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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Obama Talks About The War On Drugs

Historically, television and movies have not painted the most accurate picture of substance abuse in America. Many have tried, but only a couple have succeeded in telling the story of addiction and the effects that the “war on drugs” has had on society.

In the early 2000’s, many of you may remember the Emmy nominated HBO show The Wire created by David Simon. Over the course of five seasons, The Wire opened the blinds on the devastating effects of drug criminalization on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. From the drug corners of the projects, to law enforcement and city hall, the hit show laid out how drugs affect all parts of society and how the war on drugs only makes it worse.

President Barack Obama recently sat down with David Simon to have a candid conversation on the war on drugs, The Washington Post reports. Obama called The Wire "one of the greatest pieces of art in the last couple of decades."

Obama eloquently spoke about incarceration in America as an economic problem and a social justice problem.

"The challenge," said Obama, "is folks go into prison at great expense to the state, [and] many times [are] trained to become more hardened criminals while in prison, come out and are basically unemployable and end up looping back in" to the prison system.

"When you break down why people aren't getting back into the labor force, even as jobs are being created, a big chunk of that is the young male population with felony histories," Obama said. "So now where we have the opportunity to give them a pathway toward a responsible life, they're foreclosed. And that's counterproductive."

Please watch the interview below:


“What drugs don't destroy, the war against them is ripping apart,” said Simon. 

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Marijuana Talk Kit

As more and more states change their laws regarding marijuana, it comes as little surprise that the conversation is changing between parents and their children about the drug. As of right now, there are 23 states which allow the use marijuana for medical purposes. Another 18 states that have decriminalized the drug, and four states have legalized the drug for recreational purposes. The need to speak with children about marijuana use is great, especially in the states where the drug is deemed legal, those states include: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

There are a number of parents who report that they are finding it difficult to open up dialogue with their children about the use of marijuana. In response, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has released a resource to assist parents in starting the conversation. The “Marijuana Talk Kit” guides parents by providing specific conversation starter examples for opening up the line of communication. It also provides parents with answers to use when responding to their teenagers questions about the drug.

The Marijuana Talk Kit encourages parents to practice active listening, as well as words to use and words not to use. Receiving informative responses from teenagers can be a bit like pulling teeth, choosing your words and how you respond can make a huge difference when attempting to have a serious conversation about drug use.

Many teens will tell you what they think you want to hear, this is natural because many times the fear of saying the wrong thing is associated with repercussions. The resource highlights the need for parents to come from a place of love and not from a place of “I’m the adult.”

The talk kit would like parents who engage in the use of marijuana to reflect on their own use before approaching their children, they ask that parents consider the effect their behavior has on their children.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Pill for Compassion

In the not too distant future, science may provide a way to make humans more compassionate towards each other. New research at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco, into dopamine’s effects in the brain shows that using a drug that alters the neurochemical balance in the prefrontal cortex results in a heightened willingness to engage in prosocial behaviour, Medical News Today reports. The findings may open doors to a better understanding of the interaction between altered dopamine-brain mechanisms and mental illnesses, such as addiction.

"Our study shows how studying basic scientific questions about human nature can, in fact, provide important insights into diagnosis and treatment of social dysfunctions," said Ming Hsu, a co-principal investigator and assistant professor at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

"Our hope is that medications targeting social function may someday be used to treat these disabling conditions," said Andrew Kayser, a co-principal investigator on the study, an assistant professor of neurology at UC San Francisco and a researcher in the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley.

In the study, participants were given a pill containing either a placebo or tolcapone, which prolongs the effects of dopamine and is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, according to the article. After which, a simple economic game was played, where participants divided money between themselves and an anonymous recipient.

"We typically think of fair-mindedness as a stable characteristic, part of one's personality," said Hsu. "Our study doesn't reject this notion, but it does show how that trait can be systematically affected by targeting specific neurochemical pathways in the human brain."

Those given tolcapone divided the money with the strangers in a fairer way, compared to those given the placebo.

"We have taken an important step toward learning how our aversion to inequity is influenced by our brain chemistry," said lead author, Ignacio Sáez, a postdoctoral researcher at the Haas School of Business. "Studies in the past decade have shed light on the neural circuits that govern how we behave in social situations. What we show here is one brain 'switch' we can affect."

The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Obama Speaks On Marijuana Legalization

With everything going on throughout the world and here at home, it turns out that perhaps the biggest thing on the mind of young people is marijuana. This week, President Barack Obama met with Vice founder Shane Smith to discuss a number of issues, ranging from climate change to marijuana legalization.

After a series of in-depth responses from the President, regarding foreign policy, global warming and political gridlock, Smith asked Obama, “What does the President think about legalizing marijuana?”

"First of all it shouldn't be young people's biggest priority," Obama told Vice. "Let's put it in perspective. Young people, I understand this is important to you. But you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs. War and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana."

Clearly, Obama makes valid points worth taking into consideration; however, many young Americans have witnessed firsthand the effects of draconian drug policies in America. The targeting of minorities, as well as the impoverished, handing out lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent offenders should be a major concern for young people.

