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FIRST-PERSON: Stimulated toward death

DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–For more than 50 years, stimulants have maintained a considerable measure of popularity, whether available through legal channels or obtained from illegal sources.

Amphetamines made their mark originally as pharmaceutical delights aimed to provide surefire weight loss. The diet craze was sweeping America during the 1960s, and ready customers for these capsules and pills flooded doctors’ offices for easily obtained prescriptions.

Although sleeplessness and nervousness were obvious to eager users, the drug delivered what it promised: weight loss as the substance was ingested on a regular basis. And the accompanying increase in energy and the wide-awake state were added bonuses.

But other, more disastrous side effects became obvious to long-term users. Paranoia and violence were other disturbing results for many who continued for long periods down the amphetamine (speed) road, whether the source was a doctor’s prescription or a street dealer. Stimulants have two quite negative effects. They speed up the heartbeat and constrict the blood vessels, and thus they increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Eventually professionals in the medical field and government regulators took notice, and finally it became more difficult to obtain a prescription. The public belatedly recognized potential harm, and most discontinued their habits, while others retreated to the street markets.

The diet craze did not disappear, however. Soon the market was glutted with products containing the herb ephedra, which was not carefully regulated by the government. Once again the public had discovered a substance that would do what it promised. Most in the market were convinced that pounds could be lost safely, and demand rose while businessmen steadily profited from their find.

However, these dietary supplements also caused an increase in the heartbeat rate and forced the vessels to constrict. But the public was lulled to sleep, delighting in certain weight loss and the tranquility of the legal marketplace.

Heart attacks and strokes were reported among some users, but no evidence seemed available to link these tragedies to ephedra, and the industry continued its brisk sales. Little attention was paid when national and international sporting groups banned the substance. A self-serving promotion group, formed to protect the manufacturers of and the outlets for the products containing ephedra, kept the public assured of its safety.

However, when the sudden deaths of sports figures who were ephedra users made the headlines, the public and the government began to question the safety of yet another substance that had delivered its original promises. But even now public opinion is slow to rise up against a substance that will make us feel or look better. We are reluctant to ask the essential question that should mark all such decisions: At what cost do we use the products that originally make such bold and enticing promises?

We have been eager to point fingers of blame and shame at those who choose illegal stimulants such as methamphetamine or crack, two other extremely dangerous amphetamine-related substances that produce feelings they promise to provide. Yet law-abiding society excuses its own poor choices under the deceptive veil of legality. Legal or illegal drugs posses the potential to deliver death.

Perhaps if we would pledge to learn the whole story before our next headlong rush into the use of potentially dangerous stimulants we would save others and ourselves from the tragedies of harm’s way.
Stone and Barber are coauthors of two books on alcohol and drug abuse, “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Hurts” and “The Drug Tragedy — Hope for the One Who Cares,” both available from LifeWay Christian Stores.

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  • Ted G. Stone & Philip Barber