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Monday, December 30, 2013

E-Cigarette Nicotine Linked to Heart Disease

As the New Year approaches many will attempt to quit smoking as one of their resolutions. The popularity of e-cigarettes is off the charts, with more people turning to them as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco use. While e-cigarettes have been found to be better for you than regular cigarettes, new reports are showing that e-cigarettes may not be a safe as people think.

In the past, a number of studies have linked tobacco use to heart disease, or rather the active ingredient nicotine. A new study showing that nicotine contributes to a higher risk of developing heart disease, also found that e-cigarettes are not good for the heart, CNN reports.

At the American Society of Cell Biology, researchers reported that human and rat heart cells exposed to nicotine showed changes after only six hours. 

“These findings suggest that e-cigarettes, the battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine in steam without the carcinogenic agents of tobacco smoke, may not significantly reduce smokers’ risk for heart disease,” researcher Chi-Ming Hai, PhD, of Brown University, said in a news release.

If one turns to e-cigarettes to assist them in quitting smoking it should be temporary. Long term use of e-cigarettes may be equally detrimental to the heart. Using e-cigarettes indoors may expose other people to the nicotine as well.
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Obama Commutes Crack Cocaine Sentences

A pile of crack cocaine ‘rocks’
Last week, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates, six of which were doing life sentences for possession of crack cocaine, The New York Times reports. There is no doubt that under current drug laws all of the inmates would have received less harsh sentences, but in the 1980’s and ‘90’s the state viewed crack cocaine differently than powder cocaine.

In the past, an individual caught with a small amount crack cocaine was charged in the same way as a dealer who sold a 100 times more powder cocaine. The disparity between the two forms of the same drug was enormous, and in some states life sentences were handed out for small amounts of crack cocaine.

In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act was enacted, reducing the disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. People who are caught with small amounts of crack are no longer subject to mandatory prison sentences of five to 10 years.

In a statement, President Obama said, “Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness. But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”

Congress is currently considering a bill that would make crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences retroactive, in line with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Approximately 8,800 federal prisoners, sentenced before August 3, 2010, would be able to petition the court for a sentence in line with the Fair Sentencing Act, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

All eight commuted inmates will be released in 120 days.
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Monday, December 23, 2013

Total Smoking Bans Prevent Relapse

Quitting smoking is difficult, even with the aid of smoking cessation products like gum, patches, and medications. While there are steps one can take to reduce the risk of relapse, it takes most users of tobacco products years to finally quit for good. A new study has found that banning smoking in all areas of the home can help smokers quit.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, conducted the study which included 1,718 smokers in California. They found smokers who live in cities with total public smoking bans are more likely to attempt quitting, and to succeed, UPI reports.

“When there’s a total smoking ban in the home, we found that smokers are more likely to reduce tobacco consumption and attempt to quit than when they’re allowed to smoke in some parts of the house,” lead researcher Dr. Wael K. Al-Delaimy said in a news release.

“California was the first state in the world to ban smoking in public places in 1994 and we are still finding the positive impact of that ban by changing the social norm and having more homes and cities banning smoking,” Al-Delaimy said. “These results provide quantitative evidence that smoking bans that are mainly for the protection of non-smokers from risks of secondhand smoke actually encourage quitting behaviors among smokers in California. They highlight the potential value of increasing city-level smoking bans and creating a win-win outcome.”

The findings appear in the journal Preventive Medicine.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teenagers See Less Risk With Marijuana Use

English: A photograph of hemp (Cannabis sativa...
Despite research indicating that marijuana use has a profound effect on the developing brain of teenagers, the number of teens who think there's a serious risk from being a regular marijuana user is declining, according to a new survey. It is likely that the drop is associated with the changing views of adults and for the first time even more than half of the country feel that marijuana should be legal, according to a new Gallup poll.

The annual, Monitoring the Future, survey found that 39.5 percent of 12th graders believe regular marijuana use is harmful, down from 44.1 percent last year. The survey measures drug use and attitudes among students in grades 8, 10 and 12. A month prior to the survey, almost 23 percent of seniors said they smoked marijuana and just over 36 percent smoked it during the past year. 

The numbers indicate that 6.5 percent of high school seniors smoke marijuana daily, up from 6 percent in 2003 and 2.4 percent in 1993, CNN reports. 


