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Tennessee Dangerous Drugs Task Force F.A.Q.

This FAQ is designed to help you understand criminal drug related issues. If you do not find an answer to your question, please contact

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What is Crystal Meth?
Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug that acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. The drug has a long history since it was first synthesized in Germany in 1887. Its legal uses ranged from treatment for depression to decongestion, narcolepsy, and as a diet aid. In its time, methamphetamine has been available as both an over-the-counter remedy and by prescription-only, as more was learned about its side effects. There are two types of methamphetamine in today's clandestine drug market:
D-Type Methamphetamine (Crystal Meth, Crystal, JIB, Sister, GIB, Ice, Glass, Tina, etc.): Clear, shiny crystals of various sizes, similar to rock candy. It is smoked in single-chamber glass pipes, bongs, broken light bulbs, or tin foil. The drug forms a liquid when heated with a lighter or mini-torch, then becomes a vapor, which is then inhaled. The high begins in 3 to five seconds after the drug is smoked and can last from 8 to 24 hours.
L-Type Amphetamine (Speed, Crank, Grit, Yellow) A powder than can range from clear, to white, to yellow, or pinkish. It can be inhaled (snorted, bumped), or injected intravenously. Onset of high begins in 15 to 30 seconds and lasts 4 to 6 hours. It can also be ingested orally via tablets or powder caplets. Onset of high after ingestion is 15 to 20 minutes, and can last up to 24 hours. This type of amphetamine is frequently mixed with other drugs or sold as Ecstasy. (Approximately 60% of the drugs sold as Ecstasy contain methamphetamine.)
What does it do
Brain chemistry 101
Neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and norepinepherine stimulate the brain's reward center, producing feelings of pleasure, happiness, satisfaction. Eating a good meal, having sex, or enjoying a laugh with friends releases these neurotransmitters to the pleasure center of the brain, making you feel good. Amphetamines have the ability to fool the brain into releasing huge amounts of dopamine for the rush of intense pleasure. The brain doesn't know the difference between amphetamine and the natural signal chemical, so it reduces production of dopamine to keep the chemicals in balance, which reduces the brain's natural means to reward the bod with pleasure signals. That leaves the user without the store of natural chemicals he needs to feel good, and produces a reward/rebound effect: reward: pleasure; rebound: unpleasant sensations. The memory of the activity that "rewarded" the brain is what causes users to go back to the drug that made them feel good.
The high
Users describe the first rush as a blast of euphoria and energy, the equivalent to ten simultaneous orgasms; or what experts have estimated is 600 times the dopamine and norepinepherine released naturally when we feel good. Smoking or injecting the drug produces the fastest and most intense rush period, within 3 to 5 seconds, and lasting 10 to 15 minutes. Snorting the drug produces a somewhat less intense rush. After the first rush, the user feels energetic, smarter, stronger, able to complete any task with ease, the more mundane and boring, the better. This "shoulder" period can last 8 to 24 hours.
The behaviors
The user may be talkative, excited, fidgety, boisterous, or aggressive. Their eyes may tend to jump around and move from side to side very rapidly. The user may exhibit a disorganized pattern or thought or behavior. Users may continue their high by smoking or snorting the drug until they just can't get any kind of rush anymore, thus they may be awake and active for days or weeks at a time.
The short-term physiological effects
Users experience increased heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and respiration. Pupils are dilated. They will also likely have a decreased appetite, rise in blood sugar, increased urine output, and dehydration. Some users complain of shakiness, dizziness, tingling in extremities, headaches and abdominal pains that can seem like appendicitis.
The long-term physiological effects
Long-term users who have been addicted for a number of years may suffer lung ailments from smoking, nasal damage from snorting, or vascular damage from injecting. In addition, heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), heart attacks, stroke, brain aneurysm, kidney and liver damage have all been linked to meth use.
The cognitive effects
Users may be agitated, panicked, fearful, anxious, paranoid or suffering from hallucinations. Poor concentration, confusion, memory problems, and loss of motivation may lead to employment problems, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. Mood disorders, depression, psychotic episodes and toxic psychosis are also hallmarks of methamphetamine use.
Where does it come from? How is it made?
Methamphetamine contains Ephedrine or Pseudoephedrine (an antihistamine used in cold and allergy medications), Alcohol (isopropyl or rubbing), Toluene (brake cleaner), Ether (engine starter), Sulfuric Acid (drain cleaner), Red Phosphorus (match striker), Salt, Iodine (teat dip or flakes/crystal), Lithium (batteries), Trichloroethane (gun cleaner), MSM (cutting agent), Sodium Metal, Methanol (gasoline additive), Muriatic Acid, Anhydrous Ammonia (farm fertilizer), Sodium Hydroxide (lye), Acetone, Kitty Litter. The manufacturing process is a mix of high school chemistry (for someone who flunked the course) and sheer luck (although in one out of five labs, the luck abruptly runs out when a fire or explosion occurs). The air quality in a meth lab would fail even the least restrictive pollution regulations, and meth cooks and their children, breathe it in, day and night, eat the residue in their food, and absorb it from every surface in the house. Due to the fact that many of the toxins are heavier than air and linger in larger amounts closer to the floor, young children are most at risk for breathing in large quantities of chemicals. (Police at a meth lab bust in Minnesota found that the children in the house were hiding in the basement-where the air quality was the worst-for their safety, according to their parents!) When a meth lab is discovered and raided, law enforcement officers must wear hazardous materials suits (with openings duct-taped shut) and carry breathing apparatus, before they can enter to search for evidence. All adults and children removed from a meth lab are showered, decontaminated, and dressed in hazmat suits before they are removed from the area. The chemicals they have lived in, worked with, ingested, and inhaled are dangerous to everyone who comes in contact with them.
The hazmat teams and specially trained clean-up crews will be called in to decontaminate the property, in many cases, this includes removing the sheetrock or paneling on the walls, wood trim, wiring, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and flooring. Some property is considered so hazardous, the lot and house are designated uninhabitable. A sizable ranch in Arizona reverted to the owners, who were imprisoned for manufacturing meth, simply because no one wanted to take the health risks associated with the property.
If that sounds too extreme, consider what goes into the making of meth: Toluene and Trichloroethane are carcinogenic (may cause cancer) and teratogenic (may cause birth defects); Anhydrous Ammonia is an extremely volatile and dangerous chemical that can cause lung damage within seconds of breathing its vapors; Sodium Hydroxide is a caustic agent that can burn on contact. Would you be willing to drink, eat, or bathe in any of these ingredients? You may not have a choice. Meth cooks are not interested in preserving the environment, keeping groundwater clean, or even their own land unsullied. They dump the five pounds of waste that goes with the making of every one pound of meth anywhere that's convenient: roadside ditches, neighbor's land, their land, state and national park lands, stream beds, rivers, and even down their own kitchen sink drains. As you read this, those chemicals are leaching into the soil, down through the earth's natural filter, and reaching the underground aquifers that are the source of our water.
Meth labs can be portable, too. Operating out of a camper or the trunk of a car, cooks can keep on the move, leaving their devastating pollution behind them everywhere they go. The number of hidden places that are now polluted from meth manufacturing could make corporate toxic dump sites seem inconsequential. The cost of a special team coming to clean up a meth lab site can run anywhere from $5,000 to $150,000, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Not all labs are in the United States, however. Mexico is home to a number of super-labs that can churn out hundreds of pounds and smuggle it into the U.S. in private vehicles (hidden in duct-taped plastic eggs tucked into car vents), stashed with freight on trains or semi trucks. With approximately $100 worth of chemicals netting $800 in sales, the incentive is there for drug cartels to flood the markets in the West, Southwest, and the Midwest.
How do I know if a meth lab is operating in my neighborhood?
Watch for things like windows covered with aluminum foil or newspaper, or drapes that are never opened. Occupants seem to be unfriendly, suspicious, secretive, even paranoid or displaying odd behavior. Occupants appear to be unemployed and yet seem to have money and pay bills in cash, frequent visitors to the property at all hours and for short periods. Property displays extensive security signs such as "Keep Out" or "Beware of Dog". Chemical odors (such as acetone, paint thinner, or a strong cat urine/ammonia smell) coming from house, outbuildings, or garbage cans. Notice what is left in the garbage: multiple cans of lighter fluid, drain cleaner, brake fluid, and other chemicals; red-stained coffee filters, rags or other materials. Occupant puts garbage for pickup on another neighbor's collection area. Ask other neighbors if they have observed anything out of the ordinary.
