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Fight against use of addictive drugs, everybody’s business – Uma

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METHANPHETAMINE (mkpurummiri, ice) is one of the dangerous hard drugs youths get addicted to. In this interview Dr. Uma A. Uma, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Calabar spoke to UCHE KALU on the effects of the drug. Excerpts

WHAT is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine, for short ‘meth’, is a highly potent central nervous system (CNS/brain) stimulant, mainly used as a recreational drug. It’s rarely used for treating attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity problems associated with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children; obesity and narcolepsy (a CNS disorder associated among other symptoms with sudden attacks of sleep). It’s highly addictive, that is the users easily become hooked to it. It’s chemically similar to amphetamine. It looks like glass fragments (ground glasses).

How does it work?

  It can be swallowed as pill, smoked, snorted or injected. Meth blocks the movement (re-uptake) of naturally occurring substances in the brain; mainly dopamine and noradrenaline, back into the brain cells. Dopamine among other things is involved in body movement, motivation, reinforcement of rewarding behaviours. This is because, the dopamine acts on the reward centres of the brain, causing a feeling of pleasure. This feeling of pleasure makes users repeatedly use this drug.

  The pleasurable effect occurs rapidly, leading to a feeling of ‘high’, which disappears within a short period, making the user to repeat the drug often in quick succession. Some use it in form of binge, known as ‘run’. During such use, they may give up food and sleep, using the drug repeatedly every few hours for several days. This may cause toxic overdose.

  Slangs names are speed, coke, weed, dope, ice, crank, chalk, white cross, Christina, cookies etc.

  Slangs for getting high are, getting geared up, chicken flipping, tweaking, zooming, hot rolling.

How does meth affect a user?

  Like other drugs of abuse, meth affects every aspect of users’ life; feelings, thinking, behaviour, career, relationship, health and may bring them face to face with the law enforcement agencies. 

  The direct effects of the drug on the users may be grouped into early and late effects.

  Early symptoms may also depend on the dosage and the route of use. They include, anxiety, nervousness, agitation, abdominal pain, irritability, cardiac problems (increased heart rate, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), increase blood pressure and body temperature.    Other effects are constipation; reduce appetite, dizziness, dry mouth, excessive sweating, erectile dysfunction, headache, sleep difficulties, numbness and tingling sensation. Seizure, toxic psychosis, vomiting, delirium, stroke and even death may follow overdose.

  Late effects: Extreme weight loss, addiction, severe dental problems, memory loss, intense itching which may lead to skin sores, violent behaviour, paranoia (suspiciousness and mistrust with people around him and reading of meanings out of innocent events), hallucinations (false perception), reduced coordination and delusion.

  Indirect effects: because of use of injection apparatus and unsafe sex, users are at higher risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis B and C.

What are the effects on non-users?

  There is yet, no conclusive report on the effect of meth smoke on non-users. However, non-users who have inhaled the smoke have tested positive of the drug. Like other drugs of abuse, meth is associated with increased crime rate in the society.

  A drug with a propensity for causing hallucination, delusion, poor judgment and lack of insight has an increased risk of violence, aggression and homicide. Other chemicals used in the production of meth can cause deadly laboratory explosion and house fire.

  Toxic effects from chemicals used in meth production have been shown to remain in the area long after the lab has been shut down, hence exposing people living around to health problems. Devastation of youths and destruction of local economy.

If discontinued, how long does it stay in the body before the user becomes normal?

  The onset of action of meth is rapid, and the effect may last between 10-20 hours. ‘Normal’, as it’s used here may not depend on when the meth is completely removed from the body, rather how long it takes for the individual to recover.

This depends on many things, among which are; whether the individual remains abstinent or not, has good social support or not, the duration and pattern of use and the damage that was done before stopping use. Though, one may quit from meth use, recovery is seen as a lifelong process, as relapse may occur at any stage of the process. So the body may be devoid of meth, without the individual becoming well.

This doesn’t mean that one cannot fully recover from it, but it’s a tortuous process. For a one off use, the effect may last up to 10-20 hours and everything being equal, the individual may return to full normal functioning. But following repeated meth use, withdrawal from it may lead to anxiety, strong craving, dysphoria (displeasure), psychosis, fatigue, severe depression and suicide.

  Some of the brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more. Others, may not.

What advice do you have for youths and others?

  The effects of drug abuse are not limited to the individual users, the family as well as the society at large is affected. So the fight against use of addictive drugs is everybody’s business, for a safe neighbourhood.

  Children and adolescents should pay attention to their education and listen to their parents.They should keep away from peers who use drugs; report to adults or parents when they suspect and/or are enticed by someone close to them to start use. The damage caused by the drug can never be equated to the transient ‘high’.

  Though the economy is bad and parents are struggling to meet the increasing needs of their children, they should make out time to know both what their children are doing and what is happening to them. This is important because bad times are associated with increased risk of drug use and prevention is always better than cure.

  Government should control the availability of pseudoephedrine used in the manufacture of meth, by keeping record of all purchases of products containing it. Appropriate punishment should be meted to dealers of hard drugs, while those using them should be given treatment and rehabilitation.

  Raise awareness on the hazards associated with drug abuse. Engaging youths in positive leisure and faith based activities may help reduce the rate young people are engaging in drug abuse.

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