Meth Hospitalizations More Than Double

By Kelly Burch 11/29/18

According to a new study, the number of meth-related hospitalizations is increasing much faster than opioid-related hospitalizations.

woman is hospitalized for meth-related illness

The number of people visiting the hospital because of amphetamine-related illnesses rose 245% between 2008 and 2015, but the unprecedented rise in meth-related emergencies continues to be overshadowed by the opioid epidemic, experts say. 

“Nobody is paying attention,” said Jane Maxwell, a researcher at the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, according to Kaiser Health News. “We have really undercut treatment for methamphetamine. Meth has been completely overshadowed by opioids.”

According to a study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of meth-related hospitalizations is increasing much faster than opioid-related hospitalizations, which rose 46% during the same period. In addition, the cost of treating people who are using methamphetamines rose from $436 million in 2003 to nearly $2.2 billion by 2015, with Medicaid covering most of the cost.    

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see someone acutely intoxicated on methamphetamine,” said Dr. Tarak Trivedi, an emergency room physician in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties in California. “It’s a huge problem, and it is 100 percent spilling over into the emergency room.”

Opioids still kill more Americans than meth—claiming about 49,000 lives last year, compared with 10,000 deaths caused by methamphetamine. However, doctors and law enforcement are concerned about the escalating use of meth, which can lead to a variety of physical and mental-health complications, including psychosis. 

“It taxes your first responders, your emergency rooms, your coroners,” said Robert Pennal, a retired supervisor with the California Department of Justice. “It’s an incredible burden on the health system.”

Methamphetamine can cause psychotic symptoms as people come down from their high. In addition, users experience a faster heart rate that can lead to congestive heart failure in the long run. Cardiovascular and psychiatric issues were the leading causes of amphetamine-related hospitalizations, the JAMA study found. Researchers also noted that about half of the hospitalizations involved another drug in addition to amphetamines. 

“Meth is very, very destructive,” said Jon Lopey, the sheriff-coroner of Siskiyou County, California and a member of the executive board of the California Peace Officers Association. “It is just so debilitating the way it ruins lives and health.”

Dr. Tyler Winkelman, a physician at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis and author of the JAMA study, said that because of the opioid epidemic, “we have not been properly keeping tabs on other substance use trends as robustly as we should.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.