How is methamphetamine different from cocaine?
Although they are both stimulants and have similar physiological and behavioral effects, they are dramatically different in their composition and how they work at the nerve cell level. Both drugs cause an excess concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which produces the euphoria, but cocaine is removed and metabolized more quickly by the body, whereas methamphetamine has a longer duration of action and remains largely unchanged in the body for a longer period. The result is that meth remains in the brain and other organs, creating a longer stimulant effect, and more damage to the brain and internal organs.
Why do people use it?
Human beings have a history of needing to alter the consciousness. Ancient civilizations used plant compounds and alcohol in ceremonies long before raves became popular. If there can be such a thing as an "average user" of methamphetamine, they are more likely to have tried marijuana or other drugs prior to using meth. After that fact, finding other similarities such as race, education, occupation, gender, or sexual orientation, would be useless. Anyone anywhere can try meth, whether because a friend shares it (misery loves company), or to impress a member of the opposite sex or new friends. One teen we've spoken with told us her best friend urged her to try it, and she trusted her friend not to give her anything that would be bad for her. In regards to methamphetamine use and addiction, trust should be a four-letter word.
The drug is also used by teen and twenty-something women who want to lose weight, truckers who want to stay awake for longer hours, soccer moms who have heard that it will give them more energy to manage their busy lives, doctors who need to work long, impossible hours. . . like we said before, anyone, anywhere.
Is it always addictive?
Some people report being "hooked" the first time they use it, others can take it or leave it. While meth is highly addictive, it is unlikely that the user is an addict, in strictest terms, after the first use. The tougher question is: which one are you? Unfortunately, the answer can only be determined after the first use, and by then it may be too late. That is why we're trying to stop people from using meth that first time.  In general, experts recognize three stages of use:
Low-Intensity methamphetamine abuse
Low-intensity abusers may swallow or snort methamphetamine, using it the same way many people use caffeine or nicotine. Low-intensity abusers want the extra stimulation the methamphetamine provides so that they can stay awake long enough to finish a task or a job, or they want the appetite suppressant effect to lose weight. These people frequently hold jobs, raise families, and otherwise function normally. These individuals are one step away from becoming binge abusers. They already know the stimulating effect that methamphetamine provides them by swallowing or snorting the drug, but they have not experienced the euphoric rush associated with smoking or injecting it and have not encountered clearly defined stages of abuse. However, simple switching to smoking or injecting methamphetamine offers the abusers a quick transition to a binge pattern of abuse.
Binge methamphetamine abuse Binge abusers smoke or inject methamphetamine and experience euphoric rushes that are psychologically addictive. The rush is the initial response the abuser feels when smoking or injecting methamphetamine and is the aspect of the drug that low-intensity abusers do not experience when snorting or swallowing the drug. The binge is the continuation of the high. The abuser maintains the high by smoking or injecting more methamphetamine. Each time the abuser smokes or injects more of the drug, a smaller euphoric rush than the initial rush is experienced until finally, there is no rush and no high. During the binge, the abuser becomes hyperactive both mentally and physically, may become violent, paranoid, or delusional as the binge goes on. The binge, also called a "run", can last 1 day to several weeks.
Tweaking (from a law enforcement perspective) occurs at the end of the binge when nothing the abuser does will take away the feeling of emptiness and dysphoria, including taking more methamphetamine. The drug has depleted the brain's stores of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinepherine, and tweaking may be the brain's signal that enough is enough. Tweaking is very uncomfortable, and the abuser often takes a depressant to ease the bad feelings. The most popular depressant is alcohol, with GHB and heroin close behind. Tweaking is possibly the most dangerous stage for those around the abuser, as the inability to continue the high brings frustration and anger. Thoughts and behavior may be erratic, violent, paranoid, or delusional. Significant others in the abuser's life will learn to wait for the crash.
Tweaking (from a user perspective) is a term that explains the user's intense fixation on a project taken on during the high. Anything can be a project, from shopping to car repairs. The meth can make the "project" much more interesting than it would be without the drug, hence the intense concentration on "getting it done right." This can lead to a huge credit card bill or a car taken completely apart in order to replace a headlight. Meth users may refer to this stage as "tweaking out".
