Its not a lot of fun to think about the health consequences of illicit drug use, much less talk about it with your adolescent child. Yet illicit drug use poses a very real risk to American society.
We might like to think that our rural community is immune from such big city problems as drug abuse, but if we did so, wed be dead wrong.
Many of the illicit drugs being used by adolescents and adults are so-called designer drugs including methamphetamine and related drugs. According to results from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations 2009 national survey, approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population has used methamphetamine, with an estimated 500,000 users each month.
Methamphetamine and its analogs, including the designer drug Ecstasy, are central nervous system stimulants. They stimulate the release of potent nerve chemicals in the brain. This produces almost immediate pleasurable sensations along with hallucinations and agitation. Users under the influence of meth may pose a risk of harm to themselves or others. Meth intoxication also often produces rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Acute intoxication can result in kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and even sudden cardiac death.
Illicit use of meth may heighten sexual arousal while decreasing inhibitions leading to risky sexual behaviors that can increase exposure to sexually transmitted disease. While commonly consumed by other routes, injection of meth using infected needles can result in the transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
The public health risks of methamphetamine use cannot be overstated. These drugs are highly addictive, and users become dependent on its effects. Seeking and using the drug can become an overwhelming priority, leading to neglect of self-care, as well as the neglect of other responsibilities, including the care of dependent children. Because meth and related designer drugs can be manufactured from common medicines, home meth labs, which often contain the dangerous byproducts of meth production, can pose a serious health risk to housemates.
The treatment of meth addiction, like other substance use disorders, requires recognition of the problem and a willingness to change behavior. Treatment programs span the spectrum from outpatient counseling and support groups to inpatient and residential treatment programs.
Of course, prevention is essential. Parents should take an active role in educating children and adolescents about the challenges, pitfalls and risks of substance abuse as well as teaching skills to resist it in the first place.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.