The Mask with Two Faces:

Pharmaceutical Use and Illegal Abuse of Methamphetamine

By Jewel Payne

 

History tells the Indian people to be cautious of anything with two faces, telling us one thing but doing another. Just as the "trickster" disguises himself in Native American folklore or the poisoned apple  in the story of Snow White maliciously infects the innocent maiden, so too does the deceitfulness of enticing drugs have a destructive outcome on their victims.

However, some drugs serve dual purposes. A variety of drugs are used both as a pharmaceutical treatment for certain diseases and as a deadly drug for the non-prescription clients. The Pawnee Eagle Chief describes this phenomenon through his memorable words:

All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With

Our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly. . .

We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the lefthand full

Of kindness near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may

Lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.

Even before the discovery of methamphetamines in the 1940s, amphetamines had been synthesized and widely used 60 years earlier. Although meth use has changed throughout the years, its physiological impact on the Central Nervous System (CNS) remained the same. Whether meth was used to treat a disease for medicinal purposes or to reach beyond the simple consciousness for recreational purposes, it became a popular drug among a variety of users during each decade after its initial appearance.

Legal drug use around the world, as well as within the country, makes up a significant percentage of the national economy. Total worldwide drug sales were $145 billion in 1998 and are expected to reach $271.2 billion in 2003. Drug sales in the United States alone, were $94.5 billion and are expected to grow to $186.5 billion by the year 2003. Drugs are used by society for many reasons. They can be used to reduce a painful state, reduce anxiety, suppress shyness, treat serious illnesses, seek stimulation and power in social situations, or to explore spirituality beyond the conscious state.

Amphetamine, particularly with its stimulatory effects, is used to treat obesity, narcolepsy, and Attention Deficit Disorder. However, despite its impact in the medical arena, meth is one of the major illegal drugs abused today. Users include college students, truck drivers, overweight individuals, energy-craved fanatics, high school students, athletes, homemakers, and businesspersons.

While prescribed patients utilize the drug for treatment, recreational users abuse the drug for the "high" and the consequence is very detrimental for those not in need of its physiological effects. Most drugs have actions on the brain and the body in addition to those for which they were developed. Besides altering the body’s metabolism, destroying brain cells, and inducing psychological disorders, meth also overstimulates the CNS. This excessive stimulation creates a great risk for deadly scenarios such as cardiac collapse and stroke. Drugs remain on the prescription market because they offer the only opportunity to treat a medical condition and their potential side effects seem worth the risk if the drugs are used under medical supervision. Unless the drug is prescribed to treat a disorder, the consequences of the drug far outweigh the benefits by illegal users.

A pleasurable rush, excitable energy, and focused attention are misleading advertisements for the illegal meth economy. Many drug effects can be subtle enough to do a good deal of harm before the damage is recognized. Meth doesn’t reveal its negative impact until the user becomes addicted to its effects. The unavoidable addiction to meth creates intolerable withdrawal effects on its feeble prey, producing more devastating consequences than the imposed drug use.

Even nature expresses this deceiving characteristic as a vital technique for survival and dominance in the food chain. For example, the native South American chameleon has to camouflage into the surrounding environment to not only disguise his attack on his next meal, but also for shelter against being the main course for dinner to another predator. In the human race it is up to the individual if they choose to be the predator or the prey with drug use.

During war, the tactic of deception is also utilized by the opponents to seize the enemy by blending into the facades of the environment. Unless the opposing side is aware of their presence, they will become heroes written down forever in history. The difference between those fighting in battles and those on meth is that the drug users won’t be remembered as heroes, but instead as numbers in statistical data books.

On the flip side of the coin, meth is prescribed for patients with disorders that require medication to specifically alter the CNS activity. Amphetamines were first used in the medical field in 1932 as nasal inhalers for the treatment of nasal inflammation and congestion. Activation of the CNS causes the blood vessels to dilate, thus decreasing inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. By 1935, meth was used as an oral medication for narcolepsy because it stimulates the CNS and disrupts the automatic sleeping disorder.

Since then, amphetamines have been prescribed sporadically for a variety of illnesses.

