Crystal Meth: The Wicked High – Are you seeing the signs?

Methamphetamine is the most highly abused drug in this country–not just by Americas’ workforce but by middle-aged housewives and early age teenagers. If use of this drug continues to rise, “meth” will surpass cocaine as the illegal stimulant drug of choice.

“Meth” is a dangerously addictive stimulant that over activates certain systems in the brain. It is closely related chemically to amphetamine, but the effects on the central nervous system from methamphetamine are greater and the level of purity is high. Both drugs have some medical uses, primarily in the treatment of obesity, but their therapeutic use is limited and definitely not a doctor’s first prescription choice.

Meth releases high amounts of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter in the nervous system which enhances pleasure and body movement. But meth also appears to have a neurotoxin effect on the system. It actually damages brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, another chemical messenger in the brain that affects emotions, behavior, and thought.

A lack of serotonin is linked to depression and appetite changes. Over time, and with abuse, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson’s disease.

Methamphetamine in the workplace is taken orally in sodas and coffee drinks or intranasal (snorting the powder). Though not common in the workplace, other methods of use include intravenous injection, and smoking the drug with a special pipe or pen container.

Immediately after ingestion, the methamphetamine user experiences an intense sensation called a “rush,” which lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. The rush can also leave a short time period of agitation, which has been seen to cause violent behavior in some users.

Users may become addicted quickly. Even though the effects of one dose can last 6-8 hours or longer, those who become addicted use it with increasing frequency and in increasing doses throughout the day.

With even the smallest amounts of methamphetamine, effects on the central nervous system include increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, hypothermia, and euphoria. Opposite effects include extreme irritability, insomnia, confused thoughts, body tremors, dehydration, convulsions, a sense of paranoia, and aggressiveness. All in all, not what an employer would want to expect from a worker out on the warehouse or office floor.

Methamphetamine also increases heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain and produce strokes. Other effects of methamphetamine include respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, and anorexia. Meth users can experience sudden cardiovascular collapse and even death. The withdrawal symptoms for high dose users can include severe depression, picking at the skin, and violent and erratic behavior.

Treatment programs are just a starting point in this country. Methamphetamine, one of the most ravenous drugs America has now begun to experience, is fast leaving treatment providers in the dust. The recidivism rate is also extremely high, with “cured” addicts returning to repeat usage.

Medical researchers are feverishly working on a program to cure meth addiction, but they have not developed a medication or a vaccine that allows the user some semblance of a normal life after addiction, as methadone does for heroin addicts.

As mentioned in our article on the OTC (over the counter) Abuse, restrictions on sales of products containing “pseudoephedrine”, a main component in the production of methamphetamines, are starting to take hold in parts of the US.

However, law enforcement officials overall are increasingly concerned that the void is being filled by the Mexican meth trade. Reports show in 2004, Mexico imported approximately 224 tons of pseudoephedrine, a figure estimated to be double the national demand for cold medicine and quadruple the estimated 66 tons imported in the year 2000.

To supply the so-called super labs, the Mexican cartels are obtaining pseudoephedrine in mass quantities, either in bulk directly from overseas suppliers, from local pharmaceutical companies making legal cold pills, or by using phony pharmacy fronts.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, over 65 percent of all the meth consumed in the United States now comes from Mexican drug cartels. That in itself is another alarming story.

In November of 2005, the Mexican government further pledged to set a limit on imports of pseudoephedrine and reduce the number of the country’s pharmacies selling any products containing the base chemical. Only time will tell.

At this time, there is no end in sight to the abuse. Even though states try to restrict sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine to keep it from being “cooked” into methamphetamine, there is sufficient evidence that meth users have become the American workplace’s latest drug abuse headache.

In early March of 2006, President Bush signed an anti-methamphetamine bill into law as part of the renewal of the PATRIOT Act. This bill requires all retailers to keep popular cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter. It further stipulates that people who are sick must show identification and sign a specific log book to buy decongestants.

The methamphetamine bill also contains an enhanced penalty, though not mandatory, of up to 20 years for selling or manufacturing methamphetamine in a household where a minor child resides. This provision alone could devastate families by resulting in long prison sentences for parents who might instead benefit from treatment or some sort of regulated program.

Many authorities on this subject say methamphetamine use is closely tied to property and violent crimes, and is a factor in many child neglect and identity theft cases. Toxic fumes from meth production pose a health hazard to anyone inside a makeshift lab. Finally said, there is no worse drug than methamphetamine.

From the devastating “meth mouth,” which destroys a user’s teeth so they must be painfully removed, to the potential rise in workers’ accidents on the job–not to mention the increasing prison population this horrific drug has given life to–this is not just a casual recreational marijuana use or a club drug. Actually this drug was created around 1919 to keep WW II Japanese and German tank drivers awake and alert.

This is a fast growing problem currently festering in our communities and in our places of employment. It can not continue to go on, as it has already touched the lives of our next generation.

For more information call National Drug Abuse Hotline 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) National Institute on Drug Abuse