Newly published U.S. data finds overdose deaths from methamphetamine use more than doubled in recent years. Use of the stimulant among Black Americans surged nearly tenfold.



New research published today shows methamphetamines are killing more and more people in the U.S., especially in some Native American and Black communities. Researchers say fatal methamphetamine overdoses nearly tripled before the pandemic hit and spiked again last year. NPR's addiction correspondent Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: This summer, Winnie White Tail surveyed a new group of tribal members entering the inpatient treatment clinic she runs for the Arapaho and Cheyenne community in Clinton, Okla. White Tail, herself a Cheyenne tribal member, says half were struggling with methamphetamine addiction.

WINNIE WHITE TAIL: I believe it's deeply entrenched across the community, not just in Native communities. It's readily available. It's easy to get.

MANN: A new study published this morning in the journal JAMA Psychiatry finds high-risk use of methamphetamines has surged in recent years. One of the study's lead authors is Dr. Nora Volkow who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow says Native American and Alaska Native communities are being hit especially hard.

NORA VOLKOW: That difference is gigantic. So this is a group that actually has had the greatest negative impact from the use of methamphetamine.

MANN: Volkow's study found methamphetamine use has surged in nearly every demographic. Far more women are using methamphetamines. There has been a nearly tenfold increase among Black Americans. She says it now appears roughly one-fifth of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involve methamphetamines.

VOLKOW: And so this is huge, and it's basically almost the equivalent in terms of that increase in overdose deaths that we're seeing for fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. So the magnitude of the problem is equivalent in terms of mortality.

MANN: Dr. Stephen Taylor has led an effort by the American Society of Addiction Medicine to improve addiction care for people of color. He says this study makes it clear - America's public health response needs to expand fast beyond the opioid crisis where he believes too much of the focus was on white communities.

STEPHEN TAYLOR: The prototypical people who have been suffering from opioid addiction and dying from overdoses involving opioids have been white people in smaller towns and rural communities.

MANN: Taylor says even before this study was published, drug counselors and researchers working in urban areas and Black, Hispanic and Native American communities knew methamphetamines were making dangerous inroads.

TAYLOR: Those communities have been confronting a massive increase in addictions to and overdose deaths from methamphetamine for a long time.

MANN: The Biden administration has asked Congress for another $10.7 billion to expand drug treatment programs, but reducing the harm caused by methamphetamines won't be easy. The drug is cheap and widely available and increasingly contaminated with fentanyl. There are no approved medical treatments for methamphetamine addiction as there are for opioids. Researchers say this data shows more high-quality treatment and counseling services are desperately needed, especially programs that work within local cultures. Winnie White Tail says that's what her programs do for the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes, using community mentoring and traditional tribal practices along with Western drug treatment approaches.

WHITE TAIL: Oh, I'm hopeful every day. And I think the younger we can reach our young people, we can begin to turn this corner because a lot of our issues are around low self-esteem, poverty, depression.

MANN: There is a final grim warning in this new study. Researchers say their assessment of the devastating harm caused by methamphetamines may not reflect the full scope of the crisis. That's because they weren't able to survey people living in homeless camps and on the streets around the U.S., where high-risk drug use is known to be widespread.

Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.