Signs and Symptoms
Stimulants elevate heart rate, raise blood pressure, reduce appetite, and contribute to sleeplessness. Overdosing on crystal meth or prescription stimulants worsens these effects and can cause a variety of other reactions – both physical and psychological.
- Rapid heart beat
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Enhanced senses4
What to Do
If you observe any of these physical or psychological symptoms, call 911 immediately.
While awaiting emergency services, you can do the following:
- Keep the person calm and do not engage in a confrontation.
- If the individual is having a seizure, clear any harmful objects nearby.
- Roll the person onto his or her side to ease breathing and to prevent aspiration if he or she vomits.
- Gently hold the person’s head up from the floor to prevent injury, but do not try to hold the arms, legs, or body down.8
- Begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if he or she stops breathing.
Treatment for speed overdose may include:
- Stabilization. An emergency department visit usually begins with stabilization of dangerous side effects. Cooling the body, preventing seizures, lowering blood pressure, and bringing heart rate under control are all typical protocols.
- Diagnostics. ER staff will usually perform blood tests for drug types and levels as well as kidney and liver function. Staff may use electrocardiograms and imaging studies to explore cardiac issues and possible stroke.5,7
- Referral for counseling/treatment. After stabilization, mental health professionals may discuss treatment options with the drug overdose patient. Social workers may offer to help arrange for specific treatment options.
Is It Fatal?
Overdosing on prescription speed or methamphetamine can cause serious and even life-threatening side effects, including sudden death for people with certain heart conditions.3
Speed overdose can also cause the following serious physical symptoms requiring urgent medical attention:
- Hyperthermia (dangerous overheating)
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- Muscle rigidity7
In some cases, these symptoms cause the breakdown of muscle tissue. Left unchecked, this breakdown leads to a potentially fatal condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can cause renal failure.7
Speed users may also use other drugs, such as heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine, and alcohol. In fact, more than 60% of emergency department visits for methamphetamine abuse involve other drugs.6 Even combining speed with over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, can result in dangerous elevations in blood pressure.10
In addition to the dangers from speed and other drugs, behaviors resulting from speed use can prove fatal. Injuries from automobile accidents and physical altercations, for example, can take lives.
Long-Term Effects of Abuse
Long-term use of speed can cause memory loss, psychosis, and cognitive problems.
Use of speed has the potential for such long-term effects as dental and gum damage.11 Most long-term effects involve the brain and may include:
- Memory loss.
- Deficits in motor skills and thinking.
- Mood disturbances.
- Weight loss.12
Recovering From an Overdose
Fortunately, in 2011, 64% of speed overdose victims were treated and released from the emergency department following stabilization.6
People who recover from a speed overdose may still have a problem with substance abuse. Seeking help from a drug recovery center is imperative to prevent another overdose and to help overcome the compulsion to continue abusing these dangerous substances.
The first step of the detoxification process is to alleviate withdrawal symptoms (depression, fatigue, anxiety, drug craving) by gradually reducing the amount of the drug. After detox, professionals rely on behavioral and group therapies, usually in combination with each other. Cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and the Matrix Model are potential therapies to help people recover from speed overdose and addiction. 9,10 These treatments are available in inpatient and outpatient settings.
- Inpatient rehab. These are programs where participants live at the treatment facility for a certain amount of time (usually 28 to 90 days). Some programs may provide detox services, followed by a structured program of group and individual therapy, as well as classes on addiction education and relapse prevention. Luxury and executive options are also available.
- Outpatient rehab. Outpatient recovery centers offer similar services to inpatient programs, but on a less intensive scale. Participants attend treatment part-time and continue to live at home. These programs may be a good match for people who do not have severe or long-standing addictions, are not abusing other drugs, and do not need medical supervision.
- 12-step programs. Twelve-step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Pills Anonymous offer a free program of recovery that includes completing a series of steps or actions. Many people find the peer support and feedback in 12-step programs helpful during and after formal treatment.
Although the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t specifically approved any drugs for speed dependence, treatments do exist.10 Drug therapies have proved beneficial for some and include dextroamphetamine, certain antidepressants, and gabapentin.9
Finding a Recovery Center
Treatment for speed overdose and abuse is available nationwide.
If you or someone you know needs help, it’s not too late to turn things around. Use our online directory to find programs that can help treat an addiction to speed.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014). Drug facts: Stimulant ADHD medications: Methylphenidate and amphetamine.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2013). Methamphetamine.
. National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine (2016). Amphetamine.
. North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (2016). Overamping or speed “overdose”.
. National Institutes of Health: National Library of Medicine (2015). Methamphetamine overdose.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014). The DAWN report: Emergency department visits involving methamphetamine: 2007-2011.
. Merck Manual (2016). Amphetamines.
. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Seizure first aid.
. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience (2006). The need for speed: An update on methamphetamine addiction.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2011). Prescription drugs: Abuse and addiction.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2015). High rates of dental and gum disease occur among methamphetamine users.
. National Institute of Drug Abuse (2013). What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?
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