“This is not just an issue of increased daily use,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora D. Volkow, MD said in a news release. “It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – have gone up a great deal, from 3.75 percent in 1995 to an average of 15 percent in today’s marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”

Fortunately, research showed that synthetic marijuana use is on the decline by 3.4 percent amongst high school seniors and less than 1 percent of all students used bath salts. 


“Synthetic drugs are particularly dangerous because their ingredients are unknown, they have not been tested for safety and their ever-changing ingredients can be unusually powerful,” said lead researcher Lloyd Johnston. “Users really don’t know what they are getting.”
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Monday, December 16, 2013

Heavy Marijuana Use May Damage Brain Structures

MRI of the Human brain.
In the United States, peoples' opinions are changing regarding marijuana use, with more and more states adopting medical marijuana programs and two states who have started the process of recreational legalization. Despite relaxed views on the drug, researchers are still working to find out the effects of the drug on the brain. A new study suggests that heavy use during the teenage years may damage brain structures vital to memory and reasoning.

Researchers observed changes in the sub-cortical regions of the brain using MRI scans, those regions are home to the memory and reasoning circuits, NBC News reports. Teenagers who had experienced changes to the sub-cortical region of the brain performed worse on memory tests (after two years of non-use) than their peers who had not used marijuana.

“We see that adolescents are at a very vulnerable stage neurodevelopmentally,” said lead researcher Matthew Smith of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “And if you throw stuff into the brain that’s not supposed to be there, there are long-term implications for their development.”

Study participants were:
  • 10 people with a history of cannabis use disorder.
  • 15 people with a history of cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia.
  • 28 people with schizophrenia but no regular marijuana use in their past.
  • 44 healthy people without a history of marijuana use.
“We saw poor performance in the marijuana groups…” Smith said. “And the younger somebody started using, the more abnormal they looked.”

The results appear in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Quitting Smoking Impact On Addiction Treatment

There are two schools of thought about smoking cigarettes while in addiction treatment programs. One that says the patient should quit all harmful substances, the other that says that the focus should be primarily on the more harmful substances with quitting smoking being preferable but secondary as it may cause unnecessary stress.

New research has shown that smokers who are addicted to methamphetamine or cocaine can stop smoking while in treatment for their addiction to stimulants, without impacting their treatment.

63 percent of people with a substance use disorder in the past year also reported current tobacco use, according to SAMHSA. Tobacco is responsible for more deaths among patients in substance abuse treatment than the drug of choice that brought them to treatment in the first place, yet most treatment programs fail to promote smoking cessation, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Substance abuse treatment programs have historically been hesitant to incorporate concurrent smoking cessation therapies with standard drug addiction treatment because of the concern that patients would drop out of treatment entirely,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a news release. “However, treating their tobacco addiction may not only reduce the negative health consequences associated with smoking, but could also potentially improve substance use disorder treatment outcomes.”

Smoking cessation therapy significantly increased quit rates, without negatively impacting participation in treatment for stimulant addiction.

“These findings, coupled with past research, should reassure clinicians that providing smoking-cessation treatment in conjunction with treatment for other substance use disorders will be beneficial to their patients,” said study author Dr. Theresa Winhusen of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.  

The results are published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Most Common Emergency Room Visits Not From Substance Abuse

People suffering from mental health disorders often turn to substance abuse as a form of treatment, or chronic substance abuse is sometimes the result of some form of mental illness. Over the years, there have been a number of reports that have linked frequent emergency room visits to mental health patients that have substance abuse problems.

New research flies in the face of the idea that the most frequent patients of hospital emergency rooms are people with mental illness and substance use disorders. In fact, only a small percentage of visits are the mental illness and substance use population.

More than 212,000 emergency room visits in New York City since 2007 were observed in the new study, according to HealthDay. Those who are most frequent to use the ER tend to have multiple chronic health conditions and many hospitalizations.

“Urban legend has often characterized frequent emergency department patients as mentally ill substance users who are a costly drain on the health care system and who contribute to emergency department (ED) overcrowding because of unnecessary visits for conditions that could be treated more efficiently elsewhere,” the researchers wrote in the journal Health Affairs.

“This study of Medicaid ED users in New York City shows that behavioral health conditions are responsible for a small share of ED visits by frequent users, and that ED use accounts for a small portion of these patients’ total Medicaid costs.”
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oxycodone More Popular Than Hydrocodone

Prescription opioids are abused more often than any other drug, both legal and illicit. Drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) can be acquired with relative ease from doctors and on the black market. Oxycodone is a stronger drug than hydrocodone, so it makes sense that a study of opiate addicts going to substance abuse treatment facilities choose oxycodone over hydrocodone.

3,520 people who abused opioids took part in the study which found that 44.7 percent of patients favored oxycodone, while 29.4 percent preferred hydrocodone. 75 percent of opioid addicts use either oxycodone or hydrocodone, Science Daily reports.

Ninety percent of the study participants said they used prescription opioids to alter their mood. Only 50 of oxycodone users and 60 percent of hydrocodone users said they also were treating pain with the medications.

Researchers found that people who abuse oxycodone tampered with the drug more often than hydrocodone users, enabling them to inject or inhale the medication. Hydrocodone has additives like acetaminophen (Tylenol) that make it less desirable to tamper with.

“The data show that hydrocodone is popular because it is relatively inexpensive, easily accessible through physicians, friends, and families, and is perceived as relatively safe to use, particularly by risk-averse users,” researcher Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a news release. “This group includes generally risk-averse women, elderly people, non-injectors, and those who prefer safer modes of acquisition than dealers, such as doctors, friends, or family members. In contrast, we found that oxycodone is much more attractive to risk-tolerant young male users who prefer to inject or snort their drugs to get high and are willing to use riskier forms of diversion despite paying twice as much for oxycodone than hydrocodone.”

It has yet to be seen if the release of the pure hydrocodone drug Zohydro will tip the scales on prescription opioid popularity. One thing's for sure, Zohydro will be heavily abused just like its predecessors and more than likely it will be tampered with like oxycodone.

The findings are published in the journal Pain.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

High Rate of ADD with MLB Players

Major League Baseball has been in the headlines for performance enhancing drugs quite a bit over the last decade. Players have been questioned for taking human growth hormones (HGH), as well as steroids in order to give themselves an edge. Now, players are turning to stimulants at an alarming rate, drugs like Adderall (an amphetamine based attention deficit disorder [ADD] drug) have become popular.

The number of MLB players authorized to use drugs to treat ADD is increasing, the Los Angeles Times reports. 119 exemptions were given to players last season, granting them the ability to use ADD drugs - an all-time high.

What’s more, one in 10 players has been diagnosed with ADD, double the rate in the general population, according to the report. ADD medication exemptions have been on the rise since the MLB banned amphetamines in 2006. The league granted 28 players exemptions in 2006; by 2007 the number rose to 103.

In 2012, the MLB decided that the league could investigate a player’s need for ADD medication. Last year, seven players were disciplined for the use of Adderall without a prescription.

More than likely players are turning to ADD drugs to enhance their focus and increase their energy level for the game. It seems unlikely that baseball players are more prone than the general public to having ADD.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Military Fight Against Synthetic Drugs

Over the last few years synthetic drugs have become popular amongst teenagers and young adults across the country. Despite efforts to ban ingredients for the manufacture and on the sale of synthetic marijuana and “bath salts,” the makers of such drugs have managed to find loopholes which have kept these dangerous drugs on the market.

Standard drug testing methods are unable to detect most synthetic drugs, this adds to the drug’s allure. A number of service men and women have turned to synthetic drugs as an alternative to traditional drugs that are easily detected in drug screens. Fortunately, education campaigns and improved drug testing methods are having an effect, the Navy and Marine Corps have seen a drop in synthetic drug use, The Navy Times reports.

The Defense Department's efforts to combat synthetic drugs began in 2010, the article notes. The banning of compounds to make the drug and the development of testing methods that detect synthetic drugs were the first steps; followed by a synthetic drugs awareness campaign in 2012.

The Navy and Marine Corps report a 45 percent decrease in the monthly average of those found using Spice (synthetic marijuana) and a 60 percent decrease in those using bath salts.

Synthetic drugs are hard to combat due to the ever-changing ingredients used to make them, according to Terrence Boos, a chemist with the Drug Enforcement Administration. “The evolution of these drugs is providing a challenge for toxicology screens,” he said. “When someone is presenting at an emergency department, they are presenting with an unknown drug in their system.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Teens Lack Proper Mental Health Treatment

Mental health is difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat; for every patient that receives adequate care for their disease, there are still many more who do not see any care. Sadly, there are a number of teenagers who suffer from mental health problems who do not get the treatment they so desperately require.

