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Friday, December 30, 2016

Your Recovery In 2017

The holiday season is coming to an end with tomorrow being New Year's Eve; and for those of you working a program of recovery a sigh of relief is in order. While Thanksgiving and Christmas are often dreaded due to the feelings the two holidays can incite, the New Year can bring with it a feeling of accomplishment and promise for the days ahead. And, if you haven’t already, today and tomorrow are a good time to take some time to reflect on the past year, especially regarding your strengths and weaknesses of your program.

Programs of recovery should always be measured one day at a time, but it can’t hurt to take stock of the progress you have made, the things you are grateful for and what you would like to accomplish in the coming year. If you have been in the program a while, you know that with every day the sky's the limit. You can witness this just by attending meetings. An example being when you first see the light return to the eyes of a newcomer, who but only a short time ago was on the edge of despair.

Maybe 2017 will be the year that you direct more energy into helping newcomers discover the miracles of recovery, by way of sponsorship or just being a friend. Perhaps your inventory will indicate to you the need to volunteer your services to the program more, maybe pick up a service position in your home group. There are several ways to strengthen your program by way of volunteering, the value of which should not be undervalued.

The end of December is usually when people begin working on their list of resolutions. Like improvements you would want to make in your life in the coming year. Scores of people in the program, while sober, still hold on to certain vices such a tobacco and caffeine. While the latter may be relatively harmless, tobacco is not good for anyone—being linked to many life-threatening health disorders. What’s more, research shows that those who use nicotine products are at greater risk of relapse than their peers who do not smoke.

If you have yet to give up tobacco, maybe 2017 will be your year. Scores of people with a history of alcohol and substance abuse have used the program to be free from tobacco. In conjunction with smoking cessation aids, quitting cigarettes or chewing tobacco is possible and can greatly improve the quality of your life and the strength of your program.

Hope by The Sea would like to commend everyone who maintained a program of recovery in 2016. We hope that you will remember that even one day sober is worth being proud. We wish everyone a safe and sober 2017.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” — Einstein

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Psychiatric Medications, Pregnancy and Self-Harm

mental illness
People living with any form of mental illness (AMI) can benefit greatly from any one of the large number of available psychiatric medications. For some people, life would be nearly impossible without such prescription drugs. However, there are circumstances that can arise in life that might lead patients to stop taking their medication, sometimes with a provider's recommendation—sometimes not. One such situation is pregnancy.

Those treated effectively for mental illness can lead relatively normal lives, which can cause people to make normal life decisions. Such as getting married and starting a family. But, there are some who feel that the same drugs that help a mother may actually harm their fetus. This can prompt expectant mothers with mental illness to stop taking their medication, until the baby is born. As you might imagine, it is a decision that can lead to tragic outcomes.

A new study which focused on mortality rates involving new mothers in Colorado showed that self-harm was a leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths between 2004 to 2014, according to a University of Colorado at Denver news release. The researchers defined self-harm as suicide and unintentional overdose. The findings were published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The majority of new mothers who took their own life had a history of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, the news release reports. Depression was the most common mental illness associated with postpartum mortality. The researchers point out that nearly half of the new mothers in the self-harm cases were found to be taking prescription drugs for mental health care at conception, but 48 percent had chosen to discontinue use of their medication until their child was born. The psychiatric drugs included:
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for Depression
  • Medications for Sleep
  • Mood Stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder
"This finding speaks to the importance of an informed discussion of the risks and benefits of continuing psychiatric medications during pregnancy," said lead author Torri Metz, MD, assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at the CU School of Medicine. "Ideally this would occur prior to conception. The benefit of continuing medications, especially SSRIs in women with depression, frequently strongly outweighs the risk."

If you are an expectant mother with a history of mental illness, it is crucial that you speak with your doctor at length before you decide to discontinue using your psychiatric medication. It is a decision that cannot be taken lightly.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Keeping Relapse Out of Christmas

People working a program of recovery are acutely familiar with the dangers that holidays pose, do to the fact that relapse is especially common this time of year. While the reasons for relapse are varied, the end result is typically the same. After which it can be difficult to dust yourself off, and recommit to the program—the byproduct of the shame and guilt that one puts on them self after a relapse. Anyone who has experienced a relapse can tell you that facing one’s recovery peers after such an ordeal is a humbling experience.

However, at the end of the day, the relapse itself is not what is important, it is what one chooses do after that counts the most. It takes a lot of courage to pull oneself together, and sit down with one’s sponsor in order to figure out the areas that need to be worked on. Restarting the clock of sobriety is no easy task, and it is a sign of strength to get up in front of your homegroup and identify as a “newcomer,” once again.

Every day of sobriety is hard fought. Having two-days sober is just as valuable as having a year. There is a reason that the mantra of the program is to “live life one day at a time.” We must reinvest our energy each day to maintain a constant connection with our "higher power," share at meetings and be of service to others in life. It could be argued that if people working a program need to give 100 percent to their program day in and day out, then holidays require 110 percent.

Preventing relapse during the holidays is group effort. Starting tonight, there will be recovery meetings for 24-hours straight. People who make a point to attend one or more meetings during Christmas are less likely to have what is called “stinkin’ thinkin’.” That is, thinking that it would be OK to go places that might jeopardize your recovery or that there would be little harm in having a couple drinks. To be sure, such a thought only seems reasonable until you take that first sip of alcohol. The feelings that precede the event typically take the form of guilt and regret, for having thrown away what you have been working hard to achieve.

Today is Christmas Eve. Many of you will be spending some of the day with family, which can bring about stress. Left unchecked, such discomfort can quickly result in bad decisions. We cannot stress enough just how important it is to keep one’s finger on the pulse of their recovery. If you find yourself getting worked-up tomorrow, call your sponsor immediately and get yourself to a meeting ASAP.

Relapse does not have to be a part of your story this Christmas. If you use the skills you have learned in the rooms of recovery, you should be able to make it through the day unscathed. That is our sincere wish at Hope by The Sea this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Risky Drinking In America

risky drinking
With the year coming to a close it is always a good idea to take an inventory of the good and the bad in one’s life. There may be things that are holding you back from being the best that you can be, such as drugs and/or alcohol. It is easy to fool oneself into thinking that your drinking habits are in line with your peers, and therefore–not a problem. It is dangerous to base whether or not you have a problem from what you see your peers doing, not everyone is the same and what one perceives is not necessarily fact.

If you are unsure about the nature of your relationship with alcohol, you may find it useful to do a little research to see if you meet the criteria for being a problem drinker. If it turns out that your relationship with alcohol is unhealthy and a change is needed, do not be discouraged—you are not alone. In fact, almost 70% of adults in the United States consume alcoholic beverages and close to a third of those individuals engage in risky drinking over the course of their life, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA).

