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UNL study: Meth use, overdose deaths appear to be rising in Nebraska

Research showed meth is involved in more deaths than synthetic opioids in the state
Posted at 10:57 AM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 11:57:38-04

A new report from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's (UNL) Rural Drug Addiction Research Center suggests the use of methamphetamine is increasing in the state along with overdose deaths related to the drug.

The study by researchers Ryan Herrschaft, Bergen Johnston and Patrick Habecker looked at national data sets to determine overall meth use rates, admissions to treatment and overdose deaths.

Research showed meth is involved in more deaths than synthetic opioids in Nebraska.

Additionally, from 2018 to 2019, Nebraska had a 58.8% increase in psychostimulant-related overdose deaths.

“In 2018, 1.7 per every 100,000 Nebraskans died of a methamphetamine-involved overdose, while in 2019, that rate had increased to 2.7 per every 100,000 Nebraskans,” Herrschaft said. “That jump is in line with increases we see at the federal and regional level. Across practically all of the United States, overdose deaths have increased in recent years, especially overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids and methamphetamine.”

Admission to facilities for meth addiction treatment increased more than 200% in the decade between 2008 to 2018, mostly among older adults.

The report indicates a 556.1% increase in treatment admissions for those 50 and older. A 302.28% increase in admissions was also reported in those 40-49 years old.

Herrschaft added that this is a notable trend in Nebraska where mental healthcare resources are limited.

“A study from Wani et al (2020) and colleagues on the utilization of emergency departments found gaps in the supply of behavioral health workers across the state of Nebraska,” he said. “These researchers found evidence of strain on the behavioral health treatment system in 2013, when rates of admissions were far lower than they are now. According to a report released by the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, BHECN, 87.1% of counties (81 out of 93) in Nebraska are designated Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas and 33 counties have no behavioral health providers.”

The research uncovered an additional trend that treatment providers should be aware of.

“Admissions have increased by larger-than-average degrees among many of Nebraska’s more marginalized populations, including racial minorities,” Herrschaft said. “As marginalized groups experience an increased burden from psychostimulant-related harms, it is very important that substance use treatment providers tailor their offerings to suit all Nebraskans.”

According to researchers, overall meth usage in Nebraska was harder to determine; however, it seems to be trending upward.

“From the National Survey on Drug Use’s 2016-2017 pooled data, they estimated that between 0.24% and 0.87% of Nebraskans 26 and older had used methamphetamine in the past year, while in their 2018-2019 data, they estimated that between 0.28% and 1.16% of Nebraskans used methamphetamine,” Herrschaft said. “So while their estimates are trending upwards, it is difficult to say with certainty whether or not more Nebraskans are using methamphetamine now than in 2016.”

More data will be compiled by the research team regarding drug usage in the state and the surrounding region. The researchers added that continuing to monitor trends to guide intervention is important and could improve outcomes.

“I think Nebraskans need to know that substance use and fatal overdoses are happening here and it is affecting our loved ones and communities,” Herrschaft said.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce overdose deaths, such as public health officials establishing supervised consumption facilities and having more people trained in administering naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.

“Overdose deaths continue to climb despite our current efforts,” Herrschaft said. “The most recent data from the CDC suggests that in the 12-month period from May 2019 to May 2020, there were an estimated 91,862 overdose deaths (in the United States). What we have done to this point does not appear to be stopping people from dying. We may wish to explore more innovative approaches to substance use in this country if we wish to stop these deaths.”

For more information on treatment options, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

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