Most Viewed Stories
'Very, very bad drug': Meth can have devastating effects
Here are signs of a meth lab:
•Unusual strong chemical odors such as ether, ammonia (smells similar to cat urine) and acetone (smells similar to nail polish remover)
•Large numbers of empty pill bottles or blister packs, especially of cold or asthma medication
•Propane tanks with blue corrosion on fittings or with bent or tampered valves
•Heating sources such as hotplates/torches
•Stripped lithium batteries
•Cookware coated with white residue
•Mason jars or other glassware Plastic tubing Hoses leading outside for ventilation
•Soft drink bottles with hoses attached
•Drain cleaner, paint thinner, toluene, denatured alcohol, ammonia, starter fluid, antifreeze, hydrogen peroxide, rock salt/iodine Lantern or camp stove fuel
•Iodine- or chemical-stained bathrooms or kitchen fixtures
•Excessive amounts of trash, particularly chemical containers, coffee filters with red stains, red-stained cloth and empty duct tape rolls.
•Secretive or unfriendly occupants
•Extensive security measures or attempts to ensure privacy such as "No Trespassing" or "Beware of Dog" signs, fences, and large trees or shrubs
• Unusual, strong odors (like cat urine, ether, ammonia, acetone, or other chemicals) coming from sheds, outbuildings or other structures, orchards, campsites, or vehicles
• Possession of unusual materials, such as large amounts of over-the-counter allergy/cold/diet medications (including ephedrine or pseudoephedrine), or large quantities of solvents (such as acetone, Coleman fuel, or toluene)
• Discarded items such as ephedrine bottles, coffee filters with oddly-colored stains, lithium batteries, antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, and propane tanks
• The mixing of unusual chemicals in house, garage, or barn, or the possession of chemical glassware by persons not involved in the chemical industry
• Heavy traffic during late hours
• Residences with operating fans in windows in cold weather or blacked out windows
• Renters who pay their landlords in cash.
Source: U.S Department of Health and Human Services
Physical Symptoms: Weight loss Abnormal sweating Shortness of breath Sores that do not heal Dilated pupils Burns on lips or fingers Track marks on arms Dental deterioration
Behavioral Symptoms: Withdrawal from family and friends Change in friends Increased activity Long periods of sleeplessness Long periods of sleep Incessant talking Irritability Twitching and shaking Decreased appetite Erratic attention span
Source: U.S Department of Health and Human Services
Editor's Note: The Yuma Sun is examining methamphetamine and its impact on Yuma County. This story is one in a series called, "The dangers of meth."
All drugs demand that a price be paid for the thrill they give, but meth seems to exact a payment that cuts particularly deep into the human soul.
Local drug experts say meth begins by changing a user's behavior and slowly stealing their healthy appearance, all before plunging into a deep and dark journey that too often destroys everything that most people would say makes life worth living.
For non-addicts watching from the outside as meth reels in another victim, it's hard to understand why people ever step into the ring for that first round.
"Some people are looking for excitement. Some people are looking for a relief from the mental pain they are having," explained Myra Garlit, executive director for Crossroads Mission. "What surprises me about meth is that we educate people what it is, and they still try it. It's made from household cleaning products - Drano! I just can't believe anyone would want to ingest that. You can't help but think 'Why would they put that in their system?'"
But logic isn't a factor.
"Meth just has a devastating effect on the body and mind. You take before and pictures and it's just amazing how fast it changes people," Garlit said. "Meth is just a very, very bad drug."
Meth seems to differ from others drugs in at least two ways: Its level of addictability and, at least in Yuma, its level of availability.
"It is a very addicting drug. In Yuma there is just a big demand for it and it is easily obtained," Garlit said. "It's so easily manufactured. You can make it in your own house. Plus, it's so cheap, cheaper than cocaine, for example. I think it's the probably the number-one drug in demand in Yuma, aside from alcohol."
Meth also seems to play a pretty major role as the driving force behind so many criminal acts. That's because meth has taken addicts' sense of right and wrong, along with honest sources of income and other resources that make up a stable life, according to Lt. Robert Oberosler, commander of the Yuma County Narcotics Task Force.
"What you and I consider wrong behavior, a meth addict doesn't. We have a natural response, a natural paranoia that tells us we are doing something wrong. Meth helps addicts over ride that. Meth helps them make bad choices."
