As meth use and overdoses spike, particularly on the West Coast, researchers in Seattle are proposing a taking a medical approach to addiction‚ replacing with other stimulants in much the same way as methadone and suboxone replace heroin with alternative opiates. But propaganda painting the drug as uniquely addictive makes funding a challenge.
Here’s an excerpt from my latest piece at HuffPost; check out the whole story As meth use and overdoses spike, researchers in Seattle are proposing a medical solution that replaces meth with other stimulants. But propaganda painting the drug as uniquely addictive makes funding a challenge. Check out my latest at HuffPost.
At some point between their son’s stints at sober houses, jail and 14 rehab centers, Annie and Richard Becker gave up hope that he would ever stop using meth.
The Beckers, who live in Seattle, haven’t seen their son in more than a year. Before meth, their son was “really caring, very funny and likable,” the kind of guy who “didn’t like to see anybody else picked on or harmed,” Richard said.
After meth, he was scary and unpredictable ― the kind of guy who thought nothing of throwing a brick through his parents’ window or threatening his mom, Annie said.
“I think when he was most dangerous to us is when he was in withdrawal and couldn’t get drugs, and we became the target,” she said.
There are medications to help with opioid addiction, including methadone ― in use since the early 1970s ― and buprenorphine, which became widely available in the last decade. Both drugs are substitute opiates that can take away the destructive urge to use and give people a chance at housing, medical care and stable relationships. But there are currently no similar treatments for methamphetamine addiction.
“I’ve always felt like, is anybody paying attention to the fact that there’s all these meth users who don’t have any kind of treatment?” Richard said.
While there have been some studies that tried substitute stimulants to treat methamphetamine addiction, the results have been mixed, leading some to conclude that a medical treatment for meth addiction is unlikely.
But a team of researchers in Seattle wants to challenge that theory. Their plan is to give relatively high doses of methylphenidate ― better known as the ADHD drug Ritalin ― to patients who are already in treatment for opiate use disorders and also use meth. The proposed pilot, which still needs about $500,000 in funding, is not yet underway. It would be a joint effort between Evergreen Treatment Services (ETS), the University of Washington and the Seattle Public Defender Association. Although the Seattle City Council declined to provide public funding for the program in its last budget cycle, researchers are optimistic that grants or federal dollars will come through. If researchers see significant results, the pilot could be expanded to include more patients.
“What we really want to see is a very substantial reduction in use, so that you could say this is making an impact on people’s lives, in terms of improving physical health, psychological health, reducing criminal activity, and improving their ability to take care of the basic things in life,” said Dr. Paul Grekin, the medical director at ETS.
Seattle seems primed for this kind of experiment. Meth use has been growing quietly across the United States for years in the shadow of the opiate epidemic, but the increase has been particularly acute on the West Coast, where meth now causes more overdose deaths than any other drug. In Washington state, meth overdoses killed about one person every day in 2016. In King County, which includes Seattle, there were 164 meth overdose deaths last year, outpacing heroin as the leading cause of overdose deaths.
Meth has become cheaper, more contaminated and more potent in the last several years, according to front-line emergency service and case workers, leading to an increase in dangerous symptoms like cardiac arrest, strokes and hyperthermia, a condition where the body essentially burns itself alive. That’s on top of the more common symptoms of meth use, such as psychosis, dental problems, injuries, malnutrition and diseases transmitted through needles or risky sex.