From the Journals

Rising meth-related heart failure admissions a ‘crisis,’ costly for society


Multiple layers of prevention

Dr. Zhao proposed ways that clinicians can communicate with their patients who are using or considering to use meth. “There are multiple layers of prevention. For people who are thinking of using meth, they need to get the message that something really bad can happen to them years down the road. They’re not going to die from it overnight, but it will damage the heart slowly,” she said.

The next layer of prevention can potentially help meth users who have not yet developed heart problems, Dr. Zhao said. “This would be the time to say, ‘you’re so lucky, your heart is still good. It’s time to stop because people like you, a few years from now are going to die prematurely from a very horrible, very suffering kind of death’.”

Importantly, in meth users who have already developed HF, even then it may not be too late to reverse the cardiomyopathy and symptoms. For up to a third of people with established meth-HF, “if they stop using meth, if they take good cardiac medications, and if the heart failure is in an early enough course, their heart can entirely revert to normal,” Dr. Zhao said, citing an earlier work from her and her colleagues.

Currently, methamphetamine abuse has taken especially strong root in rural areas in California and the Midwest. But Dr. Zhao predicts it will soon become prevalent throughout the United States.

Spotlight on an ‘epidemic’

The rapid growth of the methamphetamine “epidemic” has been well-documented in the United States and around the world, observed an accompanying editorial from Pavan Reddy, MD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Morningside, New York, and Uri Elkayam, MD, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

They contend that more attention has been given to opioid overdose deaths; meth abuse does not seem to command the same attention, likely because meth is not as strongly associated with acute overdose.

But meth, wrote Dr. Reddy and Dr. Elkayam, “is a different drug with its own M.O., equally dangerous and costly to society but more insidious in nature, its effects potentially causing decades of mental and physical debilitation before ending in premature death.”

The current study “has turned a spotlight on a public health crisis that has grown unfettered for over 2 decades,” and is a call for the “medical community to recognize and manage cases of meth-HF with a comprehensive approach that addresses both mental and physical illness,” they concluded. “Only then can we hope to properly help these patients and with that, reduce the socioeconomic burden of meth-HF.”

A quietly building crisis

The sharp rise in meth-HF hospitalizations is an expected reflection of the methamphetamine crisis, which has been quietly building over the last few years, addiction psychiatrist Corneliu N. Stanciu, MD, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H., said in an interview.

“This new version of methamphetamines looks like ice and is more potent and toxic than former versions traditionally made in home-built labs,” he said. Lately the vast majority of methamphetamines in the United States have come from Mexico, are less expensive with higher purity, “and can be manufactured in greater quantities.”

Some patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) also inject methamphetamines, which can make OUD treatment clinics good places to screen for meth abuse and educate about its cardiovascular implications, Dr. Stanciu said.

“Just as addiction treatment centers present an opportunity to implement cardiac screening and referrals,” he said, “cardiology visits and hospitalizations such as those for meth-HF also present a golden opportunity for involvement of substance use disorder interventions and referrals to get patients into treatment and prevent further damage through ongoing use.”

Dr. Zhao, Dr. Reddy, Dr. Eklayam, and Dr. Stanciu report no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on


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