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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Alcohol's Impact On Women

Over the years, there has been significant research on the impact of alcohol on the brain, specifically with regard to both addiction and the damage long-term heavy alcohol use can do to what is arguably our most important organ. With that in mind, it is worth noting that the majority of alcohol related research involved men. Which makes sense if one considers, for a moment, that men tend to drink greater amounts of alcohol for longer periods of time than women do.

What’s more, men tend to engage in alcohol use beginning at a younger age than women. They are also more likely to engage in what are considered to be unhealthy drinking practices, such as binge drinking. However, new research published in the last year or so has shown that women are closing the gap with men regarding prevalence and types of unhealthy drinking. Such revelations mandate that more research be conducted on alcohol as it pertains to women.

A better understanding of alcohol’s effect on the female gender could lead to more effective methods of treatment. Which is important, because women are just as eligible to be touched by addiction as men. New research aims to shine some light on the subject.


Women, Alcohol and The Brain

A collaborative research effort involving Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has shown that the reward system structures in the brain are bigger in alcoholic women, compared to non-alcoholics, according to an MGH press release. The researchers found that in the brains of recovering female alcoholics, the size of the fluid-filled ventricles in the center of the brain associated with reward were smaller than that of active drinkers. Which implies that the brain can recover from the changes caused by alcohol. The findings were published in Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging,

"Until now, little has been known about the volume of the reward regions in alcoholic women, since all previous studies have been done in men," says co-author Gordon Harris, PhD, of the 3D Imaging Service and the Center for Morphometric Analysis in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH. "Our findings suggest that it might be helpful to consider gender-specific approaches to treatment for alcoholism." 

The researchers point out that with each year of abstinence from alcohol, recovering women and men saw a 1.8 percent decrease in the size of the ventricles, the press release reports. The alterations in the brain caused by alcohol, can seemingly be reversed over time. The researchers plan to broaden the scope of this research in the future.

"We're planning to take a more detailed look at the impact of factors such as the severity of drinking and the length of sobriety on specific brain structure, and hope to investigate whether the imaging differences seen in this and previous studies are associated with gender-based differences in motivational and emotional functions," says co-author Marlene Oscar-Berman, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology at BUSM.


Not Too Far Gone to Recover

Many people who have been abusing alcohol for decades may be discouraged from seeking help with their disorder. Especially if they have already begun to experience both physiological and psychological damage. It can be easy for one in the grips of addiction to say, ‘what’s the point, the damage has been done.’ Fortunately, millions of people have managed to work a program of recovery and gone on to live healthy lives. The human brain is an extremely resilient organ, but there isn't a threshold to gauge when something is beyond repair, so the sooner one starts on the path of recovery the better.

If you or loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, please contact Hope by The Sea today. We can help you break free from the snares of alcohol, and show you how to live a fulfilling life in recovery.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Recovery Stress In April

If you are anything like the millions of other Americans who pay taxes, April is not on the top of your list of favorite months. April can be an extremely hard time, having to determine what you owe in both Federal and state taxes can be extremely frustrating and time consuming. What’s more, you may be asked to come up with money that you do not have. The list of reasons why can range from unexpected health bills to sudden loss of employment. At the end of the day, the month of April could be summed up in one word—stressful.

Such stress can be especially poisonous to one's program of recovery. Financial worries can cause people to want to ease their troubled mind. If one, in the past, has typically relieved stress with mind-altering substances, the “ides” of April is one of the riskier times of the year—particularly for those in early recovery. Years of not paying one’s taxes could fall under the umbrella of “wreckage of one’s past.”

It practically goes without saying that people caught in the grips of addiction, even those who manage to function enough to hold down a job, are not the most diligent when it comes to budgeting and accounting. When choosing between one’s next high or drunk and paying one's income tax, addiction dictates where your priorities likely lie. It is not uncommon for people in recovery to owe years in back taxes.


Holding On To Your Recovery During Tax Season

When working a program of addiction recovery, clearing up the wreckage of your past to the best of your ability is of the utmost importance. It is part of the process of acknowledging where you went wrong and doing the best you can to make it right, as part of your new commitment to recovery. Financial restitution or amends is often a part of people's recovery process. And you may not be rich or in place to pay it all off at once, which means that getting right with the “tax man” will take some time.

If you attend meetings of recovery, there is a high likelihood that several people in any given meeting are chipping away at debt. While they may not like it, they do it because they are willing to go to any lengths… and it is vital that calm is exercised. Understanding that paying off debt, like recovery, does not happen overnight. It is a process that demands patience, lest you get worked up about it. Fixating on such wreckage can send you into a tailspin that may be difficult to pull out of. If you are new to recovery, and just filed your taxes for the first time in years...then it is strongly advised that stay close to your support network (i.e. sponsor and recovery peers).

You are not alone, and a problem is only as big as you make it. At times like these it can be easy to desire solitude, isolating yourself from your program—a slippery slope to relapse. If you find yourself getting down on yourself, talk to your peers or share about it at a meeting. Somebody else in the room knows first-hand what you are going through, they can help you see that in time this too will pass. But they cannot help you, if you do not ask for support.


Finding Recovery

If you are currently in the grips of active addiction, April is likely to be just as frustrating for you. A reminder of the endless troubles that have arisen due an illness that has gone untreated. Perhaps you are ready to turn your life around? Please contact Hope by The Sea, we can help you break the cycle of addiction, equip you with tools and set the foundation that will help you build a new life in recovery. Treatment can be the first step to turning your life around and clearing up the wreckage of your past.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Psychological Distress In America

Do you find that you are stressed-out much of the time? Do you feel anxious throughout your day, depressed or both? If so, you may think that you are alone? In many cases, one's mental illness tells them that no one can understand what they are going through. One can develop the feeling that everyone around them is happy, while they are mired in constant suffering. However, the reality is that there are millions of Americans struggling with the same issues.

What’s more, mental illness affects millions around the globe. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a year-long campaign to help the more than 300 million people living with depression get assistance.

It is extremely common for people’s psychological distress to prevent them from seeking help for their mental health disorder. Perhaps the only thing more tragic than receiving a diagnosis for a form of mental illness, is when it is left untreated.


Psychological Distress In America

A new study took a close look at data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) survey of more 35,000 households across the country. The analysis showed that an estimated 8.3 million American adults (about 3.4 percent of the population) struggle from serious psychological distress, CBS News reports. Any issue from hopelessness and nervousness to depression and anxiety. The findings were published in the journal Psychiatric Services.

Without treatment for such conditions, substance use, abuse and suicide are a common occurrence. Unfortunately, the majority of people suffering from such dis-ease are unable to access care or afford care. And many people’s illness hinders their ability to seek help even when they do have access and/or can afford assistance.

“Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise. And access to care for the mentally ill is getting worse,” said lead researcher Judith Weissman, a research manager in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. 

The research links the rise in psychological distress to the Great Recession of late 2007 and beyond. The trauma of losing work and home left serious scars on many Americans, having long-term effects.


Navigating Mental Health Care

Weissman highlights the fact that there is a serious shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S., according to the article. Coupled with the fact that insurance companies still hesitate or fight to not cover mental health service claims; getting covered for the help you need is no easy task. She points out that mental health services need to be better integrated with primary care.

