The number of Americans admitted to hospitals and clinics for treatment of methamphetamine and prescription painkiller addictions rose sharply in 2003, federal health officials said Monday.

Nearly 117,000 Americans entered hospitals and clinics for treatment of methamphetamine addiction in 2003, a 10 percent rise from the year before. Treatments for abuse of prescription narcotics like OxyContin rose 12 percent to more than 48,000 in 2003, the latest year with available data, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Several states, including Arkansas, California, and Utah, saw their rates for admission for abuse of methamphetamine jump more than 20 percent, according to the HHS.

The data come from the department's Treatment Episode Data Set, which culls state reports of drug treatments and aggregates them for national figures.

"The alarming growth of methamphetamine use and, in part, its popularity, can be explained by the drug's wide availability, ease of production, low cost, and its highly addictive nature," says Charles Curie, director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within HHS. Curie made the comments in a news release from the agency.

More than 5 percent of the U.S. population over 12 years of age has tried methamphetamine, according to 2003 federal drug surveys. Nearly 607,000 claim to have used the drug in the last month.

Officials have also seen a steep rise in prescription narcotics abuse. Nearly 3 million people over 12, including 4.5 percent of high school seniors, claimed to have used OxyContin without a doctor's order in 2003.

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Methamphetamine Growth in Rural Areas

Methamphetamine has had the most impact in rural areas, where illegal manufacturers can easily procure the fertilizer and other chemicals needed to make it in illicit labs. Farming areas also afford manufacturers the chance to concoct methamphetamine with little fear of detection because of chemical odors or lab waste.

A recent survey of counties pegged methamphetamine as the most serious drug problem faced by local officials. Fifty-eight percent of local law enforcement agencies in a National Association of Counties (NACo) survey released in early July called methamphetamine their most serious drug problem. The organization complained at the time that Bush administration drug officials were not doing enough to help address methamphetamine in local jurisdictions.

Methamphetamine is rapidly addictive and can cause severe personality shifts in users. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. Chronic, long-term use can lead to psychotic behavior, hallucinations, and stroke.

NACo officials complained earlier this month of high rates of child neglect among parents using the drug. People who make the drug are also at risk from lab explosions and fires in makeshift labs.

Brian Cook, DO, a professor of psychiatry and addiction specialist at the University of Iowa, tells WebMD that treatment for methamphetamine use has spiked in the area.

"A decade ago it was a trickle, and now it's a very common cause for admission," he says. Alcohol used to be the primary cause for admission, but now it's slipped, he says.

Read WebMD's "Counties Want Federal Help to Fight Meth"

By Todd Zwillich, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Treatment Episode Data Set Highlights 2003, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Brian Cook, DO, professor of psychiatry, University of Iowa.