To a binge abuser, the crash means an incredible amount of sleep. The body's epinephrine has been depleted, and the body uses the crash to replenish its supply. Even the meanest, most violent abuser becomes almost lifeless during the crash and poses a threat to no one. The crash can last 1-3 days.
After the crash, the abuser returns to normal-a state that is slightly deteriorated from the normal state before he used methamphetamine. This stage may last between 2 and 14 days. However, as the frequency of binging increases, the duration of the normal stage decreases. The user begins to realize a "new normal" when using the drug, and "not normal" when off of it. This could be why it can be so difficult to point out changes in behavior to the meth addict: they have a skewed perspective of what is normal.
High-Intensity methamphetamine abuse
The high-intensity abusers are the addicts, often called speed freaks. Their whole existence focuses on preventing the crash, and they seek that elusive, perfect rush-the rush they had when they first started smoking or injecting methamphetamine.
With high-intensity abuse, each successive rush becomes less euphoric, and it takes more methamphetamine to achieve it. Each high is not quite as high as the one before. During each subsequent binge, the abuser needs more methamphetamine, more often, to get a high that is not as good as the high he wants or remembers.
Tweaking for the high-intensity abuser is still the most dangerous time to confront him because tweakers are extremely unpredictable and short-tempered. The crash is often spoken of in terms of I never sleep, or I sleep with one eye open. In an attempt to appear normal, perhaps because of an appointment with a doctor, lawyer, or court official, high-intensity abusers will make themselves take short naps; otherwise, they see no need to come down from the high.
Do people addicted to meth go through a withdrawal?
This is a question on which experts may disagree over the term "withdrawal", because physical symptoms such as those experienced by heroin addicts and alcoholics are the gold standard of withdrawal. Physical symptoms experienced by meth addicts could be from the body's craving for the drug, or the user's own negative lifestyle (not eating, staying awake for days and weeks, physically punishing activities, etc.) Symptoms of meth withdrawal may include physical exhaustion, intense hunger, heart palpitations, bruising, muscle aches, lethargy, and deep depression. A chronic user may experience these symptoms for weeks until he is able to function normally. As a rule, binge and high-intensity users can suffer with depression and cravings for 60 to 90 days or more. If the abuser takes more methamphetamine at any point during this period, the unpleasant feelings will end. Consequently, treatment for meth addiction must last longer and the abuser must be aware of what he faces in the months and years ahead.
Meth has a reputation for being so addictive, the recovery rate is depressingly low. That's disheartening to those dealing with an addicted loved one, and appears insurmountable to the addict. As alcohol and drug abuse counselors and treatment facilities develop more systems that work with meth addicts, that recovery rate is going to rise, and, indeed, already has. The important thing is to "know your enemy", in other words, addicts must be alert for things that trigger the urge to use (seeing paraphernalia or their dealer's phone number around the house, friends and family members who still use, life or work stresses), and do whatever they can to avoid using.
What is treatment like?
The first phase may take 4 to 6 weeks, with many users reporting physical cravings for up to a year. Recovering users also face a very strong psychological addiction which can be triggered by seeing paraphernalia, hanging out with users, conversations, and thoughts. If these triggers are not kept under control, they can lead to physical cravings, and possibly reverting to use. There are prescription medications available to treat the intense depression that comes with the cessation of meth use.
Twelve-step recovery programs and methamphetamine recovery support groups can make the patient aware that he is not alone in his addiction and that others have suffered, recovered, and understand. Other treatments may include Cognitive Behavioral Interventions, which are designed to help patients understand and modify their thinking and behaviors and increase their coping skills to deal with life stressors. These programs have shown a great deal of promise in the treatment and recovery of meth addicts.
Most experts agree that the typical 30-day program used to treat alcoholics and other drug addicts are not effective with meth addicts. Because of the cyclic nature of physical and psychological craving and the fact that these symptoms and the depression can hang on for months, meth addiction takes a much longer time to treat. Methamphetamine users are considered the most difficult type of addicts to intervene on and treat because they are entrenched in their belief that their "new normal" is normal, and the rest of us are sick; they may not have demonstrable physical symptoms of being addicted; and even when they realize there is a problem, they are unwilling to let go of something that makes them "feel so good". As more research is done on meth addiction and treatment, more therapies may emerge.
What leads people to treatment?
