A Meth Crisis Is Growing In The Shadow Of The Opioid Epidemic

By Lindsey Weedston 05/08/19

Meth-related deaths quadrupled from 2011 to 2017.

woman with meth addiction

Overdose deaths involving methamphetamine have more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2017 and authorities are struggling to keep up with the increases in addiction and erratic behavior caused by the drug.

However, these alarming statistics have been overshadowed by the opioid epidemic and funding to address the problem has been sorely lacking.

Drug trends tend to go back and forth from stimulants to depressants, and the public's focus and efforts to combat addiction and overdose shift with time.

As signs that the opioid epidemic may be leveling out have appeared and information campaigns have successfully warned people away from dangerous amounts of these depressants, meth use has become almost socially acceptable in some areas.

According to "Kim," a woman interviewed by NPR who has struggled with meth addiction for many years, the taboo against taking this intense stimulant has lessened over the years.

"Now what I see, in any neighborhood, you can find it,” she said. “It's not the same as it used to be where it was kind of taboo. It's more socially accepted now."

Part of the reason the growing meth problem across the Midwest and West Coast has been overshadowed is likely because meth overdose is significantly less likely to end in death compared to opioid overdose.

Opioids depress the central nervous system, and too much physical depression can cause an individual to stop breathing. With stimulants like meth, death is usually caused by a heart attack or brain hemorrhage or as a result of mixing the drug with depressants, including opioids.

Reports of deaths from batches of meth contaminated with fentanyl have been increasing over the past year. Authorities believe that illicit drug manufacturers are handling meth on the same surfaces touched by the highly potent opioid, as tiny amounts of fentanyl can be enough to cause an overdose. Stimulants can also hide the signs of opioid overdose, so mixing the two can be especially dangerous.

"Folks that are doing hardcore illicit drugs can be pretty fussy, too," says University of California’s Dr. Daniel Ciccarone. "And most meth users really, really, really, really don't want an unbeknownst fentanyl put into their methamphetamine."

At the same time, a higher number of older adults appear to be experimenting with meth. According to the program manager of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Positive Reinforcement Opportunity Project, Rick Andrews, this may be due to the fact that older gay men were too nervous about HIV to engage in much drug use in their youth and are looking to make up for it.

Older tissue can’t stand up to the high blood pressure and heart rates associated with stimulants in the way that young tissue can, resulting in more strokes and heart attacks.

"They feel like they've missed out and they want to have a little fun and make up for lost time maybe," Andrews said.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston