The Rising Dangers: Analyzing Meth vs Fentanyl in the Drug Overdose Epidemic

Morphine Withdrawal

The drug overdose epidemic continues to surge, with meth vs fentanyl, two potent substances, leading the charge. These drugs, each with unique properties and addictive potentials, are driving the alarming increase in overdose deaths. But what makes meth vs fentanyl so deadly? And how can we confront the rising tide of this epidemic?

Key Takeaways

  • Methamphetamine and fentanyl are contributing to a surge in overdose deaths, with meth notably affecting individuals in treatment for heroin dependence and fentanyl laced within various substances, highlighting the drugs’ potency and the risk of polysubstance use.
  • Overdoses involving methamphetamine and fentanyl have markedly increased, with methamphetamine-related deaths reaching 33,000 in 2021 and fentanyl implicated in 70% of benzodiazepine-related deaths, underscoring a public health crisis.
  • Harm reduction strategies such as fentanyl test strips, naloxone distribution, and supervised consumption sites have been implemented to mitigate negative health outcomes, and public health interventions require a combined effort of policy revisions, education, and treatment programs.

Understanding Methamphetamine and Fentanyl

Illicit drugs, methamphetamine and fentanyl, possess unique properties that enhance their potency, leading to their involvement in drug overdose deaths. Methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant, increases activity in the central nervous system, resulting in increased energy and focus, hyperactivity, and reduced appetite. Fentanyl, on the other hand, is a synthetic opioid, up to 100 times more potent than morphine, leading to intense euphoria but also carrying a high risk of overdose. The prevalence of these substances in the illicit stimulant supply contributes to the growing concern surrounding overdose deaths.

The high potency and rampant misuse of these substances, which are proliferating in the illicit drug market, result in a considerable surge in overdose deaths. The combination of alcohol drugs and these substances, either intentionally or through contamination of the drug supply, has further escalated the overdose risk, forming a lethal cocktail that is contributing to the current drug overdose epidemic and the alarming increase in fatal overdoses.


Methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant, has a profound impact on the human body. It stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, leading to intense euphoria. However, this high comes with a significant toll on health. Long-term methamphetamine use can lead to:

  • Severe dental problems
  • Skin sores from obsessive scratching
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Cardiovascular issues, including irregular heartbeat and heart attack
  • Neurological problems such as stroke and seizures

A significant upswing has been noticeable in the trend of methamphetamine use among individuals undergoing treatment for heroin dependence. From 2008 to 2017, the rate of methamphetamine use among these individuals increased from 1 in 50 to 1 in 12. This rise in methamphetamine use has contributed to the increased deaths involving heroin, further fueling the overdose crisis. The heroin methamphetamine co-use is a concerning pattern that demands attention from healthcare professionals and policymakers.


In contrast to methamphetamine, fentanyl, one of the synthetic opioids known for its extreme potency, is not a stimulant. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it highly effective for treating severe pain. However, this potency also makes fentanyl extremely dangerous, significantly increasing the risk of overdose.

Here are some key points about fentanyl:

  • It is not a stimulant.
  • It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
  • It is highly effective for treating severe pain.
  • A dose as small as two milligrams can be lethal for most people.

To boost their potency, fentanyl is frequently combined with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. This practice, however, greatly increases the risk of overdose. In fact, fentanyl has been a significant contributor to the overdose deaths since 2013, marking the third wave of the opioid crisis. The presence of fentanyl has also been found in various forms, including liquid in nasal sprays, eye drops, and even in small candies, contributing to the rising dangers of drug overdose.

The Overdose Crisis: Meth and Fentanyl Involvement

The surge in overdose deaths represents a crisis of considerable magnitude. It’s a complex issue fueled by the increased use of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and their lethal combination. The practice of using multiple substances, known as polysubstance use, further complicates the matter, leading to an intricate and perilous drug overdose epidemic.

