Diseases Of Despair
The diseases of despair refers to the connection between increased hopelessness and depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse.
On January 3, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study of about 1,050,000 urine samples that healthcare providers collected at clinics in the United States from January 2013 to October 2019. Over the course of those six years, the prevalence of samples which tested positive for methamphetamine rose from 1.4% of samples in 2013 to over 8% of samples in 2019. The urine samples also indicated an increase in fentanyl use, with about 1% of samples testing positive for fentanyl in 2013 and almost 5% of samples testing positive for the synthetic opioid last year. The results of the study suggest a concerning, long-term trend: more Americans are using meth and fentanyl, both of which are dangerous and highly addictive controlled substances.
The study predicts that meth overdoses may become more common in the future as the signs of widespread meth abuse only appear to become worse. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that meth has already overtaken fentanyl as the deadliest drug in nineteen states, all in the Midwestern and Western regions of the country. Fentanyl continues to cause the most fatal overdoses east of the Mississippi River.
The JAMA study also found a growing prevalence of urine samples which tested positive for both meth and fentanyl. More specifically, from 2013 to 2019, there was an increase of over 1,000% in samples which indicated co-occurring abuse of both drugs. Furthermore, samples which tested positive for both fentanyl and cocaine increased by 530%, and samples which tested positive for fentanyl and heroin increased by 556%. All of these drugs alone have the potential to cause an overdose. A person amplifies the risk of overdose by using two or more of them at once.
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Another recent study has shown that co-occurring meth and opioid abuse adversely affects opioid addiction treatment. Dr. Judith Tsui, an addiction specialist at the University of Washington, designed a study to assess the impact of meth on patients with an opioid use disorder. She just published her findings in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
For her study, Dr. Tsui and her fellow researchers examined 799 adult patients who participated in the Washington State Medication Assisted Treatment-Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction Program from 2015 to 2018. The researchers asked each subject whether they had used meth in the past thirty days, and 30% of them reported that they had. The researchers then examined which subjects failed a course of treatment with buprenorphine, an anti-addiction medication.
According to the study, “patients who concurrently used methamphetamine were less likely to be retained in buprenorphine treatment compared to non-users.” The study concluded that meth abuse correlates to a greater risk of failing treatment for opioid addiction. Dr. Tsui theorized that many people who are addicted to both drugs are homeless and have easy access to meth. As a result, they fail to take buprenorphine and use meth instead, sometimes to stay awake and alert at night.
“The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful,” she said in reference to the study. As meth abuse becomes an even larger problem in many states, the progress which the United States has achieved against the Opioid Epidemic might face a new obstacle.
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