Heroin/Methadone

Associate Professor | Department Chair | Director, Forensic Science Research Center

Department of Criminal Justice, California State University

The opioid epidemic is a public health and safety emergency that is killing thousands and destroying the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans and those who care about them. Fentanyl and other opioids affect all age ranges, ethnicities, and communities, including our most vulnerable population, children. Producing fentanyl is increasingly cheap, costing pennies for a fatal dose, with the opioid intentionally or unintentionally mixed with common illicit street drugs and pressed into counterfeit pills. Fentanyl is odorless and tasteless, making it nearly untraceable when mixed with other drugs. Extremely small doses of fentanyl, roughly equivalent to a few grains of salt, can be fatal, while carfentanil, a large animal tranquilizer, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and fatal at an even smaller amount.

The Biden-Harris Administration should do even more to fund opioid-related prevention, treatment, eradication, and interdiction efforts to save lives in the United States. The 2022 Executive Order to Address the Opioid Epidemic and Support Recovery awarded $1.5 billion to states and territories to expand treatment access, enhance services in rural communities, and fund law enforcement efforts. In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden highlighted reducing opioid overdoses as part of his bipartisan Unity Agenda, pledging to disrupt trafficking and sales of fentanyl and focus on prevention and harm reduction. Despite extensive funding, opioid-related overdoses have not significantly decreased, showing that a different strategy is needed to save lives.

Opioid-related deaths have been estimated cost the U.S. nearly $4 trillion over the past seven years—not including the human aspect of the deaths. The cost of fatal overdoses was determined to be $550 billion in 2017. The cost of the opioid epidemic in 2020 alone was an estimated $1.5 trillion, up 37% from 2017. About two-thirds of the cost was due to the value of lives lost and opioid use disorder, with $35 billion spent on healthcare and opioid-related treatments and about $15 billion spent on criminal justice involvement. In 2017, per capita costs of opioid use disorder and opioid toxicity-related deaths were as high as $7247, with the cost per case of opioid use disorder over $221,000. With inflation in November 2023 at $1.26 compared to $1 in 2017, not including increases in healthcare costs and the significant increase in drug toxicity-related deaths, the total rate of $693 billion is likely significantly understated for fatal overdoses in 2023. Even with extensive funding, opioid-related deaths continue to rise.

With fatal opioid-related deaths being underreported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must take a primary role in real-time surveillance of opioid-related fatal and non-fatal overdoses by funding expanded toxicology testing, training first responder and medicolegal professionals, and ensuring compliance with data submission. The Department of Justice (DOJ) should support enforcement efforts to reduce drug toxicity-related morbidity and mortality, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of the Treasury (TREAS) assisting with enforcement and sanctions, to prevent future overdoses. Key recommendations for reducing opioid-related morbidity and mortality include:

  • Funding research to determine the efficacy of current efforts in opioid misuse reduction and prevention.
  • Modernizing data systems and surveillance to provide real-time information.
  • Increasing overdose awareness, prevention education, and availability of naloxone.
  • Improve training of first responders and medicolegal death investigators.
  • Funding rapid and thorough toxicology testing in emergency departments and coroner/medical examiner agencies.
  • Enhancing prevention and enforcement efforts.

Challenge And Opportunity

Opioids are a class of drugs, including pain relievers that can be illegally prescribed and the illicit drug heroin. There are three defined waves of the opioid crisis, starting in the early 1990s as physicians increasingly prescribed opioids for pain control. The uptick in prescriptions stemmed from pharmaceutical companies promising physicians that these medications had low addiction rates and medical professionals adding pain levels being added to objective vital signs for treatment. From 1999 to 2010, prescription opioid sales quadrupled—and opioid-related deaths doubled. During this time frame when the relationship between drug abuse and misuse was linked to opioids, a significant push was made to limit physicians from prescribing opioids. This contributed to the second wave of the epidemic, when heroin abuse increased as former opioid patients sought relief. Heroin-related deaths increased 286% from 2002 to 2013, with about 80% of heroin users acknowledging that they misused prescription opioids before using heroin.  The third wave of the opioid crisis came in 2013 with an increase in illegally manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.

In 2022, nearly 110,000 people in the United States died from drug toxicity, with about 75% of the deaths involving opioids. In 2021, six times as many people died from drug overdoses as in 1999, with a 16% increase from 2020 to 2021 alone. While heroin-related deaths decreased by over 30% from 2020 to 2021, opioid-related deaths increased by 15%, with synthetic opioid-involved deaths like fentanyl increasing by over 22%. Over 700,000 people have died of opioid-related drug toxicity since 1999, and since 2021 45 people have died every day from a prescription opioid overdose. Opioid-related deaths have increased tenfold since 1999, with no signs of slowing down. The District of Columbia declared a public emergency in November 2023 to draw more attention to the opioid crisis.