If you are unsure of what kind of drinker you are, you may do yourself a service by watching a new documentary, a collaboration between HBO and The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). HBO’s “Risky Drinking” is described as a no-holds-barred look at a national epidemic through the intimate stories of four people whose drinking dramatically affects their relationships.”

Please take a moment to watch the trailer for “Risky Drinking,” below:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

In the rooms of recovery, we know first-hand where risky drinking can lead. What starts out as “binge drinking” on the weekends, can eventually morph into a full-blown alcohol use disorder (AUD). Around 10 percent of adults who engage in binge drinking have an AUD. If you are a binge drinker and feel that your use of alcohol is impacting your life in negative ways, please contact Hope by The Sea.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Alcohol Trends With Older Adults

More and more “baby boomers” are retiring. For such people, it should be a time for relaxing after working for decades. Moving to a warm climate, traveling the world and spending more time with one’s adult children is a common picture of retirement. But for some, retirement may be a different picture altogether, involving substance use and abuse—especially with alcohol.

To get an understanding of alcohol trends among Americans age 50 and older, researchers analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, ScienceDaily reports. They were especially interested in self-reported past-month binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. The findings were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

"Older adults have particular vulnerabilities to alcohol due to physiological changes during aging, including increasing chronic disease burden and medication use," said Benjamin Han, MD, MPH, a geriatrician and health services researcher at the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) and in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYU Langone). 

The research team at NYU found dramatic rise in:
  • Past-Year Alcohol Use
  • Past-Month Alcohol Use
  • Past-Month Binge Drinking
  • Alcohol Use Disorders
Setting addiction aside for the time being, the researchers point out that older adults are at extreme risk of experiencing the negative effects of alcohol, according to the article. They point out that alcohol can be detrimental to chronic disease management and increase one’s risk of injury.

Men, as you might expect, had higher binge drinking rates and were more likely to have an alcohol use disorder, the article reports. However, the researchers found an alarming trend among older women, with increases in both binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorder.

"Health care providers need to be made aware of this increasing trend of unhealthy alcohol use, particularly among older females, and ensure that screening for unhealthy alcohol use is part of regular medical care for this population" said Dr. Han.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Opioid Overdoses Claim 30,000 Lives

overdose deaths
Last week we discussed a naloxone price freeze which will hopefully expand access to the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug. It is hard to imagine anyone being against prescription-free naloxone at a reasonable price. While lawmakers across the board have become more accepting of naloxone, seeing the medications intrinsic value as a life-saving tool. The need for providing greater access to naloxone, commonly sold under the name Narcan, is ever apparent considering a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Prescription opioids are still a major concern in the United States, but heroin and fentanyl have been in the spotlight a lot of late. And for good reason. The CDC found that prescription opioid deaths have leveled off relatively speaking, but heroin and fentanyl deaths continue to rise sharply, The Washington Post reports. In 2015, opioid overdoses took the lives of more than 30,000 Americans. There were 33,091 opioid overdose deaths in 2015, compared to 28,647 the year before. CDC data indicates that:
  • Heroin overdose deaths rose to 12,990 in 2015, a 23 percent spike.
  • Synthetic opioid overdose deaths rose to 9,580 in 2015, a 73 percent increase.
  • Prescription opioid overdose deaths showed a slight increase to 17,536, a 4 percent hike.
Once again, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the increase in overdose deaths is that there is a serious lack of addiction treatment services across the country. Changing prescribing practices and stemming the flow of heroin and illicit fentanyl into the country can only do so much. At the root of this epidemic is addiction, so then it stands to reason that addressing addiction by way of treatment should be the main focus of government efforts. We should see more Americans getting the help they need by way of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act.

“The prescription opioid and heroin epidemic continues to devastate communities and families across the country—in large part because too many people still do not get effective substance use disorder treatment,” said Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “That is why the President has called since February for $1 billion in new funding to expand access to treatment. This week Congress finally acted on the President's request. The Administration will work to get this new funding out to States as quickly as possible to make sure that every American who wants treatment for an opioid use disorder is able to get it.”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

E-cigarette Use Among Youth Young Adults

Teenage and young adult tobacco use has been steadily declining since the 1970’s. A victory in so many different ways. While marijuana has long been touted as being the “gateway” drug, leading to the use of harder narcotics, many experts believe that nicotine and alcohol are the substances that people use precipitating the use of other illegal drugs. So, it is vital that prevention efforts stay strong, discouraging young people from starting down a path that could lead to addiction.

Over the last few years there has been less talk about cigarettes, and more talk about electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs. Such products vaporize liquid that contains varying strengths of nicotine. When the devices first hit the market, mind you with zero regulation or research, countless smokers were led to believe that they would finally be able to quit smoking with the aid of e-cigarettes. One’s oral fixation could be sated; they could get their nicotine fix and slowly step down the amount of nicotine until they were just vaporizing flavored e-juice.

To be sure, some people have managed to quit or cutback their traditional cigarette smoking dramatically through the use of an e-cigarette. Additionally, the consensus among health experts is that e-cigs are in fact safer than their traditional counterparts. However, when it comes to young people there are multiple concerns about the devices leading to nicotine addiction.

In fact, e-cigarette use has surpassed traditional cigarettes among young people, Reuters reports. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report: E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults, with the hope of encouraging the use of techniques, which proved effective for preventing cigarette use among young people, with e-cigarettes. Murthy points out that dangers of e-cigarettes use among young people:

“These effects include addiction, priming for use of other addictive substances, reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders,” Murthy said in the report.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Adapt Pharma Naloxone Price Freeze

Aside from addiction treatment, the overdose reversal drug naloxone may be the most valuable tool available for mitigating the fallout of the American opioid epidemic. Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, has been in the news quite often in recent years—primarily cast in a good light. If administered in a timely manner to an opioid overdose victim, naloxone can reverse the deadly symptoms of an opioid overdose. Thousands of people are still alive today because of this miracle drug.

The importance of naloxone cannot be overestimated, considering that over two million Americans are living with an opioid use disorder. All of which are eligible for an overdose. In recent years, a number of states began equipping their first responders with naloxone spray kits. An easy to use device which a child could administer if needed. Naturally, first responders can’t always get to the scene of an overdose in time, so it makes sense to provide addicts and their families with naloxone kits. In several states, naloxone kits can be acquired without a prescription at one’s local pharmacy.

