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Meth Use in Pennsylvania

While the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic has ravaged the United States since the early 2000s, as of 2018, meth and cocaine abuse is on the rise again in much of the country.

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In the early 2000s, methamphetamines, usually in the form of crystal meth, were made in domestic labs and even some one-use, portable containers. Now, a very pure and very potent form of meth is being manufactured in super labs in Mexico and shipped into the country. It is inexpensive, and because it is so potent, it is more likely to cause an overdose than lead to a high.

People in rural parts of the U.S., like much of Pennsylvania, are particularly at risk for abusing this new form of meth.

Pennsylvania Struggling With New Wave of Meth Abuse in Rural Areas

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 1.6 million people (0.6 percent of the population in the country) reported abusing meth in the prior year. About 0.3 percent of the population (774,000 people) reported abusing meth in the past month. The rate of people who report struggling with meth abuse has risen a lot since 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In 2019, law enforcement across Pennsylvania reported that an uptick in meth abuse led to several drug seizures, arrests, and medical issues. Violence related to the substance has been on the rise too, due to the intense paranoia and delusions associated with meth abuse.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported 5,456 drug-related overdose deaths in Pennsylvania between 2017 and 2018. Most of these were associated with opioid drugs, but meth overdoses have been on the rise as well.

The DEA and the University of Pittsburgh reported that, between 2015 and 2016, a sharp jump in meth overdoses indicated the beginning of a serious problem. Until recently, this had gone unnoticed due to public concern about opioids.

The sites that first reported meth abuse in Pennsylvania were:

  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Johnstown

These sites are larger, more populous areas, where meth may be shipped up from Mexico and then distributed to rural areas.

The new wave of meth abuse in Pennsylvania, like that reported in other states in the U.S., is associated with high-grade meth produced south of the border and distributed through larger urban areas. However, meth abuse predominantly affects rural areas in Pennsylvania.

For example, the small town of DuBois is home to 7,500 people. A 129 percent jump in drug reports from July 2017 to July 2018 in the area led to mostly possession arrests, more of which involved meth than previous years. Local law enforcement reports that the rate of substance abuse-related arrests has never jumped so much in one year before.

In Berwick, 46 percent of the local arrests involve drugs, often meth. In the first 11 months of 2018, police in that area arrested 86 people for heroin possession and 11 for meth possession. But arresting people who are struggling with meth abuse can be much riskier than arresting people who abuse heroin because meth leads to erratic behavior and violence.

The problem is becoming so serious in Pennsylvania’s rural areas that the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has a page on their website about the drug’s risks. It includes information on:

  • How meth may affect farmers, including chemical waste from labs and the harm it can do to farm animals, crops, and humans.
  • The signs of a meth lab, including chemical smells and leftover boxes or drums.
  • How to report a meth lab.

Meth Abuse Can Be Treated

The increase in meth abuse in Pennsylvania reflects national trends, which have gone largely unnoticed by the public due to the opioid abuse epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people all over the U.S. However, public policy is shifting to understand and slow this problem.

Users in Pennsylvania, may be picking up as cheaper, more potent meth is flooding the region from Mexico. This more potent version of meth carries even greater risks, making it more likely to result in overdose and severe brain changes. While some effects of long-term meth use may be permanent, many of the brain changes are at least partially reversible if all use is stopped and proper medical treatment is given.

A medical detox program can help rid the body of the drug in a safe and supervised environment and a drug treatment program can provide therapy and skills training to help individuals avoid relapse.

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