In 2023, we are at the precipice of the fourth wave of the crisis, as synthetic opioids like fentanyl are combined with a stimulant, commonly methamphetamine. Speedballs have been common for decades, using stimulants to counterbalance the fatigue that occurs with opiates. The fatal combination of fentanyl and a stimulant was responsible for just 0.6% of overdose deaths in 2010 but 32.3% of opioid deaths in 2021, an over fifty-fold increase in 12 years. Fentanyl, originally used in end-of-life and cancer care, is commonly manufactured in Mexico with precursor chemicals from China. Fentanyl is also commonly added to pressed pills made to look like legitimate prescription medications. In the first nine months of 2023, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seized over 62 million counterfeit pills and nearly five tons of powdered fentanyl, which equates to over 287 million fatal doses. These staggering seizure numbers do not include local law enforcement efforts, with the New York City Police Department recovering 13 kilos of fentanyl in the Bronx, enough powder to kill 6.5 million people. 

The ease of creating and trafficking fentanyl and similar opioids has led to an epidemic in the United States. Currently, fentanyl can be made for pennies and sold for as little as 40 cents in Washington State. The ease of availability has led to deaths in our most vulnerable population—children. Between June and September 2023, there were three fatal overdoses of children five years and younger in Portland, OR. In a high-profile case in New York City, investigators found a kilogram of fentanyl powder in a day care facility after a 1-year-old died and three others became critically ill.

The Biden Administration has responding to the crisis in part by placing sanctions against and indicting executives in Chinese companies for manufacturing and distributing precursor chemicals, which are commonly sold to Mexican drug cartels to create fentanyl. The drug is then trafficked into the United States for sale and use. There are also concerns about fentanyl being used as a weapon of mass destruction, similar to the anthrax concerns in the early 2000s.

The daily concerns of opioid overdoses have plagued public health and law enforcement professionals for years. In Seattle, WA, alone, there are 15 non-fatal overdoses daily, straining the emergency medical systems. There were nearly 5,000 non-fatal overdoses in the first seven months of 2023 in King County, WA, an increase of 70% compared to 2022. In a landmark decision, in March 2023 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved naloxone, a drug to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, as an over-the-counter nasal spray in an attempt to reduce overdose deaths. Naloxone nasal spray was initially approved for prescription use only in 2015 , significantly limiting access to first responders and available to high-risk patients when prescribed opioids. In New York, physicians have been required to prescribe naloxone to patients at risk of overdose since 2022. Although naloxone is now available without a prescription, access is still limited by price, with one dose costing as much as $65, and some people requiring more than one dose to reverse the overdose. Citing budget concerns, Governor Newsom vetoed California’s proposed AB 1060, which would have limited the cost of naloxone to $10 per dose. Fentanyl testing strips that can be used to test substances for the presence of fentanyl before use show promise in preventing unwanted fentanyl-adulterated overdoses. The Expanding Nationwide Access to Test Strips Act, which was introduced to the Senate in July 2023, would decriminalize the testing strips as an inexpensive way to reduce overdose while following evidence-based harm-reduction theories.

Illicit drugs are also one of the top threats to national security. Law enforcement agencies are dealing with a triple epidemic of gun violence, the opioid crisis, and critical staffing levels. Crime prevention is tied directly to increased police staffing, with lower staffing limiting crime control tactics, such as using interagency task forces, to focus on a specific crime problem. Police are at the forefront of the opioid crisis, expected to provide an emergency response to potential overdoses and ensure public safety while disrupting and investigating drug-related crimes. Phoenix Police Department seized over 500,000 fentanyl pills in June 2023 as part of Operation Summer Shield, showing law enforcement’s central role in fighting the opioid crisis. DHS created a comprehensive interdiction plan to reduce the national and international supply of opioids, working with the private sector to decrease drugs brought into the United States and increasing task forces to focus on drug traffickers.

Prosecutors are starting to charge drug dealers and parents of children exposed to fentanyl in their residences in fatal overdose cases. In an unprecedented action, Attorney General Merrick Garland recently charged Mexican cartel members with trafficking fentanyl and indicting Chinese companies and their executives for creating and selling precursor chemicals. In November 2023, sanctions were placed against the Sinaloa cartel and four firms from Mexico suspected of drug trafficking to the United States, removing their ability to legally access the American banking system. Despite this work, criminal justice-related efforts alone are not reducing overdoses and deaths, showing a need for a multifaceted approach to save lives.

