Nearly 80 percent of recreational drug users in rural areas have taken methamphetamines in the past month, according to a newly published study that included Kentucky. That’s concerning, because meth use greatly increases the risk of non-fatal overdose—whether it’s used alone or with opioids—and because rural drug users are more likely to suffer consequences from meth use but less likely to have access to treatment or prevention measures. Other studies have found that opioids were involved in about two-thirds of overdose deaths, and that fentanyl contamination increasingly drives opioid and meth-associated overdose deaths.
Overall, 22% of survey participants who co-used opioids and meth had survived an overdose in the past six months, compared to 14% of those who used opioids alone and 6% who used meth alone. Participants who co-used most often (44%) were also more likely to have tried and failed to access drug treatment measures than those who used opioids alone (36%) or meth alone (30%).
Publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers noted that meth use has been endemic in rural areas for decades, and that meth-related hospitalizations nationwide skyrocketed 270% from 2007 to 2015. Even so, not much research has focused on the characteristics of purely rural meth use, or meth use combined with opioid use.
Researchers gathered data for the study between January 2018 and March 2020, surveying drug users in rural communities in the 10 states participating in the Rural Opioid Initiative Research Consortium: Kentucky, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The findings suggest that harm reduction and drug treatment programs must address meth use as well as opioids to decrease overdoses in rural communities, the researchers write.