The maker of Narcan nasal spray is Adapt Pharma. While no one can deny that the company's product is vital to opioid epidemic efforts, there have been concerns about the dramatic rise in price for purchasing the drug. And, if people or agencies cannot afford to buy the drug, lives will be lost. Which is why the Attorney General of Ohio, Mike DeWine, made an agreement with Adapt Pharma to freeze the Public Interest Price of naloxone kits for one year, WSAZ reports. The price will be frozen at $75 for two 4 mg doses of Narcan, 40 percent below the company's wholesale acquisition cost of $125.

“The cost to purchase naloxone has prevented some agencies from carrying this life-saving drug, but I hope that Adapt Pharma's new price freeze for Ohio will allow more agencies to consider keeping naloxone on hand," said DeWine. "I continue to urge law enforcement agencies to carry this drug, because it can mean the difference between life and death for those suffering from addiction."

Adapt Pharma says that they are working with Attorneys General in other states in order to expand access and affordability of NARCAN(r) Nasal Spray, according to the article. Thom Duddy, executive director of communications at Adapt Pharma, points out that around 90 percent of Americans with health insurance have plans that cover Narcan.

Please take a look at the short video below:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Addiction Treatment Finds Funding

addiction treatment
The fight continues to provide every American, who requires addiction treatment, access to such services. In 2016, many addiction experts were hopeful about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). And for good reason, the bill was created to provide greater access to addiction treatment services, which experts believe is the best opportunity we have at curbing the American opioid epidemic.

Lawmakers once believed that addiction was something that we could arrest our way out of; that fear of jail or prison would be enough incentive for people to stop abusing drugs. If only it were that easy. We know now that addiction is a debilitating mental health disorder that must be treated, rather than punished. It does not matter how many times you lock an addict up, without something like a program of recovery to replace the behaviors typified by addiction, addicts will more times than not fall back into the cycle upon release—in turn resulting in recidivism.

While CARA received overwhelming bipartisan support, lawmakers disagreed on how to fund the bill. Many believe that the legislation lacks the necessary funding to accomplish its goals. Fortunately, funding may be found packed into another piece of legislation that was approved in House of Representatives this week, known as the 21st Century Cures Act. Packed within the 996-page measure are several programs for improving healthcare in America, including provisions for strengthening existing mental health parity laws and $1 billion in funding for opioid addiction prevention and treatment, USA Today reports. Please take a moment to watch a short video on the subject:

If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.

Much like CARA, the Cures Act received bipartisan support and is a piece of legislation that the current White House Administration supports. There are critics of the Cures Act, but hopefully it will help reign in the opioid epidemic, which claims lives every day of the week. In a statement, the Executive Office of the President wrote:

“The opioid epidemic is devastating families and communities and straining the capacity of law enforcement and the healthcare system. The resources included in the bill will allow states to expand access to treatment to help individuals seeking help to find it and to start the road to recovery.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

PTSD Treated With MDMA

Ecstasy is a popular drug among young adults, especially within the club and festival scene. Historically, the drugs ingredients MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) would be mixed with other adulterants and pressed into pills for consumption. A person who takes an ecstasy pill can expect to experience intense euphoria and mild hallucinations, the desired effect of use. However, the drug is also accompanied by several other, even potentially dangerous side effects, such as:
  • Severe Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Addiction
Today, ecstasy pills are less desired with users desiring what is known as “Molly,” a version of the drug in powdered form that many users believe to be pure MDMA (adulterant-free). While there are occasions of people using pure MDMA, most of the Molly being consumed is far from pure. People attending raves, and electronic dance music festivals should be made aware of the fact that there is no way of knowing exactly what is mixed in with their MDMA, ingredients that could be deadly. Long-term MDMA use can lead to cognitive impairments, depression and anxiety even after discontinuing use of the drug.

Ecstasy is considered to be far from safe, just like other mind altering substances there is still a lot we do not know about MDMA’s effect on the brain. However, it is possible that the drug may prove useful for the treatment of certain mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The treatment of PTSD is extremely important, as it is a debilitating mental illness that affects millions of Americans.

In light of Veterans Day, which was observed earlier this month, PTSD treatment is on the minds of many people.  In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted permission for large-scale, Phase 3 clinical trials of MDMA for the treatment of PTSD, The New York Times reports. The decision came in the wake of some promising findings from earlier research, when MDMA showed to be an effective treatment for some combat veterans.

“It changed my life,” said C. J. Hardin, who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It allowed me to see my trauma without fear or hesitation and finally process things and move forward.” 

Hardin had basically given up on life, being unable to function despite trying numerous forms of therapy and medication, according to the article. His PTSD led to the end of his marriage, alcoholism and suicidal ideations. The effective outcome of Hardin using MDMA to treat his PTSD, and others like him, led to the FDA’s approval for further clinical trials. However, researchers are somewhat skeptical about this course of action.

“I’m cautious but hopeful,” said leading PTSD researcher, Dr. Charles R. Marmar, head of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine. “If they can keep getting good results, it will be of great use. PTSD can be very hard to treat. Our best therapies right now don’t help 30 to 40 percent of people. So we need more options.” 

It will be interesting to see which way further study will go, and we will be sure to continue following this important story.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How Marijuana Causes Memory Loss

With more states hopping on board the “marijuana legalization train” this month, including the California, it is more important than ever that researchers continue probing how the drug affects humans in the short and long-term. How marijuana impacts the brain is crucial for preventative methods going forward. For example, which age group, gender and ethnic backgrounds are at greatest risk of experiencing negative outcomes of cannabis use.

There are several people who contend that marijuana is significantly safer than other legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. And, that very well may be the case in the long run. However, research has long indicated that heavy marijuana use can take a serious toll on cognitive functions, such as memory, particularly wreaking havoc on developing brains. It is vital that that information be made readily available for preventative efforts, considering that marijuana is the most commonly used mind altering substance among young people, after alcohol.

What’s more, the changing sentiments regarding cannabis in various states could give young people the wrong impression. Leading them to think that because it is legal, it is safe. Scientists understand that the human brain is still developing into the mid to late twenties. Introducing mind altering substances of any kind into the mix can prove to be detrimental, potentially resulting in mental health problems. We also know that marijuana can take a toll on memory, which fits nicely into the stereotypical representation of a “stoner.”

While it is widely agreed upon that using cannabis impacts memory, researchers were not exactly sure how. New research suggests that cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), activate receptors in the mitochondria of the brain's memory center, causing amnesia, MNT reports. The research was published in the journal Nature.

