As community leaders, health providers, and lawmakers work to address the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis, many parts of the United States are seeing a rise in other illicit substances. In many regions, this includes methamphetamine use and addiction.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is chemically similar to amphetamine, used in the treatment of narcolepsy or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The illicit version of the drug is highly addictive, causing a strong high when meth is injected, smoked, or snorted.
Is meth use increasing in the United States?
Data from a variety of sources indicate a rise in meth use across the nation. For example, San Diego County officials reported that there were 483 unintentional methamphetamine-related deaths in the county in 2018. This is an increase from 368 in 2017, and a record high.
In Erie County, Pa., opioid overdose deaths have been declining after a peak in 2017. However, area law enforcement officials also report a regional rise in the use of crystal meth.
Although widely considered a rural problem, meth use is also reaching U.S. cities. The Wisconsin Department of Justice reported that about 300 cases of meth use were reported across the state in 2008. That rose to more than 1,200 in 2019, including a rise of meth use in the more populated Madison area.
Who is at risk of meth use?
Because meth is a stimulant that is believed to increase libido, its use has been associated with risky sexual behavior. This has led to a possible connection between meth use and increased risk of HIV.
Among youths who have used meth, researchers have found several potential risk factors:
History of other risky behaviors
History of a psychiatric disorder
Family environment and family history of drug use
Other risk factors that may contribute to the use of meth and other illicit substances, include:
History of trauma
Lack of healthy coping techniques
Multiple childhood psychiatric disorders
What are some challenges to treating meth use and addiction?
The greatest challenge in addressing meth addiction is the lack of a well-established treatment specifically for this condition. The effectiveness of current treatments are also highly variable.
Meth addiction is usually treated with a combination of medical detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment, and relapse prevention. One study suggests that the opioid antagonist naltrexone could help treat meth addiction.
Concurrent conditions are also common with meth use, creating additional challenges. Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that patients who receive treatment for opioid use disorder are more than twice as likely to drop out of treatment if they also use meth. In San Diego County, adult arrestees who have used meth are more likely to demonstrate some form of mental illness than those who do not have a history of the drug.
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