Methamphetamine overdose deaths nearly tripled in 4 years, NIH study finds

Overdose deaths involving methamphetamine nearly tripled between 2015 and 2019 in people ages 18 to 64, according to a study published Sept. 22 in JAMA Psychiatry

The study, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health, focused on people ages 18 to 64, as they are the group at highest risk of substance use and overall deaths.

Five takeaways from the study: 

  1. The number of overdose deaths involving psychostimulant drugs other than cocaine (largely methamphetamine) rose from 5,526 in 2015 to 15,489 in 2019, a 180 percent increase. The number of people who reported using methamphetamine increased by 43 percent over the same period.

  2. The study suggests that increases in higher-risk patterns of methamphetamine use, such as frequent use and use of other drugs at the same time, may be contributing to the rise in overdose deaths. People reporting frequent methamphetamine use of 100 days or more per year rose by 66 percent, and people who reported using methamphetamine and cocaine together rose by 60 percent between 2015 and 2019.

  3. Many methamphetamine overdose deaths involve the use of an opioid at the same time.

  4. Historically, methamphetamine has been most commonly used by middle-aged white people, but the study found that American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest prevalence of methamphetamine use between 2015 and 2019. Prevalence of methamphetamine use disorder in people who didn't inject the drug also increased tenfold among Black people in the same time period, a much steeper increase than was seen among white or Hispanic people.

  5. "We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in the United States, and this tragic trajectory goes far beyond an opioid epidemic. In addition to heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are becoming more dangerous due to contamination with highly potent fentanyl, and increases in higher risk use patterns such as multiple substance use and regular use," Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and one of the authors of the study, said in a news release. "Public health approaches must be tailored to address methamphetamine use across the diverse communities at risk, and particularly for American Indian and Alaska Native communities, who have the highest risk for methamphetamine misuse and are too often underserved."

Find the full study results here.

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