“We need to increase access to care for the mentally ill,” she said. “We also need to put trained psychiatrists and mental health providers within the primary care setting. If you have linkages of care within primary care, then the mentally ill patient can be helped even if they’ve come in for some other reason.”


Treatment is Available

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions at the beginning of the article, failing to seek help will only make the problem worse. It is possible that you have started down, or are in the grips of an addiction with a co-occurring mental health disorder. If so, please contact Hope by the Sea today to begin the process of recovery. Our highly-skilled staff is not only trained in treating addiction, we can help you address conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder as well.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Substance Abuse At Work

substance use disorder
If you are a recovering alcoholic or addict, or are still in the grips of active addiction, we don't need to tell you how hard it is to function on par with one’s peers who do not have a history of abuse. Alcohol and substance use disorders make even the most menial of tasks difficult to accomplish. Even people who are, comparatively speaking, functional addicts and alcoholics struggle to hold down jobs and contribute to society.

Even if one does manage to muster up the strength to get out of bed in the morning and to work, his or her efficiency and productivity is far below those who do not have a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. Aside from being partially or fully impaired while on the job affecting one's work productivity, the ability to do good work is even more diminished by the fact that one must exert extra effort to hide their condition from co-workers and management.

Hopefully, if somebody presents themselves as having a problem with mind-altering substances at work, it will lead to co-workers encouraging them to seek help. Yet, that is not always the case. In certain fields of work, substance use and abuse could be described as a systemic problem. In some ways viewed as just being a part of the job. New research suggests that the prevalence of employees with substance use disorders is twice the national average in the field of construction, entertainment, recreation and food service businesses. The findings come from an analysis and survey from the National Safety Council, NORC at the University of Chicago and Shatterproof (a national non-profit focused on addiction).


Working With Addiction

In a given year, people with substance use disorders are absent from work almost 50 percent more days (up to six weeks per year) than their peers, according to a National Safety Council press release. What’s more, workers with substance use disorders were found to be less productive and rack up higher healthcare costs, compared to work peers without a disorder. The analysis showed that untreated substance use disorder costs about $13,000 per employee working in the information and communications sector, compared to $2,000 for employees working in agriculture. Those who misuse or abuse prescription drugs have three times higher healthcare costs, compared to other workers.

Yet, despite the apparent dangers of prescription drug abuse, with around 100 deadly overdoses daily in the United States, employers don’t seem to be all that concerned about it. The survey showed that 71 percent of employers reported issues with employees using prescription drugs, just 39 percent believed it was a threat to safety and only 24 percent had issue with it, the press release reports. However, the research shows that employers have a vested interest in helping their employees seek help, saving them [employer] as much as $2,607 a year.

"Businesses that do not address the prescription drug crisis are like ostriches sticking their head in the sand," said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The problem exists, and doing nothing will harm your employees and your business. As the tool shows, the cost of inaction is far too great."


Treatment is the Answer

Both employer and employee have something to gain by addressing substance use. It saves employers money and saves the lives of employees. Workers who seek help and follow through with a recovery regimen can make a real difference in the workplace. Naturally, ignoring the elephant in the room will only lead to more problems. Eric Goplerud, Vice President, Public Health with NORC at the University of Chicago, points out that:

"The most significant finding that is new and may be surprising to employers, is that workers who are in recovery, who have received treatment at some time in the past, but who are not currently abusing substances, are less likely to leave their employer, use less unscheduled leave and use fewer health care resources than co-workers with an untreated substance use disorder. This finding stands up for every one of the 16 industry sectors. Supporting workers to treat substance use disorders is cost effective for employers." 

That being said, if you know that your alcohol and/or substance use has become untenable, leading to significant unmanageability in your life, then you do not need to wait for someone to point out your problem to seek help. A preemptive strike or, rather, seeking assistance on your own volition in most cases leads to more successful outcomes, compared to those who are told to go to treatment or look for a new job.

Recovery is possible, contact Hope by The Sea to begin the process. We can help you break the cycle of harmful drug and alcohol use, and show you that you never have to use mind-altering substances again. There is no time like the present.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Curbing Addiction Cue Reactivity

cue reactivity
Addicts and alcoholics are dependent on drugs and alcohol respectively. Their brains are wired to expect feelings of euphoria and calm when they use various mind-altering substances. Over time, it takes more and more of said substance to achieve the desired feelings of relief—commonly referred to as tolerance. As you might imagine, over prolonged periods of pleasure-seeking behavior, using greater amounts progressively, the hooks of one’s addiction sink deeper and deeper.

If you have wrestled with the insidious Goliath of addiction, and later gone on to find recovery, then you have first-hand knowledge of the fact that you are not just susceptible to the drugs and alcohol. You are also attached to the actions, behaviors and rituals of substance use. When you first sought assistance in the rooms of recovery, somebody told you right from the start to avoid people, places and things that have a link to your addiction. That being around such things, especially early on, would likely lead to a relapse.

Sure, it seems like common sense. But common sense, while glaring, is commonly ignored by people with a history of substance use and abuse. As if addicts and alcoholics are somehow hardwired to think they are exempt or ineligible to fall victim to the various pitfalls that can lead to a relapse. It is easy to delude oneself into thinking that your environment in active addiction, had nothing to do with why you abused drugs and alcohol. A line of thinking that has led to countless relapses.


The Power of Cue Reactivity

After years of continued substance use, one’s brain becomes acutely sensitive to various forms of stimuli. The mind associates visuals, sounds and smells with release. Exposure to certain stimuli, can lead to reactions that pave the way to relapse—even in those with long term recovery. Cue reactivity, according to research published in the journal Addiction, is a type of learned response involving significant physiological and subjective reactions to presentations of drug-related stimuli (i.e. seeing a bottle of alcohol or smoking marijuana). Addicts and alcoholics who want to avoid relapse, typically avoid drug-related stimuli like the plague.

Some cues are harder than others to avoid, but even those who exercise extreme vigilance are at risk of exposure. While cue reactivity is a learned response that comes with little conscious effort, unlearning those types of connections is extremely difficult. It is possible, but it takes time, which is why people with long term recovery reiterate over and over to newcomers the value of staying close to the program and its members, while avoiding anything or anyone that can be linked to one's addiction.


Weakening the Reaction to Drug-Taking Cues

It is not uncommon for recovering addicts and alcoholics to find themselves in a situation that they did everything in their power to avoid. They are exposed to a cue that leads to severe cravings, often too powerful to ward off. They begin to rationalize. Telling themselves that one drink or drug couldn’t hurt. And before they realize it, they have relapsed. It is regular occurrence among members of recovery programs.

What if scientists could develop a medicine that could weaken one’s reaction to drug-taking cues? That is, a medication that could make people in recovery less susceptible to relapse after being exposed to people using mind-altering substances or coming across a piece of paraphernalia. Well, it turns out that such a drug may already have been developed.

New research on a weight-loss drug has shown significant promise in achieving the aforementioned goal. Researchers from the Center for Addiction Research in the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, found that the weight-loss drug Lorcaserin reduced oxycodone self-administration and cue reactivity associated with relapse in rodent models, MNT reports. The findings were published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.

