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Meth’s Resurgence Spotlights Lack of Meds to Combat the Addiction

Does the U.S. need to fund research into meds that combat meth addiction?

by Kaiser Health News | Updated on 1.15.19

In 2016, news reports warned the public of an opioid epidemic gripping the nation.

But Madeline Vaughn, then a lead clinical intake coordinator at the Houston-based addiction treatment organization Council on Recovery, sensed something different was going on with the patients she checked in from the street.

Their behavior, marked by twitchy suspicion, a poor memory and the feeling that someone was following them, signaled that the people coming through the center’s doors were increasingly hooked on a different drug: methamphetamine.

“When you’re in the boots on the ground,” Vaughn said, “what you see may surprise you, because it’s not in the headlines.”

In the time since, it’s become increasingly clear that, even as the opioid epidemic continues, the toll of methamphetamine use, also known as meth or crystal meth, is on the rise, too.

The rate of overdose deaths involving the stimulant more than tripled from 2011 to 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

But unlike the opioid epidemic — for which medications exist to help combat addiction — medical providers have few such tools to help methamphetamine users survive and recover. A drug such as naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, does not exist for meth. And there are no drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can treat a meth addiction.

“We’re realizing that we don’t have everything we might wish we had to address these different kinds of drugs,” said Dr. Margaret Jarvis, a psychiatrist and distinguished fellow for the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Meth revs up the human body, causing euphoria, elevated blood pressure and energy that enables users to go for days without sleeping or eating. In some cases, long-term use alters the user’s brain and causes psychotic symptoms that can take up to one year after the person has stopped using it to dissipate.

Overdosing can trigger heart attacks, strokes and seizures, which can make pinpointing the drug’s involvement difficult.

Meth users also tend to abuse other substances, which complicates first responders’ efforts to treat a patient in the event of an overdose, said Dr. David Persse, EMS physician director for Houston. With multiple drugs in a patient’s system, overdose symptoms may not neatly fit under the description for one substance.

“If we had five or six miracle drugs,” Persse said, to use immediately on the scene of the overdose, “it’s still gonna be difficult to know which one that patient needs.”

Research is underway to develop a medication that helps those with methamphetamine addiction overcome their condition. The National Institute on Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network is testing a combination of naltrexone, a medication typically used to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders, and an antidepressant called bupropion.

And a team from the Universities of Kentucky and Arkansas created a molecule called lobeline that shows promise in blocking meth’s effects in the brain.

For now, though, existing treatments, such as the Matrix Model, a drug counseling technique, and contingency management, which offers patients incentives to stay away from drugs, are key options for what appears to be a meth resurgence, said Jarvis.

Illegal drugs never disappear from the street, she said. Their popularity waxes and wanes with demand. And as the demand for methamphetamine use increases, the gaps in treatment become more apparent.

Persse said he hasn’t seen a rise in the number of calls related to methamphetamine overdoses in his area. However, the death toll in Texas from meth now exceeds that of heroin.

Provisional death counts for 2017 showed methamphetamine claimed 813 lives in the Lone Star State. By comparison, 591 people died due to heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that the price of meth is the lowest the agency has seen in years. It is increasingly available in the eastern region of the United States. Primary suppliers are Mexican drug cartels. And the meth on the streets is now more than 90 percent pure.

“The new methods [of making methamphetamine] have really altered the potency,” said Jane Maxwell, research professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s social work school. “So, the meth we’re looking at today is much more potent than it was 10 years ago.”

For Vaughn, who works as an outpatient therapist and treatment coordinator, these variables are a regular part of her daily challenge. So until the research arms her with something new, her go-to strategy is to use the available tools to tackle her patients’ methamphetamine addiction in layers.

She starts with writing assignments, then coping skills until they are capable of unpacking their trauma. Addiction is rarely the sole demon patients wrestle with, Vaughn said.

“Substance use is often a symptom for what’s really going on with someone,” she said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser Health News

Written by Kaiser Health News

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(28)
  • Dave
    Voted Maybe
    01/15/2019
    ···

    ACA was starting to help , but with defunding and changes in ACA, it does not surprise me.

