More Than Just Opioid Overdoses: Psychostimulant Abuse and Overdose Now on the Rise

Addict reaching for meth.

There is one concept that is likely to cause more upset, more grief and more sadness within the drug addiction scene than any other and that is the subject of overdose, and all the different kinds of turmoil, strife, and difficulty that can befall people when the risk of an overdose is entered into their lives. Today, overdose statistics are at all-time highs. And not just with opioids. Addicts are also overdosing on psychostimulant drugs like meth, cocaine, amphetamine, crack, etc.

Overdose is not just something that scares addicts, it’s an ever-present danger that terrifies their family members, loved ones and friends. Overdoses kill addicts more than any other occurrence and the phenomenon, often striking when least expected, can tear families apart overnight.

Until recently, when it came to overdoses, our biggest threat manifested itself in the form of opioids. Opioids have certainly stood as the backbone of the 21st-century drug addiction epidemic, but they are not the only problem. More recently, certain pockets of the nation have seen large increases in overdoses from drugs that have nothing to do with opioids. Case in point: the State of Ohio and other states in the Midwest are now seeing massive increases in residents overdosing on methamphetamine and other psychostimulant drugs.

A New Problem in Ohio

Columbus Ohio.
Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Randall Vermillion’s/

Ohio has experienced some of the worst opioid problems and some of the highest death tolls. And now, with a new drug problem becoming apparent, a lot of Ohioans are wondering when they’re going to catch a break.

This time around, the problem appears to be one with psychostimulant drugs. Psychostimulants refer to any type of drug that stimulates one psychologically, or which acts as an “upper,” not a downer. Methamphetamine is probably the most common illicit psychostimulant, but ADHD drugs, amphetamines, cocaine, and ADD drugs are also psychostimulants.

In Ohio, while overdose deaths involving psychostimulants increased by more than five-thousand percent between 2010 and 2017, the problem received almost no attention due to the fact that Ohio was far too focused on their own micro-epidemic with opioid addiction.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Ohio has more than one problem to deal with on the drug front. According to Orman Hall, an author of drug research studies and the executive in residence at the Ohio University, “We have seen a plateau effect in 2017 in terms of total (drug) overdose deaths, but interestingly, what we are beginning to see is an uptick in the number of mentions for psychostimulants, which includes methamphetamine, and cocaine.

As for the actual numbers, nine people in Ohio died from psychostimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, and methamphetamine in 2010. In 2017, five-hundred and nine people died from these types of drugs. Overall, psychostimulants appeared in twelve percent of autopsy reports for unintentional overdoses in the State of Ohio in 2017.

When will Ohio get a break? Clearly, this state has been all but ravaged by ongoing and increasing overdose problems that have been particularly destructive in this state for upwards of twenty years now.

But the truth is, Ohio’s drug problem is simply a mirror image of what is going on all across the nation. Everywhere we turn, we see drug problems increasing in every single U.S. state. They might not all be as horrendous or as crippling as Ohio’s epidemic, but they are there.

The Spread of Overdose Risk across America

Emergency Entrance Sign

Across the nation, psychostimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and certain pharmaceuticals are causing problems. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least one and a half million Americans use cocaine and crack cocaine on a regular basis. SAMHSA estimates that more than five-hundred sixty-thousand people are using methamphetamine every year. SAMHSA also reports that methamphetamine use has caused an increase from sixty-eight thousand hospital visits in 2007 to one-hundred three-thousand visits in 2011.

“No one is paying attention to this. Everyone, correctly, is focused on opioids and should be because of the known problem there. But this other problem is catching up with us very rapidly. We’re now facing a very significant stimulant epidemic.”

Statistics aside, experts are warning us about the coming risk of a stimulant and psychostimulant epidemic. The signs are all there. According to John Eadie, a top coordinator for the National Emerging Threat Initiative, “No one is paying attention to this. Everyone, correctly, is focused on opioids and should be because of the known problem there. But this other problem is catching up with us very rapidly. We’re now facing a very significant stimulant epidemic.

Edie talked about how, for every kilogram of heroin seized by law enforcement over the last five years, fifteen kilograms of stimulant drugs have also been seized. We are on the brink of a full-on epidemic with stimulant drugs. It’s already happening in front of our eyes in Ohio. How long before this epidemic comes knocking at the front door of our state? Of our town? Of our home?

How We Can Protect Our Families from Overdose Risk

Clearly, the United States has more than one drug problem to contend with. It’s not all about opioids—at least not anymore. Now, we have other drug problems on the horizon. This situation will end poorly if we do not take the proper effort to address them.

When it comes to protecting our families from the risk of a drug overdose, the first step lies in educating our family members and loved ones about the risk of the drug problem as it stands today. When people know what is at stake with drugs, they tend to abstain. When they don’t know what is at stake, they are more likely to succumb to drug addiction issues.

Students sitting on the grass.

On top of that, it would behoove all of us to do our best to keep drug problems out of our communities. Taking community action to curb drug problems, working to overcome stigma and glamorization of recreational drinking and drug use, supporting law enforcement, encouraging school and church activities that reduce risk for drug use among youth, holding marches and fundraisers to tackle drug problems, all of these are worthy endeavors in reducing risks for drug overdoses in one’s town.

It’s a long road ahead to curb the U.S. drug problem—but if we take the right levels of action and do so for long enough, we will overcome this crisis.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.