Residents outside of urban areas have been hit hard by addiction.
Methamphetamine use is common in rural communities and is driving up the overdose rate, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OSHU) and other institutions.
The team found that roughly four of five people who use drugs in rural areas across ten states reported using methamphetamines within the last month. This is an indication that there’s still a lot going on with these harmful addictive substances and how they’re affecting communities.
“That’s a huge problem that’s often overlooked,” said the study’s lead author Todd Korthuis, M.D., M.P.H., from OHSU, of the problem in less populated areas. “Co-use of methamphetamine and opioids is associated with a big increased risk of overdose in rural communities. Some people view rural areas as immune to problems like drug use and overdose, but they’re not.”
Korthuis says that the use of meth is especially problematic among younger people. This has been a West Coast problem for some time now but he’s noticing it more often across America with users coming from all over. On some occasions, this causes the physician to be called upon by various hospitals or healthcare providers who need assistance in treating those suffering from addiction and related mental health problems, including suicidal ideation.
Korthuis said, it’s a mistake for people to not only use this form of drug but to believe it’s safe because its effects don’t last as opioids such as heroin or prescription painkillers. He went onto explain how fentanyl has begun contaminating methamphetamine in rural areas because of the intermingling between criminals selling it in its pure form and those who blend it together during production.
The researchers found that the risk of nonfatal drug overdoses was highest among people who also used opioids and methamphetamine together. In the study, 22% reported experiencing a health-related incident in the past six months due to mixing both drugs, compared with 14% among those using only one type or another. Six percent reported having a non-fatal overdose from methamphetamine use exclusively.
The study also found that 53% of respondents were made homeless in the past six months. This heightens the risk for what’s called “deaths-of despair” – drug overdose, suicide and disease linked with substance use disorders.
“There are deaths all over,” said Korthuis, but our rural communities have been hardest hit. Treatment remains scarce, and forty percent of those trying to access treatment have been met with roadblocks along their path to recovery. This is one of the reasons that overdose fatalities are higher in these areas that in urban populations. Another is that many people don’t have adequate insurance to receive treatment and/or their plans won’t cover it.
In many cases, naloxone is not given to people who use methamphetamine because they don’t think it will work. “However,” Korthuis said, “Naloxone distribution should be expanded to people who use methamphetamine.” The drug should always be given first as a matter of protocol. Naloxone (brand name Narcan) should be given in case there is any opioid use (whether or not the user knows it). Then, other treatment can be administered.