Meth Resurgence Highlights The Limits Of Addiction Meds

By Kelly Burch 01/17/19

As the rates of use for methamphetamine and other street drugs rise, providers are realizing the limitations of medication-assisted treatment. 

Doctor talking to patient about addiction medication

Medication-assisted treatment has been heralded as the most effective way to treat opioid use disorder, and the opioid-overdose reversal drug naloxone has been credited with helping to control the rate of fatal overdoses in the country.

However, while public health officials praise the importance of the pharmaceutical response to the opioid crisis, they are also calling attention to the lack of medical options for treating other types of addiction. 

Psychiatrist Margaret Jarvis, a distinguished fellow for the American Society of Addiction Medicine, told ABC News that as the rates of use for methamphetamine and other street drugs rise, providers are realizing the limitations of medication-assisted treatment. 

“We’re realizing that we don’t have everything we might wish we had to address these different kinds of drugs,” she said.

Dr. David Persse, who directs emergency medical services in Houston, said that while opioid overdose reversal drugs are an important life-saving tool, actually using them on the scene of an overdose can be complicated, since people often have more than one type of drug in their systems, all of which act differently.

For example, an opioid overdose is characterized by slowed breathing, whereas during a meth overdose the cardiovascular system speeds up, putting people at risk for heart attack and seizures. 

Even if there were a similar drug to naloxone that could be used to reverse meth use, emergency medical responders would struggle to know which to use, Persse said. 

“If we had five or six miracle drugs, it’s still gonna be difficult to know which one that patient needs,” he said. 

Researchers are working on developing medications to treat the use and abuse of drugs other than opioids.

Last May, the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that researchers at the Universities of Kentucky and Arkansas developed a molecule that blocks the effects of meth, in a similar fashion to how medications like Vivitrol block the brain’s opioid receptors. 

However, without addressing the root causes of addiction, these medications can have unintended consequences. Last year, a recovery counselor in Ohio told NPR that she believes the Vivitrol program in her community was contributing to meth addiction. People who were treated with Vivitrol could no longer get high with opioids, so they turned to other means of self-medication, she said. 

“The Vivitrol injection does not cover receptors in the brain for methamphetamines, so they can still get high on meth,” she said. “So they are using methamphetamines on top of the Vivitrol injection.”

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