August 9, 2006 Meth Concerns

The methamphetamine problem has been with us for so long that its existence seems to have lost the public's attention and concern. Maybe the public sees it as a lost cause, or there are simply not enough people who are directly victimized by the drug. The fact is, however, that methamphetamine is a scourge to our communities. Its production, sales and use is the underpinning of the crime, the proliferation of gangs and overall degradation of the quality of life in the Central Valley. To say the least, the methamphetamine problem is serious and deserves a substantial amount of our attention.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug which causes the user to initially feel euphoric and alert, as it directly affects the pleasure center of the brain. Persons under the influence of meth behave erratically, sometimes violently. When high, users feel their heart rate become irregular, they begin to sweat and their blood pressure rises. Meth suppresses the appetite and causes sleep irregularity. Meth addicts have bizarre thoughts and pick at imaginary bugs under their skin, eventually losing touch with reality. It is commonly referred to as "meth," "crank," "poor man's cocaine," and a host of other names. It is easily and cheaply produced, with a substantial profit margin. Its addictive qualities are such that merely using crank a few times can quickly lead to life-consuming dependence, with users going down a path of continuous deterioration, both mentally and physically. Many end up losing their jobs, their homes and families, with crank being their sole reason for living. It is a pathetic situation and regardless of race or economic status, crank claims its victims from all walks of life. Meth abuse is also a major factor in child abuse cases, resulting from parents who have been reduced to an existence level so low that they cannot adequately care for their children. Bizarre and violent behavior of cranksters factors into child abuse cases in a significant way, and as the number of addicts grows, so do the number of child victims.

One key reason for the proliferation of gangs is methamphetamine. Gangs are heavily involved in the production and distribution of meth as a business enterprise, and unlike legitimate business activities, the competition and other obstacles that interfere with their activities are dealt with through violence and intimidation. There are also the problems associated with the addicts themselves. Once their addiction reaches a certain point, they resort to stealing and other crimes. These people also become a burden on the health care system, while at the same time, they make up a large percentage of the ranks of homeless and beggars that are now so common in this area.

The production of meth is a major problem associated with this illegal drug. The various chemicals used to produce it are very dangerous and are the source for destructive pollution in our rural areas, especially. Meth labs can be found anywhere; oftentimes they are set up in motel rooms, isolated barns and outbuildings, travel trailers, vacant houses or other locations that are not likely to draw police attention. Once the production run is finished, the discards are left behind. It costs thousands of dollars to clean up an abandoned meth lab, and the chemicals are so dangerous and volatile that it requires trained experts with sophisticated protective gear to safely complete the job.

The big question about the meth problem starts with the users themselves, and what society can really do about this situation. Law enforcement has a role, but clearly, it cannot eliminate the problem by itself. We have to wonder why there are so many people willing to use the drug to begin with, and whether the problem should be treated as a medical issue verses that of a criminalized activity. Education is an important issue, but we see that plenty of educated people use the drug, knowing full well that it is highly addictive and physically dangerous to their health. Perhaps they think that trying it a few times won't hurt anything, only to find out that with the second or third usage they are already going down the path of addiction. These people are aware of crank's destructive qualities, but don't realize how little it takes to cross the line into the abyss of hard core addiction.

Methamphetamine is California's number one drug problem, for which there exists no easy remedy. Law enforcement has made an impact on it, but we are far from eradicating this kind of drug abuse. Drug abuse education works best when it is started with the very young, and that, coupled with addressing the mental, social and behavioral factors that lead to drug experimentation, should give us better results. In the meantime, the gangs will have an easy revenue source and purpose for existence, while too may people fall into a pattern of life-ruining addictive behavior.

Education is the key to preventing this drug from ruining yet more lives, so it is only prudent that we educate our family and friends on the dangers and harmful effects of methamphetamine and other drugs. For those who have already succumbed to addiction, we must help them to obtain the medical and psychological treatment they need to gain control of their lives. The abuse of methamphetamine is something that affects each and every one of us, in one way or another, and it will take the collective effort of the community to make the difference.

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