Meth epidemic poses health dangers across lifespan

Easy access and quick results make meth a powerful source of drug addiction. Unlike other stimulants, methamphetamine can be made in the kitchen sink using cheap household ingredients.

In its legal form, meth is a Schedule II controlled substance that can be prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In rare cases it can be prescribed for weight loss.

But most meth that is abused is made in illegal labs. And the doses abused are much higher than those prescribed.

Find help: Addiction treatment at Sanford Health

In South Dakota, where Sanford Health is based, twice as many 12-17-year-olds report using meth in the past year than the national average, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said that last year, drug arrests hit their highest point in a decade. In 2011, there were 402 meth arrests in South Dakota. Last year, that number saw an 816 percent increase with 3,684 arrests that led to the seizure of 45,918 grams of meth.

This week, the state launched a marketing campaign to put the issue into a wider public spotlight.

Learn more: Meth’s addiction is everyone’s problem

Stronger than its legal form

While it is similar in composition to the legally prescribed stimulant amphetamine, meth has stronger effects. Users feel a rush of activity and decreased appetite.

Known on the street as crank, ice, crystal or tweak, meth is generally taken in pill form. It can also be snorted, injected or smoked but the strongest version is crystalized meth.

Meth lures people looking for a high. But it also appeals to women trying to lose weight. Or those seeking a burst of energy to make it through the day.

Health effects of meth use

Meth causes the body to work harder increasing heart rate and metabolism. It can lead to seizures, heart rhythm problems and heart attacks, even in the very young. The drug drives the heart to exhaustion.

Meth use by women of childbearing age is of special concern. Children exposed to meth during pregnancy can have problems with brain development causing attention deficits and behavioral problems as the children grow.

Chronic meth abusers can suffer long-term health effects. The drug can damage areas of the brain that control muscle movement, verbal learning, emotions, and memory. Meth use can also cause malnutrition, aggression, psychotic behavior, and severe dental problems. It also increases the risk for stroke. Some of this damage may be reversed if a person quits abusing the drug. But recovery can take years.

Related information

FAQ about meth

What are the signs of meth abuse?

Short-term signs of meth abuse include increased wakefulness and physical activity; decreased appetite; increased breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature; and irregular heartbeat.

Long-term signs include anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood problems, violent behavior, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, weight loss, severe dental problems (“meth mouth”) and intense itching leading to skin sores from scratching.

Can meth cause other health issues?

Yes, in pregnancy, meth can cause premature delivery; separation of the placenta from the uterus; low birth weight; lethargy; heart and brain problems.

Meth use also increases the risk of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases from shared needles.

What if you combine meth with alcohol?

Using meth with alcohol masks the depressant effect of alcohol, increasing risk of alcohol overdose. It may increase blood pressure.

What are meth withdrawal symptoms?

Meth withdrawal signs include depression, anxiety and tiredness.

When should you get help for meth addiction?

Addiction happens when substance abuse disrupts daily life. An overdose is a medical emergency. Call 911 if you or a loved one have the following signs of an overdose:

High blood pressure
Dilated pupils
Dangerously high body temperature (hyperthermia)
Irrational violence
Rapid heartbeat
Severe agitation

How do you treat meth addiction?

People with chemical dependency such as meth addiction can’t simply quit. Addiction results from a change in brain chemistry. Treatment is complex and may involve detoxification, behavioral therapy, and counseling for you and your family. You may also need long-term medical support to address any physical affects.

Where can you find help for meth addiction?

Sanford Behavioral Health treats chemical dependency such as meth addiction. Find a provider or location for addiction treatment at Sanford Health.