Overshadowed by opioids, meth is back with a vengeance

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By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the United States, but the resurgence of the drug has largely been overshadowed by the nation’s intense focus on opioids.

Amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped by about 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That dwarfs the rise in hospitalizations from other drugs, such as opioids, which were up by about 46 percent. The most significant increases were in Western states.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see someone acutely intoxicated on methamphetamine.”

The surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to amphetamines “is just totally off the radar,” said Jane Maxwell, an addiction researcher. “Nobody is paying attention.”

Doctors see evidence of the drug’s comeback in emergency departments, where patients arrive agitated, paranoid and aggressive. Paramedics and police officers see it on the streets, where suspects’ heart rates are so high that they need to be taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into jail. And medical examiners see it in the morgue, where in a few states, such as Texas and Colorado, overdoses from meth have surpassed those from the opioid heroin.

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which are both legally prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and produced illegally into methamphetamine. Most of the hospitalizations in the study are believed to be due to methamphetamine use.