From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 5 - May 1, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The meth mess

by Cat Urbigkit

He said his parents did drugs also. Not meth, but they smoked pot. They used to hide the pot from him when he was younger, but eventually they didn't try that hard anymore. He even stole a little from their stash - what could they do about it, get on him for stealing when they were illegally using drugs? Not even.

The other one said his parents didn't do drugs, but he does. He started out smoking cigarettes, then pot; eventually he tried meth with some other pot-smoking friends. Now he likes it and wonders what the big deal is.

Both men have been busted for meth use and are in varied levels of trouble for it. One has a court order to seek help while the other has a court order to behave himself. Neither one seems to understand the danger they are in or the danger they now pose to those around them.

That's just the way methamphetamine works. It's not the drug of the hippie generation or your mother's valiums, and it's simply not comparable to other drugs older generations "experimented" with. Just try a little, and you'll get an intense, pleasurable rush. That's because it contains a chemical similar to adrenaline. Users often become agitated and feel "wired." Their behavior becomes unpredictable; friendly and calm one moment, angry and terrified the next. Some feel compelled to repeat meaningless tasks; others may pick at imaginary bugs on their skin. Physical effects include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and rate of breathing. Meth users will also have dilated pupils and may suffer from "the shakes" (tremors).

Meth comes in many forms and can be smoked, snorted, orally ingested, or injected, with the different methods of ingestion determining the type of high.

When users smokes or inject meth, they experience an intense rush or "flash" that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable, according to the California Department of Justice (CDJ). Snorting or oral ingesting meth reportedly produces the euphoria high, but not the "rush."

Meth use is most often in a "binge-and-crash" pattern. CDJ reports that because tolerance for the drug occurs within minutes (meaning that the pleasurable effects disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly) users try to maintain the high by binging. Although more and more of the drug is taken, less rush is felt, until there is no high and no rush, but depression sets in.

Meth is a very powerful stimulant that even in small doses can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. Because it's so powerful, it's chronically addictive.

Users will often lose weight because the feeling of satisfaction caused by meth disguises hunger. As a user increases meth use, the people, places and activities associated with meth replace other life functions as priority items to the meth tweaker.

The effect of meth use doesn't change, whether it's a guinea pig or a human. Schick Shadel Hospital (SSH) reported: "In certain studies, animals would press levers to release methamphetamine into their blood stream, no longer concerned about eating, mating or other natural drives. They will, in fact, die of starvation in the process of giving themselves methamphetamine even though food is available."

SSH described the effect of meth to include feelings of increased alertness, angers or fear, or agitation (flight or fight) and feelings of well being, riding high, exhilaration or euphoria result as well.

But when the stimulation gets too high, it can produce feelings of panic, paranoia, hallucinations, rage, seizures and stroke - the crash.

The increased tolerance for meth causes a repeating pattern. CDJ reported: "In an effort to intensify the desired effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of drug intake. In some cases, abusers forego food and sleep while indulging in a form of binging known as a 'run,' injecting as much as a gram of the drug every two to three hours over several days until the user runs out of the drug or is too disorganized to continue."

Even single high doses of meth have been shown to damage nerve terminals in the dopamine-containing regions of the brain. Dopamine is a biochemical in the brain that is instrumental in regulating pleasure. CDJ reports that the large release of dopamine produced by meth is thought to contribute to the drug's toxic effects on the brain's nerve terminals.

The meth abuse results in addiction and the exhibition of symptoms that can include violent behavior, anxiety, confusion and insomnia. Tweakers also can display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances and delusions. Paranoia can result in thoughts of suicide or homicide, according to authorities. Another reaction is out-of-control rages that can be coupled with extremely violent behavior.

Attempts to stop taking the drug aren't pleasurable either, with tweakers suffering symptoms ranging from depression and anxiety to fatigue, all accompanied by an intense craving for the drug.

Tweakers are reportedly the hardest drug users to treat, with extreme resistance to intervention due to changes in the brain caused by the drug. Relapse is common - willpower isn't enough to cure meth addicts. Tweakers don't usually voluntarily decide to go into treatment - it's usually court-ordered.

When asked about meth in Sublette County, Marbleton-Big Piney Clinic physician Dr. David Burnett's immediate reaction was: "Widespread and easy to get. We see it a lot."

Burnett said his clinic sees people who come in for other medical reasons, who exhibit signs of IV drug use or have symptoms related to withdrawal from meth. In addition, Burnett said he has seen patients who have entered the clinic for consultations to try to kick the habit.

Meth is produced domestically and is also imported, but the Midwestern states have been a stronghold of domestic meth production.

In 2002, there were 44 clandestine meth labs seized in Wyoming, one of which was in Sublette County, according to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. Labs have been found in vehicles, fields, sheds, motels and storage lockers. These "Mom and Pop" labs often experience explosions and fires, and are expensive to clean up.

Meth is fairly easy to make, using over-the-counter cold and asthma medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel or antifreeze, according to the Koch Crime Institute.

Locally, meth is reportedly easier to buy than marijuana or cocaine, costing about $25 for a quarter-gram.

Burnett said it's his understanding that meth is readily available and what really concerns him is the potential for the drug to become available to school-aged children in the community. Some in the community say it's easier for kids to get than a six pack of beer.

"I know we've seen it more and more over the past couple of years," Burnett said.

People remember the bogus stories told to schoolchildren that marijuana was addictive and think the meth concern is bogus as well. Burnett addressed that as well.

"It's terribly addictive, even with limited use," Burnett said. "People think 'it won't happen to me,' but one or two times, and they're hooked."

Sublette County Sheriff Hank Ruland said there is a public perception that meth use in the county is a huge, out-of-control problem, when in reality, the perception may be larger than the problem.

"There is meth use and it is a problem and it's bigger than it used to be," Ruland said. Ruland said he agreed with the statement made by former Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Director Tom Pagel when he said, "This isn't a problem we're going to be able to arrest ourselves out of."

Ruland said the reason that statement is true is because meth is so addictive. While dealers can be arrested, programs must address the problem in other ways, such as dealing with early offenders in drug court.

"Drugs are a community problem," Ruland said, not just a law-enforcement problem, so the community needs to be active in combating such a problem. One way to do that is through the citizens academy and neighborhood watch programs. Ruland said his department plans to sponsor a neighborhood watch meeting again some time in May. The academy teaches citizens what to look for and recognize as illegal activity in their neighborhoods, Ruland said.

"That is empowering the people to help the police," Ruland said, noting the public has a responsibility to keep their streets safe, along with law-enforcement officials.

See The Archives for past articles.

Copyright © 2002 Sublette Examiner
All rights reserved. Reproduction by any means must have permission of the Publisher.
Sublette Examiner, PO Box 1539, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3203