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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. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Alcohol Impacts Neurocognitive Function

alcohol use
Alcohol, despite being the most widely used legal mind altering substance on the planet, is essentially poison. Prolonged heavy use of alcohol can wreak havoc on many of the systems in the human body—often damaging organs beyond repair. Even people who have not been drinking for a long time, put their health at risk when engaging in unhealthy alcohol use—such as binge drinking.

When most people consider the effects of excessive alcohol use, they typically think about the liver. Alcoholics commonly face liver problems, such as cirrhosis (a form of liver disease), which is both painful and deadly. And the majority of people with alcohol use disorders in need of a liver transplant will die before they get a chance to receive one. It is worth pointing out that liver damage is one problem associated with prolonged, heavy drinking. Other problems include:
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Stomach Bleeding
  • Several Types of Cancer
  • Brain Damage
Constantly battering one’s brain with alcohol can do irreparable damage, as you might imagine—considering the fact that you can power some engines with ethyl alcohol—the predominant alcohol in alcoholic beverages. Certainly, those who are at greatest risk are those who engage in heavy drinking for years. However, even people who pick up unsafe drinking practices later in life are at risk, as well.

A new study focused on the relations among age, heavy drinking, and neurocognitive function, ScienceDaily reports. The researchers found that older adults who engage in heavy drinking diminished global cognitive function, learning, memory, and motor function. The findings of the study were published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

For those older adults who had a lifetime history of alcohol dependence (AD), the research found even more troubling results. While they showed poorer function in the same parts of the brain as people who were only current heavy drinkers, they also had damage in the attention/executive domain of the brain, according to the article. Life alcohol dependence showed lasting negative consequences for neurocognitive function.

If you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, please contact Hope by The Sea to begin the journey of recovery. As the study makes clear, the longer you wait, the greater the risk of damaging the most important organ in your body.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week

opioid epidemic
In the field of addiction medicine, there is a sincere hope that one day we will see an end to the opioid epidemic that has been devastating countless families across the country for nearly two decades. Never before in history has an addiction problem been the result of a form of drugs that have been deemed crucial to modern medicine. It is part of the reason that it has been so difficult to curb the scourge of opioid abuse. Millions of Americans legitimately suffer from chronic pain; they often require prescription opioids to combat their discomfort. But the drugs, which by many accounts are necessary, carry a heightened risk of abuse, addiction and overdose.

Making it harder for people to access opioid painkillers could result in people suffering needlessly. What’s more, for patients who have already become dependent upon opioids, making it harder for them to acquire drugs like OxyContin (oxycodone), often results in people turning to heroin—a form of opioid that is commonly stronger, cheaper and easier to get your hands on.

Over the last year or so, there have been a number of government efforts to reign in the opioid addiction crisis. Much of measures fall under the umbrella of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bill which many experts believe is severely underfunded. CARA includes plans to:
  • Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
  • Make it easier to acquire the overdose antidote naloxone, otherwise known as Narcan.
  • Increase access to addiction treatment services, especially in rural America.
Amidst National Recovery Month and Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the President has proclaimed the week of September 19, 2016 as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. The current administration will be announcing new initiatives to tackle the American opioid epidemic, urging Congress to fund the proposed efforts with $1.1 billion, USA Today reports. Over the course of the week, there will be a number of speeches and policy announcements, measures that will hopefully have an impact on the crisis which claims close to a hundred lives every day.

"With 78 people dying every day it’s reprehensible that Congress would pass an opioid bill without providing any funding," said Michael Botticelli, the director of national drug control policy, in reference to CARA. 

On Monday, there were several announcements made, including:
  • The Food and Drug Administration will give $40,000 prize to encourage software developers to create a mobile app to allow opioid users, their friends and families, and first responders to better identify and react to an overdose.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) gave 1,275 medical practitioners waivers, allowing them to treat as many as 275 patients each with buprenorphine.
  • The Veterans Administration will announce funding to support Veterans Drug Courts, hoping to encourage judges to order treatment for veterans with addiction problems.
Please take a moment to watch a short video below:

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Working Under The Influence

drug tests
When people use or abuse drugs and alcohol, they are typically only putting their own physical well-being at risk. It is no secret that mind altering substances can do significant damage to one’s organs, and that some drugs carry a high potential for overdose.