In 2019, overdose deaths involving stimulants and prescription opioids accounted for a third of US overdose deaths, underscoring the escalating issue of polysubstance use. This includes not only illicit drugs but also prescription drug misuse, as some individuals may combine prescription opioids with stimulants.

The dangerous practice of combining methamphetamine and fentanyl, often without the users’ awareness, significantly increases the likelihood of overdose and fatality.

Methamphetamine-Related Deaths

Owing to the drug’s potency and increased usage, methamphetamine-related deaths have been escalating. In 2021, almost 33,000 Americans succumbed to an overdose linked to psychostimulants with abuse potential, such as methamphetamine, signifying a notable surge in drug-related mortalities. The primary reasons for deaths associated with Methamphetamine usage are primarily attributed to drug overdoses, including those from Methamphetamine alone and in conjunction with other substances, as well as other non-natural causes of death.

The potency of methamphetamine has also escalated over time, with purity and potency levels exceeding 90%, potentially leading to elevated overdose rates and rendering the drug more perilous. The ability of methamphetamine to produce euphoria and stimulant effects is associated with consistent upward trends in overdose mortality, indicating greater risk patterns of use.

Fentanyl-Related Deaths

There has also been a dramatic surge in fentanyl-related deaths. Its potency, being 50 to 100 times greater than other opioids, can lead to respiratory depression and ultimately respiratory arrest, potentially leading to fatal overdose or death. Fentanyl is frequently combined with drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and is also used to create pills that mimic other prescription opioids. This is primarily attributed to its remarkable potency, which can greatly amplify the impact of these substances.

Fentanyl-related deaths have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2021, fentanyl was implicated in 70% of all deaths related to benzodiazepines. The number of preventable deaths associated with fentanyl reached 67,325 cases, representing a 26% rise from the total of 53,480 in 2020.

Polysubstance Use: Combining Meth and Fentanyl

The risk of overdose and other health complications is heightened by polysubstance use, like the combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl. The combination of stimulants and opioids can exert substantial physiological strain on the body, rendering individuals more vulnerable to experiencing an overdose. This concurrent use of multiple substances may heighten the likelihood of an opioid overdose as a result of the contradictory effects of these drugs.

Individuals simultaneously use or alternate injections of methamphetamine and fentanyl, with the daily dosing order being influenced by the time of day and social situations. The motivations for combining these substances, such as in heroin methamphetamine co injection, include managing opioid withdrawal and dealing with limited financial resources.

Certain users hold the misconception that methamphetamine can prevent fentanyl overdoses by maintaining a higher heart rate and counteracting fentanyl’s heart rate-depressing effects.

Co-Use Patterns and Motivations

The reasons individuals co-use methamphetamine and opioids are complex and varied. Some use these substances to balance the stimulating effects of methamphetamine with the sedative effects of opioids, while others turn to this combination to manage their opioid dependency. The increasing prevalence of opioid and methamphetamine co-use in the USA and the resultant escalation in overdoses involving these drugs are typical reasons for their concurrent use.

The combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl poses an extreme danger, with a heightened risk of overdose and respiratory depression that can be potentially fatal. Simultaneously using methamphetamine and fentanyl presents substantial risks to mental health and contributes to the escalating rate of drug overdoses.

Harm Reduction Strategies

In response to the escalating trend of polysubstance use and associated overdoses, the implementation of harm reduction strategies has been undertaken. These strategies aim to reduce the negative health, social, and economic impacts associated with drug use without necessarily requiring abstinence. They embrace a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence, to meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself.

These measures include:

  • The use of fentanyl test strips to detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs
  • The distribution of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses
  • The provision of drug checking services and supervised consumption sites to help users avoid contaminated drugs and reduce the risk of overdose.
Example of Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl Test Strips

Utilizing fentanyl test strips is a key harm reduction strategy. These strips can detect the presence of fentanyl in other drugs, potentially preventing accidental overdoses. They function as small paper strips capable of identifying the existence of fentanyl in various types of drugs. Testers dissolve a minute quantity of the substance in water and subsequently immerse the test strip into the liquid for a duration of 15 seconds.

