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The Resurgence Of Meth Worries Law Enforcement, Doctors, Public Health Experts


ITHACA, NY (WSKG) - Methamphetamines are back and they are more deadly. While politicians and others have been focused on ways to stop the opioid epidemic, methamphetamine use has been on the rise. About a year ago, a multi-agency operation targeted the transport of meth into New York’s Southern Tier from Arizona. 

It’s been a long few weeks for Amy Cruz. Her 25-year-old daughter is in a Binghamton hospital with two painful infections. Doctors are trying to get her MRSA under control before they can even diagnose the second infection. They think it’s endocarditis, which destroys heart valves.

Both are from her intravenous drug use. Like most people with an opiate use disorder, her daughter has been in and out of recovery.

"For the past couple of years it’s very rare for me to hear people say ‘I only use heroin’ or ‘I only use meth,'" said Cruz. "It’s pretty much heroin or meth whatever I can get that day."

Her daughter was injecting heroin and meth. It’s a pattern that’s becoming more common. 

"I think our biggest concern is it’s being injected, not smoked," said Jeff Gotschall, a Senior Investigator with the Community Narcotics Enforcement Team of the New York State Police. "And we’ve seen numerous overdoses with it."

Since the late 2000s he has seen meth activity in the Southern Tier and northern Pennsylvania gradually increase. Then about two years ago it started coming into the area in bulk shipments. Tioga, Chemung and Broome counties are now main destinations for meth coming from Mexico.

It’s cheap and according to the federal DEA, the meth is purer which means it’s more deadly. That's why Gotschall and others in law enforcement consider it a serious threat.

"It’s dangerous," he said. "You can overdose on crystal methamphetamine just like you can overdose on heroin."

In Ithaca, Dr. Justine Waldman’s offices have signs on the walls saying “Dignity For All” and “End Drug Overdoses”. 

She is a former ER doctor who now heads REACH, a new practice that specializes in caring for people with substance abuse disorders. They opened in February, but have already outgrown their offices and have a waiting list for new patients. Her patients talk to her about why they are use different drugs. She sees the drug use as a symptom of other medical issues.

"People are medicating themselves," she said. "They’re basically using heroin to handle when they’re having pain, even emotional pain and then they describe using methamphetamine to handle emotional pain or depression or feeling down."

Waldman said her patients are coming to her with other infections that are the result of intravenous drug use. Like the ones that put Amy Cruz’s daughter in the hospital.

There are no replacement medicines for meth like there are for heroin like suboxone or methadone. The only treatment is abstinence. And even if there were better treatments for meth, Waldman agrees with other experts who say that without addressing the root conditions that make people vulnerable to addictions the opioid problem might be resolved but another drug, like meth, will just move in to fill that void.