In the United States, more than half of teens suffering from mental health disorders do not receive treatment, according to a new study. Those who do receive help are mostly treated by someone other than a mental health professional, HealthDay reports. In fact, most teens receive their mental health treatment by pediatricians, school counselors or probation officers. White teens were much more likely to receive care than Black teens.

“It’s still the case in this country that people don’t take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should,” lead researcher E. Jane Costello of Duke University said in a news release. “This, despite the fact that these conditions are linked to a whole host of other problems.”

In an analysis of more than 10,000 teens in the last year, researchers found that only 45 percent of teens with psychiatric disorders received some form of service. 

Cases most likely to receive help were:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (74 percent)
  • Conduct Disorder (73 percent)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (71 percent)
Cases least likely to receive help were:
  • Phobias (41 percent)
  • Anxiety Disorder (41 percent)
The United States has a shortage qualified pediatric mental health professionals, Costello said. “We need to train more child psychiatrists in this country,” she noted. “And those individuals need to be used strategically, as consultants to the school counselors and others who do the lion’s share of the work.”

The findings appear in the journal Psychiatric Services.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Senate Bill Passed Tracking Prescription Drugs

Moves are being made in the U.S. Senate to implement methods of tracking prescription drugs. A measure, implementing a prescription drug tracking system, following drugs from the manufacturing floor until they are sold at a drugstore, was passed this week, according to The News & Observer.

The Drug Quality and Security Act will require drug: manufacturers, repackagers, wholesale distributors, and dispensers to keep information and pass on details regarding each drug’s distribution history. Over the next seven years the goal is to put into place product tracking, down to a single pill within 10 year period.

Manufacturers will be required to serialize their products in a consistent way across the industry, over a four years period after the law is enacted. 

“This legislation will improve the safety of compounded drugs as well as establish an unprecedented tracing system that will, for the first time ever, track prescription drugs from manufacturing to distribution, thereby thwarting drug counterfeiters,” Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa said in a news release.

“Americans must have the confidence that their drugs—whether obtained at a hospital, at a doctor’s office, or at the pharmacy counter—are safe, and that is exactly what this bill does.”

John Castellani, President and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement, “The counterfeiting of prescription drugs is on the rise within the United States but oftentimes goes unnoticed or unreported, leaving many Americans unaware of this problem. In fact, some experts have cited the counterfeiting of these medicines as even more lucrative than the trafficking of illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. This act will improve the security of the finished drug supply chain and reduce the impact of the patchwork of state laws related to the pedigree requirements for drug distribution.”

The bill awaits President Obama’s signature.

Monday, November 18, 2013

PCP Related Emergency Room Visits On the Rise

Stick model of phencyclidine (PCP) molecule as...
A new report, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has found that phencyclidine (PCP), commonly referred to as “Angel Dust,” use is on the rise. SAMHSA determined that PCP-related emergency room visits had a rise of 400 percent between 2005 and 2011.

Emergency rooms cases involving Angel Dust were 14,825 in 2005, but in 2011 there were 75,538, Medical News Today reports. About two-thirds of cases involving PCP were made by males, about half the cases involved people ages 25 to 34.

The largest increase in PCP use was seen among patients ages 25 to 34.

There are a host of ways that PCP can be consumed, the most common being inhalation by way of smoking another drug like marijuana. Although a number of people snort, inject, or swallow PCP.

A number of people consume PCP without being aware the drug had been added to the marijuana or methamphetamine they purchased, leading to a chaotic experience for the user. People confronted while under the influence of PCP, often become very dangerous to themselves and to others.

“This report is a wake-up call that this dangerous drug may be making a comeback in communities throughout the nation,” Dr. Peter Delany, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, said in a news release. “PCP is a potentially deadly drug and can have devastating consequences not only for individuals, but also for families, friends and communities. We must take steps at every level to combat the spread of this public health threat.”
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Long Term Heroin Use Changes Brain

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body; researchers continue to study the effects that drugs have on our remarkable operating system. It is well known that the brain has a remarkable ability to recover from the damages incurred from long term substance abuse; however, new research suggest that extended drug use can alter how genes are activated in the brain.

A new study has found that long term heroin use leads to changes in brain function, HealthDay reports.

