Drug counselor Kathy Watt spoke with visitors to a Court TV/Yahoo! chat room about methamphetamine, the new drug of choice.
Court TV Host: We're going to be talking about what is quickly becoming America's new drug of choice – methamphetamine. We're going to be talking to a drug counselor, Kathy Watt, who is executive director of Van Ness House, a treatment center that specializes in the treatment of gay, lesbian, and transgendered addicts. Meth, as it is sometimes called for short, has been used particularly heavily in the gay community. But, as the Court TV documentary, 'Dangerous High: The Meth Explosion' showed, it's by no means limited to any group, and, in fact, meth is hitting many places and people who were not hit by other drug epidemics. Okay, Kathy Watt is here...
Question: Hasn't Meth been around & abused for years? Why the big outcry now?
Kathy Watt: It has been around for years and years and years. In its earlier periods of use, it was used to party longer, or work longer hours. It was used as a diet drug, and now, it's used by truck drivers to work longer hours, That means we have impaired 18-wheeler drivers. It's being used by "Super Moms," but that means we have impaired mothers out there. And it's being used by underage people, who mix it with other stuff, and it can be physically harming. In the gay community, it's being used in sexual situations, so that with HIV and AIDS, it makes the sex all the more high risk.
Question: What makes meth so addictive?
Kathy Watt: It can be deceiving in its ability to cause someone to become addicted. It's a stimulant drug. Once you have a drug that stimulates the brain, you want to keep having that feeling, and it gets used over a period of time, then your brain wants more. And it can be very tricky or manipulative. You keep telling yourself that you have business reasons to use it, like your business downsizes, and it becomes something that harms you.
Question: Why don't you start by giving us your credentials, Kathy?
Kathy Watt: I've worked in the field of drug abuse and alcoholism for 12 years. In 1997, we did an ethnography, which is a study following a number of crystal meth addicts, and that catapulted me into getting on the cutting edge of trying to learn what crystal meth was doing in the gay communty. And we currently have two crystal meth studies going on by NIDA, which is the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Van Ness Recovery House, where I am executive director, has a variety of services ranging from residential recovery, outpatient targeted specifically to crystal meth users and street outreach education and prevention. 80% of the people I work with, their drug of choice is crystal meth. In the early 90's it was cocaine and crack.
Question: What are some of the popular ways of using meth?
Kathy Watt: Inhaling it, shooting it, injecting it without a needle using a syringe in your rear end, and smoking it. If you take it orally or snort it, the rush is very quick, You also run the risk with snorting it, of your mouth breaking out into sores, which put you at risk of HIV if you're having oral sex. Injecting into a vein is dangerous a) because you're using a needle and you have to make sure it's clean and 2) there are all the things that can go wrong in injecting. And putting it in your rear end can cause sores which then put you at higher risk for HIV if you're having anal-receptive sex.
Question: How much does meth impair drivers? I though meth was designed for fighter pilots?
Kathy Watt: Because a drug is designed, or the impression is given that it's made to keep you awake, doesn't mean that there aren't other effects that come from the drug that make your ability to perform less, like irritability, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia, and aggressiveness. It also, while increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, can cause irreversible damage to your blood vessels and can increase blood pressure, producing strokes. You can also have respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat, which can lead to cardio-vascular collapse and death.
Court TV Host: One of the women in the documentary talked about how it ate away at her teeth?
Kathy Watt: If you snort it, or put it on your gums, it can eat away your gums and in turn then, you don't eat or hydrate yourself properly, and just as in any other form of malnutrition, your teeth rot.
Question: Having tried meth a few times, I can see no use for meth as a "sex" drug, can you explain?
Kathy Watt: It causes a rush in your body, a rush, in your nervous system, and it becomes highly stimulated. So for many people, sex feels a heightened experience, the orgasm feels stronger, the whole episode feels stronger. But in men, prolonged use can lead to problems with erection.
Question: Who invented this stuff, and how did the general population learn to make it?
Kathy Watt: It's been around since the 30s or 40s. You can buy the ingredients over the counter. They have recipes for it on the Internet. The part I know about is where the truck drivers are the distributors and runners. It makes it to communities that it didn't get to before because the route of those people takes it to places that haven't had large amounts of drug use before. Idaho has very heavy use. Parts of the Midwest have very large use. In any town, 2 or 3 people using it can snowball into lots more people. If it's working good for you, then I'm going to want it for me.
Question: Can you talk about the connection between sex, meth and HIV?
Kathy Watt: For 20 years, there's been a lot money spent on educating people about the high risks of HIV and sexual transmission, and now we have a drug that is used in some communities to enhance sexual experiences, and whether you mean for it to happen or not, all drugs alter your decision-making. Where someone might have tight boundaries for what they wont do sexually, when you become impaired you will take risks, or you could be burnt out on not using condoms, or not having anal sex, or you might just be tired of taking precautions and meth will help you lose your inhibitions, or just help you block out the inhibitions that would otherwise be there.