The findings are not only important for giving a more concise picture of how marijuana affects the brain, they could also lead to the use of new therapeutic cannabinoids, according to the article. There are millions of Americans with legitimate health problems who rely on cannabis for relief, yet many of those people do not like the side effects that accompany use. The findings of the study are the next step in developing treatments that help people with their condition, without patients having to sacrifice cognitive function.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Addicts Utilize Involuntary Commitment Laws

addiction treatment
It is often in said that it is up to an addict or alcoholic to decide when they are ready to give recovery a shot. The program is not something that can be forced upon someone, and if recovery is to be successful one must do it for themselves. More times than not, people are admitted to a substance use disorder treatment facility or walk into a 12-step meeting because a loved one gave them an ultimatum. While some of the people who fall into that group do manage to sober up and work a program, accumulating significant recovery time, many will not succeed because they are not ready to be honest with themselves.

In recent years, there has been a call for offering treatment over jail for those who are arrested for possession of a narcotic. It is well understood that treatment is better than incarceration when it comes to helping people break the cycle of addiction.

Men and women who go to jail for drug offenses often stay clean during the length of their stay behind bars, but upon release many will turn back to drugs and ultimately end up back in jail. The reason for that is because they have not replaced their addiction with something else, like a program of recovery. Such people do not a have a support network in place who can help them when times are hard. By all accounts, treatment is more effective than jail when it comes to treating addiction.

The American opioid epidemic has created a huge demand for addiction treatment services across the country. But, as you might imagine, there simply are not enough facilities and beds to house the 2.5 million plus people struggling with an opioid use disorder—especially in rural America. While there has been an inter-agency governmental effort to provide greater access to addiction treatment, we are still falling short. Even if someone does manage to get into a program, it is often for too short a period of time for the treatment to be effective; which has led some people to take drastic measures to get help.

There are 38 states that allow civil commitment for substance abuse, NPR reports. Heroin addicts in Massachusetts have been utilizing the civil commitment law to get themselves admitted to a 90-day programs.

If someone is deemed to be “a danger to themselves or others" a family member can ask a judge to commit a loved one to treatment. Up until the opioid epidemic we face today, it was rare, if unheard of, for an addict to request to be committed. However, the deadly nature of opioid addiction has many addicts thinking that court ordered treatment is their only hope against not going to jail or overdosing.

"Basically, it's a good way to get clean," explained an opioid addict from Springfield, Mass. "Because, if you try getting into these five- or six-day [detoxification programs], it takes forever. It takes a month to get into the place, and if you don't have the right insurance, they don't want you." 

To be clear, involuntary commitment laws require that a family member or doctor request a judge to order treatment, according to the article. As long as the addict does not object, a judge should have little problem appeasing the request. Opioid addiction is a life or death situation; opioid addicts are asking family members to help them get committed.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Recovery: Planning Ahead For The Holidays

At Hope by The Sea, we try to make a point to discuss the holiday season. The reason for this is simple, holidays can be a serious trigger for people working a program of recovery. Veterans Day was last week, and Thanksgiving is a week from today—officially kicking off the 2016 holiday season. Normally, we write about a particular holiday the day of or the day before. Discussing tips and techniques for navigating the turbulent waters of the holidays, avoiding triggers and snares as much as possible to ensure one’s recovery is not jeopardized. This year, we decided to take a different approach, writing about recovery over a holiday the week before.

The hope is that we can reach people early on who may be new to the program. Explaining the recovery "do’s and don’ts" over the holiday far in advance could make all the difference for some people, and potentially help someone help themselves refrain from using a drink or drug next Thursday.

During the course of a holiday it can be easy for someone to forget that their recovery must always come first, despite the powerful urge to attend holiday festivities with friends and family who are likely not working a program. That is not to say that you can’t attend Thanksgiving dinner at your family’s home. But rather, if you have plans to attend something that is not organized or hosted by someone in recovery, there is a good chance that you'll exposed to alcohol. If you have a sponsor, they will probably advise you to bring a friend from the program with you. If the gathering becomes trying, you will be able to express how you are feeling with someone who understands.

With Thanksgiving just a week away, you have ample time to plan your day. Deciding which meeting(s) you will attend and practice setting boundaries so when your Uncle offers you a beer, you will know how to best respectfully decline. Most people who do not have a history of addiction, struggle to wrap their head around why someone can't just drink like a normal person. It is not their fault, but it can be a potentially harmful to your program. When enough people offer you a drink, you may find yourself saying, “What’s the big deal? I can have one beer without getting out of control.” It is a line of thinking that has cost many men and women their recovery.

On Thanksgiving Day, whether you are traveling or not, it is vital that you have an airtight plan. Have your cell phone charged at all times, so that you can reach out to your sponsor or support circle peers. You may also have to take calls from people who are struggling them self, and need guidance. Recovery is about reciprocation, if you are not able to be there for others who are in need, you end up sacrificing the solid foundation of your own recovery.

If you can, make sure you make it to your home-group on Thanksgiving. It cannot be over-stressed how important being present is to your recovery. We hope that everyone has a solid plan in place for next Thursday, to better ensure that you will be able to stay clean and sober. In closing, we would like everyone to remember that you can keep your recovery intact and have a good time over the holiday.

“...But we aren't a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn't want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life." (The Big Book Of Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 132)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Telephone-Based Interventions Reduce Alcohol Abuse

Last Friday was Veterans Day, an important holiday when we honor those who have served in our military, particularly in foreign wars. With that in mind we felt it important to discuss substance abuse disorders and assisting people, who are or who have served in the armed forces, in receiving the help they need. The military is very different sector of employment than others, people working a career in the military are held to different standards than, let say, people working for Home Depot.

If someone who is not in the military is struggling with drugs or alcohol, and they seek help, there is a small likelihood that it will affect their standing at work and their ability for upward movement in the company. However, the same cannot be said for those serving in the military who meet the criteria for addiction and need help.

In fact, people with alcohol use problems are far less likely to seek help for fear of it affecting their career, according to researchers who sought to find the best method of intervention for service men and women, ScienceDaily reports. The findings were published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Despite the fact that 47 percent of active-duty military members were binge-drinkers in 2008, the fear of seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder is quite common, according to the article. The researchers point out that only a small number of military members are referred for evaluation or treatment, and those who do seek help could be subject to disciplinary action or other repercussions.

"If you're in the military and you seek substance abuse treatment, your commanding officer is notified and it goes on your medical record and your military record. That's a huge barrier," said Denise Walker, director of the Innovative Programs Research Group at the University of Washington School of Social Work. 