While these numbers of opioid overdoses are appalling, they are likely underreported. Accurate reporting of fatal overdoses varies dramatically across the country, with the lack of training of medicolegal death investigators to recognize potential drug toxicity-related deaths, coupled with the shortage of forensic pathologists and the high costs of toxicology testing, leading to inaccurate cause of death information. The data ecosystem is changing, with agencies and their valuable data remaining disjointed and unable to communicate across systems. A new model could be found in the CDC’s Data Modernization Initiative, which tracked millions of COVID-19 cases across all states and districts, including data from emergency departments and medicolegal offices. This robust initiative to modernize data transfer and accessibility could be transformative for public health. The electronic case reporting system and strong surveillance systems that are now in place can be used for other public health outbreaks, although they have not been institutionalized for the opioid epidemic.

Toxicology testing can take upwards of 8–10 weeks to receive, then weeks more for interpretation and final reporting of the cause of death. The CDC’s State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System receives data from 47 states from death certificates and coroner/medical examiner reports. Even with the CDC’s extensive efforts, the data-sharing is voluntary, and submission is rarely timely enough for tracking real-time outbreaks of overdoses and newly emerging drugs. The increase of novel psychoactive substances, including the addition of the animal tranquilizer xylazineto other drugs, is commonly not included in toxicology panels, leaving early fatal drug interactions undetected and slowing notification of emerging drugs regionally. The data from medicolegal reports is extremely valuable for interdisciplinary overdose fatality review teams at the regional level that bring together healthcare, social services, criminal justice, and medicolegal personnel to review deaths and determine potential intervention points. Overdose fatality review teams can use the data to inform prevention efforts, as has been successful with infant sleeping position recommendations formed through infant mortality review teams.

Plan Of Action

Reducing opioid misuse and saving lives requires a multi-stage, multi-agency approach. This includes expanding real-time opioid surveillance efforts; funding for overdose awareness, prevention, and education; and improved training of first responders and medicolegal personnel on recognizing, responding to, and reporting overdoses. Nationwide, improved toxicology testing and reporting is essential for accurate reporting of overdose-involved drugs and determining the efficacy of efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

Agency Role
Department of Education (ED) ED creates policies for educational institutions, administers educational programs, promotes equity, and improves the quality of education.

ED should increase resources for creating and implementing evidence-based preventative education for youth and provide resources for drug misuse with access to naloxone.

Department of Justice (DOJ) DOJ is responsible for keeping our country safe by upholding the law and protecting civil rights. The DOJ houses the Office of Justice Programs and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which are instrumental in the opioid crisis.

DOJ should be the principal enforcement agency, with the DEA leading drug-related enforcement actions. The Attorney General should continue to initiate new sanctions and a wider range of indictments to assist with interdiction and eradication efforts.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) HHS houses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s health protection and preventative agency, and collects and analyzes vital data to save lives and protect people from health threats.

The CDC should be the primary agency to focus on robust real-time opioid-related overdose surveillance and fund local public health departments to collect and submit data. HHS should fund grants to enhance community efforts to reduce opioid-related overdoses and provide resources and outreach to increase awareness.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS focuses on crime prevention and safety at our borders, including interdiction and eradication efforts, while monitoring security threats and strengthening preparedness.

DHS should continue leading international investigations of fentanyl production and trafficking. Additional funding should be provided to allow DHS and its investigative agencies to focus more on producers of opioids, sales of precursors, and trafficking to assist with lessening the supply available in the United States.

Department of the Treasury (TREAS) TREAS is responsible for maintaining financial infrastructure systems, collecting revenue and dispersing payments, and creating international economic policies.

TREAS should continue efforts to sanction countries producing precursors to create opioids and trafficking drugs into the U.S. while prohibiting business ties with companies participating in drug trades. Additional funding should be available to support E.O. 14059 to counter transnational organized crime’s relation to illicit drugs.

Bureau of Prisons (BOP) The BOP provides protection for public safety by providing a safe and humane facility for federal offenders to serve their prescribed time while providing appropriate programming for reentry to ease a transition back to communities.

The BOP should provide treatment for opioid use disorders, including the option for medication-assisted treatment, to assist in reducing relapse and overdoses, coupled with intensive case management.

State Department (DOS) The DOS spearheads foreign policy by creating agreements, negotiating treaties, and advocating for the United States internationally.

The DOS should receive additional funding to continue to work with the United Nations to disrupt the trafficking of drugs and limit precursors used to make illicit opioids. The DOS also assists Mexico and other countries fight drug trafficking and production.

Recommendation 1. Fund research to determine the efficacy of current efforts in opioid misuse reduction and prevention.

