Let’s get right to the point: Methamphetamine use is a problem on Kauai, and in Hawaii.
In 2016, Hawaii had 6.8 meth-related deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to the national rate of 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Meth-related deaths in the islands have outpaced opioid-related deaths in the rest of the U.S. for each of the past five years.
Nationwide, the number of meth-related deaths is increasing at a rapid rate, surpassing the rate of opioid-related deaths at the start of the opioid epidemic. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meth-overdose deaths increased four-fold over five years, from 2012 to 2017. For comparison, at the onset of the opioid crisis, the number of opioid-related deaths increased four-fold over 10 years.
Something needs to be done, which is why we’re glad to see that U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is calling on the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to treat methamphetamine misuse as a priority and devote more federal resources to addressing the growing epidemic in Hawaii and across the country.
“By specifically targeting the growing problems of meth misuse and addiction, we can effectively prevent them from becoming a more serious crisis,” Schatz wrote in a letter to the director of the ONDCP. “And for communities, such as Hawaii, that are facing escalating problems of meth misuse, addiction and death, concerted federal interventions will help to reduce the number of deaths and serious harm from misuse and addiction.”
Meth misuse and addiction are serious and growing national problems.
There were four times as many deaths in 2017 as in 2012 — 2,600 deaths in 2012 to 10,300 in 2017, according to the press release from Schatz. Over that time period, 17 states bore the brunt of the increase in meth-related deaths, with the steepest increases in Ohio (130%) and West Virginia (94%).
In addition, within this growing number of meth-related deaths, Native Americans and Alaska Natives had the highest death rate and the biggest rate increase. In addition, as meth is less likely than opioids to lead to an acute overdose, statistics on meth-related deaths may underestimate the prevalence of meth misuse and addiction, he said.
“Meth misuse and addiction have been consistent problems in my state of Hawaii for decades, but over the past decade, meth-related deaths have risen dramatically, from 37 deaths in 2009 to 147 in 2018,” said Schatz.
The number of deaths due to meth overtook the number of both prescription-drug- and opioid-related deaths in 2015, and has spiked since then. Over the past decade, Hawaii’s meth-related death rate has been above the national meth-related death rate.
These high meth-related death rates are not limited to Hawaii, Schatz said.
West Virginia and Alaska have both experienced high meth-related death rates — 14 deaths per 100,000 people in West Virginia and 9 deaths per 100,000 people in Alaska. Importantly, meth-related deaths are increasing faster than opioid-related deaths at the start of the opioid overdose epidemic.
While opioid-related deaths quadrupled in the first decade of the opioid epidemic — from 3,400 deaths in 1999 to 13,500 deaths in 2009 — meth-related deaths quadrupled in half the time—from 2,600 deaths in 2012 to 10,300 in 2017.
We agree with Schatz that ONDCP should “prioritize efforts to stem and reduce meth misuse, addiction and deaths.”
“And for communities, such as Hawaii, that are facing escalating problems of meth misuse, addiction and death, concerted federal interventions will help to reduce the number of deaths and serious harm from misuse and addiction,” Schatz said.