A Drug-Free Community Coalition

Methamphetamines

What is Meth?

You won't believe what's in this stuff! Meth is made from harsh and toxic chemicals. You don't even want this stuff in your house, let alone put into your body. The key ingredient in Meth is a drug called pseudoephedrine -- the active ingredient in store-bought cold medicines, like Sudafed. When you have a cold this may work by itself, but when you combine it with other chemicals, it's a lethal mixture. Some of the other ingredients that go into Meth are also hazardous to your body:

  • Iodine Flakes or Crystal found in some veterinary products: Its vapors can cause eye and skin irritation, and breathing problems.
  • Hydrochloric Acid one of the most acidic chemicals known to man: Can cause chemical burns to the eyes, nose, skin, and severe respiratory problems.
  • Acetone from nail polish remover or camp stove fuel: Eating or breathing it can cause severe gastric irritation and coma.
  • Lithium usually taken out of household batteries: Skin contact of any kind can cause severe burns.
  • Anhydrous Ammonia typically from fertilizer: Can cause severe respiratory problems, eye and mucous membrane damage.
  • Red Phosphorus ground up matches or emergency road flares: Vapors can irritate your nose, throat, lungs and eyes.
  • Sulfuric Acid drain cleaner: Skin contact of any kind can cause severe burns, breathing this in could result in severe lung damage.

The damage we're talking about here doesn't just mean missing a few weeks of school. Because the chemicals used to make Meth may affect your body chemistry differently than someone else's, it means consequences that could put you in a hospital or require doctor's visits for the rest of your life. In a nutshell, don't experiment with Meth.

Where is Meth Made?

Most street Meth is made in "superlabs" outside of our country primarily in Mexico, then smuggled here illegally in its finished form. Other Meth is made in homemade labs found all over the country. A Meth lab could be in your neighbor's apartment, in a vacant trailer or even in a friend's garage. Be aware -- Meth can be made in small, portable labs that can be easily moved and set up in small spaces. These labs usually make just a small amount of the drug at a time, enough for the "cooks," their friends and their family.

The Changing Demographics of Meth

Methamphetamine (Meth) is a highly addictive synthetic stimulant that affects the pleasure centers of the brain. It is even considered more addictive than heroin. Meth is sometimes referred to as "Speed," "Chalk," "Ice," "Crystal," "Glass," "Crank," "Yaba," "Fire," Tina," and "Tweak."

Meth releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates brain cells, enhances mood and body movement, and regulates feelings of pleasure. With repeated use, Meth can "turn off" the brain's ability to produce dopamine, leaving users unable to experience any kind of pleasure from anything other than more and more Meth.

Meth is derived from amphetamine, and is commonly made using the base chemicals ephedrine or pseudoephedrine found in over-the-counter medicines. Other common household products can be added to make meth, including: acetone, iodine, anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer), hydrochloric acid (pool supply), lithium (batteries), red phosphorus (matches or road flares), sodium hydroxide (lye), sulfuric acid (drain cleaner), and toluene (brake fluid).

Although there are multiple ways to produce Meth, most involve the use of toxic and volatile substances that can pose a threat to the surrounding area. An odor similar to that of cat urine and other offensive fumes often signify that an illegal Meth lab is in operation. When manufactured by amateurs, the production of Meth can be extremely dangerous and create harmful, toxic gases.

One production method involves heating anhydrous ammonia -- an extremely reactive ingredient that is prone to explosion. In fact, many illegal Meth labs are only discovered after fires or explosions occur due to the improper handling of these toxic chemicals. Clean-up is both hazardous and expensive.

Meth can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, injected, or inserted anally. Depending on the method of intake, the high from Meth can last from 6 to 24 hours. Injection, one of the more popular methods of administration, is associated with other serious risks such as skin rashes, often referred to as, "speed bumps," and infections at the injection site. Sharing needles when injecting Meth can spread deadly diseases such as hepatitis and HIV; additionally, these diseases are further spread through unprotected sex -- a common activity among Meth addicts. While it is true that Meth sometimes increases sexual desire and stamina, it ultimately decreases the user's desirability and performance.

Many Meth users admit the inability to reach an orgasm at all. Users have also reported an increased level of energy, a decrease in appetite, and may be more likely to engage in reckless or unwanted sex while under the influence. Other common side effects include a lack of hygiene and personal care, anxiety, agitation, blurred vision, hallucinations, diarrhea, sleeplessness, and even stroke or heart attack.

