Physical, Social and Economic Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Abstract: First synthesized from ephedrine in the late-nineteenth century, methamphetamine was originally used to combat alcoholism, narcolepsy, and obesity. Moreover, it was a popular drug among soldiers during World War II, and college students keeping unusual hours to pass exams. Since it was made illegal in 1983, the use of methamphetamine has increased particularly in the Midwestern and Southern United States. Discussion will include information on the use of methamphetamine and the social, economic, and psychological issues that it brings to light. First, we will examine meth use around the world, and then narrow our scope to Sarasota and Manatee counties of Florida.
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Physical, Social and Economic Effects of Methamphetamine Use
Methamphetamine is a chemical that has stimulant properties similar to adrenaline and affects the central nervous system - Physical, Social and Economic Effects of Methamphetamine Use introduction. On the street, meth is also referred to as crank, crystal, speed ice, and glass. The drug is made easily in clandestine laboratories with mostly inexpensive ingredients. Meth has been the most prevalent clandestinely produced controlled substance in the United States since the 1970s. This combination makes meth a drug with a very high potential for widespread distribution and abuse. It is especially attractive to dieters and busy professionals because it promises weight loss and a chronic wakeful state. Users that snort or smoke the drug report greater rushes. Both the rush and the high are believed to result from the release of very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure. Initially, the effects of meth can be characterized by increased mental and physical well-being. With increased doses and/or chronic use, the risk of toxicity increases and the user may experience irritation, outbursts of anger, paranoia, delusional thinking and visual or auditory hallucinations.
Significant numbers of American youth engage in heavy meth use and these numbers continue to increase. Causing damage to property and causing injury to themselves are among the most common problems associated with meth use. Tolerance for meth can develop with chronic use. In an effort to intensify the desired effects, users will take higher doses more frequently. In many cases, abusers go without food and sleep while indulging in a form of binging known as a “run,” injecting as much as a gram every two to three hours over a several day period. This will continue until the user runs out of the drug or is too disoriented to continue. Chronic meth abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining as well as progressive social and occupational deterioration. Psychotic symptoms can sometimes persist for months or years after use has ceased.
Fetal exposure to meth is a significant problem in the United States. Extensive research has indicated that abusing meth during pregnancy may result in increased rates of premature delivery, abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. Congenital deformities have also been linked to meth abuse during pregnancy (Williams, p. 273). A potential risk to meth users is the possibility of lead poisoning. Lead acetate is often used as a reagent in illegal meth production (Allcott, p. 510). Between 1998 and 2002, death from methamphetamine overdoses rose 125 percent. Between 1998 and 2000, meth related emergency room visits doubled. In the past few years, the use of this drug has increased dramatically in teenagers from 12 to 17 years old (Pittman, 88). The Internet has hundreds of web sites that provide the recipes and places to purchase ingredients for manufacturing the drug. Toxic ingredients, such as battery acid and drain cleaner are often used to produce meth (Lindberry & Bostwick, p. 77). A key explanation for the increase in use is the proliferation of a youth rave culture that encourages hard drug use as a means to personal freedom, self-discovery, and peer acceptance. Adding to this problem is the “non-alcohol” after hour’s club. These all night rave clubs are not subject to standard law enforcement procedures. Police have no legal authority to enter these premises as they do in the case of regularly licensed alcohol serving establishments, without first obtaining a search warrant or receiving permission from the owner or operator (Parks, p. 295).
Experimentation with crystal meth has become commonplace for socially active young people irrespective of their economic status and social background. We live in a society where being thin and beautiful has become increasingly important to many of our youth. The continued social pressure to get and stay slender is enormous and out of reach for most. One of the reasons for using meth is the misguided idea these kids have regarding weight loss. Adolescents do have dramatic weight loss when using meth for any substantial length of time. Since meth decreases the appetite, the weight loss seems almost effortless. However, this is an extremely dangerous way to try to control their weight. One 25-year-old woman suffered severe abdominal pain upon taking illegal amphetamine-laced pills (Nguyen, p. 1627). As with most diet pills, once the dieter stops taking it, the weight comes back quickly.
