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Experts say they are concerned by the sharp rise in hospitalizations for methamphetamine-related heart failure. Johnny Greig/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that hospitalizations for methamphetamine-related heart failure have jumped 585 percent in California.
  • The group most affected by the increase are white men between the ages of 45 and 64.
  • Experts say methamphetamine addiction is more difficult to beat than with other drugs, and the addiction can cause loss of income as well as serious health ailments.

Methamphetamine-related hospitalizations for heart failure in California reportedly skyrocketed by 585 percent between 2008 and 2018.

In a new study published Wednesday, July 14, researchers used data from the California Health and Human Services agency to track this increase.

They also noted a nearly 1 percent increase for all heart failure hospitalizations overall but a 6 percent decrease in non-methamphetamine heart failure hospitalizations during the same time period.

“Our findings highlight the gravity of MethHF burden in the state of California and possibly other parts of the United States,” wrote the research team, composed mostly of doctors affiliated with San Francisco Bay Area hospitals. “Urgent efforts are needed to counter its detriment on clinical outcomes as well as the impact on resource utilization.”

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

Also known as meth, crank, blue, ice, and crystal, it usually comes in a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder.

Users frequently snort, smoke, or inject the drug. It also can be dissolved in liquid.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “methamphetamine was developed early in the 20th century from its parent drug, amphetamine, and was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Like amphetamine, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria.”

The drugs also have longer-lasting and more harmful effects on the central nervous system.

Methamphetamine overdose deaths in the United States increased nearly 500 percent from 2012 to 2018, according to the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network.

“When compared with non-MethHF, MethHF was associated with higher hospitalization charges, longer lengths of stay, and more procedures performed, despite a younger demographic (94.5 percent younger than 65) with fewer traditional cardiovascular comorbidities,” the study authors wrote.

“Crystal meth is very easy to locally produce, using ingredients available over the counter in pharmacies, as well as chemicals available in home hardware stores,” Dr. Monty Ghosh, an addiction physician at the University of Calgary in Canada who focuses on methamphetamine use, told Healthline.

“As such, the costs of crystal meth are low. In addition, the potency of crystal meth is much greater than cocaine with a surge in dopamine, the brain’s pleasure molecule, magnitudes greater than cocaine or any other addictive substances,” Ghosh said.

“It also has a very long half-life, causing individuals to experience euphoria for extended periods of time. With low costs, high potency, and ease of availability, it’s no wonder that more people are turning to crystal meth,” he added.

Recovery from meth addiction can be trickier than with other drugs, according to Carley Trillow, a licensed chemical dependency counselor with Brighter Days Recovery in Ohio.

Some insurance companies aren’t as likely to cover meth recovery, and doctors have less control over supply than addictions to prescription drugs, for which doctors have cut back on writing prescriptions.

“Prescription access overall has become limited, and the preexisting conditions still remained, causing those who were addicted to finding other avenues to meet their substance abuse needs, methamphetamine among one of the most common for stimulant users,” Trillow told Healthline.

The California study reported that meth-related heart failure is more apt to strike during a user’s most productive years. The largest affected age group is people 45 to 54 years old, followed by 55-year-olds to 64-year-olds.

The largest age group for non-meth-related heart failure during the same period was 75 to 84 years.

“Though beyond the scope of this study, indirect costs due to loss of productivity and quality of life years incurred by MethHF were likely substantial and in urgent need of exploration and validation by future investigations,” the study authors wrote.

Men made up the largest demographic of those affected by MethHF at 79 percent. The study authors said it was unclear whether the observed lower representation of females was due to lower exposure from lower doses or possible protective effects of estrogen on meth metabolism and toxicity. The authors also said female meth users were shown to have a more favorable response to behavioral therapy.

The study also said MethHF affected mostly white (49 percent) and Hispanic (24 percent) people. But Black men had the steepest increase during the same period.

The highest density in MethHF cases came in rural Central and Northern California within low-income communities.

“The alarming rise in MethHF hospitalizations and its associated cost burden and the complex geospatial spread patterns call for a concerted public health and clinical care response campaign to combat this multifaceted, fast-moving epidemic,” the study authors concluded.

For information on how to get help with drug addiction, go to the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration web page.