Methamphetamine, either as powder or crystalline chunks, is a highly addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally.
Its street names include "meth," "ice," "crystal," "speed" and "tina." It is homemade, cheap, quick and easy to brew, and the ingredients -- and the recipe -- are readily available.
"A ‘how to make meth' search on Google delivered 1,760,000 sites in 0.6 seconds and the very first site gave step-by-step cooking instructions," said Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin at an Aug. 31 press conference.
Users claim it is the "ultimate high," which initially exaggerates their emotional responses -- they believe they are stronger, smarter, sexier, "larger than life," and have unbelievable stamina. They can stay awake for days and then sleep for days. Users may become addicted quickly, and use it with increasing frequency and in increasing doses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The physiological effects of meth include rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and damage to the small blood vessels -- all of which can lead to stroke from just a single use. Chronic abuse can result in inflammation of the heart lining, and an overdose can cause hyperthermia, convulsions and death.
Within a very short time, meth users suffer severe weight loss, begin to display skeletal facial features, often with open sores, show accelerated signs of aging, and rapid dental deterioration. The dental phenomenon is commonly referred to as "meth mouth."
"(Meth mouth) causes very rapid decay of the teeth," Dr. Patricia Winterholler of Payson Dental Care said. "You could see someone with relatively good dental health and see them six months later, after they have been regularly using meth, and their teeth are broken off at the gums."
Meth mouth is primarily marked by gum-line lesions and cavities similar to the "dry-mouth" side effect of radiation treatments and chemotherapy, according to an article in ADA News, the American Dental Association's newspaper.
Dentists in the same article reported treating patients who, while high, pulled their own teeth out, and then "tweaked" or used meth again to kill the pain.
She said she started seeing the problem about two years ago, and at first, she and others in the dental community thought the decaying hygiene was due to excessive consumption of soda pop. The dental community has since noted the difference.
Winterholler said an average of two to three cases of meth mouth come in every month to her Payson practice.
"(Meth mouth) is a problem we are seeing in our community," Winterholler said.
Winterholler said teeth with gum-line cavities, if caught early enough, can be saved with fillings. More often though, full-mouth extractions and dentures are used to treat meth mouth.
In addition to the physical problems, users also may have episodes of violent behavior, paranoia, anxiety, confusion and insomnia. These psychotic symptoms can persist for months or years, even after successfully kicking meth.
The meth problem plagues entire communities. The crippling reach of meth abuse has become the nation's leading drug problem, according to a survey by the National Association of Counties.
To learn more about methamphetamine use, talk to your personal physician or contact Rim Guidance Center at (928) 474-3303. Counselors in private practice can also provide information and direction. Shannon Spellman of Veritas Counseling Center, with offices in both Payson and Phoenix, is used by the Gila County Drug Court program, which is designed to be intensive, provide immediate consequences and group support for sobriety. She can be reached at (928) 474-3504.