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Methamphetamine overdose

Methamphetamine is stimulant drug. A strong form of the drug is illegally sold on the streets. A much weaker form of the drug comes as a prescription for the treatment of narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Medications which are legally used to treat cold symptoms, such as decongestants, can be chemically altered into methamphetamines .

This article focuses on the illegal street drug. The street drug is usually a white crystal-like powder, called "crystal meth." This powder can be snorted up the nose, smoked, swallowed, or dissolved and injected into a vein.

A methamphetamine overdose may be acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term).

  • An acute methamphetamine overdose occurs when someone accidentally or intentionally takes this drug and has side effects, which can be life-threatening.
  • A chronic methamphetamine overdose refers to the health effects seen in someone who uses the drug on a regular basis.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Alternative Names

Intoxication - amphetamines; Intoxication - uppers; Amphetamine intoxication; Uppers overdose; Overdose - methamphetamine; Crank overdose; Meth overdose; Crystal meth overdose; Speed overdose; Ice overdose; MDMA overdose

Poisonous Ingredient

Methamphetamine

Where Found

Methamphetamine is a common but illegal drug sold on the streets. It may be called meth, crank, speed, crystal meth, and ice.

A much weaker form of methamphetamine is sold as a prescription under the brand name Desoxyn. It is used to treat narcolepsy. However, it is not often used. Adderall, a brand name drug containing amphetamine, is used to treat ADHD.

Symptoms

Methamphetamine most often causes a general feeling of wellness (euphoria) that is usually called "a rush." Other symptoms increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and large wide pupils.

If you take a large amount of the drug, you will likely have some more dangerous side effects, including:

  • Agitation
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Heart stops (in extreme cases)
  • Coma (in extreme cases)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Kidney damage and possibly kidney failure
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Stroke

Long-term use of methamphetamine can lead to significant psychological problems, including:

  • Severe inability to sleep (insomnia)
  • Major mood swings
  • Delusional behavior
  • Extreme paranoia

Other symptoms may include:

  • Repeated infections
  • Missing and rotted teeth (called "meth mouth")
  • Heart attack
  • Severe weight loss
  • Skin sores (boils)
  • Stroke

Home Care

If you believe someone has taken methamphetamine and they are having bad symptoms, immediately get them medical help. Take extreme caution around them, especially if they appear to be extremely excited or paranoid.

If they are having a seizure, gently hold the back of the person's head to prevent injury. If possible, turn the head to the side in case they vomit. DO NOT try to stop their arms and legs from shaking.

Before Calling Emergency

If possible, determine the following information:

  • Patient's approximate age and weight
  • How much of the drug was taken?
  • How was the drug taken? (For example, was it smoked or snorted?)
  • How long has it been since the person took the drug?

If the patient is actively seizing, becoming violent, or having difficulty breathing, do not delay. Call your local emergency number (such as 911).

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:

  • Fluids through a vein
  • Medications to calm him or her down, and get heart rate and blood pressure back to normal
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) to check for heart damage
  • Activated charcoal and laxative if the drug was taken by mouth
  • CT scan of the head if associated head injury is suspected

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of drug taken and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Psychosis and paranoia may last up to 1 year despite aggressive medical treatment. Memory loss and difficulty sleeping may be permanent. Skin changes and tooth loss are permanent unless the person has cosmetic surgery to correct the problems.

References

Goldfrank LR, Flomenbaum NE, Lewin NA, et al, eds. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.

Lynch MJ, Pizon AF. Sympathomimetics. In: Wolfson AB, Hendey GW, Ling LJ, et al, eds. Harwood-Nuss' Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 333.

Updated: 4/5/2013

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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