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Methamphetamine: The Overlooked Addiction Epidemic in Oklahoma

09/24/2020

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While the nation, law enforcement and health officials have cast their eyes to the widespread and deadly problem of opioid addiction, an old enemy is rearing its head again.

Deaths associated with meth use are climbing in Oklahoma and in many other states, an alarming trend that public health officials are struggling to explain. In Oklahoma, meth and related drugs, including prescription stimulants, now play a role in more deaths than all opioids combined, including painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Writing about the increase in cases of meth addiction in recent times, The New York Times said, "Meth is still not considered nearly as deadly as heroin or synthetic fentanyl, the latter of which has killed tens of thousands of Americans over the past five years, often within minutes, by depressing their breathing. Instead, meth stimulates the central nervous system, causing agitation, sleeplessness, psychosis and gradual damage to the heart, brain and other organs."

But in many cases, opioids are contributing to meth deaths, as people use both types of drugs together. Opioids were found to play a role in about half of the deaths involving meth in 2017, the most recent year for which detailed toxicology results are available.

While state and local officials are right to concentrate on opioids, which accounted for nearly 70 percent of overdose deaths in 2017, the CDC warns that the dangers of cocaine, meth and other illicit drugs should not be ignored.

Meth Never Went Away in Oklahoma

Methamphetamine is once again scouring communities and ruining lives. According to a report on DrugAbuse.org, overdose deaths involving meth more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2017 in the U.S. Admissions to treatment facilities for meth are up 17%.

Hospitalizations related to meth also jumped by about 245% from 2008 to 2015.  What’s more, 70 percent of law enforcement agencies in the Midwest and the West still rank meth as their biggest drug threat.

The CDC goes on to show that 14,000 cocaine users and 10,000 meth users died in the United States in 2017, an increase of more than a third compared with 2016 and triple the number of deaths in 2012.

The meth epidemic isn’t just nationwide. In Oklahoma, more and more meth cases are being investigated or treated as well. In fact, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN), there were 335 drug deaths in Oklahoma involving methamphetamine in 2018.

While in the past, the drug was cooked domestically, now law enforcement reports that meth is being brought into the state at a high rate.

In the spring of 2019, the Canadian County sheriff’s office seized more than 220 lbs. of meth. Sheriff Chris West said they believe they made two of the biggest busts in the country thanks to routine traffic stops on I-40.

In 2018, the OBN told CNN that the number of lethal meth overdoses in the state has more than doubled in recent years, rising from 140 in 2012 to 335 deaths in 2016. In 2017, there were 327 meth overdose deaths.

Mark Woodward, the spokesman with the OBN, told CNN that while everyone was focused on the opioid epidemic, Oklahoma’s single most deadly individual drug was methamphetamine.

The Ugly Face of Meth

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that gives users powerful feelings of euphoria and energy when it’s abused. Because it is so addictive, meth is extremely difficult to stop using once a person has developed a habit of regular use.

Methamphetamine is a stimulant that is smoked, snorted, injected or even eaten. It can be made from cheap ingredients like over-the-counter cold medicine and household chemicals, but the results of meth addiction are shocking.

DrugAbuse.org said that long term use of meth can cause addiction due to how quickly drug users become tolerant of the pleasurable effects of the drug. As they take more and more to reach that high, they can start to show signs of addiction like significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances and violent behavior. They also suffer from hallucinations and delusions and psychotic behaviors.

Methamphetamine is neurotoxic and can damage dopamine and serotonin neurons in the brain and usually includes toxic substances. Some studies show that long term meth use also leads to some irreversible changes in the brain associated with emotion and memory and could lead to a number of side effects like paranoia, irritability, increased sexual promiscuity, skin sores, rotting teeth, skin infections, premature aging and more.

Many long term meth users have what is called “meth mouth,” or severe tooth decay. One reason is that meth oftentimes includes acidic ingredients that eat away the enamel—ingredients like drain cleaner, battery acid or hydrochloric acid.

Users often neglect to take care of their teeth while high as well, and some crave sugary drinks, which leads to more oral hygiene problems.

Of course, the biggest risk to meth users is overdose death, which is on the rise throughout America.

What Can Oklahomans Do?

The facts don’t lie. Methamphetamine abuse in Oklahoma and the United States continues to be a serious problem with devastating effects, and many health officials and law enforcement agencies are urging that the threat of the deadly drug not be overshadowed by the opioid epidemic.

Awareness is key to helping fight this epidemic. Treatment, education and intervention are the tools necessary to help those addicted to methamphetamine.


Arcadia Trails INTEGRIS Center for Addiction Recovery in Oklahoma is at the intersection of the promising field of addiction science, the rigorous and time-tested 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and a holistic focus on mental health throughout addiction treatment and recovery. Arcadia Trails is unique in its mission to give equal treatment to addiction, mental illness and underlying trauma. It is situated among the rolling hills of Lake Arcadia in Edmond Oklahoma, on the medical campus of INTEGRIS Health Edmond.

Though the program is built on the medical model of addiction as a disease, patients at Arcadia Trails especially enjoy the experiential therapies, such as art and animal therapy, as well as guided imagery and recreation therapy. Experiential therapy, used alongside traditional talk therapy, allows patients to gain deeper access into processing their own feelings through creativity and interactions with others. Arcadia Trails offers varied spiritual paths to aid in recovery as well as an integrated family program and comprehensive aftercare planning which includes teaching navigation and coping skills post-discharge to ensure the greatest success and minimizing relapse. 

Arcadia Trail’s mission is to educate all patients about their addiction condition in every way. This includes teaching about brain and body wellness as well as coping and life skills. Arcadia Trails hopes to lead Oklahomans to a healthier and more vibrant community for all. Continue to the Arcadia Trails INTEGRIS page for more information, or call 405.216.2564.

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