Methamphetamine: temporary escape from personal pain

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   The pain is unbearable. You have been staring at a small plastic bag purchased from a dealer down on the corner for nearly an hour. You know that inside that bag is a drug that will take away the pain, but you also know relief will only be temporary. The pain will return, and you don't know what to do.
   You decide to put an end to the pain even if it is only temporary. The euphoria is all-consuming, then you crash, and the pain returns.
   That is what life is often like for someone who is addicted to methamphetamine.
   The quality of the drug that makes it highly addictive is the affect it has on the chemistry of the brain, according to Dr. Randy Jesse, senior vice president for alcohol and drug abuse services at Frontier Health.
   "Almost every thought or feeling we have is chemical. Serotonin and dopamine are pathways in the brain for certain feelings. They carry the messages in the brain for happiness, for sadness, for alertness ... When you take a substance that changes the natural order of those chemicals, you change the nature of the process," he said. "That's why they call them 'mind-altering drugs.'"
   The brain of an individual who continually uses methamphetamine, commonly called meth, begins to make an adjustment to the natural influx of chemicals and will stop restocking them once a user comes down from a high, Jesse said, adding that a person can become addicted to meth after as few as four to six uses of the drug.
   "The probability of addiction with methamphetamine is really high because of the power of the drug," he said because it is not only physically addictive but psychologically addictive as well. "Psychological addiction comes with your attachment to the high."
   As a user becomes more and more addicted to meth, they begin to focus on getting from one high to the next. "It's hard not to feel sorry for them," Jesse said, adding that he believes many users would have chosen differently if they had known the true consequences of trying the drug.
   Jesse said he feels that methamphetamine use has been a predominant problem across the country for some time. "We live in a drug taking culture. We have lived in this drug taking culture for some time. It is ingrained ...," he said, citing books, movies and art. "It's a cultural process. It's almost subliminal. It's easy to get involved in experimenting.
   "A lot of people feel that drug use is OK. For many young people it's part of society. It's part of their growing up, sort of a rite of passage."
   In recent weeks, the Northeast Tennessee region has seen a glimpse of the effect that methamphetamine has had on the area. In the first half of May this year, at least 14 people in the Tri-Cities have been arrested on charges of either possession or manufacturing of methamphetamine, and at least three active clandestine meth labs were located.
   With a methamphetamine problem on the rise in the state, the Tennessee State Senate decided it was time that action was taken to help eradicate the drug. On May 12, the Senate passed a bill on a unanimous vote to regulate the selling of over the counter medications whose ingredients are used to manufacture methamphetamine and to fine retailers who sell excessive amounts of the medications.
   "Meth is devastating families all across Tennessee, especially in rural areas," said Tennessee Senator Charlotte Burks, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "It's time to take serious measures to stop the spread of this devastating drug."
   The bill creates a fining system for retailers who sell an individual more than three packs of over the counter medications containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine, which are used to manufacture meth in home labs. "We know these drugs are used in the manufacture of meth," Burks said. "They are the key ingredients. Retailers should be held accountable if they're selling excessive amounts."
   Methamphetamine addiction affects not only the user of the drug, but also family members. More than 500 children are currently in state custody after having been removed from their homes after their parents were caught making, dealing or using methamphetamine. "This bill is about protecting our families, protecting our children," Burks said. "The Senate is sending a strong message. It's time to stop meth."