While findings from the $6.1 million study involving counties in Arkansas, Kentucky and Ohio were not conclusive, they did cause concern that anti-meth laws may be having unwanted side effects. Phillips County was included in the study.
A three-state study led by Arkansas researchers suggests that laws intended to drive down the manufacture and use of methamphetamine in rural areas may be driving up the use of cocaine.
While findings from the $6.1 million study involving counties in Arkansas, Kentucky and Ohio were not conclusive, they did cause concern that anti-meth laws may be having unwanted side effects.
"We're really cautious in talking about this because we don't want to say that the law causes people to use cocaine, but it definitely raises the possibility that people are switching from one drug to another," said Tyrone F. Borders, lead author of the research report in the journal Addiction.
Borders said meth users who participated in the two-year study began reducing their use of the drug regardless of state laws that restricted access to drug store medicines used to make methamphetamine, such as cold medications.
"The meth laws, at least among these persons, didn't have much of an impact," said Borders, an associate professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "However, it was associated in our statistical analysis with a slight increase in cocaine use."
With a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers in the three states were promised by the federal government that information obtained in the study would not be used toward criminal prosecution.
With the help of former drug users, the researchers recruited 706 people, men and women, who used meth or cocaine but who had not gotten substance-abuse treatment for at least six months prior to the study.
Participants came from Lee, Phillips and St. Francis counties in Arkansas; Barren, Edmondson, and Logan counties in Kentucky, and Darke, Logan and Shelby counties in Ohio. They were given minimal fees of $50 for the initial interview and $10 for each referral who was found eligible for the research.
Primarily from interviews and urine tests, the researchers collected data on changes in the use of meth or cocaine among black and white residents in rural areas. By the end of the study, 559 participants had still not received formal treatment and drug use was down among both meth and cocaine users.
Arkansas and Kentucky laws aimed at restricting access to meth ingredients went into effect during the study, while a similar law in Ohio was enacted afterward. The numbers who said they used cocaine went up 9 percent after the anti-meth laws went into effect. At the same time, meth use declined in those areas.
"The implementation of these laws was associated with a slight increase in cocaine use. It's possible that some persons were switching from methamphetamine to cocaine," Borders said. "Perhaps, it was a little bit more difficult to make or obtain methamphetamine."
Overall, the rate of meth use dropped from 48 percent to about 19 percent — from 268 participants to 106. The rate of cocaine use decreased from 86 percent to about 60 percent — from 480 people to 335. Almost 33.2 percent — or 185 of the 559 untreated participants — were not using meth or cocaine by the end of the two years.
"This is what we still don't really understand very well," Borders said. "It's what's called spontaneous remission. We don't really understand why people just stop using drugs over time."
Some people may start using other drugs or some may "simply get burned out," he said.
Brenda Booth, the lead investigator and a UAMS professor of psychiatry, said some may have quit because of difficulties related to their use, such as family, law enforcement or financial problems.