While Obama did not come out in favor of full on legalization of marijuana, he did, however, say that current drug policy "doesn't make sense." "I'd separate out the issue of decriminalization of marijuana from encouraging its use," said Obama.

"I always say to folks, legalization or decriminalization is not a panacea. Do you feel the same way about meth? Do we feel the same way about coke? How about crack? How about heroin? There is a legitimate, I think, concern about the overall effects this has on society, particularly vulnerable parts of our society."

"At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, then Congress may then reschedule," said Obama.

You can watch the Vice interview in full, below:




If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Schizophrenia and Cocaine Use with Lead Exposure

New research suggests that there may be a link between lead exposure and early onset schizophrenia, Medical News Today reports. At Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, researchers found that lead had a detrimental effect on cells in areas of the brain associated with schizophrenia.

The areas of the brain include:
  • Medial Prefrontal Cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Striatum
Rats exposed to lead before birth and in the early part of their lives that had brain scans, showed striking similarities to the brains of human schizophrenia patients, according to the article.

"The similarities in the brain structure and neuronal systems between what we see in lead-exposed rats and human schizophrenia patients are striking, and adds to a growing body of literature suggesting that early lead exposure primes the brain for schizophrenia later in life," says senior author Tomás Guilarte, PhD, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School.

Further research dealing with cocaine use, indicated that rats exposed to lead showed a much stronger reaction to cocaine, compared to rats that were not exposed. While follow-up research is necessary, the preliminary findings suggest that schizophrenia may be only one of the consequences of lead exposure.

"We are currently assessing the impact of lead exposure on both the rewarding and reinforcing properties of addictive drugs like cocaine while exploring the biological underpinnings of how lead exposure plays a role in addiction," says first author Kirstie Stansfield, PhD, associate research scientist at the Mailman School.

The findings appear in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gender and Race May Dictate When People Start Using

New research suggests that gender and race play an important role with regards to when someone begins using substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Researchers at The Pennsylvania State University, analyzed four sets of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health survey, beginning in 1994, followed by 1996, 2001 and 2008 using the same participants, ScienceDaily reports. The new findings will help prevention programs gauge when is the best time to educate people regarding the dangers of using drugs and alcohol.

The researchers found that the use of cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana among white teenagers was significantly higher than black and Hispanic teenagers, especially at 18 years old, according to the article. They found, among whites, that the rates of alcohol and marijuana use continue to increase until age 20. However, blacks and Hispanics were found to be more likely to pick up cigarettes in their 20’s, and cigarette use began to decrease for whites.

At 18.5 years old:
  • 44 percent of whites smoked cigarettes.
  • 27 percent of Hispanics smoked cigarettes.
  • 18 percent of blacks smoked cigarettes.

At 29 years old:
  • 40 percent of whites were using cigarettes.
  • 30 percent of Hispanics were using cigarettes.
  • 31 percent of blacks were using cigarettes.

"I think that the most important point is that there are big age-related differences in substance use by gender and race/ethnicity," said Rebecca J. Evans-Polce, postdoctoral fellow, at Penn State’s Bennett Pierce Prevention Center. "In particular, African Americans show an increased prevalence in cigarette use much later than white adolescents. We need to think about tobacco prevention interventions that are targeted towards young adults, when use is increasing among African Americans, instead of just for younger adolescents."

"Our research corroborated previous research showing differences in when individuals use substances depending on their race/ethnicity and gender," said Evans-Polce. "But seeing the large difference particularly in cigarette use by race/ethnicity was surprising and being able to see this all graphically really brought the point home in a novel way."

The findings were published in Addictive Behaviors.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths Among Women

While prescription drug abuse has been linked to deaths in practically every demographic, new research suggests that over the last 15 years, prescription painkillers related deaths have been on the rise among white women ages 15 to 54 in the United States, The Washington Post reports. The new findings come from the Urban Institute, whose study found 15.9 per 100,000 white women lost their lives from opioid-related complications in 2011, up from 3.3 per 100,000 in 1999.

“A lot of theories out there suggest stress has major effects on our health,” said co-author Nan Astone, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute’s Labor, Human Services and Population Center. “We know that white women are single parents more often than they ever have been before. They’re more often the breadwinner. They’re juggling a lot of roles.”

The researchers found that between 1992 and 2006, in 42.8 percent of U.S. counties death rates for women increased, compared to 3.4 percent of counties for men during the same period. Death rates climbed significantly only among white women ages 15 to 54 between 1999 and 2011, while some of the deaths could be tied to smoking, half of the deaths could be directly linked to drug overdoses, according to the study.

Between 1999 and 2011, death rates from accidental poisoning for non-Hispanic black women also increased, from 4.8 to 7.4 per 100,000 per year.

“This increase, however, was not nearly as much as it was for white women,” the researchers wrote. “In fact, the death rates from accidental poisoning are now much lower for blacks (7.4) than for whites (15.9).”

The Urban Institute study can be viewed in full, here.

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