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Monday, June 30, 2014

Consumer Advocacy Group Wants Energy Drink Warning Labels

After a number of deaths, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require the makers of energy drinks to put safety warnings on their products, according to Reuters. Energy drinks are extremely popular amongst teenagers and young adults, who often misuse the products, having several in one day and or mixing alcohol into the equation.

While energy drinks have high levels of caffeine, as well as several other stimulant -like ingredients, the group points out that no study has proven that energy drinks caused the 17 deaths in the last two years despite the fact that those who died had consumed energy drinks of one brand or another. CSPI would like the FDA to reduce the amount of caffeine legally allowed in energy drinks and require warning labels informing consumers of the risk of heart attack, convulsion, and other adverse reactions.

In the last 10 years, 34 people have died after consuming Monster, Rockstar or 5-Hour Energy. “This does not necessarily mean that the energy drink caused the death. Frequently there are other complicating factors, such as existing disease or medications the person may have been taking,” an FDA spokesperson told Reuters.

“How many deaths will it take to get the FDA to protect consumers from energy drinks, with their high levels of caffeine and untested herbal and chemical ingredients?” CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said in a news release. “Since the first batch of adverse event reports became public, the death count has essentially doubled, with dozens more injured. Yet the FDA is just standing by—no public warnings, no regulations, no testing required—nothing.”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

High School Seniors Using Ecstasy

English: 100% Pure Methylenedioxymethampethamine
Ecstasy has long been a favorite among young adults and teenagers; it is often the case that people who do the drug are unaware that that is what they are doing. The drug Ecstasy goes by many names, including: “E,” “Molly,” “X,” and “MDMA.” Researchers at NYU have found that high school seniors most likely to use ecstasy are those teens who use other drugs, according to Newswise

In the last year, about 4.4 percent of high school seniors reported using Ecstasy. Male students and those living in cities had a higher risk of use, as well as teens who used alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana or other illegal drugs, according to the report. 

The findings are based on data from the Monitoring the Future nationwide annual study, which includes about 15,000 high school seniors. Researchers pointed out that the number of high school seniors using ecstasy is probably higher because many teens are unaware that Molly is ecstasy in powdered form and the study did not specifically ask about Molly.

“Ecstasy use also tends to precede use of other club drugs so preventing Ecstasy use (e.g., among those who attend nightclubs and parties) may also prevent initiation and use of drugs such as ketamine (‘Special K’) and GHB,” lead researcher Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, said in a news release.

“Hundreds of new designer drugs have emerged in recent years, some of which were created to mimic the effects of Ecstasy,” Dr. Palamar said. “Many individuals may be ingesting what they think is Ecstasy, but it may in fact be an even more dangerous new substance. Likewise, today Ecstasy commonly comes in powder form instead of pill form, which may even further increase the chances of receiving the drug cut with additional designer substances.”

The report is published in Substance Use & Misuse.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prescription Drug Companies May Find It Hard to Tweet

English: Logo of the .
Prescription drug companies that use social media platform may be facing guideline changes as the result of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal, according to ABC News. If approved, drug companies will be required to list all the risks associated with taking their drug.

If it sounds like an impossible task that’s because it is. Practically every drug on the market has a booklet of side effects that accompanies the medication. The new guideline is aimed at pharmaceutical companies that use Twitter, a social media platform which only allows users to publish 140 characters at a time.

The standard pamphlet for the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, made by Pfizer, lists nine potentially serious side effects. It has nine potentially dangerous interactions with other medications, as well as at least 14 health conditions for which its use is not recommended. How could you fit all that into 140 characters?

“They wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Thomas Sullivan, editor of the Policy and Medicine blog for Rockpointe, a Maryland-based medical education company. “You’re not fitting that into 140 characters.” He added, “The FDA isn’t necessarily up on the realities of social media.”

