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Minnesotans, meet the new meth — not the same as the old meth

StartTribune, May 13, 2015

Just when we thought we had solved this, it’s back and bigger than ever.

The next methamphetamine surge isn’t looming around the corner — it is here right now. Methamphetamine use in the Twin Cities has reached the same level it was at in 2005, at the peak of our first epidemic.

According to the new report, “Drug Abuse Trends in Minneapolis/St. Paul: 2015,” released last week by Drug Abuse Dialogues, 2,593 people entered treatment in the Twin Cities for addiction to methamphetamine in 2014 (about 12 percent of total treatment admissions), compared with 2,465 in 2005.

Law enforcement authorities have had their hands full as well. In Ramsey County, for example, officers seized 128 pounds of methamphetamines in 2014, compared with only 16 pounds a year earlier. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized 52.9 kilograms in 2014, compared with 35.4 in 2011.

What is different about the methamphetamine problem today, compared with our first wave a decade ago?

First, there are fewer homegrown, makeshift methamphetamine labs, along with the public safety and environmental hazards they wrought. The restriction on over-the-counter sales of products containing pseudoephedrine was an effective policy intervention. It brought a marked reduction in domestic methamphetamine labs and other indicators of methamphetamine abuse, which continued until 2009.

Today, most methamphetamine comes from Mexico, not from little labs in a trailer down by the river. The amount being seized is significant and rapidly increasing.

What remains the same about methamphetamine today is the lure of this strongly euphoric drug with stimulant-yet-addictive properties. In the context of our fast-paced, multitasking culture that values getting many things done as quickly as possible, the attraction is easy to understand.

The key components of a drug epidemic are supply and demand, so when it comes to methamphetamines, all systems are go. The supply is high, the prices are low and the demand is constant. The same holds true for opioids — heroin and prescription painkillers. The lure of these strong, euphoric narcotics is equally strong and the supply equally adequate to fuel a parallel epidemic.

The days of thinking we are somehow immune to the scourge of these serious drugs are ancient history. Just when we thought we may have “solved” the meth problem, here it is again 10 years later and as big as ever.

We need to confront these drug-abuse problems together and on multiple fronts. Everyone can play a part. Law enforcement authorities need to remain diligent in curtailing the supply. Health care providers need to examine their roles in advancing the supply of prescription painkillers and screening for substance use disorders. Policymakers need to acknowledge this as the far-reaching public health crisis and criminal justice resource issue it is, and act accordingly.

Together we can educate each other, especially young people, about the heightened availability and hazards of these dangerous drugs. Parents, peers and community members all have a role to play in helping our young people realize that their lives matter.