Acadia hospital is just one of the places across Maine working with addicts to help beat addiction. Doctor Vijay Amarendran works at the hospital and explained what makes meth so addicting.
“Methamphetamine is a stimulant that is like stimulant medications that we take for ADHD. The difference between the ADHD medication amphetamines and methamphetamine is methamphetamine has a much higher rate of getting in to your brain.”
Meth increases the amount of dopamine, a natural chemical, in the brain, causing a false sense of high and pleasure. But Amarendran says that it also causes severe short term health issues.
“It also increases blood pressure, it increases heart rate, increases blood supply for the skin. It constricts the blood vessels which go to your heart so if you take too much you could have a heart attack.”
Long term, meth can cause mania, mood swings, and dental decay, also known as “meth mouth.” Dr. Amarendran says the signs of addiction can be easy to spot if you know what to look for.
“You can probably observe it by just watching them talk It’s like somebody who had ten pots of coffee for example. So they are talking fast, their highly pressured, they can be easily irritable. They are highly active for a couple of days and then they really go to sleep for two more days after that, so the crash-binge pattern.”
So how do you treat an addiction to meth?
“The best treatment available right now is psychosocial treatment,” explains Amarendran. “There’s a treatment model that has been very well studied and very well established to help with methamphetamine addiction which includes contingency management. You incentives the behaviors that you want to see.”
Contingency management is a method that can help brings a sense of normalcy back to the lives of patients.
“Over time, people lose their sensitivity for natural reward like food and human interactions and don’t feel pleasurable anymore. You’re retiring your reward center to not just respond to methamphetamine but also respond to other rewarding things.”
But of course, Dr. Amarendran says prevention is better than any cure.
One of the measures being taken by pharmacies nationwide is to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine purchased over the counter. The drug which is typically used to ease cold symptoms is also a key ingredient in meth. We spoke with Greg Cameron from the School of Pharmacy at Husson University.
“You’re allowed 3.6 grams of Sudafed under one transaction in a 24 hour period which is a large sized Sudafed box. In 30 days, you’re allowed nine grams. So we’re talking about just under three boxes.”
The medicine is regulated by every pharmacist in the country. But the precautions have not ceased the illegal use of pseudoephedrine.
“Pharmacies now have to be part of the national database where they enter information in to that and it’s actually a live database. If you use somebody else to do the buying for you, there is no real way for the pharmacist to control that.”