I’ve been watching these cycles since the late ’60s. The War on Drugs has less and less effect on them every year….
The number of people hospitalized because of amphetamine use is skyrocketing in the U.S., 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% from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent study 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%. The most significant increases were in western states.
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.
Lupita Ruiz, 25, started using methamphetamine in her late teens but said she has been clean for about two years. When she was using, she said, her heart beat fast, she would stay up all night and she would forget to eat.
Ruiz, who lives in Spokane, Washington, said she was taken to the hospital twice after having mental breakdowns related to methamphetamine use, including a monthlong stay in the psychiatric ward in 2016. One time, Ruiz said, she yelled at and kicked police officers after they responded to a call to her apartment. Another time, she started walking on the freeway but doesn’t remember why.
“It just made me go crazy,” she said. “I was all messed up in my head.”
The federal government estimates that more than 10,000 people died of meth-related drug overdoses last year. Deaths from meth overdose generally result from multiple organ failure or heart attacks and strokes caused by extraordinary pulse rates and skyrocketing blood pressure.
In California, the number of amphetamine-related overdose deaths rose by 127% from 456 in 2008 to 1,036 in 2013. At the same time, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths rose by 8.4% from 1,784 to 1,934, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Public Health.