The Meth Epidemic Has Not Gone Away – What You Need to Know

Proactive Health


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


Recently, Chris Burrous, a well-known, loved and admired television news anchor, was found dead at the age of 43. He was in the prime of his career. He died from methamphetamine toxicity. Unfortunately, he joined a long list of celebrities, politicians and business leaders who fell into methamphetamine addiction. Many victims may have believed it gave them an edge, or they simply enjoyed it as a party drug.  

And for a while after the news about Chris Burrous broke, people were reminded of meth, the damage it can do and, just as important, how the meth problem never really went away. In fact, according to some experts, it’s back stronger than ever after taking a brief “hiatus” as the result of a more than decade-long government effort to stem its use. Media coverage and public attention had simply shifted to the opioid epidemic and other seemingly more pressing news of the moment.

With all the attention that is understandably being given to the ongoing opioid epidemic, it’s far too easy to overlook – and even forget about – other drugs that can cause equal, or far worse, damage to our families and communities. Sometimes it takes the death of a celebrity or a close family member to take us out of our complacency and remember that just because a given drug may have fallen off the radar, does not mean it has gone away or that it is any less deadly.

Meth is a strong stimulant that affects users’ central nervous systems. One of its more common forms is known as “crystal meth,” since it literally looks like ice crystals. In fact, ice is one of the slang names for it. It causes euphoria and wakefulness and has effects similar to other stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines. Crystal meth is illegal and has no approved medical use. It also is so addictive that users have been known to become “hooked” as quickly as after using the drug once. And, as with other addictive drugs, users eventually will do almost anything to recapture the rush of their first experience.  

The reality is that about 11 million Americans have tried meth at least once. Deaths from stimulant use – mostly meth – saw an increase of some 255 percent from 2005 to 2015. To help put this in better perspective, these deaths represent almost 11 percent of overdose deaths.  

As with other drugs, methamphetamine wasn’t always the lethal villain it came to be.  Amphetamines were discovered in the 19th century and used as a nasal decongestant and respiratory stimulator. Shortly after that, methamphetamines were used during World War II to help keep soldiers alert and improve their mood. It was also used as a weight-loss aid and to ease depression.  

What helped contribute to its widespread abuse is that crystal meth can be readily manufactured using pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in many cold medicines (which is the main reason why such over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications are now kept behind pharmacy counters instead of on open shelves and why the amount you can purchase at any time is regulated).

How Meth Destroys Its Users

The euphoria and other effects of meth that users seek come at a very high physical and psychological price. These include:

  • Increasing body temperature to the point of passing out or death
  • Feeling anxious and confused, insomnia and mood swings, violent behavior
  • Rapid aging and developing of hard-to-heal sores, along with serious dental problems
  • Paranoia, hallucinations, confusion, and problems with thinking and learning
  • Increased risk for contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C through needle sharing and riskier behavior
  • Nutrition-related health problems from erratic eating patterns and unhealthy diet

Long-term use of meth also changes brain chemistry in a way that if you just quit using it, this does not mean that you can reverse the damage. In fact, some studies indicate that some of these changes may still be present to one degree for more than a year after the last use of the drug. Users may also have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Since a user will have no real idea of the potency or the purity of the meth he or she may be taking, an overdose is quite possible. If this happens, it can result in a stroke, heart attack or kidney and other organ failure.  

One other risk of meth is that, unlike opioids, there are no approved medications to help treat the addiction. This makes meth addiction one of the hardest to treat.

How to Be Proactive

Know how to recognize the signs of meth use. The signs may vary from user to user.

  • Marked decrease in caring about personal appearance, grooming, hygiene and general self-care are all signs of meth use.

  • A noticeable decrease in appetite and accompanying weight loss are common given that a user on a “run” may go for days without eating.
  • Erratic sleeping patterns including insomnia, changes in sleep cycles (sleeping during the day and staying awake at night for no apparent reason) are other signs.
  • Hyperactivity and obsessive behaviors such at picking at the skin, itching, facial tics or being very talkative, especially if the person is usually quiet, reserved or shy, may be signs too.

Seek professional help.

Meth, as other addictions, can be insidious and users usually will do everything they can to protect their ability to continue using. So, don’t hesitate to get help for the abuser/addict as well as the family. If you’re not sure where you can find this help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).  

Identify nutritional deficiencies from the abuse and address them.

Most drug abusers and addicts suffer from biochemical, nutritional and metabolic disorders that can make recovery from substance abuse or addiction more difficult and problematic. This may result in a wide range of symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, depression and panic attacks which can create a desire to return to meth or alcohol and other drugs. So taking steps to “making healthy food choices” and also eliminating stimulants, such as coffee, are particularly important.

Good nutrition also plays a role, especially in improving behavior and cravings. 

The brain needs a consistent supply of nutrients on a day-to-day basis from the diet to continue to make neurotransmitters and perform optimal transmission. Research suggests that changes in diet can alter brain structure both chemically and physiologically and influence the individual’s behavior. If nutrient levels are not maintained and/or the wrong types of food are consumed, then neurotransmitter levels will decline and disruption of mood, thought and behavior and the inevitable cravings for meth or other substances may return.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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