The study showed that telephone-based interventions could be an effective method of reaching people in the military; the results indicated that participants actually:
  • Reduced their drinking over time.
  • Had lower rates of alcohol dependence.
  • Were more likely to seek treatment.
"The intervention really connects their behavior with their values and goals and wants for themselves," Walker said. "It's a safe place to talk confidentially and freely with someone on the other end who is compassionate and non-judgmental."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Nearly 24 Synthetic Marijuana Overdoses

synthetic marijuana
It can’t be overemphasized enough, synthetic drugs are both dangerous and deadly. All across the country people continue to put their life at risk by experimenting with synthetic marijuana, “bath salts” and the like. And, strangely, at this point it seems hard to believe that people do not know the risks, considering the string of horrific news stories linked to the use of these types of drugs.

In fact, nearly two dozen people in downtown St. Louis were treated for synthetic drug overdoses earlier this week, KTVI reports. The majority of (18 of the 23) overdoses involved K2, one of the more common names branded on the packaging of synthetic marijuana.

“One of the challenges in treating these overdoses with the synthetic is first of all, the Narcan we use on regular heroin or opioid-based drugs does not work,” said St. Louis Fire Department, Capt. Garon Mosby. “One of the challenges for our medics upon arriving is determining that what they are treating is indeed a synthetic overdose. A lot of times the patient will have a seizure. We respond to seizures, but it could be induced by this synthetic drug. We’re treating higher body temperatures, hyperthermia is very common. And the patients seem to be very combative.” 

In many cases, people using synthetic marijuana believe that they will have a similar experience to traditional cannabis. But, the reality is far different. Sure they may feel an elevated mood or altered perception, like cannabis. Unfortunately, those feelings are often accompanied by:
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
People who have used, or are considering experimenting with synthetic drugs of any kind, should be aware that there is no way of predicting how the chemicals will affect you. Rarely is an experience the same as the time before, because chemists are constantly altering the chemicals that you are smoking or ingesting. Such drugs can also be habit forming, requiring addiction treatment. If you are struggling with synthetic drugs, please contact Hope by The Sea, as soon as possible.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

California Legalizes Marijuana

With November 8th in the rear-view mirror, we thought it worthwhile to discuss the outcome of the polls with regard both medical marijuana and the legalization of recreational use. In the shadows of one of the most disheartening elections in American history, it is easy to lose sight of legislation happening on the state level. In California, voters decided on a number of important topics, from trying minors as adults to the repeal of the death penalty; now judges, not prosecutors decide which minors are tried as adults and there will be a shorter appeal process for death penalty cases.

Yet, many Californian voters are most pleased to hear that adult marijuana use is now legal. Just, twenty years after California became the first state to approve the use of marijuana for medical problems, it is now one of eight states where it is legal for people over the age of 21 to use the controversial drug. Recreational cannabis use is now legal in:
  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine (still counting, with "Yes" in the lead)
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
Before voters went to the polls earlier this week, there were 25 states and the District of Columbia that had medical marijuana programs. There are now 28 states with addition of Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas. More than half of the United States has adopted medical marijuana and almost ten states have legalized the drug; surely this is a trend that is not going to change.

With California legalizing cannabis, many believe that it is the tipping point that will lead to the end of the federal prohibition. While most would agree that prohibition has done little good, lawmakers need to work hard in the states where the drug is legal to ensure that teens do not have misconceptions about the drug. Adolescents need to be made aware that:
  • Legal, does not mean safe.
  • Marijuana can be addictive.
  • The drug has been linked to the development of psychiatric problems.
Naturally, not everyone is thrilled about legalization. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy tells The Washington Post:

“It’s disappointing that big marijuana and their millions of out-of-state dollars were able to influence the outcome of these elections. We will continue to hold this industry accountable, and raise the serious public health and safety issues that will certainly come in the wake of legalization.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

"Kids Kick Opioids" in West Virginia

opioid overdose
Opioid addiction continues to plague millions of Americans. Every day, nearly one hundred people lose their life in the United States to an opioid overdose. Families are losing loved ones, parents having to bury their children and children having to bury their parents. Sadly, love for one’s own family is often not enough to push an addict into addiction treatment. Even when people would like to seek help, it can be difficult to find it in rural America, such as West Virginia—a state hit particularly hard by the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic.

West Virginia is not alone, the entire Appalachian region and much of the Northeast has been devastated by elevated overdose death rates in the wake of heightened opioid use and abuse. A number of states have struggled to provide adequate addiction treatment services, but even when they are available many opioid addicts lose their life before they have a chance at recovery.

Unfortunately, making the decision to seek help is personal. Efforts to guilt and shame people into treatment usually end in failure. Such pressures typically come from close friends and adult family members privy to the situation. Addiction is a complex disease that will fight tooth and nail to counter any thoughts of accepting help. The disease may lack a conscious, but it will play tricks inside the minds of addicts, in order to keep its flames fanned.

However, there have been times when addicts and alcoholics have made the choice to seek help and have managed to maintain a program of recovery. But, not for the sake of themselves, rather for the sake of their children. In an attempt to piggyback of such instances, the Attorney General of West Virginia launched a contest called “Kids Kick Opioids,” Your 4 State reports. Children who have been affected by their parent's opioid addiction and overdose death were asked to share their story, with the hope that it would convince other parents battling addiction to seek treatment.

The winner of the contest was third-grader Jacey Chalmers whose father died from a heroin overdose when Jacey was just six years old, according to the article. Chalmers’ story was selected out more than 2,000 entries that were submitted by students in West Virginia.

"The reason why we did it, and it was so important [is] because we want to save more than one life,” said Jacey. “We want to have my daddy help somebody not take one drug or do anything like that."

Jacey’s story will appear throughout the state in newspapers as a public service announcement.

Office of the West Virginia Attorney General

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Perceived Risk of Electronic Cigarette Use

There are a significant number of people working a program of recovery who have made the switch from traditional, combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes. While there is still a lot that is not understood about the long term effects of electronic cigarette use, it is widely agreed upon by experts that e-cigs are less harmful than traditional methods of tobacco use. However, if you use e-cigarettes, it is important to keep in mind that safer does not necessarily mean harmless.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for the regulation of e-cigarettes; manufacturing and sales which occurred virtually unchecked for a long time. Finally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that e-cigarettes would be subject to the same laws as any other tobacco product. Meaning, that the devices can only be used legally by adults over the age of 18. The push for legislation was largely spearheaded by those with concerns about adolescent use.

Teenagers have been lured by e-cigarette manufacturers due to the fruity e-juice flavors which is vaporized and then inhaled. In fact, more teens are using e-cigarettes now than regular cigarettes. Age restrictions will hopefully make it more difficult for teens to acquire e-cigs. While the devices may be safer than tobacco, nicotine is still addictive and may lead to the use of other, more dangerous mind altering substances.

Moving forward, public perception of e-cigarettes should be driven by science rather than speculation. There has been a push to better understand the devices and the dangers associated with them, which has served to better inform the public. In fact, the perceived risk of electronic cigarette use has risen dramatically in relatively short period of time.

