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Meth makes a comeback in Michigan, even as drug fight focuses on opioids

woman sitting, holding picture
“I lost my brother on a nasty hotel floor,” Tara Bijarro said of 38-year-old Patrick Hoffman, one of 28 people who died from 2020 to 2023 in Monroe County with methamphetamine in their blood. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)
  • Michigan is receiving $1.5 billion to treat opioid addiction, even as meth makes a comeback
  • A new study finds meth was present in 1 in 3 drug tests
  • Treatments for meth and opioids are different, so some fear the millions for drug help may miss users

MONROE — Michigan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting the opioid epidemic, but experts say old threats are making a comeback —  methamphetamine and cocaine — that require vastly different treatments.

New drug test data from a national lab released this week found  methamphetamine and heroin were detected in more than 1 in 3 tests  — 37.3% — from Michigan when fentanyl also was present. That’s up from 1% in 2013, according to San Diego-based Millennium Health, which processes drug tests for drug treatment programs or chronic pain treatment providers.

“Every week, you can look at our court and there’s somebody dealing with a meth charge,” said Daniel Abbott, sheriff of Van Buren County in southwest Michigan. He is also a member of the state’s Opioid Advisory Committee, which is recommending ways to spend the state’s portion of $1.5 billion coming to Michigan over 18 years from a lawsuit settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

In Michigan, cocaine and methamphetamine are increasingly being detected in drug screens, even as the use of heroin and prescription opioids has dropped, according to Millennium Health, a national lab analyzing urine drug tests. These results represent only drug screens in which fentanyl was present as well.

Abbott and more than a dozen law enforcement officials, treatment providers and former users told Bridge that meth has become a bigger problem of late, even as Michigan is focused on using settlement money to fight opioids.

“The methdemic — I call it. It’s coming, and it’s here,” said Dr. Rob McMorrow, addiction medicine specialist at MidMichigan Community Health Service in Houghton Lake.


Treatment experts told Bridge that opioids and meth cater to different users. Opioids trigger relaxation and euphoria, while meth causes elation and high energy. 

While 2023 data isn’t available, opioids accounted for about 80% of the state’s nearly 3,000 overdose deaths in 2022.

Meth had decreased in popularity for years following police crackdowns on labs, and many communities are using settlement money to buy public dispensary boxes for Narcan, which can reverse opioid overdoses.

But Narcan cannot reverse a meth overdose. And drugs like Buprenorphine, Suboxone and methadone that treat opioid addiction don’t work for those addicted to meth.

Nationwide, methamphetamine and heroin were present in 60% of drug tests from Millenium, the drug lab.


“It's cheaply made. It’s easy to get,” said Jewel Dailey, the founder of Daily Recovery Zone, a nonprofit providing support group meetings and recovery services in southwest Michigan. 

Dailey also sits on the Van Buren Opioid Steering Fund Steering Committee. Because those funds are the result of opioid deaths, the county must use the estimated $2.6 million it will receive over 18 years to focus on services for people addicted to opioids, she said.

Meth users also would benefit from other investments, such as better housing during recovery and increased mental health services for those with addictions.

“That way, we're not just combating the opioids, we’re combating everything and everybody gets help,” she said.

I fell in love’

Dailey speaks from experience.

She was in her 20s when she landed “in the wrong place at the wrong time” — a friend’s basement as someone passed meth around the room in a piece of foil. She knew better, too. She’d seen addiction among relatives.

“But you don’t think … you’ll be that addict.” She took a first hit, she said, “and I mean, I fell in love.”

Gone were the stresses of life, it felt, in those meth-laced moments, she said.

two pictures of Jewell Dailey
Jewell Dailey, addicted to meth in 2009 in the first photo and on vacation and in recovery in 2022 in the second, is the founder of the Daily Recovery Zone in southwest Michigan. She said she walked away from everything because of her addiction — her family, her home and her new business. (Courtesy photo)

The drug “made me feel at that point like everything would be OK in life …. that you think you can conquer the world and you can talk better and you'll feel better and look better.”

But within six months, she said, she walked away from her family, her children, her new home on 15 acres in Schoolcraft in southwest Michigan and her new cleaning business to instead cook meth in a camper in the woods in nearby Decatur. 

