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Over forty years ago I’d made the entry in my notebook. I found my handwriting to be a bit difficult to read on some of the yellowing pages—the result of quickly-written memos then, and failing eyesight today. But I was able to make out the basics, and there was enough there to take me back to the time when I wore the brown over khaki uniform of a deputy sheriff.

Flipping through the pages of my log, one particular entry caught my eye. It was a Friday night during an unusually cool  for October. According to my notes, the skies were clear and brightly lit by a near full moon. The gas tank in my take-home car was full (as always, I’d filled it at the end of my shift the preceding morning) and the speedometer had just tripped 80,000 miles. The lights and siren were both in working order.

I’d signed on at 2342 hours that night, and in my mind I can still hear the dispatcher’s voice as she acknowledged my radio message. She spoke in a drawl that prompted a craving for mint juleps and an urge to plant a magnolia tree in my front yard.

It’s no secret that I was not born a southerner. In fact, before “the conversion,” I was such a Yankee that one of my relatives owned a house that was once used by Harriett Tubman as a stop on her vast Underground Railroad network. We lived nearby, where people didn’t say things like,  “Y’all” or “finer’n frog hair, or “fixin’ to” (going to).

“I’m fixin’ to head over to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up some chittlins’ for Sunday lunch. Y’all want anything?”

As a child born north of “the line”, the switch to the South was a major change. Everything was different, including schools and how they conducted business. Classes in our new southern location began each day with a child reading from the Bible, followed by a man’s deep but southern-twangy voice spewing from the wall-mounted speaker as he led us in prayer. We didn’t do that in my former northern school.

The thing about the South that stuck with me the most, though, was to see peanuts, tobacco, and cotton in their natural habitats—not nuts in jars or bags, tobacco rolled into cigarettes, or “cotton” as a word printed on the labels of my school clothes.

Okay, back to my notes. It hadn’t rained in nearly three weeks and the local farmers and their field hands had been hard at work for several days, picking cotton. They’d loaded large farm trailers to the point of overflowing, like giant pillows on wheels. But no matter how hard they tried, there was simply no way possible to gather every single piece of cotton, leaving lots of it scattered about in the fields. And, of course, it didn’t take long at all for the wind to blow the scraps of freshly picked raw cotton everywhere, sending it into trees, ditches, bushes, and roadways. The landscape looked as if it had been dusted by a light snowfall. You couldn’t spit in any direction without hitting a wad of the future shirts, pants, sheets, and stuffing for aspirin bottles.

Virginia cotton

At night, while on patrol, we often used our spotlights to scan fields and paths looking for illegal night hunters, or stolen cars and farm equipment that were sometimes abandoned in out of the way locations. Another target for our spotlights in those days were farmer’s fertilizer storage tanks that contained anhydrous ammonia. Farmers used the fertilizer to spray crops. Makers of methamphetamine stole it from farmers and farm supply companies to produce meth.

Meth makers siphoned the deadly liquid gas from the tanks and later used it and other hazardous ingredients, such as paint thinner, engine starter fluid, the innards of certain types of batteries, and ephedrine separated from its binding agent found in over-the-counter cold medicine, to manufacture the dangerous and illegal drug. This process required no heat since the chemical reaction was so volatile, and it is the reason clandestine meth labs notoriously and suddenly explode.


The method of making meth using anhydrous ammonia is sometimes called the “Nazi cook,” named after the meth distributed to German soldiers by Nazi leaders during World War II. For more, click here.


So yeah, that was a thing back then and it was a big reason we kept on eye on farms. And, of course, there were the people who stole livestock, such as pigs. Ah, the glamorous life of a deputy sheriff in the rural South.

In addition to highlighting stolen cars and fertilizer tanks, and the occasional “parking” teenage couples or pair of adulterers, the shining of a bright spotlight across the fields at night, the car-mounted devices also illuminated scores of wildlife—deer, foxes, raccoons, ‘possums, coyotes, and even an occasional black bear. And, on the night referenced in my spiral notebook, the light also showcased a woman’s body lying between two unpicked rows of cotton.

