Meth-Related Death Rate Surges In Nevada

By Kelly Burch 04/04/18

If the trend continues, meth and related drugs could be responsible for more deaths than opioids in the coming years.

medical team working on patient in the ER

While opioids receive the bulk of media and political attention, overdoses from methamphetamines are rising quickly in Nevada. 

The death rate from meth and other psychostimulants (a class of drugs that includes ecstasy, Adderall and Ritalin) rose 32% between 2015 and 2016, during which time prescription opioid-related overdoses dropped 9% in the state, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal

If those trends continue, meth and related drugs could be responsible for more deaths than opioids in Nevada in coming years. In 2016 the death rate from psychostimulants in Nevada reached 7.5 per 100,000, while opioid-related deaths dropped to 8.9 per 100,000, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fourteen other states also saw death rates from psychostimulants increase in 2016, with New Mexico and Oklahoma tied for the second-highest death rate from this class of drugs. 

Officials said that particularly in the Southwest, meth is cheaper and more readily available than opioids. 

“The No. 1 drug seized by all of our task forces is meth,” said Keith Carter, deputy director of the Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. “The meth being manufactured in Mexico is very high quality meth, and very potent.”

Although psychostimulants don’t usually cause death in and of themselves, they can cause heart and other organ failure in people who already have medical issues. In addition, the drugs can make people hallucinate and engage in risky behavior, which puts users at a higher risk for accidental death. 

Jamie Ross, executive director of the PACT Coalition, a drug prevention nonprofit in Southern Nevada, was not surprised that meth-related deaths rose even as opioid overdoses decreased.

“I’ve been doing this job six and a half years, and for the last three of four years, we’ve seen the numbers rising,” he said. “It unfortunately doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.”

During the 1990s, funds were allocated to fighting meth production and use, and overdose rates fell, said Ross. However, now most funds for drug interdiction and prevention are targeted toward opioids, which has allowed meth use to increase. 

“Then, the next big crisis—being, of course, the opiate crisis—became what was at the forefront of the overdose crisis,” Ross said.

Ross said that it is important that all deadly drugs receive funding for prevention measures. 

“I don’t want one to be more or less important than the other. I would love if we could have an open and honest dialogue about this.”

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