Meth, marijuana use rising in Utah



    Methamphetamine and marijuana are becoming the most popular drugs in Utah, according to Sergeant Terry Harper, field supervisor for the Utah County Narcotics Enforcement Team.

    “Methamphetamine and marijuana are considered to be the drugs of choice among users, although LSD, cocaine, ‘shrooms’ and others are still prevalent,” Harper said. “To win the war is to recognize drug paraphernalia and to be involved.”

    “Drug use continues to increase in Utah,” said Patrick Fleming, director of Utah County’s Human Services Substance Abuse, Treatment, and Prevention program. “Seven percent of the population of Utah County is considered to be active drug users.”

    The statistics among children in Utah also indicate the need for citizens to be educated about the indicators and effects of drug use.

    According to the Measures of Child Well-Being in Utah in 1996, 15,000 children seriously abuse alcohol or drugs.

    Individuals need to recognize the indications and effects of drug use in order to win the war on drugs, Harper said.

    Drug paraphernalia take many forms. “Many meth users take the insides out of light bulbs and use the glass bulb as a pipe. Glass anti-freeze testers are also used to smoke methamphetamine. The community needs to recognize these as well as bongs, marijuana pipes and the smell of marijuana,” Harper said.

    Also, marijuana has increased in potency. The primary chemical, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has been increasing over the years, said Brian Seitzinger, special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Salt Lake. “In 1974, THC was .85 percent, and in 1990 it had increased to 10.1 percent. Today it’s about 14 percent.”

    Ninety percent of people say that marijuana is a safe drug, but it isn’t, Seitzinger said. Marijuana is held in the lungs, and that amplifies the effects. THC is a fat-soluble drug that remains in the body, especially in high-fat organs like the brain, and marijuana can remain biologically active in the body for one to four days after being inhaled.

    “People who say it doesn’t affect them don’t know what they are talking about,” Seitzinger said. “Studies have been done with monkeys who smoked marijuana, and when researchers looked at the brain cells of those monkeys, there was heavy dead brain tissue.”

    “Marijuana damages brain cells, increases the risks of cancer, reduces your capacity for physical assertion, suppresses the immune system and increases birth defects,” Seitzinger said. “It also changes the sensory information the eyes, ears, nasal skin and taste buds (transmit to) the brain cells, affects memory and increases the chance for injury to the user and others.”

    “Marijuana is a terrible drug,” Seitzinger said. “There are 522 bioactive chemicals in marijuana and approximately 20 known carcinogens.”

    “Effects of low-dose usage of marijuana are restlessness, frequent hunger, changes of sensory perception, a dreamy state and vivid sense of fright,” Seitzinger said. “Stronger doses intensify reactions — there is a rapid fluctuation of emotions, fantasies, fragmented thought, disturbed associations, alteration of self-identity and impairment of memory. Very high doses may cause toxic psychosis,” he said.

    “Methamphetamine used to be a biker drug associated with groups like the Hell’s Angels,” Harper said. “Now it is running rampant and can be considered poor man’s cocaine because it is cheaper. The high lasts longer, but the effects are also more dangerous.”

    Seitzinger agreed, noting that “Everybody is into it. The drug use of methamphetamine penetrates all classes and is very addictive physically and psychologically.”

    The main ingredient of methamphetamine is ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine, which is found in most asthma medicines as well as in over-the-counter drugs like ‘NoDoz.’ Other ingredients include iodine, red phosphorous and hydrotic acid, Harper said.

    “Methamphetamine is cheaper because it can be manufactured at home or in labs with ingredients that are legal and relatively easy to acquire,” Harper said

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