The FDA may not be up on realities, but understanding the intricacies of Twitter may not be their goal. Making it impossible for drug companies to use social media to paint unrealistic pictures of the drugs may be what’s happening here; if your drug has more than 140 characters of problems, then Twitter may not be right for you.

The guidelines, if approved, would go into effect in 90 days.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New England Teams Up Against Drug Epidemic

A political and geographical map of New England
In New England, five governors have agreed to work together in the fight against the growing prescription drug and heroin abuse problem, according to the New York Times. New England has seen an influx of heroin abuse as many prescription opioid addicts turn to the illegal drug as a stronger alternative that costs a lot less.

The New England plan was announced at a press conference where the governors of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts explained the elements of their regional strategy. The states have agreed to share data on the prescribing of prescription painkillers and to work together to stop “doctor shopping.”

“This epidemic has affected too many of our families and communities, but if we work together, we can recover together and we will come out of this crisis with strength and hope,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said in a news release. “Each of the New England governors has taken strong action to combat opiate abuse in their own states, and now we are acting together as one region to take on this challenge.”

Governor Patrick said that the group will also be working with the state of Maine and hopes to work with New York and Canada in the future. Encouraging New York to join the group is key; the majority of all heroin on the east coast is trafficked to New York and then spreads across the region. 

They also hope to work out treatment agreements among their state Medicaid programs. This would allow low-income addicts in one state to do to treatment in another. It is often the case that treatment facilities are short on beds causing patients to wait, sometimes months for an opening; such waiting periods can provide addicts time to change their mind about getting help. Allowing people to seek treatment in another state will drastically cut down on waiting time which will save lives.

Monday, June 16, 2014

FDA Gearing Up to Regulate E-Cigarettes

English: Logo of the .
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is gearing up to begin regulating E-cigarettes. Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, is reviewing product standards in the areas of addiction, toxicity and product appeal, according to Reuters.

In April the FDA announced new rules for E-cigarettes, giving the agency the power to regulate the popular nicotine delivery systems. "It's not the nicotine that kills half of all long-term smokers, it's the delivery mechanism," said Zeller at a lunch in Washington, D.C. organized by the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco group.

The FDA’s major concerns revolve around the appeal of E-cigarettes to children. There are thousands of different flavors of nicotine juices and many of them have flavor names that are attractive to teenagers.

"We share the concerns about the marketing of e-cigarettes to kids," said Zeller. "We share the concerns that flavors certainly look like they would be appealing to kids; but let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here--tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease principally because of the ongoing use of products that burn tobacco.”

There is a limited amount of research on E-cigarettes and it remains unclear as to whether or not people are using E-cigarettes to quit smoking or as an alternative to smoking. Nevertheless, many experts agree that E-cigarettes are the lesser of two evils.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seniors Prescribed Prescription Narcotics On The Rise

New Medicare data indicates that the use of narcotic opioids and anti-anxiety medications among elderly patients is on the rise, according to a report on the data by USA Today. The prescription drug epidemic in America has impacted the elderly on a scale that is epic in proportions, the report estimates that one in five of the nation’s 43 million senior citizens on Medicare have prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Just last month, the newspaper reported that in 2013 alone there were 55 million opioid prescriptions written for people 65 and older.

Between 2007 and 2012, seniors who received Medicare prescriptions for opioid painkillers increased more than 30 percent, according to the report. In 2012, there was an estimated 8.5 million seniors that received an opioid, in one form or another. The report showed that prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone rose by 50 percent. What’s more, the amount of each drug prescribed increased by an average of 15 percent. Not only are seniors being prescribed opioids more often, they are taking the drugs for much longer periods of time.

The prescription drug problem amongst the elderly does not stop with opioid medications. Over the same time period, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication (benzodiazepines) rose about 25 percent, to more than 700,000 in 2012. On average, elderly patients received prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication for five month periods, about 10 percent increase in time.

