Meth is the next problem drug
Even as heroin, fentanyl and other opioid drugs continue to ruin lives across the U.S., a different drug is now rising in popularity, creating its own disaster: methamphetamine.
In 2011, the prescription opioid oxycodone was responsible for the most overdose deaths in the country — 5,587, or about 13.5 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The same year, meth was the eighth-most common cause of overdose deaths. It killed 1,887 people, about 4.6 percent of all overdose deaths.
Meth caused significantly more overdose deaths every following year through 2016, the most recent year data was available for in the CDC study released last month. Meth killed 6,762 people in 2016 — more than oxycodone did in 2011; and more than the number-one killer in 2012, heroin (6,155).
Meth’s share of overdose deaths grew from 4.6 percent in 2011 to more than 10 percent in 2016. Meth is now the fourth-most common cause of overdose deaths, behind only cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. As many in Kentucky are now finding out, meth is quickly becoming the drug of choice for far too many people.
It is much harder it is to treat someone addicted to methamphetamine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are multiple medications that help people who want to fight an opioid addiction, including Suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol. When medicine is combined with behavioral counseling to create an approach called “medication-assisted treatment,” opioid-addicted individuals can have a very good chance at recovery.
When it comes to meth, “there are currently no medications that counteract the specific effects of methamphetamine or that prolong abstinence from and reduce the abuse of methamphetamine by an individual addicted to the drug,” according to NIDA. The most effective meth-addiction treatment right now involves behavioral therapy.
We need to keep searching for better ways to treat meth as its prevalence continues to rise. But we also need to recognize that treating the symptoms of drug abuse and treating the cause of drug abuse are two different things.
There’s a reason meth is now rising as the next drug; why fentanyl now kills more people than heroin or crack; why different mind-altering drugs have risen and fallen in popularity for centuries. It’s not random bad luck; it’s people searching for a way to escape.
If we could wave a magic wand and cause all the heroin and meth in the world to disappear, people would move to different drugs and a new epidemic would begin, because we wouldn’t have done anything about the underlying causes.
We do need short-term solutions that involve helping those who are already abusing drugs so they can turn their lives around. But we also need to think long-term and come up with ways to address the root causes of drug abuse — familial instability, poverty and a lack of mental health care are a few.
Those long-term solutions are harder to figure out and it will take a lot of trial and error — a lot of mistakes, before we get it right. But we believe it is possible to marginalize (not outright eliminate) drug abuse in the future if we get to work today.