Sunday, February 14, 2016

Leib: Here in Indiana, we're fighting a meth epidemic

Posted on March 29, 2014 at 3:07 p.m.


Ice, Go-Fast, Shabu, Trash, Tweak, Crystal. Call it what you will, it’s in the newspapers so much that for many people, it’s a skim-over topic. It shouldn’t be.

On March 20, The New York Daily News reported that Indiana and Tennessee were now the nation’s two leaders in methamphetamine incidents. We had knocked Missouri off the No. 1 spot.

But this column isn’t about statistics.

A friend of mine confided in me that he was worried that a couple renting a house from him was using meth. As we talked, I realized how little I knew about the drug. I’d read accounts of one bust after another. I’d even talked to a chief law enforcement guy about the scope of the problem.

But truth be told, I didn’t know much about the nuts and bolts of the stuff.

So I decided to do some research and try to rise above the rookie level. And I wanted to write about what it is, how it’s used and what it does.

Medical methamphetamine is available with a prescription. It is sometimes prescribed for obesity and ADHD. But crystal meth is a street drug. Sometimes it’s called “hillbilly cocaine.” It’s made in simple, illegal labs by altering over-the-counter drug ingredients such as those found in allergy medicine.

Making crystal meth is dangerous to the people making it and dangerous to the neighborhood where it's being made. Poisonous gas can be produced, and phosphorus can self-ignite and blow up. Anytime meth is cooked, it leaves widespread contamination. Meth houses often must be destroyed.

So why do people do meth? The answer, of course, is because it makes them feel good. It’s all about the “dope.” Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter produced by the brain. Its release gives people pleasure. Many things cause a release, including alcohol, nicotine, food, and pleasurable activities.

Meth is attractive to users because it releases a surge of dopamine that is more than 12 times the amount that the most intense normal activities would cause. That is a huge rush of pleasure, energy and confidence. The high that is achieved usually lasts from six to 12 hours.

Meth is typically smoked in pipes, but it can be injected, snorted, swallowed or ingested in other imaginative ways.

However it is used, though, chronic abuse can lead to psychotic behavior, insomnia, anxiety, aggression, delusions and hallucinations. And long-term abuse, not surprisingly, has a devastating effect on the user.

Some of the effects on the body are increased heart rate, lowered resistance to illness, liver damage, convulsions, possible brain damage and stroke.

And meth rots teeth. Some believe that’s because the teeth’s protective enamel coating becomes eroded. Others believe that shrinking blood vessels and oral tissues are destroyed. Whatever the cause, “meth mouth” is a common side effect.

Indiana State police say about 1,800 meth labs were found across our state last year. Many of them were found in Elkhart and nearby. The meth problem is real, and it affects us all.

There’s no happy way to end this column. I wish there was. Our communities are fighting an epidemic, I wanted to know more about the situation and share some rudiments of what I found.

Because awareness and information are part of the battle.

Former Elkhart furniture store owner Richard Leib has served on planning committees in several industries. An avid auto fan, he raced in the 1972 coast-to-coast Cannonball Run. He has written on a wide range of subjects.