Lorcaserin helps people eat less, by making them feel full by altering the brain's serotonin system, according to the article. Serotonin has a hand in regulating the brain circuit that influences cue reactivity and drug reward. Study leader, Prof. Kathryn A. Cunningham, says:

"The effectiveness of lorcaserin in reducing oxycodone seeking and craving highlights the therapeutic potential for lorcaserin in the treatment of opioid use disorder."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Talking About Depression On World Health Day

Do you ever feel paralyzed by your thoughts? Find yourself unable to concentrate or carry out everyday tasks? Are you ever exhausted from staying up all night ruminating? Are there some weeks that you are uninterested and or unable to derive pleasure from doing things that most people seem elated about? Do you have feelings of guilt or low self-worth, for no apparent reason?

If you answered “yes” to any or all of those questions, then there is a good chance you are suffering from depression; a mental health disorder that affects more than 300 million people around the world and some 16 million of which are Americans. Depression is a mental health disorder that requires treatment and a continued reliance on medication and/or talk therapy. Without treatment, recovery is unlikely. Those living with untreated depression are far more likely to develop unhealthy relationships with drugs and/or alcohol. They are also much more likely to seek out a permanent solution to their temporary problem (not the disorder, the episode)—commit suicide.

Mental illness is not something you can ignore, the stakes are far too high. While there are treatments available that have proven to be effective for a significant number of people, only a small percentage of depressives ever seek or receive care. If you, in fact, suffer from depression, we don’t need to explain to you why depressives are generally hesitant about seeking assistance. For those who are not familiar with the ever persistent cloud of stigma that has long hung over people with mental illness, perhaps we can shed some light.


Barriers to Treatment

There are a number of reasons a person with mental illness will avoid treatment, but perhaps the biggest barrier is stigma. People living with mental illness are often treated poorly by their community. When the general public talks about mental illness it is often in a pejorative way. While there are many different forms of mental illness, it can be easy to lump everyone in one group or another. You are either “normal,” or you are abnormal. Being the latter of which leaves the afflicted open to any one of several types of discrimination.

Keeping that in mind, it can become apparent that nobody would want to be viewed as being broken. Or being the person that people say, “something is just not right with that one.” Given that millions of people suffer from one form of mental health disorder, or another, it is of the utmost importance that the general public be made aware that stigma does absolutely no good for society.

It’s vital that the public be educated about the nature of mood disorders, that people can and do recover from conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. But, the affected need encouragement. They need to feel like they can discuss their problems openly, without fear of some kind of reprisal. That they will not be shunned by their peers. Please remember, when people spread or disseminate inaccurate information or derogatory remarks about mental illness, there is a good chance that it is affecting a loved one or at the very least—a friend.


 World Health Day

The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen to turn their lens on depression this year. “Depression: Let’s Talk” aims to get more people with depression to seek and get help. To accomplish the goal, they are asking everyone to help with their ever-important mission. Today, is World Health Day, the focus is depression. Using the tools provided by the organization, we can all have a hand in ending the stigma of mental health disorders.

“If you think you have depression, talk to somebody you trust,” says WHO. Getting help begins with talking about what you are going through. At Hope by The Sea, we know how hard that can be, but we also know that it is worth it. If you need help, please reach out to us, we can help.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Stigma of Addiction Lives On

In a world dominated by technology, it is safe to say that film may be one of the more effective ways to get a message across and educating people about the dangers of substance use. With everyone constantly on their smartphones, in many way eschewing traditional media outlets like print and even television, it is vital that campaigns harness the power and global reach of the internet. Going even further, a multi-pronged approach using every available media format has the best chance at reaching the most people.

When it comes to addiction, there are so many factors to consider and it's difficult to know where to start. Millions of Americans need help, many of them do not even know where to begin. In some cases, the stigma of being branded an addict or an alcoholic is enough to keep one from seeking helping. Believe it or not, despite the rampant reports of overdose deaths taking around 100 American lives each day, a significant part of the opioid-prescribed population does not view painkillers as being all that dangerous.


Super Bowl PSA

During Super Bowl LI, there were two public service announcements (PSA) highlighting the need for safely storing one’s prescription opioids. The makers of the PSAs wanted to drive home the fact that drugs that are not properly stored place loved one’s at great risk. Americans lock up their firearms to keep them out of their children’s hands, but just store OxyContin in the family medicine cabinet. Parents admonish teens about texting and driving, yet more teenagers are likely to die from an overdose, than they will from texting and driving. If you have not seen the PSAs, you can take a moment to watch them below.


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Smart Phone:

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Ending the Stigma of Addiction

It has been estimated that there are more than 2 million Americans struggling with an opioid use disorder. Yet, the clear majority of them do not have access or are willing to seek treatment. Unlike drug epidemics of our Nation’s past, which were primarily believed to be associated with poor people and minorities, the American opioid addiction epidemic has affected Americans from all walks of life. Showing firsthand what experts have been saying for years, addiction does not discriminate. Thus, chipping away at the stigma of the disease.

However, when it comes to the stigma surrounding substance use disorders, there is a lot more work to be done. Stigma serves just two purposes, creating feelings of shame and guilt in the afflicted, and discouraging them from seeking help. People battling cancer or other serious illnesses are never subjected to the kind of treatment addicts and alcoholics experience. In an effort to drive that point home, a substance abuse prevention and recovery organization known as First Call help create PSAs to raise awareness about stigma. We hope that every adult is exposed to the two videos below.

Addicts Hear Comments Cancer Patients Never Would:

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Addicts Hear Comments Parkinson’s Patients Never Would:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Smoking Cessation: Rethinking Varenicline

If you have ever tried quitting something you were addicted to, then you know how difficult it is to succeed. The chemical hooks and snares of mind-altering substances make the goal of quitting indefinitely exceedingly hard, as is evident by the high relapse rates across the board. It is possible to free oneself from active addiction, but it typically requires a combination of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a continued program of maintenance to guard yourself from relapse.

The disease of addiction is constantly working diligently to be sated, and if fed the results are usually pernicious. One need look no further than opioid painkillers to see what can happen, if addiction is left unchecked. The death toll has steadily been rising for nearly 20 years. The focus of most addiction experts and medical organizations has been to ensure that people who need treatment for an opioid use disorder get it, before overdose and potential premature death ensues. Approximately 52,000 died in the United States from drug overdoses in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It could be argued that the urgency to reign in the epidemic stems from how quickly a life can be lost after an opioid addiction develops. Yet, every year in the U.S. other addictive substances are responsible for an exponentially greater number of premature deaths than opioids. A reality that is rarely discussed these days partly due to the shadow cast by the opioid epidemic. The CDC reports that cigarettes are responsible for about one in every five deaths in America, with more than 480,000 deaths annually.

Effective Medications for Tobacco Addiction

At a very young age, Americans are warned about the dangers of tobacco use, whether it be cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. The risks may take decades to come to fruition, but more times than not tobacco users die prematurely. There are a number of reasons for why tobacco is so hard to quit, especially for good. Even those who have managed to succeed at working a program of long-term recovery from an addiction to what most people consider to be more insidious substances, quitting cigarettes often proves to be too much for them. Yet, at the end of the day, tobacco is the deadlier substance in the long run.

