Fighting Meth

By: Philip Stewart
By: Philip Stewart

November 30, 2006

Thursday was Methamphetamine Awareness Day. The U.S. Attorney General led a panel discussion on the dangers of methamphetamine use.

The panel discussed what people and communities can do to address the problem of meth use. It's an issue UVa's Center for Addiction Research in Albemarle County is familiar with. The center is doing a study that could help people addicted to meth overcome the very powerful drug.

"If it continues to grow at the rate it's been growing, it may become the drug of the century," said Dr. Nassima Ait-Daoud, the director of the clinic.

Crystal Meth is a dangerously addictive stimulant that is on the rise right in Virginia. Since just 2004 the discovery of so-called Meth Labs, where the drug is made, is up more than 300% in the Commonwealth.

"To us, it tells us that the meth problem is going to be huge in Virginia in the next few years," said Ait-Daoud.

UVa's Center for Addiction Research is looking for a way to help those hooked on meth overcome the addiction. With a grant from the National Institute of Health, the center is treating meth users with a drug called Toperimate. It's generally used to treat seizure disorders.

"We did research on it," explained Ait-Daoud. "(Toperimate) previously, helped alcohol-dependent patients, helped cocaine-dependent patients, so now we're trying on methamphetamine dependence."

But those dependent on the drug aren't just in Virginia. According to the U.S. government, meth is increasing all along the east coast.

It's cheap and easy to make, and when used, creates a feeling of pleasure and confidence.

"Methamphetamine is one of the most addictive of all of the drugs of abuse," said Nora Volkow, of the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

And there is no "typical" user. The drug hooks experimental teens just as easily as it does working moms.

In fact, women account for 45% of addicts seeking help. That's higher than for any other drugs.

"You feel like you are really a superman, you can do a lot of things, so that pushes a lot of people to do more of it, and they don't see the consequences very quickly," said Ait-Daoud.

The consequences are severe. They include paranoia, tooth decay, hair loss, stroke, and even death.

Ait-Daoud said when they started the program, they really didn't expect many calls. But now receiving numerous calls from people in Charlottesville asking for help.

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