DOJ should provide grant funding for researchers to outline all known current efforts of opioid misuse reduction and prevention by law enforcement, public health, community programs, and other agencies. The efforts, including the use of suboxone and methadone, should be evaluated to determine if they follow evidence-based practices, how the programs are funded, and their known effect on the community. The findings should be shared widely and without paywalls with practitioners, researchers, and government agencies to hone their future work to known successful efforts and to be used as a foundation for future evidence-based, innovative program implementation.

Recommendation 2. Modernize data systems and surveillance to provide real-time information.

City, county, regional, and state first responder agencies work across different platforms, as do social service agencies, hospitals, private physicians, clinics, and medicolegal offices. A single fatal drug toxicity-related death has associated reports from a law enforcement officer, fire department personnel, emergency medical services, an emergency department, and a medicolegal agency. Additional reports and information are sought from hospitals and clinics, prior treating clinicians, and social service agencies. Even if all of these reports can be obtained, data received and reviewed is not real-time and not accessible across all of the systems.

Medicolegal agencies are arguably the most underprepared for data and surveillance modernization. Only 43% of medicolegal agencies had a computerized case management system in 2018, which was an increase from 31% in 2004. Outside of county or state property, only 75% of medicolegal personnel had internet access from personal devices. The lack of computerized case management systems and limited access to the internet can greatly hinder case reporting and providing timely information to public health and other reporting agencies.

With the availability and use of naloxone by private persons, the Public Naloxone Administration Dashboard from the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) should be supported and expanded to include community member administration of naloxone. The emergency medical services data can be aligned with the anonymous upload of when, where, and basic demographics for the recipient of naloxone, which can also be made accessible to emergency departments and medicolegal death investigation agencies. While the database likely will not be used for all naloxone administrations, it can provide hot spot information and notify social services of potential areas for intervention and assistance. The database should be tied to the first responder/hospital/medicolegal database to assist in robust surveillance of the opioid epidemic.

Recommendation 3. Increase overdose awareness, prevention education, and availability of naloxone.

Awareness of the likelihood of poisoning and potential death from the use of fentanyl or counterfeit pills is key in prevention. The DEA declared August 21 National Fentanyl Prevention and Awareness Day to increase knowledge of the dangers of fentanyl, with the Senate adopting a resolution to formally recognize the day in 2023. Many states have opioid and fentanyl prevention tactics on their public health websites, and the CDC has educational campaigns designed to reach young adults, though the education needs to be specifically sought out. Funding should be made available to community organizations and city/county governments to create public awareness campaigns about fentanyl and opioid usage, including billboards, television and streaming ads, and highly visible spaces like buses and grocery carts.

ED allows evidence-based prevention programs in school settings to assist in reducing risk factors associated with drug use and misuse. The San Diego Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to add education focused on fentanyl awareness after 12 juveniles died of fentanyl toxicity in 2021. The district attorney supported the education and sought funding to sponsor drug and alcohol training on school campuses. Schools in Arlington, VA, note the rise in overdoses but recognize that preventative education, when present, is insufficient. ED should create prevention programs at grade-appropriate levels that can be adapted for use in classrooms nationwide.

With the legalization of over-the-counter naloxone, funding is needed to provide subsidized or free access to this life-saving medication. Powerful fentanyl analogs require higher doses of naloxone to reverse the toxicity, commonly requiring multiple naloxone administrations, which may not be available to an intervening community member. The State of Washington’s Department of Public Health offers free naloxone kits by mail and at certain pharmacies and community organizations, while Santa Clara University in California has a vending machine that distributes naloxone for free. While naloxone reverses the effects of opioids for a short period, once it wears off, there is a risk of a secondary overdose from the initial ingestion of the opioid, which is why seeking medical attention after an overdose is paramount to survival. Increasing access to naloxone in highly accessible locations—and via mail for more rural locations—can save lives. Naloxone access and basic training on signs of an opioid overdose may increase recognition of opioid misuse and empower the community to provide immediate, lifesaving action.

However, there are concerns that naloxone may end up in a shortage. With its over-the-counter access, naloxone may still be unavailable for those who need it most due to cost (approximately $20 per dose) or access to pharmacies. There is a national push for increasing naloxone distribution, though there are concerns of precursor shortages that will limit or halt production of naloxone. Governmental support of naloxone manufacturing and distribution can assist with meeting demand and ensuring sustainability in the supply chain.

Recommendation 4. Improve training of first responders and medicolegal death investigators.

Most first responders receive training on recognizing signs and symptoms of a potential overdose, and emergency medical and firefighting personnel generally receive additional training for providing medical treatment for those who are under the influence. To avoid exposure to fentanyl, potentially causing a deadly situation for the first responder, additional training is needed about what to do during exposure and how to safely provide naloxone or other medical care. DEA’s safety guide for fentanyl specifically outlines a history of inconsistent and misinformation about fentanyl exposure and treatment. Creating an evidence-based training program that can be distributed virtually and allow first responders to earn continuing education credit can decrease exposure incidents and increase care and responsiveness for those who have overdosed.

