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Alarming Indicators

Across the United States, overdose deaths from psychostimulants—the category of drugs that includes meth—have increased more than 800 percent in the past decade. Those numbers may be rising because meth is purer and more potent than ever before. It may also be because people are combining meth with other drugs, including opioids. Some individuals who are trying to stop using opioids turn to meth to ease their withdrawal symptoms. Deaths also may be due to the risky behavior that comes with meth use or its stress on the heart.

Historically, the major opioid epidemics of the early 1900s and the 1970s were followed by increased use of stimulants—meth or cocaine. The United States has been battling an opioid epidemic since 2002, which has intensified since 2013, and meth is cheaper and more accessible than cocaine. In 2014, U.S. Customs seized nearly twenty thousand pounds of meth; in 2019, more than sixty-eight thousand pounds were seized. There is clearly cause for concern about rising meth use.

The Importance of Prevention Efforts

As smuggled meth has spread across the United States, it’s now reaching a new generation that hasn’t experienced firsthand the lethal and addictive nature of the drug. Preventive action at the state and community levels is essential to stopping this growth. Parents, teachers, and community leaders can take a stand against this drug to prevent meth from becoming the drug of choice for this new generation. One recent study shows that the number of people who use meth for the first time has stayed fairly stable in the past few years. From 2015 to 2018, the number of people who used meth for the first time hovered around two hundred thousand a year. Another study shows a steady, and somewhat dramatic, increase in meth use since it bottomed out in 2008. Because stimulant use has grown following opioid epidemics in the past, experts speculate the number of first-time users will continue to rise unless education and intervention efforts are maintained.

Increased Crime

When people who use meth can’t afford the drug, they often commit crimes—from petty theft to robbery, even murder—to obtain cash for their habit. They’ll do anything to get their next fix. Meth use itself increases a tendency to crime because it leads to a willingness to take risks, paranoid thinking, and violent behavior. Between 50 and 70 percent of property crimes—burglary, shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, arson, and vandalism—are committed by people who use meth.

Meth-related crimes can also be violent. A recent study showed that more than 50 percent of 350 respondents in one California county who received treatment for meth addiction reported that their meth use led to violent criminal behavior. Most often that behavior was trying to beat up someone, rob someone, or threaten them with a weapon.

Cost to Communities

Communities affected by meth pay a high price. Meth has a strong link to serious crime. In Arkansas there were 9,008 meth related arrests across the state. Much of the economic damage associated with meth— burglary, vandalism, theft, and environmental pollution—is borne by the community of the individuals who use it.

Access to Meth Treatment is Uneven

Treatment for substance use disorders is more accessible now than it was in the past, but it remains difficult for some to access. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires health insurers to provide the same level of benefits for substance use treatment that they do for medical care. For people who are insured, this can be a lifesaver. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website to help navigate insurance problems: And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Throughout the country, many effective treatment approaches are available for substance use disorders, including meth use disorder. Some of these approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy (motivational interviewing), and Twelve Step facilitation. These three approaches have been proven to offer effective treatment for many substance use disorders.

The two models described here offer integrated treatment approaches that are effective for meth use disorder as well as for other addictions.