UIHC sees increase in meth-related burn patients

BY DORA GROTE | MARCH 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Patients with methamphetamine-related burns are filling up the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics burn unit once again, UI officials say.

The steady rise comes from the popularity of the one-pot — also known as "Shake and Bake" — method. The method uses a significantly smaller amount of pseudoephedrine but also makes significantly less meth, causing the meth maker to produce more frequent, smaller batches, according to the Iowa City police.

Patients in the UIHC burn unit with meth lab-related burns rose from two in 2007 to 11 in 2010.

"[Patients] don't always come out and say they were burned making methamphetamine, but if they would have, it could have helped their care if we would have known earlier," said Lucy Wibbenmeyer, the interim codirector of the Burn Treatment Center.

Wibbenmeyer said meth-related burns tapered off because of the 2005 Federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which regulates over-the-counter purchases of pseudoephedrine — a drug used in methamphetamine production.

People who come with meth-related injuries sustain some sort of a chemical burn, which can become a scald injury at high temperatures, she said. Patients with such injuries receive a copious irrigation treatment — cleaning of the wound — followed by ointment. If the wound does not look as though it will heal, patients then go into surgery for a skin graft.

"A lot of these people [with meth burns] do not have insurance, so the hospital doesn't get compensated for care," Wibbenmeyer said. "And when they leave, we have a hard time finding therapy for them."

Patients typically have to stay in the hospital one day per percent body area burned. After leaving the hospital, patients must attend occupational or physical therapy to help them relearn everyday exercises, Wibbenmeyer said.

UIHC occupational therapist Melinda Shetler said burns that cross a joint will often scar and cause the skin to become tight, restricting moving and bending.

"It's kind of a life-changing event," Shetler said. "They have to make the commitment to doing that therapy, and if they don't, they run risks of potentially being disabled and not being able to just perform daily living skills."

Shetler said psychosocial components are also a factor in therapy. Patients must learn how to cope with how society views them after their appearance has changed from a burn.

Society plays a big role in the beginning stages of addiction to drugs, said UI nurse practitioner Dave Barloon.

"It's usually a combination of the culture they grow up with and group they hang out with," he said. "It's a learned behavior, and sometimes when you're hanging out with others who are abusing alcohol and pot, someone is going to pull out something a little stronger to get a little higher high."

Barloon said addiction could sometimes be influenced by genetics. He said some people try meth and don't like it, but others like the effect and want more.

"For something as serious as meth, the approach would not be to cut down or slow down, the approach would be abstinence," he said. "Just get them off of it. Our other approach is you don't do it alone."

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