Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Meth a bigger problem than opiods in Texas

Responding to misplaced attention by Texas legislators and law-enforcement leaders on opiods, Grits had pointed out earlier this year that the problem with meth addiction and overdoses were actually worse. Politicians and the Texas media were responding to national stories about opiod-related overdoses and the rise of fentanyl as a recreational drug based mostly on problems in Northeastern and Midwestern states that didn't exactly apply to Texas.

Now, Todd Ackerman at the Houston Chronicle has produced the first MSM coverage I've seen acknowledging that fact. Here are the key data points from the story:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated the number of Americans who used meth in the past month at 667,000 in 2016, the latest year for which statistics are available. That’s up from the 2008 low point of 314,000. 
At the Mexico-U.S. border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amount they did a decade ago. In 2016 in Texas, DEA officials seized more than 45,000 items of meth, compared to less than 6,000 items of heroin. The lab that identifies the drugs does not provide the item’s overall weight, but a Houston DEA official said that 7.5:1 ratio is consistent with the amount of the two drugs they seize. 
Deaths, too, are on the rise. Nationally, nearly 6,000 people died from meth in 2015, a 255 percent increase from 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
Texas’ numbers are no less unsettling. In 2016, meth killed 715 people in the state, compared to heroin’s 539. Another 8,238 meth users were taken to Texas health department-funded substance abuse treatment centers, compared to 8,238 heroin users. Texas poison centers received 320 calls for help involving meth and 254 for heroin. 
The Texas meth epidemic also appears intertwined with increases in sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, according to Jane Maxwell, a University of Texas-Austin drug abuse researcher. She cites a 2015 CDC survey of HIV-positive homosexual men that found 86 percent of respondents in Houston and 91 percent in Dallas reported that they’d injected meth in the past 12 months. She said a recent state report on HIV trends shows such use by homosexual men is doubling HIV risk factors.
California, FWIW, faces a similar dynamic to Texas because their heroin market is dominated by "black tar" heroin that's not easily mixed with fentanyl.

In recent years, drug-possession arrests have been the only growth area for Texas prosecutions. As Grits reported recently, "Texas has just gone through an era when crime declined quite a lot, and the number of case filings - except for drug cases, which accounted for 32 percent of felony charges in 2017 and 21 percent of misdemeanors (p. 26 of the pdf) - has mostly gone down with it."

At the same time, we've militarized the border and sent so many state troopers down there that the locals feel overpoliced and the rest of the state has witnessed reduced DWI enforcement. So we're arresting more people for drug use, and still, more people are dying. The problem is getting worse.

From a policy perspective, whether the overdose increase stems from meth or opiods, these numbers tell us two things: 1) The War on Drugs is failing. Again. Still. As always. Given all the resources Texas is committing to its "border surge" and prosecuting penny-ante drug users, the fact of increased deaths and lower prices related to illegal drugs flowing in from Mexico tells us that an enforcement-only approach won't work. And 2) increased overdose deaths and disease related to needle sharing argue strongly for "harm reduction" approaches like the Good Samaritan law Gov. Abbott vetoed or charity-based needle exchange like the bill passed by the the Texas House in 2015.

Texas leaders in recent years have begun to speak more frequently about being "smart on crime." This is definitely an area where Texas could be smarter.


Anonymous said...

Effective treatment of meth addiction needs to be a priority. 12 step, NA, HHSC drug treatment programs... ain't cuttin' the mustard.

There is a high number of meth addicts also being diagnose with mental health disorders.

Good coverage and hope that meth in Texas gets more coverage.

Anonymous said...

Try mining the data through CPS and see how many child abuse and neglect cases are meth related. I would venture to guess that the number of children who are testing positive for exposure to methamphetamine overwhelmingly dwarfs anything seen during the crack cocaine heyday. If the smart on crime folks want less government involvement in drug activity, let them propose what we're going to do to protect and help innocent children. Otherwise, they just need to shut the hell up.

Anonymous said...

"nearly 6,000 people died from meth in 2015"

Hollywood and our rock stars spent decades earnestly conviencing us that addicting drugs are cool--in fact almost manditory in their smug little self-indulgent culture. The fact that so many of our musical greats died of a drug overdose at 27 was (is?) accepted as just the way things are.

BTW, effective addiction treatment works for a few--for about six months. Despite how many billions are spent, it doesn't seem to work much longer than that for most addicts.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Anon 12:52, There is also a high number of stoners being diagnose with mental health disorders.

Mark M. said...

anon 7:32:

I don't recall anyone at anytime convincing "us" that addicting drugs are or were cool. But maybe you run in different circles. Second, I would thank you for your learned and experienced opinion regarding the temporal effectiveness of drug treatment, if only it were either one of those.