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Crystal Meth Abuse Skyrocketing in Big Cities to Small Towns: Why, and What are the Signs and Risks?

Crystal methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that looks like pieces of glass or shiny blue-white rocks, is so addictive that it can cloud your ability to make sound judgments within just weeks of your first taste. And among those who try to quit, the relapse rate is about 94 percent, according to a University of California study.

This "poor man's cocaine," as it's sometimes known, has all but devastated some small towns across North America, especially in poor areas, because it's cheaper than other drugs and the high lasts longer. A meth high can last up to 30 minutes, whereas a high from the more expensive cocaine lasts just five minutes.

"We've seen it destroy central Illinois, parts of Wisconsin and Indiana ... ," said DEA-Chicago special agent Mark Warpness.

Not only that, but because crystal meth is made from ingredients that most people can get their hands on (over-the-counter cold remedies, lantern fuel, lye, muriatic acid, phosphorous, acetone, iodine, etc.), a "middle man" is not necessary.

Meth labs are popping up all over the Midwest and other rural areas.

Users can concoct the drug right in their own homes using "recipes" from the Internet and other users. There are literally thousands of recipes available online, according to the Illinois State Police.

"You would think the bigger, metropolitan areas would see more of it than we do, but it seems to have centered in the more rural areas,'' said Mike Taylor of Dayton, district attorney general for the 12th Judicial District.

Other users emerged in the poor working class, particularly truck drivers and shift workers, who used the drug to gain energy for the manual work and to stay awake for long hours.

More recently, though, crystal meth is becoming a popular club drug among young people and among the gay community.

And while use is still relatively low compared to some other drugs, its popularity is growing. According to a 2002 National Institute on Drug Abuse survey, more than 12 million Americans aged 12 and over, or 5.3 percent of the population, have tried crystal meth at least once.

Street Names for Crystal Meth

The National Drug Intelligence Center has compiled a list of the most popular terms for crystal meth:

  • Batu
  • Blade
  • Cristy
  • Crystal glass
  • Hanyak
  • Hiropon
  • Hot ice
  • Kaksonjae
  • L.A. glass
  • L.A. ice
  • Quartz
  • Shabu
  • Shards
  • Stove top
  • Super ice
  • Tina
  • Ventana
  • Vidrio

Crystal Meth's Affect on Health

Crystal meth can be smoked, injected, snorted or swallowed, and initially users feel a euphoric high with increased energy and feelings of invincibility. When the high begins to fade, a person can get violent, paranoid, confused and irritable, and many users take more of the drug during this time.

In this type of cycle, it's not uncommon for users to stay awake for two weeks at a time.

The impacts on a person's health can be devastating and include:

  • Inflammation of the heart lining

  • Lead poisoning

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Stroke

  • Brain and lung damage

  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)

  • Convulsions

  • Death

Among users who inject the drug, the risks also include contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne viruses, scarred or collapsed veins, infections of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and liver or kidney disease.

And, because crystal meth makes users feel invincible, they're much more likely to engage in unprotected sex, which increases the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

In fact, in February 2005 a man in New York City who used crystal meth frequently had unprotected sex with numerous men and reportedly spread a highly virulent strain of HIV. The strain is resistant to three of the four drug classes commonly used to treat the diseases, and is so virile that the initial infection progressed to full-blown AIDS in just three months

Said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden:

"This case is a wake-up call. First, it's a wake up call to men who have sex with men, particularly those who may use crystal methamphetamine. Not only are we seeing syphilis and a rare sexually transmitted disease--lymphogranuloma venereum--among these men, now we've identified this strain of HIV that is difficult or impossible to treat and which appears to progress rapidly to AIDS. "

A new study also found that using crystal meth just once during pregnancy may be enough to cause long-term neurodevelopmental problems in babies.

Said University of Toronto pharmacy and pharmacology professor Peter Wells, "It's pretty remarkable that a single low dose can have such an effect. It's an important finding, given the increasing use of club drugs among women of childbearing age."

Using crystal meth one time during pregnancy can cause long-term damage to your baby.

Help for Crystal Meth Users

There's a program called Crystal Meth Anonymous that is "a fellowship of people for whom crystal meth has become a serious problem." They offer a 12-step program that's been adapted from the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and meetings meet regularly across the United States and Canada. Their Web site also has resources for friends and family of crystal meth addicts.

You can find a meeting near you now, or you can also seek help from your local community health center.


Recommended Reading

Ecstasy: How Dangerous is This Wildly Popular Drug?

Illegal Drugs Identification Chart: What They Look Like & How to Recognize Their Effects


National Drug Intelligence Center

The Columbia Chronicle Online

Health Orbit July 26, 2005

The Tennessean

Facts About Crystal Meth

KCI: The Anti-Meth Site

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