Without the drug, many users slip into a deep depression, making the cycle of addiction hard to break. Meth's parent drug, amphetamine, was widely distributed to army personnel during World War II. Amphetamine-laced chocolate was routinely given to German soldiers. From 1942 to 1945, Adolf Hitler reportedly received daily Methamphetamine injections to treat depression and fatigue. Some attribute his Parkinson's-like symptoms to his use of this drug.

How Meth Affects Your Body

All the components in Meth -- substances like Draino and car battery acid -- are devastating to your body. Meth causes increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, which can cause strokes. Other effects of Meth include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and extreme anorexia. Taking even small amounts of Meth affects your central nervous system (CNS). Meth can make it hard to fall asleep (insomnia), lead to feelings of confusion and cause tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia, and aggression.

Meth damages the brain cells that contain a natural feel-good chemical a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is what doctors call a "neurotoxic effect" that buys you a lifetime of hurt. Over time, Meth appears to reduce the amount of dopamine in your brain. This may take on symptyoms of Parkinson's disease, a severe movement disorder that perhaps you have seen in grandparents or other elderly people with uncontrollable shaking. Meth also damages another neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin carries information back and forth in your brain so your body knows to eat and rest and function normally.

Meth can cause hyperthermia a dangerous elevated body temperature, convulsions and death.

How Meth Affects Your Brain

Meth is as bad for your mind as it is your body. Long-term Meth abuse results in damaging effects. Abusing Meth may also make you experience mental problems, including paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping on the skin).

Over time, you may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change the way you take it to get the same rush or high that small amounts of Meth once gave you. Sometimes, people stop eating and sleeping to shoot Meth for several days, until they run out or are too confused to continue. This binging is called a "run," as in "run down," or "run out of luck." Such abuse can lead to crazy, unpredictable behavior like intense paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and even out-of-control rages with extremely violent behavior.

When a chronic user stops taking the drug, he or she may feel depressed, uncontrollably anxious, fatigued, paranoid, and aggressive, and of course crave more Meth.

In the scan comparison, notice the pitted and rippled appearance of the "meth brain" on the right.

Meth Users

Meth users are often seduced by the intensity of the initial high, a high many say is unlike anything they have experienced before. Almost immediately, users build up a tolerance for the drug, causing them to vary the quantity, frequency, or method of intake in an effort to recreate that first experience. This incites a form of binging known as a "run," sometimes using as much as a gram of the drug every 2 to 3 hours for several days until the drug is either gone or the user is too disoriented to continue. Even with sustained low-level usage, a person will often begin to experience symptoms such as drug craving, extreme weight loss, loss of muscle tone, and tooth decay, along with withdrawal-related depression and other symptoms.

High doses can elevate body temperature to dangerous, sometimes lethal levels, as well as cause convulsions. As tolerance sets in, the user will often begin to use Meth more frequently in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Although there are no physical manifestations of withdrawal syndrome when Meth usage is stopped, several symptoms including depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, extreme aggression, and an intense craving for the drug may occur.

Long-term Meth abuse may result in many damaging effects, including: violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling on the skin). This chronic use frequently leads to brain damage, respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain -- producing strokes, heart and kidney damage, cardiovascular collapse and death.

The Family

Meth never ruins just one life at a time. Meth's power over users is so potent that they will lie, steal, even resort to prostitution and physical violence in order to obtain it. Many users reject anything and anyone who stands in their way of getting meth, isolating themselves from parents, family, and friends.

Children of Meth-addicted parents are often left to fend for themselves, causing intense emotional harm that can lay the foundation for behavioral problems, depression, and future substance abuse. Children of users are frequently exposed to many hazards such as second-hand smoke, risk of accidental drug ingestion, and HIV exposure from dirty needle usage.

Other potential hazards include the presence of weapons, possibility of violence, and sexual or physical abuse. Last year, over half of the children in protective custody in Arizona were there because of Meth-related abuse or neglect. In the end, many families end up torn apart, with parents in prison, children removed from the home, and lifetimes of physical and emotional damage.

