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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Rise of Heroin Use in The United States

With increased demand for opioid products in United States, coupled with measures to curb the prescription drug epidemic, more people than ever are turning to heroin. Lawmakers and health officials are trying to stem the tide of heroin finding its way into the country, The Washington Post reports. The majority of heroin being used in the United States originates in Mexico.

“I’ve been with DEA almost 30 years and I have to tell you, I have never seen it this bad,” said John Riley, Acting Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

In April, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a report which found that 681,000 Americans aged 12 and older used heroin in the last year. The number of people addicted to heroin rose from 214,000 in 2002 to 517,000 in 2013.

“The DEA estimates that there are about 600,000 heroin users in the United States, which is three times the number in 2012,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. “Tragically, that number is expected to rise.”

The heroin problem in the U.S. is directly tied to the prescription drug crisis which has been plaguing the country since the late ‘90’s. A number of people who get hooked on prescription opioids, such as OxyContin ® (oxycodone), turn to heroin a cheaper and stronger alternative - especially after the government began cracking down on prescription drug abuse.

“Once someone is addicted to a prescription opioid, the need to satisfy their addiction outweighs the stigma attached to heroin use,” said Goodlatte in a news release. “Additionally, it is far easier to pay $10 for a dose of heroin than $80 for an oxycodone tablet.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

E-Cigarettes May Be As Addictive As Real Cigarettes

Over the last year there have been a lot of discussions about e-cigarettes with regard to their addictive properties, appeal to teenagers, and smoking cessation efficacy. Rules and regulations for the devices have been a slow and arduous process and it is still quite easy for minors to purchase the devices. While many argue that e-cigs are a safer alternative to traditional forms of tobacco and that they have proven effective as a measure for cutting-back or quitting, new research suggest that e-cigarettes may be as addictive as regular cigarettes.

Researchers at the American University of Beirut found that the type of nicotine most commonly found in e-cigarettes was the most addictive kind, CBS News reports. The research team, led by Najat Saliba, found that while levels of nicotine varied, "free-base" nicotine - considered to be the most addictive was most commonly used.

"Products with very low nicotine delivery may not substitute for tobacco cigarettes, so that ECIG use is accompanied by little reduced risk of cigarette-caused disease," said Saliba in an email to CBS News. “Products with very high nicotine delivery may make quitting ECIGs particularly difficult should users decide to try." 

The researchers found that e-cigarette users may not actually know how much nicotine they are consuming because product labels often did not match the true amount of nicotine, according to the article. There are concerns that non-smokers who use e-cigarettes may become addicted to nicotine, and ultimately turn to traditional cigarettes.

"It is really quite prudent for the companies to have to label the products so the consumer would know how much nicotine they're actually getting," said Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. "Another major concern is that are the higher concentrations of nicotine going to increase the risk for patients going from the e-cigarettes to regular cigarettes." 

The findings appear in Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Testing Umbilical Cords for Drugs

The prescription opioid epidemic in the United States has led to a surge of babies being born with drugs in their system. Such occurrences can result in what is known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the result of complications arising from a baby experiencing withdrawal upon leaving the womb. NAS requires specialized medical attention and extended hospital stays.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study which found that the number of babies born with NAS in the last decade has quadrupled. In 2013, 27 infants per 1,000 were affected by NAS, compared to seven babies for every 1,000 in 2004.

Determining whether or not a newborn baby has been exposed to drugs and which types of drugs they have been exposed to is crucial for neonatal specialists to begin treatment. In Utah, a lab has begun testing umbilical cords for the presence of drugs, Medical Daily reports. Umbilical cord testing is considered to be faster, taking up to 72 hours.

“Sometimes babies are already in the throes of withdrawal symptoms but physicians can’t determine what drugs they are dealing with until test results are available,” Dr. Gwen McMillin, Medical Director of ARUP’s Clinical Toxicology Laboratories, said in a press release.

ARUP Laboratories is the second in the nation to conduct umbilical cord drug testing, according to the article. In the past, neonatal drug testing required that doctors analyze a baby's meconium (first stool). The expedited umbilical testing will allow doctors to begin the appropriate NAS treatment faster.

Symptoms of NAS include:
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Low-grade fever
  • Constant High-Pitched Crying

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

High School Seniors Using Bath Salts

Synthetic drugs, such as “bath salts,” have become increasingly popular among teenagers and young adults. These drugs are part of a family of substances known as synthetic cathinones, and they have been found to cause a number of serious side effects on top of the euphoria that users seek. While only 1 in 100 high school seniors have tried bath salts, new research suggests a fifth of those who try the drug become regular users, Newsweek reports.

Synthetic drugs are extremely difficult for authorities to combat due constant chemical reformulations designed to stay one step ahead of government bans. In the United States, there are now more than 70 varieties of bath salts, many of which have formulations that have not been banned, according to the article.

Joseph Palamar, a researcher from New York University analyzed the National Institutes of Health’s data regarding drug use habits amongst 8,600 American teens. The research showed that a fifth of the high school seniors, who had tried synthetic drugs, went on to use them 40 times or more.

“Most ‘bath salt’ users have used alcohol or marijuana, and use of other drugs such as powder cocaine, LSD, crack and heroin was at least ten-times more prevalent among [them],” according to the study.

The researchers found that those who “reside with fewer than two parents, who earn less than $50 per week from sources other than a job, or who go out multiple nights per week for fun are at increased risk for use”.

The study was published in The American Journal on Addictions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Life Lost to Addiction is No Longer a Secret

It is a sad state of affairs when the insidious nature of addiction comes to light more often in obituaries than anywhere else. Prescription opioid, and now heroin, addiction is making headlines all the time, as experts and lawmakers grapple with the problem and what can be done. In the meantime, people continue to lose their lives at an unprecedented rate, and the cries of loss can be heard in the obituary pages across the country.

In the past when people lost their life due to addiction, obituary pages rarely would reflect the true cause of death. This was mainly a result of the stigma directed towards the disease of addiction and other mental illness. In an effort to reach out to those still suffering and have some sense of closure in their own lives, the loved one of lost addicts are writing openly about their long battle with the disease on the obit page, The New York Times reports.

“This is part of a trend toward a greater degree of acceptance and destigmatization about issues pertaining to mental illness, including addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, Chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “If a family chooses to do this, they can have a cathartic experience that facilitates the grieving process. When the person was alive, they may have been enabling, and they couldn’t acknowledge it. But this allows them to begin that process of coming to terms with the fallibility of the family member and their own limitations in not having been able to deal with it while the person was alive.” 

Candid obituaries about lives lost to addiction have the potential to reach addicts still out there. Addicts are often unable to see how their disease affects others, such as friends and family. It is almost as if the drugs blind one from understanding that addiction affects the entire family. Reading about what other families are going through after an overdose death may push addicts towards treatment and recovery.