In 2012, nearly 12 percent of adult smokers reported perceiving e-cigs to be equally or more harmful than combustible cigarettes. However, data from the Tobacco Products and Risk Perception surveys indicate that 35 percent of adult smokers perceived e-cigarettes to be equally or more harmful than traditional cigarettes in 2015, according to a press release from Georgia State University. The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Although the impact of long-term use of e-cigarettes on health is still unknown," the researchers at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, write, "the available scientific evidence indicates that e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes, and that smokers switching to e-cigarettes could benefit from a decrease in health risks related to smoking combustible cigarettes."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Parity Task Force Final Report

addiction parity
Mental health parity is one of the most important problems of our time. Millions of Americans battle with mental illnesses every year, from depression to substance use disorder. While there are effective, evidence based treatments available that have proven to improve the quality of people’s lives, the vast majority of people with such disorders never receive the treatment they need. Of course, there are a number of reasons that people with mental health disorders don’t get treatment, such as:
  • Stigma
  • Lack of Insurance
  • Insurance Plans Lacking Parity
Sadly, many people who have access to care, do not seek it because of the fear that accompanies being diagnosed with mental illness. Stigma has long gone hand and hand with mental health disorders. Only in the last decade, with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), people who were previously uninsurable can get insurance because you can no longer be denied due to a pre-existing condition. What’s more, insurance companies have been mandated to cover mental illness the same way they would, let's say, diabetes.

Since the passing of the two important acts of legislation, millions of previously uninsured Americans now have coverage. However, there are still concerns about parity being properly enforced, which is why the President created the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force in March 2016. Federal Departments and Agencies were ordered to work together to ensure that Americans benefit from the mental health and substance use disorder parity protections. The Presidential memorandum stated:

“My Administration has made behavioral health a priority and taken a number of steps to improve the prevention, early intervention, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. These actions are especially important in light of the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic as well as the suicide and substance use-related fatalities that have reversed increases in longevity in certain populations.” 

The task force released its final report, after receiving feedback from more than 1,100 individuals with mental health and substance use disorders, families, their providers, advocates, and other stakeholders. The White House points out that:

“Parity aims to eliminate restrictions on mental health and substance use coverage – like annual visit limits, higher copayments, or different rules on how care is managed…”

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

OxyContin and The American Opioid Epidemic

Providing adequate pain management was one of the factors that led first to the prescription opioid epidemic and second to the heroin scourge. In the early 1990’s there was much concern raised about the significant number of patients who were in severe pain and were being overlooked by physicians. That being said, it used to be much harder for patients to acquire prescription opioids.

Clearly, some changes were made and it just so happened to coincide with the release of Purdue’s miracle opioid painkiller, OxyContin (oxycodone). The company went through a lot of trouble to convince America that their drug was both effective, safe and less addictive than other opioids. Along with some bad, or otherwise misread research, doctors began to change their position on prescription opioids.

On Sunday, the Emmy-winning comedian and political commentator of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver to a close look at the practices of pharmaceutical companies in the 1990’s. During the course of his and his colleagues' investigation he found that Purdue created promotional videos, like “I Got My Life Back” (1998) featuring testimonials of people whose lives changed dramatically for the better after being prescribed OxyContin. Purdue paid doctors, such as Alan Spanos, to say that people who were treated for pain with OxyContin that exhibited signs of addiction, were actually experiencing what he referred to as “pseudo addiction.” Which is not the same as Addiction.

Doctors around the country must have found such promotions convincing, and over the course of a short period of time, OxyContin became the go-to drug among American doctors. And here we are today, facing the worst drug epidemic in history. Every doctor agrees that all opioid drugs carry the potential for addiction, yet it is next to impossible to stop prescribing them, because there is a real need. As is evident by the fact that doctors still prescribe to patients, even after an overdose.

The investigation revealed that many of the stars of “I Got My Life Back” actually became addicted, some losing everything and some losing their life. While John Oliver may be a comedian, he seems to understand that what is needed to rectify this problem is taking care of the over 2.5 million Americans who are suffering from opioid use disorder.  We need “more investments in treatment programs…”

You might like to watch John Oliver's video on the subject, please be forewarned there is some profanity:

If you are having trouble watching the video, please click here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mixing Heroin With Carfentanil

There are a number of drugs that can be acquired with relative ease, which were never intended for human consumption. Not only are people doing such drugs, they are dying from them. The drugs we are referring to are in the fentanyl family, a group of synthetic opioids that are so powerful that just coming in contact with them can result in loss of life.

Perhaps you have been tuning into the latest news regarding the American opioid epidemic, then you are probably aware of the fact that it is becoming more and more common to see heroin laced with fentanyl. Mexican cartels are acquiring the chemical ingredients to make fentanyl from China, producing fentanyl and mixing the product into batches of heroin. Not only is fentanyl considered to be 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade heroin (diacetylmorphine), it causes much more severe respiratory depression that makes deadly heroin—even more deadly.

If fentanyl weren't bad enough, wait until you meet the drug's cousin—carfentanil. In 2016 there have been a number of reports of a drug, normally used to sedate elephants and other large zoo animals, that has led to several overdose deaths. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement last month:

“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities. We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous.” 

A few days ago, the alternative news outlet VICE News did a short exposé about carfentanil, pointing out that heroin dealers are mixing the drug into their product to increase potency and profit. Fentanyl is 100 time more potent than morphine and it is leading to scores of overdose deaths, carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

“Two milligrams of carfentanil would be enough to kill 100 people,” said Jill M. Head, supervisory chemist at the DEA Special Testing and Research Lab in Sterling, Virginia. 

Please watch the short segment on the subject, starting at 12 minutes and 15 seconds in:

If you are having trouble watching the video, please click here.

Heroin on its own is highly addictive and can easily cause a deadly overdose. Heroin addicts are fully aware of the risk they take. With the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl and now, carfentanil, people with opioid use disorder have no way of knowing which “hit” might be their last. If you are struggling with heroin, or any other form of opioid narcotic, please contact Hope by The Sea.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Engineering Models Explain Drinking Patterns

drinking patterns
Within the sea of students that engage in regular alcohol consumption, it can be difficult to spot which college kids are drinking problematically. It is often said that drinking alcohol goes hand in hand with college. Between Thursday and Sunday, college students congregate to consume alcohol. While the majority of young adults attending college do not have drinking problems, there are some students whose drinking behavior has gotten out of control.

To be sure, a person who works in the field of addiction medicine could attend a college party and be able to spot the young adults who may have a problem with alcohol. However, that is not a luxury that college faculties have at their disposal. Which is why researchers continue to look for ways to best influence the decision making of young adults when it comes to drinking.

