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Story published: 03-06-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Substance abuse deaths rival vehicle fatality stats in state

By Lacy Hilliard

Substance abuse is a serious problem in both the state of Tennessee and in Johnson County. Approximately 1,032 people die from substance abuse related complications each year in Tennessee. To put this number in perspective, consider that 1,303 people lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents in the same year this census data was collected. The state of Tennessee is also ranked in the top ten in the United States for overdose related deaths.

Prescription opiates, especially OxyCodone, is the most frequently abused drug in Tennessee. OxyCodone is obtained both legally through a prescription and illegally. OxyCodone may be prescribed to a patient to treat moderate to severe pain and has been used to treat patients suffering from chronic pain as well. The risk of becoming dependant on opiates is very high and most opiate abusers began their addictions by simply taking the medication as prescribed and increasing their dose over time until they found themselves with a full-fledged addiction.

Alcoholism is also a serious problem in Tennessee. Astonishingly, it is estimated that over twenty percent of adult Tennesseans battle with alcoholism. Some might assume that because alcohol is legal, it doesn’t carry with it the harmful effects of illegal drugs. However, the long-term effects of alcohol abuse are both harmful and life threatening. Kidney and liver failure, heart disease, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, a number of cancers, pancreatitis, and stroke are all conditions associated with alcoholism.

Methamphetamine addiction has become such a serious problem in Tennessee that a specialized task force charged with the elimination of labs as well as the monitoring of the sale and distribution of the drug was created in conjunction with stricter laws and penalties. Methamphetamines, otherwise known as crystal meth, crank, ice, etc. is rapidly becoming recognized as the most harmful substance ever. Methamphetamine is the drug responsible for the most deaths in Tennessee and also carries with it a hefty list of harmful effects. Mentally, meth users can be affected in a variety of ways. Meth-induced psychosis can cause hallucinations and paranoia. These altered mental states can be both temporary and permanent and are caused by brain damage sustained during the use of methamphetamines. Physically, meth attacks nearly every part of a user’s body both internally and externally. Internally, meth speeds up the user’s heart rate dramatically; putting them at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Meth also compromises the user’s immune system, making it more difficult to overcome even the common cold. Externally, meth users are often extremely thin and lack muscle mass. Meth addicts also often suffer from a condition referred to as ‘meth mouth.’ Meth mouth is a condition that is caused by not only the drug itself, but also from the mental effects of the drug such as teeth grinding. It’s not uncommon for meth addicts to have rotten teeth and gum disease. Another common external symptom of meth addiction is the presence of sores on the mouth and other various parts of the anatomy. Often, the sores are caused by a common methamphetamine hallucination, ‘meth bugs.’ The term ‘meth bugs’ refers to a hallucinatory sensation that feels as though bugs are crawling all over one’s body. Often, the meth user will be unaware that the sensation is a figment of their imagination and attempt to scratch the ‘bugs’ away, leaving in its wake various open sores that have a difficult time healing due to the addict’s compromised immune system. The harmful effects of methamphetamines ravage the body so quickly that within just a matter of months, a user can become unrecognizable.

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