Meth on rise: As city battles opioid epidemic, methamphetamine use increasing

Staff photo by Adam Urquhart The Revive Recovery Center in Nashua. Workers at the center have seen an uptick in members of the substance use disorder community turning to methamphetamine. Whatever a user’s reason may be for choosing meth, these coaches along with those at the Nashua Division of Public Health & Community Services agree, meth is on the rise.

NASHUA – While most attention recently has been on heroin, fentanyl and other opioids, substance abuse workers on the front lines are seeing more cases of methamphetamine.

Similar in many ways to cocaine, meth is a stimulant, causing a more alert high. Conversely, opioids are depressants, providing the user with a different sensation.

“I would much rather deal with someone on an opiate than on meth. It’s terrifying,” said Nikki Casey, director of Revive Recovery Center in Nashua.

Jess Parnell is a recovery coach at Revive. She said the relatively low cost of methamphetamine is a factor in its popularity. For about $20, a user can stay high for 24 hours or longer, she said.

“When people are shooting meth, it’s much more caustic to your veins,” Parnell said. “I think that you could correlate the increase in abscesses and infections with the increase in meth use.”

Moreover, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, health effects attributed to meth use include:

 severe dental problems,

 intense itching, leading to skin sores from scratching,

 anxiety,

 confusion,

 sleeping problems, and

 paranoia.

While there are various treatment options available for those on opioids, that is not necessarily the same case when it comes to meth.

During the Friday Syringe Service Alliance of Nashua (SSANA) meeting, stakeholders working on the front lines discussed the status of the Nashua drug crisis. Public Health & Community Services Director Bobbie Bagley said the only uptick that they are seeing is an increase in meth use.

Bagley said this may correlate with other issues as the city tries to get a grip on the substance use crisis in general that is continuously sweeping through the streets.

Ashley Steele, another recovery coach at Revive, agrees with Parnell in that this increase began about a year ago.

“I’ve seen meth used to get out of that phase of being so sleepy,” Steele said.

Steele believes meth use spiked as soon federal money started flowing into New Hampshire to fund MAT programs (medically assisted treatment) to combat opioid addiction.

Parnell said fentanyl and other opioid highs also don’t last as long as a meth high. So, in a way some users may be looking to get more high for their money by turning to meth as a substitute when opioids are not available.

“All it takes is one person who knows how to cook to teach all these people,” Parnell said during the SSANA meeting.

While cooking meth, explosions can occur because of the mixture of different chemicals being concocted. Bagley said the problem is that most of the money coming down into the state is specifically for opioids and not for this issue, or other forms of substance use disorder.

She said in the future, officials need to allow financial resources to be used to fight more than just opioids.

“I think that probably the more strategic way that we could have done things, and that we need to look at doing things moving forward, is just SUD, substance use disorder — not naming the substance so that we don’t tag the money to marijuana, or opioids, heroin and fentanyl,” Bagley said during the SSANA meeting.

Casey said that although officials are getting money to address the opioid epidemic with MAT funding, it results in a situation in which one chemical is treating a second chemical.

“They’re sending all this money, and 80 percent of the money is going towards MAT, and that doesn’t fix the problem,” Casey said. “Nothing fixes the problem, but that is such a tiny piece to the bigger picture.”

That bigger picture encompasses substances far beyond just opioids. Casey said she hopes to see more funding come in to the state to provide long-term treatment programs that extend beyond the typical 28 days, investments in sober housing and mental health, as well as more access to primary care that accepts Medicaid.

During the SSANA meeting, it was mentioned that people can add various things to heroin, fentanyl and meth such as evaporated milk powder, for example. Moreover, another issue associated with meth is psychosis, and being a stimulant, it can cause a user to become paranoid.

Additionally, Casey, Parnell and Steele agree that it is becoming more common for people to use meth to pull people out of an opioid overdose in place of Narcan.

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.