In the last blog post, we addressed recent demographic changes in the nation’s drug epidemic related to overdoses, highlighting that more African Americans have been dying from the opioid pandemic than ever before. However, we are not only seeing changes in who uses, but also in what is being used. Over the last couple of years, methamphetamine is seeing a huge comeback, especially in Ohio. While meth only accounted for about 3% of overdoses in Ohio only 6 years ago, this number is now up to 25% in 2021. In 2015, there were 96 fatal methamphetamine related overdoses.
By 2020, this number grew more than tenfold to 1060. Why are so many people dying as a result of meth use even though this drug is not usually known to lead to overdoses? That is because meth, just like other substances, is increasingly being laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
When we asked our OhioSTART community partners who serve individuals in the child welfare system about their experiences regarding the return of methamphetamines, their reports were consistent with the quantitative data. A behavioral health supervisor stressed the danger of meth use saying that “with fentanyl being added to meth, meth becomes more dangerous as there is now a greater risk for overdose due to the addition of fentanyl.” One peer recovery supporter explained that “meth is so easily accessible and has lower fatality rates and, quite frankly, is easier to make, and is cheaper.” She further added that “the side effects allow you to be more alert as opposed to other drugs that make you nod out or become unconscious, so it’s no wonder there’s been a surge.”
This has important policy and practice implications. For example, harm reduction approaches like fentanyl test strips or naloxone kits should receive more attention in areas that have seen a rise in methamphetamine use to prevent accidental overdoses.