Research was conducted on the brains of deceased heroin users. The area of the brain called the striatum, known to have a part in drug abuse, was focused on by researchers. It was determined that significant changes in how DNA was being used in the brain were related to heroin use. The longer one abused the drug, the greater the changes.

 “Our study addresses a critical gap in our knowledge about heroin addiction because we cannot often directly study the brains of addicted humans,” according to senior author Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City. “Our results provide important insights into how human brains change in response to long-term heroin use, and give us the knowledge to help treat this dangerous disease.”  

The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.
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Monday, November 11, 2013

PTSD Treated With Prescription Narcotics

Veterans Day, a time for remembrance and gratitude for those who have served the United States, particularly those who served in foreign conflict(s). It is impossible to fully comprehend the soldiers experience and the toll it takes on them, both mentally and physically. Every year, thousands of Veterans fail to receive the care they require; those who are treated are often only prescribed prescription narcotics to treat their psychological ailments.

In fact, Veterans with PTSD are about twice as likely to be prescribed opioids as those without mental health problems, according to a study by Veterans Affairs. Researchers determined that PTSD patients are more likely to get more than one opioid and the highest dose.

VA records indicate that about 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans receiving care from the VA have PTSD and more than half suffer chronic pain. Veterans suffering from PTSD and chronic pain are at a high risk of even more life problems; many specialists have found that proper treatment techniques with PTSD can actually reduce chronic pain without having to drown it out with opioids.

Prescription narcotics and PTSD is a bad mixture, often leading to suicides, overdoses, and addiction. More than 50,000 veterans were treated by the VA in the last year for opioid use problems, a figure that is almost double from 10 years earlier, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Andrew Kowal, one of the developers of the clinical guidelines for pain management at the VA, said the number of troops “retiring out of the Army on narcotics chronically is just absolutely unbelievable.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Raising Legal Limit On Tobacco

I took this photograph.
Last week, the New York City Council voted to increase the legal age for buying tobacco to 21. Following New York’s lead, Washington, D.C. is looking at a similar measure. Washington D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, is introducing legislation, with the support of 12 other Councilman, to raise the legal limit from 18 to 21, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“Raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 will decrease access to cigarettes, and, more importantly, may decrease the rate of smoking in young adults,” McDuffie said in a news release. “By restricting tobacco sales to young people, we can prevent many of our youth from acquiring a terrible, deadly addiction.”

Unlike New York’s law, which encompasses e-cigarettes in their bill, the D.C. measure would not ban the electronic devices for young adults ages 18 to 21, the article notes. Washington, D.C.’s close proximity to Virginia has residents crossing the state line to buy less expensive cigarettes. The short trip to Virginia saves smokers $2.20 on each pack of cigarettes because the cigarette taxes are much lower.

The legal age for purchasing tobacco in New Jersey is 19, but a measure to raise the legal age to 21 has been introduced by Senator Richard Codey.

With any luck, the new legislation to raise the legal age for buying tobacco will keep young adults from starting to smoke all together.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Experts Against FDA Zohydro Approval

In the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the first pure hydrocodone drug, Zohydro, law enforcement and addiction specialists have voiced their concerns about the potential increase in overdose deaths, Newsday reports.

Last December, the FDA created a panel of experts who voted against approval of Zohydro ER. The potential for addiction was the panel's foremost concern. Despite the makers of the drug, Zogenix, meeting targets for safety and efficacy, the panel voted 11-2 against approval. The panel said Zohydro could be used by opiate addicted people, including those abusing oxycodone.

Zohydro is 10 times stronger when abused than today’s standard hydrocodone products, according to the article. Zohydro ER (extended release) is designed to be released over time, but it can be crushed and snorted by abusers of the medication. Zohydro, unlike OxyContin, does not include similar tamper-resistant features, the newspaper notes.

Vicodin contains a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Zohydro is pure hydrocodone and is expected to reach the market in early 2014. Zogenix has begun work on an abuse deterrent formulation of Zohydro, according to a company statement.

“That the FDA has approved another incredibly powerful painkiller without [tamper-proof features] is both disconcerting and dangerous,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, who told the FDA expert panel he opposed Zohydro’s approval without safety features. “While this drug might be a godsend for people with acute pain, it’s a potential nightmare for those struggling with or at risk for addiction.”
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