Marred by meth

Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Depression, black rotting teeth and bony, skeletonlike bodies mark the telltale signs of one of the most powerful drugs Shelby County communities have ever faced.

Crystal methamphetamine is not involved in most cases handled by the Shelby County Drug Court and the county’s branch of Bradford Health Services, but the drug has produced some of the worst effects the two organizations have seen.

“It is becoming more of a problem. It’s not the number one problem we see, but it is so addictive and destructive,” said Shelby County Drug Court Judge Mike Joiner. “But it seems like it has been becoming more of a problem.”

When a person takes crystal meth, the drug alters their brain chemistry, causing them to experience a euphoric feeling, said Leashia Moody-Miller, clinical director of Shelby County’s Bradford Health Services in Alabaster.

However, the drug, which contains chemicals like liquid drain cleaner, can quickly cause several serious negative health effects, and can cause the drug user to ignore basic necessities of life, Moody-Miller said.

“One thing we see a lot of is users have great difficulty in finding pleasure in life,” she said. “The drug causes a depletion of the natural chemicals in the brain, so users are very prone to depression.

“They are so used to the pleasure from the dopamine in the drug, that they have trouble feeling pleasure when they aren’t taking it,” Moody-Miller added.

When taking crystal meth, users have a difficult time focusing on anything but the drug.

Often, users become anorexic because they fail or forget to eat, their teeth rot because they pay little attention to dental hygiene and they become lethargic and uninterested in being involved in society, Moody-Miller said.

Many chemicals contained in meth are also corrosive, and can cause skin and mouth damage.

“It changes a person’s sense of reality. Sometimes they appear almost psychotic,” she said. “Lately, we’ve seen more people taking the drug by putting it in a tissue and swallowing it.

“That causes severe gastrointestinal problems, and can really damage a person’s esophagus,” Moody-Miller added.

Meth is unlike many other drugs, because it negatively impacts the user faster than drugs like cocaine or heroin, Joiner said.

“If for some reason I see someone in court, and then see them a few months later after they’ve been arrested on meth charges, I can see a noticeable difference,” Joiner said. “It’s like they’re almost gaunt. It becomes so pervasive in their lives that they ignore things like personal hygiene and nutrition.”

“Methamphetamine has a much faster progression than other drugs. We see people hit rock bottom very fast after they start taking it,” Moody-Miller said. “Where people might become severe alcoholics after 15 years, people show the same signs of addiction within a year of using methamphetamine.”