Methamphetamine is a synthetic compound that stimulates the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter closely related to adrenaline. The effects of meth are much more prolonged than the short burst of dopamine and norepinephrine that is released when neurons fire on their own.
Like all amphetamines (“speed” drugs), meth creates feelings of euphoria, intensity, and power, along with the drive to do whatever activity the user wishes to engage in. If going to clubs and dancing is your thing, then while you’re high on meth you’re up all night, feeling energized by every thump of music—at least until you start coming down.
Meth is sold legally (with a prescription) in tablet form as Desoxyn, FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD and exogenous obesity. More often, though, it’s cooked in makeshift labs and sold illegally as a powder or rock. The powder form can be snorted, smoked, eaten, dissolved in a drink, or heated and injected. The rock form is usually smoked, though it can also be heated and injected. Widely available in the 1960s, meth faded in the 1970s as controls were tightened on legal production, and cocaine took its place as the new party drug of choice. Crack cocaine dominated the 1980s, along with designer drugs like MDMA (Ecstasy), but in the early 1990s meth made a comeback, and it seems to be here to stay. According to the World Health Organization, meth is now the second most widely abused illicit drug worldwide, trailing only marijuana.
Despite warning labels on prescription pill bottles and frequent news reports of celebrity overdoses, people are not taking the risks of fatal drug combinations seriously. Prescription drugs and alcohol are legal, so they must be safe, right? Few people even consider them “drugs,” yet together they are responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year.
While alcohol and prescription drugs are among the most common and dangerous, other types of interactions also can be life-threatening, including interactions between herbal or dietary supplements, illegal drugs, over-the-counter medications, and even some foods.
Certain medications have a similar function and can increase each other’s effects, risking severe side effects or overdose, whereas others decrease or block another drug’s effects, causing one or both drugs not to work as intended.
Dangerous drug combinations are of particular concern among adults ages 50 and older, who are more likely to take a variety of medications for different ailments and whose bodies are more sensitive to the drugs’ effects. Given that more than half of older adults take five or more prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements every day, the risk of an adverse drug interaction is high.
The latest example making news is war veterans suffering from pain and co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder who are being prescribed potent opiate painkillers. Even though it’s widely known that veterans with PTSD are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows they’re twice as likely to get prescriptions for addictive painkillers as veterans with only physical pain.
Even more concerning, vets with active substance abuse problems were four times more likely to get addictive drugs than those without mental health issues.
Vets with PTSD who are prescribed these drugs are more likely to suffer drug overdoses, self-inflicted injuries and suicides, according to the study. In addition to their addictive potential, opiate drugs can actually exacerbate certain emotional problems and only slightly reduce or even worsen pain.
Side effects, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms can compromise the drugs’ pain-relieving effects. In a 2009 study of 1,843 workers with back injuries, researchers found that only 26 percent of the patients on opioid painkillers experienced pain relief, and only 16 percent experienced improvement in physical function.
Happiness is a feeling most of us are quick to embrace. But when feelings of sadness, anger, stress or frustration arise, it can be tempting to believe that feeling nothing would be better than feeling down. Whether it’s the laws of nature or the age-old principle of yin and yang, it seems that we are required to experience both extremes on the emotional spectrum.
Human beings are social creatures that need feelings to survive. Emotions connect us to other people and help us interpret, respond to and learn from our environment. It is our emotions that compel us to be in relationships, raise families and escape from danger.
When difficulties arise in our relationships, or memories of a painful childhood or troubling experience surface, it is understandable to think that numbing those feelings would bring relief. When someone is pushed to the edge of what they can tolerate, the choice may come down to suicide or emotional escape. And drugs are a quick, powerful way to disappear.
But numbing painful feelings with drugs comes at a price. In addition to drowning the difficult emotions, the positive ones begin to fade. An even greater risk is addiction, which comes with its own artificially manufactured highs and lows. Over time, drug users lose touch with their emotions and, in doing so, destroy their relationships with others and themselves.
The easy accessibility and perceived safety of prescription drugs have intensified the risks of addiction. Ordinary people with families and jobs are finding themselves hooked on medications. In some cases, the pills were originally prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose, such as to treat the pain of an injury or accident, and the individual became dependent over time. There is also a growing population that sets out to abuse prescription medications for their euphoric, stimulating or relaxing effects.