Crystal meth has become a staple drug among some groups that exist on the dark fringes of society, such as Satanic cults, supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and biker gangs like Hell's Angels, which manufactured and trafficked a milder form of meth until 1980 when access to the solvent, phenyl-2-propanone, became restricted. Unlike past drug epidemics that emerged from the urban ghettos like crack cocaine, demand for meth is being driven by all socio-economic groups and affecting practically every level of society, with use equally divided between males and femails, including:
• School and college age students to boost performance while studying for exams;
• Type A personalities in fast-paced jobs that require a lot of mental energy;
• Baseball players who compete in up to 150 games a season;
• Prisoners who sell their urine to other meth-addicted prisoners;
• Cross-country truckers (meth dealers regularly ply their trade at truck stops);
• Middle-class "supermoms" struggling to cope with the demands of work and home, contributing to a rise in abused and neglected children;
• Meatpackers, whose appalling working conditions and repetitive, long hours lead many to use meth, often supplied by supervisors in return for "favours";
• A tough-on-drugs prosecutor in Denton, Texas, who showed no mercy for people caught in possession of meth and was himself busted for possession;
• An entire town in Iowa, as filmed in a 2003 documentary by HBO, where every single inhabitant - including the Mayor - is addicted.
Pressure is mounting for Ritalin and other meth-
like stimulants like Adderall and Dexedrine to be banned amid fears that America is spawning a nation of docile "zombie kids".
Three million hyperactive American children - one in every five kids - take Ritalin to boost attention levels and overcome learning difficulties and behavioral problems like hyperactivity, restlessness and impulsivity caused by excess energy, despite research showing that long-term use adversely alters the functioning of the brain leading to permanent damage such as shrinkage and long-term changes including psychosis, depression, insomnia, agitation, addiction, daily withdrawal reactions, inattention and suicidal tendencies; all symptoms of advanced meth use. Ritalin has been implicated in the deaths of over 50 American children and adults.
In Britain, where Ritalin was virtually unheard of in the early 1990s, NHS spending on drugs to treat ADHD in children has tripled in five years, with almost 400,000 between the ages of five and 19 now receiving treatments costing the National Health Service over £28 million a year, while in Australia, prescriptions for Ritalin have increased 10-fold to 5,800 a day since August 2005 when the drug was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the first time, making it affordable to average and low-income earners. In addition to more than 20 fatalities, almost 400 serious adverse reactions ranging from strokes, heart attacks, hallucinations and convulsions to hair loss, insomnia and severe weight loss have been reported in Australian children as young as three using these drugs.
ADHD individuals are naturally empathic, intuitive and creative - Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Einstein each displayed ADHD traits - yet often suffer from low self-esteem and have difficulties forming friendships, making them vastly misunderstood by society. ADHD is a non-proven medical condition, yet children are routinely prescribed speed as a quick fix for unruly behaviour; a market which exceeds US$600m a year in the US alone. "I am convinced that the pharmaceutical industry spends enormous amounts of money to increase its sales and profits by influencing physicians and the public in ways that sometimes bend the truth, and that are not often in the best interest of science or the public," said Dr. Elliot Valenstein, a University of Michigan neuroscientist speaking out against Ritalin.
Drugged into compliance, Ritalin blunts the creative abilities of ADHD children and triggers many to instead channel their excess energy into negative, destructive behaviour and onward to a life of crime. The US prison population comprises a vastly disproportionate number of inmates with ADHD symptoms. "Do we want a society that pathologises non-compliance and values conformity over individuality, creativity and free expression?" asks Dr. Bob Jacobs, a child psychologist and spokesperson for the Children's Rights Network of Amnesty International. For many children diagnosed with ADHD, Ritalin has been a gateway drug to meth.
The US Air Force continues to routinely supply speed to pilots in the form of Dexedrine ("go-pills"), which has been implicated in several "friendly fire" deaths.
Dexedrine's chemical structure is identical to meth, helping the user to stay awake and hyper-alert during arduous missions. The pills are administered voluntarily and some F16 fighter pilots have openly attributed "friendly fire" deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq to overly aggressive behaviour induced by the drug. During the 1991 Gulf War 57% of pilots used speed, and in some units consumption was more than 96%. Dexedrine was implicated in a friendly fire incident in Iraq in April 2003, in which four Canadian soldiers were killed and eight others injured.
Also in Iraq, three British soldiers wounded in a 2003 attack by an American A10 tank-buster jet that killed one of their colleagues noted that the wired pilot appeared to show "no regard for human life". Other amphetamine-like drugs include Provigil, used extensively by the US military in Iraq to keep forces alert for up to 40 hours, and Modafinil pills, or "zombies", which are dispensed by the Ministry of Defence to UK troops to treat sleep disorders. [Alerted to LIFE OR METH's information, the British television network channel, C4, ran a report - Pilots on Speed - in their primetime news program on 1 May 2003]
The physical effects on societies plagued by meth addiction are catastrophic - deaths, car crashes, crime, illegal labs fires, hazardous waste... - but the psychological toll on users, and their families and friends, is incalculable.
Life or meth? The choice is yours... •
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