Smoking cessation is possible, but few people can manage it cold turkey. The majority of people addicted to nicotine require assistance of either cessation aids like patches or gums, CBT and/or medications. Sometimes a combination of all three. When it comes to medications, the most commonly employed are bupropion (Wellbutrin) or varenicline (Chantix). Regarding the latter, which has been around for just over a decade, it garnered a bad reputation because of claims from small studies that found it to cause both depression and suicidal ideations. Such concerns led to a “black box” warning by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2009, a warning which the agency did away with recently due to new research, ScienceDaily reports. Researchers of a new study argue that if the black box label had never happened, as many as 17,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease could have been prevented.


Saving Lives

Before the FDA’s warning, Chantix showed to be effective at achieving permanent quit rates of approximately 25 percent, according to the article. The warning resulted in a 76 percent drop in varenicline prescriptions dispensed. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) argue that the majority of people who experienced adverse effects from the drug, had a history of mental illness.

A large randomized trial was carried out over a 12-week period and involved about 8,000 long-term smokers, the article reports. Participants in the study were broken into subgroups, those with a history of mental illness, and those without. People without a history of a psychiatric disorder that were treated with varenicline had less neuropsychiatric symptoms, and both groups achieved higher abstinence rates at 12 weeks, compared to controls.

The take away from the research appears to be that varenicline may not be right for everyone (i.e. those with history of depression or suicidal ideations), but could be quite effective for many smokers. A commentary about the findings and recommendations was published in The American Journal of Medicine titled, "Smoking Cessation: The Urgent Need for Increased Utilization of Varenicline."

"The existing totality of evidence suggests an urgent need to increase the use of varenicline in the general population as well as in those with serious mental illness who on average die about 20 years earlier than the general population, in part, because their smoking rates may be as high as 75 percent," said Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., Dr.P.H. He adds, "For reducing risks of cardiovascular disease it's never too late to quit, but to reduce risks of cancer, it's never too early."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Naloxone "Opt-Out" Model

What is naloxone, and how can it save your or a loved one’s life? First, let's begin with why naloxone, also sold by the brand name Narcan, would be required. You are probably well aware by now that the United States has been in the grips of an epidemic for nearly two decades, stemming from prescription opioid use and abuse. The class of drugs, while extremely effective at mitigating symptoms of pain, they are exceedingly addictive as well. On top of that, taking one or more pills too many can easily result in an overdose. As is evident by the overdose death rates that are nothing short of staggering.

There were 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids in 2015, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not all of those deaths were people who met the criteria for an opioid use disorder, in a number of cases the people who experienced opioid poisoning were run-of-the mill pain patients who had an adverse reaction. The point being that you do not need to be an opioid addict to succumb to an overdose.

It is not a forgone conclusion that an opioid overdose will have a fatal outcome. In overdose situations involving strictly opioids, there is a good chance that naloxone can reverse the life-threatening symptoms. Case in point, like many rural states that have been hit hard by the epidemic, the State of Maine lost 208 of its citizens to a fatal overdose in 2014, The New York Times reported. However, that number pales in comparison to the 829 lives saved by naloxone in the same year. With that in mind, it is easy to see how invaluable the life-saving drug is, and how important it is to expand access to Narcan.


Naloxone In The Right Hands

There has been a major push from lawmakers, health experts and various nonprofits to ensure that first responders are equipped with naloxone kits. The drug can easily be administered by a police officer or EMT using a nasal applicator attached to a vial of the drug. Across the country, practically every squad car is now equipped with an easy to use naloxone kit. The role of today’s law enforcement officer goes far beyond the motto “Protect and Serve.”

It is of the utmost importance that every first responder has the miracle drug on hand. But, it is arguable more important for another group of people to be trained and equipped with Narcan nasal spray kits, addicts themselves and their friends and family. The CDC points out that upwards of 80 percent of overdose reversal cases involved other drug users administering naloxone. When someone experiences an overdose, there are often other people around who can call for help, which takes time—a luxury that an overdose victim lacks. Having the overdose antidote on hand, at the instant a problem occurs, can greatly increase the chance of a reversal. Unfortunately, there are number of obstacle hindering opioid users from acquiring the opioid poisoning antidote, with stigma being a leading roadblock.


Opting-Out of Naloxone

In a number of cities and a couple of states, Narcan kits can be acquired at pharmacies without a prescription. Even though most Americans prescribed an opioid are aware of the existence of naloxone, it turns out that many are hesitant to ask their pharmacist about it, and pharmacists are reluctant to bring up the subject. The reasons for this, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Pharmacists Association, are three-fold:
  • Patients are unaware of the drugs availability.
  • Pharmacists worry about the implications of offering the drug to patients unsolicited.
  • Patients hesitate to inquire about the drug due to the stigma that accompanies opioids.
We wrote earlier, many overdose victims were not opioid addicts. Patients prescribed opioids find themselves reluctant to ask about the drug with their pharmacists for fear of being thought of as an addict. On the other hand, pharmacists worry that offering the drug without being asked, could be taken the wrong way by the patient. Two sides of the coin, both paralyzed by fear and stigma.

"There's this tension between patients who are afraid of the stigma associated with asking for naloxone, and pharmacists who worry about damaging relationships or breaking trust with patients by offering it," said study lead author Traci Green, PhD, MSc, epidemiologist and associate director of the Injury Prevention Center at Boston Medical Center. "It's these fears that hold pharmacists back from offering naloxone to people who may need it for themselves or their family." 

So, what then should be done about the aforementioned reticence? The researchers proffer an "opt-out" model, according to ScienceDaily. Whereby, pharmacists would offer naloxone to any patient filling an opioid prescription, or to any family member filling a prescription for a loved one. Such people would then accept the naloxone or opt-out, this would make Narcan more of a formality rather than something that might be taken the wrong way.

"Most overdoses occur at home or with a loved one close by. With expanded naloxone access in the pharmacy setting, we have the opportunity to give people the choice to keep themselves and their family safe, and reduce the stigma of getting naloxone and of addiction. Our study suggests that by giving pharmacists the model and language to do so, they have the power to save a life with naloxone" said Green.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Recovery: A New High

“It’s up the mountain or it is down into the grave.”

The hardest thing for anyone with first-hand experience of addiction is recovery. The hooks and snares of the disease are so powerful that even amid true despair (e.g. loss of friends, family and home) one will still have a desire to use. In many cases, physical dependence is so strong that to stop using means terrible withdrawal symptoms. Without assistance, relapse typically occurs within the first couple days of trying to quit.

While the disease of addiction is extremely difficult to recover from, it is possible. But it requires hard work day in and day out. It demands that one essentially throw everything you think you know out the window, and adopt a new set of principles and traditions. Recovering addicts and alcoholics must themselves to use muscles, both physical and mental, that they didn’t even know they had. At times it is painful, every part of you wants to quit recovery and have you return to the paradoxical comfort of one's disease. But those who are determined to live life one day at a time and never drink or drug again, appreciating the fact that this is life or death, will push forward into the unknown.

