Experts hope to combat meth crisis with new treatment offering incentives

Methamphetamine use is causing a public health crisis prompting medical experts to sound the alarm.  

Currently there is no treatment for methamphetamine use – which not only affects physical and mental health, but it can cost you your life. 

According to the King County Fatal Overdose Dashboard, deaths from the drug jumped from 98 in 2016 to 365 in 2021. 

A trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing. 

As of Oct. 6 of this year, 318 people have died from an overdose. 

Dr. Michael McDonell, who’s spent the last 30 years researching substance use and mental health helped shape this report requested by Seattle City councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Lisa Herbold. 

"My intent in joining Councilmember Lewis in asking the City Auditor to report on this issue was to highlight how the responsibility, primarily Washington State’s and King County’s, is not meeting the need," Councilwoman Herbold told FOX 13 in a statement. 

"It's a public health crisis in the sense of how many people are dying," Dr. McDonell said.  

Meth use disorder affects parts of our community disproportionately. 

For black people there was a 244% increase in deaths, 233% for American Indians and 115% for White people. 

"We need new solutions, we need more of what we know works for other drugs like opioids," Dr. McDonell said.  

Statistics also show meth use also has a negative impact on society. 

We’ve shown you the issues plaguing encampments. 

"Drugs, prostitution, drugs, shooting stabbings, anything you can find criminal happens here," Richard said, as he described the encampment he’s been calling home. 

It’s also places like these where meth plays a significant role in deadly overdoses. 

Through August of this year 87 people, in King County, presumed to be experiencing homelessness overdosed. 

64 of them killed by meth – 74% of these overdoses happened in Seattle. 

You’ve seen the numbers, now health experts say there is a way to help those struggling with addiction, it’s called contingency management or motivational incentives. 

"People are engaged in it, they're excited about it, they want to come to treatment to get this intervention," Dr. McDonell said. 

Here’s how the program that they're proposing would work: 

Over the course of 12 weeks, a person checks in with their practitioner twice a week, submits a urine sample and each time they’re clean they get a reward, on average up to $300 over the course of treatment. 

"We want to get people into care, we want to support them, we want to reward their recovery," Dr. McDonell said. 

The need is urgent and unmet as data from 2020 shows nearly 3,800 people 18 and over are suffering from meth use disorder. 

If the need is so urgent and the treatment works, then the question is, why hasn’t it been expanded? 

"Over time, there's been a lot of concerns about fraud and giving incentives to people who are Medicaid enrolled," Dr. McDonell said. 

In the last two years, the Federal Government has started allowing states, cities, counties and healthcare providers to do this intervention as meth use and overdoses are a problem sweeping the country. 

 The Washington State Health Care Authority is starting to roll out the treatment on a small scale with 20 clinics with one in Seattle, helping at least 30 people. 

"30 people or 40 people is not going to be enough to make a huge dent, but it is going to be enough to make sure we understand how it's going to work, how it fits into the treatment system, how we can make sure we do it in the right way and then expand after that," Dr. McDonell said. 

McDonell says getting people in recovery will help decrease crime, improve the homelessness issue, and decrease hospital costs which have increased significantly. 

They jumped up from $436 million in 2008 to $2.17 billion in 2015 – and while you’re thinking this doesn’t impact me, think again. 

"People who use methamphetamine are more likely to be enrolled in Medicaid eligible, not be insured or have some other public insurance," Dr. McDonell said. 

Costs covered by you, the taxpayer. 

Dr. McDonell says this is an investment. 

As experts urge city, county and state leaders to act with urgency – researchers are already looking at how this program can be brought closer to home – encampments, tiny villages and supported housing. 

"It's a portable intervention that we could literally take out to people in the community," Dr. McDonell said. 

FOX 13 reached out to Harrell’s office asking if any funding could be approved for this treatment and what his office is doing to curb meth use – his office said they’re looking at solutions including contingency management.