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Need help navigating life with diabetes? You can always Ask D'Mine... Welcome back to our weekly Q&A column, hosted by veteran type 1 and diabetes author Wil Dubois.

Today, Wil is tackling a question related to the issue of drug use and diabetes -- or more specifically, the second-hand effect when you're living someplace that used to be occupied by meth users.

{ Got your own questions? Email us at AskDMine@diabetesmine.com }

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Anonymous, type 2 from Alabama, asks:  Can renting / living in a meth house affect my diabetes and make my blood sugar run high?  

Wil@Ask D’Mine answers: Holy crap. Here and I thought mold was the greatest threat when it came to rental houses! Well, I dug into this for you, and while—not surprisingly—I couldn’t find any research or studies that looked specifically at diabetes and meth house occupation, I found enough circumstantial evidence to be confident in saying: Living in a meth house will absolutely affect your diabetes and make your blood sugar run high. 

Let’s start by looking at what a meth house is. There are several definitions of “meth house,” including houses where meth is used and houses where leftover chemicals from meth production are dumped. But for the most part, a meth house is a location where meth was manufactured. In short, a meth lab.

What are the risks associated with meth labs? Well, the manufacture of meth is messy business. All manner of nasty toxic chemicals are used or are created as a byproduct of the process. And, hey, let’s face it: The typical meth lab is an amateur affair with fewer environmental controls than a typical high school chemistry classroom. Poorly contained, these chemicals drift in the air, coating every surface and soaking into the ceilings, walls, floors, and air ducts—turning an otherwise charming abode into a toxic wasteland.

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The "second-hand" effects of meth production on blood sugars and overall health with diabetes are profound.

What chemicals are we talking about here? The EPA has a 44-page booklet on meth lab cleanup which contains an appendix of the chemicals associated with meth production. There are a whopping 53 listed, each with side effects varying from eye irritation to leukemia. It’s somber reading.

This is why you see law enforcement personnel dressed like astronauts when they gather crime scene evidence after busts at meth labs.

How big a problem is this? How many ex meth labs are there on the real estate market? Numbers vary, depending on who you ask, but it’s a big enough national problem that an entire private industry has popped up, offering both testing and cleaning of properties that used to be meth labs. For instance, the Minnesota Department of Health lists 11 different firms that specialize in the “remediation” of meth labs in their state alone.

But as it turns out, cleaning up a residential meth lab makes cleaning up the nuclear test range in Nevada look like a walk in the park, by comparison. In fact, some experts feel that meth can never be truly removed from a home, as building materials can absorb chemicals during meth production, and then slowly release them back out into the environment over time, making a cleansing of the surfaces a half measure at best. Put another way, meth chemicals soak into the very bones of a house. Perhaps even into the soil it sits on.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that people get sick living in meth houses, including ones that have supposedly been cleaned up. These illnesses can be both short-term and long-term. The Illinois Department of Health says that environmental exposure to meth’s volatile organic chemicals can cause the short-term problems such as nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and breathing difficulties. Meanwhile, a study of 91 children environmentally exposed to meth in their households showed that chemicals in the drug could be detected in both their urine and hair long after the kiddos were removed from the environment. And while the long-term health threats are still being recognized, many of the meth chemicals are carcinogens.

OK, so we know that a meth house is a bad-news environment, seething with a wide variety of toxic chemicals that can make people sick both immediately and down the road. But what about blood sugar control? What do we know about meth and diabetes control? 

You can read the details in our previous coverage of meth and diabetes here, but in nutshell, meth tends to drive blood sugar upward—although one recent study suggested the opposite. That said, we're talking about environmental exposure here, as opposed to the effects of using meth. The body’s response to exposure to the chemical cocktail of poisons released during the manufacture of meth is a different thing.

The toxicity of these various chemicals and compounds aside, we know that virtually any irritant—from allergy to the common cold—will cause blood sugar to rise in PWDs (people with diabetes). Is it any wonder then, that exposed to 53 dangerous chemicals, your body would freak out?

Move out, Girl. Right away. To hell with giving notice. 

But how can you avoid finding yourself in yet another meth house? Believe it or not, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has your back. They keep a list of meth-contaminated houses on their website. Some of the houses were labs, some were “dump sites,” and others “smoke shops.”

So check the list first before you sign another lease. The DEA’s meth house list has 496 properties in your state alone. 


Will Dubois lives with type 1 diabetes and is the author of five books on the illness, including "Taming The Tiger" and "Beyond Fingersticks." He spent many years helping treat patients at a rural medical center in New Mexico. An aviation enthusiast, Wil lives in Las Vegas, NM, with his wife and son, and one too many cats.

 


This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. Bottom Line: You still need the guidance and care of a licensed medical professional.