Methamphetamine: Poisoning lives and communities

Deputy Chris Chappelle, Sheriff Jimmy Edwards, and Deputy Barron Baker examine drug bust evidence.
February 8th, 2016     Health & Wellness

“You can’t hardly save a man from himself.” –Union County Sheriff, Jimmy Edwards

Chalk, Chrissy, Christmas tree, Crank, Crystal, Glass, Ice, Meth, Speed, Tina, Tweak, Uppers, etc.  No matter what name you use, Methamphetamine is a serious and growing problem for our community, our state and our nation. Chances are, if your life hasn’t been affected by a crystal meth addict yet, it will be. They are your neighbors, coworkers, fellow church members, your spouse or, sadly, maybe even your children.

Where is the methamphetamine problem?

Current estimates are that there are over 1.4 million people in the U.S. using and abusing methamphetamine on a regular basis. That number is steadily and rapidly climbing, and our community is no exception to those statistics, according to Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards.

“We made more than 250 arrests for methamphetamine during my first four years as sheriff,” said Edwards. ” In January of 2016 alone, we made eight felony arrests for meth.”

Perhaps the most striking thing about the methamphetamine crisis in America can be seen by looking at a single map: Unlike most illicit drugs, meth isn’t primarily a big city problem.

Do you live near a meth lab? Check out this interactive map. Hover over your county for information on meth labs reported in your immediate area.

The map link above shows where meth labs have been identified and seized between 2004 and 2012. Indiana, Tennessee, and Missouri have the highest rates of lab incidence on the map, but more recent changes in the laws of those states moved a significant number of those labs into Mississippi.

Historically, most illicit drugs have been associated with urban life.  Meth is completely different: It began as a largely rural problem, consumed mostly by white working-class Americans  in the West, Midwest, Southwest and the South. However, in our community and others, law enforcement has recently noted a significant increase of methamphetamine usage among blacks, as well as in higher socio-economic levels.

  • Three percent of high school students have used crystal meth within the last 12 months.
  • Nearly five percent of 12th graders across America have tried meth at least once over the course of their lives.
  • Crystal meth addictions tend to plague the younger populations, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse finding 1.2 percent of eighth graders, 1.6% of tenth graders and 1.0% of twelfth graders abusing methamphetamines.
Approx $2,500 street value Chrystal meth

Approx $2,500 street value crystal meth

New Albany Chief of Police, Chris Robertson says, “It used to be a drug for low-income white males. Now it’s become more of a problem in the black community. Now it’s not just in the lower economic groups.”

Overall, stringent control of pseudoephedrine in the US has somewhat reduced the number of “homegrown” labs in this country, but Mexican drug cartels now produce huge quantities of methamphetamine for smuggling across our borders.

Chief Robertson agrees that imported methamphetamine has become the larger problem:

The money found hidden inside walls, suitcases and closets in one of Mexico City's wealthiest neighborhoods came from the profits of methamphetamines sold in the United States, [DEA chief Karen Tandy] said, March 2007

Over $207 million was found hidden inside walls, suitcases and closets in one of Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods came from the profits of methamphetamines sold in the United States, DEA Chief Karen Tandy said, March 2007.

“We thought it would cure the problem when we made it so you had to get a prescription or furnish identification to purchase Sudafed. Actually, it got worse. It cut down on the local manufacturing, but meth started coming in cheaper and in larger quantities from Mexico.”

Meth users’ downward spiral

It is hard for many people to understand the growing numbers who continue to be sucked into the methamphetamine whirlpool. The fact is, though, that many get taken in during their teen years, when they are prone to experimentation and peer pressure. Meth is commonly used as a “club drug” and as a “stay awake aide” and  has the ability to rapidly take over a life. First contact with the drug’s effects may come through use of “diverted” prescription drugs for treating attention deficit disorder (ADD) or assisting with weight loss, but methamphetamine is most commonly abused in its illicit form, taken orally, injected, snorted or smoked.

 Snorting or swallowing meth produces euphoria — a high, but not a rush. Immediately after smoking or injection, the user experiences an intense sensation, called a “rush” or “flash,” that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable.

