Rates of heart failure (HF) caused by methamphetamine abuse are climbing quickly in the western United States, at great financial and societal cost, suggests an analysis that documents the trends in California over a recent decade.
In the new study, methamphetamine-associated HF (meth-HF) admissions in the state rose by 585% between 2008 and 2018, and charges related those hospitalizations jumped 840%. Cases of HF unrelated to meth fell by 6% during the same period.
The recent explosion in meth-HF hospitalizations has also been costly for society in general, because most cases are younger adults in their most productive, prime earning years, Susan X. Zhao, MD, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose, Calif., said in an interview.
“Over the past 11 years, especially since 2018, it has really started to take off, with a pretty dramatic rise. And it happened without much attention, because when we think about drugs, we think about acute overdose and not so much about the chronic, smoldering, long-term effects,” said Dr. Zhao, who is lead author on the study published July 13, 2021, in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
“It’s really affecting a section of the population that is not supposed to be having heart failure problems. I think it is going to continue for the next decade until we put a stop to the parent problem, which is methamphetamine,” Dr. Zhao said. “We’re at the beginning, even though the rise has been pretty dramatic. The worst is yet to come.”
Under the radar
Methamphetamine-associated HF has been a growing problem for many years but has largely been “flying under the radar” because HF hospitalization data focus on Medicare-age patients, not the overwhelmingly younger meth-HF population, the report notes.
“We have to get this message out. Many of my patients with meth heart failure had no idea this would happen to them. They didn’t know,” Dr. Zhao said. “Once I tell them that this is what methamphetamines will do to you after years and years of use, they say they wish someone had told them.”
Dr. Zhao and colleagues looked at HF admission data collected by California’s Health and Human Services Agency to assess meth-HF trends and disease burden. They identified 1,033,076 HF hospitalizations during the decade, of which 42,565 (4.12%) were for meth-HF.
Patients hospitalized with meth-HF had a mean age of 49.6 years, compared with 72.2 for the other patients admitted with HF (P < .001). Virtually all of the patients hospitalized for meth-HF were younger than 65 years: 94.5%, compared with 30% for the other HF patients (P < .001).
Hospitalized patients with meth-HF were mostly men, their prevalence of 80% contrasting with 52.4% for patients with non–meth-related HF (P < .001).
Rates of hospitalization for meth-HF steadily increased during the study period. The age-adjusted rate of meth-HF hospitalization per 100,000 rose from 4.1 in 2008 to 28.1 in 2018. The rate of hospitalization for HF unrelated to meth actually declined, going from 342.3 in 2008 to 321.6 in 2018.
Charges for hospitalizations related to meth-HF shot up more than eight times, from $41.5 million in 2008 to $390.2 million in 2018. In contrast, charges for other HF hospitalizations rose by only 82%, from $3.5 billion to $6.3 billion.