Meth: The Leading Cause of Drug-Related Deaths in Oregon

Meth is the leading cause of drug-related deaths in Oregon

Meth is one of the most deadly illicit drugs. In Portland, it is the leading cause of drug-related deaths. 78 percent of Oregonians know someone that is suffering with addiction, and Oregon ranked last in the country in providing mental health and addiction treatment services. Yet the impact of meth has been overshadowed by the opioid epidemic.

Some argue that the opioid crisis attracts more attention because it is more prevalent among the working population, as opposed to meth, which is considered a street drug and largely affects more people who are without homes. For those reasons, its effects remain largely ignored and it is treated as a criminal issue as opposed to a public health concern. That’s something that advocacy organizations such as Oregon Recovers and public officials are seeking to change as they demand that substance use disorder in relation to all deadly drugs be declared a public health crisis.

Meth use in Oregon

Until recently, Oregon’s focus on substance use disorder and related issues was centered on opioids.

Multnomah County recently filed a lawsuit against 23 national opioid manufacturers for $250 million, claiming the manufacturers fueled the opioid crisis by marketing their drugs to convince doctors and patients to use opioids for chronic pain rather than for their original intended uses (severe post-surgical pain relief and palliative care). While Portland is impacted by opioids, with syringes littered across the state, meth has taken over criminally and as a leading cause of death.

Experts say that meth is more pure, affordable and more lethal than ever, in spite of actions taken by Congress to stop the illicit production of meth. In Oregon, authorities have gone one step further than the national laws do, restricting nasal decongestants used in the manufacture of meth to prescription only.  

Meth-related deaths in Oregon

Statistics show that Oregon deaths related to meth overdose outnumber those from heroin. Oregon Health Authority reports reveal that overdose deaths from meth and psychostimulants have increased dramatically over the last 15 years. According to the State Medical Examiner, between 2015 and 2017, there were 412 deaths from methamphetamine and psychostimulants, compared to 311 from heroin-related overdoses in the same period.



In 2016, 232 people died from meth. That’s a threefold increase over the last 10 years, and double the number of heroin deaths and nearly matches death rates from prescription opioids. The Portland Police Bureau revealed that the amount of meth seized increased drastically, as did meth-related arrests.

“Opioids are pretty lethal and can cause death by themselves, but meth is insidious," says Medical Examiner Karen Gunson.

Meth and crime in Oregon

The Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) reported that meth use and trafficking has increased, presenting the greatest drug threat to the state in 2019.

In 2018, meth was attributed to 77 percent of violent crime and 63 percent of property crime. In 2016, there were 3,612 convictions for meth possession. The amount of meth confiscated grew a staggering 800 percent between 2009 and 2017, compared to heroin, which rose 300 percent in the same period.

However, the number of meth labs has dramatically decreased due to the success of Oregon legislation restricting the availability of pseudoephedrine, and due to Oregon’s Clandestine Drug Lab Program. HIDTA reported the seizure of only nine meth labs in 2014 — a 95 percent drop from 2005 levels (192).

How Oregon is paving the way for recovery

In 2019, the number of Oregonians suffering with substance use disorder has risen to 400,000 and Mental Health America recently ranked it last in providing mental health and addiction treatment services .

These numbers spurred recovery advocates into action, leading them to form the organization Oregon Recovers. Consisting of a statewide network of individuals and organizations, they’ve come together to transform Oregon’s capacity to provide world-class treatment and support for Oregonians suffering from substance use disorders. Their goal within the next five years is to mobilize “a diverse and politically powerful constituency of recovery advocates, allied organizations, legislative champions and families of loss to secure adequate services and support to address Oregon’s addiction epidemic in a meaningful and impactful way.”

Thanks to their efforts, Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order declaring addiction a public health crisis in Oregon, with the goals of lowering rates of substance use disorder and increasing rates of recovery.

Alongside their advocacy, we continue to provide peer support to those suffering with addiction and mental health diagnosis. Together we are able to provide education, advocacy, recovery, peer services, and technical assistance, and help formulate a plan of recovery that suits the individual. To find out more about peer support, or to become a peer mentor, get in touch.