|Graph from University of Illinois research paper; for a larger version, click on it.|
The recent surge in deaths from opioid overdoses has been accompanied by a related increase in deaths caused by methamphetamine. “The U.S. methamphetamine mortality rate increased 50-fold between 1999 and 2021, with most of the added deaths also involving heroin or fentanyl, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health,” reports the University of Illinois, where the research was conducted.
“We looked at trends from 1999 to 2021 and we saw this staggering increase in methamphetamine mortality accompanied by a proportional increase in those deaths that also involved heroin or fentanyl,” said Rachel Hoopsick, the UI professor who led the research.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 608 deaths were attributed to methamphetamine use in 1999; “that number increased to 52,397 in 2021,” the UI news release says. “Hoopsick and R. Andrew Yockey at the University of Texas found that 61.2% of the methamphetamine overdose deaths in 2021 co-involved heroin or fentanyl.” Much of the increase in meth-related deaths occurred from 2010 to 2021 and shows no sign of abating, Hoopsick said.
“We knew from behavioral studies that the use of stimulants, in general, as well as the use of stimulants with opioids has been increasing over the past decade or two,” Hoopsick said. “But we didn’t know how deadly it was becoming. I think what is different now versus 10 years ago is we have a much more toxic unregulated drug supply here in the U.S. . . . Methamphetamine by itself can be deadly, but its toxicity does not appear to have increased in recent years. The potency of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, however, has skyrocketed.”
Hoopsick added, “I was really surprised to hear from the folks at the syringe service program that just as many of them were injecting methamphetamine as they were opioids, and many of them were co-using both types of substances. That got me thinking that the increase in methamphetamine mortality might be driven by the co-use of meth with illicitly manufactured fentanyl, in particular, which we’ve seen in the opioid overdose crisis is driving a lot of the deaths in the United States.”