A training class in Elkins Thursday offered community members information about the problem of methamphetamine manufacturing and abuse.
The Harrison County Family Resource Network presented the training session at the Woodford Memorial United Methodist Church to a diverse crowd of around 30 people.
Elizabeth Shahan, executive director of Project SUCCESS Prevention Services, covered everything from the history of the drug, its ingredients and its affect on the body and the environment to how it is manufactured and how to recognize a meth lab. She also offered prevention strategies and addiction support and recovery.
Methamphetamine use grew significantly in 2012 across the U.S.,with a major increase in the Mountain State. West Virginia saw a higher-than-the-national-average percentage of meth users across the board, but particularly between the ages of 18-25. West Virginia also had a higher-age adjusted rate for non-prescription drug overdoses than the national average.
Originally synthesized in Germany from ephedrine, methamphetamine was used as a medicine to treat many different symptoms, and eventually was used primarily to cure depression and congestion. It was a vital ingredient in many nasal sprays, and was used to treat narcolepsy.
During World War II, the drug's uses were found to be volatile among both Axis and Allied troops and the U.S. began manufacturing it after the war. The drug was in Benzedrine and Dexedrine, which were used by everyone from college students staying up to study for exams to truck drivers on a long haul to housewives who were suffering from depression.
In 1970, the Controlled Substance Act was passed, restricting legal production of the drug, leading to illegal labs manufacturing and selling the drug. Illegal use of meth spread wildly in the 1990s, until the Comprehensive Meth Control Act was passed in 1996, eventually leading West Virginia to pass tougher legislation, causing over-the-counter cold medicine to be under closer observation.
Shahan explained that meth was a completely homemade drug that was not based on any plants - only chemicals - and recipes are readily available online. Many of the ingredients are extremely poisonous or flammable and include substances such as ephedrine, lithium metal (found in batteries), ammonia, gasoline, kerosene, rubbing alcohol, ether, gun cleaner, red phosphorus (used in fireworks), iodine, muriatic acid, table and rock salt and sodium hydroxate.
Shahan outlined the various types of clandestine meth labs, including small, mobile labs that can be contained in anything from a backpack or trunk with all of the ingredients, or hunting shelters and motels rooms.
She also gave the audience several warning signs to identify a meth lab that could potentially be in their neighborhood, including looking out for strong odors such as battery acid, nail polish remover, cat urine and ammonia, as well as blacked-out windows in the building in question, many different visitors coming to the property - particularly at night - and excessive amounts of trash around the property.
Meth causes damage to the environment, including toxic byproducts that create sludge, chemical fires and contamination. People exposed to meth or its byproducts can be poisoned by inhaling the substances or can be burned by the chemicals. Also, due to the volatile nature of the ingredients, explosions or ignited fires can cause severe burns to the body.
Meth users suffer side effects such as insomnia, memory loss, depression and paranoia, are prone to violence and psychotic behavior, and can be subject to convulsions and rapid or irregular heart rate. Just cooking the drug can cause nausea, vomiting, respiratory disorders, loss of appetite, strong body odor and rotten teeth.
"There have been an increase in reports of people cooking meth in hotel rooms," Shahan said. "Hotel staff do not necessarily know about the activity or may not know how to correctly decontaminate the materials. My advice is that if you find anything that looks suspicious - stains on the carpet, yellowish stains on sinks and tubs or white residue - don't touch it and report it. And absolutely do not use coffee pots in the rooms, as they are (sometimes) used to cook meth."
The drug is very addictive, Shahan said. Meth is relatively easy to find and buy, and is less expensive than other drugs. It can be eaten, smoked, snorted or injected and all forms of it are extremely addictive and cause severe physical problems.
One local woman who attended the presentation said that her experience with addiction resulted in her losing her job.
"I abused pain pills to help me get back to functioning in my daily life," the woman said, addressing all those present.
"People need to understand that addiction is real. It affects real flesh and blood people, people you wouldn't expect it to affect."
Rebecca Vance, director of the Family Resource Network, expressed her appreciation for all who attended the presentation.
"I'm so impressed by the amount of people taking an interest in this issue," Vance said. "It's great that people want to learn something and are actively trying to make a difference."
"I'm surprised," she said. "It's been a while since we've had such a large group that was so attentive and that provided such diverse perspectives. People tend to walk around ignorant of the fact that this is a reality, that drugs affect all people, every race and socioeconomic class.
"People think that it doesn't affect them. But it does. And it's nice to see people come out and acknowledge this issue as a part of a community. It is only as a community that we will be able to create a solution."
For more information on all of the services of the Randolph County Family Resource Network, go to www.refract.org.
Contact Chad Clem by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.