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UI psychiatrist notes a growing number of methamphetamine treatment cases

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Arrests for methamphetamine production and distribution continue to make news headlines across Iowa and the Midwest. Not surprisingly, the number of people seeking help for methamphetamine abuse is on the rise, according to a University of Iowa psychiatrist who treats users of the highly addictive drug.

At the UI Hospitals and Clinics' Chemical Dependency Service, there has "definitely been an increase in the number of 'meth' cases over the past couple of years," said Brian Cook, D.O., UI associate professor of psychiatry. "Moreover, we're seeing more methamphetamine use among the

18-25 age group which, along with people in their late 20s and 30s, is the main group of methamphetamine users."

Cook estimated that more than half of the individuals under age 25 who have received treatment at the Chemical Dependency Service since it moved from the UI's Oakdale Research Campus to the UIHC earlier this year have sought help for methamphetamine use.

Methamphetamine is a powerful synthetic drug made by combining a number of substances. Its two major precursor chemicals are ephedrine and psuedoephedrine, which are found in many common cold and asthma medications. Methamphetamine "cooks" mix ephedrine or psuedoephedrine with other chemically-based products ­ such as drain cleaner, battery acid, ether, ammonia, lye, lantern fuel or antifreeze ­ to make the drug. A makeshift methamphetamine lab can fit in a suitcase and literally hundreds of "recipes" for the drug exist. As police and news reports have indicated, these labs are being found in rural, urban and suburban settings all over Iowa and the Midwest.

Methamphetamine affects the body's central nervous system, stimulating the reward center of the brain. The drug influences the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in producing feelings of pleasure or euphoria, in the brain. After the initial high, methamphetamine users will "come down," feeling depressed or irritable. Since the drug also suppresses the regular production of dopamine, users physically demand more of the drug to return to normal. This pleasure/tension cycle eventually can lead to addiction.

"Methamphetamine is similar to cocaine in how it affects the body," Cook said, "but the high lasts a lot longer." Plus, methamphetamine users quickly become tolerant of the drug's euphoric effects, as well as its physical side effects.

"Meth users ultimately end up chasing a higher high," Cook said. "They put themselves more at risk for the drug's serious side effects ­ such as increased heart and blood pressure rates, irritability, paranoia, delusions and aggression." Cook noted that whereas a cocaine binge could last up to three days, it's not uncommon for methamphetamine users to go on a five to 10 day binge.

At the UI Chemical Dependency Service, a typical inpatient treatment for methamphetamine addiction will last between 10 days and two weeks, Cook said. The first few days of treatment involves detoxification, monitoring blood pressure and stabilizing any physical symptoms, and watching for depression, suicidal tendencies or other psychiatric symptoms. Next, patients undergo counseling or group therapy sessions and discuss lifestyle changes to help maintain abstinence.

"It's a very tough drug. People continue to crave it long after they've undergone treatment," Cook said. "Unfortunately, relapses are common."

To find out about treatment options for methamphetamine or other chemical substances, contact the UI Chemical Dependency Service, 24 hours a day, at (319) 384-8765.

10/8/98