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Friday, December 19, 2014

More States Consider Banning Powdered Alcohol

Alcohol is abused more than any other addictive substance on the planet. In cities across the country, alcohol can be purchased on almost every corner that has a convenience store, and there is no shortage of ways the substance can be abused. One of the latest concerns facing lawmakers across the country is powdered alcohol, a product that hasn't even made it into stores, and yet, states have been working towards banning it due to public health concerns, the Associated Press reports.

The powdered alcohol product, known as Palchol, is manufactured by Lipsmark, which claims each serving is the equivalent of one shot of liquor. Marketed as a drink you can make on the go, a user needs only to mix the powder with water and they will have themselves an alcoholic beverage.

States that already have bans in place, according to the article, are:
  • Alaska
  • Delaware
  • Louisiana
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
States are considering bans as well, include:
  • Minnesota
  • Ohio
  • New York
  • Colorado
"I think being proactive and jumping out in front of the problem is probably the right thing to do," said Chris Johnson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado. "It really doesn't have any place in our society, powered alcohol. We have enough problems with the liquid kind."

Due to its ability to be concealed, there is little question that powdered alcohol will appeal to young adults and teenagers. Concerns have also been raised regarding powdered alcohol's ability to be used in unintended ways, such as snorting the product; however, Lipsmark argues that snorting powdered alcohol would be painful and impractical, according to the article.

The FDA has not taken any steps to deter the release of powdered alcohol.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Colorado Proposed Marijuana Research

Colorado has lead the way in the marijuana movement in America, from medical marijuana to the implementation of one of the first legalization initiatives which was passed in 2012. Staying true to form, the state of Colorado will invest more than $8 million for the research of marijuana's medical potential, stating that government-funded marijuana research has historically directed their area of study towards the negative health effects of marijuana, the Associated Press reports.

The proposed research will be funded by grants awarded by the Colorado Board of Health and the studies will focus on whether or not marijuana actually has any medical benefits. Some of the studies will research marijuana's efficacy in treating epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"This is the first time we've had government money to look at the efficacy of marijuana, not the harms of marijuana," said a Scottsdale, Arizona psychiatrist Dr. Suzanne Sisley. Working in private practice, Sisley will help run a study on marijuana for veterans with PTSD.

In the past it has been difficult to study the medical applications of marijuana because under federal law, the drug is considered to have no medical use. Despite there being twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. allowing the use of marijuana use for treating a number of medical conditions, the only federally legal place to obtain marijuana is from the Marijuana Research Project at the University of Mississippi, according to the article.

In order for researchers to run a federally approved marijuana study, permission is needed from: the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and either the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and Human Services.

The lack of marijuana research means that sick people are on their own for determining the appropriate dose of the drug, says Colorado's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Larry Wolk. "There's nowhere else in medicine where we give a patient some seeds and say, 'Go grow this and process it and then figure out how much you need,'" Wolk said.

 Colorado studies in line for approval include:
  • Two separate studies on marijuana for treating post-traumatic stress disorder ($3.1 million).
  • A study on marijuana's benefits in treating adolescents and young adults with irritable bowel syndrome ($1.2 million).
  • A study on using marijuana for relieving pain in children with brain tumors ($1 million).
  • A study on how marijuana oil affects pediatric epilepsy patients ($524,000)
  • Comparing marijuana and oxycodone for pain relief ($472,000)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Determining Teen Smoking Trends is Difficult

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that adult smoking rates are down. What about teenage smoking rates? A new study has found that determining teen smoking trends is difficult; many public health agencies rely too heavily on reports of monthly cigarette use, a broad statistic that is challenging to draw from conclusions about current habits and historical changes in behavior.

The study, "Softening of monthly cigarette use in youth and the need to harden measures of surveillance," calls for a deeper analysis of available data, allowing researchers to paint a more complete and accurate picture of teen smoking trends. "We need information on smoking intensity to assess health risk," says study co-author Lynn Kozlowski, PhD, a professor in University at Buffalo's Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, "because heavy smoking causes more disease and death than light smoking. Also, non-daily smokers often represent lower-level exposure to carcinogens and can be more likely to quit."

