Drug forecasting experts say a new wave of addiction is coming to the United States, with the nation still trying to recover from the opioid crisis.
Abuse of stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and even prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin is currently on the increase across the country, fed by cheap, potent, and plentiful supplies.
John Eadie, coordinator for the National Emerging Threat Initiative says;
“No one is paying attention to this, which provides research to the government’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program.
“Everyone, correctly, is focused on opioids and should be because of the known problem there. But this other problem is catching up with us very rapidly.
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“We’re now facing a very significant stimulant epidemic,” said Eadie, who spoke this week at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
Eadie says the drug enforcement agents seized 15 kilograms of stimulants for every kilogram of heroin a commonly abused opioid.
“We have to pay attention to this one. It’s very big, and it’s growing very rapidly,” he said.
Data from government surveys on drug use reveal that stimulant use is drastically increasing and in some cases, overtakes opioid use.
In 2016, an estimated 2.3 million people began using opioids to get high for the first time, while 2.6 million people started using stimulant drugs for the same purpose.
In 2016, an estimated 3.8 million people said they used opioids to get high within the last month, while 4.3 million said the same about stimulants.
Opioids is now responsible for most deaths as a result of drug overdose in the U.S. In the same vain, the number of people who are dying from stimulants is also rising.
Early data from the CDC show that the number of overdose deaths due to psychostimulant abuse — a drug category that includes prescription and illegal stimulants — jumped nearly 30% last year. In 2017, 7,663 people died from a stimulant overdose, up from 5,992 in 2016.
The reasons for the increase are not yet well understood. But historically, drug abuse tends to happen in cycles. For instance, the heroin epidemic of the 1970s was shadowed by the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s.
Melvin Patterson, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C., says people who take stimulants generally crave a different kind of high than those who abuse opioids, so he says it’s likely that a stimulant epidemic would affect a different pool of users. Opioids create a sense of calm and euphoria. Stimulants, of course, produce bursts of energy and focus.
But there is some overlap. People who are addicted to opioids — which depress the central nervous system, making it tough to stay awake — are also turning to stimulants to help them function.
“If you talk to heroin users, they totally use meth to keep them up,” says Karen Randall, DO, an emergency room doctor in Pueblo, CO, who was attending the conference. “They use heroin, but then they have to take the kids to school, they have to get up and do stuff, (so) they use methamphetamines,” she said.
Randall says stimulant abuse can be harder on the body.
“The harms are probably greater because it affects the cardiovascular system. Cocaine and amphetamines cause a great deal of hypertension and end-organ damage like heart disease, lung disease, brain disease, and stroke. I think actually amphetamines are going to be worse,” she says.
In some ways, addiction to stimulants is more challenging to treat than opioid addiction. The medication Narcan can reverse an opioid overdose. There is no rescue drug for people who overdose on stimulants.