While the focus is rightfully placed on first responders as the frontline of the opioid epidemic, medicolegal death investigators also serve a vital function at the intersection of public health and criminal justice. As the professionals who respond to scenes to investigate the circumstances (including cause and manner) surrounding death, medicolegal death investigators must be able to recognize signs of drug toxicity. Training is needed to provide foundational knowledge on deciphering evidence of potential overdose-related deaths, photographing scenes and evidence to share with forensic pathologists, and memorializing the findings to provide an accurate manner of death. Causes of death, as determined by forensic pathologists, need appropriate postmortem examinations and toxicology testing for accuracy, incorporated with standardized wording for death certificates to reflect the drugs contributing to the death. Statistics on drug-related deaths collected by the CDC and public health departments nationwide rely on accurate death certificates to determine trends.

The CDC created the Collaborating Office for Medical Examiners and Coroners (COMEC) in 2022 to provide public health support for medicolegal death investigation professionals. COMEC coordinates health surveillance efforts in the medicolegal community and champions quality investigations and accurate certification of death. The CDC offers free virtual, asynchronous training for investigating and certifying drug toxicity deaths, though the program is not well known or advertised, and there is no ability to ask questions of professionals to aid in understanding the content. Funding is needed to provide no-cost, live instruction, preferably in person, to medicolegal offices, as well as continuing education hours and thorough training on investigating potential drug toxicity-related deaths and accurately certifying death certificates.

Cumulatively, the roughly 2,000 medicolegal death investigation agencies nationwide investigated more than 600,000 deaths in 2018, running on an average budget of $470,000 per agency. Of these agencies, less than 45% had a computerized case management system, which can significantly delay data sharing with public health and allied agencies and reduce reporting accuracy, and only 75% had access to the internet outside of their personally owned devices. Funding is needed to modernize and extend the infrastructure for medicolegal agencies to allow basic functions such as computerized case management systems and internet access, similar to grant funding from the National Network of Public Health Institutes.

Recommendation 5. Fund rapid and thorough toxicology testing in emergency departments and coroner/medical examiner agencies.

Rapid, accurate toxicology testing in an emergency department setting can be the difference between life and death treatment for a patient. Urine toxicology testing is fast, economical, and can be done at the bedside, though it cannot quantify the amount of drug and is not inclusive for emerging drugs. Funding for enhanced accurate toxicology testing in hospitals with emergency departments, including for novel psychoactive substances and opioid analogs, is necessary to provide critical information to attending physicians in a timely manner to allow reversal agents or other vital medical care to be performed.

With the limited resources medicolegal death investigation agencies have nationally and the average cost of $3000 per autopsy performed, administrators need to triage which deaths receive toxicology testing and how in-depth the testing will be. Advanced panels, including ever-changing novel psychoactive substances, are costly and can result in inaccurate cause of death reporting if not performed routinely. Funding should be provided to medicolegal death investigating agencies to subsidize toxicology testing costs to provide the most accurate drugs involved in the death. Accurate cause of death reporting will allow for timely public health surveillance to determine trends and surges of specific drugs. Precise cause of death information and detailed death investigations can significantly contribute to regional multidisciplinary overdose fatality review task forces that can identify potential intervention points to strengthen services and create evidence to build future life-saving action plans.

Recommendation 6. Enhance prevention and enforcement efforts.

DOJ should fund municipal and state law enforcement grants to use evidence-based practices to prevent and enforce drug-related crimes. Grant applications should include a review of the National Institute of Justice’s CrimeSolutions.gov practices in determining potential effectiveness or using foundational knowledge to build innovative, region-specific efforts. The funding should be through competitive grants, requiring an analysis of local trends and efforts and a detailed evaluation and research dissemination plan. Competitive grant funding should also be available for community groups and programs focusing on prevention and access to naloxone.

An often overlooked area of prevention is for justice-involved individuals who enter jail or prison with substance use disorders. Approximately 65% of prisoners in the United States have a substance abuse order, and an additional 20% of prisoners were under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they committed their crime. About 15% of the incarcerated population was formally diagnosed with an opioid use disorder. Medications are available to assist with opioid use disorder treatments that can reduce relapses and post-incarceration toxicity-related deaths, though less than 15% of correctional systems offer medication-assisted opioid use treatments. Extensive case management coupled with trained professionals to prescribe medication-assisted treatment can help reduce opioid-related relapses and overdoses when justice-involved individuals are released to their communities, with the potential to reduce recidivism if treatment is maintained.

