Why We Need to Start Paying Close Attention to Methamphetamine Addiction Again
Just last week, The New York Times reported that United States border agents are seizing “10 to 20 times the amounts [of this drug] they did a decade ago.” The drug in question: methamphetamine. As our national consciousness has been laser-focused on the opioid epidemic, hundreds of thousands of people are struggling with addiction to this drug, commonly referred to as “meth,” “ice,” “crank,” “crystal,” “fire,” “glass,” or “speed.”
What is Methamphetamine?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse refers to methamphetamine as, “a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill.” It also specifies that “crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine [a drug used to treat attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder].”
Methamphetamines can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected, and, once used, the drug floods the brain with dopamine causing a euphoric high. In the short term, methamphetamine use may increase energy and mental alertness, but can also cause paranoia, anxiety and insomnia. Additionally, the highly addictive substance may cause rapid weight loss, tooth decay and skin lesions among long-term users. Violent behavior and hallucinations are also common.
Unlike an opioid overdose, which can potentially be reversed via naloxone, there is no medication available that can reverse methamphetamine overdoses - which frequently result from cardiac or cardiovascular complications, stroke, or seizures.
How prevalent is methamphetamine use, today?
Although steps have been taken to curb the production of methamphetamine within the U.S., such as making it more difficult to purchase the over-the-counter medications that provide the base ingredients for the substance, The Times shared that “purer, cheaper and more lethal” methamphetamines continue to flood the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported deaths from methamphetamine poisoning are on the rise. According to the latest figures available, 5,700 people died from methamphetamine poisoning in 2015. This is a sharp increase from more than 4,200 deaths in 2014 and 3,600 deaths in 2013.
What can be done to put an end to methamphetamine use and addiction?
While it may not be considered a national public health emergency the way opioid addiction is, methamphetamine addiction is still deserving of our attention and resources, as are all substance use disorders. Ultimately, we should not focus exclusively on eliminating methamphetamine addiction, or even opioid addiction, but rather on preventing and treating all types of addiction with evidence-based solutions. Not only is it the right thing to do, but investing in evidence-based prevention and treatments is economically beneficial, relative to paying the societal, health and financial cost of untreated addiction.
Hannah Freedman is a communications and digital associate at Center on Addiction