoke is odorless, leaves a residue that can be resmoked, and produces effects that may continue for 12 hours or more.

What are the short-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?

As a powerful stimulant, methamphetamine, even in small doses, can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. A brief, intense sensation, or rush, is reported by those who smoke or inject methamphetamine. Oral ingestion or snorting produces a long-lasting high instead of a rush, which reportedly can continue for as long as half a day. Both the rush and the high are believed to result from the release of very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure.

Methamphetamine has toxic effects. In animals, a single high dose of the drug has been shown to damage nerve terminals in the dopamine-containing regions of the brain. The large release of dopamine produced by methamphetamine is thought to contribute to the drug's toxic effects on nerve terminals in the brain. High doses can elevate body temperature to dangerous, sometimes lethal, levels, as well as cause convulsions.

What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?

Long-term methamphetamine abuse results in many damaging effects, including addiction. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and drug use which is accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain. In addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, chronic methamphetamine abusers exhibit symptoms that can include violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. Chronic abuse can also lead to psychotic behavior, characterized by intense paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and out-of-control rages that can be coupled with extremely violent behavior. Heavy users show progressive social and occupational deterioration with psychotic symptoms sometimes persisting for months or years after use has ceased.

With chronic use, tolerance for methamphetamine can develop. In an effort to intensify the desired effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of drug intake. In some cases, abusers forego food and sleep while indulging in a form of binging known as a "run," injecting as much as a gram of the drug every 2 to 3 hours over several days until the user runs out of the drug or is too disorganized to continue. Although there are no physical manifestations of a withdrawal syndrome when methamphetamine use is stopped, there are several symptoms that occur when a chronic user stops taking the drug. These include depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and an intense craving for the drug. In scientific studies examining the consequences of long-term methamphetamine exposure in animals, concern has arisen over its toxic effects on the brain. Researchers have reported that as much as 50 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be damaged after prolonged exposure to relatively low levels of methamphetamine. Researchers also have found that serotonin containing nerve cells may be damaged even more extensively. Whether this toxicity is related to the psychosis seen in some long-term methamphetamine abusers is still an open question.

Short-term effects can include:

  • Increased attention
  • Increased activity
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Euphoria and rush
  • Increased respiration
  • Repetitive motor activity
  • Hyperthermia
  • Weight Loss

Long-term effects can include:

  • Dependence and addiction
  • Serious skin conditions
  • Tooth decay and loss
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood disturbances
  • Stroke
  • Death

How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, like cocaine?

Methamphetamine is classified as a psycho stimulant as are other drugs of abuse such as amphetamine and cocaine. We know that methamphetamine is structurally similar to amphetamine and the neurotransmitter dopamine, but it is quite different from cocaine. In contrast to cocaine, which is quickly removed and almost completely metabolized in the body, methamphetamine has a much longer duration of action and a larger percentage of the drug remains unchanged in the body. This results in methamphetamine being present in the brain longer, which ultimately leads to prolonged stimulant effects.

What are the medical complications of methamphetamine abuse?

Methamphetamine can cause a variety of cardiovascular problems. These include rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible, stroke-producing damage to small blood vessels in the brain. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions occur with methamphetamine overdoses, and if not treated immediately, can result in death. Chronic meth abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and among users who inject the drug, damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses.

A common method of illegal methamphetamine production uses lead acetate as a reagent. Production errors may therefore result in methamphetamine contaminated with lead. There have been documented cases of acute lead poisoning in intravenous methamphetamine abusers. Fetal exposure to methamphetamine also is a significant problem in the United States. At present, research indicates that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns, such as abnormal reflexes and congenital deformities.

Are methamphetamine abusers at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS?

Increased HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C transmission are likely consequences of increased methamphetamine abuse, particularly in individuals who inject the drug and share injection equipment. Infection with HIV and other infectious diseases is spread among injection drug users primarily through the reuse of contaminated syringes, needles, or other paraphernalia by more than one person. In nearly one-third of Americans infected with HIV, injection drug use is a risk factor, making drug abuse the fastest growing vector for the spread of HIV in the nation.

What treatments are effective for methamphetamine abusers?

At this time the most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction are cognitive behavioral interventions. These approaches are designed to help modify the patient's thinking, expectancies, and behaviors and to increase skills in coping with various life stressors. Methamphetamine recovery support groups also appear to be effective adjuncts to behavioral interventions that can lead to long-term recovery.

There are currently no particular pharmacological treatments for dependence on amphetamine or amphetamine-like drugs such as methamphetamine. Antidepressant medications are helpful in combating the depressive symptoms frequently seen in methamphetamine users who recently have become abstinent.

There are established protocols that physicians use to treat individuals who have had a methamphetamine overdose. Because hyperthermia and convulsions are common and often fatal complications of such overdoses, emergency room treatment focuses on the immediate physical symptoms. Overdose patients are cooled off in ice baths, and anticonvulsant drugs may be administered also.

Acute methamphetamine intoxication can often be handled by observation in a safe, medically supervised environment. In cases of extreme excitement or panic, treatment with anti-anxiety agents such as benzodiazepines has been helpful, and in cases of methamphetamine-induced psychoses, short-term use of neuroleptics has also proven successful.

For further information on Serenity Lane's treatment of methamphetamine abuse, call 1-800-543-9905 or (541) 687-1110

 

A Meth Story:  One Woman – 120 months of Methamphetamine Use.........Any Questions?

The photos you see here are all of the same woman.

She was approximately 38 years old at the time the Jan 1989 photograph was taken.

These are Department Of Justice photos taken at the time of arrest(s).

She is now deceased.

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Help is available at Serenity Lane, Treatment Center for Alcohol and other Drug Dependencies.
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