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Methamphetamine
Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  What is Methamphetamine?
A:  Methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant. 
The drug works directly on the brain and spinal cord by interfering with normal neurotransmission. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances naturally produced within nerve cells used to communicate with each other and send messages to influence and regulate our thinking and all other systems throughout the body.

The main neurotransmitter affected by methamphetamine is dopamine. Dopamine is involved with our natural reward system. For example, feeling good about a job well done, getting pleasure from our family or social interactions, feeling content and that our lives are meaningful and count for something, all rely on dopamine transmission.

A synthetic drug, methamphetamine has a high potential for abuse and dependence. It is illegally produced and sold in pill form, capsules, powder and chunks. Methamphetamine was developed early in this century from its parent drug amphetamine and was originally used in nasal decongestants, bronchial inhalers, and in the treatment of narcolepsy and obesity. In the 1970s methamphetamine became a Schedule II drug - a drug with little medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Q:  What are the street names for methamphetamine?
A:  The drug is referred to by many names including "meth," "speed .. crank," "chalk,"- "go-fast," "zip," and "cristy." Pure methamphetamine hydrochloride, the smokeable form of the drug, is called "L.A." or - because of its clear, chunky crystals which resemble frozen water - "ice," "crystal," 64glass," or "quartz." Since the 1980s, ice has been smuggled from Taiwan and South Korea into Hawaii, where use became widespread by 1988. By 1990, distribution of ice had spread to the U.S. mainland.

Q.  Where is meth manufactured and distributed?
A.  Methamphetamine is both domestically produced and imported into the U.S. in already processed form. Once dominated by motorcycle gangs and other local producers in remote areas of California and the Pacific Northwest, the market now includes both local producers and Mexican sources providing finished product to stateside distributors.

Q.  Why is meth use so prevalent in the Midwest?
A:  The region's methamphetamine epidemic stems from two problems:

  • steadily increasing importation of methamphetamine into the region by organized trafficking groups; and
  • clandestine manufacturing of methamphetamine by hundreds of users/dealers in small "mom and pop" labs.

Seizures of clandestine labs in the Midwest have increased from 44 in 1995 to more than 1500 in 2002. In fact, the state of Missouri led the nation since 1997 in the number of meth labs seized with California currently close behind.

Twenty Mexican methamphetamine trafficking organizations have been identified by DEA as being involved in the Midwest, which is connected via major interstate highways, rail and air to the West and Southwest border areas that serve as importation, manufacturing and staffing areas for the Mexican operations.

Q.  How is meth made?
A.  The processing required to make methamphetamine from precursor substances is easier and more accessible than ever. There are literally thousands of recipes and information about making meth on the Internet. An investment of a few hundred dollars in over-the-counter medications and chemicals can produce thousands of dollars worth of methamphetamine. The drug can be made in a makeshift "lab" that can fit into a suit case. The average meth "cook" annually teaches ten other people how to make the drug.

Q.  Where are these labs found?
A.  Clandestine labs known as "mom and pop" labs are found in rural, city and suburban residences; barns, garages and other outbuildings; back rooms of businesses; apartments; hotel and motel rooms; storage facilities; vacant buildings; and vehicles.

Q.  What ingredients are used to make meth?
A.  Over-the-counter cold and asthma medications containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel, and antifreeze are among the ingredients most commonly used.

Q. What are precursor substances?
A:  Precursors are substances that, in nature, might be inactive. However, when combined with another chemical the result is a new product. Methamphetamine starts with an inactive or marginally-inactive compound (ephedrine or pseudoephedrine) and other chemicals are added to produce the drug.

Q.  How much does meth cost on the street?
A.  The cost varies according to several factors, including purity of the drug, the region in which it is sold, the source of the drug (local product vs. imported) and availability of the drug. The approximate prices below were provided by an informant in the Cass County area (05/10/06)

$ 50 per 1/4 gram
$ 140 per gram      (keep in mind, a pink Sweet-n-Low packet is 1 gram)
$ 375 per 3.5 grams   (refered to as an 8 ball)
$ 700 per 1/4 Oz   (7 grams)
$1300 per 1/2 Oz   (14 grams)
$2000 per Ounce    (28 grams)

Estimates are that one ounce of meth equals about 896 meth "lines."

