By MIKE STOBBE AP Medical Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Fentanyl drives a drug overdose death in the US as a whole, but in almost half the country, this is a different story. Meth is a bigger killer, according to a new government report.
Nationally, most deaths still involve opioid drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. But in 2017, stimulant meth was the drug most frequently involved in death in four regions covering 19 states west of Mississippi.
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The report released on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first geographical breakdown of drug deaths. This is based on 2017 figures when there were more than 70,000 overdose deaths in the US, two-thirds involving opioids.
Fentanyl was involved in 39% of deaths that year, followed by heroin, 23%, and cocaine, 21%. The drugs top the eastern part of the country.
Methamphetamine ranks 4th nationally, cited in 13% of deaths due to overdose. But in the four western regions, it's No. 1, at 21% to 38%.
Previous CDC reports have mapped the increase in the number of metric victims, noting that the number increased from eighth to fourth in just four years.
The new report found dramatic differences in 10 regions. For example, in New England, fentanyl has the highest adjusted overdose mortality rate and crystal meth is 10th on the list. In areas that include mountain states and Dakota, meth is number 1 and sixth fentanyl.
Most of the US metrics are made in Mexico and smuggled across borders – US production has actually declined in recent years, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Availability has remained at a high level in recent years in areas in the Southwest, and has increased in several areas in the Midwest, the agency's office reported.
Final 2018 data have not yet been released, but preliminary figures indicate that overdose deaths involving meth are increasing.
The CDC report is based on an overdose death certificate search for drug names. In many cases, someone uses a lot of drugs.
Because this report is the first of its kind, how meth is taken into account in regional overdose deaths in the past is unknown.
New Mexico has undergone a change. For years, black tar heroin was the biggest problem, then prescription painkillers, said Dr. Michael Landen from the state health department. Deaths to metrics increased from 150 in 2017 to 194 years ago, jumping over to the met.
"This is really our first time seeing it," Landen said.
He attributed the meteor spike to its wide availability and low cost, and said he worried it could get worse. Although there are programs to deal with fentanyl and heroin overdoses, not much can be done to prevent meth deaths, he said.
"I think we have the potential to be caught red handed by the death of methamphetamine, and we must act together," he said.
The Department of Health & Science Associated Press received support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. AP is fully responsible for all content.