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  • SneakyPete
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    BY ALL MEANS YES METH RESEARCH SHOUD BE CONDUCTED SneakyPete..... 👍🏻 Yes & Soon 👍🏻..... 1*15*19........

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  • Poodle
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Let’s work on addiction and treatment, and update how meds are prescribed and advertised! Highly addictive drugs should only be available at a couple of highly regulated pharmacies in each city... this could cut down on prescription abuses by drs.

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  • Azrael
    Voted No
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Follow Portugal’s model It works

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  • Sandra
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Yep.

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  • BeStrong
    Voted Maybe
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Why in the hell are Americans RUSHING to drugs. The US is the #1 consumer of illegal drugs in the whole damn world, that’s a measure of both per capita and total users. What ever happened to the American dream? The causal factors of addiction needs to be addressed. We don’t need another funded conversation about today’s illegal drug of choice, we need to understand why so many of us are choosing addiction vs their own empowerment.

    Like (1)
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  • Mel
    Voted No
    01/15/2019
    ···

    I think we need to look at the results in Portugal and think about the possibility they are on to something that actually works.

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  • John
    Voted Maybe
    01/15/2019
    ···

    How about “methods” to combat all addictions?

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  • Kat
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    This needs to addressed. We can no longer deny help. We can't help the people who don't want help. But we can give to the ones who want to get clean. People making meth will always find away to support their habit

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  • M
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Yes, and we need healthcare options that include comprehensive mental healthcare, including long-term, affordable, good quality THERAPY.

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  • Al
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Funding research into what is a medical problem much like a disease is needed. Spending more on private prisons to hose drug addicts is a waste of money. Making drugs legal and becoming more knowledgeable about dealing with addicts is how we can get to a solution that can save many of our fellow citizens. Lock em up doesn’t work for addiction it’s a health issue. Quit making it a crime.

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  • 1958FRO
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Researchers should work on any way that they can find to combat addiction.

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  • Jim2423
    Voted No
    01/15/2019
    ···

    We can’t fund every disease that is out their with tax dollars. It is hard to fund one group and not another. I too have diseases I would like funded. But so do others. Doctors who did not properly treat their patients should be held responsible, not tax payers. I despise opioid addiction but I had no part in it. No! I do not support singling our tax funded diseases.

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  • Roy
    Voted No
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Why we wasting money on something that is really apparent to be a choice...I've dealt with 1000s of addicts...they choose to remain hooked...

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  • OliverDaRion
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    You took away the opioids from chronic pain patients and offered nothing in its place. Your going to see other drug usage go up along with the suicide rate

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  • Leon
    Voted Yes
    01/15/2019
    ···

    Use the seized assets to cover it or no.

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  • Nick
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    As a former meth addict myself, I’m one of the lucky few who made it through thanks to 12 step. However, I watch many relapse countless times within two years of quitting, and now hear about those I used to use with dying. Any help is needed, and dealing with the physical addiction first can allow energy to deal with the psychological addiction.

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  • Ashley
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    I am a local therapist who specializes in addiction. It is wonderful that there are MAT for opioid and alcohol substance use disorders. There are so many methamphetamine addicted individuals who need a MAT option or some kind of medication to help them with their cravings as a tool to make their recovery successful.

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  • Curtis
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    When the public doesn't have access to affordable medicines and drugs, the second option is to buy drugs from the black market. There needs to be cheaper prescriptions and more accessable alternatives.

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  • Stephen
    Voted Yes
    01/16/2019
    ···

    The cost of research and development for meds to combat meth addiction will be immaterial when compared to the long term costs and human loss/suffering if we do nothing. However, the Americans most at risk are poor represented in the halls of Congress.

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  • Ron
    Voted Maybe
    01/16/2019
    ···

    Once again our government is more interested in solving symptoms rather than the cause. I guess that’s the solution when we reduce sentencing guidelines for the cause.

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