Meth a Major Culprit in U.S. Overdose Epidemic

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Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

America is facing an overdose epidemic, and it isn’t just due to opioids. Overdose deaths involving methamphetamine, or meth, have nearly tripled among adults ages 18-34 in the U.S., from 5,526 in 2015 to 15,489 in 2019 — a 180% increase [1,2]. From 2011 to 2018, deaths involving meth climbed from 1.8 to 10.1 per 100,000 men and 0.8 to 4.5 per 100,000 women [3].

While the number of people who used meth didn’t necessarily grow, researchers found that people have been using it more often and in conjunction with other drugs.

Frequent meth use of 100 days or more per year jumped by 66%, and meth use with cocaine increased by 60%. And many meth overdose deaths also involved opioids such as heroin or fentanyl [2].

“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in the United States, and this tragic trajectory goes far beyond an opioid epidemic,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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“In addition to heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are becoming more dangerous due to contamination with highly potent fentanyl and increases in higher-risk use patterns such as multiple substance use and regular use,” said Dr. Volkow.

Meth and A Host of Dangers

Overdose isn’t the only risk that comes with using meth. When a person who uses meth doesn’t seek professional help, it can severely damage their health and overall quality of life.

Meth is an illicit stimulant that causes a quick, intense high followed by a sudden crash. This substance is most commonly known in popular culture as crystal meth, but it can also come in powder or pill form.

Because the effects of meth fade so quickly, it is not uncommon for someone to go for hours or days without food or sleep as they continuously take the drug to keep trying to maintain the euphoric effects [4].

This is a dangerous cycle that can lead to dehydration, weight loss, problems sleeping, and trouble at work or school. Other risks of using meth include [1, 4]:

  • Meth addiction – Meth causes a sudden rush of dopamine to the reward center of the brain, but these effects are short-lived. The more a person uses meth, the more likely they are to suffer from withdrawal symptoms when the drug leaves their system, making it much harder for them to stop using the drug no matter how much they want to.
  • Trouble hitting growth milestones – Meth addiction in young adults was four times higher in 2019 than in 2015. It can cause lasting harm to a young person’s brain and social development.
  • Infectious diseases – People who use meth are at high risk for contracting diseases such as HIV and hepatitis through sharing injection equipment or engaging in risky sexual behavior while under the influence of the drug.
  • Serious health problems – Meth can cause intense itching that can lead to skin sores, along with severe dental problems, hallucinations, and paranoia.

As experts noted earlier, meth can also be laced with other drugs such as fentanyl without a person knowing, and that can lead to deadly consequences.

Meth Use Complicated by Other Conditions

Woman by the beach using methWhat makes meth use even more complex is that often many people who use this drug suffer from other medical conditions or mental health disorders.

Compared with those who don’t use meth, people who use meth are twice as likely to have another medical condition, more than three times as likely to have a mental health disorder, and more than four times as likely to have a substance use disorder [5].

Researchers found that people who used meth most commonly had health concerns such as liver disease, lung disease, and HIV/AIDS. They also found that addictions to heroin, prescription stimulants, prescription opioids, cocaine, and sedatives most commonly coincided with meth use.

The researchers note that their findings don’t necessarily indicate that meth causes other medical conditions, only that people who use meth are more likely to struggle with multiple conditions at once.

Regardless of how a person developed the health conditions they are facing, what is most important, is getting professional treatment — for meth addiction and any other medical condition a person is struggling with.

“Methamphetamine use adds complexity to the already challenging care of adults who have multiple chronic conditions,” said study author Benjamin Han, M.D. “Integrated interventions that can address the multiple conditions people are living with, along with associated social risks, are needed for this population.”

The truth is that overdose is the biggest risk of using methamphetamine. Preventing overdose starts with reaching out for help from professionals who can provide the comprehensive, personalized treatment you need.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, September 22). Methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015 to 2019, NIH study finds. Retrieved from

[2] Anderson, M. (2021, September 23). Methamphetamine overdose deaths nearly tripled in 4 years, NIH study finds. Becker’s Hospital Review. Retrieved from

[3] Gramigna, J. (2021, January 20). Methamphetamine overdose death rates differ by sex, race/ethnicity. Healio. Retrieved from

[4] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (May 2019). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from

[5] Harrison, R. (2021, June 3). People who use methamphetamine likely to report multiple chronic conditions. EurekAlert! Retrieved from

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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

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Published on October 7, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 7, 2021
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.