DEA should lead local and state law enforcement training on recognizing drug trends, creating regional taskforces for data-sharing and enforcement focus, and organizing drug takeback days. Removing unused prescription medications from homes can reduce overdoses and remove access to unauthorized users, including children and adolescents. Funding to increase collection sites, assist in the expensive process of properly destroying drugs, and advertising takeback days and locations can reduce the amount of available prescription medications that can result in an overdose.

DHS, TREAS, and DOS should expand their current efforts in international trafficking investigations, create additional sanctions against businesses and individuals illegally selling precursor chemicals, and collaborate with countries to universally reduce drug production.

Budget Proposal

A budget of $800 million is proposed to evaluate the current efficacy of drug prevention and enforcement efforts, fund prevention and enforcement efforts, improve training for first responders and medicolegal death investigators, increase rapid and accurate toxicology testing in emergency and medicolegal settings, and enhance collaboration between law enforcement agencies. The foundational research on the efficacy of current enforcement, preventative efforts, and surveillance should receive $25 million, with findings transparently available and shared with practitioners, lawmakers, and community members to hone current practices.

DOJ should receive $375 million to fund grants; collaborative enforcement efforts between local, state, and federal agencies; preventative strategies and programs; training for first responders; and safe drug disposal programs.

CDC should receive $250 million to fund the training of medicolegal death investigators to recognize and appropriately document potential drug toxicity-related deaths, modernize data and reporting systems to assist with accurate surveillance, and provide improved toxicology testing options to emergency departments and medicolegal offices to assist with appropriate diagnoses. Funding should also be used to enhance current data collection efforts with the Overdose to Action program34 by encouraging timely submissions, simplifying the submission process, and helping create or support overdose fatality review teams to determine potential intervention points.

ED should receive $75 million to develop curricula for K-12 and colleges to raise awareness of the dangers of opioids and prevent usage. The curriculum should be made publicly available for access by parents, community groups, and other organizations to increase its usage and reach as many people as possible.

BOP should receive $25 million to provide opioid use disorder medication-assisted treatments by trained clinicians and extensive case management to assist in reducing post-incarceration relapse and drug toxicity-related deaths. The policies, procedures, and steps to create medication-assisted programming should be shared with state corrections departments and county jails to build into their programming to expand use in carceral settings and assist in reducing drug toxicity-related deaths at all incarceration levels.

DOS, DHS, and TREAS should jointly receive $50 million to strengthen their current international investigations and collaborations to stop drug trafficking, the manufacture and sales of precursors, and combating organized crime’s association with the illegal drug markets.

Conclusion

Opioid-related overdoses and deaths continue to needlessly and negatively affect society, with parents burying children, sometimes infants, in an unnatural order. With the low cost of fentanyl production and the high return on investment, fentanyl is commonly added to illicit drugs and counterfeit, real-looking prescription pills. Opioid addiction and fatal overdoses affect all genders, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses, with no end to this deadly path in sight. Combining public health surveillance with enforcement actions, preventative education, and innovative programming is the most promising framework for saving lives nationally.

 

Foreword
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is pleased to publish in its Research Monograph series the proceedings of the 48th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Committee on Problems of Drug Dependence, Inc. (CPDD). This meeting was held at Tahoe City, Nevada, in June 1986.

The scientific community working in the drug abuse area was saddened by the untimely death of one of its very productive and active leaders: Joseph Cochin, M.D., Ph.D. Joe was a talented scientist who was greatly admired by his students and colleagues. For the past five years, Joe had served as the Executive Secretary of the CPDD. This monograph includes papers from a symposium on “Mechanisms of Opioid Tolerance and Dependence,” dedicated to his memory. These papers were presented by many of his friends and colleagues, who took the opportunity to express their high esteem for Joe.
The CPDD is an independent organization of internationally recognized experts in a variety of disciplines related to drug addiction. NIDA and the CPDD share many interests and concerns in developing knowledge that will reduce the destructive effects of abused drugs on the individual and society. The CPDD is unique in bringing together annually at a single scientific meeting an outstanding group of basic and clinical investigators working in the field of drug dependence. This year, as usual, the monograph presents an excellent collection of papers. It also contains progress reports of the abuse liability testing program funded by NIDA and carried out in conjunction with the CPDD. 

This program continues to represent an example of a highly successful government/private sector cooperative effort. I am sure that members of the scientific community and other interested readers will find this volume to be a valuable “state-of-the art” summary of the latest research into the biological, behavioral, and chemical bases of drug abuse.

