Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2006 | Features

A Monster Called Meth - Extras

By Kathryn Howe

Drugs In Iowa

Although media reports paint methamphetamine use as a serious problem, by far the most abused substance in Iowa is alcohol, followed by marijuana.
Professionals with UI Chemical Dependency Services see up to 3,000 patients each year for substance abuse. While more than half of them come for alcohol treatment, 30 percent of those aged between 16 and 25 are addicted to meth. But counselors wouldn't characterize meth as a major campus issue.

Photo of bags filled with drugs

"You don't see many hard-core meth addicts who are also successful students," says David Barloon, a registered nurse practitioner with the program. "A person just can't function."

Other UI efforts to address the statewide meth problem include:

  • A College of Dentistry pilot program that will help dental professionals recognize the signs of abuse among their patients;
  • The Prairieland Addiction Technology Transfer Center in the College of Public Health, where researchers educate healthcare providers about effective treatment approaches, develop programs that assist women in their recoveries from meth, and aim to address the problem among a growing number of Iowa farmers.

Good News/Bad News

Good News

  • From May to December 2005, an Iowa state law that restricted the sale of pseudoephedrine—a substance found in cold and flu medications and a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine—reduced by 80 percent the number of meth labs seized by police, from 118 a month to only 20.
  • In the same period, meth-related burns cases at UI Hospitals and Clinics dropped from 14 to four, saving $2.5 million in healthcare costs.
  • The cost of cleaning up meth labs in Iowa is expected to decline from $2.4 million in 2004 to $530,000 in the coming year.
  • Earlier this fall, Iowa State researchers announced the development of a "chemical lock" that renders anhydrous ammonia useless in meth production, thus deterring its theft from farm tanks by the drug's users and manufacturers.

Bad News

  • Homegrown meth represents only a fraction of the drug supply in Iowa. About 80 percent of all meth originates from "superlabs" in Mexico, California, Texas, and Canada.
  • The Mexican form of imported meth—crystal or "ice"—is much purer, more expensive, and more addictive.
  • Although some researchers say the problem is exaggerated—only about one percent of Americans use meth—nearly half of the nation's county law enforcement officials consider it their primary drug concern.
  • The collateral damage of meth use includes higher crime rates, lab cleanup costs (anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 per lab), exposure to toxic, combustible chemicals, more incidences of child abuse, and health risks for babies born to addicted mothers.

More Meth Effects

In addition to sores, rotting teeth, and weight loss, methamphetamine can cause an addict to experience these problems:

• Insomnia
• Stimulated movement, speech
• Dilated pupils
• Increased energy
• Mood swings
• Chest pain, hot flashes, sweating

Long-term effects include:
Anxiety; depression; disorganized lifestyle and mental confusion; violent and aggressive behavior; behavior resembling paranoid schizophrenia; poor coping abilities; liver damage; tremors and convulsions; personality disturbances; loss of interest in hobbies, family, and friends; lowered resistance to illness; possible brain damage; hypertension; stroke; and death.

Neighborhood Watch

Are you living near a methamphetamine lab? Here’s what to look for:

• Unusual, strong odors
• Residences with windows blacked out
• Renters who pay their landlords in cash
• Lot of traffic—people coming and going at unusual times—particularly at night
• Excessive trash including large amounts of antifreeze containers, lantern fuel cans, red chemically stained coffee filters, drain cleaner, and duct tape
• Unusual amounts of clear glass containers being brought into the home
• Signs of chemical burns/spills