Meth Overtakes Fentanyl as the Most Lethal Drug West of the Mississippi River

A New Report on Meth and Fentanyl Overdoses By Region

On October 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a groundbreaking report on fatal drug overdoses in different regions of the United States. CDC researchers examined death certificates from 2017, the most recent year for which comprehensive data on drug fatalities is available, to compile the report. In 2017, over 70,000 Americans lost their lives to an overdose on at least one narcotic, with 68% of cases involving opioids. However, the report reveals that methamphetamine caused more fatal overdoses than fentanyl and other opioids in nineteen states west of the Mississippi River.

According to the CDC report, fentanyl caused 38.9% of all fatal overdoses nationwide, an increase from 29% of fatal overdoses in 2016. The synthetic opioid was the deadliest drug in America. After fentanyl, heroin was the second deadliest drug, cocaine was the third deadliest, and methamphetamine was the fourth deadliest. Heroin, cocaine, and meth respectively caused 22.8%, 21.3%, and 13.3% of all lethal overdoses in 2017. While methamphetamine was the fourth most lethal drug nationwide that year, it caused more fatalities than any other substance in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. In many of these states, methamphetamine surpassed black tar heroin as the most dangerous illegal substance and caused as many as 38% of drug-related deaths.

In some cases, the regional disparity is striking. While fentanyl far exceeded methamphetamine as the deadliest drug in New England, a region where methamphetamine was only the tenth most lethal controlled substance, fentanyl caused fewer deaths than methamphetamine and five other drugs in North and South Dakota.

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Fentanyl and Meth Present Different Challenges

According to the DEA, the vast majority of the methamphetamine supply in the American West originates in Mexico. By contrast, most of the country’s fentanyl supply comes from China. While the Chinese government has agreed to punish fentanyl exporters, authorities in Western states are working to devote greater resources to stopping the flow of methamphetamine across the Mexico-U.S. border. Officials from the health department in one target state, New Mexico, believe that the proliferation of methamphetamine throughout the country will become more severe, since the drug is easy to obtain at a low cost.

Furthermore, as methamphetamine continues to take lives, law enforcement and the medical system are struggling to save them. It is generally easier to save a life from an opioid overdose than from a meth overdose. A person who suffers an overdose on fentanyl could survive if they quickly receive a dose of naloxone, a medication which reverses the effects of opioids on the central nervous system. Unfortunately, there is no medication which counteracts the effects of methamphetamine. Instead, methamphetamine overdoses require treatment with a combination of sedatives.

What About 2018 and 2019?

Although researchers are still developing the data on drug overdoses this year and last year, they are beginning to understand how drug overdoses have most recently affected Americans. The CDC projects that the number of fatal overdoses in the United States declined in 2018. This may be the result of the increasingly widespread availability of naloxone. However, the country may be experiencing a shift in the regions where the deadliest illegal drugs take the greatest toll. Experts believe that America’s fentanyl supply has possibly started moving to Western states, a possible explanation for the fact that the number of fatal drug overdoses is growing in that region of the country. Meanwhile, experts and authorities in states east of the Mississippi River are beginning to find more methamphetamine and encounter more cases of methamphetamine addiction in their neighborhoods and hospitals.

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