The Menace of Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine, an illegal drug that is highly addictive, remains a major clandestine activity in the United States, according to the Office of National Drug Policy.
According to the 2006 national Survey on Drug Use and Health, and estimated 5.77 percent of the U.S. population, or 1.9 million Americans ages 12 or older, used methamphetamine at least once in their life for nonmedical purposes. These rates of use are similar to data found in 2002.
Although the domestic production of methamphetamine is down in the United States, these decreases have been offset by increased production in Mexico.
Methamphetamine is related to the legal stimulant amphetamine but has stronger effects. Known on the street as speed, meth, tweak, uppers, or black beauties, the drug is taken in pill form, or snorted or injected in powdered form. Crystallized methamphetamine, a more powerful form of the drug, is smoked. The drug causes an immediate feeling of increased activity or a "rush" along with decreased appetite.
The stimulant lures people wanting to get high, but it also appeals to women trying to lose weight or seeking a burst of energy to get through life. Women use meth at rates that are about equal to men. When the drug starts to wear off, however, abusers face two options:
Suffer through what can be a three-day bottoming-out period of irritability, listlessness, and headaches.
Take another dose and risk the beginning of addiction.
More and more people are taking that second dose. It is not so much a trendy drug as a marketable one with its own advantages. People hear that the drug does good things and has an effect that lasts 12 hours a dose. They feel they can work longer hours, study more, and lose weight.
It's also easily found. Unlike other stimulants, methamphetamine can be made in the kitchen sink using cheap, household ingredients.
Addiction sets in quickly because of the way the drug is taken. Most methamphetamine users smoke or inject the stimulant, either of which rapidly brings on euphoria. Addiction is closely tied to how quickly a user feels a drug's effect.
The euphoria is followed by up to 12 hours of manic energy. Everything speeds up. Users don't need sleep. They talk a lot, they have plenty of energy, and they don't need to eat.
The stimulant coaxes the body to work harder. The heart pumps faster and the metabolism speeds up. The brain's balance of sedation and activity breaks down. This speed-up can lead to aneurysms and heart failure, even in the very young, as the drug drives the heart to exhaustion.
Although people who abuse cocaine also get a feeling of euphoria, cocaine has a different effect on the body. The body quickly gets rid of cocaine, and the good feeling that follows taking the drug rapidly diminishes. Methamphetamine, however, remains in the body far longer, prolonging its effects.
People who are chronic methamphetamine abusers can suffer long-term health effects. In particular, areas of the brain that control speed of muscle movement, verbal learning, emotions and memory can be damaged, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some of the damage may be reversed if a person quits abusing the drug, but recovery can take years. Methamphetamine abuse also increases the risk for stroke and this damage can be irreversible.