Meth making a malfeasant mess of Florida

The drug scene has changed drastically in the past few years. When I was in high school, marijuana was the popular drug among teens and young adults. However, crystal methamphetamine – also known as crystal meth or meth – has risen in popularity and is a problem in metropolitan areas across the nation.

Crystal meth is a highly addictive and abused stimulant that excites brain cells, causing the user to experience enhanced moods and hyperactivity. According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, a person high on meth can be very productive and stay up for three to four days. Though meth users seem industrious, they start experiencing manic behavior and will eventually crash, sometimes falling asleep for several days.

The drug damages brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is naturally secreted by the brain, which gives people a euphoric feeling when they do a good job on a test or want to be intimate. However, research shows that prolonged use may encourage the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

According to an article in USA Today, crystal meth has become very popular among those seeking a cheaper substitute for cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Meth is cheaper than those drugs, as one dose costs between $5 and $15. The 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found 12.3 million Americans age 12 and older have tried meth at least once, and the majority of past-year users are between the ages of 18 and 34.

Another reason for the drug’s growing popularity is how easy it is to obtain a recipe for make. The drug is made from a mixture of easily available ingredients, such as lye, fertilizers and over-the-counter cold medications such as Sudafed. Information about the production of the drug abounds on the Internet.

The meth problem first started on the West coast. The 2006 NSDUH showed 12 states, including Nevada, Wyoming and Montana, ranked among the top third of states for past year’s meth use. As the drug grew more popular, it began to spread rapidly throughout the East and Midwest. The USA Today article states that in 2002, local police and U.S. agents closed down 1,039 labs in Missouri, 321 in Illinois, 89 in Florida and 85 in Georgia.

The Florida Department of Financial Services reported the number of meth labs has increased more than 1,000 percent in the past four years. Twenty-nine meth labs were shut down in 2001, and that number jumped to 338 in 2005. The state spent $832,116 removing them.

Hillsborough County is starting an ad campaign called “Meth Not Even Once” to keep teens from trying crystal meth. The campaign is based on a similar campaign that was launched in September 2005 in Montana, where the user rate increased above the national average. A state law was even put into effect to limit the sale of some over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine because they are used to make meth.

In a Sept. 18 article in the St. Petersburg Times, Lt. Gary Ganey, commander of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, said the addiction factor of meth is so high that a person who begins using meth has less than a 10 percent chance of getting off it.

Florida’s meth problem is increasing fast. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration claims the Tampa Bay area is Florida’s hub for both meth distribution and abuse. However, the rest of the state is not off the hook. The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) asserts North Florida is more of a distributor because of its rural landscape: Meth lab odors are harder to detect in rural areas than in urban areas. South Florida has a large population of meth users because it’s popular in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale club scene.

Polk County, where meth abuse is prevalent, is starting to see an increase in hepatitis A cases. The NDIC Web site states 227 residents have been diagnosed with hepatitis A as of December 2002, compared with 15 cases in 2000 and 164 in 2001. Health Department officials say the spread of hepatitis A is being caused by the poor hygiene of meth abusers.

Contracting hepatitis A is not the only bad effect meth can have one’s body – many meth abusers tend to lose weight rapidly. The St. Petersburg Times article said law enforcement in Hillsborough County has noticed meth use increasing among young women because they are using the drug as a weight-loss solution. Little do they know the other side effects such as lack of sleep, sores and scabs on their skin, serious tooth decay and death.

Through increasing awareness with television and billboards ads and the creation of laws to discourage people to use and manufacture the drug, America needs to clean up and eventually stop the mess meth has created.

Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.