First there were the pain pills. When those got too expensive, heroin moved into the void. Then came fentanyl. And just as city and county officials, first responders and communities are growing new sets of arms to try and whack down every mole that pops its head up in the form of a new crisis, here comes meth.
Wait, what? Meth? The stuff made from batteries, flu medication and the ammonia extracted from fertilizer? The stuff so unstable that producing it can blow up a house or, in the case of a mobile lab, a car?
In a word, yes.
There was always meth. Sure, it’s not the crisis that the opioid epidemic has evolved into. Still, the recent resurgence in the compound that gives a sense of euphoria along with wild behavior and hallucinations that can cause users to scratch their own skin raw, shows just how bad the addiction problem is.
Methamphetamine overdoses killed more than 10,000 people in 2017, the same year opioid-related overdoses claimed more than 47,000 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reported meth-related overdose deaths tripled from 2011 to 2016.
Why now? Why meth? Well, there are multiple factors, but the primary reason, as with just about everything else, is the economy.
According to Kaiser Health News, the price of meth on the street across the country has dropped to levels Drug Enforcement Administration officials have rarely seen. In areas where generally the economy is poorer, meth becomes the go-to.
The resurgence of meth is a national problem, but it seems to be hitting Appalachia fairly hard. More pleas and sentencings regarding meth crimes in West Virginia are appearing every day.
In a story West Virginia Public Broadcasting published for its “100 Days in Appalachia” series, a recovery mentor said he now calls his native town of Clarksburg “Methburg,” because of the drug’s overwhelming presence. The man told WVPB that when the clock hits 4 p.m., people begin to converge on the town to sell or buy meth.
Similar stories could be told across West Virginia and around most of Appalachia.
In a sense, the story of meth’s comeback is the story of addiction in the region. It’s an underlying truth that, just because one drug becomes a scourge and efforts are focused on that, doesn’t mean the problems surrounding other drugs are eradicated. Attention gets shuffled elsewhere, and the previous problem might recede, but it still exists. When the conditions are right, the demand will come back.
Meth is a particularly damaging drug, not just because of the toll its toxic components take on the body, but also because, unlike a lethal dose of heroin or fentanyl, there is no equivalent to naloxone to bring a victim back. Responding to opioid calls can be dangerous, but usually the people first responders treat are extremely sedate, if not comatose. Those with meth in their system are the opposite: highly wound and extremely unpredictable.
So now, communities are fighting against addiction on several fronts, and resources can be thin. Fortunately, West Virginia has taken great strides to bolster its recovery programs and drug courts, but this will be an ongoing battle. Those in the trenches can’t lose focus or succumb to feeling overwhelmed after hacking one tentacle away just to see another one sprout.
Change is possible, if West Virginians give their all in this fight. And they’ll have to.