“We looked at trends from 1999 to 2021 and we saw this staggering increase in methamphetamine mortality accompanied by a proportional increase in those deaths that also involved heroin or fentanyl,” said Rachel Hoopsick, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor of kinesiology and community health who led the research.
Much of the increase in methamphetamine-related mortality occurred between 2010 and 2021 and is showing no sign of abating, Hoopsick said.
According to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 608 deaths were attributed to methamphetamine use in 1999. That number increased to 52,397 in 2021.
Hoopsick and R. Andrew Yockey at the University of Texas, Fort Worth, found that 61.2% of the methamphetamine overdose deaths in 2021 co-involved heroin or fentanyl.
“We knew from behavioral studies that the use of stimulants, in general, as well as the use of stimulants with opioids has been increasing over the past decade or two,” Hoopsick said.
Some methamphetamine users also choose to add an opioid to the mix to counter some of the stimulant effects of the meth.
“There are some myths within the drug-using community that opioids can be used to prevent or reverse an overdose with stimulants,” Hoopsick said. “But it does not work. They may be making it more toxic, not less.”
The impetus for the study came from Hoopsick’s observations during a community-based research project at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. The goal was to better understand the experiences, needs and preferences of people in the Champaign-Urbana community who inject drugs.