Charles R. Schuster, Ph.D.
Director
National Institute on Drug Abuse

For the full contents, please go to: 

Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ien.35557000188076&seq=11 This version September 2023

US DRUG CZAR EXPLAINS CAUSES AND RSDT TOOL TO PREVENT TEEN DRUG USE AND OVERDOSE DEATH INTERVIEW WITH U.S. DRUG CZAR JOHN WALTERS

Introduction:  In response to recent news of a huge increase in drug overdose deaths and arrests for drug trafficking among Fairfax County youths, Fox News TV5 reporter Sherri Ly interviewed U.S. Drug Czar John Walters for his expert views on the cause and potential cure for these horrific family tragedies.  Following is a transcript of that half-hour interview with minor editing for clarity and emphasis added.  The full original interview is available through the 11/26/08 Fox5 News broadcast video available at link:

WALTERS:  Well, as this case shows, while we’ve had overall drug use go down, we still have too many young people losing their lives to drugs, either through overdoses, or addiction getting their lives off track.  So there’s a danger.  We’ve made progress, and we have tools in place that can help us make more progress, but we have to use them

Q 1:  You meet with some of these parents whose children have overdosed.  What do they tell you, and what do you tell them?

WALTERS:  It’s the hardest part of my job; meeting with parents who’ve lost a child.  Obviously they would give anything to go back, and have a chance to pull that child back from the dangerous path they were on.  There are no words that can ease their grief.  That’s something you just pray that God can give them comfort.  But the most striking thing they say to me though is they want other parents to know, to actAnd I think this is a common thing that these terrible lessons should teach us.

Many times, unfortunately, parents see signs: a change in friends, sometimes they find drugs; sometimes they see their child must be intoxicated in some way or the other.  Because it’s so frightening, because sometimes they’re ashamed – they hope it’s a phase, they hope it goes away – they try to take some half measures.  Sometimes they confront their child, and their child tells them – as believably as they ever can – that it’s the first time.  I think what we need help with is to tell people; one, it’s never the first time.  The probability is low that parents would actually recognize these signs – even when it gets visible enough to them – because children that get involved in drugs do everything they can to hide it.  It’s never the first time.  It’s never the second time.  Parents need to act, and they need to act quickly.  And the sorrow of these grieving parents is, if anything, most frequently focused on telling other parents, “Don’t wait: do anything to get your child back from the drugs.”

Secondly, I think it’s important to remember that one of the forces that are at play here is that it’s their friends.  It’s not some dark, off-putting stranger – it’s boyfriends, girlfriends.  I think that was probably a factor in this case.  And it’s also the power and addictive properties of the drug.  So your love is now being tested, and the things you’ve given your child to live by are being pulled away from them on the basis of young love and some of the most addictive substances on earth.  That’s why you have to act more strongly.  You can’t count on the old forces to bring them back to safety and health.

Q 2:  When we talk about heroin – which is what we saw in this Fairfax County drug ring, alleged drug ring – what are the risks, as far as heroin’s concerned?  I understand it can be more lethal, because a lot of people don’t know what they’re dealing with?

WALTERS:  Well it’s also more lethal because one, the drug obviously can produce cardiac and respiratory arrest.  It’s a toxic substance that is very dangerous.  It’s also the case that narcotics, like heroin – even painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone, which have also been a problem – are something that the human body gets used to.  So what you can frequently get on the street is a purity that is really blended for people who are addicted and have been long time addicted.  So a person who is a new user or a naïve user can more easily be overdosed, because the quantities are made for people whose bodies have adjusted to higher purities, and are seeking that effect that only the higher purity will give them in this circumstance.  So it’s particularly dangerous for new users.  But we also have to remember, it almost never starts with heroin.  Heroin is the culmination here.  I think some of the – and I’ve only seen press stories on this — some of these young people may have gotten involved as early as middle school.

We have tools so that we don’t have to lose another young woman like this– or young men.  We now have the ability to use Random Student Drug Testing (RSDT) because the Supreme Court has, in the last five years, made a decision that says it can’t be used to punish.  It’s used confidentially with parents.  We have thousands of schools now doing it since the president announced the federal government’s willingness to fund these programs in 2004.  And many schools are doing it on their own.  Random testing can do for our children what it’s done in the military, what it’s done in the transportation safety industry– significantly reduce drug use.

First, it is a powerful reason not to start.  “I get tested, I don’t have to start.”  We have to remember, it’s for prevention and not a “gotcha!”  But it’s a powerful reason for kids to say, even when a boyfriend or girlfriend says come and do this with me, “I can’t do it, I get tested.  I still like you, I still want to be your friend; I still want you to like me, but I just can’t do this,” which is very, very powerful and important.  And second, if drug use is detected the child can be referred to treatment if needed.

