In 2018, an estimated 1 million people age 12 and older met diagnostic criteria for methamphetamine dependence or abuse. Among that figure, 24,000 were adolescents, while 188,000 were young adults ages 18 to 25. The other 751,000 were adults age 26 and older. During 2015–2018, an estimated 1.6 million U.S. adults aged ≥18 years, on average, reported past-year methamphetamine use.
Methamphetamine (d-methamphetamine, crystal meth, or meth) is a man-made, chemically derived central nervous system stimulant that’s most commonly smoked or snorted. It can be manufactured in small, private, home laboratories, using pseudo-ephedrine or ephedrine along with other toxic substances that can be purchased at drugstores or hardware stores, such as antifreeze, battery acid or drain cleaner.
The meth plague is most rampant in what we could call (John Cougar) Mellencamp Country. Like opioid use among rural whites, it has become a serious problem. Missouri, Tennessee and Ohio are also considered the Meth Belt. Indiana has busted thousands of meth labs. Evansville has gotten so bad that public officials are warning people that meth-tainted trash left outdoors could be corrosive, toxic or flammable.
The cost of supporting a meth addiction can cost as little as $25 a day or as much as $40,000 a year. While it’s possible to make it in a small home lab, it’s not practical and rarely done. More often, meth comes from large “Breaking Bad”-type chemical labs operated by drug cartels. Domestic production has dropped since the crackdown on pseudo-ephedrine sales in the U.S. Meanwhile, seizures of meth on the Mexican border tripled between the years of 2012 and 2018.
Distribution is often handled through organized “outlaw” biker gangs. They are typically buying protection from police or have allies within official circles. And the problem is not just small local law enforcement. A Bowling Green study of police drug corruption showed older officers and those employed by large agencies are less likely than others to lose their job after a drug‐related arrest.
The product, on a value basis, is much less bulky and lighter than cannabis. Thus criminals favor it for marketing. Ten grams of marijuana ($200) can last the average user for some time and is not the daily additive habit that meth is. Plus, Mary Jane’s affect is different, more of a “chill” relaxant than a dopamine rush.
Between the fiscal years 2017-2019, DEA domestic seizures of meth increased 127% from 49,507 pounds to 112,146 pounds, according to the DEA. During the same time frame, the number of DEA arrests related to meth rose nearly 20%.
Mexican cartels are shipping more meth than ever into the country, mostly through ports of entry in hidden vehicle compartments and through tunnels.
“They’re flooding it through tunnels, they’re flooding it through ports of entry, they’re flooding it between ports of entry,” said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Phoenix office.
There are four primary criminal organizations involved in trafficking drugs over the border.
A Demonic Drug
Some are introduced to meth at clubs or parties. As a party drug, it makes people talkative and feel alert and confident. Some say it has an aphrodisiac affect, making them feel aroused, uninhibited and energetic. In college, some are introduced to a less potent form of the drug (speed) as a crutch to help them churn out big projects or cram for exams. High schools girls have abused meth as a way to lose weight. Ironic given the hideous appearance of meth-heads as the addiction progresses.
The addiction takes hold fast, sometimes within one use. They go from snorting it, to free-basing (smoking it) and eventually to shooting it up, turning their body into a twitching toxic cesspool of chemical waste.
Beyond wrecking one’s physical health, meth users may become demonic and very dark in nature. This drug can turn people into mentally ill, anti-social psychopaths and, in theory, everything they needed to know about it was known before they ever tried it even once. But they probably said, “Ah, that’ll never happen to me.” They crossed the line and became a willing participant in their own total destruction.
The hook of the drug is the dopamine rush, exhilarating high energy and euphoria. The biochemical actions of meth in the brain serve to increase the activity of dopamine — a neurotransmitter that is instrumental in an individual’s motivation, pleasure and various motor functions. The increase in dopamine helps to impart feelings of reward or pleasure, which can be incredibly reinforcing. However, use can then lead to dopamine transport reduction within the nervous system.
This makes quitting absolute torture, as the individual can no longer produce natural dopamine to maintain an emotional equilibrium and enjoy life’s pleasures without meth. This cliff-dive or crash of depleted dopamine results in anhedonia, or an impaired ability to experience pleasure.
Heavy meth users, called “tweakers,” are often scattered-brained and twitchy because meth is a form of speed. Prolonged overindulgence in meth can manifest grotesque side effects, such as gum loss and “meth bugs,” which is a psychiatric condition in which the meth user has the sensation that their skin is crawling with bugs even though no external stimulation is occurring.
It the video below, the meth user recorded and described the tweaker physical effects before his death.
Meth withdrawal symptoms begin around 24 hours after the individual’s last use. Fatigue often sets in first, followed by an overwhelming feeling of depression. Some patients also experience paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety and insomnia during this time.
Adults with a serious mental illness (e.g. major depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.) are eight times more likely to have a co-occurring illicit drug dependence than those without mental illness.
Users may feel they are blocking troublesome psychiatric symptoms by using meth (i.e. self-medicating), and this erroneous thought process makes it difficult to convince the person to stop using the drug.
Since many users are often already suffering from various grades of mental illness and disorders, meth is like throwing fuel on a fire and can exacerbate psychotic symptoms. Psychotic features include speech poverty, psychomotor retardation and a flat-affect (emotional blunting). This includes some of the more commonly seen signs and symptoms, such as delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations and incoherent speech.
External impacts and criminal acts on others can manifest from the user’s hyperactivity, nausea, delusions of power, increased aggressiveness and irritability, as well as hallucinations, anxiety, panic and paranoia.
Use of methamphetamine can result in diffuse brain damage that occurs via neuronal death. The use of methamphetamine has also been associated with increased damage and death to these cells in a number of brain areas, particularly in the prefrontal cortex where a number of important functions, such as attention, planning, abstract thinking and judgment occur. It may include a loss of impulse control or a person’s ability to self-regulate and control emotional states and/or their actual experience of emotions.
Research indicates that damage to the dopamine transporter system may repair over time with significant abstinence. However, the loss of neurons in the CNS cannot be fully recovered. Users may suffer brain damage, including memory loss and an increasing inability to grasp abstract thoughts. Those who recover are usually subject to memory gaps and extreme mood swings.
More than 75 percent of meth users reported symptoms of anxiety. Treating anxiety disorders with benzodiazepines can be increasingly difficult, if addicted to meth. This is because there is an increased likelihood you will abuse or become secondarily addicted to benzodiazepines.
Winter Watch Takeaway: Our readers are smart and aware, so it should really go without saying: Maintain a wide berth of these zombies and this drug.
What’s Meth Really Like? Crystal Meth Psychosis, Shadow People