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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Deadly Heroin Fentanyl Mixture

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Heroin is a dangerous drug; heroin mixed with the synthetic opiate fentanyl has, time and time again, proven to be fatal. A surge of heroin, mixed with fentanyl, related overdose deaths has resulted in the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) joining the investigation into the death of 22 people in western Pennsylvania, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“We do have a good idea where it’s coming from,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said of the deadly mixture. “We’re trying to find the source and get them off the street before there are any more deaths.”

In the past week there were 15 overdose deaths in Allegheny County which appeared to be linked to heroin and fentanyl, according to medical examiner, Dr. Karl Williams. On average, there are five overdose deaths in the county every week.

At the scenes, officials found bags of heroin mixed with fentanyl that had stamps which read “Theraflu” and “Bud Ice,” the article notes. In that area most heroin has a tan color; however, the bags containing the deadly mixture had a powder that was pure white, Williams said. “Clearly, someone has mixed up a big dose of it,” he said.

Unfortunately, warning the community about the potentially dangerous mixture may have an undesired effect. A number of addicts may seek out the batch for a more potent dose. “A lot will chase it, and demand goes up,” Neil Capretto, Medical Director of a treatment center told the newspaper. “They will think those who died were just careless.”
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Monday, January 27, 2014

Synthetic Marijuana Emergency Room Cases Surge

Despite measures taken in the United States to curb synthetic marijuana use, emergency rooms continue to report cases of people requiring aid. In fact, Denver, Colorado had a rise in ER visits related to synthetic marijuana in the months leading up to the legalization of traditional marijuana, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In less than a month, emergency rooms in the Denver area saw 263 patients with symptoms tied to synthetic marijuana. Seven of those patients needed to be admitted to intensive care units.

Last week's New England Journal of Medicine featured a letter by Dr. Andrew A. Monte of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He wrote that, “Although the effects of exposures to first-generation synthetic cannabinoids are largely benign, newer products have been associated with seizures, ischemic stroke and cardiac toxicity, possibly due to potency.”

Synthetic marijuana is made from a combination of dried herbs with spices sprayed with harmful chemicals. When smoked, products that go by the names K2, Spice and Black Mamba induce a marijuana-like high, the article points out.

Short-term effects include:
  • Loss of Control
  • Lack of Pain Response
  • Increased Agitation
  • Pale Skin
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Profuse Sweating
  • Uncontrolled Body Movements
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Heart Palpitations
“These substances are not benign,” Monte said. “You can buy designer drugs of abuse at convenience stores and on the Internet. People may not realize how dangerous these drugs can be — up to 1,000 times stronger binding to cannabis receptors when compared to traditional marijuana.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are investigating whether three deaths and another 75 hospitalizations were the result of synthetic marijuana use.
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teenage Substance Use is Far Reaching

In the United States the average person is exposed to mind altering substances in one form or another at a young age. More than half of the estimated 20 million alcoholics in America began drinking as a teenager, reports CBS News. In fact, most young Americans have experimented with drugs and alcohol by the time they have reached late adolescence, according to a new study.

A representative sample of 10,123 teens between the ages of 13 to 18 was looked at by researchers. They inquired about the teens drinking and drug habits in person, and then compared the findings to lifetime estimates of substance abuse. Sadly, 15 percent of the teens met the qualifications for lifetime alcohol abuse, and 16 percent could be considered drug abusers.

The research showed that:
  • 81 percent had the opportunity to use illicit substances.
  • 42.5 percent had used drugs.
  • 78 percent had drank alcohol.
  • 47 percent consumed 12 or more drinks in the past year.
In the report, researchers wrote that, "Because the early onset of substance use is a significant predictor of substance use behavior and disorders in a lifespan, the public health implications of the current findings are far reaching.”

What’s more, teenagers can begin drinking alcohol as early as 12-years old, and the average age teens begin smoking marijuana is 14, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  

The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Heavy Drinking Affects Cognitive Function

Alcohol has a detrimental effect on the body, most importantly the brain, due to the caustic nature of the substance. New research has shown that drinking heavily can have a huge impact on memory. In fact, men who drink heavily in middle age have a decrease in memory and thinking skills 10 years later, according to a new study.

More than 5,000 men and 2,000 women, with the average age of 45 took part in the study. How much the participants drank was noted at the beginning of the study, after ten years they began taking memory and thinking skills tests.

Research showed that men who consumed at least 2.5 drinks a day performed worse on memory tests almost six years faster than other men, USA Today reports. There were no clear findings on women’s memory or thinking skills, the article notes.

“Much of the research evidence about drinking and a relationship to memory and executive function is based on older populations,” study author Séverine Sabia, PhD, of the University College London, said in a news release. “Our study focused on middle-aged participants and suggests that heavy drinking is associated with faster decline in all areas of cognitive function in men.”

Prolonged heavy drinking is never good in every respect and people should always drink in moderation if they are going to drink at all. Everyone has a different response to alcohol and there is no telling what damage will be done down the road if heavy drinking is an ongoing problem.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Single Question Substance Abuse Screen is More Effective

Substance abuse goes unnoticed by doctors all too often, due to improper screening practices. Countless patients are asked the wrong questions or they are not screened at all regarding their drinking patterns. It goes without saying, the earlier a problem is spotted, the better it is for everyone. A new study has found that physicians can determine whether their patients are abusing drugs or alcohol by asking just one question.

Dr. Richard Saitz, lead study author and professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, believes that asking patients how many times in the past year they consumed five or more drinks in a day (for men), and four or more (for women) is as useful as administering a longer, more in depth screening questionnaires. Saitz says that substance abuse or dependence can be determined by asking, “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?”.