Question: I've heard meth addiction is very difficult to recover from. Is it possible for someone to recover without professional assistance?
Kathy Watt: Yes, I think no matter the addiction, if somebody can get honest with themselves, and say "I'm tired of these consequences," they can find other forms of support other than professional help. Many people recover from all types of addictions without professional help. Of all the people in recovery in the U.S. from whatever drug or alcohol problem, the majority have not had professional help. They may have the help or support of twelve-step meetings or other recovery groups, or they may be able to stop on their own.
Question: What are the long term effects even after stopping use?
Kathy Watt: You can have fatal kidney and lung disorders, brain damage, permanent psychological problems, like psychosis and paranoia, that just don't go away. Lower resistance to other diseases because it's harder on your system, liver damage, and strokes.
Question: Does it affect men and women the same?
Kathy Watt: Yes, so far as anybody knows.
Question: How do you tell if kids are on the stuff?
Kathy Watt: For most people, one of the side effects is paranoia. Disturbed sleep patterns, weight loss, A lot of sweating. Moodiness. Irritability. So a kid who's normally quiet or who goes with the flow, can become a kid who's aggressive and fighting.
Question: Is meth abuse as prevalent in other countries as it is here?
Kathy Watt: Not that we know of. It's not even as prevalent here on the East coast as it is on the West coast and in the Midwest. But I'm sure speed is used everywhere.
Court TV Host: Why more prevalent on the west coast? Do you think it will become just as common the East Coast?
Kathy Watt: So far on the West coast, it's in the heterosexual community on truck routes on the highways. And in the gay community, you have four big gay communities in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, along with Portland and Phoenix. In the Midwest, there are all kinds of truck routes. We just don't see the large number of people using on the East Coast yet, But that's not to say that we won't. No drug has remained regional yet.
Question: I heard some people use this as a meal suppressant?
Kathy Watt: Lots of people get addicted to speed because ephedrine is used in many diet medications, and that's one of the ingredients in methamphetamine.
Question: What does this stuff look like?
Kathy Watt: Sugar. Not powdered sugar but sugar.
Question: Can it cause "flashbacks" like LSD?
Kathy Watt: I don't know. I haven't heard anyone talk about that. It's mostly paranoia and psychosis, but I haven't read anything about flashbacks or had anyone who's talked about it.
Question: I have many friends who do meth, and they seem to be fine most of the time.
Kathy Watt: It's a very seductive drug. I also know lots of people who did meth, and their friends had no clue.
Question: How come there isn't a substitute, like methadone for heroin?
Kathy Watt: They haven't come out with one yet. There are a couple of studies coming out with a number of drugs, but currently anti-depressants are used, and the anti-depressants that are used affect serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter in the brain which deals with depression and drug craving.
Question: Does crack use look like "the good old days" compared to meth use?
Kathy Watt: If you do some crack and you want to do it again, you can. Crack is very expensive compared to meth. You can go into the bathroom and do some meth, and not need to do it again for 8 or 10 hours, or a day. But most of the people I know who do crack, chase it and chase it and chase it. There's not a saturation point. There's a saturation point with meth in that you would be on a run for days, two or three or four days, and then you'd need to recover and sleep for days. I'm a recovering cocaine addict, and I'm grateful that meth wasn't in my picture. I'm sure I'd be dead. I did cocaine for sixteen years.
Question: A speaker came to my school and spoke to us about his ecstasy use and that made me want to do it.
Kathy Watt: Sometimes when people talk about drugs or drug use, it's very normal to think, hey, I've got to go try that. What you have to know is that that story doesn't stop with two or three days of good use. You can run into the same side effects as with crystal meth and cocaine. Paranoia, nausea, blurred vision and increase in blood pressure.
Question: Is there anything someone can take to help get over the withdrawals?
Kathy Watt: The different anti-depressants that we talked about – prozac, trazodone, desipramine. But it all needs to be done with a doctor's help.
Question: I know using meth robs your body of many nutrients. If someone wanted to quit, should they take supplements and, if so, which ones?
Kathy Watt: Gatorade, or anything that would get liquids back in your body. Vitamins. Anything with electrolytes.
Question: Does it smell or taste like anything
Kathy Watt: When it's coming out in your sweat, it smells. When it comes out, it has its own odor. When it goes in, I don't know anyone who sticks around to see if there's a smell. When it's being manufactured with heat, which is very dangerous, it has a scent, an odor, which is why many labs are found and consequently, they've gone to a cold manufacturing system, where they don't have to use the heat anymore.
Question: What are Americans doing to resolve the problem
Kathy Watt: People like me are trying to make it okay for people to talk about it. And to make sure that people know that there is an up side and a down side, because if all people ever hear about is the up side, then they'll try it. But you have to realize that people try all sorts of different things in life TV promotes risk taking and adrenaline-seeking. As long as people aren't trying these things secretively, we have a chance to not have so many troubles.
Court TV Host: Thank you for joining us.
Kathy Watt: Thank you.