America is Facing Two Epidemics – Meth vs. Opioid Crisis. In recent years, the opioid epidemic has been the focal point of concern amongst public health officials. While the opioid crisis is a national healthcare emergency responsible for 47,600 approximated deaths in 2017 (due to overdoses) there has been another crisis vigorously and quietly brewing behind the scenes; methamphetamine use. Mostly impacting the western parts of the United States, the use of methamphetamine is SURGING.
The sudden increase in meth-use over recent years has posed a number of challenges, one in which being that treatment providers and first responders are struggling to accommodate the rise in demand for the medical care/treatment of meth-related medical issues.
Between the years of 2011-2017, meth-induced overdoses more than quadrupled and admission rates to addiction recovery centers for the treatment of this drug also rose by 17% – in only 6 years. It’s a new epidemic that’s worsening progressively. This public health crisis needs to be addressed on a nation-wide level.
Between the years of 2008-2015, hospitalization admission rates for meth-related cases increased by around 245%.
A recent law enforcement survey, conducted in the Midwest/West learned that 70% of law enforcement agencies believe that meth is the largest drug threat. Despite the growing concern amongst public health officials and addiction recovery centers, government officials
have not yet made the necessary efforts to curb this epidemic before it becomes out of control.
While the methamphetamine crisis is mostly impacting the western part of the country other states are experiencing similar problems. Florida, for example, is one state that’s struggling to keep up with the rising demand of medical care. Florida meth rehabs, state-wise, are witnessing a plethora of new patients requiring medical attention and treatment for meth.
In 2017 alone, the Miami-Dade police department made 267 crystal-meth seizures which was triple the amount seized in 2012. Furthermore, the number of deaths caused from the use of meth in Florida had increased by 165% between 2011 and 2017.
Policymakers in Washington, D.C. have continued to appropriate a bulk of drug-fighting funding to combating the opioid crisis. In D.C., where government officials make decisions on how to responsibly allocate resources; stories and research study findings on the meth epidemic are too easily muffled by the opioid crisis. With that said, the meth-use problem hasn’t nor isn’t receiving the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately, even among addiction treatment professionals, there’s a divide in interest. Advocates for opioid addiction fear that their efforts to earn acceptance for new policies that support “needle-exchange” programs and “secure injection centers” could be put at risk if meth advocates begin to increase demands.
“The bottom line is, as Americans, we have just so much tolerance to deal with addiction, and, if the opioid users have taken that tolerance, then there’s no more”, stated Steve Shoptaw, a Los Angeles-based addiction psychologist that sees patients regularly for meth-related psychological issues.
As such, San Francisco lawmakers have begun to take action to gain a grip on the meth epidemic by standing up to the city’s public health division themselves. Recently, the mayor has taken significant measures to combat the opioid crisis by establishing a task force.
Rafael Mandelman, a San Francisco-based district supervisor positioned to co-chair the task force effort stated that “the methamphetamine epidemic is a crisis we really need to interrupt”.
He went on to state that “over an extended period of time, meth can do permanent and irreversible damage to the brain – and, even if underlying medical conditions weren’t present when use of meth started, eventually, there will be”.
The last year when emergency room data was available from San Francisco hospitals was 2016. Between the years of 2011-2016, the number of ER admissions for meth-related medical emergencies had increased by a staggering 600% (with 1,965 ER visits in 2016 alone).
During this same time period, meth-related hospitalization admissions soared by 400% (193 in 2016). These data points were collected from the city’s public health data archive.
Meth Misuse tied to Psychosis
To bring the matter in to better perspective, at the San Francisco General Hospital, 7,000 patients were treated for psychiatric emergencies in 2016. Of those 7,000 treated, 53% were high on meth at the time of admission. The remaining 47% were not deemed to be mentally ill.
At this hospital works Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, a well-credentialed recovery specialist employed as the medical director in the psychiatric emergency services department. In an interview on the subject, Dr. Bland stated that “a patient high on meth can look very similar to that of someone struggling with chronic schizophrenia and in the moment is nearly indistinguishable at the time of admission”.
This is what’s referred to as methamphetamine-induced psychosis.