He added that meth also helps users become better liars because that suppresses the body's natural, nervous response to saying something untrue or the threat of being caught in some wrongdoing.
Meth in Yuma typically costs about $10 for a tenth of a gram, which equates to between one and three hits. "It's much cheaper than cocaine or heroine. Marijuana is probably a little cheaper than that. But when you don't have any income, that $10 can be quite expensive and that does a lot to promote crime locally," he said. "When you have a physical response like with meth, it becomes very hard for people to maintain jobs. People end up unemployed and stealing to support their habit or they also start dealing to support their habit."
Unlike most communities around the nation, Yuma's meth trends have actually moved away from the drug being produced locally.
Users like meth because the resulting high can be intense and pretty quick to hit. Within five to 10 seconds after smoking or injecting meth, users feel a rush or flash that is described as highly pleasurable, but only lasts for a few minutes, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Snorting or ingesting meth results in a rush that isn't as intense and takes much longer for the affect to hit.
"The rush is so sudden. Users have a feeling of increased energy and focus during that time. And it also boosts confidence, which goes along with thoughts of sexual prowess and a feeling of desirability," Oberosler said.
Oberosler said that while meth is very addictive, he disagrees with the commonly held belief that meth addiction always happens after just one try. "There are people who can get addicted from just one use. Other people can probably use meth three to four times and and not get addicted to it," he said. "I think it has a lot to do with the person's personality and their genetics. If they are predisposed to those things, I'm sure it makes it easier."
Experts say all those seemingly positive aspects of meth's high actually delay loved ones' recognition that a user has a problem. "If you show up to work after a few drinks, people will get into trouble. But if someone goes into the bathroom and snorts some meth, at least at first, people aren't going to notice," said Anthony Alberta, PhD., program director with The Living Center in Yuma.
There is also an illusion of meth having a positive effect on a user's behavior.
"So many characteristics of meth usage, at least initially, are culturally valued. They are more talkative, more energetic, more willing to go out and do stuff. They may even work harder," Alberta said. "Only when people's addiction progresses so deeply that it is recognized as a problem."
Meth addiction takes root when its famous rush becomes harder and harder to achieve. "Meth tricks your body into releasing dopamine, which is a natural stimulate. But it actually destroys dopamine receptors because your body is producing it all the time. Then, once you stop using meth, you are no longer releasing dopamine into the body and it makes it very hard to achieve that same sense of pleasure," Oberosler said.
At some point, meth's damage to the brain switches from giving thrills to making users feel worse than ever, not just missing out on a high, but actually feeling depressed. "You end up being clinically depressed because are you aren't getting any dopamine," Oberosler said. "The longer you take meth, it becomes impossible to feel pleasure or happiness."
Then meth begins to take its physical toll, often beginning with the skin. "It loses its elasticity and luster. Cuts or sores just don't heal well and acne takes longer to heal," he said, adding that a poor diet and suppressed appetite also leads to major weight loss. "A lot of meth users grind their teeth and there is a lot of decay, which leads to what is commonly known as meth mouth. There are a lot of broken teeth and they become shark-like, pointed because of the decay."
Hair thins out and a lack of sleep due to heightened energy also carries a heavy physical and social price. "That is why so many meth users lose their jobs. They just don't fit in very well because they have been up for three days and crash for a whole day when they are supposed to be at work," Oberosler said. "They can't force themselves to get up and go to work."
Chronic use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive behavior (such as compulsively cleaning and and grooming or disassembling and assembling objects), and delusions of parasites or insects crawling under the skin, according to U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Users can obsessively scratch their skin to get rid of these imagined insects. Experts say long-term use can also bring on full-blown toxic psychosis, coupled with extreme paranoia. Meth can also cause strokes, heart attack, and death.
Oberosler said that even after years of seeing meth in action, he's still somehow shocked to see its power to force an illusion of old age onto a young user's face.
"You can look at someone and think they are 60, when they are actually 40 years old. They look so much older, as much as decades older."
The sad truth, he said, is that many meth users look like they are an age they may never reach, at least outside of some nursing institution.
"It's kind of sad to say, but I think that meth takes such a toll on your body that you don't last very long. Or if they do get older, they are usually placed in a care facility because they can no longer care for themselves, be it medical issues or movement issues," Oberosler said. "After an extended period of use, meth has impaired their thinking, their ability to work things out, it wipes out their memory. They aren't using any more (because they are institutionalized), but they are where they are because of the toll meth takes on the body."