During the late 1990s and 2000s, methamphetamine held the nation’s attention. The government allocated extra money and resources towards tackling drug trafficking, new restrictions were set in place to make it more difficult for individuals to purchase the necessary ingredients to make meth, the unforgettable Faces of Meth campaign was launched, and hit tv shows like Breaking Bad brought clandestine meth labs, cartels, and addiction into living rooms across the country. But over the last decade methamphetamine has disappeared from headlines. The focus has shifted to opioids, and while the opioid epidemic cannot be ignored, focusing solely on opioids has left the door wide open for methamphetamine to return with a vengeance.
Since 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol confiscated approximately 82,000 pounds of meth—almost ten times the amount found in 2010. Meth use has especially soared in the Midwest. But much like the opioid epidemic, the effects of meth have impacted people nationwide. In Oklahoma for example, deadly meth overdoses are more than twice as common as they were in 2012. In Virginia, meth’s availability has tripled since 2015 and users favor meth over heroin. In Nevada, overdose deaths caused by meth have the potential to eclipse opioid overdose deaths soon. And in Oregon, meth already kills more people than heroin.
Officials believe the rise in meth use is due to suppliers from Mexico who are targeting meth users in rural America. Drug cartels like the prominent Sinaloa cartel are profiting off the decline of meth labs in the United States and now generate hundreds of pounds of meth each day. In an interview with CNN, Capt. Mark Wollmershauser Jr. and the Tulsa Police Department reported that the meth they are finding is less expensive, purer, and more widely available than in previous years.
Meth and Other Drugs
Polydrug use among meth users is common – and often deadly. A combination often seen in emergency rooms is meth and alcohol. This drug mixture leads to a stronger high but also puts the user at a greater risk of suffering from an alcohol overdose. Respiratory depression and coma are also possible side effects of simultaneous meth and alcohol consumption.
Combining meth and opioids is also particularly dangerous. Because one drug can mask the effects of the other, individuals often use more than they normally would, increasing the risk of overdose. And while drugs such as Narcan can help reverse opioids overdoses, there is no medication currently available to reverse meth overdoses. Alarmingly, Portland public health officer Dr. Paul Lewis estimates that 80 to 90 percent of heroin users use meth as well.
A Different Approach to the Drug Epidemic
The opioid crisis has been the nation’s primary focus lately, but many believe that America’s approach to the epidemic is flawed and fails to address the underlying issue: addiction. The war on drugs and criminalization of addiction have done little to curve overdose numbers or minimize use. And many communities are seeking a different approach — one that doesn’t solely focus on opioids or meth or any other drug in particular but rather focuses on addiction and treats the epidemic for what it is, a disease. Breaking down the stigma that surrounds addiction as well as the barriers keeping individuals from seeking help is a necessary first step in tackling the drug epidemic ⎼ meth included.