For years, the national focus has been on the opioid epidemic—the escalating addiction and overdose death crisis driven by prescription painkillers, heroin, and illicit fentanyl.
Meanwhile, methamphetamine has made a dramatic comeback.
In December, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, “the number of methamphetamine-related fatal overdoses in Utah more than doubled in the past five years as law enforcement has seen a stunning increase in large meth busts statewide.”
Drug overdose deaths involving meth rose from a low of 31 in 2010 to 217 in 2018, according to records from the Utah Department of Health. That’s a significantly larger number than the previous high of 52 in 2006.
“About 2015, we started seeing these larger quantities of meth coming back like we hadn’t seen since the late ′90s and early 2000s,” Brian Redd, the chief of the State Bureau of Investigation for the Utah Department of Public Safety told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But the opioid epidemic was really surging at that point, and it really was overshadowing this growing meth issue.”
Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant that is highly addictive and destructive—especially in the form of crystal meth. Chronic meth use in its many forms can significantly compromise neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Behaviors can radically change in individuals seeking their next dose of meth before going into withdrawal. Chronic users may require intensive intervention including those provided by an evidence-based addiction treatment program.
Methamphetamine doesn’t only affect people misusing it. “Methamphetamine contamination of the environment occurs when methamphetamine is used, distributed, or manufactured,” warns the Utah Department of Health. “Methamphetamine production involves a number of very hazardous chemicals. Toxicity from these chemicals can remain in the environment around a methamphetamine production lab long after the lab has been shut down, causing a wide range of health problems for people living in the area.”
Ashley Cox found out the hard way. After she moved into her Logan, UT apartment in October 2018, she started to develop skin rashes and unexplained bruises. She felt numbness in her hands and feet. “I was having auditory hallucinations. I was hearing voices and just didn’t know what was going on,” she told KSL.com.
Her apartment turned out to be one of the many Utah properties with enough traceable meth that people needed to be removed until the residences could be decontaminated and inspected by the health department.
“A decade ago, there were about 75 contamination cases, mostly labs, per year in Salt Lake County,” Dale Keller with the Salt Lake County Health Department told KUTV. “In 2018, the health department cited 375 homes for meth, and that number jumped to 448 last year — a 19 percent increase.”
Most of the cases these days are not labs, but contamination from meth use—an indication of the increased potency of the new meth. The residue from use alone can now cause hallucinations, numbness, and rashes.
America, it seems, is now facing two drug epidemics while trying to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak at the same time.
“Across the country, overdose deaths involving meth more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2017,” Kaiser Health News reported last year. “Admissions to treatment facilities for meth are up 17 percent. Hospitalizations related to meth jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015. And throughout the West and Midwest, 70 percent of local law enforcement agencies say meth is their biggest drug threat.”
Fighting any addiction during a pandemic is difficult. Recovery Ways continues to serve patients and has taken steps to protect treatment clients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress and isolation of the pandemic are likely to exacerbate any problematic substance use. Delaying treatment for a substance use disorder—even during a pandemic—can be life-threatening. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. For more information, call (888) 988-5217.