Meth, psychostimulant use on the rise in Ohio

Average age of total drug overdose deaths and meth-related deaths in Portage County between 2017 and 2018. 

Lydia Taylor

Update: Statistics have been updated with the latest information available. For Summit County overdose deaths, there are still several cases pending. 

Editor’s note: This story is the start of continuing coverage over the next few months regarding the rise of methamphetamine use in Ohio.

Summit County declared a state of emergency over the opioid epidemic more than a year ago. Since then, data from the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office shows drug-related deaths have decreased due to prevention efforts like the distribution of Naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan — a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

But another drug is on the rise: methamphetamine.

Local area drug overdoses down, meth use increases

Meth and other psychostimulant use increased more than 5,000 percent in Ohio from 2010 to 2017, according to a study released by U.S. News and World Report. Data from the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office confirms that out of the 271 drug overdoses last year, 53 were meth-related.

As of September, there have been 98 drug overdose-related deaths this year in Summit County — 20 of them meth-related. In the last seven years, most overdose deaths occurred in Akron.

Scott Williams, a detective in the Akron Police Department’s narcotics unit, likened meth to “deterioration.”

“It deteriorates your teeth, deteriorates your skin, gives you meth mites where you’re sitting there, picking at scabs,” Williams said. “You just constantly want to be on the move. Your heart is always racing, and it progressively kills you a bit slower than heroin.”


Meth mites are hallucinations that occur with long-term meth users. These hallucinations can cause users to feel like something is crawling all over them, which leads them to dig into their skin, forming scabs.

Meth is a highly addictive stimulant that attacks the nervous system, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Short-term use can cause a decrease in appetite and an increase in physical activity. Long-term use can cause chronic issues like permanent damage to blood vessels, liver and kidney damage or deterioration of tissues.

The high that meth causes can be deadly because it makes people hallucinate and behave recklessly in ways they normally wouldn’t without drugs, said Wayne Enders, the Portage County Coroner Office’s administrator.

But those looking for a stronger high may mix meth with more potent drugs that could kill them instantly, Enders said.

“They use fentanyl or carfentanil to take it to the next level,” Enders said. “Even just a little bit of those two can kill you in seconds. And many times, the dealers don’t even know the meth is laced with it.”

Even just a small amount of fentanyl can start to shut down an individual’s respiratory system and quickly lead to death, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Carfentanil is normally used as an animal tranquilizer and is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.  

Portage County had three meth-related deaths out of 47 drug-related overdoses in 2016, according to data from the Portage County Coroner’s Office. Last year, 10 of the 42 overdose deaths in Portage County were meth-related. In 2018, the county had a total of 29 overdoses — three of them meth-related.

“We expect drug overdoses to be far less than last year,” Enders said. “But the reason for the increased meth (use) is because it’s cheap and easier to get now.”

Overdoses rise statewide

The U.S. had 70,237 overdose deaths last year, a nearly 10 percent increase nationwide since 2016, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in November. The CDC reports synthetic opioids like fentanyl accounted for nearly 30,000 of those deaths last year.

Ohio had a record 4,854 overdoses in 2017 — a 20 percent incease from the 4,060 recorded in 2016, according to the Associated Press. Summit County had 84 fentanyl-related deaths out of 271 total drug overdose deaths in 2017. So far this year, there have been 41 fentanyl-related deaths out of 73 drug overdose deaths, Summit County Medical Examiner data shows.

The fentanyl-related deaths include analogs of fentanyl, such as furanfentanyl and cyclopropylfentanyl. Analog drugs — often dubbed “designer drugs” — are created in unauthorized labs that change the properties of illegal drugs, like fentanyl, to increase the drug’s potency, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens.

As of Oct. 15, Portage County had 11 fentanyl-related deaths out of 20 drug overdose deaths. In 2017, 14 of the 42 drug overdose deaths in Portage County were fentanyl-related, according to data from the Portage County Coroner’s Office.

The CDC reports Ohio currently ranks second in the U.S. for drug-related deaths, behind  West Virginia.

Looking ahead

When it comes to stopping the elevated use of meth, Williams and Enders agree one way to fight drug distribution in the area is to keep tracking where it is.

The Portage County Drug Task Force (PCDTF) and the police have been working hard to fight drug traffic in the area,” Enders said.

The PCDTF and the Summit County Opiate Task Force work with police departments throughout the two counties to crack down on narcotic abuse and perform drug seizures in the area. Drug seizures can either be planned or they could happen at traffic stops, Williams said.

The surge in meth use in Portage County is partially due to how cheap the drug can be compared to other drugs like heroin, Enders said. There are also places throughout the county that have been manufacturing meth for years.

“The Portage County Drug Task Force has shut down many meth houses over the years,” Enders said.

In 2016, there were six meth lab seizures in Portage County, according to data from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI). Enders said although the meth is being manufactured in Portage, it goes to other areas outside the county.

“What I understand is that these meth houses were actually transporting this drug to Cleveland and other areas of Ohio,” he said.

Summit County had 66 meth lab seizures in 2016, BCI data shows.

Enders said to keep fighting meth traffic, there needs to be more education and awareness of the issue.

“But with meth, it’s cheap,” he said. “I would say that anything that’s cheap is going to increase (in use).”

Lydia Taylor is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]