Substance Abuse in Indian Country, Part 1: Meth

By Sheila Begay
Au-Authm Action News

Editor’s Note: Substance abuse is one of the major challenges facing Indian Country, where rates of drug and alcohol abuse are higher than those of the non-Indian population. This is the first of a series of five articles for Au-Authm Action News meant to educate members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community about recognizing, treating and preventing substance abuse.

The highly addictive illegal drug methamphetamine (“meth” for short) is spreading like wildfire across America, and it’s currently the most-abused drug in this country. According to an episode on meth from the TV show Drugs, Inc. on the National Geographic Channel, every day 1 million grams of meth is consumed in the United States. In 2005, the Meth Project Foundation, with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted a study which estimated that the economic burden of meth abuse in the United States adds up to approximately $23 billion a year. This figure encompasses the many costs to society related to meth abuse, such as medical treatment for addiction, lost productivity, premature death, costs for law enforcement and incarceration, costs for cleaning up hazardous waste at “meth houses,” and thefts related to supporting a meth habit.

What meth users don’t know is they are up against a deadly fight that very few survive.

What is meth?
According to the Meth Project Foundation, meth is a synthetic (manmade) stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It is an odorless, bitter-tasting drug that takes the form of white or yellowish powder, crystals or pills. Ingredients in meth include pseudoephedrine, which is commonly found in over-the-counter decongestants, as well as very toxic ingredients like drain cleaner, battery acid and antifreeze. It is snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed. The most common street names for meth are “G,” “ice,” “speed,” “chalk,” “crystal,” “glass,” “fire,” “tweak” and “trash.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug because of its high potential for abuse. Although methamphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor, its medical uses are limited, and the doses that are prescribed are much lower than those typically abused. It is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled.

How does meth end up in your community?
Most of the methamphetamine abused in this country comes from foreign “superlabs” and is smuggled into the United States. There are domestic “meth labs” where meth users and dealers manufacture, or “cook,” the drug using a variety of hazardous chemicals. These small, illegal and very dangerous labs are the most common place to find meth, where its production endangers the people in the labs, the local neighbors and the environment.

How does meth affect you?
Knowing that meth is made from harsh chemicals, it’s logical to conclude that using meth significantly changes how the brain functions. Someone who uses meth turns into a completely different person, with severe impacts to their body, their personality, their lives and their families.
Physical effects of meth are many and include the following:
• anorexia (decreased appetite)
• insomnia
• increased physical activity/hyperactivity
• dry mouth and severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
• excessive sweating
• rapid breathing
• dilated pupils
• headaches
• increased risk of transmission of AIDS, HIV and hepatitis viruses
• liver, kidney and lung damage, or even a more serious event such as a heart attack, stroke or death.
Psychological effects of meth include:
• euphoria
• increased energy, self-esteem and self-confidence; feeling powerful and invincible
• problems concentrating
• paranoia
• irritability, aggressiveness and violent behavior
• hair pulling and compulsive skin picking
• alteration of judgment and risky/unsafe behaviors
• intense depression and thoughts of suicide
Life-changing effects of meth include:
• loss of job, home, families, children and vehicles
• stealing from loved ones
• cheating and destroying relationships
• thinking the whole world is against you
• jail/prison time

What are visual signs of a meth user?
Dental problems or “meth mouth” (rotting teeth) is the most obvious sign that someone has been using meth. Other signs include a chemical odor coming from the mouth, teeth grinding, a flushed appearance, excessive talking, memory loss, severe acne, open sores, no sense of time, rapid speech and paranoia.

What are the stages of meth addiction?
Being able to spot the warning signs of a developing addiction may save somebody’s life. According to the Web site for Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles, Calif., there are several stages of meth addiction:
Experimentation: Trying meth for the first time. Due to its addictive properties, this stage does not generally last very long with meth in comparison with other drugs.
Habitual Use: Using meth on a regular basis. Increased tolerance causes the user to need more of the drug in order to achieve the desired effects.

Dependence: The user begins to feel as if they need meth in order to feel normal. The user develops a psychological dependence and begins to choose meth over daily obligations, so social and family problems may begin to appear.

Addiction: The user now has a strong physical addiction created by the brain’s adaptation to having meth present. Meth use becomes the main motivating factor, and problems with anger, unstable emotions, paranoia and delusions may occur.

Recovery: Meth is extremely difficult to stop using. Without proper help, almost all addicts relapse. Drug-treatment centers offer inpatient and outpatient programs incorporating detox and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques in order to help prevent relapse. Sober-living houses offer a method of reintegration back into everyday life.

What drugs were meth users most likely abusing previously?
Meth users were most likely abusing prescription drugs or were experimenting with cocaine, heroin, marijuana, inhalants, LSD, PCP or depressants. Drug abuse often works like a chain reaction, where the drug abuser will become addicted to his or her drug of choice and eventually work toward the most dangerous drugs, such as heroin.

If you or someone you know is addicted to meth, help is available. Call Naomi Esparza, Behavioral Health Counselor with the Salt River LARC Program at (480) 362-5718.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series in an upcoming issue of Au-Authm Action News.

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