The Community

One facet of Meth's impact on communities comes from the crime associated with drug smuggling. Although the chemicals needed to make Meth are effectively regulated in the United States, in many other countries they are not. Criminal drug trafficking syndicates have taken advantage of this fact to capitalize on the United States' Meth trade. This has led to an increase in crimes associated with smuggling cartels. Not only does Meth lead to increases in crime, but it also leads to increased costs to social agencies, corrections, unemployment pools, workers' compensation costs, and losses in employee productivity are extensive.

Meth-related health care costs are staggering. Hospitals have reported an increase of meth-related admissions in their emergency rooms over the past five years. Additionally, they attribute more emergency room visits to Meth than to any other drug. The majority of patients who suffer health problems from Meth use are either underinsured or have no health insurance at all, contributing to the high cost of health care.

In many communities, Meth abuse has also lead to the growth of diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS due to intravenous use of the drug and unsafe sex practices.

The Environment

For every pound of Meth produced, approximately five pounds of toxic waste are generated.  This waste may include corrosive liquids, acid vapors, heavy metals, solvents, and other harmful materials. Because of the illicit nature of Meth production, waste is often dumped haphazardly, contaminating watersheds used by humans and animals.

When Meth is being cooked in a lab, the vapors produced permeate every porous surface in the building, often making them uninhabitable. These vapors can also be highly volatile, sometimes leading to explosions that can severely burn or kill those nearby.

To avoid detection, those cooking Meth will often use mobile labs that can be set up outdoors. In recent years, abandoned labs have been discovered at Arizona trailheads and fishing accesses, jeopardizing our access to public lands and endangering wildlife.

Meth-contaminated waste is commonly found along roadsides. The toxic nature of these sites requires specialized clean-up techniques that are administered by the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. These costs frequently run thousands of dollars per incident, requiring funds that come out of the already-tight budgets of local law enforcement or property owners.

WARNING SIGNS

Top 10 Signs Someone You Love May Be Using Meth

1. Not socializing with old friends
2. Trying to convince you or others to use Meth
3. Selling personal items such as stereo and gaming equipment
4. Experiencing trouble at school, lower grades, skipping classes
5. Hanging out with new friends who are different than his or her usual crowd
6. Negative attitude about work, missing work
7. Borrowing money, selling or pawning possessions
8. Gone a lot, often at night with people you don't know
9. Sudden temper outburst, strange mood or attitude changes
10. Changes in the way they look -- hair, skin, or teeth looking nasty

Are you wondering what the warning signs of Meth use are? Meth is bad for a user's mind and body, with long-term abuse resulting in very damaging effects. Meth also leads to an increase in crime, endangers our communities and its toxic ingredients harm the environment.

Signs You Need Help

  • Using more Meth than intended
  • Needing more Meth to feel high
  • Spending more money on Meth than on bills
  • Constantly thinking about when you will next get high
  • Planning activities around Meth and ignoring responsibilities
  • Losing interest in activities and friends who are not associated with Meth use
  • Friends and/or family members expressing concern to you about your life and/or drug use
  • Letting go of daily routines such as eating, sleeping, bathing, shopping, cleaning, and/or caring for family members
Signs a Friend Needs Help
  • Not socializing with old friends anymore
  • Trying to convince you or others to use the drug
  • Selling personal items such as stereo and gaming equipment
  • Experiencing trouble at school, lower grades, skipping classes
  • Hanging out with new friends who are different than his or her usual crowd
Signs a Parent Needs Help
  • Negative attitude about work, missing work
  • Borrowing money, selling or pawning possessions
  • Gone a lot, often at night with people you don't know
  • Sudden temper outburst, strange mood or attitude changes
  • Changes in the way they look -- hair, skin, or teeth looking nasty
Signs the Community Needs Help
  • Open windows vented with fans, even during the winter
  • Extensive security measures or efforts to ensure privacy
  • Frequent visitors to a home, building, or area at all times of the day and night
  • Houses or buildings with windows blackened or curtains always drawn
  • Garbage contains numerous bottles, containers, stained bed sheets or coffee filters
  • Occupants of a home appear underemployed, yet have money or pay bills with cash
  • Ususual and strong odors (like ether, ammonia, acetone or other chemicals)
  • Sightings of lantern fuel cans, red-stained coffee filters, glassware with rubber tubing attached, drain cleaner and duct tape