The Pryor Times

Crimes and courts

May 3, 2014

Part 3: The medical angle on meth

PRYOR, OK — Individually the ingredients are toxic, but combine them and methamphetamine users don't blink an eye.

A meth high will wear off eventually, but the effects of the homemade drug can last a lifetime.

“Meth releases a surge of dopamine, causing an intense rush of pleasure or prolonged sense of euphoria. Over time, meth destroys dopamine receptors, making it impossible to feel pleasure,” according to a Public Broadcasting Service special report, “Although these pleasure centers can heal over time, research suggests that damage to users’ cognitive abilities may be permanent.”

Medical researchers have found that after more than a year's sobriety, former meth users still showed severe impairment in memory, judgment and motor coordination, similar to symptoms seen in Parkinson's Disease.

Chronic abuse of meth can lead to psychotic behavior including paranoia, insomnia, anxiety, extreme aggression, delusions and hallucinations, according to Mayes Emergency Service Trust Authority paramedic Steve Smith.

Those issues are what paramedics see most, according to Smith.

“We run meth calls all the time, but they're almost never dispatched that way. They don't want to admit that they're strung out on meth so the calls are usually described as mental illness or contain suicide threats,” said Smith. “Increased heart rate and heart attacks are a common response to meth, so that’s another way the call is made.”

Paranoia and hallucinations make providing medical service to users all the more difficult.

“They become combative and we have no way of know what they’re seeing or thinking,” said Smith. “We start by reassuring them that we aren’t police. They see flashing lights and a badge and assume we’re there to arrest them. It’s hard to keep them calm.”

Dispatch, he said, is a lifeline.

“They are the ones handling the calls and responsible for letting us know what we are getting ourselves in to. They have to be on the lookout for key phrases and behaviors so we don’t get ourselves in an  unnecessarily dangerous situation,” said Smith.

Meth users, he said, basically rob their bodies of nutrients.

“People using meth don’t eat, they don’t take care of themselves and any spare money is spent on the next hit and not on medical or dental check-ups,” Smith said.

“Increased wakefulness, increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased respiration, rapid heart rate, irregular-heart beat, increased blood pressure and increased body temperature,” are just a few of the medical side effects of ingesting the chemical cocktail according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Meth mouth” and meth sores are two of the most visible side effects of the drug.

Abuse of meth causes the destruction of tissue and blood vessels, which are detrimental to the body’s ability to repair itself.

Acne appears, sores take longer to heal, and skin loses its luster and elasticity, making users appear years older, according to NIDA. Poor diet, grinding of teeth and poor oral hygiene results in tooth decay and loss.

Another contributor to “meth mouth” is the drug causes the salivary glands to dry out, which allows the mouth’s acid to eat away tooth enamel.

Some of the chemicals in meth are corrosive in nature, taking their toll on teeth and skin.

Anyhdrous ammonia, found in fertilizers; red phosphorous, found on matchboxes; and lithium, found in batteries; are all on the meth ingredient list.

Chouteau Police Officers Chad Nave and Thomas Fisher said their years on the force have taught them that meth and sex often go together.

“Typically we see sexual promiscuity and meth use going hand-in-hand,” said Fisher. “But that's part of the effects of meth, a heightened libido.

“Unfortunately,” said Nave. “drug use also lowers cognitive ability so the behavior is typically risky. Combine that with users sharing syringes and it’s a recipe for Hepatitis or HIV.”

Lowered resistance to illness, liver damage, convulsions, extreme rise in body temperature, stroke and death are other common effects of meth, according to Smith.

With every meth high, users are doing irreprable damage to their brains and bodies.


Editor’s note: The Times is running a four-part series about methamphetamine over four consecutive weekend editions.

The project covers the subject from various angles, including both ends of the spectrum - law enforcement and the addict. It also includes interviews with health professionals and counselors.

Most of the arrests in Mayes County include methamphetamine, leading to the highest number of incarcerations.

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