Dangers of meth can’t be ignored

People alarmed about the growing illegal-drug problem tend to think first about the negative impact that marijuana, cocaine and heroin are having on their community.

But three arrests by Altoona police on Wednesday should have sounded a loud warning to central Pennsylvania about the presence of another scourge that should be accorded much more attention than it has been getting. It is methamphetamine – sometimes referred to as the most dangerous drug out there.

The basic ingredient is a decongestant in some cold medicines, but other highly toxic ingredients that illegal labs make part of the mix include sulfuric acid, lye and lantern fuel.

Health officials say meth provides no window for experimentation. They say meth users experience psychological addiction after the first use and that users can be afflicted with permanent brain damage as early as the third use.

Yet people, ignorant of its dangerous effects despite plenty of available information, believe they’re the exception who can walk away after one use, never again to be tempted by it.

The court case against the three people arrested on Wednesday in Juniata perhaps will provide further insight into the extent of the methamphetamine operation, if the charges are proven.

Altoona police Detective Sgt. Matthew Starr characterized the purported lab as a “one-pot method,” but that description provides no indication of its potentially deadly geographic reach.

Methamphetamine has been tied to heart attacks, seizures, strokes, coma and death – short-term effects. The long-term effects include, but are not limited to, severe depression and suicide, irreversible brain damage, paranoid schizophrenia, Parkinson-like symptoms and death.

That’s not to assume that the lab in question contributed to any deaths. But depending on its geographical reach, there could be more than a few people permanently damaged as a result of the operation.

For some people, the promise of the intense rush, intense sense of pleasure or intense sexual experience that methamphetamine supposedly promises to provide is too much to say no to. The fact that it often isn’t as expensive to obtain as other illegal drugs is an added temptation.

Trouble is, medical professionals say, it results in users giving up the usual things that bring pleasure and happiness to the users’ lives. Then there are the other products of use – rotting teeth, burns to the mouth or fingers, open sores, tremors, hallucinations, irritability, aggressive behavior, inability to eat or sleep, and the users picking at their skin.

One online report indicated that after one month of smoking methamphetamine, pieces of a person’s lung can come up when that person coughs.

Law-abiding, right-thinking people of central Pennsylvania are troubled about how illegal drugs are negatively affecting their communities, including through incidence of crimes. As Juniata resident John Ardry was quoted as saying in Thursday’s Mirror article about the three arrests, “It makes the whole neighborhood look bad.”

But the three arrests also should make people here more alarmed about methamphetamine’s presence and urge that schools and health agencies continue – even beef up – anti-drug education in regard to this menace.

How Wednesday’s arrests will play out in the courts can’t be predicted, but the wake-up call they provided must remain firmly implanted for this and other communities to address going forward.