In many ways, recovering from a disease that is trying its best to kill you, is like scaling a mountain. If you are to be successful, one must train on a regular basis to be in the shape required to have a fighting chance of making it to the summit. In recovery, success rests on a daily commitment to stay spiritually fit, failure to do so typically results in relapse at some point. Just like on a mountain, one's environment in everyday life is unpredictable. Things happening in real time require that you have the tools necessary to defend oneself from the elements. On that mountain, what could look like a sudden change in weather, in the real world of everyday life for people recovering from addiction—that can be risky people, places or things.

The mountain analogy may seem corny, trite or vapid. But that doesn’t make it any less true. For serious mountain climbers, such as those who have scaled peaks like Everest, et al, there is an expression that is tossed around sometimes known as the “point of no return.” Simply put, the point of no return is the point beyond which one must continue one's current course of action, because turning back is physically impossible; to turn back would carry a serious risk of injury or death. It could be said that people who battled addiction for years to the point of needing recovery, essentially reach a point of no return. Having to make a choice between life (recovery) or death (active addiction). You either keep climbing in recovery, or you turn back into the abyss.


A New High

Such was the case for a number of recovering addicts living in a homeless shelter in Seattle. A documentary released this year, A New High, chronicles the harrowing story of a former Army Ranger who leads people who want to reclaim their lives from addiction, up 14,400 ft. Mt Rainier. The participants took part in a yearlong addiction treatment program, part of which was preparing them for the climb. The film was directed by Samuel Miron and Stephen Scott Scarpulla.

"I think we all have preconceptions about what 'homeless people' and/or 'addicts' look like,” Scarpulla told The Fix. “Hopefully, this film puts all of those notions to bed. After my first week in the shelter, I quickly learned that addiction doesn't always resemble a guy on a corner with a cardboard box. It can look like your best friend, your neighbor, your boss, your lover. Addiction doesn't discriminate. And the more we recognize that openly in films and media, the more we can combat the stigma and get a clearer picture of truth." 

Please take a moment to watch the short trailer below:

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

"I don’t think I really understood how personal this film was going to be for many people, nor how life changing the experience was going to be for me," Miron said. "If A New High causes just one conversation to happen that helps just one person feel that it is okay for him or her to ask for help, for me, the film will be a resounding success."


The Journey of Recovery

Naturally, most people's road to recovery will probably not include a mountain over 10,000 feet tall. Yet, at times, in early recovery one may feel like they are on the side of the Matterhorn (not the Disneyland ride). The pains of early recovery are of the utmost importance, especially when you consider that most good things in this world come by way of a struggle, whether that be efforts to earn a degree or working the 12-Steps of recovery to earn back humanity.

Making the decision to seek help for addiction takes enormous courage. But help is available if you would ask of it. If you or a loved one’s life has become unmanageable due to the disease of addiction, please contact Hope by the Sea today.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tanning Addiction and Alcohol Dependence

Not everyone in the United States lives in a climate like Southern California, Arizona or Florida. Climes around the country are far from consistently sunny, much of the year in some places are typified by rain or snow. For those who like to have a copper hue year-round, they usually rely on the assistance of ultraviolet rays via a tanning bed. The practice is somewhat controversial, because it has been associated with various forms of cancer—specifically melanoma. Nevertheless, millions of Americans visit tanning salons, sometimes on weekly basis.

The reasons why people tan vary, some just like the way being tan looks. For many people image is of the utmost importance, and being ashy or pale is not an acceptable appearance. Concerns about physical appearance can be harmful to one’s health in extreme cases. People often exercise in unhealthy ways to cope with their perception of how they look, whether the flaw exists or not. Left untreated, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) can wreak havoc on one's life. The DSM-5 categorizes BDD in the obsessive–compulsive spectrum.

There is also a significant number of Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), commonly referred to as seasonal depression. While the condition can affect people during the summer, it is usually associated with the winter months when natural vitamin D happens to be in short supply. SAD patients will use tanning beds in an attempt to change their current mood.

Tanning Addiction

Aside from the potential for cancer due to tanning, most view the practice as being relatively benign (no pun intended). However, there has been a growing body of evidence suggesting that tanning can become an addiction. There may also be a relation between tanning dependence and other harmful disorders, such as alcohol use disorder.

New research from Yale University showed that people with tanning dependence were six times as likely to be dependent on alcohol, according to a press release from the Yale Cancer Center. People with tanning dependence were five times more likely to show signs of "exercise addiction" and three times more likely to experience SAD. The findings were published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

"People who are tanning dependent could also be assessed for SAD," said Brenda Cartmel, Ph.D., the paper's lead author and senior research scientist and lecturer in the school's Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology. "There are ways of addressing SAD other than indoor tanning. Regarding the alcohol dependence association, it may be possible that addressing that behavior could help address tanning dependence."


Focused On Recovery

It is often said in the rooms and centers of addiction recovery that if you're addicted to alcohol, you can also become dependent on another substance or behavior. Many a recovering addict has experienced the pitfall of adopting new addictions in the place of another. It is important that one practice moderation even when an activity is inherently safe. Developing unhealthy relationships with other activities can actually result in a return to the harmful behaviors which brought one to the rooms of recovery in the first place.

It can be easy to put off the work of recovery by focusing on other activities, sometimes in the name of living a healthier life; that in the long run may have a harming effect on both mind and body.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Medicaid Cuts Affect Addiction Treatment

Early last month we wrote about the various efforts of lawmakers to ensure treatment on behalf of the millions of Americans battling with substance use disorder and other forms of mental illness. A small breakdown of pieces of legislation intended to expand access to treatment and life-saving medications (e.g. naloxone and buprenorphine) was provided to illustrate the importance of such bills in response to a nearly two-decade old opioid addiction epidemic.

While the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act are just the latest attempts to provide millions of Americans with the care they need, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was designed to ensure that everyone had coverage for health care. It wasn’t that long ago when insurers could deny coverage, due to pre-existing conditions such as mental illness, examples being depression or addiction. Under the ACA, millions of people who were historically denied coverage could be approved for coverage via the open market, the exchanges or Medicaid expansion.

Regardless of which way anyone leans politically, it is public knowledge that efforts are underway to dismantle, replace or repeal the Affordable Care Act. A task that has visibly proven to be difficult. It is also public knowledge that millions of Americans could lose coverage under the proposed alternatives to the ACA. So here is where things stand currently, and please keep in mind that this is just a presentation of where it appears things are heading, not a vote of support or a denouement.

Last week, the majority House of Representatives presented the first part of a new healthcare plan. Naturally, there are many different opinions floating around what is now called the American Health Care Act (AHCA). So far, the list of concerns regarding the proposal has been topped by what appears to be a serious change in how Medicaid, which covers some 70 million Americans, will be funded, if the AHCA moves forward. What’s more, it would also affect roughly a million Americans whose mental health disorder treatment is covered under Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, STAT reports. It is worth noting that Medicaid pays for 1 out of every 4 prescriptions for Suboxone (buprenorphine).

The expansion program required that states which jointly funded Medicaid with money from the Federal government, offer strong mental health and addiction treatment coverage for those who enrolled under the expansion. The AHCA would do away with that requirement by 2020. In addition, currently there is an open-ended federal commitment to pay whatever is necessary for Medicaid, under the AHCA states would receive a set amount of money from the Federal government for each person, according to the article. This could lead to Medicaid enrollment cuts and fewer benefits, especially among patients who are considered to be high-cost, such as people living with addiction.

