– Please distribute widely –
Production and use of methamphetamine is still uncommon in Vermont. However, recent news about meth labs in Franklin County underlines the potential danger for individuals and communities. The drug, which is injected, smoked, snorted, or sometimes swallowed, is highly addictive. Following is information on the health hazards, signs, symptoms and treatment for methamphetamine use or exposure.
Dangers to Adults
The chemicals used to produce or “cook” meth for distribution can result in toxic fumes, vapors, and spills. Exposure to low levels of some methamphetamine ingredients may cause headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. Exposure to higher levels may cause shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, eye and tissue irritation, chemical burns to the skin, eyes, mouth, and nose, and death.
Some of the ingredients typically used to manufacture methamphetamine may irritate the skin, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract and affect the central nervous system through inhalation or contact with the skin. Chronic exposure may cause cancer, damage the brain, liver, kidney, spleen, and immune system, and birth defects. Hepatitis A and C, E. coli, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases are additional health outcomes associated with methamphetamine homes due to unhygienic conditions, needle-sharing, and unprotected sexual activity.
Dangers to Children
A child living in a home with a methamphetamine lab may inhale or swallow toxic substances or inhale the secondhand smoke of adults who are using methamphetamine – or be accidentally injected or pricked from discarded needles or other drug paraphernalia. A child can absorb methamphetamine and other toxic substances through the skin following contact with contaminated surfaces, clothing, or food or become ill after ingesting chemicals used to make the drug.
The inability of methamphetamine-dependent and methamphetamine-manufacturing parents to function as competent caregivers increases the likelihood that a child will be accidentally injured. Baby bottles may be stored among toxic chemicals. Hazardous methamphetamine components may be stored in 2-liter soft drink bottles, fruit juice bottles, and pitchers in food preparation areas or the refrigerator. Ashtrays and drug paraphernalia (such as razor blades, syringes, and pipes) are often found scattered within a child’s reach, sometimes even in cribs. Infants are found with methamphetamine powder on their clothes, bare feet, and toys. Children and small babies may also be malnourished since methamphetamine users will sleep for days following a several day binge. Children in these situations may also experience skin rashes and other symptoms from not having a diaper change in days. Any home with a methamphetamine lab in it is considered a toxic area for all who live there.
Clean Up Dangers
Normal cleaning will not remove methamphetamine and some of the chemicals used to produce it, which can remain on eating and cooking utensils, floors, countertops, and absorbent materials. Toxic byproducts of methamphetamine manufacturing are often improperly disposed outdoors, endangering children and others who live, eat, play, or walk at or near the site.
The ingredients used to make methamphetamine are dangerous and toxic. Users who often stay high for several days don’t eat and rarely brush their teeth. Tooth decay on tooth surfaces that most people would normally brush is not uncommon. Methamphetamine also causes the mouth to dry out, leaving no saliva to help clean the teeth.
Patients may show up in your office with what is known as “crank bugs.” These are sores all over the body where people have created significant damage to their skin from scratching what feels to them like bugs crawling under their skin. Most often these sores are found on arms and legs, and can become infected.
People using methamphetamine and those exposed to high amounts of methamphetamine show significant signs of aggression, defensiveness, hypersexuality, irritability, paranoia and possibly psychosis. It is not advised for physicians to challenge suspected methamphetamine users alone without following safety protocols.
Medical Screening/Referral to Treatment
Physicians should use a urine toxicology screen to determine if someone has methamphetamine in their system. Either specify a separate methamphetamine screen, or assure that methamphetamine is listed separately from amphetamine in the panel for screening. Sometimes amphetamine use can obscure methamphetamine use in some toxicology panels. A patient suspected of drug abuse or addiction should be referred to a specialist treatment program for an assessment.
For a list of treatment programs: http://healthvermont.gov/adap/treatment/treatment_county.aspx
For more information on methamphetamine: http://healthvermont.gov/adap/meth/meth.aspx