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Rural Blog: Meth from Mexican cartels increasing in Appalachia, fed partly by move to cut opioid access

Central Appalachia has been long known as a hotbed of opioid addiction, but, aided by a Mexican drug cartel, methamphetamine abuse has been surging in the area for the past few years, presaging a nationwide increase in abuse of a more powerful form of the drug.

Crystal methamphetamine (DEA photo)

“The region where Kentucky meets Ohio and West Virginia has served as a harbinger of national drug trends,” Timothy Williams reports for The New York Times. Pain pills like OxyContin, stimulants known as bath salts, prescription anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and, more recently, heroin and fentanyl were all adopted by drug users here before gaining wider use nationally.”

Efforts to end opioid abuse, along with increasing awareness of the dangers of adulterated opioids, have led to the resurgence of crystal meth. “Doctors and hospitals have unwittingly accelerated the switch to methamphetamine by significantly reducing their patients’ access to pain medication; opioid users, increasingly fearful about overdosing on heroin and fentanyl, have been desperate for a substitute,” Williams reports. Mexican drug cartels such as Sinaloa or the Jalisco Nueva Generación have “sought to fill the vacuum by targeting Appalachia, federal drug officials say. The traffickers follow the same business model that allowed them to inundate the nation with heroin: make meth potent and sell it cheap to ensure a steady customer base, and ultimately, mass addiction.”

Until recently, meth was mostly a locally made product that varied widely in strength, but the newer Mexican version is often mixed with cocaine and/or fentanyl. Because fentanyl is cheap and a little goes a long way, it and cocaine enhance the user’s high and hasten addiction, Williams reports. But it also makes overdoses more likely.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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