The title of the research study says it all: “Crystal in the Gem City: Characterizing a Methamphetamine Outbreak in the Area of a High Prevalence of Illicit Fentanyl Use.”
The two-year study is led by Raminta Daniulaityte, a research professor in the Department of Population and Public Health Science in the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. The study is backed by a $227,814 award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“It looks like methamphetamine is really hitting hard on people who have opiate-use disorders,” said Daniulaityte. “They are getting into methamphetamine now. It increases many health-related risks to a very vulnerable population. The drug is adding to their problems.”
Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Also known as meth, blue, ice and crystal, it is a white, odorless bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. Most of the meth in the Dayton area is described as looking more like rock salt; it is either transparent or semi-transparent and comes in small rocks. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports that methamphetamine was the most frequently identified drug in 2018, followed by cannabis/THC, cocaine and heroin.
Meth appeared as a factor in the cause of death of 50 people in Montgomery County in 2017 — more than triple the 2016 number, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Through mid-to late-August of this year, the office handled 248 cases in which the deceased tested positive for meth, according to the Dayton Daily News. In all of 2018, the office had 299 cases in which toxicology reports noted the presence of the stimulant.
“We’ve never seen this much methamphetamine available so cheap,” said Daniulaityte. “People are saying a gram of meth can be bought for $20. It is extremely available.”
Daniulaityte said there are reports that some individuals with opioid use disorder are using methamphetamine as a way to try to quit using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl.
“We want to understand more about that,” she said.
There is also the danger of users being unaware of meth being contaminated with other drugs.
“If you are using methamphetamine and there is some fentanyl in it or vice versa, it’s a different risk,” she said. “So by testing we will be able to untangle those issues a little bit.”
The study is conducted primarily through interviews, but there will also be urine analysis of substance users to test for a number of different drugs. Daniulaityte said the researchers will likely use social-network-based methods to identify and attract substance users to the study.
“They are open-ended interviews, more like conversations,” she said. “For the most part, people are pretty open and willing to discuss.”
The study will also rely on toxicology test results, overdose data and crime lab information from the coroner’s office to compare that with information on the street.
Daniulaityte is working with Sydney Silverstein, an assistant research professor; Robert Carlson, director of the Center for Interventions, Treatment, and Addictions Research (CITAR) in the Boonshoft School of Medicine; and Matthew Juhascik, chief toxicologist with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office.
Daniulaityte grew up in Lithuania, which sits on the Baltic Sea, between Poland, Latvia and Russia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in ethnology in Lithuania and her master’s in anthropology and Ph.D. in social work at the University of Alabama.
Shortly after joining the faculty at Wright State in 2003, Daniulaityte began working for the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network.
“I was doing work on the ground, talking to people who use drugs to understand what the trends were,” she said.
Daniulaityte hopes that this latest study will generate findings that are relevant for public health.
“As we get results from our study, I want to communicate those very quickly to the health department so they can address the issue and possibly target overdose prevention efforts,” she said.