View Point: Hope for Crystal Meth Addicts

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by Peter Chow

M,B. had used Marijuana since she was a teenager.

But she didn’t try Methamphetamine until one fateful night in 2018 after her mother died suddenly of a stroke.

She went to a neighbor’s house and he had Crystal Meth.

“I tried it and I was hooked from the first hit,” she says.

“It was an explosion of the senses. It was the biggest high I’d ever experienced.”

Afterward, she says, that big high started becoming more elusive.

But she kept using the drug more and more frequently, and it took a toll.

She went from 120 pounds to 80.

She lost her teeth.

She lost her job.

Eventually, she lost custody of her children, who were put in foster homes.

She started having hallucinations.

She tried many times to stop using Meth, but when she’d quit for a few days, she’d have overwhelming panic attacks and begin to shake uncontrollably.

One night, she remembers lying on her bathroom floor thinking that if she didn’t get help, she’d die.

Research into what’s called Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, for Crystal Meth users indicates that Naltrexone, the same medication used to treat alcohol addiction and opioids, can help some people addicted to Methamphetamine.

M.B. was able to get a prescription for Naltrexone and signed up for individual and group therapy.

Three to four hours after she took the first pill, she felt better.

After the second pill, the withdrawals lessened.

“The shaking started going away. I wasn’t panicking. I could feel some relief,” she says. “I knew there was something different.”

That was more than a year ago.

She is still sober today.

Nationally, and locally, Crystal Meth use is soaring and the treatment community is struggling to come up with the best ways to help.

Medication-Assisted Treatment with drugs such as Suboxone, Methadone, and Naltrexone are standard care for people addicted to opioids, but there are currently no FDA-approved medications for Meth addiction.

asically, there have been no effective treatments for Crystal Meth addiction.

Benzodiazepine medications, such as Valium or Xanax, and antipsychotics such as Olanzapine, can be of some help for patients that become intensely agitated or panicked, but don’t counteract the powerful cravings.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy may help by showing patients how to cope with the temptation to use Meth in times of stress or boredom and to understand the thought and behavioral patterns that brought them to abuse the drug in the first place.

But no game-changer Medication-Assisted Treatment has been found.

A number of physicians and researchers are beginning to experiment with treating Crystal Meth use disorder with Naltrexone — in combination with the antidepressant Bupropion.

When combined with physician oversight and counseling, it can sometimes be an effective treatment.

Naltrexone, sold under the brand names ReVia and Vivitrol among others, is a medication primarily used to manage alcohol or opioid use disorder by reducing cravings and feelings of euphoria associated with substance use disorder, by competitively blocking the brain cells’ opioid receptors.

Bupropion (Wellbutrin) blocks Dopamine and Norepinephrine which are released in massive amounts by Crystal Meth.

In one study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, volunteers who used Crystal Meth were given either Naltrexone or a placebo for 4 days.

The subjects were asked a series of questions, including how strong their cravings were.

Naltrexone was found to be better than a placebo at reducing the cravings for Methamphetamine, reducing the cravings for Meth in about half of them.

A combination of Naltrexone and Bupropion was helpful in reducing drug use, albeit only slightly, for those struggling with Methamphetamine use disorder, according to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

During the 12-week trial, those on combination Naltrexone and Bupropion had a 10% lower weekly Methamphetamine craving score, the group wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The lead author of the study said, “For the first time, there’s hope for patients with Methamphetamine use disorder who want to change, who want to stop using Methamphetamine.”

Not a game-changer, but a first hope for those addicted to Crystal Meth.

Although the drugs lack FDA approval for use with Methamphetamine addiction, practitioners can choose to prescribe them off-label.

Vivitrol is an injectable form of Naltrexone, injected intramuscularly once a month.

This extended-release form of Naltrexone is known by the brand name Vivitrol and costs $1000 a shot in the US.

Currently in Canada, Vivitrol is available only through Health Canada’s Special Access Programme.

Based on early reports from the US, it may be the first and only effective medication for Crystal Meth addiction.

If Sault Ste Marie can overcome the misinformation, reluctance and fears of so many of our population and we can establish a Safe Drug Consumption Site, we should try and make sure it is stocked with Naloxone, Suboxone, Bupropion and Naltrexone.

4 COMMENTS

  1. On Friday, around 4pm, I saw two guys, maybe early 20’s, pushing a stroller with a little girl in it, east along Queen near the Pita Pit. I looked straight at them and they just stared straight ahead walking very fast, pushing the stroller. They looked like meth addicts…really skinny and scabbed. I looked straight at the little toddler girl too and she looked very sad and was sitting slouched staring in a daze. 🙁 I had a bad gut feeling but what could I do? I couldn’t report anything because it was based on a gut feeling and it wasn’t the walk I was concerned about. It’s the life that I suspect the little girl is being subjected to.

  2. Maybe if Ontarians and Canadians had better (or any) access to mental health care and physicians weren’t so generally dismissive of patients’ claims while being overly quick to write a prescription the meth problem wouldn’t be as severe as it is.
    Meanwhile this article is Chow opinion piece quickly glances over CBT and is quick to write a prescription.
    It also neglects to mention major factors in the case study of “M.B.”. Likely addictive personality tendencies, poor coping skills, high impulsivity, possible presence of existing mental health issues or other comorbidities.
    If we’re going to attempt and make a case we should be doing so on strong footing.
    More Canadians die each year from diabetes due to lack of healthcare, insulin and equipment coverage along with addiction to sugar which studies have indicated can actually be stronger than meth addiction.

    • Sugar vs Crystal Meth? I think I missed that study – where can I find it? “Candy is dandy but Meth is Death.” Try “talk therapy” with a Crystal Meth addict – good luck. Talk therapy sounds good but real studies in real Medical journals have shown it doesn’t work for Crystal Meth addiction.

  3. I wish meth could just be eradicated. I have never seen a drug cause so much destruction and misery, as I have seen meth do to so many young people in our city. Chemists make meth in a lab (if you don’t know what I mean watch a few episodes of Breaking Bad) Why can’t they pay honest chemists to focus on making a meth-antidote in a lab too then!??! An injectable (every 3 months would be perfect) that renders the meth ineffective.

    Meth addicts need time to gain clarity and begin to undo what that evil tricky meth has done to twist their minds. What start as hallucinations become the addicts reality in a very short time and the meth is telling them their reality…is the best thing ever, do more! Scary times. Meth is a helluva drug.

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