Mething up

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It should come as no surprise that another elite athlete has admitted using illegal drugs. The timing of Andre Agassi’s admission that he was using, but not necessarily addicted to methamphetamine, during his playing days is confusing. Writing in an autobiography, Mr. Agassi suggests that the drug abuse occir3ed during a time in his career when he hated what he did. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with the emotional issues of a potential career change, he turned to drug abuse. But why should the public know or care about the behavior of a retired athlete whose actions occurred more than a decade ago.

Drug abuse does not know the boundaries of education, social class or income. Depending upon one’s philosophy, it is either a disease or a conscious choice that can and does affect not only the user but their family and friends. Regardless of whether the drug is alcohol, heroin or anything in between, physical and psychological complications can be longstanding and potentially life threatening,

Amphetamine is an especially dangerous drug. While it can be prescribed to help patients with narcolepsy, obesity and attention deficit disorder, it is most often used illegally in the form of methamphetamine. Crystal meth can be formulated in homegrown labs, with ingredients found in common over the counter cold medications. The chemicals are highly unstable during “construction” and can cause explosions, fires and release of poisonous gasses.

The drug’s allure is due to its effects on neurotransmitters in the brain. The surge of dopamine within brain cells causes a sense of euphoria or a “rush”. Unfortunately, repeated use of meth causes structural and functional changes in brain tissue and cells, especially in the memory and emotion centers of the brain. There is some research suggesting that the changes are reversible after the drug use has been stopped for more than a year. As with many drugs, meth is addictive. It requires greater amount of the drug to get the same effect, there are withdrawal symptoms and there is progressive compulsion to find and use the drug.

Unfortunately, there are also deadly consequences to its use. Because it is an “upper” and stimulates the adrenalin system of the body, spikes in blood pressure, pulse rate and body temperature can cause seizure, stroke, heart attack and death.

Methamphetamine is a commonly abused drug and first time use usually occurs in the teen years. National Institute of Health monitoring finds that more than 2% of high school kids have used meth in their lifetime and more than 1% in the past year.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mr. Agassi was a drug abuser. The question remains: Why does the world need to know? Is it to cleanse his soul or is it to advertise and sell his new autobiography? The ability to overcome drug addiction should be celebrated but we should be saddened that a person who is at the pinnacle of his athletic career needed to turn to drug abuse.

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