Methamphetamine use is on the rise in the Pacific Northwest. Users of this powerful stimulant often bring crime and violence to their communities. Being able to recognize when a person is on methamphetamine could help you alert police to a potential problem.

To onlookers, methamphetamine users usually appear nervous, irritable, aggressive and hyperactive. Their pupils are dilated and they sweat more than usual. They may talk constantly, clench their jaw or grind their teeth, and pick at their skin or hair. They may be very thin due to the appetite-suppressant effect of the drug. Most meth users are white and in their late teens, 20s or 30s.

If you come across a person who is acting in this manner, it is very possible they are on methamphetamine. Their thoughts and actions are not likely to be rational, and they can be unpredictable and violent. The best thing to do is to get away from them and to call the police, especially if you feel they are likely to harm others or themselves.

Methamphetamine labs can be set up anywhere. Clues, which can tip you off to the presence of a lab, include odors like cat urine, ether, ammonia or acetone. Windows may be covered or painted. Look for trash such as antifreeze containers, starter fluid and drain cleaners. Be suspicious of places with people constantly coming and going, especially at night. If you suspect a drug lab is in your area, notify the local police.

With prolonged use, methamphetamine users can resemble people with schizophrenia. They can be paranoid, hallucinate, repeat the same words over and over, have delusions of parasites or insects crawling on their skin, and they may have homicidal or suicidal thoughts. Eventually, physical deterioration, permanent psychological problems and brain damage occur.

If users stop taking methamphetamine, they will go through an intense withdrawal with severe depression and fatigue. These withdrawal symptoms make it difficult for users to get out of the cycle of addiction without professional help.

If you are a regular newspaper reader, you have probably noticed a disturbing increase in the number of methamphetamine arrests and lab busts over the past few years. The Drug Enforcement Agency reported the seizure of 1,477 clandestine methamphetamine laboratories in Washington and 584 in Oregon in 2001. These numbers show a significant upward trend since the early 1990s, indicating this is a problem that is getting worse and will be continue to have an impact on our communities.

Methamphetamine is also known as meth, crank, ice, glass, speed or crystal. It can be made from common ingredients such as pseudoephedrine (an over-the-counter decongestant), lithium (from batteries) and anhydrous ammonia (a nitrogen fertilizer). The production process creates toxic gases and chemical wastes which are difficult and expensive to clean up. Explosions in meth labs are a dangerous risk. The potential for violence by users is high, since the drug causes aggressive and unpredictable behavior. Crime rates rise as users turn to crime to fund their habits. The "Superman Syndrome" can lead users to believe that they are invincible so they take dangerous risks while driving, endangering themselves and others. Child neglect and abuse are common, and methamphetamine use in the home often leads to children being placed in foster care.

Methamphetamine users can take the drug by mouth in a gel capsule, by snorting the powder, by intravenous injection or by smoking. It causes an immediate euphoric sensation and feelings of increased energy and decreased appetite. This is such a pleasurable experience for the user that it leads to continued use, with increasing frequency and in increasingly higher doses.

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