Attorney general takes on methamphetamines at GW-hosted event

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales moderated an expert panel discussion on methamphetamine drug use before almost 100 members from the medical and law enforcement communities at an event in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday.

The panel discussion, hosted by the Department of Justice and the GW Medical Center, was part of National Methamphetamine Awareness Day, established by President George W. Bush.

“I’ve done town hall meetings around the country, talking about methamphetamine,” Gonzales said during the event. “I’ve had parents come up to me afterwards and say, ‘We had no idea about the seriousness of this issue, and you really need to do more to educate the American public.'”

Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the National Institutes of Health, said methamphetamine, commonly referred to as “meth,” is a powerful stimulant that triggers pleasure sensors in the brain and creates the “highest concentration of dopamine in the brain.” The brain then assumes that the drug is “very important” and necessary for performing normal functions.

“Meth is considered to be one of the most addictive and also one of the most toxic drugs,” Volkow said during the discussion. “With meth, the addiction can only take one year.”

“When I first used meth in 1988, I had never heard of it,” said Vicki West Sickels, research counselor for Iowa Health Systems, who used the drug for more than 10 years before breaking her addiction. “Rapidly, it became the only thing I did. It took over my life.”

Volkow said that the drug increases paranoia and suspicion among users. Many meth users take the drug for weight loss, to gain more energy and sexual arousal.

“This increased sexual arousal leads to risky behavior,” Volkow said. “(Sexual arousal) has meth play a very important role of dissemination of HIV and AIDS.”

Volkow said that the drug increases paranoia and suspicion among users. Many meth users take the drug for weight loss, to gain more energy and sexual arousal.

“This increased sexual arousal leads to risky behavior,” Volkow said. “(Sexual arousal) has meth play a very important role of dissemination of HIV and AIDS.”

During the 1970s and 80s, meth use was generally restricted to the American West and Southwest. Most of the meth made at that time was made by organizations using industrial chemicals, said Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant director of the Office of Diversion Control in the Drug Enforcement Agency.

“In the 90s, the methods changed,” Rannazzisi said. “You didn’t need glassware and special chemicals anymore. You could just go to the store.”

In 2005, there were an estimated 512,000 meth users, according to U.S. government data. Most users are white or Native American young adults and are found throughout the U.S. especially in rural areas. However, meth is also being used by other races and in large cities, even Washington, D.C., according H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

During the audience question-and-answer part of discussion, Christina Catlett, executive director of the center for emergency preparedness and an attending physician at the GW Hospital emergency department, said that she did not receive specific training for spotting meth use in her patients.

“I think we are not recognizing it here at GW,” Cartlett said after the discussion. “It is going to hit us full force in a few years.”

During the discussion, Sickels said that is paramount that young people know the dangers of not only meth, but the dangers of other stimulants that are gateways to meth.

“When I first used meth in 1988, I had never heard of it,” said Vicki West Sickels, research counselor for Iowa Health Systems, who used the drug for more than 10 years before breaking her addiction. “Rapidly, it became the only thing I did. It took over my life.” Sickels began using drugs like cocaine in college, which she said led her to meth.

Gonzales’ visit marks the second time this fall he has made an apperance on campus. Last month he visited a Law School class.

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