Call to Develop Meth Addiction Meds Mustn’t Obscure Woeful Lack of Access to Existing Tools

    Meth’s Resurgence Spotlights Lack of Meds to Combat the Addiction,” reads the headline of an article first published on Kaiser Health News then reposted to ABC News. Stimulant-involved overdose deaths have tripled between 2011 and 2016, the article notes.

    “Unlike the opioid epidemic—for which medications exist to help combat addiction […] there are no drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration that can treat a meth addiction,” the article says.

    But medicines are only as good as their implementation and utilization, which, when it comes to opioid addiction, is still woefully inadequate. According to the 2016 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, only 37 percent of SAMHSA-certified opioid treatment programs provide medication-assisted treatments (MAT) like buprenorphine and methadone. The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment also reports that only three percent of physicians can prescribe the medication. And those who do prescribe it have limits on how many patients they can treat. And of course, many people still don’t have access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

    There’s no current drug that can reverse a meth overdose. In any case, for stimulants, “overdose” works very differently than it does with opioids. The San Francisco Aids Foundation (SFAF) points out in a booklet for speed harm reduction, that the word “overdose” does not accurately capture the reality of what happens with speed use, because the word makes “it sound like taking too much is the problem.” Instead, the word “overamping” better captures what occurs.

    “With speed (unlike some drugs like heroin),” the booklet states, “it is much more unpredictable, overamping might happen regardless of how much or little you use, or how long you’ve been using. It might happen on the third day of a run when your body is getting run down, or when you get high with some people that make you feel weird.”

    Overamping is not directly related to the quantity of drugs. Rather, “Overamping can happen for a lot of different reasons: you’ve been up for too long (sleep deprivation), your body is worn down from not eating or drinking enough water, you’re in a weird or uncomfortable environment or with people that are sketching you out, you did ‘that one hit too many,’ you mixed some other drugs with your speed that have sent you into a bad place,” writes SFAF.

    But, as with opioids, we already know about tools that can help mitigate the risks of meth use. Shilo Jama has identified a number of them for Filter: safer snorting kits; safer consumption spaces and syringe exchange inclusive of stimulant users; and ensuring that people who use have access to food and water.

    To learn more about harm reduction resources about overamping, check out Harm Reduction Coalition’s “Stimulant ‘Overamping’ Basics.” Let’s fight to make the effective tools we already have more accessible to everyone.

    Image via Wikimedia Commons

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