What's Fueling The Rise Of Meth?

By Kelly Burch 06/14/18

Ohio, Nevada, Utah and parts of Montana have seen a recent rise in methamphetamine use. 

hand holding pills

In rural Ohio, an increasing number of opioid users are turning to methamphetamine to get high, driven in part by a medication that is meant to help them stay sober. 

“Right now that's our biggest challenge—is methamphetamines,” Amanda Lee, a counselor at Health Recovery Services in McArthur, Ohio, told NPR. “I think partly because of the Vivitrol program.”

Vivitrol is an injectable medication used to support recovery from opioid addiction. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, so that people are not able to get high off opioids. However, Lee points out that when the underlying cause of addiction—like pain or trauma—is not addressed, desperate users simply find a new substance to abuse. 

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

Lee said that in her opinion, methamphetamine is much more debilitating than opioids. 

“There's paranoia. There is hallucinations. It almost looks like people have schizophrenia,” she said. “Methamphetamines scare me more than opiates ever did.”

“You can't really describe the smell,” said Detective Ryan Cain, lead narcotics detective for Vinton County, Ohio. “It's a combination of lithium out of a battery. A lot of them use Coleman camp fuel. It's a solvent. They use ammonium nitrate, which is usually out of a cold pack. And all of it's very cancerous.”

Trecia Kimes-Brown, the county prosecutor, has seen how meth addiction, like opioids, involves the whole family. 

“When you're living in a house where people are making meth, it's not just the health effects. These kids are living in these environments where, you know, they're not being fed,” she said. “They’re not being clothed properly. They're not being sent to school. They're being mistreated. And they have a front-row seat to all of this.”

In addition to meth produced locally, cheap meth from Mexico is now trafficked into Ohio by drug cartels south of the border, according to officials. 

Ohio isn’t unique in how the drug crisis has shifted. In Kentucky, the focus on preventing opioid addiction also contributed to an increase in meth addiction. 

"People say, 'Why do you not have an opioid problem? Why does Daviess County not suffer the same problems?'" Sheriff Keith Cain said last month. "I'd like to say it's because of progressive police work. But I think the prime reason we don't have an opioid problem here is because our people are addicted to meth.”

Nevada, Utah and parts of Montana have also seen a rise in methamphetamine use recently. 

"Meth is kind of the forgotten drug out there, and it's still a huge problem in our society," Lt. Todd Royce with Utah Highway Patrol said last month. "It's a horrible epidemic and it destroys families."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

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