Humans are not machines that can easily be understood. We are complex beings, all of us with different backgrounds, upbringings and genetic coding. While we do not have an instruction manual for the human brain, we might be able to learn something about drinking behavior through the lens of engineering.

At Ohio State University, a team of social workers and engineers utilized mathematical models to assist in shining a light on the factors that drive alcohol consumption, Newswise reports. The research team’s findings allowed them to compare the decision making process of young people’s drinking behavior to that of a cruise control system that you find in your car. Your car will know when to speed up or slowdown in order to maintain the desired speed (equilibrium), just like a person will drink more or less to maintain a desired feeling. The findings were published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics.

"The way the students made decisions about drinking actually resembled the single most common feedback controller that's used in engineering," said Ohio State engineer, Kevin Passino. "It's called a proportional-derivative controller, and it measures how far a system has moved from a particular set point and adjusts accordingly. It's the same as cruise control on a car." 

The use of engineering models, and the information they produce, can help experts determine when to intervene regarding drinking patterns. Such models could reveal hidden relationships about high-risk drinking among college students.

"We're looking for the best points to intervene strategically, so that we can aid a person in their decision-making and potentially derail problematic behaviors," said John Clapp, a professor of social work and director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Recovery at Ohio State.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Parental Absence Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Use

Early onset drug and alcohol use is never a good thing, as it can lead to a number of complications—especially later on in life. Naturally, there are a number of factors to consider when determining what leads to adolescent substance use. Age, sex and environment are on the list, as well as family history of substance abuse and mental illness.

Every parent hopes that if their child does happen to experiment with drugs and alcohol, that it merely be a passing phase—a part of growing up. Parents are instructed to talk with their kids about the dangers of mind altering substances, and while their words may be heeded from time to time, it is sometimes the case that adolescents will experiment with drugs and alcohol regardless.

Parental units are role models for children, if a parent exhibits unhealthy behaviors there is a good chance that their child will adopt them as well. Young people are extremely impressionable; it is vital that parents set an example that will not detract from the course of their children’s life. But what if there isn’t any example at all?

New research has sought to determine the link between risky behavior with children who have experienced parental absence, MNT reports. Children who grow up in broken families have long been considered to be at greater risk of using alcohol and/or cigarettes in their teenage years, but the new research found that substance initiation may begin sooner. The findings were published in Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The authors say:

"Associations between parental absence and early smoking and alcohol consumption may operate through a range of mechanisms, such as reduced parental supervision, self-medication, and adoption of less healthy coping mechanisms. For instance, nicotine, in particular, demonstrates psychoactive properties and may have benefits for mood regulation." 

Using data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, researchers looked at several health factors for about 19,000 children born from 2000-2002, according to the article. The analysis showed that of those children who has experienced a loss of parent, a number of these children began using alcohol by the age of 11, of which they were mostly boys. Children, who lost a parent before the age of 7, were more likely to start smoking and drinking by the time they turned 11. Understanding this trend could lead to early interventions that prevent adolescents from developing a substance use disorder later in life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Losing Control Over Cocaine Use

cocaine use
At Hope by The Sea, we feel that it is important to remember that while opioid abuse is the most serious addiction problem the United States has ever faced, there are other drugs that people abuse that can have a pernicious effect on one’s life. Today, most of the talk is about opioid use disorder, but in the 1980’s and ‘90’s cocaine was enemy number one. It was a time when cocaine was cascading into America by Colombian cartels. On top of cocaine addiction rates skyrocketing, many of the draconian drug sentencing laws that we are still dealing with amending today are the direct result of the government's response to the cocaine epidemic.

Every day in the United States, people abuse cocaine, but it fails to generate much press because cocaine overdose deaths are somewhat rare. Nevertheless, cocaine addiction can tear one’s life to pieces and often requires long-term substance use disorder treatment to find recovery.

Even if you have never struggled with addiction, there is a good chance that you have attended a party where cocaine was being consumed. Perhaps you even experimented with the drug yourself. And when the party ended, you continued living your life, going about your normal routine. However, for some people, occasional cocaine use will morph into a cocaine use disorder in a relatively short period of time. At which time, the gears of addiction take over and without some form of intervention, cocaine abuse can continue for extended periods of time.

So, why does cocaine use sometimes lead to cocaine addiction? Naturally, there are a number of variables and factors to consider when attempting to answer that question. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), sought to shine some light on the aforementioned question by creating a short animation video.

The researchers point out that it comes down to two types of neurons and the balance between the two; the “urge” neurons, which promote feelings of reward and repeating behaviors that have produced rewards, and “control” neurons, which dampen those feelings and inhibit behavior. Having a clear picture of how cocaine use disorder develops could help lead to more effective treatments in the future.

Please take a moment to watch the animation, below:

If you are having trouble watching the video, please click here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Addiction and Mental Illness Genetic Link

co-occurring disorder
Not only is addiction a form of mental illness that can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), more times than not it is also accompanied by other forms of mental illness. Which is what is known in the field of addiction medicine as having a co-occurring disorder. It is well known that having a co-occurring disorder can complicate the treatment of addiction, because it requires that both the other form of mental illness and addiction be treated at the same time. Failure to do so can result in an unsuccessful recovery.

While co-occurring disorders are extremely prevalent among addicts and alcoholics, there is not a whole lot of research that shines a light on why that is the case. To be sure, a large percentage of people with untreated mental illness will resort to using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their disorder. It is a behavior that can quickly spiral out of control, and in turn lead to addiction. Yet, it is possible the common trend of co-occurring disorders among people with substance use disorder, could be the result of things happening at the molecular level, i.e. DNA.

A new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, showed that a person’s genetic risk for mental illness could be tied to a person’s risk of abusing drugs or alcohol, ScienceDaily reports. The research is novel because it is the first time researchers have compared genetic risk for mental illness with substance use involvement with a group of people with no family relation. Study lead author Caitlin E. Carey, a PhD student in the BRAINLab at Washington University in St. Louis, says:

"Previous research on the genetic overlap of mental illness and drug use has been limited to family studies. This has made it difficult to examine some of the less common disorders. For example, it's hard to find families where some members have schizophrenia and others abuse cocaine. With this method we were able to compare people with various levels of substance involvement to determine whether they were also at relatively higher genetic risk for psychiatric disorders." 

The breakthrough study could eventually have major implications in the field of addiction medicine. It can lead to new research that looks into the “predictive power of genetic risk.” In the future, researchers may be able to tie specific drug use risk with specific mental health disorders.