Q.  Who is using methamphetamine?
A.  There are two basic profiles of users reported by law enforcement and treatment providers:

  • students, both high school and college age; and
  • white, blue-collar workers and unemployed persons in their 20s and 30s.

Use is widely prevalent in both urban and rural areas and equally divided among males and females. Women are more likely to use methamphetamine than cocaine.  Some areas are seeing an increase in the number of Hispanic and Native American meth users, though whites are still the most dominant users of the drug.

Q.  Are teenagers using the drug?
A.  The drug is becoming more popular among persons 18 years and younger, as studies show teenagers perceive methamphetamine as safer, longer lasting and easier to buy than cocaine. The "Monitoring the Future" survey, which measures the extent of drug use among U.S. adolescents, found methamphetamine use among high school seniors more than doubled between 1990 and 2000. In addition, law enforcement officials have caught teens as young as 13- and 15-year-olds using and selling the drug.

Q.  Why should I talk to my child/teenager about meth?
A.  Teens whose parents talk to them about drugs are half as likely to use drugs as those whose parents do not speak to them on this topic.

Q:  Why do people start using methamphetamine?
A:  Athletes and students sometimes begin using meth because of the initial heightened physical and mental performance the drug produces. Blue collar and service workers may use the drug to work extra shifts, while young women often begin using meth to lose weight. Others use meth recreationally to stay energized at "rave" parties or other social activities. In addition, meth is less expensive and more accessible than cocaine and users often have the misconception that methamphetamine is not really a drug.

Q: Is meth used in combination with other drugs?
A:  Methamphetamine users are likely also to be users of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine rather than users of drugs like heroin.

Q: Are there any legitimate uses for methamphetamine?
A:  In some cases, doctors prescribe low doses of methamphetamine for narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder.

Q:  How is methamphetamine administered?
A:  It can be smoked, taken intranasal (snorted), injected intravenously or ingested orally. The practice of "eating" meth by putting it on paper or food and chewing it also has been reported.

Q:  What happens immediately after a person takes methamphetamine?

A:  The drug alters mood in different ways, depending on how it is taken.   Immediately after smoking or intravenous injection, the user experiences an intense "rush" or "flash" that lasts only a few minutes and is described as extremely pleasurable. Smoking or injecting produces effects fastest, within five to ten seconds.  Snorting or ingesting orally produces euphoria - a high but not an intense rush.  Snorting produces effects within three to five minutes, and ingesting orally produces effects within 15 to 20 minutes.

Q: How does the drug effect users overall?
A:  In all forms, the drug stimulates the central nervous system, with effects lasting anywhere from four to 24 hours. Methamphetamine use can not only modify behavior in an acute state, but after taking it for a long time, the drug literally changes the brain in fundamental and long-lasting ways. It kills by causing heart failure (myocardial infarction), brain damage, and stroke and it induces extreme, acute psychiatric and psychological symptoms that may lead to suicide or murder.

Q:  What are the short-term effects?
A:  Central Nervous System Side Effects

Even small amounts of methamphetamine can produce euphoria, increased alertness, paranoia, decreased appetite and increased physical activity. Other central nervous system effects include athetosis (writhing jerky, or flailing movements), irritability, extreme nervousness, insomnia, confusion, tremors, anxiety, aggression, incessant talking, hyperthermia, and convulsions. Hyperthermia (extreme rise in body temperature as high as 108 degrees) and convulsions sometimes can result in death.

     Cardiovascular Side Effects

Use can produce chest pain and hypertension which can result in cardiovascular collapse and death. In addition, methamphetamine causes accelerated heartbeat, elevated blood pressure and can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain.

