Meth Use by Women on the Rise

When Kim Justice-Meyers' storybook life came crashing down and she decided she "wanted to go play," she didn't realize how much power her new toy had.

She'd lost her California plant nursery business, her home, her husband and then her father, and when some neighbors offered her some methamphetamine, she tried it and she liked it. Then it took over her life.

"I smoked some on a foil and I thought, 'Hey, that's pretty cool,'" she said. "It takes all the pain away. I wanted to go play. I didn't want to be respectable. I didn't want to feel anymore. I didn't want to be a mother anymore. I ended up saying I'm going to go away for a little bit, but that little bit turned into six months and then a year and then two years, then three years, then four years."

What she found was what a surprisingly high number of women put themselves in a position to learn -- that methamphetamine might seem like the answer to their problems, but quickly becomes a bigger problem than anything they faced before.

While government figures indicate that women make up less than one-third of the people who abuse most drugs, for meth it is more evenly divided between men and women.

According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report released in May, 45 percent of the patients admitted to state-licensed treatment centers for care in 2002 who said meth was their primary drug were women.

By contrast, women made up 33 percent of cocaine users, 31 percent of heroin users and 24 percent of marijuana smokers admitted for treatment, according to the Treatment Episode Data Set.

And meth use overall seems to be up, according to various indicators. For example, the number of people admitted for treatment for meth addiction rose from 1 percent of the total of all those entering treatment in 1992 to 7 percent of the total in 2002.

And the number of meth labs busted nationwide has risen steadily over the years, according to Justice Department figures.

In some states that have been hit particularly hard by meth, the percentage of women users is even higher than the national average. For example, in Montana, the state health department's Addiction and Mental Disorders Division reported that for the period July 2003-June 2004, women made up 49 percent of meth users in the state, up from 40 percent for the same period two years earlier.

"The drug addresses several issues that are central to many women, as well as the pressures brought to bear on women, both inside the home and outside the home," said Dr. Glen Hansen, director of the Utah Addiction Center and a senior adviser with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"It's got a triple benefit," he said. "You lose weight, and as we know to be beautiful you have to be emaciated. On top of that, you feel like you've got energy. And then the euphoria that comes with it. You view the world as being much more positive, and certainly view yourself much more positively. You feel like, 'I can do anything, I look great.' Those are the reinforcing effects of the drug. But those effects go away."

That feeling of being able to do anything is gradually replaced by the feeling that everyone is against you, your husband is cheating on you and your neighbors are plotting against you, Hansen said.

And in moderate to high doses, meth can affect the brain, creating the same kind of damage seen in victims of Parkinson's disease, he said.

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