Here at our treatment clinics, we periodically go back and forth on what is the more disturbing recent development we see in the field of addiction treatment – the epidemic of prescription drug abuse (and the accompanying “accidental deaths” like that of Heath Ledger earlier this year) or the incredible growth of crystal meth’s popularity in the past 20 years.
Nat Geo’s excellent special entitled “The World’s Most Dangerous Drug” brings the crystal meth epidemic to the forefront of our consciousness on this day.
Crystal Meth (a.k.a. crystal, ice, tina crank) is “3 and a half times stronger than cocaine” according to Nat Geo (which leads us to wonder how that “strength” is measured) and is much cheaper than cocaine. The drug has ravaged the U.S. starting on the west coast and moving east. National Geographic’s reporter Lisa Ling starts up the special by exploring crystal’s effect in the state of Oregon – where the meth users have literally “cornered the market” on crime, being responsible for 85% of the crime. Crystal meth is in the system of 1 in 4 people who become incarcerated in Portland jails.
Deputy Bret King of the Multnomah County’s sheriff’s office discusses how much more insidious that the meth phenomenon is than the other drugs epidemics he’s witnessed. Deputy King shows some disturbing mug shots that chronicle the damage that meth does to the appearance and well being of portland’s inmates.
Deputy King also made videos of people in the throes of methamphetamine and these videos are not for the faint of heart. The images and videos are an alarming warning of the damages of meth that Deputy King has combined into a educational multimedia presentation called “Faces of Meth.”
The show then discusses the life of “Koby” who was a star athlete in Portland until he became addicted to meth and subsequently was arrested over 40 times. The thing that may be shocking for most people about this segment is the relief that Koby’s parent’s profess they felt when the police would call to notify them that Koby was in jail. This is the reality that we have seen all too often in the families of the men and women who come to our rehab facilities. Later on in the episode, there is a somewhat happy ending for Koby who is in recovery after receiving treamtent for meth addiction, but the asterisk on his newfound life is that he finds himself “twenty years behind” all of his peers who have matured and started families, purchased houses, etc.
Lisa Ling then goes into the jail’s women’s housing unit and interviews female inmates who relate heartbreaking tale after tale of lives ruined by meth. The appearance of the women is shockingly haggard and their once good looks have been utterly degraded by the drug’s abuse. It is also poignant that some of the women who are incarcerated for meth related crimes come from really upper class backgrounds.
Our vote for the most disturbing portion of the show was the chronicling of “meth mouth,” or the tooth decay that occurs in the users of crystal meth. The medical analysis of why meth mouth occurs is very enlightening because from it we learn that some of the tooth decay occurs because of the lack of saliva that occurs in the mouth and the dehydration that accompanies meth use. We’ve always known that using meth contributes to poor oral hygeine is often accompanied by poor diet (and and overload of sugary snacks). Obviously, lack of brushing and visits to the dentist also contributes to the many missing teeth and black teeth and gums that we occasionally come across in some of the farther gone cases that arrive here in Orange County for treatment.
The show often mentions meth psychosis and there is certainly no shortage of evidence of this. Many of the videos of meth users show them in a state of confusion and overwhelming anxiety. These videos are disturbing and make the viewer uncomfortable. There is a story about a young couple in Nebraska who took meth and abandoned their warm truck in the middle of a blizzard to wander aimlessly in farmland that they thought was their apartment complex. Although they were in contact with 911 off and on all night, they were unable to coherently relay their location and ended up both freezing to death. They had plenty of gas in their truck to stay in the vehicle with the heater on all night until daybreak. This story is utterly tragic.
History of Meth and it’s Damaging Effects in Asia
The Japanese invented meth nearly a century ago. The drug became popular in Word War II in which it was used to keep soldiers alert (on all sides of the war).
These days nearly 60% of the world’s meth use occurs in Thailand where working people take it and call it YaBa (which means danger). The meth is most commonly combined with caffeine and taken in pill form. The use of meth is relatively accepted in society although the government has recently had huge crackdowns on its use.
Predictably, the meth tends to work well at first, allowing people to work long hours and make extra money. Of course the meth will eventually take its toll and break people down mentally and physically. There have been numerous disturbing scenes that have played out in the streets of Thailand that have been caught on film. Many of the clips shown are of men who are in the throes of meth psychosis and holding a hostage with a knife to their throat.
At one point the Thai government estimated that 3 million people were using the drug. the government responded with a brutal crackdown in recent years. Yaba users were killed at a rate of 25 per day.
The special then shows footage of women whoe presumably work in Bangkok’s sex trade cooking up yaba pills and injecting the meth and smoking it. The women are all filmed anonymously and they discuss the prison of meth addiction and how their body has built tolerance to the drug. Since they require more and more of meth for the desired effect their meth addiction has led to a complete change of lifestyle.
Meth in the Brain – PERMANENT DAMAGE
The neurochemical effects of meth use is discussed including the unnatural dopamine surge that it causes. Dopamine is the chemical that makes activities like sex and eating feel good. Meth causes an incredible blast of dopamine that can actually cause the brain to close down the dopamine receptors making it more difficult for meth abusers to feel pleasure than non users – maybe permanently.
These are the kinds of lessons that we hope our clients learn in their treatment program as we repeatedly educate them to facts like the permanent damage meth can do to the brain. Our treatment staff has also adapted our rehab programs to compensate for the depressing fallout and hopelessness experienced by many of the young (and mature) men and women who come here in the grips of meth dependency.
Meth Causes Users to Feel Like There are Bugs Under Their Skin
This is one of the more shocking revelations in the program: meth users literally cope with the sensation that there are bugs climbing around under their skin. This leads to the picking at their skin that is so common and often it continues until there is blood. To non-meth users, this symptom of meth abuse would certainly seem nightmarish enough to prevent continued use, but the fact is that many meth abusers routinely experience this hallucination.
Meth in the United States started with ephedrin (the main ingredient of meth) found in farm feed but in recent times cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine. The show documents how crude and dangerous the process of creating meth is. In a demonstration that shows you that meth can be made easily we found it alarming that meth contains industrial ingredients like lithium batteries. Meth is clearly poisonous and kills many who try to concoct it. The demonstration that the law enforcement agency put on for the Nat Geo crew took approximately an hour and yields about $300 of meth. It was all done with items that were purchased from a store and the process was supposedly “as easy as making cookies.”
Since the crackdown on pseudoephedrine based cold medications, the number of meth lab busts has gone down drastically, but the availability of meth remains steady because of Mexican suppliers (using the same routes they use for the proliferation of cocaine in the United States).
Sober Living by the Sea’s Meth Treatment Programs
Since we’ve been treating drug addiction and alcoholism since 1986, we have witnessed the alarming rise of meth abuse in the men and women we treat. We know that individuals who need to go to a treament center for methamphetamine also have special needs for drug education and counseling, and possibly need medication to manage the depression that sometimes accompany early recovery from methamphetamine.
Sober Living by the Sea has a variety of treatment programs which allows us to personalize the treatment curriculum for every individual who comes here needing help to overcome addiction.