Meth use has ‘chilling impact’ on communities, says ER doctor
In 1866, amphetamine was discovered, or synthesized, in Germany. For years it was a drug in search of a disease. Not much was done with it until the late 1920s, when it was investigated as a cure or treatment against everything from depression to decongestion.
Methamphetamine, which is easier to make and more potent, was first discovered by the Japanese around 1919. It is still produced and sold legally in the United States under the name Desoxyn. But in recent years, methamphetamine (meth) has had a chilling impact on communities all over the country, and the ability to manufacture or ‘cook’ meth in clandestine labs has added to the availability of the drug.
Dr. Jack Stump, an emergency room physician at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., has been on the front lines of the meth problem that hit Western states long before it began making its way east. Stump spoke to a large group of students and adults April 24 at North Harrison High School.
‘Meth has had multiple uses during the 1900s,’ said Stump, who was one of the first to recognize the perils surrounding the methamphetamine epidemic in the United States.
‘Now, it’s the drug of choice among many abusers. On the Internet, there are over 50 methods of manufacturing meth. In this sense, the Internet has been harmful. In recent years, the manufacturing method has gone from a three-day process to a 30-minute process. All of the methods require caustic ingredients, which makes the various processes dangerous. Anyone can make it, and that makes it even more scary. Plus the by-products of a ‘cook’ are toxic, which presents a danger to the person making the meth, the local community and law enforcement officers who discover illegal labs,’ Stump said.
The appeal of meth, according to most users, is that it causes an almost super-natural high, an altered mental status and a feeling of stimulation and escape.
‘There was a time that plant ‘highs’ were considered a major issue,’ Stump said. ‘Those include drugs that are derived from plants like opium, cocaine and marijuana. But the ‘extracts,’ the ingredients that supply the high in plants, are usually of consistent quality. That is not the case with ‘chemical’ drugs. They are man-made. Drugs like meth, LSD and PCP. And the strength and purity of these drugs vary greatly, which makes them extremely dangerous. Meth produces changes in the chemistry of the brain; otherwise, a person wouldn’t get ‘high’ from it. But those changes are often drastic, and the brains of some people never change back.’
The clinical effects of meth use include staying awake for long periods, being excited, paranoid and having severe hypertension.
‘A person on meth can experience a tolerance of pain and have poor judgment,’ Stump said. ‘Their verbal memory is effected as well as their perceptual motor speed. Their abstract thinking and problem-solving skills are also diminished. And tasks that require mental flexibility can be overwhelming.’
Stump also discussed the role of meth in parenting, including unplanned pregnancies, premature births and poor living conditions.
‘There also tends to be a lot of neglect during the ‘crash’ phase,’ Stump added. ‘With meth, there is a ‘high’ phase, when a person can go for days without sleeping. But then the ‘crash’ or ‘exhaustion’ period kicks in, and there is usually a poor tolerance level and bad judgment. It’s during these times when most of the abuse and neglect of children takes place.’
According to Stump, a small percentage of the population will never do drugs, a larger percentage of the population can go either way, and another small percentage will do drugs no matter what.
‘We have come to recognize that there is a risk-taking gene in people. Some people drive race cars, some jump out of airplanes, and some are drug users. They are a hard group to crack. You can tell a lot of those people, ‘I have a new drug, but if you use it, it’ll make your head fall off.’ They will probably say, ‘Well, let me try just a little of it.’ But every drug user needs a support system to use drugs. Even when they use drugs, people still need a place to live, food to eat and clothes on their back. And drug users wear people out. After a while, family and friends give up on them. They are just too difficult to have around, and they can’t be trusted.’
It takes at least two years to recover from meth use, according to Stump, and relapses can be expected.
‘There are four victims of meth use,’ Stump said, ‘the user, the user’s family and friends ‘ because of stolen money and broken promises ‘ the victims of crimes committed to get money to buy drugs, and the community.
‘Develop a zero tolerance for drugs,’ Stump told the students. ‘Be proud of yourself. And help others. We want healthy minds and bodies.’