Unfortunately, a number of people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol make choices that put other people's lives at risk, such as getting behind the wheel while under the influence. In some cases, people even go to work under the influence, performing tasks that involve heavy machinery, including:
  • Ship Captains
  • Pilots
  • Truck Drivers
There have been a number of incidents over the years where people in charge of operating planes, boats or truck liners have caused serious accidents while under the influence. The captain of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker was alleged to be severely intoxicated when he ran the tanker aground causing the worst oil spill in history up until the Deep Ocean Horizon spill of 2010. Incidents occur every year that lead to loss of life because “safety-sensitive” employees are intoxicated.

So just how often are people going to work under the influence? Quest Diagnostics conducts medical screens for employers across the country, and their screens show that employees testing positive for drugs is on the rise, The Wall Street Journal reports. Last year, four percent of U.S. worker drug tests were positive for illicit drugs, reaching its highest level in ten years. When it came to the safety-sensitive workforce, positive tests rose to 1.8% from 1.7%.

It is worth pointing out that those testing positive for prescription opioids dropped significantly in 2015, according to the article. It may be a sign that efforts to reduce the availability of prescription opioids are having an effect. But, on the other hand, employees testing positive for heroin increased. Between 2011 and 2015, tests that came up positive for heroin increased 146% in the general workforce and 84% with safety-sensitive employees.

The spike is probably due to it being “more difficult or expensive to obtain extra prescriptions from physicians, or buy diverted pharmaceutical products,” said Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Quest’s employer solutions business.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Opioid Use Disorder: A Heavy Cost

opioid use disorder
Opioid use disorder in the United States has taken its toll on both individuals and families alike. It is a problem that is both unprecedented in America and the entire world. The U.S. only accounts for about 5 percent of the total world population, Americans use the vast majority of the world’s opioid supply. Rampant over prescribing and subsequent heroin abuse has resulted in skyrocketing death rates linked to opioid overdoses, making that class of drug the most dangerous on the planet.

While health experts and lawmakers continue to work together in putting a stop to the insidious problem, it is worth pointing out that there are other serious costs associated with the epidemic—such as the burden that it has put on the healthcare system. Insurance providers in this country have long had a bad rap when it comes to paying for claims related to mental health. Up until the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act, it was extremely difficult for people with a history of addiction to get insurance and/or coverage for mental illness.

There are still a number of kinks to workout with regard to providing coverage for addiction treatment services, but insurance companies can no longer turn their back on people suffering with addiction. And it turns out that the American opioid epidemic has racked up costs with insurance companies as a result. The Impact of the Opioid Crisis on the Healthcare System report shows a more than thirteen-fold increase in spending by health insurers on patients with opioid dependence or abuse problems over a four year period, NPR reports. Insurance companies went from paying $32 million in 2011 to $446 million in 2015, for covering:
  • Hospitals
  • Laboratories
  • Addiction Treatment Centers
  • Other Medical Providers
Between 2007 and 2014, there was a thirty-fold increase in insurance claims related to opioid use disorder diagnoses, according to the article. The average patient costs insurance companies $3,435 per year, compared to $19,333 for patients with opioid problems. "That really shows the stress on the health system and the impact on the individuals," said Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health, a nonprofit databank that provides cost analysis to the health industry and consumers. Gelburd points out that this "is a societal issue," one that require significant changes be made.

"Are medical school curricula adjusting to recognize the growing need for these services? Are insurers increasing the number of providers in their networks to ensure sufficient access? Are consumers being educated? It's an issue that has to be dealt with in all quadrants."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Synthetic Drug Progress in China

synthetic drugs
Despite recent reports of synthetic drug related overdoses in the United States, especially in metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles, it appears that some progress has been made in curbing such use. But first a little back story. If you are familiar with synthetic drugs, it is likely you have heard of “bath salts” and what are known as synthetic cannabinoids—which despite the latter’s name is nothing like actual cannabis. These drugs are made by spraying chemicals on benign substances, such as bathing crystals or plant matter.