Some states, those who rely heavily on Medicaid to cover the cost of mental health treatment and medications like buprenorphine, have a lot to lose. Medicaid pays for nearly half of those prescriptions in Ohio. Keeping in mind that we are in the throes of an opioid addiction epidemic, the proposed plan could mean that millions of Americans will lose access to coverage for treatment, flying in the face of what CARA and the Cures Act aimed to provide.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Synthetic Marijuana: Unnatural and Unsafe

synthetic marijuana
The dangers of synthetic drug use have been widely publicized for several years now. Most of us have heard or read horror stories related to synthetic cannabis and “bath salts.” In some cases, people under the influence of the products, which are often marketed as “safe and natural,” commit atrocious acts. It is worth mentioning that the packaging of synthetic drugs often has a label that says, “not fit for human consumption.” A regular paradox, begging the question. Safe and natural for whom?

The use of synthetic drugs has been regularly associated with people below the poverty line, or those who would like to avoid detection with standard drug tests. The products, are both cheap and the chemicals present on the benign plant matter or bath salts do not register in typical drug tests utilized by employers. However, those aspects of synthetic drugs also make them appealing to young people. A trend that has become a growing concern of late.

We have written on several occasions about the dangerous nature of synthetic drugs use, and the potentially deadly side effects that can result from use. Much of the danger stems from synthetic drug manufacturers constant efforts to stay one step ahead of government bans, by way of altering the chemical formula ever so slightly. Thus, creating a substance that has yet to be banned. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is in a perpetual state of catch-up when it comes to the ingredients used to make synthetic pot (e.g. Spice and K2).

As you might imagine, young people, despite the fixation on computers and smartphones connecting to the greater world, do not always do their research before making decisions that could have grave outcomes. A new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which compiled data on almost 16,000 high school students, found that about one in 10 high school students has used synthetic cannabis, The Chicago Tribune reports. On top of being asked about both traditional and synthetic marijuana use, the teenagers were also asked about:
  • Other Drug Use
  • Violent Behavior
  • Mental Health
  • Sexual Behavior

 Findings of Concern 

While one in 10 students may not seem like cause for alarm, what synthetic drug use was associated with in the findings is certainly troubling. The research showed that teens who used synthetic marijuana were more likely to have had begun using traditional cannabis before the age of 13, the article reports. Those who had used synthetic marijuana were more likely to have used traditional cannabis 20 times or more in the past 30 days. What’s more, compared to the high-schoolers who only used regular marijuana, teenagers who used synthetic “weed” were:
  • More prone to injury or to engage in violence (i.e. carry a gun or fight).
  • At greater risk of being victims of sexual or physical violence when dating.
  • More likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
  • At a greater risk of abusing other drugs.
"The findings indicate that students who report using synthetic marijuana are possibly on a very concerning health trajectory, which is particularly serious given that synthetic marijuana use is relatively common among adolescents," said lead researcher Heather Clayton. "While the study does not show that synthetic marijuana use causes these risk behaviors, it's still important for health professionals and school-based substance-prevention programs to focus on strategies that reduce the initiation of marijuana and synthetic marijuana use."

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

A Road to Addiction 

It is quite common for those who engage in drugs use and other risky behaviors in adolescence to struggle with addiction in young adulthood. If you or a loved one’s teenage recreational substance use has progressed to a substance use disorder, please contact Hope by The Sea. We can help break the cycle of addiction and provide the skills necessary for relapse prevention.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ask Why? Questioning Prescription Opioids

prescription opioids
If you were to take a straw poll among your peers regarding their perception of prescription opioids, you might think that everyone would respond saying that they were concerned about the drugs. If asked why, they would probably respond by saying that they are addictive and carry a high risk of overdose. Such responses would seem typical given the ongoing crisis being seen across the country regarding opioid narcotics of any kind. Every day, around hundred people die from an overdose.

The perceived danger that people have regarding a substance can have serious impact on whether or not someone tries a particular drug. Marijuana is used more than any other illegal drug, due in part to people viewing the drug as being relatively benign. Shaping public perception is of the utmost importance when comes to curbing experimentation, abuse and addiction.

To be fair, prescription opioids while deadly, are extremely effective at treating pain. No other type of drug available compares with opioids' efficacy. One of the major tasks that physicians have is treating pain, so it makes sense that they will prescribe opioids when they are deemed necessary. On the other hand, doctors also have an obligation, that of ensuring the safety of a patient when it comes to the types of treatments they prescribe. A conflict of interest that is glaring, to say the least.

With that in mind, it is vital that doctors turn to alternative forms of pain relief before relying on prescription opioids, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While there is existing evidence showing that primary care providers are curtailing the willingness to prescribe such drugs for the treatment of acute pain, the NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll found that 57 percent of adults say they have been prescribed an opioid painkiller at some point, compared with 54 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2011, NPR reports. Perhaps most disturbing, the new poll showed that only 35 percent of those taking opioids had concerns about the drugs, compared to nearly 50 percent among those not taking prescription opioids.

The latter findings are important, and highlight the need for patients to ask their doctor, “Why are you prescribing me opioids, given their addictive and deadly nature?” Acute pain is temporary, and the risks associated with using opioids probably outweigh the benefits of relief. The survey indicates that 74 percent of opioid prescriptions were for acute pain, compared to nineteen percent who said they received opioids for treating chronic pain.

"Ask why," says Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and commissioner of health for the City of Baltimore. "Often, other alternatives like not anything at all, taking an ibuprofen or Tylenol, physical therapy, or something else can be effective. Asking 'why' is something every patient and provider should do." 

The Truven Health Analytics®-NPR Health Poll surveys approximately 3,000 Americans every other month. The goal is to determine the attitudes and opinions on a broad spectrum of healthcare issues.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Expanding Access to Life-Saving Naloxone

A growing number of lawmakers are in accord with health and addiction experts regarding the value of addiction treatment in America. As we quickly approach the end of a second decade rife with opioid addiction, it is of the utmost importance that effective measures be taken to provide help for people living with addiction. Last year, we saw the passing of two bills which addressed opioid addiction in America, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act. Hopefully, the legislative acts will result in more Americans receiving the help they desperately require.

It is worth noting that the clear majority of people with any form of mental illness do not receive any type of treatment, especially those living with a substance use disorder(SUD). Channeling more resources towards the field of mental health would not only help the afflicted, it would have a beneficial impact on society. We must never forget the countless family members of addicts who have been touched by the disease.

Given that addiction is a progressive disease whose ends are always the same: jails, institutions, and death. It is vital that everything be done to mitigate the risk of anyone of those three terrible outcomes. On top of expanding access to addiction treatment services, the legislation passed last year aims to provide greater access to the life-saving opioid overdose reversal drug—naloxone. Commonly sold under the brand name Narcan, naloxone has saved thousands of lives in recent years and will continue to so. The caveat, of course, being that the drug be both affordable and accessible with little effort, i.e. without a prescription.

One organization who has lent its full support to expanding naloxone access is the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit which has championed several great causes around the world over the years (i.e. HIV/AIDS). Tackling the American opioid addiction epidemic is one of the organization’s main goals today. It is a cause that is important to Chelsea Clinton who serves as vice chair of the foundation. The former “first-daughter” wrote an editorial published by the BBC, in which she called for increasing access to naloxone.

