Recognizing the Signs of Meth Overdose
If you believe someone is overdosing on meth, call 911 immediately. I have been friends with Jim since we were kids. He was always a kind, friendly guy who was fun to hang out with, but Jim was struggling with a meth addiction. At first, he tried to keep it under wraps, lying about where he was going and who he was with. He would try to pretend he wasn’t high when we could all tell that he was. But that only worked for so long. His other friends and I watched Jim struggle to get off of meth on his own and relapse several times. Methamphetamine, or meth, is an illegal street drug common in the U.S. It is classified as a stimulant, commonly called an “upper.” It affects the central nervous system and is known for giving people immense energy and a rush/high. According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 120,000 people in Texas are estimated to have used meth in 2020. Meth is highly addictive and often results in overdoses, especially among people who have tried to quit and returned to the usual dose. A meth overdose can cause serious health issues that continue to affect a person long after it occurs.
How to Identify Meth
Jim usually tried to hide his relapses from us as best as he could, but I knew he had gone back to taking meth, or would soon, when I accidentally found some at his place. I wasn’t supposed to see it. I wasn’t even trying to snoop. He asked me to hand him a candy bar that was in his desk drawer, and I opened the wrong drawer by mistake. I only had it open for a second before I slammed it shut again, but at that point, I knew what finding a baggie with crystal-like white powder in Jim’s drawer meant. As soon as I slammed the drawer shut, Jim knew what I had seen. He got really angry, saying that I’d violated his privacy, and he told me to get out. I wanted to help, but I knew nothing I said would change anything, so I left. Meth most often comes in the form of a white powder. Depending on the purity of the drug, it may also be grey or a yellowish-brown. There is no particular smell to meth, but it is slightly bitter to the taste. Meth can be condensed into a capsule pill. Another common form of meth is crystal meth, which tends to be purer and also more expensive than the powder form. Crystal meth resembles a small chunk of ice.
Meth Consumption Methods and Overdose Risk
I knew Jim usually smoked meth. I had seen the meth pipe in his drawer along with the drug. I wasn’t positive if there was anything else in the drawer or not. I had only seen it for a few seconds. I knew that sometimes Jim would use other methods, like injecting, especially if he had been smoking too much lately and his lungs hurt. I hadn’t seen a needle in the drawer, but I couldn’t be sure if it was there or not. I’d only had the drawer open for a split second. Meth is commonly snorted, smoked, injected, or ingested. Each method of consumption has identifiable tools. If you find a person who has overdosed, it may help medical personnel to know what method a person used to consume the meth they overdosed on. The method of consumption could impact things like how quickly the meth gets to a person’s brain. Items used to snort meth typically include:
- Hollowed out pens
- Rolled up dollar bills
- Razor blades
Items used to smoke meth typically include:
- A bubble-ended pipe
- Meth pipes look different from pipes used to smoke tobacco or marijuana
- A meth pipe is typically clear with a round bowl that has a small opening and a long cylinder on the end, longer than that of a tobacco or marijuana pipe
- A burnt spoon used to melt down the substance
- A lighter to heat the substance
Items used to inject meth typically include:
- A lighter to heat the substance
- A burnt spoon used to melt down the substance
- A needle to inject the substance
- A band or something to tie around the arm to make veins easier to identify
An overdose can occur no matter how a person takes meth. An overdose simply occurs when there is more of a drug in a person’s body than they can handle, regardless of how it gets there. What that limit is depends on the person and their tolerance level. Smoking meth is one of the methods with the highest risk of accidental overdose. It gets the drug to the brain extremely quickly, making it very easy to get too much into the system too fast, resulting in an overdose. This is especially risky for someone who does not have a tolerance for meth or who has not used this method of consumption before.
Symptoms of a Meth Overdose
I gave Jim a few days to calm down before I tried to talk to him again. I knew he was embarrassed that he was relapsing, but I knew he needed help. I thought maybe I could just offer some support, and maybe even help him look into some rehab facility. When I got to Jim’s apartment, the door was unlocked, and I let myself in. I found Jim on the living room floor. He wasn’t moving except for his chest that looked like he was wheezing. He was extremely hot to the touch, and there was vomit on the floor and the corners of his mouth. A meth overdose can look different for different people depending on many factors, including height and weight, age, and gender. What a meth overdose looks like ultimately depends on who is overdosing. Symptoms of a meth overdose can include:
- Stomach cramps
- Extremely fast or slow heartbeat
- Chest pains
- Intense confusion
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not real)
- Fast breathing
- High fever
Emergency Care for a Meth Overdose
The first thing I did was call 911. When the ambulance got there, I told them that I wasn’t sure how much meth he had taken, or when. But I did know that he usually used a pipe to smoke it, and that he didn’t normally mix meth with other drugs. I also made sure they knew about his latex allergy and told them his weight and age. I followed the ambulance in the car. At the hospital, they gave him a breathing tube and ran a chest x-ray to see if there was any vomit in his lungs. Eventually, he came to, and the doctor said he seemed to be recovering. Someone who is overdosing needs immediate medical attention. Call 911 immediately. When you are waiting for paramedics to arrive, prepare to answer questions, such as:
- How much meth was taken?
