Crystal meth growing in popularity with addicts

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002


HAHNVILLE – What’s the attraction of methamphetamine among users?

Also known as crank, crystal meth and go-fast, this is the most hyper-charged member of the amphetamine drug family. It was widely used in the 1960s and early 1970s for its intense effects, and virtually disappeared from the drug scene until recent years.

What it does is pump up levels of two neurotransmitters in the central nervous system.

At low doses, it boosts alertness and blocks hunger and fatigue. At higher doses, it causes exhilaration. At very high doses, it can cause agitation, paranoia and bizarre behavior.

Physical effects include increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. A prescription form is used medically as a temporary treatment for obesity.

Side-effects, however, range from emotional swings to hallucinations, including violent, self-destructive behavior.

Overdosing can lead to fever, convulsions, burst blood vessels in the brain, coma and heart failure.

So-called “meth labs” have surfaced in the River Parishes in recent years. The most recent include one in Gramercy and two in St. Charles Parish, in Norco and Ama.

One of the major attractions of meth is the ease in manufacture. Most meth is made from common, readily-available materials, and there are more than 200 substances that can be used to produce meth, depending on the process used.

However, there are hazards. Propane tanks are commonly used to hold pressurized anhydrous ammonia. This, though, is corrosive to brass fittings of propane tanks, with a risk of leakage or explosion.

Another side-effect of the interest in meth among drug users is the boost in theft of ammonia-based fertilizers in sugar cane fields.

St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. said 18 arrests were made, mostly in March and April of this year, of people stealing anhydrous ammonia fertilizer from farm equipment in area cane fields. With the most acreage dedicated to cane production, St. James Parish has been targeted by these thieves, all of whom are not local residents.

His arrests include people from north Louisiana and Mississippi, and his response has been to keep some fields under surveillance and make spot-checks.

“One guy said he had to wait his turn,” Martin recalled, and added the suspect got to a piece of equipment, saw another thief already at the scene, and waited until he left to move in. Both were subsequently arrested.

However, Martin is concerned that many farmers may not even be aware of the thieves, since often they leave no trace. But farmers are concerned about possible equipment damage or injuries to the thieves themselves, increasing their own liability.