The typical drug and alcohol screens have anywhere from three to more than 80 questions, with multiple response options, according to Dr. Saitz. Many of the questions asked on alcohol and drug screens are redundant and it's possible that patients will not give accurate answers to all the questions.

“We found that single questions may be useful in both screening and preliminary assessment,” Dr. Saitz said in a BU news release. “Instead of extensive interviews or long questionnaires, which are a barrier to screening in primary care settings, this approach may make it much easier to identify and appropriately address unhealthy substance use.”

88 percent of patients with alcohol dependence were determined by the single question screen, and 97 percent of patients with drug dependence, according to Science Daily. Responses from 286 patients were studied, according to the report.  

The findings were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Vermont Governor Battles Heroin Addiction

English: Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, original...
Vermont, one of the smallest states in the country, is being devastated by heroin and opiate addiction. Governor Peter Shumlin says the state in the midst of a “full-blown heroin crisis,” The New York Times reports.

In 2013, the number of people who died in Vermont from heroin overdoses is almost double from the previous year. Experts believe that the rise in overdoses is the result of people exchanging prescription opiates for heroin, as prescription drugs have become harder to acquire.

In the annual State of the State Message, the Governor made drug addiction the focal point, asking for officials to respond to addiction as a chronic disease. Rather than treating addicts with punishment and fear of incarceration, Shumlin wants officials to address the problem with treatment and support.

“In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said. “The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards, while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”

More than $2 million worth of heroin and other opiates are smuggled across the state-line into Vermont every week; Shumlin is calling for tougher laws for high-volume drug dealers. Vermont is a low crime state; it is not surprising that almost 80 percent of the state’s inmates are locked up due to drug-related charges.

The Governor believes that treatment is more cost-effective than jail and he is asking for more funding to address the problem. He is in favor of allowing addicts to receive treatment upon arrest rather than waiting for sentencing.
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Thursday, January 9, 2014

New York's Strict Medical Marijuana Guidelines

English: Medical Marijuana surrounding a vapor...
New York Governor Cuomo, who opposed medical marijuana programs in the past, will now allow some patients with serious illnesses access to medical marijuana. Governor Andrew Cuomo says that research suggests medical marijuana can help patients with cancer and other illnesses to manage their pain, The Wall Street Journal reports.

New York will be different than the other 21 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical marijuana. Medical marijuana will be dispensed by only 20 hospitals throughout the state, guidelines developed by the Department of Health, according to the article.

State Director of the marijuana advocacy group the Drug Policy Alliance, Gabriel Sayegh, told the Journal, “We all understand that it’s not the solution that’s needed but it will ensure that when that law passes the state will already have begun building the infrastructure to get the best care to patients in New York.”

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, founded by the former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a group that advocates for strict regulation of the drug, said it should be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, rather than states.

Under the New York guidelines, only patients with severe health problems will have access to the controversial medicine. In many states where medical marijuana programs exist, people can get a recommendation for minor health problems that probably do not warrant such measures to be taken.
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Monday, January 6, 2014

Societal Drug Use Determined By Wastewater

Wastewater Plant in Edmonton Canada
When people use drugs and alcohol the body processes the substances on a molecular level. The substances are then excreted through the digestive system finding their way into the wastewater of a given area. It is now possible for scientists to determine the scale of drug usage in a given area by evaluating wastewater, according to a new study.

Wastewater measurements were taken on one day in January 2012 from 33 Swedish sewage treatment plants, and were analyzed by chemists at Umeå University. The researchers' findings showed that in half of the locations drugs were found, such as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.

While this method has been used before in Sweden and abroad, this is the first time scientists looked at the entire country. Research like this is a variable in estimating drug use in society.

"What is unique about our study is its scope and this is the first time this method has been used to screen the entire country for drugs," says Marcus Ostman, study leader and is a PhD student at the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University. "Previous measurements in Sweden have only applied to single locations and a limited number of substances. In addition, we have developed a faster and more cost-effective measurement to conduct this type of research."

Compared to other European countries, Sweden’s concentrations were generally low. 


"The results were quite expected, but the variations between different places and different parts of Sweden was surprisingly large," says Marcus Ostman. "For instance, some smaller municipalities had fairly high levels of the dangerous drug methamphetamine. Since we measure using a chemical scale, it is no problem to distinguish methamphetamine from amphetamine."  

The study is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Major Cities Ban E-Cigarettes In Public Places

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It’s practically impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone puffing on an e-cigarette, the exponential growth of popularity with such devices is astounding. People are using e-cigarettes to help them quit or as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco. However, there are those, too, who are attracted to e-cigarettes because there are no laws in most places on smoking them indoors. As a result, major cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are working to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

There are a number of public health officials that fear e-cigarettes will lead to some people smoking regular cigarettes, according to the Wall Street Journal. 


City Council members in New York voted last month to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his twelfth hour, has signed the bill restricting electronic cigarettes in public places including: restaurants, bars, stores and some parks, the Daily Record reports.

Legislators in Los Angeles and Chicago could vote on e-cigarette bans this month as well. While e-cigarettes may be healthier than traditional tobacco, there are critics who say secondhand vapor is a pollutant, and e-cigarettes can get more people addicted.

“There are reasonable concerns and reasons for folding them into the existing clean-air framework for cigarettes,” Tim McAfee, Director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the newspaper.

Studies suggest that e-cigarettes expose the public to nicotine the same way that regular cigarettes do, although, according to researchers the amount of nicotine with e-cigarettes is much less.
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