Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2005

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MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

"The Power, the Passion and the Pain: the Downward Spiral of Crystal Meth"
By Carol P. Waldhauser

John Doe, Esquire, was once a rising star in the legal community. At 39, John was an exceptional attorney, a devoted public servant and a gentle human being. Today, however, John’s stiff, lifeless body lies on a cold slab in the city morgue. The police found John’s body late at night on a downtown street, his shirt and suit trousers slashed down one side, exposing the deep razor cut that caused his untimely death.

John was addicted to methamphetamine (a.k.a., speed, crystal and/or ice). His drug of choice, methamphetamine took only weeks to develop into a chronic addiction. To feed his addiction, John went into the dark corners and seedy streets of the city. Mingling more and more with other addicts rather than his family and friends, John’s need for crystal grew. As addiction accelerated, John abandoned all logical thinking. Soon there simply was not anything else in John’s life.

Sadly, John is not alone in his addiction to methamphetamine. According to one survey recently released survey, the No. 1 drug problem for many states is not cocaine, heroin or marijuana but methamphetamine.

The Power

Methamphetamine is a stimulant, the strongest in a group of drugs called amphetamines. In other words, methamphetamine is an extremely addictive form of speed. The drug is the white, crystalline residue created from a chemical process, which is why it is often referred to on the street as “crystal” or “ice”. This residue can be marketed in three forms: (a) a powder which enables the user to eat or snort it; (b) a liquid that can be injected; or (c) a gummy form that can be smoked.

In prescription form, methamphetamine is used to treat some medical conditions (i.e., obesity). Conversely, illegally-produced methamphetamine is manufactured in home laboratories and sold on the street like other illicit substances. A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Counties reported that “the use and distribution of methamphetamine has spread from the West Coast to the East Coast of the United States.” Of the 500 law enforcement agencies surveyed in 45 states, 58 percent cited methamphetamine as their biggest drug problem, dwarfing cocaine (19 percent), marijuana (17 percent) and heroin (3 percent).

The power of the drug is increased energy, alertness and heightened sense of well-being. Other effects of use include (but are not limited to) increased wakefulness, insomnia and decreased appetite. The effects of methamphetamine on users depends on the drug’s purity, how much of the drug is taken, the mood of the user, whether other drugs are being used and the context in which the drug is taken. The drug remains in the body for between four and six hours after use, while it can be detected in the urine from one to 48 hours after use.

The Passion
Because methamphetamine is amphetamine, it is a powerful psychomotor stimulant that affects both the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system. Amphetamines in moderate doses result in wakefulness, alertness and elevated mood. Tolerance develops rapidly so many users begin injecting amphetamines to obtain more intense effects. High doses lead to nervousness, dizziness, confusion, heart palpitations and elevated blood pressure.

Theories about the abuse potential of amphetamines parallel the history of such theories regarding cocaine. For years, experts argued about whether the amphetamines were truly “addicting.” Because amphetamine withdrawal didn’t produce the kinds of obvious physical symptoms seen with heroin or barbiturate withdrawal, most people decided that amphetamine did not produce physical dependence, yet there is evidence that repeated use of high doses of amphetamine produces a consistent set of withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, methamphetamine is highly addictive. People who are dependent on the drug are unable to control their use of it.

The Pain
At high levels, methamphetamine use can cause heart problems, panic, seizures, coma and death. Other effects of use include insomnia, respiratory problems, high fever, enlarged pupils, anxiety, paranoia and/or violent behavior. People under the influence of methamphetamine should be considered very dangerous. Because of the extreme levels of paranoia associated with methamphetamine use, addicts often think that they’re being watched or followed or that others are conspiring against them.

Moreover, once addiction takes hold (as in John’s case), people, places and things are changed. John required more of the drug. This need took him out of his safe, old world and into a dark, new world – one that eventually caused his death. Fortunately, treatment is available, and an individual does not have to end up like our lawyer, John. There are many kinds of treatment programs and self-help groups for people with chemical dependence problems.

Generally, treatment for methamphetamine dependence may begin with a short stay in a hospital or medical setting to ensure the patient’s safety while the drug is eliminated from their body. This is commonly referred to as “detox”. Then the patient may be admitted to a residential-treatment program for several weeks or more. Here, the patient is educated on both drugs and coping to achieve a drug-free life. The next step for the patient after in-patient treatment is for the individual to see a professional counselor on an outpatient basis for several weeks or more. Furthermore (and in most cases), attendance at a 12-step support group such as Narcotics Anonymous is encouraged and often imperative.

For more information and guidance, contact your physician, the nearest drug treatment or mental health treatment facility, or contact the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878, (800) 492-1964, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August, 2005

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