“We’re working with partners to make naloxone widely affordable (and at times free) and accessible to EMTs, police officers, educators, and community first responders, so that they know how to use naloxone and are ready to use it whenever needed to save someone’s life – at a school, in a park, on a street, in a home,” writes Clinton. She added: “No one should die of an opioid overdose in 2017 in America, or anywhere – as in all areas where we know how to prevent such deaths, we have an obligation to save lives and work toward zero.” 

Such efforts are ever important, given the fact that a few naloxone manufacturers have decided of late to dramatically raise the price of the drug. For instance, the pharmaceutical company Kaleo, who makes the naloxone auto injector Evizio, raised the price for two doses from $690 in 2014, to $4,500. If no one can afford the drug, lives with be lost needlessly.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Alcohol Use and Social Rejection

Deep down we all have a strong desire to feel a part of, rather than apart from. Humans are, by design, social animals. We require others to not only get by in life, but to better understand ourselves and how we fit into the grand design of life. It is somewhat of a paradox that many begin using drugs and alcohol to feel a sense of togetherness with our fellow peers, yet the very substances that give people the sense of oneness with our fellow man are the same things that end up completely isolating you from the rest of society. While drugs and alcohol separate you from others, they do in many cases leave you with one relationship—rather than another being, it is a relationship with the disease of addiction.

The road to addiction often begins with feeling disconnected with others. Since most people are introduced to mind altering substances by another person, it can be easy to begin equating the use of drugs or alcohol with feeling like you belong to something greater than yourself. It is a misconception that does not lead to a healthy relationship with other beings, but rather an unhealthy relationship with substance use.

Sure, there is a time at the beginning of the slippery slope towards addiction when using drugs and alcohol makes one feel like you have found what was missing all along. Unfortunately, the very things that ends up filling the hole deep inside are, in fact, trying to kill you. It is a realization that one usually only comes to with hindsight. Those who come through to the other side of addiction into active recovery, often become acutely aware of how toxic the desire to fit can be, a desire that leads to inviting the wolfs of substance abuse in the front door. What’s more, those same people often realize that they didn’t desire to feel OK with their peers, as much as they desired to be comfortable with themselves. Learning how to be comfortable in one’s own skin is one of the main pillars of addiction recovery.

Social Rejection and Alcohol

Just to give you an idea of how much relationships with others can impact one’s own life, a new study suggests that social rejection can lead to increased substance use, the Research Society on Alcoholism reports. The organization points out that earlier research indicates that rejection by one’s peers was found to be associated with increases in negative emotions, distress, and hostility. The new study, Social Rejection and Alcohol Use in Daily Life, sought to determine the role that social rejection played in alcohol use. The findings were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers found that rejection from friends, spouses or family members leads to significant increases in alcohol use, according to the report. However, the correlation was not found when people experienced rejection from acquaintances or strangers.

Together in Recovery

If you have ever been to a meeting of recovery, such as a 12-Step program, you probably noticed from the "get go" how friendly and welcoming everyone was to you. There is a good chance that more than one person came up to you hoping to have a chat, or they invited you to have coffee with some of the group attendees. Simply put, those with some recovery time under their belt understand the value of inclusion when it comes to long-term sobriety. Addiction is the embodiment of feeling rejected by the world forced to live in the mire of solitude, whereas recovery is the epitome of communal togetherness. A fraternal community of like-minded people making a commitment every day to be a-part of something bigger than themselves.

For those who are new to recovery, the importance of accepting the unsolicited invitations for friendship by those in the program cannot be overemphasized. You may find yourself suspicious, but we assure you that their efforts to include you into the recovery community are not only genuine, they are a necessary part of living a spiritual life free from drug and alcohol.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Preventing Suicide On Facebook

The use of social media websites and apps can be mentally draining. Checking-in to see what your friends and family are up to on a day to day basis can be a bit overwhelming. You may even find yourself on Facebook asking yourself from time to time, ‘what good is any of this?’ To be sure, social media sites like Facebook can prove to be an invaluable resource for those who want to keep in touch with people from their past, giving you a window to the lives of others, who you’d otherwise be in the dark about. You can also use social media to discern how your loved ones are doing health wise, both physically and mentally.

While the majority of what people talk about on social media sites is trivial in nature, there are times when people use these platforms to express negative feelings about themselves. Potentially waving a red flag that could result in friends coming together to assist their loved one get the help they need. As you are probably aware, it would be an onerous task to scan all your Facebook friends' timelines looking for signs of trouble. Let’s face it, some people have thousands of FB friends.

The people working at Facebook seem to understand how their platform can be used to avert catastrophe. Last summer, the company launched a suicide prevention tool. FB users could use the tool to flag the posts of their friends that are indicative of depression and suicidal thoughts. A team working at the company would then review flagged posts and advise the "flaggers" about how to talk with the friend they were concerned about.

Taking the mission to save lives one step further, the social media giant is working on helping people with mental illness without a friend even needing to flag a post. Facebook is testing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms they created that identify potential warning signs in users' posts and the friends’ comments, BBC reports. The algorithm tests will be used only in the U.S. initially.

After the tool identifies posts of concern, it will be reviewed by a team of humans to determine its validity, according to the article. If the team confirms that a user is at risk of self-harm, the “social network” will reach out to them and suggest helpful resources. The use of AI to prevent suicide is actually just the tip of the iceberg, please watch the short video for more information on the novel methods being employed at Facebook:

"Their ongoing and future efforts give me great hope for saving more lives globally from the tragedy of suicide," said Dr Dan Reiden executive director of Save.org, which is involved in the initiative. "The opportunity for prevention, even with Facebook Live, is better now than ever before."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Safely Storing Prescription Opioids

If you are one of the millions of Americans who watched the Super Bowl, you likely saw public service announcements addressing prescription opioids and overdose. It’s a topic of vital concern for public health officials, considering that many teenagers and young adults begin using opioids they get from a friend or family member. Sometimes the pills are acquired right out of mom and dad’s medical cabinet.

Prescription opioid and heroin abuse is one of the most serious public health crisis this country has ever faced. Every day, nearly a hundred people succumb to an overdose. Naturally, efforts to reduce deaths have come from many Federal agencies and organizations. Reigning in opioid prescribing practices has been priority, with many attributing the opioid addiction epidemic to overprescribing.

Of course, “reigning in” does not mean the end of prescribing drugs, such as OxyContin or Percocet. It means, encouraging doctors to utilize alternative forms of pain management. Turning to opioids when nothing else proves effective. On top of that, prescribers have been advised to take advantage of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to combat patient “doctor shopping.” That is, seeing multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions for the same type of drugs.

On the other side of the prescription opioid problem in America, is the public; who have been entreated to safely dispose of unused medication and to keep prescription narcotics locked up. The latter of which is ever important in keeping potentially deadly drugs out of the hands of young people. You may think that medicine cabinet drug diversion is relatively rare, or that PSAs about keeping one’s prescriptions opioids locked up may be common sense, in the wake of epidemic raging throughout the country. It’s not!

