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Keone Media © 2010


September 2010

Methamphetamine: A Nation's Growing Concern

Sun Tzu, Chinese general and author (500 BC) once wrote, "Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster." If this is true then a little history about a common enemy known as "Meth" is in order. It goes by various names including crank, tweak, crystal, lith, Tina, gak, L.A., P., speed, ice and ya ba.

Meth derives from a drug known as amphetamine discovered in 1887. The German chemist who first synthesized amphetamine wrote, "I have discovered a miraculous drug. It inspires the imagination and gives the user energy." In 1919 by experimenting with the molecular structure of amphetamine, a Japanese pharmacologist created the first methamphetamine. It had several "advantages" over amphetamine. It was more potent, easier to make and soluble in water which allowed it to be injected. In the 1930's Methedrine was manufactured for the first commercial use of the drug. It was available in inhaler form as a bronchodilator and in pill form as an appetite suppressant and stimulant. One ad read, "Never again feel dreary or suffer the blues." Meth was used widely in World War II by the Germans, Japanese and American military troops to increase endurance and performance. In 1951 the USDA classified methamphetamine as a controlled substance - and rightly so.

Once meth hits the central nervous system it triggers ten to twenty times the brains normal level of neurotransmitters triggering mostly dopamine but also increased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. It gives the user a high unlike any other drug. It offers supreme feelings of confidence and extreme euphoria. It also manages to block the reuptake of the neurotransmitters. This effect, combined with the fact that the drug remains relatively unchanged in the body for 10-12 hours, means that the user will stay up for days at a time before coming crashing back down off the high. This can lead to a type of psychosis that occurs known as "tweaking". Tweaking is characterized by auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, intense paranoia and a host of other symptoms, some indistinguishable from schizophrenia. Tweaking can lead to aggression and violence. A police report on how to deal with tweakers offers the following:

"The most dangerous stage of meth abuse for abusers, medical personnel and law enforcement officers is called 'tweaking.' A tweaker is an abuser who has probably not slept in 3-15 days and is irritable and paranoid. Tweakers often behave or react violently... Detaining a tweaker alone is not recommended and law enforcement officers should call for backup."

Meth users include men and women of every class, race and background. Its poison has infected our colleges, high schools and elementary schools. It is true that initially it had its roots in lower class suburbia and motorcycle gangs but it has now reached out to touch every aspect of our society. Internationally its use has surpassed both cocaine and heroine use combined. The World Health Organization (WHO) now reports that meth users total 35 million compared to 15 million for cocaine and 7 million for heroine. Former DEA chief called meth "the number-one drug problem in America." It is overwhelming law enforcement and our health care system.

And is it any wonder? It is a drug that is so easy to manufacture, there are "how to" manuals published and sold "for information purposes only." Its key ingredient ephedrine and pseudoephedrine is sold over the counter in nonprescription cold pills and it is created in homes and motel rooms around the country. The small meth labs are so toxic and dangerous that SWAT teams unexpectedly encountering a meth lab during an entry are instructed to back out the way they came and to avoid discharging their weapons. Attempts to control the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine found some domestic success however in the final analysis it really only managed to move manufacturing from small domestic labs to Mexican and other international drug cartels who now import meth through current supply routes along with cocaine, heroine and marijuana.

Will we make huge sweeping successes in stopping meth use in the United States? Probably not. Can you make a change in the life of a friend or family member who is addicted to meth? No. It's like any addiction... the addict must first want to change and only he or she can take the steps to become better. What you can do is arm yourself with as much information as possible about the disease. Then love and support them while taking active steps to take care of you during some of the most difficult and painful times you (and they) will ever face. Remember that you're not alone. Utilize the resources available to you. And together we can begin to change the face of addiction - one life at a time.



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