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Crystal Meth Overdose

Crystal meth is one of the physical forms of methamphetamine, a highly addictive and dangerous illicit drug. A much milder, less potent version of methamphetamine can be used, in conjunction with direct medical supervision, to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. Though less common, methamphetamine can be used to facilitate weight loss, as stimulant drugs suppress appetite, or to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

Crystal meth is synthetic, meaning that it is not naturally occurring. Instead, it is made by meth producers with chemicals and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that are often used as cold remedies, such as pseudoephedrine. As a result, there are limitations on the amount of certain cold medications that can be purchased by an individual over a predetermined period of time.

The end product is a white crystal-like powder that can be snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected after being dissolved. The production of crystal meth is very dangerous and chemically volatile, which poses a serious threat to both meth producers as well as law enforcement as they conduct raids on meth labs. Methamphetamine production and abuse have a significant impact on violent and property crime rates as reported in the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary.

Crystal meth is one of the most lethal illicit drugs, and likewise, no instructions come with illicit drugs, so a “safe” dose for the user is unknown. Because of the lethality, it is important to be aware of risks associated with crystal meth overdose.

If overdose is suspected, immediately call 911. Emergency medical attention is needed to prevent death or long-term health damage.

How Overdose Occurs

Crystal meth overdoses can easily be lethal. They can be classified as acute or chronic. Medline Plus, an entity of the National Institute of Health, reports that an acute overdose refers to a user who intentionally takes more than their body can handle or takes the wrong amount without knowing it (for example, if they are already under the influence). As mentioned, the dose needed for a high can vary from batch to batch of the drug; as a result, the user is taking a risk every time they ingest crystal meth. The drug’s potency cannot be predicted.

Medline Plus further describes that a chronic overdose relates to the cumulative health effects often seen in a person who has been using the drug regularly. For example, high blood pressure or an already compromised respiratory system may be present due to chronic use. A chronic overdose, however, can be just as deadly.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is an agency that, among many other thing, collects data regarding emergency room visits related to the use of a particular drugs via its Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). The 2011 study found that number of ER visits rose from roughly 68,000 in 2007 to 103,000 in 2011. Fortunately, many of these individuals were able to get medical attention before it was too late. The findings showed that in many instances crystal meth was used alongside alcohol or marijuana, and combining substances of abuse like this is extremely dangerous.

Despite the risks, both acute and chronic users may present similarly in the event of overdose. They could first become agitated, aggressive, and violent. Next, more serious, life-threatening symptoms take hold. These symptoms may include problems with respiration, such as rapid and/or irregular heartbeat or problems breathing, severe increases in blood pressure, strokes, hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature), coma, organ damage, and, ultimately, death.

Short-Term Effects of Crystal Meth

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), short-term effects of crystal meth include the following:

  • Increased attention and decreased fatigue
  • Increased energy and wakefulness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Euphoria and a “rush”
  • Increased respiration
  • Hyperthermia

Because a user quickly develops a tolerance to and physical dependence on the drug, it may be hard to discern which short-term effects are more dangerous than the others; however, the drug’s influence on respiration, heartbeat, and increased body temperature (hyperthermia) is particularly troubling. These can be danger signs of overdose, even in a new user.

Long-Term Effects of Crystal Meth

Long-term use of crystal meth means increased tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. Addiction is a chronic illness that is characterized by ongoing cravings for the particular drug, withdrawal, and a high potential for relapse. Other long-term effects of crystal meth use include:

  • Changes in brain functioning
  • Deficits in cognitive and motor skills
  • Heightened distractibility
  • Memory loss
  • Dental problems (“meth mouth”]
  • Skin problems from itching and scratching
  • Weight loss
  • Addiction

The DEA reports that crystal meth users may also develop psychological problems at higher doses.. Psychosis, a condition where the person is unable to tell what is real and what is not, is common among long-term meth users. Chronic users often feel paranoid and suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations (hearing and seeing things) or delusions, which are false beliefs. For example, a person may adamantly believe they are a religious figure. These changes in perception can sometimes lead to agitation and aggressive behavior. They may also have mood swings and severe insomnia due to agitation. Changes in psychological functioning, especially psychosis, can last for months or years even if the user is no longer taking amphetamine.

Changes in the Brain

Using crystal meth can cause permanent structural damage to the brain, although in some users, the damage may be reversed. As part of its Research Report Series, National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that long-term meth users experience

  • Reduced motor speed
  • Impaired verbal learning
  • Structural and functional changes relating to emotion and memory
  • Deterioration in cognitive and emotional functioning

Some effects can be reversible, depending on in relation to how long one has used the drug. NIDA also asserts that damage to dopamine transporters may be restored over time. Most of the improvements are seen in motor and verbal memory tests.

Avoiding Overdose

A user’s best chance for avoiding overdose and achieving long-term recovery is via an inpatient rehabilitation program. This offers the most comprehensive approach to care. Clients will first undergo detox and then identify patterns of behavior that led to their addiction. In a safe, supportive environment, clients can learn new coping skills for life that don’t involve crystal meth.