In the past twenty-five years, illicit use of methamphetamine spread from urban areas of the West Coast (where slenderness is at a premium) into the Midwest and Southern United States. Once upon a time, it was commonly used for narcolepsy, alcoholism, and obesity. Today, it is sold in prescription form to treat learning disorders such as ADD. Since 1983, many laws were passed to restrict its distribution and consumption, without much success. It is too easy to synthesize from ephedrine and other household items such as kitty litter and acetone nail polish remover. In fact, a 2004 survey indicates that an alarming 6.2% of high school seniors have tried methamphetamine (NSUDH). A number of biological, genetic, and environmental factors influence children and adolescents’ paths to substance abuse. Symptoms of methamphetamine abuse include agitation, aggressive behavior, rapid mood swings, hypertension, tachycardia; and eventually lesion-marked skin, clinical depression, and paranoid psychosis (Gettig, Grady & Nowosadzka, p. 66). Treatment for methamphetamine addiction includes behavioral therapy (i.e. a 12-step program or other method used to modify one’s daily habits). When pregnant women abuse methamphetamine, it can have severe consequences to the fetus. Clinical studies in humans have found that exposure to methamphetamine during brain development can cause neurobehavioral abnormalities, such as aggressive behavior, learning problems, and poor social adaptation (Smith, 1149).
National data from the 1994 Drug Abuse Warning network revealed that for the period from 1991 to 1994 methamphetamine use among short-stay hospital patients more than tripled, and methamphetamine-related deaths reported by medical examiner offices nearly tripled. In addition, the Treatment Episode Data Set revealed a 43 percent increase in treatment-program admissions in which clients identified methamphetamine as the primary drug of abuse. Nonetheless, methamphetamine use did not become widespread in the U.S. population. Low-income and unemployed young white men continue to be the group most likely to use methamphetamine, but by the mid-1990s the drug had increased in popularity in more diverse populations and regions. “Economic and social pressures experienced by a broad array of Americans may partially explain expanded methamphetamine use; for example, depressed economic conditions in rural and semi-rural areas have contributed to methamphetamine’s appeal as a source of income. A ‘war against drugs’ approach has characterized the policy response, with increased criminal justice penalties. A public health approach is recommended, including prevention campaigns, harm-reduction outreach and treatment approaches, and pharmacologic and abstinence-based drug treatment approaches” (Wermuth, p. 423).
“The current research analyzed the relationship between methamphetamine use and health and social outcomes. Interviews were conducted with a sample of 106 respondents. Virtually all of the respondents experienced negative consequences of methamphetamine use. The most serious, but least prevalent, methamphetamine-related health problem were seizures and convulsions. The most prevalent health effect was weight lose. A substantial number of respondents experienced severe psychological symptoms: depression, hallucinations, and paranoia. Of the 106 respondents, 34.9% had committed violence while under the influence of methamphetamine. The data suggest that methamphetamine-based violence was more likely to occur within private domestic contexts, both family and acquaintance relationships. It is apparent from the findings that methamphetamine use heightens the risk for negative health, psychological, and social outcomes. Having said this, it is crucial to acknowledge that there was no evidence of a single, uniform career path that all chronic methamphetamine users follow. Furthermore, a significant number of sample members experienced limited or no serious social, psychological, or physical dysfunction as a result of their methamphetamine use” (Sommers, Baskin & Baskin, p. 1469).
Educating youth on methamphetamine prevention appears to be the best approach to curb the spreading use of this addictive and deadly drug, especially when one considers the cosmetic ramifications for abuse. This form of anti-drug promotion might be especially effective given that most individuals have much invested in personal appearance. It could cause an individual to become more vulnerable to cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss. Once the second set of teeth is lost, one must be fitted for dentures, and in meth abusers, some people as young as thirty have lost all teeth. One of the side effects of the drug is dry mouth, and many users suck on hard candies to combat this symptom. However, it only ends up aggravating oral disease because sugar aids in the erosion of enamel. According to Curtis, “meth mouth refers to a pattern of oral signs and symptoms of methamphetamine abuse, thought to include rampant caries and tooth fracture, leading to multiple tooth loss and edentulism” (Curtis, p. 125). Economically, the dental industry will benefit as meth users seek services in tooth repair and dentures.
Cosmetics aside, the scientific community is concerned about the link between meth use and psychosis. Amphetamine usage has been associated with addiction, psychosis and self-destructive behavior. However, the link is not very clear, because some quickly develop psychotic symptoms while others experience no effects at all. Chen et al (2005) tested the hypothesis that those with a family history of mental illness developed meth-induced psychosis at much higher rates than others. They found that users with mentally ill first-degree relatives had a much greater likelihood to develop schizophrenia (p. 87). Furthering the study on mental illness as it relates to amphetamine usage, Lee & Israel (2002) reported two patients that “severely and repeatedly mutilated their own genitalia while intoxicated on amphetamines and consider possible diagnostic etiologies”(p. 1215).
In approaching the problem from a sociological perspective, we find there are key differences between male and female dealers, though they do have common characteristics such as long criminal records and a long history of use. According to Senjo (2005), however, there are important deviations. Female dealers are more likely to have pursued higher education, including post-graduate degrees. Women are also less likely to have been arrested and are more open to rehabilitation. Male dealers, on the other hand, have more customers, make more money, and are more prepared for violent confrontations. Men usually take a more businesslike approach to their transactions (p. 59).
