Crazy on meth – Creepy crawlies, psychosis and paranoid feelings
Bugs are crawling on your skin, aliens are chasing you, and those people on television keep asking questions.
Area experts say methamphetamine can twist a brain like that, causing paranoid delusions, hallucinations and even psychosis.
Many experts say meth psychosis is virtually the same thing as schizophrenia, which disables the brain to the point where people cannot function – or do so in a destructive manner.
“Some of them are quite psychotic,” said Dot Mitchell, clinical supervisor for the emergency room at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley. “If you’ve been up for days and days, it can happen.”
In the last year, area police suspect methamphetamine was the driving force behind several Nevada County crimes and incidents involving psychotic-like behavior, including:
• A manhunt for a nonexistent rapist in April, caused by a man on meth who hallucinated the crime and the supposed armed perpetrator chasing him along Highway 49. Nevada County officers, a CHP helicopter and a Placer County K-9 unit were called into action for two hours because of the delusion.
• The January death of UPS driver Drew Reynolds. Scott Krause reported seeing aliens when he allegedly carjacked a truck in Grass Valley and drove it head-on into Reynolds’ van.
• A November 2003 scene in which Dale Buchanan walked into a Christian preschool with a loaded revolver while fleeing imagined demons, causing evacuation of the school and, fortunately, no injuries. He said he had fired 60 rounds through the walls of his trailer the night before to fend off the demons.
• The July 2003 carjacking of a taxi in Nevada City by Curtiss Williams. He drove to Truckee and led police on a chase before stopping the taxi and plunging to his death in a ravine. Just a few days earlier, he had been pulled off the Banner Lava Cap Road overpass after threatening to leap 50 feet to the Highway 49-20 pavement below.
Jim Casci of the Nevada County Narcotics Task Force runs into meth psychosis with users who have been awake for at least three days and, in one extreme case, 12 days straight.
“When you’re up that long, your body starts shutting down,” Casci said. “People become easily agitated and see things that aren’t there.
“This is a very nasty time to come into contact with these individuals,” Casci said. “The body is so worn out, the mind is just not functioning.”
In one case, “a kid pulled a gun on his mother and threatened to kill her,” Casci said. “Family members are just as exposed as law enforcement.”
George McKnight is the medical program manager at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility and sees the psychic ravages of methamphetamine constantly.
“They have mood swings, poor impulse control, and it can lead to assaultive behaviors,” McKnight said. “There is a high incidence of meth use and abuse in this community, and we see those people repeatedly, some under the influence or in withdrawal. They have a propensity for violence and need anger management.”
Warren Daniels is the executive director of Community Recovery Resources, Nevada County’s drug abuse treatment clearing house.
With meth users, “you can have symptoms that actually qualify as schizophrenia,” Daniels said. “In the past, it’s come from intravenous users, but now it’s coming from smoking it, too. That’s where you get these crimes.
“You’re taking a group of chemicals, and when you put it in a pipe, you are releasing volatile chemicals again and ingesting it into the system. The ones who get hooked on smoking it end up in Atascadero (the state hospital for the criminally insane).”
“The medical community says you have to be predisposed” for schizophrenia, Daniels said. “But I say you haven’t worked with meth addicts. It’s just like untreated schizophrenia.”
According to RNceus.com, a continuing education Web site for registered nurses, auditory hallucinations are common for meth users and “may issue commands for violence to others. For example, the user hears voices telling him to kill himself or others.”
Meth users also smell, taste and feel things that are not there. Users feel bugs on their skin and scratch them so hard they leave scars, according to the nursing Web site. The drug also causes a swing in delusions, and users can feel threatened, feel vastly empowered, or think that someone is controlling them or talking to them through a television.
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