American Indians and Alaska Natives were the top demographic for methamphetamine overdose deaths from 2011-2018, according to a recent report.

The Danger of Methamphetamine Abuse Among American Indians and Alaska Natives

Methamphetamines play a dangerous role in drug abuse throughout the United States and even globally. While many people have shifted their focus toward the growing threat of opioid drugs in the so-called second opioid epidemic led by fentanyl, the methamphetamine epidemic has never gone away. In fact, it continues to wreak havoc, especially among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Here’s how that’s happening and why it matters.

Troubling Statistics

After the start of 2021, many people in the United States found themselves hoping that the dangerous trends of COVID-19 would finally start to turn in a positive direction. With so many pandemic-related changes, it was hard for people to focus on other developments. However, a JAMA Psychiatry report published in January 2021 served as a grave reminder that methamphetamine is still a deadly drug that must be dealt with. The report shares the startling statistics that American Indians and Alaska Natives were the top demographic for methamphetamine overdose deaths from 2011-2018.

In October 2021, a newer report the U.S Department of Health and Human Services released showed that methamphetamine use is nearly four times higher in American Indian and Alaska Natives compared to other ethnicities, and this rate applies trends in both men and women. The ratio in this survey, conducted from statistical use from 2015-2019, showed that an estimated 26 out of 1,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives used methamphetamine, compared to around seven for every 1,000 people in the general U.S. population.

While both surveys cite health disparities as an important factor in why these statistics are what they are, the motivation is to address the contributing factors of low income, severe mental illness, inadequate healthcare, and the quality of life in rural areas, all of which played a role in these findings. However, a vital part of paving a way forward is by educating readers on what this drug does to the body and why it’s so deadly.

Meth Dangers

As a stimulant drug, methamphetamine increases central nervous system activity in the brain and body. Not only is this drug a popular stimulant among recreational users, but it also took a lot of the crack and cocaine business because it is a cheaper option and much easier to make. The drug forces the brain to produce dopamine levels hundreds of times higher than normal, producing very high levels of euphoria and making it a much more aggressive stimulant than cocaine. In the short term, the drug makes people feel very good while producing lots of energy. However, this pattern of use can eventually destroy dopamine receptors, making the drug highly addictive to maintain any level of pleasurable feelings.

Aside from destroying the body’s ability to produce dopamine naturally, there are very significant effects of meth use. As a drug that directly affects the central nervous system, meth carries an immediate risk of changes in the brain.

Because we know how important the brain is for the proper function of our entire bodies, it’s easy to understand why the dangers of meth are so widespread. These can include:

      Cognitive issues

      Emotional issues

      Altered motor functioning

      Aggressive behavior


      Significant weight change



 But then there are the long-term and chronic effects of methamphetamine use. These can damage organ function, including the heart and lungs. Since meth manipulates the function of the central nervous system, it can result in an unhealthy heart rate. What makes things worse is the prevalent practice of drug cutting. Because meth is largely sold as an illicit substance, users have no idea what exactly their dose contains.

Unfortunately, this has played a large part in the meth overdose problem, with 50% of meth overdoses attributed to drug cutting with opioids. Fentanyl is the favored opioid for drug cutting in recent years, and while it is incredibly potent, it only takes 2 mg to 3mg of fentanyl to be considered lethal. When opioids are mixed with stimulants like meth, the two drugs can intensify each other, or their negative effects can cause a perfect storm of organ disruption. As a result, many people die from this, and most of them have no idea that their meth has been compromised with other drugs.

Looking Forward

While methamphetamine use is a worldwide issue across ethnic lines, the sad statistics show that it is especially deadly among American Indians and Alaska Natives. While there are stress process models to explain the contributing factors of family history and stressors from life events, these can only serve to tell us the “why'' of meth use. However, the important thing in looking forward to a brighter future is to educate about the “what'' of meth use and help our friends and loved ones pursue the “how” of meth addiction recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with meth addiction, it is vital to break the trend by seeking medical help from trained professionals.



Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Meth Addiction Signs and Treatment. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Meth Use Statistics Around the World (2019). Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Fentanyl Addiction: What Side Effects You Should Know About. Retrieved

JAMA Psychiatry (2021, Jan. 20). Methamphetamine Overdose Deaths in the US by Sex and Race and Ethnicity. Han B, Cotto J, Etz K, Einstein EB, Compton WM, Volkow ND. Retrieved

U.S. Department of Helath and Human Services. (2021 Oct.). Methamphetamine use among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. Retrieved

Science Direct. (2021, Oct. 1). Methamphetamine use among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States. Retrieved

Indian Health Service. (2019 Oct.). Disparities. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Stimulant Addiction. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Cocaine vs. Meth: Potency, Differences, Detox. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Comparing Meth and Adderall: What’s the Difference? Retrieved

NIH. (2019 May). Methamphetamine DrugFacts. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). The ‘Speedball’: Risks of Mixing Heroin and Cocaine. Retrieved

NIH. (2016 Jul 8). Methamphetamine Use Among Rural White and Native American Adolescents: An Application of the Stress Process Model

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