The level of birth defects seen in an infant whose mother used meth during pregnancy will depend on the amount and frequency of the mother's use. Research on this is ongoing, but with intense use, there is a likelihood that infants could suffer from low birth-weight, tremors, bonding difficulties, and incessant crying. The larger problem of infants born into a home where methamphetamine is used regularly is that they are much more likely to be neglected and abused. This could be the reason that many hospitals are now testing newborns for meth exposure.
Our advice to parents who adopt or foster care an infant born to a meth user is to give the baby lots of love, attention, cuddling, and playtime, and don't expect problems. Develop good communication with your local Public Health Nurse and the baby's doctor, making sure they know that meth was used during pregnancy. The nurse can help you to assess the baby's development from time to time, and direct you to infancy and early childhood programs that will be of help to you and the baby. Don't let meth ruin what could be a wonderful, happy life for the child by being watchful for some side effect that probably isn't there.
Why does meth change people's appearance?
Meth can take months or years to change a person's appearance, and with many people, the change is quite dramatic. There are a number of photographs circulating on the Internet and on billboards demonstrating "the extreme meth makeover" in mug shots of people arrested for meth-related crimes. People who don't know the drug often ask "how could they let this happen?" or "why would you do that to yourself?" For those addicted to meth, the answers are pretty simple: they aren't aware of the changes in themselves, their need for the drug overrides any thoughts of personal grooming or hygiene, and for those close to them, the changes may be so gradual, they go unnoticed. The dramatic weight loss experienced by meth users definitely causes changes in the face and body, and once fat is removed from the body, and there are no stores of it for energy that the meth user expends, the body begins to lose muscle, including the muscles of the face. Skin becomes dry from the constant overheating of the body and the loss of essential vitamins and other nutrients needed for healthy skin; the result is premature aging (wrinkles). Many meth users experience "crank bugs", the sensation of something crawling under their skin, and scratch and pick or dig at the places where they feel it, others have sores from reactions to the chemicals in the drug, and in both cases, this leads to open sores and scars, further marring their appearance. Tooth loss is common in chronic meth users because meth causes a dry mouth, and acid flourishes in a dry mouth, leading to tooth decay. Not only that, but methamphetamine depletes calcium stores in the body, causing the body to take what it needs from bones and teeth. Add to that the fact that meth addicts neglect oral hygiene and dental care, and you see why many meth addicts have gray or decaying teeth.
What is law enforcement doing about meth?
The short answer is: Everything they can. Meth is a nightmare for everyone in any aspect of law enforcement, from traffic cops to judges. In St. Croix County, meth cases will soon outnumber other criminal cases, and in fact, meth is probably involved in most other criminal cases, since meth addicts use any means to get money for the drug: identity theft, stealing checks and credit cards, breaking into homes, cars, and businesses, and as meth use often leads to domestic violence and other violent offenses. The Sheriff's office and local police departments are overburdened, underfinanced and out of ideas for ways to stop the tide of meth crimes. Law enforcement was created to enforce the laws, which is what they are doing, and even meth users are entitled to the same basic rights the rest of us have, which means that there is little police can do when no evidence is there, and no crime can be proven.
Federal penalties for methamphetamine trafficking are pretty tough, with a basic, mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison for possession of 10 grams of pure meth, and 10 years in prison for 100 grams. Sentencing may be subject to plea bargains and judges' discretion.
What's the solution?
We think that education is going to be the best line of defense in this battle. We need to see that every potential user is aware of the ingredients, side effects, potential for becoming addicted, and consequences of addiction. Since nearly anyone can be a potential user, we need to educate everyone! Another reason to make sure that people of all ages and backgrounds know about meth is so that they can be aware of it in their neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and even in their own families.
Knowledge is power. Knowing what a meth lab smells like, what activities to watch for, and what meth cooks dump in the trash gets a person one step closer to noticing a meth lab in their neighborhood and calling the police. Knowing how someone tweaking on meth might behave could save a person from stumbling into a dangerous situation. Knowing what physical, emotional, and attitude changes to watch for in your child could save his life.
Hope is an antidote. We need to help meth addicts and their families see that there is life after meth, and it can be a wonderful, hopeful life. We believe that the gloomy statistics about the low percentage of meth addicts who recover are not accurate, and we have professional drug counselors who agree with us! Who cares about statistics when all you really need to worry about is you? If you don't like the odds, beat 'em!

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