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Meth habit makes opioid addiction more difficult to beat

"The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful," said researcher Judith Tsui.

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Researcher say that people in treatment for opioid addiction who also use methamphetamines have a harder time breaking the habit. Photo by rebcenter-moscow/Pixabay
Researcher say that people in treatment for opioid addiction who also use methamphetamines have a harder time breaking the habit. Photo by rebcenter-moscow/Pixabay

Dec. 31 -- Opioid addiction is tough enough to beat, but new research shows that having an accompanying methamphetamine habit may make quitting far more difficult.

For the study, researchers looked at 799 people receiving opioid addiction treatment at three sites in Washington State. They found that methamphetamine use was associated with a more than twofold higher risk of dropping out of treatment for opioid addiction.

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Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

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Study author Judith Tsui, a University of Washington School of Medicine clinician specializing in addiction treatment, noticed that an increasing number of patients she was treating for opioid addiction disorder were also using methamphetamine.

Tsui would start the patients on buprenorphine, a medication to treat opioid addiction, but many would fail to complete the treatment.

"This study confirms anecdotally what we sensed," Tsui said in a university news release. "The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful."

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Methamphetamine use is rising on the West Coast. A National Drug Early Warning System survey published in September 2018 showed that more than 70 percent of local law enforcement agencies in the Pacific and West Central regions said that methamphetamine is the greatest threat in their area.

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It's unclear why people addicted to both methamphetamines and opioids have greater difficulty completing opioid addiction treatment, but Tsui noted that many of these patients face significant challenges in their lives.

"A substantial proportion of these patients are homeless and may use meth to stay awake at night just to stay safe and keep an eye on their belongings," she said.

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Tsui added that patients also say the streets are flooded with methamphetamines. Some patients have asked for treatment with prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin to help them stop using methamphetamines.

However, more research is needed to determine whether the use of those medications to treat methamphetamine addiction is effective, Tsui noted.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about methamphetamine.

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