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Methamphetamine wreaks havoc on brain, body

Methamphetamine is a central-nervous-system stimulant that increases the heart rate and blood pressure. In the long term, it can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, causing strokes. It can cause respiratory problems, irregular heartbeat and anorexia. And it can lead to death by seizure, coma, heart attack or overdose, although pure overdoses are rare.

In early stages of use, meth releases high levels of dopamine Ñ the neurotransmitter that enhances mood and body movement Ñ providing an intense rush. Over time, it damages brain cells that contain dopamine and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that at low levels causes depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, hunger, aggressive behavior, sleep resistance and distorted perception.

Meth also causes movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease and often leads to more frequent use in increased doses to keep from feeling down.

According to police, drug experts and physicians, the prototypical meth user is a white man in his 30s with a sixth-grade education. Many have gaunt faces with angular cheekbones because of malnutrition, and long, unkempt hair because personal hygiene is not a priority.

Users sweat a lot because meth cranks up their metabolism. Often, their teeth are rotten or missing because of bad dental care, habitual grinding, and lack of insurance. Many have open sores from rubbing their bodies incessantly; 'tweakers' crave nonstop movement but lack focus.

When they're high, users feel an obsessive need to pursue behaviors such as talking nonstop and collecting miscellaneous items such as cars, rings of keys, purses, jewelry and junk.

They become paranoid, often keeping knives or guns around. Many have lost their jobs and often commit property crimes to afford their habit.

Many female meth users are beaten or sexually abused by the men they live with or are used to carry out tasks such as driving to and from burglaries or picking up meth cooking supplies. Children are neglected.

Ñ Jennifer Anderson