Drug Use in Mexico Increases Risk of Visual Impairment

In Mexico, the consumption of psychoactive substances, both natural and synthetic, poses a significant public health issue and raises the likelihood of developing visual impairments or blindness, according to a specialist in Mexico City.

The consumption of psychoactive substances—natural or synthetic compounds that affect the nervous system by altering thoughts, emotions, and behavior—has been identified as a significant public health problem in Mexico. These substances not only affect mental health but also significantly increase the risk of visual impairments, including blindness. Gerardo Gleason, an expert in technology for ophthalmic surgeries, highlighted these concerns during a discussion in Mexico City.

“Drugs cause physical changes in the eyes that go beyond the usual visible signs like red eyes or abnormal pupil size, and they deeply and permanently impact eye health,” Gleason noted. He made these remarks in the context of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, observed annually on June 26.

Alarming Rise in Drug Use

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) 2023 report from the United Nations (UN) indicates a troubling trend: the use of methamphetamines, ecstasy, and other stimulants in Mexico increased by 218% between 2017 and 2022. Gleason explained that drugs such as cocaine can cause retinal detachments, while LSD and crack cocaine increase the risk of retinopathy and vision loss.

Marijuana use can lead to dry eyes and photophobia, while opioids can cause reduced pupil size, dry eyes, excessive tearing, and a higher risk of severe eye infections. Furthermore, a study by Indiana University in the United States found that cocaine and amphetamine use is associated with a greater risk of developing open-angle glaucoma. This serious eye condition can lead to vision loss if not treated properly.

An analysis led by the University of Oklahoma revealed that early use of psychoactive substances, particularly before the age of 21, could increase the likelihood of visual impairments or total vision loss. “These findings highlight the importance of raising awareness about the ocular risks associated with drug use. It is also crucial for ophthalmic health professionals to stay vigilant about these issues and continually update their skills,” said Gleason.

Impact on Eye Health

The impact of drug use on eye health is multifaceted. Cocaine, for example, can cause retinal detachments, which are severe conditions where the retina peels away from its underlying layer of support tissue. If not treated promptly, retinal detachments can lead to permanent vision loss. LSD and crack cocaine pose significant risks as well, increasing the chances of developing retinopathy, a disease of the retina that results in impairment or loss of vision.

Marijuana, often perceived as less harmful, can cause dry eyes and sensitivity to light (photophobia). Opioids, on the other hand, are notorious for reducing pupil size, leading to a condition known as miosis, which can hinder vision. They can also cause dry eyes and excessive tearing and elevate the risk of severe ocular infections.

The association between drug use and glaucoma is particularly concerning. Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve and can lead to untreated blindness. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, develops slowly and often without noticeable symptoms until significant damage has occurred. The increased risk of glaucoma among users of cocaine and amphetamines underscores the urgent need for preventive measures and early detection.

The Role of Health Professionals

Gleason emphasized that ophthalmologists and other health professionals must proactively address these issues. Advanced diagnostic equipment is essential for early diagnosis, allowing timely treatment and more effective patient care. “The prevention of drug use and a comprehensive approach to this issue are fundamental to mitigating the harmful effects of these substances on overall and visual health,” he asserted.

The Latin American context adds another layer of complexity. In many Latin American countries, including Mexico, access to healthcare services can be limited, and the healthcare systems often need more funding and resource constraints. This makes it even more critical for health professionals to be aware of the specific risks associated with drug use and to have the tools necessary to address these risks effectively.

Public health campaigns in Mexico and other Latin American countries must, therefore, focus not only on the general dangers of drug use but also on its specific impacts on eye health. Education and awareness are critical components of these campaigns. Informing the public about the risks can help reduce the prevalence of drug use and encourage individuals to seek help before significant damage occurs.

Prevention and Comprehensive Care

Preventing drug use requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying causes, such as poverty, lack of education, and limited opportunities. In Mexico, these issues are particularly acute, contributing to the high rates of drug use and its associated health problems. Comprehensive care involves not only treating the immediate effects of drug use but also providing support for long-term recovery and rehabilitation.

Healthcare providers must work together with community organizations, schools, and families to create supportive environments that discourage drug use and promote healthy lifestyles. Programs that provide education, job training, and social support can help individuals avoid the pitfalls of drug use and build brighter futures.

Furthermore, international cooperation is essential. Drug trafficking and abuse are global issues that require coordinated responses. Latin American countries, including Mexico, can benefit from sharing best practices and resources with international organizations. This cooperation can help build more muscular healthcare systems and effective public health campaigns.

Also read: Sheinbaum’s Judicial Reform Sparks Debate and Market Reactions in Mexico

The consumption of psychoactive substances in Mexico is a pressing public health issue that significantly increases the risk of visual impairments and blindness. The alarming rise in drug use highlights the need for comprehensive strategies that involve prevention, early diagnosis, and effective treatment. Health professionals must stay vigilant and continually update their skills to address these challenges. Public health campaigns must focus on raising awareness about the specific risks of drug use, and comprehensive care must address the underlying causes of drug use. By working together, we can mitigate the harmful effects of drugs on both overall and visual health and create a healthier future for all.

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