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article imageMeth burn increase in U.S. hospitals, harmful effects on society

By Leigh Goessl     Jan 24, 2012 in Health
Methamphetamine addiction is a serious issue plaguing society. It is common to open the daily news, or even run a search engine query on 'meth', and see many arrests and/or accidents regularly occur that relate to this drug.
Recently Digital Journal reported on the rise of arrests related to mobile meth labs in the U.S. as meth-makers attempt to get more savvy in keeping the meth "moving."
An undercover detective in Alburquerque told KOAT earlier this month after a mobile meth lab bust had been made, "By keeping it moving around, it makes it harder to track where it is at any one time." The detective also said trends for mobile meth labs have evolved to become around-the-clock meth-making operations.
A dangerous trend
According to CrystalMethAddiction.org, meth began a rebirth in the 1990s after having been wiped off the streets in the 1970s and its been rising ever since.
With the advent of mobile meth labs, the labs are decreasing in size, with larger labs less common, but more people are making meth.
Unfortunately the gravitation towards mobile meth labs also increases the risk of injury and/or death, such as in the case of these two Fla. Men who were using the common one-pot 'shake-and-bake' method in their car, which led to one of the men dying.
Soda bottles are often used to make meth
Soda bottles are often used to make meth
Official Louisville Kentucky website
The increased presence of meth is having a domino effect on the rest of society in many ways, including hospitals being overwhelmed, endangerment of children, increased costs associated with meth addiction and injury, environmental effects and the burdens placed on the criminal justice system.
Meth burns overwhelm U.S. hospitals
The Associated Press (courtesy of CTV News) has released a report on a survey conducted which showed that meth burn victims are overwhelming U.S. hospitals in the nation's "most active meth states."
According to the analysis, hospitals are filled with uninsured burn patients, and this trend has become burdensome financially. Many of those injured received their wounds when making meth. Statistics cited by AP included $130,000 for an average meth patient's hospital stay, and another figure cited was a cost of $6,000 per day for treatment of meth-burn patients.
Furthermore, several burn units have reportedly closed, partially due to the inability to handle the load of expenses incurred.
Often the bottles and tubes associated with mobile meth labs are within close vicinity to the person making the drug and if it explodes or catches fire, the risk of personal injury is high. Some meth-makers have been caught carrying a mobile lab underneath a jacket.
In 2010 the Kalamazoo Gazette published an article that referred to a study (AP also included these Kalamazoo findings in their survey), which showed not only does the person making the illegal concoction get injured, but hospitals and taxpayers also suffer due to these actions.
Meth house fire
Meth house fire
Utah Public Safety Dept.
Dr. Paul Blostein was one of the authors of a five-year study that examined this issue. Findings of patients analyzed at the Trauma and Emergency Center at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo often experienced internal injuries that affected breathing; many needed a ventilator to breathe after doing severe damage to lungs and windpipe. Chemical burns and vapors also cause other health issues.
The U.S. Justice Department states, "Cooking meth is relatively simple, but highly dangerous and toxic." Unlike plant-derived drugs, meth cooking creates toxic gasses.
Additionally, meth-burn patients were prone to other health complications such as kidney problems, ulcers and pneumonia.
“Meth wasn’t even in the picture 10 years ago,” Bronson’s trauma program manager Rita Cox had said. “Now it is always considered when someone comes in. We have to have meth in the front of our minds to prepare ourselves for the additional resources these patients require.”
The involvement of meth skyrockets the cost of hospital stays after a burn. The Kalamazoo study compared meth patients verses non-meth related patients with similar types of burns, and the difference was about $43,000 higher for meth-related burns. Blostein said this didn't account for "doctor bills, or the follow-up plastic surgery or physical and occupational therapy" that is often needed post-hospitalization.
Additionally, as the AP story discusses, many meth patients lie about how they obtained their injuries, which indicates the dollar costs might even be higher; experts say it is impossible to get an accurate account. Currently the estimate is one-third of patients in hospitals are meth-related.
Trash left from an illegal Methamphetamine lab  central Iowa. Authorities were contacted for cleanup...
Trash left from an illegal Methamphetamine lab, central Iowa. Authorities were contacted for cleanup.
Bill Whittaker
Experts are puzzled whether the spike in meth-related burns is due to the method used to make the meth (aka mobile meth labs) or if it means there are just more people making it due to the accessibility of making the drug.
Education about the drug's dangers is felt to be important. Dr. Blostein had stated in 2010, “It’s hard to do anything about it on the back end. Where we can really make a difference is to try to prevent the activity to begin with.”
Meth's effects on society
It's clear the presence, and use, of meth affects people beyond the users. Consider the woman who recently killed her family, including her two children, before killing herself after video-taping herself using meth. Another woman gave no thought to endangering others as she tried to cook up some meth inside of a Walmart store.
Meanwhile taxpayers are likely paying "well into the tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars," to pay for meth-related burn injuries, according to the AP. The AP survey covered many burn centers and a consistent theme was increased numbers of meth-related incidents with expensive bills.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) fact sheet points out many of the effects of meth which include health, environmental and child endangerment. DEA noted that in 20 percent of meth-labs seized last year, children were present with the 'cook'.
Methamphetamine Lab Incidents  2004-2010
*NOTE: These maps include all meth incidents  including lab...
Methamphetamine Lab Incidents, 2004-2010 *NOTE: These maps include all meth incidents, including labs, "dumpsites" or "chemical and glassware" seizures.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
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