Those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic received a modicum of good news when the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data on drug overdoses in 2018.
The statistics, which are subject to revision, indicate that U.S. overdose deaths dropped from 72,000 in 2017 to 68,000 last year, a reduction of about 5 percent. Final results are expected in December, but there are plenty of reasons to avoid complacency when considering these numbers.
For starters, 68,000 is still a lot of death and misery. Illicit fentanyl, a synthetic and dangerous opioid, continues to pour across the border. Finally, Missouri remains the only state lacking a prescription drug monitoring program, a lapse that makes it harder to identify users who shop around for large quantities of addictive painkillers.
But the main reason to refrain from celebration is this: Opioids aren’t even our biggest drug problem.
That would be methamphetamine.
Ask any doctor, treatment professional or law enforcement officer and they’ll agree: opioids may grab headlines, but meth continues to quietly sweep through cities and rural communities in Missouri. Late last year, the Family Guidance Center for Behavioral Healthcare reported 150 people enrolled in treatment for opioids, compared to 600 for meth.
Missouri saw a 52 percent increase in meth-related treatment admissions between 2012 and 2016, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
This is not to downplay the devastating impact of opioid abuse or the need for events like this week’s Northwest Missouri Opioid Summit in St. Joseph. But it is possible, in the war on drugs, to put some of our armies on the wrong battlefield.
Perhaps it’s easier to see meth use as a personal failing, since that drug, unlike many opioids, has no legitimate medical purpose and is illegal in all instances. Maybe meth is perceived as a drug for hillbillies and opioids carry more of a suburban aura. These days, meth is a lot easier to overlook because law enforcement agencies rarely engage in high-profile lab busts.
The drug, like fentanyl, tends to come from Mexico.
It’s hard to witness the impact of meth without an urge to look away. Booking photographs at county jails make it clear that this drug does in real life what FaceApp depicts digitally. It takes years off your life, but in a permanent and grisly way.
Our advice: Don’t look away, as hard as it is. Opioids are a problem that deserves attention, but meth also remains a scourge that fuels crime and destroys lives in neighborhoods and towns across the state.