We often talk about people who abuse drugs having a “drug of choice.” This term is misleading since many people use drugs in various combinations to achieve the effect they are looking for. It’s quite common for someone to use more than one substance depending on their preference and the drug’s availability.
Fatal Overdoses Began to Rise 20 Years Ago
The number of fatal overdoses due to opioid use began rising 20 years ago. This was about the time new, stronger pain relievers like OxyContin were introduced to the market. Opioids were not the only drugs linked to the rise in overdose deaths; other drugs like cocaine were also responsible.
Overdose deaths due to methamphetamine began to rise sharply in 2009. By 2019, they had jumped to over 16,500. The number of fatal cocaine overdoses reached similar levels with 16,196 people losing their lives in this manner.
National drug-use surveys indicate that stimulant use rates have not surged This is a likely indication that the increase in fatal drug overdoses is due to people using stimulants in combination with opioids (heroin or fentanyl). Another explanation is that users are being given products that have been laced with fentanyl without their knowledge.
Meth Use Rates Jumped Among Those with OUD
According to a study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis (2018), methamphetamine use has climbed significantly among people living with an opioid use disorder (OUD). Study subjects reported that they substituted methamphetamine for opioids when they were not able to obtain opioids or the opioids were considered unsafe. The same group reported they achieved a synergistic high by combining stimulants and opioids.
When someone takes stimulants and opioids together, the stimulant helps to reduce the sedative effect of the opioid. As a result, the user feels they can function “normally.” The combination of the two drugs increases their toxicity by intensifying the effect each one has on the heart and lungs.
Overdose is not the only danger users face. Repeated use of stimulants can cause cognitive issues, along with several other health issues, including heart and lung diseases. Injecting methamphetamines or cocaine with shared needles can lead to the spread of diseases like hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV.
No Approved Medications for Stimulant Use Disorders
At present, there are no approved medications for stimulant use disorders. The best treatments are behavioral interventions. Several research teams have been working on developing new medications for methamphetamine addiction.
Another treatment approach that is being tried is delivering antibodies directly to neutralize their effects on the body. A team from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is working with InterveXion, a biotech company, on an antibody able to keep methamphetamine in the bloodstream and stopping it from entering the brain. The project is currently in its Phase 2 trial stage.