It’s not fentanyl. It’s methamphetamine — or meth.
The recent hit series “Breaking Bad” brought the realities of meth and its production into America’s living rooms.
But meth use isn’t new. Meth first gained traction in the United States from the 1990s into the early 2000s, when it was usually made in home labs with pseudoephedrine, an ingredient commonly found in drugstore cold medicines.
The ease by which this deadly drug was made led to the introduction and passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, which banned the over-the-counter sale of cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, limiting them to behind the counter.
Because of these restrictions, which are still enacted, basement meth labs are mostly a thing of the past. The meth on the market today is primarily imported from Mexico.
This new strain is cheaper, more potent, and even easier to get, increasing its appeal to people struggling with addiction.
While a person who uses meth is at risk of an overdose, prolonged use can also damage the liver and other organs, resulting in serious illness and death.
Provisional data from the CDC shows there were about 13,000 deaths involving meth nationwide in 2018, more than twice as many as in 2015.
A particularly dangerous form of meth consumption involves polydrug use, in which it is combined with one or more substances. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that in 2017, 50 percent of all meth-related deaths also involved an opioid, with half of those cases related to fentanyl.
In many instances, the addicted person is unaware that fentanyl has been added to the meth they were using.
In 2019, we saw a significant increase in clients who use meth — more than three times the number of clients compared to 2018 - with the majority using it in combination with other substances.
This underscores the urgent need for effective, evidence-based methods.
At the present time, no medication has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to successfully treat addiction, to reduce cravings, or to reverse the effects of an overdose.
For now, treatment for meth consists mostly of behavioral therapies designed to help reduce anxiety and change underlying thoughts and beliefs that contribute to addictive behaviors.
There are many lessons to be learned from the opioid crisis, and one of the most significant is that we need to act quickly if we want to halt a potential meth epidemic.
We have a chance to curtail it before it gains a stronger foothold over our county, communities, and households.
A huge step forward in the fight to curb and treat meth addiction is the recent passage of a bill that allows states to access federal money that was allocated to combat the opioid crisis in their communities.
This is especially important for Pacific and west central states, where, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in meth use, in many cases surpassing that of fentanyl.
But this is still only one step. We call on lawmakers in all levels of government to change, implement, or enforce legislation that:
• Allocates federal funding to support the research and testing of medication to treat meth addiction and to reverse an overdose.
• Support assessment, referral, and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, as well as enforce state and federal laws that require insurance parity for mental health and substance abuse disorders.
• Remove administrative and other barriers to treatment-based rehabilitation programs.
Let’s help to make sure that people receive the care and support they need. A healthy society benefits all of us.
Andre Basso is chief operating officer of Mountainside, an addiction treatment center in Connecticut.