    Other Physical Effects

Pupil dilation, respiratory disorders, dizziness, tooth grinding, impaired speech, dry or itchy skin, loss of appetite, acne, sores, numbness, and sweating.

     Psychological Effects

Symptoms of prolonged meth abuse can resemble those of schizophrenia and are characterized by anger, panic, paranoia, auditory and visual hallucinations, repetitive behavior patterns, and formication (delusions of parasites or insects on the skin).   Methamphetamine-induced paranoia can result in homicidal or suicidal thoughts.

Q:  What other long-term effects can result?
A:  Fatal kidney and lung disorders, brain damage, liver damage, blood clots, chronic depression, hallucinations, violent and aggressive behavior, malnutrition, disturbed personality development, deficient immune system, and methamphetamine psychosis, a mental disorder that may be paranoid psychosis or may mimic schizophrenia.

Q:  How much of the drug can cause an overdose?
A:  A toxic reaction (or overdose) can occur at relatively low levels, 50 milligrams of pure drug for a non-tolerant user. Metabolic rates vary from person to person, and the strength of the illegal form of the drug varies from batch to batch, so there is no way of stating a "safe" level of use. In overdose, high fever, convulsions and cardiovascular collapse may precede death. Because stimulants effect the body's cardiovascular and temperature-regulating systems, physical exertion increases the hazards of meth use.

Q:  What effect does methamphetamine use have on pregnancy?
A:  Babies can be born methamphetamine addicted and suffer birth defects, low birth weight, tremors, excessive crying, attention deficit disorder, and behavior disorders.   There is also an increased risk of child abuse (including "shaken baby syndrome") and neglect of children born to parents who use methamphetamine.

Q:  What are some signs that a person may be using the drug?
A:  The person may exhibit anxiousness; nervousness; incessant talking; extreme moodiness and irritability; purposeless, repetitious behavior, such as picking at skin or pulling out hair; sleep disturbances; false sense of confidence and power; aggressive or violent behavior; disinterest in previously enjoyed activities; and severe depression.

Q:  If methamphetamine is so dangerous, why can physicians prescribe the drug to patients?
A:  The key is the dosage. Methamphetamine abusers use much higher dosages of the drug than a physician would routinely prescribe when treating a patient.

Q:  Why is methamphetamine addictive?
A:  All addictive drugs have two things in common: they produce an initial pleasurable effect, followed by a rebound unpleasant effect. Methamphetamine, through its stimulant effects, produces a positive feeling, but later leaves a person feeling depressed. This is because it suppresses the normal production of dopamine, creating a chemical imbalance. The user physically demands more of the drug to return to normal.   This pleasure/tension cycle leads to loss of control over the drug and addiction.

Q:  How does methamphetamine take over one's life?
A:  Methamphetamine short-circuits a person's survival system by artificially stimulating the reward center, or pleasure areas in the brain. This leads to increased confidence in meth and less confidence in the normal rewards of life. This happens on a physical level at first, then it affects the user psychologically. The result is decreased interest in other aspects of life while reliance and interest in meth increases. In one study, laboratory animals pressed levers to release methamphetamine into their blood stream rather than eat, mate, or satisfy other natural drives. The animals died of starvation while giving themselves methamphetamine even though food was available.

Q:  Is there methamphetamine withdrawal?
A:  Yes. The severity and length of symptoms vary with the amount of damage done to the normal reward system through methamphetamine use. The most common symptoms are: drug craving, extreme irritability, loss of energy, depression, fearfulness, excessive drowsiness or difficulty in sleeping, shaking, nausea, palpitations, sweating, hyperventilation, and increased appetite.

Q:  Is methamphetamine addiction difficult to treat?
A:  Several treatment providers describe methamphetamine abusers as "the hardest to treat" of all drug users. They are often overly excitable and "extremely resistant to any form of intervention once the acute effects of meth use have gone away." Meth addicts get over the acute effects of withdrawal fairly quickly. However, the "wall" period lasts 6-8 months for casual users and 2-3 years for regular users. (Some people never recover and remain unsatisfied with life due to permanent brain damage.) This is a period of prolonged abstinence during which the brain recovers from the changes resulting from meth use. During this period, recovering addicts feel depressed, fuzzyheaded, and think life isn't as pleasurable without the drug. Because prolonged use causes changes in the brain, willpower alone will not cure meth addicts.