The rise in prescribing practices to seniors "is something we really need to be concerned about," says Michael Von Korff, an investigator for the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “Misuse and abuse of these medicines is not uncommon among the elderly. They do get into trouble with these drugs.”

Von Korff said that elderly patients who take opioids or anti-anxiety medications are at increased risk of injuries from falls, cognitive problems and impaired breathing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Drug Testing Food Stamp Recipients Ruled Illegal

In March the State of Georgia passed a law that would have required drug testing when state workers had a “reasonable suspicion” a person was using drugs, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, federal officials announced that Georgia cannot implement the law requiring drug testing for some food stamp applicants and recipients.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said its policy “prohibits states from mandating drug testing of (food stamp) applicants and recipients.”

Georgia is not alone; in fact legislators in many states have been trying to implement measures that would deny welfare to people who use illegal drugs. In some states they would like to require written tests that would help state organizations spot people who abuse drugs and other states are seeking to deny benefits to those with recent drug convictions.

A federal judge in Florida ruled that the state’s drug-test requirement was unconstitutional. Welfare applicants in Florida were required to submit to drug tests. Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando ruled that such requirement violated the protection against unreasonable searches.

So far, Georgia is the only state that has attempted to extend drug testing requirements to people seeking food stamps, according to the report.
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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Charging E-Cigarette Users Higher Insurance Premiums

English: Electronic cigarette charger
Under the Affordable Care Act private insurers are allowed to charge a higher premium for people who use tobacco products; however, there is no clause for E-cigarettes, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Federal authorities are trying to figure out what the best course of action is with E-cigarettes, whether or not insurance companies can charge a higher premium for users. There are currently an estimated three million people in the United States using such devices. Both the tobacco industry and some health advocacy groups oppose an insurance surcharge on e-cigarette users.

The verdict is still out regarding whether or not E-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco and if they are useful smoking cessation tools. If the is answer is "yes," then insurance companies would not want to charge higher premiums on E-cigarette users, if the answer is "no"… At this point there has not been enough research to support claims either way. Hopefully, more studies will be conducted to determine the position of E-cigarettes; the devices are certainly not going anywhere.

A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., David Howard, told the journal, “We don’t believe policies should be implemented that might deter current smokers from considering switching to smoke-free alternative products like e-cigarettes.”

Walmart is one of a few employers who charge employees that use e-cigarettes more, citing concerns over potential health risks.
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Monday, June 2, 2014

The Changing Demographic of Heroin Users

10 grams of no.3 heroin
The heroin crisis in America has reached staggering proportions and is no longer exclusively an inner-city problem; heroin may find its way into this country through major cities but the drug is making a home in suburban areas and used predominantly by Caucasians, according to The Washington Post. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has called the problem a “full blown heroin crisis” and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling it “the scourge of New York”.

JAMA Psychiatry has published a new study that highlighted how the times have changed regarding heroin abuse in the United States. Just 50 years ago heroin users lived in the cities and were predominantly minority men. Today, many heroin users live in nonurban areas, are much older, and are almost split evenly between male and female.

The study showed that the road to heroin was paved with prescription opioids and those walking the road were looking for a much cheaper and stronger alternative to prescription drugs. At the Washington University School of Medicine, Theodore Cicero, vice chairman of research, analyzed survey responses of treatment center patients in order to understand the changing demographics.

According to Cicero's research:
  • In the 1960s, 82.8 percent of heroin users were men, but today about an equal rate of men and women are now seeking treatment for heroin use.
  • In the 1960’s, Caucasian heroin users seeking treatment was just above 40 percent, by 2010 it was 90.3 percent.
  • In the 1960’s, the mean age of those seeking treatment was 16.5 years old, by 2010 it was 22.9 years old.
Heroin has been available in this country for a long time and it clearly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yet, in the 1960’s more than 80 percent said heroin was the start of their opioid use, but in the 21st century 75 percent of those who have used heroin reported having used a prescription opioid before using heroin.
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