Cristie. Ice. Tweak. Chalk. Chicken Feed. They're all street names for the illegal drug crystal methamphetamine. A majority of U.S. counties have reported crystal meth as their most serious drug problem, citing it more often than cocaine and marijuana combined. In Hollywood, cocaine is still king, but meth is gaining.
“It is in the circuit and it’s slowly rising,” Dr. Eric Braverman, addiction specialist and author of “Younger (Sexier) You” told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “It doesn’t need to be imported; it can be made at home, so it’s one of the hardest substances to police or control.”
Several celebs have admitted to falling prey to the powerful drug. Prior to the success of the “Black Eyed Peas” lead singer Fergie was hooked on the stuff. Tom Sizemore was arrested in 2007 for possession of meth. The following year Farrah Fawcett's son, Ryan O’Neal, was taken to the slammer after authorities found meth strewn about his Malibu home. And “Full House” star Jodie Sweetin disclosed in her 2009 memoir that she struggled with crystal meth addiction, admitting that during the 2004 premiere for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's “New York Minute,” she walked the red carpet "high as a kite."
The impact of meth addiction on one’s health is particularly devastating.
Crystal meth blows out the brain’s ability to make dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure center, resulting in brain damage, Braverman said. The user can only regain physical energy from continuing to use it.
“Crystal meth is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, and it also does the most harm,” warned Pax Prentiss, the founder and director of the Passages Malibu drug and alcohol treatment center. “It’s not uncommon to see someone who is dependent on crystal meth to have no teeth and horrible looking skin. Crystal meth is a toxic chemical and causes the most harm on the body, even more than heroin and crack cocaine.”
Prentiss once encountered a long-time addict who had even lost his nose from prolonged use of the drug. Beverly Hills-based psychology counselor and clinical therapist Carla Lundblade said that the physical implications of crystal meth can haunt a recovered addict for years.
“Studies suggest that injury to users' thinking and reasoning capabilities may be long lasting. Continual abuse may cause psychotic behaviors, which may demonstrate themselves as insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, violent aggression, hallucinations and delusions,” she explained. “Continual abuse may also lead to death.”
Yet even with knowledge of such horrifying consequences, crystal meth still has allure in the image-conscious entertainment industry.
“There is often a lot of pressure to maintain a Hollywood relationship, and meth (gives the perception of) increased libido sexual performance,” Braverman said. Methamphetamine is also used for its appetite suppression side effect. Celebrity addiction specialist Dr. Reef Karim, director of The Control Center and assistant clinical professor at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience, told Pop Tarts of one high-profile client who turned to meth snorting as a means of shedding a few unwanted pounds.
“In the short term, she said she actually felt okay, and she actually felt like not eating. But in the long term, she got psychotic. That’s when she came to my office, because she was paranoid and she thought the police were after her and the CIA had bugged her apartment, and all sorts of other stuff," Karim said. "In the end, she had to be treated for a meth problem, and it all started 100 percent because she wanted to lose weight.”
And for those still awaiting the big money that comes from their “big break,” meth – also referred to as “poor man’s cocaine” – is much cheaper than its illegal counterparts. It can even be cooked up in one’s own kitchen.
“The drug is very cheap and made out of chemicals that you can buy in any drug store,” continued Prentiss. “The most expensive drug is heroin, and it’s not uncommon for a celebrity with a heroin habit to pay up to $500 a day, or $200,000 a year. But a typical meth habit is only $20-40 per day.”
But Hollywood isn't just sitting on the sidelines watching the drug gain traction. In 2008, Oscar-nominated film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu joined forces with the Meth Project, a large-scale prevention program aimed at reducing first-time meth use, and directed a series of 30-second spots using the tagline “This isn’t normal, but on meth it is.” Prior to his involvement, the campaign also enlisted directors Tony Kaye and Darren Aronofsky to direct anti-meth commercials.
The biggest problem medical professionals’ say they face in fighting the meth epidemic is successfully treating existing addicts.
“It’s very hard to keep a meth addict in treatment. It’s a real struggle to treat them, but generally rehab centers are best,” Braverman said.
However, according to Prentiss, many of those facilities go about handling the problem the wrong way.
“You have to diagnose the underlying problem that causes he or she to use. The second step is to heal that problem, so that the person can remain substance-free,” he added.”This is something that most treatment centers fail to do, instead they place the blame on the disease and as a result the underlying problems go undiagnosed resulting in relapse.”