Q:  Is relapse common?
A:  Yes. Because there are psychiatric, social, and biological components to meth dependence, there is a high likelihood of relapse. Key relapse issues are similar to that of cocaine use and include other substance abuse and being around drug-using friends.

Q:  What prompts methamphetamine users to enter treatment?
A:  Methamphetamine causes a variety of mental, physical, and social problems which may prompt entry into treatment. Though not as expensive as heroin and cocaine, its cost might also produce financial problems for users and prompt them to seek help.   However, the most commonly reported reason why methamphetamine users enter treatment is trouble with the law. These legal problems include aggressive or bizarre behaviors which prompt others to call police. Other reasons for entry include mental or emotional problems and problems at work or at school.

Q:  How does the cost of treating meth users compare to incarceration?
A:  Treatment is a highly cost-effective alternative; it is about one-tenth of the cost to treat a person rather than putting him or her in jail.

Q:  What other problems does methamphetamine pose to society?
A:  Automobile accidents; explosions and fires triggered by the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine; environmental contamination; increased criminal activity, including domestic violence; emergency room and other medical costs; spread of infectious disease, including HIV, AIDS and hepatitis; and lost worker productivity. Economic costs also fall on governments, which must allocate additional resources for social services and law enforcement.

Q:  How is the production of meth more dangerous than other drugs?
A:  Meth trafficking and production are different than other drugs because they are dangerous from start to finish. The reckless practices of the untrained people who manufacture it in clandestine labs result in explosions and fires that injure or kill not only the people and families involved, but also law enforcement or fireman who respond. Any number of solvents, precursors and hazardous agents are found in unmarked containers at these sites. These potent chemicals can enter the central nervous system and cause neural damage, effect the liver and kidneys, and burn or irritate the skin, eyes and nose. Environmental damage is another consequence of these reckless actions, and violence is often a part of the process as well.

Q.  What are the most serious environmental consequences of meth labs?
A:  Each pound of meth produced leaves behind five or six pounds of toxic waste.   Meth cooks often pour leftover chemicals and byproduct sludge down drains in nearby plumbing, storm drains, or directly onto the ground.   Chlorinated solvents and other toxic byproducts used to make meth pose long-term hazards because they can persist in soil and groundwater for years. Clean-up costs are exorbitant because solvent contaminated soil usually must be incinerated.

Q:  What is the cost of a cleaning up a clandestine meth lab site?
A:  Cleanups of labs are extremely resource-intensive and beyond the financial capabilities of most jurisdictions. The average cost of a cleanup is about $5,000 but some cost as much as $150,000.

Q:  What are the federal penalties for methamphetamine trafficking?
A:  The basic, mandatory minimum sentences under federal law are:

  • 10 grams (pure) = 5 years in prison
  • 100 grams (pure) = 10 years in prison.
Q:  What is the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996?
A:  This federal legislation takes significant steps toward preventing meth from becoming the next crisis in drug abuse. The bill:

  • Permits the domestic seizure and forfeiture of methamphetamine precursor chemicals.
  • Directs the Attorney General to coordinate international drug enforcement efforts to interdict such chemicals.
  • Increases penalties for the possession of equipment used to make controlled substances, and for trafficking in certain precursor chemicals.
  • Requires an interagency task force to develop and implement prevention, education and meth treatment strategies.
Q:  What do I look for if I suspect a meth lab in my neighborhood?
A:  Unusual, strong odors similar to the that of fingernail polish remover or cat urine; renters who pay cash; large amounts of products such as cold medicines, antifreeze, drain cleaner, lantern fuel, coffee filters, batteries, duct tape, clear glass beakers and containers; and residences with windows blacked out and lots of nighttime traffic.

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