by Susan M. Wagenaar
The use of methamphetamine has witnessed a troubling increase in California, particularly in urban cities, like Oakland.
Health officials have expressed growing concerns about the escalating impact of methamphetamine usage. Despite not being classified as an opioid, methamphetamine (meth) has been associated with rising mortality rates, hospital visits, and emergency department visits.
Heightened Danger and Emerging Challenges: Health officials warn that meth is now more perilous than it was a decade ago. Apart from its inherent risks, the supply of meth has become increasingly contaminated with fentanyl, resulting in fatal overdoses. Moreover, unadulterated meth has become more potent, leading to a surge in behavioral health issues and psychosis.
On the Front Line: Charles Hawthorne, an experienced educator and program manager in harm reduction, sheds light on the reasons individuals may be drawn to meth use. As an equity and harm reduction project manager at CA Bridge, a state-wide addiction treatment and hospital training program based in Oakland, Hawthorne is committed to promoting harm reduction strategies and providing support to those affected by addiction.
Hawthorne emphasizes that meth can help at-risk individuals stay awake, manage pain, reduce feelings of hunger, and enhance personal safety on the streets. This attractiveness is particularly evident among people experiencing homelessness, who rely on meth's effects to navigate the challenges of unhoused living. “If you’re a person who is living on the streets, every time you fall asleep, you risk being robbed, assaulted, or killed,' said Hawthorne.
The City of Oakland reports that homelessness has doubled in the last 10 years. Driven by a housing crisis and continuing economic inequality that hits Oakland’s most vulnerable.
Psychiatric Complications and Impact on Services: Methamphetamine-use disorder is now associated with significant psychiatric symptoms such as psychosis, anxiety, and mood disorders. As a result, psychiatric emergency services and hospitalizations in Alameda County are heavily influenced by meth use and its related complications.
Growing Consensus and Urgency: Medical professionals, peer support specialists, and addiction experts unanimously agree that methamphetamine represents a growing issue in California. Its rise is part of a larger socioeconomic and health crisis affecting communities. The severity of the crisis necessitates attention, allocation of resources, and comprehensive strategies to address the escalating challenges associated with meth.
The alarming rise of meth usage in California, particularly in Oakland, demands urgent action and concerted efforts from various stakeholders. Acknowledging the heightened dangers posed by meth and recognizing the urgent need for effective solutions, health officials, community leaders, and grassroots recovery organizations must prioritize the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies to address the multifaceted challenges posed by meth use in both urban and rural communities across the golden state.