She was young, mid to late 30’s. Fully clothed with the exception of her bare feet. There were no shoes at the scene. Approximately 5’ 5″ tall. 150 lbs – 160 lbs, or so. Round face. Skin the color of Vermont maple syrup. Her eyes were open and without focus, and aimed toward the sky into infinity. Pupils fixed, and dilated. A bullet wound to her forehead, just above her left eye, and another near her right eyebrow, told me to save my CPR skills for another day.

Small clumps of loose cotton dotted the area around the body. Some were the brilliant white of summertime clouds. Others, the ones that clung to her wounds, were rusty red and mostly saturated with the victim’s drying blood.

Three sets of footprints entered the field—large boots, small tennis shoes, and a set ending with bare toes. Only two sets headed out. The toes remained.

The victim had two small children at home. A neighbor was called to sit with them while their father went out searching for his wife who’d called earlier to say the church meeting was running a bit longer than she’d expected. No, no need to pick her up. Wanda was at the meeting and would bring her home.

Twenty minutes later, after the husband left his children in the care of the sitter, Wanda called and asked the neighbor if she could please speak to the man’s wife. No, there was no church meeting that night.

The man knew, deep in his heart, that there was no meeting at the church and he where exactly where to look for his cheating wife.

The victim’s lover, a cotton farmer, escaped the gunfire.

There was no DNA. No fingerprints. No cell phone calls to trace, and no bullet casings.

Just a pair of womens shoes found five hours later, in the farmer’s truck. And a revolver containing four bullets in his jealous wife’s car.

If I’d kept a tally over the years I could’ve added another hash mark to the “life taken” column, and five to the “lives ruined” section.

My last notations on the page that night were four short lines that read …

“Murder warrant issued”

“17 gallons of gas, no oil”

“10-42 (off duty) – 0815”

“Sunny and warmer – a good day to pick cotton”

 

What is methamphetamine?

Crystal methamphetamine

Photo by DEA – Crystal methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine [a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder].

Other common names for methamphetamine include chalk, crank, crystal, ice, meth, and speed.

How do people use methamphetamine?

People can take methamphetamine by:

  • inhaling/smoking
  • swallowing (pill)
  • snorting
  • injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol

Because the “high” from the drug both starts and fades quickly, people often take repeated doses in a “binge and crash” pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in a form of binging known as a “run,” giving up food and sleep while continuing to take the drug every few hours for up to several days.

How does methamphetamine affect the brain?

Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. The drug’s ability to rapidly release high levels of dopamine in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior, making the user want to repeat the experience.

Short-Term Effects

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same health effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:

  • increased wakefulness and physical activity
  • decreased appetite
  • faster breathing
  • rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • increased blood pressure and body temperature

How Do Manufacturers Make Methamphetamine?

Manufacturers make most of the methamphetamine found in the United States in “superlabs” here or, more often, in Mexico. But some also make the drug in small, secret labs with inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medicines. To curb production, the law requires pharmacies and other retail stores to keep a purchase record of products containing pseudoephedrine. A person may only buy a limited amount of those products on a single day.

What are other health effects of methamphetamine?

Close-up of rotted teeth brought on by prolonged methamphetamine use.
Photo by Dozenist/CC BY-SA“Meth mouth”

 

Long-Term Effects

People who inject methamphetamine are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Methamphetamine use can also alter judgment and decision-making leading to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, which also increases risk for infection.

Methamphetamine use may worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to nerve cells and more cognitive problems in people who have HIV and use methamphetamine than it does in people who have HIV and don’t use the drug.1 Cognitive problems are those involved with thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering.

Long-term methamphetamine use has many other negative consequences, including:

  • extreme weight loss
  • severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
  • intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • sleeping problems
  • violent behavior
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren’t

In addition, continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain’s dopamine system that are associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine over the long term, severe changes also affected areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory.2This may explain many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in those who use methamphetamine.

