Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Seminars focus on brain
damage from crystal meth

By Susan Kreifels


Teaching people how crystal methamphetamine damages the brain, makes it act abnormally, and can lead to irreparable harm is important in persuading abusers to stop using it, according to experts at a regional conference this week on methamphetamine.

Recent research using brain scans has shown that crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," causes brain damage.

"People don't realize that it profoundly changes how the brain operates," said Richard A. Rawson, associate director of Integrated Substance Abuse Programs at the University of California at Los Angeles. "More important than therapy and group sessions is knowledge of what they're doing to themselves."

Rawson said 5 percent to 7 percent of methamphetamine abusers become psychotic, paranoid and schizophrenic.

"Even when they stop (the drug), they don't get better," Rawson said.

Speakers at the conference are hoping that new research will lead to medications that will help in the recovery for abusers of the highly addictive drug.

Organizers said it was appropriate to hold the federally funded regional conference in Hawaii, where crystal methamphetamine is the most abused drug. Only now is the drug starting to get national attention, with some experts at the conference calling it an emerging epidemic.

"If Hawaii was in Arlington, Va., this would be a national emergency story in the extent to which it has affected the community here," Rawson said. "It's a very significant public health problem."

Abuse of the drug is spreading on the West Coast and in the Midwest, Rawson said, while cocaine remains the drug of choice in the Eastern United States.

D. William Wood, of the University of Hawaii-Manoa school of public health and a conference speaker, said ice abuse in Hawaii "has totally outstripped the capacity of treatment facilities" here. In 1992, 126 abusers of the drug were admitted for treatment in a six-month period compared to 889 in the most recent half-year survey. In 1997, more people were treated for ice than for alcohol. "That is scary," Wood said.

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