Fentanyl test strips generally have a price of approximately $1 per strip and are commonly accessible for purchase online at websites such as,, and Although they are capable of detecting the existence of fentanyl and a minimum of 10 fentanyl analogs in drug samples, they do not ascertain the quantity or strength of fentanyl present, which is a limitation of their use.

Naloxone Distribution

Distributing naloxone, a medication that quickly reverses an opioid overdose by binding to opioid receptors, is another crucial harm reduction strategy. The efficacy rate of naloxone in reversing fentanyl overdoses is 93.5%, making it a crucial life-saving intervention.

In order to appropriately and proficiently administer naloxone in cases of overdose, individuals must complete a training module that typically lasts around 1 hour and acquire continuing education credits. They should also receive concise instruction on how to assemble and administer the naloxone kit. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and side effects associated with naloxone use, which encompass a theoretical risk of allergy and the possibility of acute opioid withdrawal, which may lead to agitation and nausea.

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Drug Checking Services and Supervised Consumption Sites

Harm reduction also significantly relies on drug checking services and supervised consumption sites. Drug checking services aim to provide individuals with information regarding the chemical composition of their drugs, with the goal of minimizing drug-related harm. On the other hand, supervised consumption sites are specifically designated locations where individuals can consume drugs under the supervision of trained personnel, while also having access to harm reduction services, including drug checking.

Drug checking services function by examining drug samples and furnishing users with chemical content details, thereby assisting in preventing unintended overdoses by notifying them of potentially harmful substances, such as fentanyl, present in their drugs. By analyzing drug seizure data, these services can further enhance their accuracy and effectiveness.

Supervised consumption sites play a crucial role in harm reduction by providing a secure environment for drug consumption under supervision. This helps in:

  • Lowering the risk of overdose mortality
  • Lowering the risk of transmission of infectious diseases
  • Lowering the risk of public drug use
  • Facilitating the connection of users to supplementary health and social services.

The Impact on Communities and Demographics

Different communities and demographics experience varying impacts from the overdose epidemic. While it is a nationwide issue, there are certain populations and regions that bear a heavier burden. These differences can be attributed to a variety of factors, including socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and the availability of drugs.

Minority populations, particularly Black individuals, have been disproportionately impacted by the overdose crisis. High poverty rates in areas such as West Virginia have also been linked to an elevated prevalence of drug use and overdose fatalities. Moreover, the opioid epidemic has had differential impacts on rural and urban areas, with rural areas experiencing a disproportionate rise in the availability of prescription opioids, leading to substantial effects on quality of life and employment prospects.

Geographic Variation

The prevalence of methamphetamine and fentanyl-related deaths is significantly influenced by geographic variation. There has been notable geographic variation in fentanyl positivity in stimulant samples, with the presence of fentanyl being indicated in samples from:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Methamphetamine-related deaths are particularly high in the following states:

  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado

Methamphetamine typically enters the United States through the southern border and is predominantly manufactured in Mexico, leading to a greater availability in states adjacent to the Southwest Border.

Disproportionate Effects on Minority Populations

The overdose crisis has disproportionately impacted minority populations, especially Black individuals. Drug overdose rates are elevated among racial and ethnic minority populations in contrast to the majority population. Contributing factors to the disproportionate impact of drug overdose on minority populations include:

  • Income inequality
  • Elevated overdose fatality rates among racial and ethnic minorities
  • The disproportionate influence of cocaine and psychostimulant-involved overdose deaths on these groups.

Disparities in access to treatment for drug overdose also exist among minority populations. Some key points to consider are:

  • Opioid overdoses are increasing at a faster rate in the Black population compared to other racial groups.
  • It is crucial to address these disparities in order to effectively combat the overdose epidemic.
  • Equitable access to treatment and recovery resources should be ensured for all populations.

