Meth Seizures, Overdoses Skyrocket

By Kelly Burch 08/02/19

"Meth just presents a whole new issue for us, and our officers are getting hurt. We've had concussions. We've had broken hands,” said one police chief.

Image: 
officers at the site of a meth seizure
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Seizures of methamphetamine rose 142% between 2017 and 2018, according to federal data obtained by NPR. During the same time, overdoses involving a stimulant increased 21%. 

"We're seeing almost as many people starting up methamphetamines and cocaine and prescription stimulants as are abusing the opioids," said John Eadie, public health coordinator for the National Emerging Threats Initiative, which falls under the government’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. "So the problem is getting worse at the moment, and it's getting more complicated to deal with.”

Officers' Safety

Concord, New Hampshire, Chief of Police Bradley Osgood said that the rise in meth is making policing more risky for his officers. 

"Methamphetamine just presents a whole new issue for us, and our officers are getting hurt. We've had concussions. We've had broken hands,” he said. 

While Concord has had one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the country, Osgood has seen a sudden and steep uptick in meth on the streets, he said. 

"It's surpassed what we're seeing from heroin and fentanyl. The rise in meth has just been unbelievable.”

Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, who runs an Emergency Room outside of Boston, said that she now sees about four admissions for meth overdoses each week. In previous years, meth overdoses were virtually unheard of, she said. 

In addition to methamphetamine, other stimulants, like ADHD medications, are being abused more often, said Mbabazi Kariisa, a health scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

“We know that the relationship between stimulants and cocaine is a growing problem, and it requires an increase in public health and data collection efforts so that we can implement effective and comprehensive drug overdose prevention," Kariisa said. 

Meth isn’t as likely to cause a fatal overdose as opioids. However, meth users experience symptoms that mimic psychosis, which can lead to risky behavior. Osgood said that he has had officers follow a meth user leaping through traffic. In other cases, all officers on duty have had to be called to contain a person on meth. 

No Narcan For Meth

One of the most concerning aspects of meth use is that there is no medication that can reverse the effects of meth, as Narcan can do for opioids. Benzodiazepines can be used as sedatives for meth users in emergencies, but getting the right dose is difficult, said Lai-Becker.

"You're looking at the speedometer, and you're trying to get them down from going 148 miles per hour down to 60 miles per hour," she said. "You want to get them to right around the speed limit, but you don't want to bring them all the way to a full stop.”

Jon DeLena, special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that Mexican Cartels are pushing meth into the country because drug users are becoming more wary of using opioids that could be laced with deadly fentanyl.

He said that he recently toured a Mexican meth lab that was producing more than 14 tons of meth a week. 

"It was enormous. It was incredible," he said. "Those are the drugs that are coming into the United States and ultimately up into our region."

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

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