“Our research shows that if someone is genetically predisposed towards having mental illness, they are also prone to use licit and illicit substances and develop problematic usage patterns," says Carey. "This is important because if a mental illness, like depression, runs in your family, you are presumed at risk of that disorder. But we find that having a genetic predisposition to mental illness also places that person at risk for substance use and addiction." 

The new research was published at a fortuitous time, considering that it is currently Mental Health Awareness Week, which is especially important to us at Hope by The Sea. We hope that everyone in the field of addiction medicine and beyond will join the with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and pledge to be #StigmaFree. Let’s work together to replace stigma with hope for everyone out there suffering from any mental illness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fentanyl Overdose Deaths Could Carry Death Penalty

We have come a long way since the 1980-90’s with regard to doing away with some of America’s draconian drug laws, mandatory minimum sentences that only served to overpopulate jails and prisons with nonviolent drug offenders. Such laws primarily affected people of color and socioeconomic disadvantage, and while every now and then someone is arrested and imprisoned whose sentence matches the severity of the crime, more times than not that is not the case.

The current White House administration has worked hard to push for treatment over jail and to give people already serving lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses a second chance by way of a pardon. We find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented drug epidemic, and it is vital that we do not repeat the mistakes of our past with draconian laws that most experts agree do little, if any, good at all.

A number of lawmakers, who were historically in favor of harsh drug sentencing laws, have changed their stance over the last few years. It is a sign that the times are changing, that the American zeitgeist is recognizing the value of treatment over jail. It is widely accepted that if strides are to made regarding the opioid epidemic, then unorthodox measures need to be taken. Those working in the field of addiction medicine are hopeful that the trend will continue.

However, there are signs that some lawmakers are looking to enact new, harsh drug sentencing laws in light of the uptick of fentanyl being used in America. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid analgesic that is typically used for surgery or end of life care, found to be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. What’s more, the drug can be synthesized with relative ease in clandestine laboratories. It is becoming more and more common for heroin distributors to lace heroin with fentanyl in order to increase the potency of weak batches, or to make fentanyl pills that are labeled with OxyContin symbols. Opioid addicts are often unaware of the presence of fentanyl, which can easily lead to an overdose.

In an attempt to deter the sale of the deadly admixture, some lawmakers would like to attach capital punishment sentencing laws when someone sells fentanyl that leads to a fatal overdose, The Huffington Post reports. U.S. Representative Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) introduced the Help Ensure Lives Are Protected Act last week, a bill that is co-sponsored by Ted Yoho of Florida, Doug LaMalfa of California, Bill Flores of Texas and Steve Chabot of Ohio. The legislation, if passed, would make heroin dealers subject to the death penalty or life in prison for selling drugs containing fentanyl that lead to an overdose death.

As you can probably guess, and for good reason, that there are a number of people who feel that the Help Ensure Lives are Protected Act is just another tough on drug crime policy that will be both ineffective and counterproductive—reminiscent of the “war on drugs” laws. Hopefully, the bill will not make it out of the House of Representatives, as it is likely to affect people who do not sell heroin or fentanyl in the long run.

“This bill is a doubling down on the very ineffective, harsh and punitive policies that characterized the early war on drugs and which have widely been proven ineffective at reducing drug use,” said Lindsay LaSalle, senior staff attorney for Drug Policy Alliance.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Synthetic Marijuana Possession Outlawed

synthetic marijuana
There is a tragic story of synthetic marijuana in California in the wake of a deadly overdose outbreak in Los Angeles. A number of people in the Skid Row area overdosed after ingesting the synthetic cannabinoid, known as Spice. While these types of drugs have been used in Los Angeles for a number of years, 52 hospitalizations in less than a week had state lawmakers on edge. In response, a bill was sent to Governor Jerry Brown's office which called for a ban on possession of synthetic marijuana, The Los Angeles Times reports. As you might imagine, the Governor promptly signed the legislation.

Those found in possession of Spice will face a fine, but each subsequent infraction, second or third offense carries the risk of a misdemeanor. It was already illegal to sell synthetic drugs in California, but there were no laws on simple possession. Senate Bill 139 will hopefully discourage people from getting involved with these types of drugs.

Senate Bill 139 “is very important because young people believe that if a drug is not illegal, it is okay and that it is safe,” said Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), who authored the bill. “But underground chemists manufacture these drugs in warehouses and then market them to kids as being legal when in fact they are more dangerous."

Unlike typical marijuana, used every day in California, synthetic marijuana has unpredictable side effects that can lead to hospitalization. People use it one time and have a good experience for a reasonable price, but the next time they use it can produce totally different side effects which can lead to injury. The best thing anyone can do is to keep away from synthetic drugs.

The bill has the support of law enforcement in Los Angeles, which has been working tirelessly to educate people about the dangers of synthetic drug use, according to the article. Those caught in possession will be given treatment and education options.

"Getting people into treatment is literally lifesaving," the California Police Chiefs Association said in a statement. "Without treatment intervention, persons using these drugs face a continued downward cycle."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Alcoholism Medications Are Underused

If you have a problem with alcohol, then you know all too well that abstaining from it can be extremely difficult without something else in its place. People with alcohol use disorder who decide to give up drinking, as most of the people with long term sobriety will attest, will likely result in relapse unless they have something in its place (i.e. some form of addiction recovery program).

In some cases an introduction to programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery begins in an addiction treatment facility, other times alcoholics stop drinking on their own and find a meeting. While successful long term recovery is possible in both cases, the chance of relapse in early recovery is quite high. The beginning stages of recovery is a challenging time, involving discomfort, anxiety and depression. Additionally, people in early recovery are often faced with serious cravings for alcohol.

There are a couple of medications available that have been able to reduce people's craving in early recovery, albeit new research suggests that such craving blockers are underutilized. In order to make such drugs more readily available, public health officials are calling on physicians to consider using medications like Vivitrol (naltrexone) and acamprosate to treat alcohol addiction, NPR reports. Certain patients have reported significant reductions in alcohol cravings when taking these medications.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) asked a panel of outside experts to report on alcohol treatment drug options.

"Current evidence shows that medications are underused in the treatment of alcohol-use disorder, including alcohol abuse and dependence," the panel reported last summer. The panel pointed out that there is "considerable resistance" among many physicians to prescribing the aforementioned drugs.

Naltrexone is available in both pill and injectable form. While the injection is more expensive, patients will never forget to take the drug because the injection lasts up to a month. Acamprosate, on the other hand, is believed to reduce symptoms of post-acute (protracted) withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness.

"They're very safe medications," said George Koob, director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "And they've shown efficacy."
This is an area that will continue to be followed by researchers and SAMHSA and NIAAA. 

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