“In Florida, 273 meth labs were seized last year. That’s more than 10 times the number of lab busts as in 1999, when 23 labs were seized in Florida” (Bryce). Clearly, the meth epidemic in Florida is growing ever larger. The Tampa Bay area is the hub of all methamphetamine distribution and sales within Florida. Mexican organizations based in California and Texas transport the meth to Florida in multi-pound increments. Mexican traffickers have established a strong presence in Central Florida. “The Mexican organizations make use of this migrant pipeline to move methamphetamine. Aside from the Mexican organizations, clandestine methamphetamine lab seizures have taken an explosive upturn in Florida. These clandestine labs tend to be small “mom and pop” operations, but taken as a whole they represent a growing danger” (Drug-rehabs.org).
More labs have been discovered and closed: they were discovered in hotel rooms and trucks. Trafficking has increased greatly in the Jacksonville area. “The Southeast Regional Lab (SERL) reports that crystal methamphetamine averages above 80% in purity and is showing up in South Florida clubs, where users are known to mix usage with MDMA. There has also been a significant increase in crystal methamphetamine use within the homosexual community in South Florida, specifically Fort Lauderdale”(Drug-rehabs.org). Contraband is distributed primarily by parcel delivery. Most of the Mexican-produced product arrives in South Florida via California. Methamphetamine abuse in northwest Florida is increasing. “Methamphetamine abuse also continues to rise in the Orlando area, and has been commensurate with an increase in the number of clandestine laboratories seized in the area” (Drug-rehabs.org).
Miami, Florida was at the center of the rise of circuit parties and attendant club drug use, most notably ecstasy, GHB, and ketamine in the 1990s. With the new millennium, crystal methamphetamine has become the new drug of choice among east coast gay men, especially in Miami. In a 2005 study, Kurtz examines the motivations for this change. “Loneliness, fears about physical attractiveness due to aging and illness, and desires to lose sexual inhibitions were common motivations for using the drug. Continued use of crystal was often described as the cause of lost friendships, employment and long-term relationships, as well as sexual behaviors that put men at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Implications for drug and sexual risk prevention interventions are discussed” (Kurtz, p. 63).
In 2002, the Sarasota County High School Board wanted to determine the level of antisocial and self-destructive behaviors among their students. As it turns out, the drugs of choice are alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana—a clear preference for depressants over stimulants. The rate of meth use among Sarasota County High School students was quite low with only 2.9% of respondents reporting use (Sarasota County School Board, p. 16). It was the least popular drug, second only to heroin (1.8%). Also, methamphetamine use in Sarasota and Manatee counties at large is not an overwhelming social problem. In a survey covering all of Florida’s counties, it was found that both were in the second quartile in terms of usage (2.26-5.48 per 100,000).
Prevalence and patterns of substance abuse by urban street youth vary from city to city but methamphetamine is relatively unpopular with students. People in their late teens and twenties are the demographic groups most likely to become addicted to methamphetamine, because they might want to lose weight or keep bonding with friends, as peer relationships supercede family in importance. Even though the social pressures are there, the health implications are enormous. First, meth suppresses the normal production of adrenaline, leading to terrible crashes once the “high wears off.” Secondly, a chemical imbalance is created, resulting in irritable aggressive behavior. Third, prolonged usage can damage dopamine receptors and heart muscle, even at relatively low levels (Mizoguchi, 1579).
There is no “high” as wonderful as the first one, and the addict requires more drugs to get the same effects. From a psychological point of view, nothing is interesting except forming more connections to secure more methamphetamine. As was mentioned in the study above, many pregnant women cannot abandon their drug use for the safe development of their child. The natural drive for achievement is short-circuited and finding reward in relationship, school, or career is eliminated. While mild stimulants might be necessary in order to function in a faster-paced society, methamphetamine should not be the drug of choice for three reasons: health, happiness, and finances.
One prediction that can be comfortably made is that meth use in Sarasota and Manatee counties will increase dramatically. After all, the counties adjacent to them have admissions rating in the highest quintile (more than 100 per 100,000) and people do travel, befriend, and socialize with people from other counties. Rather than taking a “War on Drugs” approach to the problem, one should be made aware of the various substances out there, and become knowledgeable about the psychoactive and physical effects of the drugs. Given that human beings love what they cannot have, it is much more effective to tell students that they would look old before their time, never feel any real joy, or have a heart attack rather than the simplistic refrain that “drugs are bad.”
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