Meth Visits Increase Stresses on Hospitals
> 1/19/2006 10:50:06 AM

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on an often overlooked consequence of the national growing methamphetamine epidemic.  Writer Kate Zernike cited a new survey by the National Association of Counties, the national organization that represents county governments, that found the increase in meth related emergency room visits were straining local hospital budgets and facilities.

An earlier survey which polled sheriffs departments around the country found that for most counties meth was then number one drug problem.  As with the hospital survey, the police forces most effected were in the West and North Midwest regions of the country.

The stats speak for themselves:
In the most recent survey, conducted late last year, 73 percent of the 200 county and regional hospitals polled said they had seen an increase in the number of people visiting emergency rooms for methamphetamine-related problems over the last five years; 68 percent reported a continued increase in the last three years, and 45 percent in the last year.

The problem was particularly intense in the middle of the country: 70 percent of hospitals in the Midwest and 80 percent in the Upper Midwest said methamphetamine accounted for 10 percent of their patients. Nationwide, 14 percent of the hospitals said such cases made up 20 percent of their emergency room visits.

Where meth differentiates itself from other illicit drugs is in the variety of meth related incidents that can necessitate an emergency room visit.  Individuals can overdose on methamphetamine, with fatal outcomes if left untreated.  This however, represents only a portion of those that seek medical attention for meth related incidents.  Lead poisoning is common among users as lead acetate is commonly used as a regeant in the production of the drug. 

Use of methamphetamine also can make people violent and paranoid.  Because of this, fights and beatings account for many of those who seek medical care.  Third parties can also be adversely affected by the production of methamphetamine, something that most often happens in home based labs using highly toxic and commercially available products.  Explosions, fire and poisoning are just a few of the ways that these labs present danger to any and all that come into contact with them.

In her article, Zernike hits on one of the largest obstacles hurting the struggling county hospitals:
Methamphetamine users are often unable to hold down jobs because of the highly addictive nature of the drug, meaning they are often uninsured, the hospitals say. Yet many hospitals are required to treat them under state laws.

What we are already beginning to see hear is the drug problem growing larger than itself.  Much in the same way that the crack problem in the late 80s and early 90s grew into an epidemic which began to affect non-users and innocent bystanders through surging violence, methamphetamine is becoming an issue for those who would normally pay no heed to the drug.  Hospital administrator are facing shortages in bed spaces, and even greater shortages in funds to deal with non-drug related health issues.

As was the case with crack in the mid-90s, one can only hope that what will come out of this situation is a greater public awareness of the drug and an increase in local, state and federal government concern over the effects that methamphetamine is having on the population.  Obviously, crack has not gone away, just as methamphetamine is not going to go away.  We can, however, make strides toward turning the tide of new users, and decreasing the demand for the drug, thereby reducing its influence and prevelance on society.  We can due this through education, awareness and effective treatment of current users.  Methamphetamine is a frighteningly addictive and destructive force, and it must be stopped, for all of our good.

For more information about methamphetamine, see The National Institute on Drug Abuse's Research Report on the subject.

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