While Opioids Get the Spotlight, Meth Has Surged in Use with Fewer Help Options

While the focus of public health officials, much of the news media, and the general public has been on the opioid epidemic in recent years, the meth use epidemic has quietly been on the rise.

The use of methamphetamine is surging in the United States, as those reported to have a methamphetamine use disorder increased by 41% in just one year. Overdose deaths involving meth more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2017, especially in Western U.S. states like California, Texas, Colorado, and Washington. Despite this, much of the funding and dialogue, especially on the East Coast, is directed primarily to the opioid crisis.

Methamphetamine is the primary drug of choice for patients admitted to outpatient treatment programs in Orange County, where the usage rate is much higher than the state and national averages. Meanwhile, 37% of all meth seized nationally is seized in Riverside County, a hub of drug smuggling and distribution that has been referred to as the “methamphetamine capital of the United States,” with higher rates of abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths compared to other counties. 

Over 70% of local law enforcement agencies throughout the West and Midwest say that meth is their greatest drug threat.

So what can we do to combat the rise in meth use across the country? 

Acknowledge the Problem

National estimates of meth use may be low compared to other illicit drugs such as opioids, but stimulant use is rising nationwide, especially in Western parts of the country. Media attention to methamphetamine has been sparse and much in the shadow of the opioid crisis, especially on the East Coast.  

While opioids have proven to be more lethal (47,000 people died of opioid-related overdoses compared to 10,333 involving meth), the death rate for meth has been rising, especially in cities like San Francisco. Emergency room visits related to meth use in the city jumped 600% from 2011 to 2016, while admissions to the hospital were up 400%. Lawmakers responded by establishing a task force to grapple with the limited treatment options in combating the epidemic.

While San Francisco is stepping up with its task force, national indicators overlook the public health and law enforcement problems related to meth in certain areas of the country. In some areas, there are nearly no treatment admissions for meth, whereas, in others, meth admissions are higher than those for heroin. 

Another cause for concern is the possibility of mixing methamphetamine with other drugs. Much like the health concern that is mixing heroin with fentanyl and other drugs, mixing meth with other drugs could lead to higher overdose and death rates in counties across the U.S.

Higher rates of meth use have been reported in communities involving men who have sex with other men, young women, victims of physical and sexual abuse, and those who participate in illegal behaviors such as crime and violence.

Production of the drug has exploded south of the U.S. border as the demand for Mexican marijuana has drastically decreased to its legalization in some U.S. states. Due to a U.S. crackdown on the chemicals needed to make meth, more meth is being produced by cartels in Mexico than ever, thus putting Southern Californians, who live in a hot spot of the illicit drug trade, at risk.

Seek Out the Right Treatment Options

For methamphetamine, relapse is part of recovery, and 61% will begin to use again within a year of finishing treatment. Unlike opioids, there are no medication treatments to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it much more of a challenge to treat. 

Finding the right therapy options is one certain way to seek help for stimulant use disorders such as meth. While there are no current medications for meth use disorder, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and contingency management have all proven to be effective in curbing use. Contingency management uses stimulus control, positive reinforcement, and self-fulfilling prophecies in ways that can change behavior.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation runs a 12-week program called the Positive Reinforcement Opportunity Project to help men who have sex with men stop using meth, which has led to an increase in men coming in for help.  

Because methamphetamine cravings are so intense, outpatient treatment programs for users who have suffered from addiction for years or an at-home detox are typically not recommended over inpatient residential treatment programs

Understand the risks of meth use

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive, dangerous chemical stimulant that causes long-term, severe side effects like tooth decay, depression, and psychosis. In addition to addiction and risk of overdose, chronic users can exhibit symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, and violent behavior. They may also display psychotic features such as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, like the sensation of insects creeping underneath the skin. Psychotic symptoms can last for months or years even after a person has stopped using.

Withdrawal symptoms from meth addiction start about one day after the last use of the drug, while intense cravings can linger for up to five weeks after cessation, increasing the risk of relapse. 

Severe depression and psychosis are serious issues that can be onset by methamphetamine detoxification. These issues, along with the intense cravings of withdrawal, make it risky and unsafe to go through the recovery process alone.

The use of meth can lead to the devastation of families, medical emergencies, lifelong addiction, and an increased chance of overdose death. 

The staff at Windward Way understands how painful and difficult coming off meth can be. Our world-class methamphetamine detox center is a secure, inpatient facility where patients are given the care and supervision necessary to embark on a fun, safe, and life-long journey of recovery.  

It’s easy to get started. If you or someone you love is suffering from a dependency to methamphetamine, reach out by giving us a call at 855-491-7694.

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