Is the War On Opioids Eclipsing Meth?

Remember Breaking Bad? Five seasons of hit television followed the life, times, and mistakes of a man who got in over his head in the meth industry, but now it feels almost wildly unrelatable; if current media panic is to be believed, opioids are the real risk, and Walter White should have been stepping heroin with fentanyl, not cooking in trailers.

While opioids are capturing the public’s attention, though, meth is actually a serious and growing problem. Neglecting meth may be making the problem worse, as the issues affecting meth-ravaged communities get attributed to opioids or simply ignored. One very immediate consequence of this is that many agencies and states are struggling to access funding to address methamphetamine, thanks to restricted drug use grants that are limited to working with opioids only. Whether organizations want to conduct research, provide treatment, or work on harm reduction issues, the money is drying up.

If you think opioids are capturing attention because they’re making up the bulk of deaths, here’s a surprise for you: Meth overdoses leading to death have blown up in the last few years, and in some states are actually starting to outpace opioids. Hospital admissions for meth-related issues are also on the rise, putting strain on the health care system, especially in rural areas where hospital resources are extremely limited.

And a growing number of people struggling with opioid use disorders are also starting to take meth, for a variety of reasons, so many of these opioid deaths also involve meth, highlighting the fact that you can’t talk about one drug without the other. One big reason why meth use may be on the rise among people who use, or used, opioids is that it’s cheap and easy to obtain, while opioids are getting harder to reach. People chasing a high can’t always be choosy about its source.

We know that meth is environmentally destructive and poses a public health hazard, with cooking operations contaminating communities and the wilderness, depending on where people have set up camp. It’s also devastating for the health of chronic users, and has a huge impact on their families and communities as well. The meth epidemic that dominated headlines a few years ago never really went away, and in the West, it’s blooming, with law enforcement, health care providers, public health officials, and other concerned parties fighting to keep pace.

Some are calling this the “third wave” of the opioid epidemic, but that’s a little misleading. The issue here isn’t opioids specifically, but substance use disorders more generally, and the fact that the United States tends to treat substance use as a criminal matter rather than a public health issue. People turn to drug use for a variety of reasons that need to be addressed, and once they start, it’s incredibly hard to access treatment. Insurance coverage is poor, especially for people on programs like Medicaid, and limited spots are available in effective treatment programs. People are more likely to end up in the penal system than a health care facility, which can set off a spiral of events.

Addressing substance use disorders requires approaching the issue from a broader perspective, and not solely focusing on opioids and the question of whether restricting prescriptions will fix the problem (evidence suggests it will not). Instead, the uptick in a variety of illegal drugs should be viewed synergistically to take note of what people are taking and why, and, critically, how we can help them stop so they can lead their best lives.

Photo credit: wellphoto/Getty Images

193 comments

Janet B
Janet B5 minutes ago

Thanks

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Danuta W
Danuta W8 hours ago

Thanks for sharing

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Vikram S
Vikram S11 hours ago

Thanks

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Sandra V
Sandra V19 hours ago

Thanks.

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Sandra V
Sandra V19 hours ago

Thanks.

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Deborah L
Deborah L21 hours ago

I know people that was taking opioids and when all this went down they started using meth, they said it takes their pain away 🤷🏼‍♀️

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer23 hours ago

Thanks for article

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer23 hours ago

I never watched Brealing Bad.

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Janet B
Janet B23 hours ago

Thanks

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danii p
danii pyesterday

Thank you for sharing

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