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Article Summary

Crystal Meth Kills

Military pilots used amphetamines to stay awake on long flights to their bombing targets during the war. 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 Crystal Meth. Processed mainly in makeshift "meth labs", 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, for its ability to enhance the senses and cause an euphoric high.

It is said that when used, people often go days without sleep and engage in high risk sexual activity non-stop. While the legal form it is odorless, crystal meth often smells of ammonia, due to the chemicals used during manufacturing.

How is Crystal Meth Manufactured?

Crystal meth is "cooked" in labs that spring up in abandoned homes, warehouses, and kitchens in middle class neighborhoods. Chemicals and solvents that can be purchased in hardware stores, over the counter medications such as pseudophed, and ordinary items such as pots and pans are used to manufacture this killer. What results 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 respond 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 hazardous and is often a killer, that much is known. But why? The dangers of crystal meth are many:

  • Dangerous physical effects: In low doses, crystal meth heightens the senses and makes the uses 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 can 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 will and progress to injection. 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 can occur, often 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 to body. Crystal meth eventually burns out the system that produces these important chemicals. Without crystal meth the body can no longer produce them as before crystal meth. 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 will commit suicide to ease their pain. Also, 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.
  • Risky behavior: Users of crystal meth will exhibit very at risk 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.

What is Being Done?

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.

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