The chemicals themselves, by and large, are manufactured in laboratories in China and then sold to turned into synthetic drugs. The chemicals are rarely ever tested on animals, let alone humans, before they make their way to market. While there was some consistency in the chemical formulas for a time, U.S. government bans have forced chemists to alter the formula constantly. Users of synthetic marijuana, such as Spice or K2, cannot expect to have the same experience they had in the past.

The side effects that accompany synthetic drugs today are highly unpredictable, leading users to become paranoid, violent and highly agitated. Perhaps you have seen news footage of synthetic drug users exhibiting superhuman strength, police officers and first responders often struggle to subdue such individuals. Synthetic drugs commonly result in overdoses that require hospitalization, and in some cases have led to fatal outcomes.

Government officials and agencies will continue to ban new substances as they are seen being used on the street, but curbing the problem here at home will require some assistance from abroad. Fortunately, the Chinese government has begun lending a hand in the fight against these insidious chemicals. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports seeing marked decrease in certain synthetic drugs in the United States after China placed a ban on certain chemicals, according to CNN. After China banned the production of 115 chemicals, law enforcement officials in the U.S. have seen a decrease in the use of six different synthetic drugs.

"Overall, [synthetics have] significantly dropped since the ban -- at the epicenter here in South Florida," said Broward County, Florida Sheriff's Lt. Ozzy Tianga. "But by no way are we out of the woods. There will be more molecular changes to substances that will be introduced to society."

DEA spokesman Russell Baer said that the agency will continue to work with China to end the fentanyl crisis we face in the States, the article reports. Fentanyl is another synthetic drug that is being made by chemists in China and leading to overdoses in America. Recently, 14 high-ranking DEA officials spent a week in China to discuss continued synthetic drug efforts, where:

"They talked about continuing efforts to try to understand each other's perspective of this problem," said Baer. "Historically, we have not been able to talk about this stuff. We've now gotten to the point that China is listening to us and addressing some of the [drug] scheduling issues. They are their own country, and they have their own concerns. One [problem] people don't understand is that China has an extensive commercial manufacturing program over there. These illicit substances ... are a small part of that huge legitimate industry."

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mobile Vivitrol Clinics Serve Rural America

Opioid addiction in America doesn't just affect people in urban areas, the epidemic has touched thousands of people in some of the most rural parts of the country. The crisis we face is grave to say the least, which is why it is paramount that addiction treatment services be made more readily available to everyone—regardless of location and economic standing.

Metropolitan areas of the country have the infrastructure and resources available to provide those battling with opioid addiction recovery options. Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, both public and private, span the urban landscape, yet for those who live off the beaten path—options are scarce. This often forces those who are need of assistance to drive long distances to gain access to desperately needed treatment services.

After realizing that some patients were driving hundreds of miles to acquire prescriptions for Vivitrol (naltrexone), a drug used to help recovering opioid prevent relapse, the chief operating officer of private clinic in Washington County, Pennsylvania decided to take the service on the road, TRIBLive reports. The mobile clinic can now provide Vivitrol to people living far away from metropolitan areas.

While naltrexone is available in pill form to be taken daily, Vivitrol is an extended-release injectable suspension form of the drug. After an injection, a patient will not need another for a month. The injectable version is preferred because patients will never forget to take the drug. A mobile clinic can move from county to county every month to provide the drug to patients so they never miss a dose. The mobile unit makes up for the lack of doctors in rural parts of the state who are willing to offer Vivitrol to patients. Kami Anderson, the executive director of the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission, says that doctors have told her that they don't want addicts “in their waiting rooms or offices.”

“The hardest problem we have is a lack of doctors that are interested in recovery and want to do that type of medical practice,” said Anderson.

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