Methamphetamine and Opioids: Drug Synergism Concerns

Methamphetamine

In 2011, 19% of opioid users said they also used methamphetamine; by 2017, that figure had risen to 34%, according to a study appearing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The researchers concluded:

“Qualitative data indicated that methamphetamine served as an opioid substitute, provided a synergistic high, and balanced out the effects of opioids so one could function “normally.” Our data suggest that, at least to some extent, efforts limiting access to prescription opioids may be associated with an increase in the use of methamphetamine.”

In 2014, 14% of heroin users entering treatment in San Francisco reported also having a meth problem. A follow up in 2017 showed that 22% of heroin users seeking treatment in San Francisco had issues with meth too.

The numbers above are not an anomaly; methamphetamine is making a comeback across the United States. Although, some experts might argue that meth use never went away but was hiding in the shadows of the opioid epidemic.

The days of clandestine methamphetamine labs in the U.S. came to an end in the 2000s. However, government crackdowns had the unintended consequence of ushering in new opportunities for Mexican cartels.

Efforts to stem the tide of homegrown meth production in America were most successful at creating a windfall for the cartels. South of the border “super labs” sprung up to feed America’s growing demand for “crystal meth.” Mexican meth, sometimes called “ice” due to its purity, is stronger and less expensive than what was found on the streets a decade ago.

Deaths involving methamphetamine are steadily rising, particularly in the West, NPR reports. The link between meth and opioids is cause for concern; the surge in meth use is believed to be tied to efforts to confront the opioid epidemic.

The Impact of Rising Opioid Prices

Making it more difficult to acquire certain drugs does little to address addiction. Instead, it forces those who live with use disorders to take more risks and seek new avenues of euphoria. Most people are aware that the U.S. government has taken many steps to decrease access to prescription opioids. New legislation and prescribing guidelines forced many addicts to turn to heroin.

While heroin is less expensive than OxyContin, a habit can be hundreds of dollars a day. Maintaining an opioid addiction is costly, regardless of the drug in question. Opioids make people feel lethargic, which makes it difficult to hold down a job. Stimulants like meth provide many addicts the extra pep in their step needed to get to work.

Amelia, a recovering addict, tells NPR that meth enabled her to keep working so she could afford her heroin habit. She said that using stimulants to help her support the opioid use disorder developed into a pattern.

The heroin was the most expensive part,” she says. “That was $200 a day at one point. And the meth was $150 a week.”

There are other reasons why people use stimulants in conjunction with opioids—drug synergism. Addicts have been mixing heroin and cocaine (e.g., “speedballing”) for a long time; one drug enhances the effects of the other and vice versa. However, cocaine is often more expensive than heroin. Now, many people are using heroin and meth simultaneously to replicate a speedball; the admixture is commonly referred to as a “goofball.”

When a person is struggling with both a stimulant and opioid use disorder, it can complicate treatment efforts. Unlike opioids, there is no medication to help people with meth withdrawal. It’s it vital that treatment professionals pay close attention to polysubstance use disorder cases to prevent relapse.

Methamphetamine and Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

Mixing stimulants with opioids is a deadly combination; naloxone isn’t as effective on polysubstance overdoses. It is vital that individuals in the grips of meth and opioid addiction seek professional help immediately to avoid severe complications.

If you are an adult male who is struggling with a use disorder of any kind, please contact PACE Recovery Center today. Our gender-specific, extended care programs can help you break the cycle of addiction. We are available 24/7 to answer any of your questions about our multidimensional approach to substance use disorder treatment.

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