“Those high on meth often experience paranoia and will believe that someone is after them, trying to harm or kill them”, he stated. “Their surroundings, perceptions, and behaviors become to fall off”.
An individual that admits him or herself in to ER while high on meth can become extremely agitated. If this occurs, doctors will typically administer a sedative of sorts or perhaps even an anti-psychotic medicine. Otherwise, the user can wait for 12-16 hours at which point the effects of the methamphetamine will have subsided. Symptoms of psychosis will come to a standstill nearly “immediately” once the effects of the meth taper off.
Once the effects of methamphetamine begin to taper the user’s ability to organize, eat, communicate, and maintain proper hygiene improves very quickly.
The trend for stimulant-based drug use throughout our country is on the rise. Cocaine has become widely abused among East Coast residents while meth has grown in popularity among those in the West.
Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a medicine and substance use disorder researcher from the University of California in San Francisco commented on the crisis, stating: “It’s a crisis that’s growing and has already arrived but it has not peaked the consciousness of the public, yet”.
According to Dr. Ciccarone, drug preferences tend to change with the generation. In the 1970’s heroin was the drug-of-choice. During the 80’s, heroin, crack and cocaine were the preference amongst party-goers. Then, opiate pills, then meth, then heroin, and then, meth, again.
Death from Meth – Get the FACTS
It’s true, methamphetamine is not AS dangerous as opioids, or, is at least not causing the same number of deaths. In 2017, roughly 47,600 people had died from opioid-induced overdoses compared to 10,333 deaths from meth-use during the same year. However, the number of meth-related deaths steadily climbs year after year and it’s a drug that’s making a shockingly quick comeback (in terms of popularity).
Since 2011, the number of deaths caused by overdoses on meth has doubled. This is a strong indicator that more American’s are beginning to use the drug and that the potency of the product is also getting stronger.
One hypothesis behind the growing rate of meth-induced overdoses is that long-using addiction and recreational users of the drug are aging. Most meth-related deaths are caused from the occurrence of a heart attack or a brain hemorrhage – unusual conditions for a 21-year-old.
Compared to a young meth user, a 55-year-old user of the drug would be at a higher risk of popping a blood vessel and dying which could easily lead to death. Since a good percentage of meth users are 26 years of age or older, as the age of meth users rise so does the chance of a medical complication arising.
Meth vs. Opioids – When does the resolution begin?
The misuse of methamphetamine, which is a potent and very highly addictive stimulant, persists to be an extremely serious public health crisis throughout the United States. While opioids do pose a greater risk “overall”, in some parts of the country, methamphetamine contributes more to violent crime.
According to a 2017 study held by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 15 million people (14.7) have used methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime – that’s 5.4 percent of the US-population. This study had also learned that of those 14.7 million surveyed, 1.6 million of them had used meth within the past 12 months. There’s no denying that methamphetamine remains to be one of the most commonly abused stimulants worldwide.
Consequences of methamphetamine use are detrimental to its users – medically, psychologically, and socially. Using meth can cause psychotic behaviors, aggression, memory loss, malnutrition, dental problems, and severe damage to the cardiovascular system (which makes it a high-threat stimulant for older users). Methamphetamine use has also been proven to contribute to the transmission of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS – high infectious diseases.
Aside from the devastating health effects caused by meth, misuse of the dug threatens communities and will cause new waves of unemployment, child neglect/abuse, and crime. A 2009 study conducted by the RAND Corporation estimated that the United States had spent over $23 billion in 2005 alone to combat the epidemic.
There’s no masking the statistics – methamphetamine misuse is disrupting our local communities and the country at large. The medical care required for the ever-growing opioid epidemic is already a challenge for first responders, healthcare providers, and Florida meth detox centers that help to recover addicts to regain sobriety and physical/mental stability.
Through addiction treatment education, publicity, and efforts lead by advocates on the subject, we’ll hopefully see greater interventional efforts by policymakers to allocate more resources on the local level to begin curbing this fast-growing epidemic.
Dr. Vikram Tarugu, M.D, is the CEO of Detox of South Florida, Inc and medical professional focused on addiction. A veteran in the medical field with over 25 years of professional experience. He is a consultant for many South Florida Rehab centers. Patients travel from allover the US to seek his help with addiction and Hepatitis C treatment.
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