- How was the meth taken? Was it snorted, smoked, or injected?
- How long has it been since the meth was taken?
- Was the meth taken in combination with any other drugs?
- Does the person have any allergies or other health conditions?
- What is the approximate age and weight of the person?
Once someone who has overdosed on meth is in the emergency room, depending on their symptoms, they can expect:
- Poison and drug toxicology screening
- IV (through a vein) fluids or medication to treat dehydration, extreme anxiety, seizures, nausea, high blood pressure, or pain
- Breathing support or oxygen if they are struggling to breathe on their own
- CT (computerized tomography) scan if there is reason to suspect a head injury or brain damage
- ECG (electrocardiogram), which is used to measure heart health
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray to look for things like vomit in the lungs
- Other medications as needed to treat symptoms
Long-Term Health Effects of a Meth Overdose
After that overdose, Jim recovered, but he was never quite the same. After that night, he was very anxious and struggled to stay calm even when he was in a safe environment. His overdose also damaged his heart, and he had to get regular checkups to make sure that the damage wasn’t getting worse. About six months after the overdose, he had his first stroke and ended up back in the hospital. A meth overdose can potentially cause permanent damage and lead to other long-term health issues, including:
- Chronic anxiety
- Chronic psychosis (includes hallucinations and paranoia, meaning fear of someone or something)
- Brain damage, which can lead to poor brain function or learning disabilities
- Kidney failure
- Heart and vein damage, which could lead to heart attacks or heart failure
- Muscle death, which can lead to amputation
- Seizures after the overdose due to damage to the nerves
In extreme cases, meth overdoses can lead to coma or death. Strokes and seizures can lead to many serious long-term health issues, including severe brain damage.
Eventually, Jim and I talked about the overdose. He told me that when I found the meth, he hadn’t used meth at that point in a few weeks, but the withdrawal symptoms were really bad. He was feeling tired all the time, and his joints and muscles were all sore. He felt like he would never feel normal unless he took some meth. He went back to his usual dose, but he had already started to lose his tolerance and ended up overdosing. Withdrawal from meth is not usually fatal, but it is uncomfortable and difficult to do by yourself. Detoxing should only be attempted under the supervision of a qualified, experienced professional. It is important to know the signs of withdrawal because people who attempt to quit meth and go back are at a higher risk of overdose, especially if they try to go back to their usual dose. Symptoms of meth withdrawal can include:
- Intensified cravings for meth
- Fatigue (extreme tiredness that does not go away with rest)
- Joint and muscle pain
Treatment at Vertava Health – Texas
Eventually, Jim figured out that trying to quit on his own was what led to his overdose. He realized it was much easier and safer to quit meth with the support of a qualified, experienced clinical staff. He did an inpatient program where he got help with his addiction and his anxiety disorder at the same time. Treatment has made a real difference in Jim’s life, and he is doing much better mentally, physically, and emotionally. He even got a new job that he loves. We are a top-of-the-line meth rehab center and offer a high quality of care to our clients at Vertava Health Texas People who are addicted to meth or often return to meth use when trying to quit tend to benefit from an inpatient program, like the one we offer at Vertava Health Texas. While there are no FDA-approved medications to treat meth addiction, we do offer medically assisted detox. This simply means that our clinical staff appropriately use and monitor medications to reduce a client’s suffering from withdrawal symptoms. We use clinically proven cognitive therapy and other therapy options in our inpatient program to treat someone suffering from an addiction to meth. We also know that addiction is often not a single issue, which is why we offer dual-diagnosis care to treat co-occurring mental illnesses, like depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while also treating their addiction. Our therapy options include:
- Mindfulness and stress-management practices
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Motivational interviewing (MI)
- Adventure therapy
- Recreational and art therapies
- Family therapy and support
- Dual-diagnosis treatment
Get Help at Vertava Health – Texas Today
If someone is currently experiencing a meth overdose, call 911 immediately. Does Jim’s story remind you of someone you love? If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction, getting treatment is the next step in the recovery journey. Call (888) 759-5073 for treatment today.