Despite meth’s use in the medical arena, it is an illegal drug of preference for the energy-craved Americans of the 1990s. Since it is an important medication in disease treatment, many individuals feel it safe to illegally use the drug. However, in the medical field meth is tightly regulated, and the dosages are administered in monitored amounts. In contradiction, meth on the street is not made under monitored standards, may contain chemicals unknown to the user, and will often have devastating effects—sometimes death. It is comparable to playing a hand of cards without knowing what hand you are about to be dealt. Using illegal drugs is a game not worth gambling your life for.

The two faces of meth use are similar to the two faces of tobacco use in the Native American culture. While tobacco has historically been used for religious rituals as Native Americans burned and smoked the native plant of North America to experience spiritual connections with the Creator, it is used in different forms and for different reasons today. Contents of tobacco vary because of the different usage of the plant. The standard cigarette, for example, contains other chemical constituents such as nicotine, tar and gunpowder (yes, gunpowder is used in the paper for continuous burning) which promote addiction and therefore, contribute to the recreational as opposed to spiritual use of tobacco among the Native American people. Similarly, meth has a medicinal use and a dangerous recreational use.

Just as the flip of a coin can determine who will win and who will lose in a simple coin-toss game, the "hit" of meth could also decide life or death for the user. Unless the drug is prescribed by a medical professional, the risk of playing Russian Roulette is not worth taking your chances.

The statement by Eagle Chief, "One foot may lead us to an evil way, the other foot may lead us to a good," illustrates the decision we must make on our own. It is up to us to decide with which foot we will take our next step. After all, it just may be our last.

 

 

Glossary

 

·         Asthma- n. a condition characterized by paroxysmal attacks of bronchospasm, causing difficulty in breathing.

·         Attention Deficit Disorder- a syndrome affecting children, adolescents and adults characterized by short attention span, hyperactivity, and poor concentration. The symptoms may be mild or severe and are associated with functional deviations of the central nervous system without signs of major neurologic or psychiatric disturbance.

·         Bronchitis- n. inflammation of the bronchi.

·         Bronchospasm- n. narrowing of bronchi by muscular contraction in response to some stimulus, as in asthma and bronchitis.

·         Cerebral palsy- a developmental abnormality of the brain resulting in weakness and incoodination of the limbs.

·         Diabetic neuropathy- a noninflammatory disease process associated with diabetes mellitus and characterized by sensory and/or motor disturbances in the peripheral nervous system. Patients commonly experience degeneration of sensory nerves and pathways.

·         Hypotension- n. a condition in which the arterial blood pressure is abnormally low.

·         Meniere’s disease- a disease affecting the inner ear in which deafness is associated with buzzing in the ears (tinnitus) and vertigo.

·         Narcolepsy- n. an extreme tendency to fall asleep in quiet surroundings or when engaged in monotonous activities.

·         Obesity- n. the condition in which excess fat has accumulated in the body, mostly in the subcutaneous tissues. Obesity is usually considered to be present when a person is 20% above the recommended weight for his or her height and build.

·         Parkinson’s Disease- a disorder of middle-aged and elderly people characterized by tremor, rigidity, and a poverty of spontaneous movements.

·         Schizophrenia- n. a severe mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of the process of thinking, of contact with reality, and of emotional responsiveness.

·         Stokes-Adams attacks- attacks of temporary loss of consciousness that occur when blood flow ceases due to ventricular fibrillation or asystole.

·         Tourette’s syndrome- a condition of severe and multiple tics, including vocal tics and involuntary obscene speech.

·         Urinary incontinence- abnormal discharge of urine from the bladder through the urethra.

 

 

Resources

 

Anderson, Kenneth N. Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, & Allied Health Dictionary. (1998). Mosby Publishing Co.

The Bantam Medical Dictionary (Revised Edition). (1990). Bantam Publishing Co.

Biotechnology and medicine: People buy a lot of medicine. (1999, June). Economic Outlook, 27 (2).

Kuhn, Cynthia, Swartzwelder, Scott, and Wilson, Wilkie. Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1998.

Linden, C.H., Kulig, K.W., and Rumack, B.H. (1985). Amphetamines. Topics in Emergency Medicine, 7 (3), 18-32.

Murray, John B. (1998, March). Psychophysiological aspects of ampetamine-methamphetamine abuse. The Journal of Psychology, 132 (2), 227.

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