AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The drug crisis is a big issue circulating across the state of Colorado and creating new concerns for health professionals.

The FOX31 Data Desk found that fentanyl deaths rose faster in Colorado than most states and the Centennial state is seeing record highs in drug demand, as well as drug seizures. Doctors are now voicing concern about the alarming rate of methamphetamine overdoses and how it connects back to the fentanyl crisis.

Meth addiction, overdoses, rising in Colorado

Dr. Joseph Sakai is an associate psychiatry professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and specializes in substance dependence. Although the drug and opioid crisis is a national public health emergency, Sakai said Colorado is seeing a big increase in meth overdoses and addiction.

“Methamphetamine is an overlooked epidemic,” Sakai said. “Addiction can be so problematic, so horrific and so hard that ideally, prevention would be possible.”

He said large numbers of people are using meth in Colorado, getting addicted and dying from an overdose.

Sakai provided FOX31 with national medical journals that show from 2015-2019, fatal methamphetamine overdoses have increased 180%. The grim trend is fast-tracking to Colorado.

“Methamphetamine is something that’s in our communities, and it’s causing a lot of morbidity and mortality,” Sakai said. “It’s hurting a lot of individuals. You just have to walk through the emergency room to see the havoc it reaches in people’s lives.”

Mixing fentanyl, meth causes overdose deaths

Sakai said many in the state are accidentally overdosing because drugs are being laced with fentanyl and the user is unaware. But a new concern is many users are dying because they’re mixing fentanyl and meth together to get a desired high.

“The reason for doing that, classically, is that one can offset the negative effects of the other,” Sakai said. “If an opioid is sedating you and making you drowsy, taking a stimulant can reduce some of that while still experiencing a high.”

Mixing meth and fentanyl put people at higher risk of overdosing, Sakai said. He said that unlike opioids, Narcan cannot reverse a methamphetamine overdose. If the two drugs are mixed together, Narcan will only reverse the fentanyl.

“For methamphetamines, it’s a much harder road,” Sakai said.

Meth relapse rates are high

Sakai said that there are no medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration right now to treat methamphetamine-use disorder, which is why relapse rates are so high.

“The treatments that we have are relatively limited and the hope is that we can improve that,” Sakai said.

He is currently working on a small clinical trial on the medical campus that will test deep brain stimulation, similar to the treatment used for those with Parkinson’s disease, to combat addiction and hopefully improve treatment.

Sakai said the small clinical trial has only been conducted outside of the U.S. and in West Virginia and is showing some encouraging results. Five people will be enrolled in the trial this month in Colorado, and, if effective, the trial could grow from there.