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Law Enforcement Career Inside the Meth Epidemic - What Every Police Officer Should Know

Aug 17, 2007
Ask almost any law enforcement officer what drug is the most troublesome for their job, and they'll most likely respond "methamphetamine". Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin all have to be grown, and for the most part are imported. Most of the heroin control starts at the border, before it ever reaches the police officer's beat. But methamphetamine is synthetic, derived from cooking industrial chemicals, and so it comes from... almost anywhere.

Meth addiction starts out similar to cocaine. The addict is looking for an "upper", a powerful stimulant. It is regularly available everywhere, so it isn't hard to find. Typically, the "rocks" of methamphetamine are chopped into a powder and aspirated through a straw similar to cocaine. But the high sensation starts immediately, within seconds of dosage, and lasts for days.

Of all drugs, perhaps meth has the strongest withdrawal period, a potent post-high letdown. The after affects are a potent depression and paranoia, a dangerous mix that leaves the addict in a volatile, violent state similar to PCP. The only recovery for it is to re-dose with meth again, which will produce another high not quite as peaked, but with a post-high letdown twice as bad. And so on. Generally, an addict who has been "up" on meth qualifies as a violent psychopath, pure and simple.

The effects of a meth buzz have a number of physiological effects. Chief among them is the inability to sleep while on it. It is nothing for the addict to stay awake for an entire week, which is called a "run". Another factor is loss of appetite. Meth and the ingredients of many over-the-counter appetite suppressants in fact have some chemical roots in common. A meth addict on a run will even gag if they try to force themselves to eat. Because of this effect, women who are sensitive to their weight and would be prone to anorexia anyway are especially susceptible to psychological addiction.

Another side effect is "cotton mouth", the exceeding dryness of the salivary glands. A meth user on a run will be constantly drinking a beverage, but since they have little taste, they will constantly pick sugary drinks as the only thing palatable. As a result, dental decay is so common among meth users that the condition of having many advanced cavities at once is often called "meth mouth".

The psychological effects of the high are tremendous. A meth dosage essentially showers the brain with dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and adrenalin all at the same time, resulting in a euphoric state of hyper-excitement.

Addicts under the influence will talk rapidly, have uncontainable energy, and will sometimes become instantly obsessive and compulsive. It is common for a meth addict on a run to start some ambitious task, such as remodeling their house or re-assembling their car, only to be unable to finish the job when they come down three days later. More likely, they will strike out on some kind of quest-like pursuit, obsessing on that task and nothing else. Sometimes the motivations for this will be a paranoid, delusional fantasy.

The street slang: Meth itself goes most frequently by the names of 'crystal', 'meth', 'speed', 'crank', and 'go-fast'. Quantities are most frequently an '8-ball' (an eighth of an ounce, the price of which is the scale for all transactions), a 'baggie' or 'bag' (whatever the amount you can get for $20), and of course a 'line' or 'rail' (the amount dosed in one sitting). The addict who is on a run will be described as 'tweaked', 'sketching', or 'wired', and on the withdrawal side as 'coming down', 'burning', 'crashing', or 'spun'. Many other slang terms will be introduced by region and local dialect variations.

During the withdrawal state, the addict may experience suicidal depression, intense paranoid delusions, a sense of panic and desperation, hallucinations, and intense emotions. The addict might believe in highly fanciful conspiracy theories, be on the run from imaginary oppressors, have an elaborate revenge plot against someone they think has wronged them, might be convinced they've been kidnapped by a UFO, and so on. If relief is sought by redosing, it is important to note that the symptoms of withdrawal do not go away, but are merely masked by the new high.

The cycle repeats as many times as the addict can possibly lay their hands on the substance. When "crashing" finally occurs, the addict may sleep for as long as 48 hours, and hopefully eat a few hearty meals upon awakening before beginning another run.

Ephedrine and amphetamine is extracted from other drugs, most frequently cold remedies, cough syrup, and prescription drugs used to treat ADD. The process of 'cooking' meth is done in the famous 'meth labs', which are a smelly, flammable operation. Meth labs may be set up on-the-fly in a hotel room or car, or frequently located in a shack out in the desert away from prying eyes and curious noses. The volatile substances and the jerry-rigged nature of the cooking equipment (such as a hotplate), combined with the shaky nerves of the preparer as they repeatedly sample their own product, combine to make it extremely likely that a massive fire will start.

The impurity of the cooking process combined with the common practice of mixing in other chemicals to cut the potency of the mixture (and hence make more money selling it, referred to as 'stepping on it'), ensure that a large percentage of addicts will have significant health problems. Skin lesions, rashes, sores, ulcers, and a host of medical problems will afflict long-term addicts as the cocktails of random chemicals they've been ingesting literally eats them from the inside out.

This is only the beginning of the study of meth culture and its detrimental effects on society. The studious law enforcement professional is advised to get an in-depth working knowledge from the standard educational resources, and even if they don't deal with drug enforcement itself, awareness of the pervasiveness of the problem is always a good thing to have. You never know exactly where it will pop up, but the odds are good you will meet a few meth addicts before long if you work in any kind of law enforcement capacity.
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