Although some of these brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, other changes may not recover even after a long period of abstinence.3 A recent study even suggests that people who used methamphetamine have an increased the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the nerves that affects movement.4

Are there health effects from exposure to secondhand methamphetamine smoke?

Researchers don’t yet know whether people breathing in secondhand methamphetamine smoke can get high or have other health effects. What they do know is that people can test positive for methamphetamine after exposure to secondhand smoke.5,6More research is needed in this area.

Can a person overdose on methamphetamine?

Yes, a person can overdose on methamphetamine. An overdose occurs when the person uses too much of a drug and has a toxic reaction that results in serious, harmful symptoms or death.

Methamphetamine overdose can lead to stroke, heart attack, or organ problems—such as kidney failure—caused by overheating. These conditions can result in death.

How can a methamphetamine overdose be treated?

Because methamphetamine overdose often leads to a stroke, heart attack, or organ problems, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions, with the intent of:

  • restoring blood flow to the affected part of the brain (stroke)
  • restoring blood flow to the heart (heart attack)
  • treating the organ problems

Is methamphetamine addictive?

Yes, methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • severe depression
  • psychosis
  • intense drug cravings

How can people get treatment for methamphetamine addiction?

The most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction so far are behavioral therapies, such as:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to use drugs
  • motivational incentives, which uses vouchers or small cash rewards to encourage patients to remain drug-free

While research is under way, there are currently no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction.

Points to Remember

  • Methamphetamine is usually a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Crystal methamphetamine looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks.
  • Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that is chemically similar to amphetamine (a drug used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy).
  • People can take methamphetamine by inhaling/smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injecting the drug.
  • Methamphetamine increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, which is involved in movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors.
  • Short-term health effects include increased wakefulness and physical activity, decreased appetite, and increased blood pressure and body temperature.
  • Long-term health effects include risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis; severe dental problems (“meth mouth”); intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching; violent behavior; and paranoia.
  • Researchers don’t yet know whether people breathing in secondhand methamphetamine smoke can get high or have other health effects.
  • A person can overdose on methamphetamine. Because methamphetamine overdose often leads to a stroke, heart attack, or organ problems, first responders and emergency room doctors try to treat the overdose by treating these conditions.
  • Methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, fatigue, severe depression, psychosis, and intense drug cravings.
  • The most effective treatments for methamphetamine addiction so far are behavioral therapies. There are currently no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction.

Learn More

For more information about methamphetamine, visit our:

References

  1. Chang L, Ernst T, Speck O, Grob CS. Additive effects of HIV and chronic methamphetamine use on brain metabolite abnormalities. Am J Psychiatry. 2005;162(2):361-369. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.2.361.
  2. Volkow ND, Chang L, Wang GJ, et al. Association of dopamine transporter reduction with psychomotor impairment in methamphetamine abusers. Am J Psychiatry. 2001;158(3):377-382. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.158.3.377.
  3. Wang G-J, Volkow ND, Chang L, et al. Partial recovery of brain metabolism in methamphetamine abusers after protracted abstinence. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161(2):242-248. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.2.242.
  4. Curtin K, Fleckenstein AE, Robison RJ, Crookston MJ, Smith KR, Hanson GR. Methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse and risk of Parkinson’s disease in Utah: a population-based assessment. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;146:30-38. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.10.027.
  5. Bassindale T. Quantitative analysis of methamphetamine in hair of children removed from clandestine laboratories–evidence of passive exposure? Forensic Sci Int. 2012;219(1-3):179-182. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.01.003.
  6. Farst K, Reading Meyer JA, Mac Bird T, James L, Robbins JM. Hair drug testing of children suspected of exposure to the manufacture of methamphetamine. J Forensic Leg Med.2011;18(3):110-114. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2011.01.013.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.