The much sought after “rush” brings pleasurable feelings of well-being, confidence, wakefulness and energy. The stimulant effects generally last six to eight hours, but can be sustained for up to 12 hours, as compared to only minutes with crack cocaine. Users may remain awake for days, often without eating, and may push their body too fast and too far. As the effects begin to wear off, users may seek other drugs, like cocaine or heroin, in an effort to buffer or forestall the “crash” after the drug high. This is the period where users may be “tweaking,” exhibiting violence, delusions, paranoia, etc. The tweaking period is the part of the cycle where the user may be most dangerous to others.

There are three categories of meth abuse. Being at any level of methamphetamine abuse puts the user in danger of falling to the next level.

  • Low Intensity meth abuse: Low intensity abusers swallow or snort meth. They want the extra stimulation methamphetamine provides so they can stay awake long enough to finish a task or a job, or they want the appetite-suppressant effect to lose weight.
  • Binge meth abuse: Binge users smoke meth or inject it with a needle. This allows them to receive a more intense dose of the drug and experience a stronger “rush” that is psychologically addictive.
  • High Intensity meth abuse: The high intensity abusers are the addicts, often called “speed freaks.” Their whole existence focuses on preventing the “crash,” that painful letdown after the drug high. In order to achieve the desired “rush” from the meth, they must take more and more of it.

Sheriff Edwards sums up what many experts believe to be true: “The ones that shoot up meth never recover.”

Costs of methamphetamine abuse

Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction, as is every family.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) estimates that abuse of all drugs cost the US economy $180 billion in 2002. Approximately $16 billion of the cost is attributed to health care, $30 billion to crime, and the remainder ($134 billion) to reduced productivity. Methamphetamine is the second most abused drug, behind marijuana, and is of particular concern due to the rapid increase in its use and the fact that, unlike marijuana, it causes substantial amounts of crime as addicts seek more and more drugs to sustain longer and longer highs.

Because of the difficulty in managing detailed evaluations of the costs of individual drugs of abuse, there are few highly current statistics available  documenting the costs of meth abuse. It was estimated that meth use cost the US $23.4 billion in 2005 alone. Because of the difficulty in assembling costs associated with morbidity and mortality, criminal justice and social welfare services, environmental clean up of poisonous toxic waste from methamphetamine chemical production, and most significantly lost productivity, other estimates for 2005 alone ranged to $48.3 billion.

At the local level, Sheriff Edwards states that,” At any one time, about ten percent of the 80+ inmates in the Union County jail are for methamphetamine.”

The Sheriff quotes the cost of housing an inmate in the county jail at $40-$45 per day. Using an average daily rate of $42.50, that translates to over $124,000 of Union County taxpayer money each year in incarceration costs alone.

In contrast to health costs, which are primarily private, criminal behavior has largely social (public) costs. In addition to law enforcement and health care costs, other social problems influenced by drug abuse include drugged driving, violence, stress, child abuse/neglect, homelessness, and workplace productivity, etc.  According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the public cost to society of drug-related crime is nearly twice the private cost of drug-related health problems.

Signs and symptoms of meth abuse

MethamphetamineMethamphetamine is believed to be the second most abused drug, after marijuana. Though not the number one drug that is abused in most countries, it is one of the most addictive and one of the most destructive. It’s important that parents and other family members are able to tell when someone they care about is abusing methamphetamine.

Meth is most often a white to light brown crystalline powder. It may also be found in clear chunky crystals that resemble broken pieces of ice or shards of glass. Methamphetamine can be found in liquid form as well.

You may find small bags of white powder or crystals or syringes. Other items that could be left behind after meth abuse are small pieces of crumpled aluminum foil, soda cans with a hole in the side, small drinking straws or the shafts of inexpensive ball-point pens that might be used to snort the drug.

Users may exhibit agitation, paranoia, delusions and unsubstantiated fears. Users like to “tinker” with things, constructing and deconstructing objects, taking things apart for “repairs” or “improvements” that are never completed, etc.  Abusers may experience “Meth bugs” or the sensation of bugs crawling underneath the skin.

Eating disorders are common for crystal meth users, due to malnutrition, body dysmorphia and appetite loss common to methamphetamine use.

Personal hygiene habits may begin to deteriorate. Over the long-haul, users may develop noticeable oral and/or dental problems, commonly known as “meth mouth”.

You are probably an addict if you:

  • Think about using the drug all of the time
  • Feel a deep longing to take the drug
  • Find it hard to stop using the drug, even for a day
  • Want to stop using, but feel unable to do so

If you or someone you care about needs more information or help, you can find it locally here: or call 662.841.0403

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