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NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Methamphetamine

NIDA Supported researchers are working to develop effective medications to treat this addiction, as well as new meth antidotes for use by emergency room physicians to treat meth- related overdoses.

Dear Colleague;

A highly toxic and addictive drug called methamphetamine is now being used in many areas of the country. A number of indicators, including those from the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) and a new Multi-site Assessment of Methamphetamine Use, is clearly showing that this drug, once dominant in the West, is now spreading throughout the Midwest and into other areas of the country and emerging in cities and rural settings thought previously to be "untouched." Not only is it spreading to new areas, but its use is increasing among populations not previously known to use this drug.

The sum of our research shows that methamphetamine is a powerfully addictive stimulant associated with serious health conditions, including memory loss, aggression, violence, psychotic behavior, and potential heart and neurological damage. It also contributes to increased transmission of infectious diseases, especially hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

To date, there are no safe and tested medications for treating methamphetamine addiction, although there are several behavioral treatments (such as individual and group counseling) that are showing positive results. NIDA supported researchers are working to develop effective medications to treat this addiction, as well as new methamphetamine antidotes for use by emergency room physicians to treat methamphetamine-related overdoses.

What follows in this Community Drug Alert Bulletin is a condensed version of some of the latest scientific information on methamphetamine that we hope will be of assistance to you and your community. As new research emerges, NIDA will continue to make every effort to disseminate these findings to you in a timely manner. We thank you in advance for taking the time to become better informed about this national public health problem.


Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D.

Methamphetamine is...

  • A powerfully addictive stimulant that dramatically affects many areas of the central nervous system. The drug can easily be made in clandestine laboratories from relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients and can be purchased at a relatively low cost. These factors make methamphetamine a drug with a high potential for widespread abuse.

  • Sometimes referred to as "speed," "meth," and "chalk." In its smoked form it is often referred to as "ice," "crystal," "crank," and "glass."

  • Comes in many forms and can be smoked, snorted, injected or orally ingested.

  • A white, odorless, bitter tasting crystalline powder that can be easily dissolved in water or alcohol.

Populations using methamphetamine...

  • Traditionally associated with white, male, blue-collar workers, is now reportedly being used by diverse groups in all regions of the country.

  • Use is increasing among men who have sex with men and use other drugs, making this population more vulnerable to contracting and spreading sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

  • Young adults who attend "raves" or private clubs also are increasingly using methamphetamine.

  • Include notable increases among homeless and runaway youth.

  • Increasing use of methamphetamine is reported among male and female commercial sex workers who also trade sex for drugs and among members of motorcycle gangs. Also, people in occupations (such as long-haul truckers) that demand long hours, mental alertness, and physical endurance, have been using this drug at increased rates.

New trends in methamphetamine use...

  • There is emerging evidence that methamphetamine is being administered increasingly via the intravenous route. Injecting this drug puts the user at increased risk for engaging in behaviors (both sexual and non-sexual) that could increase his/her chance of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases

  • Methamphetamine is not usually sold and bought on the streets like many of the other known illicit drugs. Users report that they obtain their supplies of methamphetamine from friends and acquaintances. It is typically a more closed or hidden sale, prearranged by "networking" with those producing the drug. Often it is sold "by invitation only" at all-night warehouse parties or "raves."

  • Because methamphetamine can be made with readily available inexpensive materials, there is great variation in the processes and chemicals used. This means that the final product that is sold as "methamphetamine" may not be methamphetamine at all, but rather a highly altered chemical mixture with some stimulant-like effects. Uncertainties about the drug's sources and the pharmacological agents used in its production makes it especially difficult to determine its toxicity, and resulting consequences and symptoms.

  • Methamphetamine is often being used in dangerous combination with other substances, including cocaine/crack, marijuana, heroin, and alcohol.

  • Long reported as the dominant drug problem in the San Diego, California, area, methamphetamine has become a substantial drug problem in other sections of the West and southwest as well. The drug has now been reported in both rural and urban areas of the South and Midwest. It is emerging in major urban areas in the East, but not to the extent seen in other regions of the country.

You can identify methamphetamine users by...

  • Signs of agitation, excited speech, have decreased appetites, and increased physical activity levels. Other common symptoms include: dilated pupils, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and elevated body temperature.

  • Occasional episodes of sudden and violent behavior, intense paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and bouts of insomnia.

  • A tendency to compulsively clean and groom and repetitively sort and disassemble objects, such as cars and other mechanical devices.

Preventing methamphetamine use...

  • Effective prevention begins with an assessment of the specific nature of the drug problem within the local community and adapting the program accordingly. This could be assessed by looking at variety of indicators including drug treatment and emergency room admissions.
  • In general, prevention programs should start early, be comprehensive, and repetitively stress key points.

  • Family-focused prevention efforts have been found to have a greater impact than strategies that focus on parents only or children/adolescents only.

  • The general prevention principles established in NIDA's research-based booklet entitled "Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents" hold for all drugs of abuse, including methamphetamine and serve as a good starting point for establishing programs in your community. (Call 1-800-729-6686 for a free copy)

Treating methamphetamine addiction...

  • Several cognitive behavioral interventions designed to help modify a patient's thinking and behaviors, and to increase skills in coping with various life stresses, have been found to be effective.

  • Unfortunately, there are currently no medications available to treat addiction or overdose to amphetamine or amphetamine-like drugs such as methamphetamine.

  • Withdrawal from methamphetamine is typically characterized by drug craving, depressed mood, disturbed sleep patterns, and increased appetite. Antidepressant medications can be prescribed to combat the depressive symptoms frequently seen in methamphetamine withdrawal.

NIDA Community Alert Bulletin on Methamphetamine was published in October, 1998

Information on Methamphetamine

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