While the national spotlight remains zeroed in on opioids, methamphetamine has been quietly on the rise, both locally and nationally.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, drug treatment admissions in the state have risen 38 percent over the past four years — from 5,584 admissions in 2014 to 7,708 in 2017. This year, as of Nov. 28, there have been 6,812 drugs treatment admissions where methamphetamine was listed as the drug of choice.
“Meth is now the second most reported drug by adults at admission to treatment, moving ahead of marijuana for the first time,” said Katie Bee of the Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse.
In Linn County, methamphetamine treatment admission have also been on the rise.
Data on Linn County from the state Department of Public Health show there were 295 admissions in 2016 where methamphetamine was listed as the drug of choice, and that number jumped to 326 in 2017. This year, as of Nov. 28, there have been 309 methamphetamine treatment admissions in the county.
“It’s a pretty significant problem in Cedar Rapids and Linn County,” said a deputy with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. The deputy also works with the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force and asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize his undercover work.
“A lot of this uptrend has to do with price,” he said. “Methamphetamine is not as costly, it’s easy to get, and it’s coming in to the U.S. in large quantities from Mexico.”
Nationally, close to 6,000 people died from stimulant use — mostly methamphetamine — in 2015, a 255 percent increase from 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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In Iowa, data from the state Department of Public Health show that in 2016 there were 76 amphetamine-related deaths and 96 the following year. As of Nov. 27, there have been 76 amphetamine-related deaths in Iowa this year.
“I’d say the meth problem has increased,” said Sgt. Robert Collins, commander of the narcotics unit in the Cedar Rapids Police Department. “And that’s not necessarily in relation to the attention that has been given to opioids. It’s not like we forgot about the meth users, but more I think that’s because drug use in general has increased.”
In 2018, data from the police department show officers made 240 methamphetamine-related arrests, the highest number seen in at least five years.
“That number is going up and has been going up going up for years,” Collins said. “Now is that because more people are using meth or because we’re doing more aggressive police work? I don’t know, but my gut feeling is that there is more meth being used, and more dugs in general being used.
“I read every single drug-related report that is generated by the police department,” he added. “Whether it’s a patrol officer that generated it or my own guys here in the narcotics unit, I read those reports, and again and again and again I’m reading meth-related reports where someone is arrested for meth or meth is found.”
Collins said the methamphetamine high could also play a role in why police are making more meth arrests.
“Methamphetamine users are going, going, going,” he said. “They are up for days, they’re running all over the place, they’re acting erratically. Maybe they do something stupid, maybe they do something violent, but they’re likely drawing more attention to themselves. Whereas opioid users are most likely hiding out at home or somewhere else on the nod (barely conscious). They’re not running all over the place, they’re just sitting someplace being high.”
Geography also plays a role, the Linn County deputy said.
“Cedar Rapids is situated along Interstate 380 and not far from Interstate 80, making the Corridor one of the biggest drug trafficking routes in the U.S.,” he said. “We are four hours from a majority of the major cities in the Midwest, which makes this a very convenient area for traffickers.”
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Methamphetamine peaked in popularity in the early 2000s, when it was commonly was made from pseudoephedrine — the decongestant found in allergy and cold products like Sudafed — and produced in domestic labs like those depicted in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.”
In 2005 Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which put pseudoephedrine behind pharmacy counters, limited sales to 7.5 grams per customer in a 30-day period and required pharmacies to track sales. And, when those ingredients became difficult to acquire in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in.
“It’s all supply and demand,” Collins said. “These days it’s easier, cheaper and safer to buy the methamphetamine that is coming in from Mexico than to try and make it yourself. Why buy the cow when you can purchase the ground beef? And these labs in Mexico are supplying it in large quantities.”
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