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Crystal Meth and Substance Abuse

Crystal Meth and Substance Abuse - When Speed Kills

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Updated June 19, 2014

Methamphetamine or Crystal Meth has its roots in some unexpected places. Military pilots used amphetamines to stay awake during the long flights to their bombing targets during the wartime. College students used them to stay awake all night to study for exams. In the 1960's people used amphetamines for entertainment. Then, in the 1970's as laws made getting amphetamines more difficult, their use all but disappeared. But now the use of amphetamines has returned in full force, primarily in the form of the supercharged version called methamphetamine. Manufactured in makeshift "meth labs" in apartment complexes. houses, and garages, Crystal Meth use is booming, and in its wake people are dying. What is Crystal Meth? What does it do and what is being done to halt its march across our cities?

What is Crystal Meth?

Crystal Meth is the synthetic white crystalline powder form of amphetamines. While the legal form of amphetamines are used primarily as a short term treatment for obesity, crystal meth is used as a recreational drug ("party drug"), because of its ability to enhance the senses and cause a euphoric high. It's said that when used, people often go days without sleep and engage in high risk sexual activity non-stop. Sometimes it is used along with Viagra to further enhance the sexual experiences. While the legal form is odorless, crystal meth often smells of ammonia, due to the chemicals used during manufacturing.

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How is Crystal Meth Manufactured?

Crystal meth is "cooked" in labs that spring up in abandoned homes, warehouses, and kitchens in neighborhoods across the country. Household chemicals and solvents purchased in grocery and hardware stores, over the counter medications such as pseudophed, and ordinary items such as pots and pans are used to manufacture this killer. When these ordinary ingredients are combined the result is a deadly form of amphetamine...crystal meth...and toxic by-products that contaminate the air, can cause illness and death, and are highly volatile, often exploding without warning. When meth labs are found and shut down, hazardous materials units are required to properly handle and dismantle the labs in order to protect homes and people living near the lab.

What are the Hazards of Crystal Meth?

Crystal meth is an addictive killer; that much is known. But what makes it so dangerous?
  • Dangerous Physical Effects - In low doses, crystal meth heightens the senses and makes the users more alert. In higher doses, the drug causes exhilaration and euphoria. If used in even higher doses, heart rate increases, body temperature can rise to very dangerous levels, and the user can become paranoid, agitated and exhibit very bizarre and risky behavior. It's at these high doses that overdose and death occur.
  • Addiction - Some experts say that it is impossible not to become addicted to crystal meth. Some studies have shown that 9 out of 10 people who inject crystal meth just once will become addicted. While those who smoke crystal meth take longer to become addicted, most do and eventually progress to injecting meth. In addition to its ability to addict the user, tolerance also occurs, meaning the user must use higher doses to achieve the same effect. Eventually, the doses are so high that the most dangerous effects such as increased heart rate, severe hyperthermia (high body temperature), paranoia, and stroke occur, eventually resulting in death. Once addicted, kicking the addiction is said to be at most almost impossible and at least extremely difficult and emotionally painful.
  • Withdrawal - Prolonged use and addiction to crystal meth slowly "burns out" the pleasure senses. The body produces two substances, dopamine and norepinephrine, to stimulate the body. Crystal meth eventually burns out the system that produces these important chemicals. After this occurs, the body can no longer produce the chemicals that stimulate the pleasure senses. Simply put, crystal meth becomes necessary for the user to feel pleasure. After stopping the drug, the person will experience a profound "numbness" and depression because the body can no longer produce the two stimulants necessary to experience pleasure. The depression can become so profound that users trying to stop crystal meth will commit suicide to ease their pain. To make matters worse, addiction relapse is very common. Most people trying to stop will use again once out of rehab. In short, crystal meth takes hold and will not let go.

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  • Risky Behavior - Users of crystal meth will exhibit very at risk sexual behavior, including sexual binges that include unsafe sex with multiple anonymous partners. In addition, users often exchange sex for the drug, further exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

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What is Being Done About the Meth Problem?

Steps are being taken to slow the crystal meth problem. Some states are limiting the purchase of over the counter pseudophed, one of the components of crystal meth. Prevention messages are being targeted to at risk populations and law enforcement are cracking down on the labs. Experts agree however, that the best way to prevent a crystal meth problem is to never try this killer.

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