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Meth Epidemic Grows Under the Radar Due to Marijuana Legalization & Opioid Crisis

Last Updated:October 26, 2022

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The drug epidemic in the United States is not contained to any one substance. Although the opioid epidemic consumes much of the national and international spotlight today, other drugs remain issues as well.

One example of such a drug is methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or just meth. In the 1990s, meth was one of the most-talked-about illicit drugs. It seemed like there were news stories every day that covered meth houses exploding, and it spawned the hit TV show Breaking Bad. The meth epidemic is still present but has changed in some ways.

Now, homemade meth is on the decline, and instead, Mexican cartels are primarily responsible for manufacturing it and selling it in the U.S. There’s a reason for this trend. With the legalization of marijuana across many states in the U.S., cartels need another source of revenue. The cartels for the past 30 to 40 years were the primary suppliers of marijuana in America. Cartels turned to heroin as a result of decreasing marijuana regulations, but they’re also producing more meth. There are so-called “super labs” being set up in Mexico, and strong meth can be made inexpensively and distributed on a large scale.

Meth Epidemic Came Before Opioid Crisis and Never Really Left

Many parts of the United States see increases in the use of methamphetamine, including in the Western part of the country. Overdose rates involving meth increased more than four times from 2011 to 2017. Treatment center admissions related to met went up 17%, and hospitalizations related to meth went up 245% between 2008 and 2015. Many law enforcement organizations in the West and Midwest say meth is their biggest problem in terms of drugs.

The crystal meth epidemic isn’t new, but much of the attention and many resources have been diverted from dealing with it to dealing with the opioid epidemic. There could be different reasons the meth epidemic goes under-the-radar, including the fact that it can take longer to die from meth, whereas people can instantly die from an opioid overdose.

Meth Addiction More Prominent and Dangerous Than Ever

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), identifying meth suppliers remains a top priority. According to federal drug data provided to NPR, seizures of meth have gone up 142% between 2017 and 2018. Overdose death rates related to meth addiction and meth use also went up 21% in 2018.

There are different routes to meth addiction that can occur. For some people, they use meth following the use of a depressant drug such as heroin. People living on the streets might take meth at night, so they can stay awake and avoid robbery or attacks. Meth is also something a drug user might choose because they’re fearful of using something like fentanyl. Regardless of the reasons, meth addiction is a serious issue in many parts of the country.

Meth is also incredibly potent now, likely because of the takeover of the market by cartels. Instead of people making meth in in-home labs, cartels are mass-producing strong, high-quality amounts of the drug. At the same time that meth is stronger, it’s also cheaper.

Meth Addiction Symptoms

Meth addiction symptoms are different from the symptoms of addiction to other drugs. Meth abuse symptoms and crystal meth addiction symptoms can include:

  • Someone who is using meth may experience anxiety or confusion
  • Violence or mood swings can be signs of meth misuse
  • Meth affects the appearance dramatically. It may lead to sores on pimples on the face, dry mouth, and broken or rotting teeth.
  • Paranoia and the sensation of insects crawling on the skin are frequent meth abuse symptoms.
  • Picking at hair or skin.
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Erratic physical movements or exaggerated mannerisms
  • Angry outbursts
  • Constantly talking
  • Odd sleeping patterns

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Speedballing, Psychosis and Overdose Rates Climbing

With the increased strength of meth along with the ongoing opioid epidemic, problems are compounding with one another. First, since the drug coming in from Mexico is so much more potent, there are more cases of psychosis occurring.

There is also a lot of tainted meth on the market that includes fentanyl. When people do speedballs, which is a combination of an upper and then a downer, such as an opioid, they are at high risk of overdosing.

Lack of Meth Addiction Treatment Medications

One of the reasons that meth addiction treatment can be more challenging is because there currently aren’t approved medications that can help. With opioids, there are a variety of treatment medications that can help someone. For example, there is methadone, and there are brand-name medication-assisted treatments like Suboxone and Vivitrol.

There isn’t a meth addiction treatment medication and withdrawal from the drug can be very difficult. Symptoms of withdrawal that have to be considered when weighing methamphetamine treatment methods include:

  • Itchiness
  •  Irritability
  • Drug cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

For some people, the symptoms of meth withdrawal can last for months, making meth addiction treatment uniquely challenging.

Finding the Best Treatment for Meth Addiction

What’s important is to understand that just because there is an opioid epidemic, it doesn’t exclude the potential for other drug epidemics to also be occurring. The best treatment for meth addiction is a program with experience treating that particular addiction, and also a program that treats co-occurring mental health disorders.

To learn more about meth treatment options, please contact The Recovery Village.


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