While the rising death toll from heroin and narcotic painkillers has dominated public attention, New Mexico hospital records show that methamphetamine has caused a similar spike in deaths and emergency room visits, a state Department of Health report found.
Heroin and prescription opioids account for most overdose deaths in New Mexico, but methamphetamine overdose deaths have climbed steadily since 2008. And emergency room visits linked to amphetamine and methamphetamine abuse nearly tripled from 2010 to 2014.
The data suggest that methamphetamine use is increasing in New Mexico, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Michael Landen.
“Changes in overdose deaths reflect changes in the use of those drugs,” Landen said. “We would expect that increased deaths associated with methamphetamine suggest increased use.”
Deaths involving methamphetamine more than doubled in New Mexico from 39 in 2009 to 111 in 2014, state data shows.
The number of amphetamine- and meth-related visits to New Mexico emergency departments increased from 382 in 2010 to 1,097 in 2014, according to an April 22 issue of New Mexico Epidemiology, a Department of Health publication.
The changes also seem to correspond with a shifting source of methamphetamine to large producers in Mexico, Landen said.
“The source of the meth seems to have shifted from small mom-and-pop labs in the U.S. to larger labs, more industrial labs, in Mexico,” he said. “With that, the purity or quality of methamphetamine has improved.”
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system, the report said. Amphetamines are prescription medications, such as Adderal, which are used to treat attention hyperactivity disorder, it said.
Methamphetamine, a more potent form of amphetamine, is produced and sold illegally by names including meth, crank, crystal, ice and speed.
In New Mexico, methamphetamine causes more overdose deaths than prescription amphetamines, Landen said.
Physicians have few tools to counteract the effects of a meth overdose, Landen said.
“For opioids, we have Narcan, or naloxone, to reverse the overdose,” he said. “We don’t have a similar drug that reverses methamphetamine overdoses.”
Testing also shows that opioid drugs and heroin are found in the blood of most people who die from meth overdoses, suggesting that many users abuse both heroin and meth, Landen said.
Jennifer Weiss-Burke, executive director of Serenity Mesa Youth Recovery Center, said many of the young addicts at her residential facility have used both meth and heroin.
“In the past couple years, I think meth has really made a comeback,” Weiss-Burke said.
“They are using one drug to counteract the other drug,” she said. “They will use meth when they want to stay up, then they will use heroin to come down from that so they can sleep.”