COVID-19 Fuels Twin Addiction Epidemics

“Methamphetamine availability and methamphetamine-related harms have been increasing in the United States,” warned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year.

While the country’s headlines focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and occasionally on the continuing opioid crisis, another drug epidemic has been slowly escalating, as we reported on this blog in June 2020.

Methamphetamine is now among the most misused illicit drugs in the United States. According to the CDC, “During 2015–2018, an estimated 1.6 million US adults aged ≥18 years, on average, reported past-year methamphetamine use; 52.9 percent had a methamphetamine use disorder, and 22.3 percent reported injecting methamphetamine within the past year. Co-occurring substance use and mental illness were common among those who used methamphetamine within the past year.”

“The continued escalation of methamphetamine use, alone or with opioids, presents providers with complex medical challenges and difficult consequences for patients, families, and the legal and health care systems,” reported Michael Jann on Psychiatric Times in May. “Separately, each drug represents an epidemic and a crisis. Together, they magnify the medical complications facing our society.”

The CDC emphasized the importance of addressing co-occurring mental health concerns when treating methamphetamine addiction.

“The overlap of methamphetamine use with mental illness, especially serious mental illness, suggests an important role for mental health providers to engage in care with this population, in coordination with addiction and other health care providers. Treatment of co-occurring mental and substance use disorders has been a recognized gap in the system of care and persons who use methamphetamine might be particularly affected.”

The opioid epidemic started to escalate again after a brief leveling-off period in 2018. The latest preliminary CDC data show an alarming 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020—largely driven by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

In Colorado, overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled in 2020 compared with 2019, rising 111 percent to 452 deaths last year from 214 in 2019. “All overdose deaths, including from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, totaled 1,223 in 2020, up nearly 20 percent from 1,062 the year before, according to state health department data that is preliminary and expected to rise even higher,” reported The Colorado Sun in February.

Many health professionals believe the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept people isolated and led to increased rates of anxiety and depression, is largely responsible for the current worsening of the twin addiction epidemics.

“Fentanyl is like kerosene. Methamphetamine is like natural gas. Then the COVID pandemic is like, ‘Let’s add some diesel fuel,’” Dr. Joshua Blum, an addiction professional at Denver Health told The Colorado Sun. “It’s like one flammable agent added to another.”

The concurrent misuse of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine is on the rise, as Tom Valentino recently reported in Addiction Professional.

Treating polysubstance addiction requires a comprehensive, holistic approach. Misusing more than one drug concurrently can complicate addiction treatment and recovery. Drugs taken in combination can boost the narcotic effects of the substances in unforeseeable ways. Their toxic effects increase and withdrawal symptoms become more severe and prolonged.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. We provide trauma-informed dual-diagnosis care that addresses substance use and mental health concerns. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.