After years of focus on the opioid epidemic, law enforcement and researchers are warning of another drug crisis, this time involving methamphetamine, cocaine and a group of drugs known as psychostimulants.
Eden Prairie police have seen a slight uptick in arrests related to methamphetamine, according to police chief Greg Weber.
Weber noticed the drug “coming back” in the past year, he told Eden Prairie News, at the same time as arrests related to opioids have stabilized and begun to fall.
Colin Planalp is a public policy research at the University of Minnesota and said the two drug crises “dovetail” into a larger problem.
“I don’t think we can any longer refer to it as just an opioid crisis,” Planalp noted.
Part of that comes from the mixing of various substances. According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, nearly three in four cocaine-related and around half of psychostimulant-related overdose deaths involved at least one opioid. Rates of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants (including methamphetamine) have continued to rise even in the absence of powerful opioids like fentanyl.
Researchers aren’t sure whether the mixing of substances, like adding fentanyl to supplies of methamphetamine or cocaine, occurs on the scale of distributors or individual users.
“It’s not entirely clear, and it’s probably a mixture of the two,” Planalp said.
The methamphetamine crisis of the early and mid-2000s was a different beast, Planalp said: It was “driven predominantly by small-scale manufacturing of meth in meth labs within the United States,” while today’s drugs come largely from sources outside of the U.S.
Anecdotally, Weber’s experience confirms this. A few decades ago, controlling methamphetamine use and production involved tracking and seizing those local meth labs, including one in Eden Prairie, Weber said. The hazardous chemicals and byproducts from production made law enforcement’s job difficult and dangerous. These days, officers see fewer production sites and more simple possession or distribution, Weber added.
However, despite the overlap of the opioid crisis and rising psychostimulant deaths, “there are distinctions” in how law enforcement and medical professionals can prevent abuse and treat addiction, Planalp said. Unlike opioid addiction, which has several FDA-approved treatment options, there are no drugs to help a person suffering from addiction to methamphetamine or other psychostimulants.
Locally, while Minnesota was hit by the opioid crisis, it was “less severe than the U.S. on average,” Planalp explained. In the case of methamphetamine and psychostimulants, however, “Minnesota isn’t really doing any better,” he said, and the burgeoning crisis is a “continuing real concern in Minnesota, like in many western states.”
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Research and understanding of addiction science has improved dramatically since the opioid crisis began in the early 2000s, and those advances can help all people struggling with addiction, Planalp said. And while the opioid crisis grew with little attention from doctors, researchers and media, the psychostimulant crisis “is just starting to get more attention,” which will help direct action toward it, he added.
“There’s a real opportunity to leverage some of that,” he said.