Methamphetamines have faded into the background as the opioid epidemic has taken hold of the country with deadly tenacity.
However, in the last couple of years, meth cases have been on the rise in some parts of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
The change is one of degrees, said Patrick Trainor, a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Philadelphia.
“These drugs have never gone away, but we have noticed an increase in seizures in this region,” he said.
The 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act lowered domestic production of the drug and restricted access to basic ingredients for cooking meth available at local pharmacies. However, reports by the DEA show an upswing in meth seizures along the western portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, increasing by 157 percent from 2012 to 2016. From California, the drug — purer and cheaper than before — moves eastward, according to the agency’s 2017 Domestic Methamphetamine Threat Assessment.
Based on toxicology reports and arrests, it’s arriving in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
In January, a joint investigation involving Bucks and Montgomery County district attorney’s offices seized 350 pounds of crystal meth mailed to Pennsylvania by traffickers in California. Aside from that large operation, both suburban offices reported seizing more meth during drug busts than a year or two previously.
Montgomery County officials also counted more overdose deaths involving meth last year — 19 in the first three-quarters of 2017 alone, double the eight in 2016. Across the state, the total number of overdose deaths involving methamphetamine remains small, only 4 percent last year, but are slowly trending upwards.
“What we’re hearing anecdotally is that a lot of opioid users will also use meth because it can stem the withdrawal effects,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub. Heroin results in a blissful, sleepy high, while the stimulant methamphetamine gives users a burst of energy and decreases the need for sleep.
The uptick isn’t happening everywhere. Delaware and Chester County’s district attorney’s offices reported no change in the number of methamphetamine cases last year, while Philadelphia police were unable to share numbers before publication. In New Jersey, a spokesman for the Camden County police, Dan Keashen, said that department had not “seen an uptick in meth cases on the street.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Montgomery County has counted more overdose deaths involving methamphetamines this year, not simply overdoses.