Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Meth-Head to My Madness

Sunday night my throat hurt so badly that I kept having dreams about having a sore throat.

I'd be peering into mirrors to try and get a glimpse of the red patches, prying my jaws further and further apart til they were at a breaking point. I'd be in meetings, unable to listen to what people were saying because the only thing I knew was that my throat hurt.

I woke up repeatedly, each time to the grim realization that the sore throat itself was most assuredly not a figment of my REM-agination.

Fast forward to a couple days later — today, to be precise. The sore throat has subsided, but try as I might I absolutely cannot breathe. I blew a fair amount of cash on Tylenol Cold yesterday, but to no avail. I even doubled up on the decongestant by taking an extra dose of generic phenylephrine HCl.

Still no luck.

So last night I broke down and used some of that nasal spray, which is a big no-no (that stuff is addictive in that if you use it a day or two, you need it to breathe... even when the cold is gone).

But I needed a fix. And I needed it bad.

The spray wore off fairly early this morning, and misery struck once again. But I insisted on holding out until lunch-time, when I'd steal away from here in search of that heavenly decongestant that was so easy to obtain once upon a time.

I'm taking about pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine, for those of you who don't know, is a major ingredient in methamphetamine production. "Meth" is a pretty serious problem, particularly in rural areas where another major ingredient — anhydrous ammonia — is regularly stolen from farmers who use it in fertilizer (the remainder of the ingredients are easy enough to obtain... hence the nomenclature "poor man's coke").

After a year of usage, you'd scarcely recognize a meth user: in addition to dramatic weight loss and thinning hair, tooth decay is a near inevitability. As is graying, yellowish skin and a handful of other problems, including emotional, behavioral and psychological damage.

It's pretty serious stuff, and I'm all about making it more difficult for folks to manufacture meth. It ruins lives in the most literal sense of the word: parents neglect their children (or worse); meth labs engulf homes in flames; users lose their jobs; etc.

So a year or two ago, pharmaceutical companies replaced pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine in most over-the-counter cold, flu and allergy medications. Some varieties still contain pseudoephedrine, but you have to get it directly from the pharmacist.

So this newest illness is perhaps my second cold since OTC meds swapped nasal decongestants and pharmacists took pseudoephedrine behind the counter. And all I kept thinking yesterday while I chowed on Tylenol Cold was this:

This really isn't working.

And I remembered the time I was sick before that, also thinking the same thing. Didn't medications used to be more effective?

That's when I started wondering if perhaps phenylephrine wasn't as effective as its counterpart. Or perhaps it's all a matter of psychosomatics... in any event, I started aching for that wonder drug of a bygone era.

But first I did a little research to see if other folks had noticed the same problem. What I found was this: while phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine do the same thing, the former has a comparatively low level of bioavailability.

That means that by the time phenylephrine makes its way through your liver, there's not as much of it left to be absorbed. For it to be anywhere near as effective as pseudoephedrine in relieving nasal congestion, you'd need a lot more of it. Certainly more than they put in OTC meds.

And though I'm not 100% certain, I seem to recall from organic chemistry that bioavailability can vary by degrees from person to person.

In which case: has anyone else had problems with the efficacy of "reformulated" OTC meds? Or am I the only one who finds them to be ineffective?

I went to the pharmacy on my lunch break and ruminated over all of the sundry ingredients before I eventually decided on a product, and took my "slip" up to the pharmacy.

I cannot even begin to tell you how embarrassed the tech made me feel. The accusing looks as she grabbed the slip from my hand. The squinting eyes as she took my driver's license and proceeded to enter personal information into a computer (so "they" know how often you purchase the drug).

I mean, I actually felt like I was doing something wrong.

But you know what? That was 90 minutes ago, and already I can breathe through my right nostril and whistle with my left (attractive, I know).

Who cares if my heart is racing... almost as quickly as my mind.


michele said...

Can't say that the pseudoephedrine does the same for me - I have a problem with nasal sprays in general. While you love them and feel addicted to them, I loathe them because it feels like they're burning their way right into my brain everytime I use them. Looks like both of us avoid using them except when desperate, but for opposite reasons!

I've gotta say the great thing about the virtual work environment I work in, although it's lonely and isolated sometimes, I'm not exposed to other people's germs... which really makes you realize how much our social interactions actually contribute to your misery...

Very interesting post - I haven't really thought about how meth use might affect my life, but now, I'm thinking about it.

Winter said...

I shared an office with a girl who was addicted to nasal spray. Every five minutes she took it out of her purse and used it. I jokingly mentioned that she had a “drug” problem, and she admitted she had been using for years.

Marijuana cigarettes that is.

Because she later started in on how she usually smoked one as soon as she gets home from picking up her kids from daycare.

Classy, no?

disgruntled world citizen said...

i'll visit you in rehab.

Anonymous said...

The Man has you on a list! *laughs* Yes, meth is a bad thing. But damn! I miss the real thing but the new thing works OK for me. I guess I am lucky. But I can see how it would suck for you. Makes me wonder if it would just be easier for folks like you (because I know others like you) to just get a prescription. Good luck with breathing.

Woodrow said...

I agree. That new stuff isn't as good. In some states you can still get the good stuff otc. Not here though.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Michele - I reported on meth (ab)use back in my journalism days. It's a daily concern in rural areas especially.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Winter - Sounds like a classy lady. I know someone who was addicted to nasal spray. He "used" for eight years straight, which caused some very serious damage to his sinuses. Believe he even had to have some sort of surgery.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Woodrow - Can you cross state lines and get it elsewhere (or is it illegal)? Cause the easy-to-find stuff just doesn't work for some people, as I've found.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

BPP - I thought about trying for a prescription, but I was worried if I told the doctor that the "new stuff" doesn't work for me, she'd think I was a junkie. Which I guess is kinda what happened with the pharmacist.

hyacinths and biscuits said...

hi! I found your blog on James Burnett's page, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever read it. Anyway... I totally know what you mean about them giving mean stares when you go up to the pharmacist. I also hate that I am now confined to times when the pharmacy is open to be able to seek relief. Sometimes a girl feels like crap at 3am and needs medicine NOW! This sounds so dumb, but if I'm heading out for that medicine I'll usually purposefully look my crappiest so that they don't think I'm just trying to make Meth on the sly, and actually believe that I'm sick.

Anonymous said...

ya - it totally sucks that those drugs are scratch behind the counter and you nod nod nod can only buy so much of twitch them now twitch

scratch the back of my head while I bite my arm