Methamphetamine

In this section: What is it? | What Should I Know? | What is the impact in our region? | More information

What is it?

Crystallized methamphetamine
Methamphetamine is an illegal, powerful synthetic stimulant affecting the central nervous system. It is chemically similar to amphetamine, a prescription stimulant. Meth has long-lasting physical and psychological effects and high potential for abuse and dependence.

Meth is sold as pills, capsules, powder, or chunks, which can be white, yellow, brown, or even green. People ingest meth by swallowing it in pill form or smoking, snorting, or injecting powder that has been dissolved in water or alcohol. Other names for meth include chalk or crank and, for the crystallized form, crystal, ice, or glass.

Meth labs

Meth labs are distinct from other illegal drug production in terms of the extreme levels of long-lasting environmental damage they produce. The chemicals used to make meth are very hazardous and include pseudoephedrine, acetone, lithium batteries, and anhydrous ammonia. These products are widely available in drug and grocery stores, hardware, feed stores, and on the Internet. The exception is pseudoephedrine; most states, including Washington, have laws requiring pharmacies to sell pseudoephedrine "behind the counter" and to collect personal information from purchasers.  Meth is produced illegally in homes, cars, hotel rooms, or even plastic bottles.

Meth labs emit highly toxic fumes and the volatile chemicals used to produce it can cause severe injury or death if inhaled or touched.  These chemicals are also prone to explosions and fire. The waste and by-product residue left behind after production can lead to extensive environmental damage. Chemical residues left behind also can cause chemical burns, upper respiratory problems, cold and flu-like symptoms and in some cases, death. Children who are living near or in a meth lab are especially vulnerable.

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What should I know?

Call WA Recovery Help Line 1-866-789-1511Methamphetamine increases the amount of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in movement, motivation, pleasure, and reward. When the drug releases high levels of dopamine in the rapidly in the brain, users experience a high, "rush," or "flash" that feels good.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, fatigue, severe depression, psychosis, and intense drug cravings.

 

Short-term effects

Even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in dangerous health effects, similar to those of other stimulants like cocaine. Effects include:

Long-term effects

Continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain's dopamine system that are associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. Long-term use causes severe changes to the brain; while some of these changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, others may never fully recede.

Symptoms of overdose

All users of methamphetamine are at risk for methamphetamine overdose, which can lead to stroke, heart attack, or organ failure, all of which can be fatal. If you suspect someone has overdosed on methamphetamine, call 9-1-1 immediately and stay with the person until help arrives. The Washington State Good Samaritan/Overdose Law protects both you and the overdose victim from drug possession charges; don't be afraid to call for help!

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What is the impact on our region?

Infographic with meth stats Methamphetamine continues to pose a significant threat to Washington State. Adult treatment admissions for the drug are second only to heroin. Though admission totals have remained steady for several years, deaths related to methamphetamine continue to increase in both King and Spokane counties.

Treatment admissions and overdose/deaths

Data shows there were 1,950 adults admitted for methamphetamine treatment from January to March 2016, putting the year on track, if admissions continued at the same rate (this data is not yet available), for slightly more admissions that the past several years. Methamphetamine admissions would still make up 18% of all treatment admissions, matching previous years.

Youth treatment admissions for methamphetamine have been consistently higher than heroin admissions for the past five years.

There has also been a rise in methamphetamine-related overdose deaths in both King and Spokane counties, which may be related to the increasing trend of users combining meth and heroin. In 2010, King County methamphetamine-related overdose deaths totaled 19; by 2016, that number had risen to 98. In Spokane, there were 22 methamphetamine-related overdose deaths in 2013, and 49 in 2016. Fifty-one percent of methamphetamine-involved drug-caused deaths also involved an opioid.

Availability

Methamphetamine was the most commonly identified drug detected in substances seized by law enforcement in 2016. Although methamphetamine labs are rarely found in the state, there is ample supply of the drug, as Mexican drug trafficking organizations continue to dominate the market in our region.

According to the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), seizures of methamphetamine along the southwest border of the nation increased 305% from 2010. The same report notes that 78% of law enforcement survey respondents listed methamphetamine availability as "high" in the Pacific Region. The DEA noted in 2015 that the average purity of methamphetamine from Mexico is above 90%, yet is relatively inexpensive, contributing to the drug's availability and popularity.

Outlook

The volume at which Mexican methamphetamine laboratories can produce the drug ensures it will continue to pose a serious threat to Washington. Demand for the drug will continue to be fulfilled, resulting in increased or at least sustained methamphetamine treatment admissions for both adults and youth. The pattern of using heroin and other opioids along with methamphetamine, whether injected or not, will likely result in more overdose deaths.

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