CLEVELAND — Methamphetamine’s addictive grip on Ohio and the nation has hit record levels.
In the fall, researchers reported staggering increases in the number of those dying and those needing treatment from the drug’s use. The numbers signal a dramatic jump in usage at the same the opioid crisis has ravaged the nation.
“Opioids are more deadly, but the number of people struggling with methamphetamine addiction in Ohio is increasing dramatically,” said Orman Hall, who led the state study. “Meth is a huge problem in our state.”
Hall is an executive in residence at Ohio University, where he led the research. He also is a public health analyst for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in Ohio, a congressional initiative that tracks drug trends across the state and nation.
The Ohio study, reported last month, found that the number of people in the state who died from unintentional overdoses that involved meth or other psychostimulants jumped from 9 in 2010 to 517 last year.
Hall said nearly 80 percent of those deaths involved some form of an opioid. In a recently reported story, meth users told The Plain Dealer that they often use the drug to balance the lows of opioid use.
In a second study, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in October that hospitalizations from methamphetamine and similar drugs increased 245 percent nationally from 2008 to 2015.
The study found that admissions ballooned from 24 per 100,000 to 83 per 100,000.
Richard Kreager is the face of those statistics. He has been hospitalized four times for meth use. In August, The Plain Dealer wrote about Kreager’s struggles with the drug in a story about the spike in usage in Ohio.
Kreager, originally from Columbus, said he has been sober for more than seven months. He recently left the Freedom Hall Recovery Center in Piketon in southern Ohio and is in an intensive outpatient treatment program in Lima, where he lives with family.
“They say if you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you have always got,” Kreager said last month. “I don’t want to be where I’ve been.”
That, however, might happen. He may be sober now, but he could be headed back to jail because of an arrest that took place before he went into treatment.
At 4:30 a.m. March 4, Kreager drove the wrong way on State Route 11, near Youngstown, the state patrol said.
A trooper pulled Kreager from his car, but he refused to listen to the officer, according to a trooper’s report. The officer used a Taser to control Kreager. After being released on bond, his family quickly took him to Piketon, where he went into treatment.
A Trumbull County grand jury indicted him in July, while he was still in treatment. His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 2. If he is convicted, he likely will return to prison.
He spent two years in the Belmont Correctional Institution for leading police on a 10-minute chase and resisting arrest in rural Licking County in 2014. He fled officers when they attempted to make a traffic stop.
Kreager doesn’t want to go back to prison. He knows the treatment for his addiction there is not as good as what he is receiving now. He also knows he is lucky to be alive, and he admits he needs to continue working on his recovery.
“It’s not just about the court case,” he said. “I really want a new life. I’ve polluted my body.”
That won’t be easy. Researchers say it is extremely easy for people once addicted to meth to relapse.
A 2014 study by researchers at UCLA indicates that in a sample of 350 people addicted to meth, 86 percent relapsed within five years after treatment.
Kreager said he realizes what’s ahead of him.
“I’m going to meetings,” he said. “I want to help people. I want to make amends.”