UT drug trend study finds meth as top threat to Texas

Gracie Awalt

While the opioid crisis has been heavily discussed by the press and politicians alike, a new report issued by a UT professor shows methamphetamine use was a factor in more drug overdoses in Texas than opioids. 

Jane Maxwell, a research professor with the Addiction Research Institute in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, released the report in late August. Maxwell said the most important finding in her research is that not only are methamphetamines involved in more drug overdoses in Texas, but the amount it is being used is also increasing. 

“Methamphetamine is the number one drug threat ranked by the Dallas, El Paso and Houston Drug Enforcement Administration Field Divisions,” the report states. “Indicators of drug use … all show methamphetamine is a larger problem than heroin.”

Maxwell said there is no medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help treat those addicted to methamphetamines. This differs from opioid abusers, who can be saved by Naloxone, which reverses overdose effects. She said there is a need for more research on how to treat methamphetamine addiction. 

“The only treatment we have for meth is cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling,” Maxwell said. “I’m really concerned, because not only do we not have the drugs (to treat methamphetamine addiction), we really haven’t paid attention in the last 10 years to how to treat people.”

The United States Senate recently passed The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a legislative package that addresses the opioid epidemic in the U.S. by proposing several intervention methods and increasing funding for opioid treatment. Maxwell said she wishes the bill would also address the methamphetamine problem in this country. 

“We need to assess what are the popular drugs right now and what are we going to do about them,” Maxwell said. “I think this bill is coming at the right time, but I am concerned that with all this money coming for opiates, do you see any money for methamphetamine treatment?”

Lucas Hill, director of Operation Naloxone, said his program stocks Naloxone at all 24-hour residence hall desks on campus. He said at least three student lives have been saved due to their efforts.

“Opioids, to a certain extent, have been taking up all the oxygen in the room,” Hill, a pharmacy clinical assistant professor said. “People are hyperfixated on opioids and we certainly run the risk of overlooking things like the harms of alcohol, tobacco and amphetamines. When we talk about amphetamines, we simply do not have highly evidenced-based medication treatments for amphetamine use disorder.”

Hill said while Maxwell’s findings are notable, he will continue to advocate for opioid prevention efforts in Texas. 

“I would agree with Dr. Maxwell that we should try to be doing more for people who are suffering from amphetamine use disorder in Texas,” Hill said. “We should be doing more on a national level to study and identify treatment. However, it’s a good sign that The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 is at least one thing that politicians from both parties are able to agree on, and hopefully it will be helpful.”