It took years, several near-death overdoses, arrests and the four words from a drug court judge — “I believe in you” — to reclaim her life and rebuild a relationship with her children she said.

She echoed law enforcement; today’s meth is coming into Michigan from elsewhere, she said, “and it’s everywhere.”

Once made in backyard labs, meth is now coming from massive operations in Mexico and other countries, said Detective First Lt. Brian Bahlau, commander of Michigan State Police’s Narcotics Investigation Section.

Methamphetamine largely drove the spike in deaths involving psychostimulants between 2010 and 2021 — from 11 to 537, according to a 2023 data brief by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

Moreover, emergency responses linked to meth use increased 85% from 2019 to 2021 throughout the state, but most notably in the Upper Peninsula, according to the report.

The increase, said Eric Dawson, vice president of clinical affairs at Millenium, the national lab, is “astonishing.” 

The 2024 Millennium Health Signals Report, released this week, draws its results from more than 4.1 million urine specimens — including about 150,000 results in Michigan — collected between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 15, 2023. 


The report focused on specimens that tested positive for fentanyl, because fentanyl is increasingly implicated in overdose deaths.

The rise in methamphetamine is worrisome, not only because meth can be deadly on its own, but also because it’s increasingly the drug of choice that may be mixed with fentanyl, he said.

“When you look at the fentanyl user, heroin is just dying a slow death as are prescription opioids,” he said. “The point here is, if you have fentanyl, there's little to no advantage of adding prescription opioid or heroin to that mix.”

The fourth wave

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes America’s overdose epidemic as having been marked by three “waves” that have involved prescription opioids, heroin and then fentanyl. 

A fourth wave of overdose deaths now result from a deadly mix of fentanyl and stimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine, according to Millenium.

Among national results, nearly 93% of specimens from patients with fentanyl in their blood also tested positive for at least one additional substance. Almost half contained three or more, including the particularly deadly Xylazine, a sedative used for veterinary use that is also known as tranq.

Michigan State Police seized this crystal methamphetamine — 350 grams, or about three-quarters of a pound — in 2023. It’s worth about $7,500, and is believed to have been transported from Mexico, a state police lieutenant told Bridge. (Courtesy of MSP)

In Michigan, Millennium found cocaine more often than the national average last year — detecting it 57% of the time alongside fentanyl, compared to the national average of 22.7%. 

It’s easy to dismiss data points or get lost in drug statistics, said Tara Bijarro.
But those statistics are people — like her brother, Patrick Hoffman — a man she wants others to recall for his perpetual smile, even as he and his siblings faced addiction and violence and financial woes growing up. 

After battling addiction for years, 38-year-old Hoffman died in a Monroe County motel room on July 17, 2022, from methamphetamine, a medical examiner later ruled.

“My brother was playing Russian roulette with his life. It's a hard pill to swallow,” said Bijarro, who is now in recovery, herself, and volunteers as a peer recovery mentor at Oaks Village in Monroe.

“I lost my brother on a nasty hotel floor,” Bijarro said. 

The details are horrible to recall, she said, but they form the human context of what others might dismiss as simply a number — not only of addiction that strung her brother’s life into chapters of odd jobs, incarceration and homelessness, but also of a man who also loved to fish and camp and swim and tease his mom and sisters.

woman looking through items in a box
What is left of Patrick Hoffman’s life mostly fits into a single blue tote in her mother’s home — certificates from school sports, drawings as a young child and letters he wrote from jail before he overdosed on drugs in 2022. His sister sorts through the box this week. (Bridge photo by Robin Erb)

Hoffman’s remains now rest in a box — topped with a lantern and a metal hummingbird — in his mother’s living room. His few belongings — drawings as a school boy, letters he wrote to his mother from jail — are stacked neatly in a blue, plastic tote.

Bijarro was sorting through them this week, pulling from them the black-and-white clinical description of his final moments: “Methamphetamine Toxicity,’ reads the death certificate.

“No one wants to wake up and be an addict,” Bijarro said. “No one wants to wake up and chase drugs and live on the streets and be out in the cold and be hungry and not have to have family — no one.”

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