News: Meth to the Madness

An inside glance at the local culture of methamphetamines

Dec 7, 2005 at 2:06 pm

There's nothing like sex while you're using methamphetamines, according to Ryan, a meth addict who asked that his last name not be used.

"The sex is great," he says. "There's nothing else I can say about that. It's indescribable. Everyone says that nothing can enhance sex, but that stuff does. It intensifies your orgasm times 50."

Using meth has other attractions, as well.

"You can stay up all night and party or clean the house 'til it's spotless," says Joe, who lives in Fairview Heights. "You don't feel messed up at all."

Unlike cocaine, which is a plant-based stimulant, methamphetamines are man-made chemicals, the strongest form of a class of drugs called amphetamines.

Methamphetamines are relatively cheap and easy to produce. Although cocaine costs about half as much as meth per gram, a cocaine high lasts for hours while a meth high lasts for days.

A dose of anger
Dr. Debra Harris, a research physician in the Substance Dependence Program at the Cincinnati Veterans Administration Medical Center, says methamphetamines are more insidious because, while meth and cocaine are both able to cause serious heart problems, cocaine users seem more able to feel heartbeat irregularities and were therefore more likely to seek emergency medical treatment when needed.

Eli, a meth user in Clifton, draws the distinction in another way.

"The difference is, you do meth, you can actually get something done," he says. "Cocaine and crack get you high, while meth gives you energy and focus. I can do the work of 10 people on meth."

Instant wonder drugs, amphetamines and methamphetamines have been prescribed for everything from bronchitis to obesity and are still being prescribed for childhood and adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

The major difference between the meth at the pharmacy and the meth on the street is the purity of the drug. A gram of "ice," the purest form of street meth, can contain nearly 100 times the medical dose of methamphetamine. Street meth can even be made by extracting the methamphetamine from prescription pills.

First synthesized in 1919 from ephedrine, methamphetamines were used on both sides of World War II. Hitler had daily injections of these "vitamins" for years. The U.S. military still gives small doses of these drugs to pilots in order to fight fatigue and improve mental alertness on long flights and during combat.

Scientists don't know exactly how narcotic stimulants work, but it's believed they cause the brain to release monoamines, the chemicals that unlock the body's full potential for speed, strength and focus in times of crisis. These natural abilities are intended to be used only in short spurts during life-threatening situations.

Remaining in this intense state of arousal for hours, or even days, puts a dangerous amount of stress on the body, particularly the heart. The additional problems of lack of sleep and poor nutrition cause the bodies of stimulant addicts to become severely aged and weakened.

Meth addiction is more than a personal health issue; its effects on others can be devastating.

"I feel guilty 'cause my family don't know," says Tim, 49, from Lockland. "I get mad at myself for spending the money, and I don't know what I'm going to tell my wife."

He describes guilt-ridden, sleepless nights and remorse over times he has lashed out at his unsuspecting family.

"I yell at the kids, and they don't even know why," Tim says. "Man, I don't even know why, and then I get mad at myself for yelling at them."

Joe also talked about lashing out while coming down from meth.

"When you're crashing, you get cold sweats and you start shaking," he says. "You start biting your lip or your fingernails or your tongue. You can sleep for a day or two after you crash, and you don't feel like you slept at all. Everything is irritating. You'll just get pissed off about nothing. You feel like you have to do more because you want to feel good again."

'It controls you'
Ryan once attended a court-ordered treatment facility, still high on speed from earlier that day.

"I went to bed at Talbert House and woke up at Christ Hospital," he says. "I started having convulsions during the night, and they called the paramedics. I told them (Talbert House) it was from a head injury I had a while ago, and they believed me. As soon as I was released from the hospital, I walked home and tore my place up looking for more. That's what it does. I woke up in the fucking hospital, and I didn't even care."

Typically manufactured in rural areas, where the distinctive odor is less likely to be detected and attract police, meth is working its way into Greater Cincinnati. In September the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office started a meth unit to specialize in cases involving the manufacture of methamphetamines.

"It's still in its very infancy," says Assistant Prosecutor Bill Ranaghan, head of the new meth unit. "One of the things we're working on is trying to become more organized with this."

The major problem with prosecuting individuals who cook meth is that the ingredients, such as Sudafed, are legal by themselves, Ranaghan says. Suspects caught with a large quantity of a single ingredient can't be charged unless it can be proven they've used it to cook meth.

A bill pending in the Ohio Senate would make it illegal to possess more than 24 grams of pseudoephedrine — about 80 over-the-counter tablets. The bill would also toughen the penalties associated with methamphetamines and impose mandatory minimum sentences.

There's no guarantee, of course, that new laws will work any better than existing laws on drugs.

All the users who spoke to CityBeat agreed that a person can't be forced to stop using drugs; they have to want to stop.

"I started looking around at the people I was hanging out with," Ryan says. "They're a bunch of losers. I love 'em, they're good people, but they're losers. I can't be like them. I don't want to be a loser."

Most of the meth users interviewed say they're trying to quit, and all of them agreed that the drug is bad news.

"You can't control it; it controls you," Ryan says. ©