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The Dangers Of Meth, Heroin, And Fentanyl

Posted by Travis Uresk | March 15th, 2023 | Drugs |

By Travis Uresk


Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Crystal methamphetamine is a drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks.

People can take methamphetamine by:

  • smoking

  • swallowing (pill)

  • snorting

  • injecting the powder that has been dissolved in water/alcohol

Because the "high" from the drug both starts and fades quickly, people often take repeated doses in a "binge and crash" pattern. In some cases, people take methamphetamine in the form of binging, known as a "run," giving up food and sleep while taking the drug every few hours for up to several days.

Methamphetamine increases the amount of the natural chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine involves body movement, motivation, and reinforcement of rewarding behaviors. The drug's ability to rapidly release high dopamine levels in reward areas of the brain strongly reinforces drug-taking behavior, making the user want to repeat the experience.

Taking even small amounts of methamphetamine can result in many of the same health effects as other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:

  • increased wakefulness and physical activity

  • decreased appetite

  • faster breathing

  • rapid and/or irregular heartbeat

  • increased blood pressure and body temperature

People who inject methamphetamine are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids that can remain on drug equipment. Methamphetamine use can also alter judgment and decision-making, leading to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, which increases the risk of infection.

Methamphetamine use may worsen the progression of HIV/AIDS and its consequences. Studies indicate that HIV causes more injury to nerve cells and more cognitive problems in people who use methamphetamine than it does in people who have HIV and don't use the drug. Cognitive problems involve thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering.

Long-term methamphetamine use has many other negative consequences, including:

  • extreme weight loss

  • addiction

  • severe dental problems

  • intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching

  • anxiety

  • changes in brain structure and function

  • confusion

  • memory Loss

  • sleeping problems

  • violent behavior

  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others

  • hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they aren't

Continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain's dopamine system associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine over the long term, severe changes also affected areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory.

This may explain many of the emotional and cognitive problems seen in those who use methamphetamine.

Although some of these brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, other changes may not recover even after a long period of time. A recent study even suggests that people who once used methamphetamine have an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the nerves that affect movement.

Methamphetamine is highly addictive. When people stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • anxiety

  • fatigue

  • severe depression

  • psychosis

  • intense drug cravings

Most methamphetamine in the United States is produced by transactional criminal organizations (TCOs) in Mexico. This methamphetamine is highly pure, potent, and low in price. The drug can be easily made in small clandestine laboratories, with relatively inexpensive over-the-counter ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in cold medications. To curb this kind of production, the law requires pharmacies and other retail stores to keep a purchase record of products containing pseudoephedrine and take steps to limit sales.

Methamphetamine production also involves several other hazardous chemicals. Toxic effects from these chemicals can remain in the environment long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area. These chemicals can also result in deadly lab explosions and house fires.

The Dangers of Meth Use


In 2020, more than 900,000 people aged 12 or older reported using heroin within the past 12 months in the United States. That same year, approximately 13,165 individuals died from an overdose involving heroin. That number, however, has been decreasing slightly every year since 2017

Heroin, an opioid, is an illegal, highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is an opiate alkaloid extracted from poppy plants. Heroin is commonly encountered as a white or brown powder but can also be a black, sticky substance.

Heroin is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, which means heroin currently has no approved medical use and there is a high potential for misuse.

Typically injected, snorted, or smoked, heroin's effects are felt almost immediately as the drug reaches the bloodstream quickly, binds to and activates opioid receptors in the brain, and delivers a rewarding surge of euphoria.

Additionally, heroin can alter several physiological functions, including breathing and heart rate. Heroin use also increases dopamine activity in certain areas of the brain associated with reward and reinforcement.

People who use heroin commonly report feeling a pleasurable rush but may also experience more adverse side effects soon after use, including.3,9

  • Drowsiness.

  • Decreased mental functioning.

  • Alternating states of being awake and asleep (nodding off).

  • Limbs that feel heavy or weighted down.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Itchy skin.

  • Slowed heart rate.

  • Slowed breathing.

Chronic heroin use can have many long-term physical and mental health effects, including the development of significant opioid tolerance and physiological dependence. Repeated heroin use is associated with structural and functional brain changes, which can additionally result in neurochemical and hormonal imbalances. Studies show that the brain's white matter can deteriorate with long-term heroin use, which can affect a person's decision-making capability, behavior regulation, and stress response. It can also lead to addiction.

Other long-term heroin side effects may include:

  • Insomnia.

  • Infections of the heart lining and valves (in association with non-sterile needle use).

  • Abscesses (in association with non-sterile needle use).

  • Chronic and severe constipation.

  • Increased risk of pneumonia and other lung complications.

  • Co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression and antisocial personality disorder.

  • Sexual dysfunction for men.

  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women.

  • Addiction, or heroin use disorder.

Abuse of Heroin, and Other Opioids


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid typically used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery. Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance that is similar to morphine but about 100 times more potent. Under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, fentanyl has legitimate medical use. Patients prescribed fentanyl should be monitored for potential misuse or abuse.

Illicit fentanyl, primarily manufactured in foreign clandestine labs and smuggled into the United States through Mexico, is being distributed across the country and sold on the illegal drug market. Fentanyl is being mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase the drug's potency, sold as powders and nasal sprays, and increasingly pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. Because there is no official oversight or quality control, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl, with none of the promised drugs.

There is a significant risk that illegal drugs have been intentionally contaminated with fentanyl. Because of its potency and low cost, drug dealers have been mixing fentanyl with other drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, increasing the likelihood of a fatal interaction.

2mg of Fentanyl is a lethal dose

Producing illicit fentanyl is not an exact science. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal depending on a person's body size, tolerance, and past usage. DEA analysis has found counterfeit pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams (more than twice the lethal dose) of fentanyl per tablet.

  • 42% of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of fentanyl, considered a potentially lethal dose.

  • Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram.

  • One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.

It is possible for someone to take a pill without knowing it contains fentanyl. It is also possible to take a pill knowing it contains fentanyl but with no way of knowing if it contains a lethal dose.

According to the CDC, synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) are the primary driver of overdose deaths in the United States. Comparison between 12 months-ending January 31, 2020, and the 12 months-ending January 31, 2021, during this period:

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids rose 38.1 percent.

  • Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) rose 55.6 percent and appear to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths.

Unless a drug is prescribed by a licensed medical professional and dispensed by a legitimate pharmacy, you can't know if it’s fake or legitimate. And without laboratory testing, there’s no way to know the amount of fentanyl in an individual pill or how much may have been added to another drug. This is especially dangerous because of fentanyl's potency.

Fentanyl overdose survivor shares her story

Resources to get help:


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