In fact, one of the Super Bowl PSAs pointed out that while Americans are typically good about keeping their firearms locked up, teenagers are more likely to lose their life from an overdose than a bullet. Please take a moment to watch the PSA below:

If you are having trouble watching, please click here.

The PSA could not have been presented at a more opportune time, considering the new research out of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers conducted a survey which found that 70 percent of prescription opioids in homes with children are not stored safely, according to a press release. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

"Our work shines a light on the pervasiveness of unsafely stored opioids in American homes with children," says study lead author Eileen McDonald, MS, faculty with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. "Unsafely stored opioids can contribute to accidental ingestions among younger children and pilfering by older children, especially high school students. We know that teens who use these drugs recreationally frequently get them from homes where they are easily accessible, increasing their risk for addiction and overdose." 

The end of the American opioid epidemic rests on more than just changing prescribing practices, it requires that the public do their part to ensure the safety of young people who are susceptible to both addiction and overdose. If you have prescription opioids in your household, please understand the gravity of this issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

OxyContin Age Restriction in California

A couple of years ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the controversial decision to approve OxyContin ® (oxycodone) for people as young as 11-years of age. The decision to lower the age restriction on prescribing the powerful opioid came about, despite the fact that the country had been, was and would continue to be in the grips of deadly opioid addiction epidemic.

Advocates of the OxyContin for kids 11 to 16 ruling said that it would help the small number of children with serious illnesses, whose pain could not be managed with other forms of pain medicine. Critics said that the drug would likely be prescribed to young people with moderate pain, as well—putting them at risk of developing opioid addiction.

To be sure, a child battling cancer should be given access to medicines that are effective. However, as Andrew Kolodny, director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, pointing out in 2015 the FDA approved OxyContin for children without deferring to an advisory panel who could debate the risks and benefits of such a decision, USA Today reported. When you consider that teenagers are at a greater risk of addiction than adults with fully developed brains, the risks were likely greater than the benefits.

Opioids of any kind carry the risk of dependence and addiction. Of course, the stronger the narcotic the more intense the euphoria, and perhaps with it—a greater likelihood of someone wanting to come back for more. OxyContin, sold generically as oxycodone, is an apex prescription painkiller. The strong narcotic acts quickly, and wears off faster than advertised. It does not contain nonnarcotic space fillers like acetaminophen, which is commonly found in other prescription opioids.

As a result, abusers can ingest more OxyContin pills than they can say another common opioid, Percocet. Without the risk of acetaminophen toxicity which can lead to liver failure, oxy-abusers can use more without putting their liver at risk. What’s more, the implementation abuse-deterrent features inside OxyContin, are not that great at deterring abuse. With a little ingenuity, such features can be skirted.

Keeping all of that in mind, is it wise decision to allow oxycodone to be prescribed to teens? One Californian Senator would answer that question with an emphatic, No! California Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced Senate Bill 419, which would prohibit writing oxycodone prescriptions for anyone under the age of 21, The Los Angeles Times reports. Senator Portantino believes that SB419 would keep young people from being exposed to such an addictive drug, at such an early age.

“The abuse of this drug is a national epidemic and we need to protect our children from being prescribed this highly addictive substance," said Sen. Portantino in a statement. "Lawmakers, regulators and medical professionals have been wrestling with how best to control this synthetic heroin and I’m saying, while we’re looking for solutions, let’s make sure we keep it away from our most vulnerable population."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Alcohol-Withdrawal Treated With Electroacupuncture

Even though America is in the grips of a deadly opioid addiction epidemic, it is vital that we remember that more people abuse alcohol than any other drug. While opioids can easily lead to a deadly overdose, heavy alcohol use typically kills people slowly. It is fair to say that opioid overdose deaths are considered to be more headline worthy, compared to the slow death associated with alcohol use (excluding alcohol poisoning and car wrecks).

Losing sight of alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States can’t be allowed. To put it in perspective, it is estimated that some 2 million Americans abuse opioids of any kind. When you compare that figure to the rates of AUD in the U.S., the difference is staggering. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report showed that 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had AUD. What’s more, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, compared to the 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume for the moment that 88,000 people actually died from alcohol related causes in 2015. And between prescription opioids and heroin, there were 33,091 overdose deaths. Simple arithmetic will reveal that nearly 55,000 more Americans died from alcohol, than opioids in 2015. Clearly, the need to reignite the dialogue about alcohol abuse is crucial

It is well understood that the surest way of reducing the number of deaths related to either alcohol or opioids is intervention. Addiction treatment can help break the cycle of addiction, and continued recovery maintenance can mitigate the risk of relapse. But, either way, relapse rates are exceedingly high. Research scientists continue to look for ways to lessen people’s risk of relapse. When it comes to alcohol, it is no easy task.

Unlike opioids, alcohol can be found easily and acquired inexpensively. Many who attempt to detox from alcohol find it too difficult without assistance. Without such help, relapse typically happens within the first week of withdrawal. There are drugs, like Vivitrol for instance, which can help alcoholics fight the cravings that lead to relapse. On the other hand, the pain of alcohol-withdrawal is often cited as being one of the leading causes of relapse. Naturally, that pain should not be treated with another potentially habit-forming drug.

New research suggests that electroacupuncture (EA), a combination of acupuncture with electrical stimulation) could be useful for alcohol-withdrawal pain reduction, Newswise reports. EA treatment may even reduce other alcohol-withdrawal symptoms. The findings were published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The study indicates that EA can reduce hyperalgesia (hypersensitivity to pain) in rats experiencing alcohol withdrawal, according to the article. If human tests are effective, electroacupuncture could help people succeed at long-term recovery.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

New Fathers With Depression

Bringing life into the world is a major event, one often associated with joy. After all, childbirth or adopting a baby is one of the prerequisites for building a loving family. While having a child is often an important part of a happy life, sometimes it can have the opposite effect on one’s psychological well-being.

There is a good chance that you are familiar with pre- and postpartum depression in mothers. You may also be aware that mothers whose depression goes untreated can put both the baby and mother at risk. New fathers need to aware of the emotional state of their partner both during and after a pregnancy. If abnormal behavior appears, intervention may be needed.

Yet, there is a growing body of research indicating that an eye should be kept on expectant and new fathers, as well. Studies have shown that fathers are at risk of developing symptoms of depression before and after birth, which can lead to all kinds of problems.

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that a father's depressive symptoms can have an impact on the mother and child, CNN reported. The lead researcher in the 2008 study, Dr. Michael Weitzman, professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, points out that new fathers suffering from depression can result in added stress, depression or increased use of alcohol or smoking for the mother.

You may think that prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers is rare. However, when researchers analyzed data on 3,523 men in New Zealand who participated in the Growing Up In New Zealand study, they found that such cases were not all that rare, Fox6 reports. The study was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers found that elevated prenatal depression symptoms were found among 82 fathers (2.3 percent), and elevated postnatal depression symptoms were found among 153 (4.3 percent).

“The rates of antenatal and postnatal paternal depression that we found are consistent with previous similar studies in other countries including the US,” said Lisa Underwood, a research fellow at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and lead author of the study. She adds: “Our key message applies worldwide: Pregnancy and the postnatal period are key opportunities to engage with expectant and new fathers to discuss depression symptoms and provide support.”
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