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Educating the public about the dangers of meth

BY PAULA M. FELIPE /Public Safety Reporter
Oroville Mercury Register

Methamphetamine is an addictive, dangerous drug that is physically, mentally and emotionally destructive.

The Meth Strike Force is committed to educating the public about the many dangers of meth through their website: www.2stopmeth.org. This strike force is comprised of representatives from diverse fields, such as behavioral health, medicine, law enforcement, probation department, and the judicial system, among others.

Their website contains a vast amount of information about the health and safety hazards meth poses to the user and to the community.

The following highlights some of the destructive effects of meth as reported in the Task Force's website under the heading "What are the effects of Meth?"

Meth users can have serious health problems, including having symptoms similar to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Meth is a very powerful drug that stimulates the central nervous system, and users can suffer both short-term and long-term damage to their brains.

"Methamphetamine releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which stimulates brain cells, enhancing mood and body movement. It also appears to have a neurotoxin effect, damaging brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Over time, methamphetamine appears to cause reduced levels of dopamine, which can result in symptoms like those of Parkinson's disease, a severe movement disorder. Research shows that high doses of meth damage neuron cell-endings. Dopamine- and serotonin-containing neurons do not die after methamphetamine use, but their nerve endings are cut back and re-growth appears to be limited," the website reports.

Effects of short-term meth use include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, elevated temperature, wakefulness, nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. Also, the drug causes increased attention, decreased appetite, decreased fatigue, increased activity, irritability and/or aggression, which can last eight to 24 hours. According to the website, the most dangerous stage of meth abuse is "when the drug use has produced psychosis ('tweaking')."

"A user who is tweaking has probably not slept in three to15 days, and consequently will be extremely irritable and paranoid. A tweaker does not need provocation to behave or react violently, but confrontation increases the chances of violent reaction. If the tweaker is using alcohol, his negative feelings and associated dangers intensify."

Chronic meth use can also cause "paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive behavior (such as compulsively cleaning, grooming or disassembling and assembling objects), and delusions of parasites or insects crawling under the skin. Users can obsessively scratch their skin to get rid of these imagined insects," the website said.

Further, chronic, high-dose meth abusers tend to be "undernourished with a gaunt appearance" and have "poor hygiene and rotten teeth and suffer from extreme paranoia." Meth users also experience "increased heart rate and blood pressure, which can result in irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain and produce strokes."

"Long-term use, high dosages, or both can bring on full-blown toxic psychosis (often exhibited as violent, aggressive behavior). This violent, aggressive behavior is usually coupled with extreme paranoia. In the form of paranoia, hallucinations, mood disturbances, and repetitive motor activity), increased risk of convulsions, heart attacks, and weight loss. Meth can also cause cardiovascular collapse and death," the website said.

For women who are pregnant, "meth use can cause premature labor, detachment of the placenta, and low birth weight babies with possible neurological damage." Also, intravenous drug users can suffer from "AIDS, hepatitis, infections and sores at the injection site along with infection of the heart lining and valves."

Meth users under the influence often become agitated and feel wired. "They may be friendly and calm one moment, angry and terrified the next. Some feel compelled to repeat meaningless tasks, such as taking apart and reassembling bits of machinery. Others may pick at imaginary bugs on their skin. Hard-core methamphetamine addicts get very little sleep and they look like it," the site said.

The effects of meth also has a significant impact on children. "Butte County ranks third statewide in the number of children being detained from methamphetamine laboratories, with a total of eleven children rescued from meth lab sites. However, the Butte County Interagency Narcotics Task Force reports that in 2003, there was a total of 96 Drug Endangered Children investigations in which 223 children were rescued."

Statistics shared by the Task Force include numbers that show meth use is on the rise.

"Methamphetamine is no doubt the drug of choice here in Butte County. From January of 2003, through early September of 2004, 2,134 clients were seen by the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health Alcohol and Drug Services, for a primary diagnosis of Methamphetamine abuse and dependence.

"Of those 2,134 clients, 1,086 were unique and/or new to Drug and Alcohol Services. The remaining 1,048 were clients returning to services for further substance abuse treatment. The latter two figures show that not only is Meth addiction spreading through our county like a wind driven wildfire but, more importantly, it gives us a glimpse of how difficult it can be to remain abstinent/clean and sober once addicted to methamphetamine. For a majority of our clients it becomes a life long battle," the Task Force's website concluded.