Addressing the Epidemic: Policy and Public Health Interventions

A multifaceted approach, encompassing policy and public health interventions, is required to address the epidemic. Policies related to methamphetamine and fentanyl have been undergoing modifications in response to the escalating overdose epidemic. Lawmakers have been enacting legislation to more effectively combat the surge in fentanyl overdoses while recognizing the impact of methamphetamine. Present policies encompass:

  • The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act
  • The Methamphetamine Response Act
  • DEA’s awareness campaigns concerning fentanyl
  • The HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy

Public health interventions play a crucial role in addressing the use of methamphetamine and fentanyl. The implementation of methadone treatment for patients with opioid use disorder has demonstrated success in reducing fentanyl and heroin use. Additionally, the ONDCP has unveiled a strategy to address the methamphetamine supply, use, and its associated consequences as part of its intervention efforts.

Drug Paraphenalia

Treatment and Recovery Programs

The strategy to tackle methamphetamine and fentanyl addiction crucially relies on treatment and recovery programs. For methamphetamine addiction, viable treatments encompass programs such as Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR), medical detox, and cognitive therapies. In the context of fentanyl addiction, SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides referral services, and NIDA-supported research has contributed to the creation of efficacious medication interventions.

Treatment programs commonly encompass behavioral therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy. In instances of polysubstance addiction, a variety of therapies might be utilized to address the intricacy of multiple substances, while treatment for single-substance abuse involves specific interventions customized for the particular drug of abuse. The efficacy rate varies and is generally low, with factors such as the severity of addiction, type of treatment, and individual commitment significantly impacting the outcomes.

Education and Awareness Campaigns

In addressing methamphetamine and fentanyl use, education and awareness campaigns are of paramount importance. They aim to:

  • Decrease drug use by increasing knowledge about the associated hazards
  • Present details on addiction and overdose indicators
  • Advocate for harm reduction approaches
  • Provide access to treatment and assistance resources.

Digital media plays a critical role in these campaigns. Social media campaigns, like the One Pill Can Kill Campaign, promote the use of social media platforms to reach a broader audience and involve parents, teachers, educators, and community organizations in raising awareness about the risks linked to these substances.


The rising dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl use present a significant challenge to public health. These potent substances, often used in combination, have driven a surge in drug overdose deaths. The crisis is complex, with varying impacts on different communities and demographics, and requires a multifaceted approach that includes policy and public health interventions, harm reduction strategies, treatment and recovery programs, and education and awareness campaigns. It’s a sobering reminder of the continued urgency to address this epidemic and the profound human cost behind the statistics.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between methamphetamine and fentanyl?

Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant, while fentanyl is a synthetic opioid much stronger than morphine, commonly prescribed for intense pain relief. Therefore, they differ in terms of their impact on the body and medical uses.

What is speedballing?

Speedballing is the dangerous combination of stimulants and opioids, typically involving injecting a mixture such as cocaine and heroin, or any other stimulant and opioid. It poses serious health risks and can be fatal.

What are harm reduction strategies?

Harm reduction strategies aim to reduce the negative impacts of drug use by providing tools like fentanyl test strips, naloxone, drug checking services, and supervised consumption sites. These strategies prioritize minimizing harm without requiring total abstinence from drugs.

How are minority populations affected by the overdose crisis?

Minority populations, particularly Black individuals, are disproportionately affected by the overdose crisis, with elevated drug overdose rates and disparities in access to treatment for drug overdose. This highlights the need for targeted interventions and support for minority communities.

What are some solutions to address the methamphetamine and fentanyl epidemic?

To address the methamphetamine and fentanyl epidemic, a multifaceted approach is needed, involving policy interventions, harm reduction strategies, treatment programs, and education campaigns. These efforts must be coordinated to effectively combat the issue.

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