The current method used for determining teen cigarette use is a survey given to high school seniors which asks a question about smoking behavior over the past 30 days. Despite the fact the response to that question indicates a 29 percent drop in monthly smoking between 1975 and 2013, the researchers who conducted the study at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP) calls this method a "crude and changing indicator" of smoking frequency and intensity. The researchers argue that the figure does not describe: how many times the respondent smoked that month, how many cigarettes were smoked each time, the use of e-cigarettes, etc.

Kozlowski and Gary Giovino, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, analyzed results from the 1973 to 2013 Monitoring the Future Project, an ongoing study by University of Michigan researchers. The study compiles data on the behaviors, attitudes and values of young Americans from high school through college and young adulthood. Kozlowski and Giovino hoped to determine how changes in monthly smoking relate to changes in daily smoking and heavy smoking in high school seniors over the past 35 years.

"Our findings, grounded in a deeper analysis of the data, represent good news," Kozlowski says, "and have important implications for tobacco research and monitoring related trends.

"We found a softening -- a lessening of intensity -- rather than hardening of current smoking, which has important implications for tobacco surveillance and research. This is particularly true in relation to the increased likelihood of quitting smoking, health effects of cigarette smoking, and similar and interacting issues related to measuring the use of all tobacco and nicotine products."

The study was published in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Based on materials from University at Buffalo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Antipsychotic Drugs can be Deadly for Nursing Home Patients

Antipsychotic drugs have become commonplace in drug and alcohol treatment facilities. While such medications are intended for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, they have shown to be effective “off-label” for other problems such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, and issues with sleeping. While these drugs may do wonders for some people, they can be deadly for others.

There has been a growing concern that older people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, may be at risk when they are sedated with antipsychotic drugs by their caregivers to make them easier to manage. Despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given these drugs a black box warning, because antipsychotics can increase the risk of heart failure, infections and death, almost 300,000 nursing home residents are still being prescribed them, NPR reports.

In 2012, the federal government launched a campaign reduce the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes. When NPR conducted an analysis of government data, they determined that the government rarely penalizes nursing homes when they fail to reduce the use of such drugs. The NPR report found that Texas is in last place when it comes to using alternatives to antipsychotics for managing nursing home patients, in fact more than a quarter of nursing home residents there still get antipsychotic drugs.

Texas recently conducted a series of training courses to educate nursing home employees about alternatives to giving residents powerful antipsychotic drugs to sedate their patients. Nursing home employees are encouraged to learn about their residents to determine why they exhibit challenging behaviors, and to find ways to manage such behaviors without using “chemical restraints.”

"I saw my fair share," said a nursing home activities director, Roxanne Stengel. She saw the drugs used as a "form of control [and] restraint" in some of her previous workplaces. 

"That's pitiful," she says. "There's got to be a better way."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Struck Down

In 2011, the state of Florida passed a law which required all welfare applicants take drug tests, according to The New York Times. However, a federal appeals court has struck down the law, ruling that the law was an “unreasonable search.” The court found that Florida officials failed to show a substantial need to test all welfare applicants.

“Florida’s suspicionless drug testing program for those seeking assistance clearly violated the Constitution,” Jason Williamson, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a news release. “With today’s decision, this prejudiced and intrusive treatment of the poor will come to an end.”

Not only did the Florida law require welfare applicants to be drug tested, it also required that the cost of the drug test fell on the applicants. If the applicant passed the drug screen they would be able to recover the money they spent on the test. Those who failed the drug test could designate someone else to collect the welfare benefits on behalf of their children.

The law received a lot of scrutiny from the beginning, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and a Navy veteran filed a lawsuit over the ruling. In response, Judge Mary Scriven, temporarily halted the law, saying that the law may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. In 2013, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional, but the state appealed.

Sadly, Florida is not the only state to pass legislation requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests. Since 2011, when Florida passed the law, 11 other states passed laws mandating drug testing for welfare applicants, according to the article. However, most state laws requiring welfare applicants to submit to drug screening, will only test if the applicant is suspected of using drugs.

States should focus their efforts on setting up more programs to treat impoverished addicts, rather than devising ways to cut them off from the financial support they so desperately need.

“We are very pleased by the Court’s opinion, which once again makes clear that the US Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches,” stated ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan. “This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects – that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike. The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they’ve asked the State for temporary assistance.”