Billing, A.S., Artigiani, E.E, Hippolyte, T., and Wish, E.D. (2019). Drug Early Warning Signals (DEWS): Serenity Lane - Coburg, Oregon. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.
Contact: Monique Danziger
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Study Finds High Rates of Combined Opioids and Methamphetamine Use in Oregon
Washington DC—The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland released a report this week, funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), showing high rates of combined opioid and methamphetamine use in patients seeking treatment for a substance use disorder in Oregon. The report also shows that about half of the urine specimens tested positive for marijuana and almost one-third for “polydrug” use, defined as positive for 4 or more of 12 drugs/drug classes.
The report is based on samples collected at Serenity Lane between December 2017 and February 2018; notable findings include:
- High rates of methamphetamine: 61% of 103 samples contained methamphetamine.
- A link between methamphetamine and opioids: Specimens that contained methamphetamine were three times more likely to contain a non-fentanyl opioid than specimens without methamphetamine (48% vs. 15%).
- Younger methamphetamine users: Patients in the study found positive for methamphetamine usage were, on average, five years younger than patients testing negative.
- Oregon’s cannabis culture: Marijuana was found in 47% of samples, and was more frequently detected than amphetamine (39%) and/or cocaine (16%). The report also notes that all samples were negative for synthetic cannabinoids.
- Fentanyl remains rare: Fentanyl showed up in just 3% of the samples tested.
- More Combinations, More Substances: 31% of specimens contained 4 or more drugs/drug classes.
The report suggests the possibility that “methamphetamine is being intentionally used in conjunction with opioids to produce a synergistic high or to balance the effects of the two drugs.” Based on his work with patients in treatment, Serenity Lane’s Medical Director, Dr. Eric Geisler, has another potential explanation.
“Many patients use heroin to offset side effects from methamphetamine and then use methamphetamine to be able to tolerate heroin withdrawal.”
The findings were considered notable enough that a follow-up site visit and “HotSpot” analysis is scheduled for May. “This study provides a unique opportunity to build on the urinalysis results and improve the understanding of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers of the recent increases in methamphetamine use and the combined use of methamphetamine and opioids,” said Dr. Eric Wish, Director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) and Principal Investigator of the NIH/NIDA-funded National Drug Early Warning System project. “Many questions remain about when, how, and why this polydrug use is occurring which will be addressed in an NDEWS supported HotSpot study.”
More importantly, “These findings provide crucial insights into the behaviors of those struggling with a substance use disorder,” said Dr. Eric Geisler. “We look forward to working with Dr. Wish and the other report authors to delve deeper into these findings to produce guidelines for better treatment, outcomes and healthcare policies.”
For more information about Serenity Lane: www.serenitylane.org