Video: Meth's destructive power

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/11/2005 7:47:36 PM ET 2005-08-11T23:47:36

The long-term effects of methamphetamine on the human body are serious. Some of them are even grotesque. And they’re proving to be a valuable tool for those working in drug prevention.

Everyday Americans are turned into ghosts — one after another.  Their faces are ravaged by an all-consuming drug.

“My life and my work pretty much fell apart,” says meth addict Matthew Cooper. “They all took a back seat to the meth.”

Cooper used methamphetamine for 10 years until he was convicted of burglary. Like most users, he watched his facial tissue sag over time.  His teeth also crumbled in a phenomenon known as “meth mouth.”

The changes were captured in mug shots that baffled Oregon's Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff Bret King.

“There were a few cases where the changes that had taken place due to the methamphetamine use were so extreme, that we didn’t realize the person was who they were,” says King.

That’s why King helped create “Faces of Meth,” a Web site featuring photos taken of meth addicts on their first and subsequent arrests.

For doctors like Tom Barrett of the Howard Brown Health Center, who treats a dozen meth patients a week, the pictures reveal meth’s punishing effects:  Facial scarring, for instance, as users scratch at the bugs they think are under their skin.

“I’ve never seen any addiction that’s quite as hard to treat as this,” says Barrett. “I don’t treat addictions solely, but I’ve worked with patients that had addictions, and this one has just been horrendous to work with.”

Worse are the long-term effects you don’t see: inflammation of the heart, stroke and paranoia.

“It kills brain cells, to make a long story short,” says Dr. Robert Derle of the University of California, Davis Medical School, “It damages the vessels in the heart.”

The good news — if you can call it that — is that it may never be too late to quit. A recent study suggests even after prolonged use of meth, the brain can repair itself.

But that’s scant consolation to those, like Cooper, who’ve fallen victim.

“It may be a matter of months,” says Cooper, “It may be a matter of years.  But it’ll destroy your life.”

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