Q 3:  Is the peer pressure just that much that without having an excuse, that kids are using drugs and getting hooked?

WALTERS:  Well one of the other unpleasant parts of my job is I visit a lot of young people in treatment; teenagers, sometimes as young as 14, 15, but also 16, 17, 18.  It is not uncommon for me to hear from them, “I came from a good family.  My parents and my school made clear what the dangers were of drugs.  I was stupid.  I was with my boyfriend (or girlfriend) and somebody said hey, let’s go do this.  And I started, and before I knew it, I was more susceptible.

We have to also understand the science, which has told us that adolescents continue to have brain development up through age 20-25.  And their brains are more susceptible to changes that we can now image from these drugs.  So it’s not like they’re mini-adults.  They’re not mini-adults.  They’re the particularly fragile and susceptible age group, because they don’t have either the experience or the mental development of adults.  That’s why they get into trouble, that’s why it happens so fast to them, that’s why it’s so hard for them to see the ramifications.

So what does RSDT do?  It finds kids early–­ if prevention fails.  And it allows us to intervene, and it doesn’t make the parent alone in the process.  Sometimes parents don’t confront kids because kids blackmail them and say “I’m going to do it anyway, I’m going to run away from home.”  The testing brings the community together and says we’re not going to lose another child.  We’re going to do the testing in high school – if necessary, in middle school.  We’re going to wrap our community arms around that family, and get those children help.  We’re going to keep them in school, not wait for them to drop out.  And we’re certainly not going to allow this to progress until they die.

Q 4:  And in a sense, if you catch somebody early, since you’re saying the way teenagers seem to get into drug use is a friend introduces it to a friend, and then next thing you know, you have a whole circle of friends doing it.  Are you essentially drying that up at the beginning, before it gets out of hand?

WALTERS:  That is the very critical point.  It’s not only helping every child that gets tested be safer, it means that the number of young people in the peer group, in the school, in the community that can transfer this dangerous behavior to their friends shrinks.  This is communicated like a disease, except it’s not a germ or a bacillus.  It’s one child who’s doing this giving it behaviorally to their friends, and using their friendship as the poison carrier here.  It’s like they’re the apple and the poison is inside the apple.  And they trade on their friendship to get them to use.  They trade on the fact that people want acceptance, especially at the age of adolescence.  So what you do is you break that down, and you make those relationships less prone to have the poison of drugs or even underage drinking linked to them.  And of course we also lose a lot of kids because of impaired driving.

Q 5:  And how does the drug testing program work, then, in schools– the schools that do have it.  Is it completely confidential?  Are you going to call the police the minute you find a student who’s tested positive for heroin or marijuana or any other illicit drug?

WALTERS:  That’s what is great about having a Supreme Court decision.  It is settled – random testing programs cannot be used to punish, to call law enforcement; they have to be confidential.  So we have a uniform law across the land.  And what the schools that are doing RSDT are seeing is that it’s an enormous benefit to schools for a relatively small cost.  Depending on where you are in the country, the screening test is $10-40.  It’s less than what you’re going to pay for music downloads in one month for most teenage kids in most parents’ lives.  And it protects them from some of the worst things that can happen to them during adolescence.  Not only dying behind the wheel, but overdose death and addiction.

 Schools that have done RSDT have faced some controversy; so you have to sit down and talk to people; parents, the media, young people.  You have to engage the community resources.  You’re going to find some kids and families that do have treatment needs.  But with RSDT you bring the needed treatment to the kids.

I tell, a lot of times, community leaders – mayors and superintendents, school board members – that if you want to send less kids into the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system, drug test — whether you’re in a suburban area or in an urban area.

What does the testing do?  It takes away what we know is an accelerant to self-destructive behavior: crime, fighting in school, bringing a weapon, joining a gang.  We have all kinds of irrefutable evidence now – multiple studies showing drugs and drinking at a young age accelerate those things, make them worse, make them more violent, as well as increasing their risks of overdose deaths and driving under the influence.  So drug testing makes all those things get better.  And it’s a small investment to make everything else we do work better.

Again, drug testing is not a substitute for drug education or good parenting or paying attention to healthy options for your kid.  It just makes all those things work better.

Q 6:  And I know you’ve heard this argument before, but isn’t that big brother?  Aren’t there parents out there who say to you, “I’m the parent: why are you going to test my child for drugs in school; that’s my job?” 

WALTERS:  I think that is the critical misunderstanding that we are slowly beginning to change by the science that tells us substance abuse is a disease.  It’s a disease that gets started by using the drug, and then it becomes a thing that rewires our brain and makes us dependent.  So instead of thinking of this as something that is a moral failing, we have to understand that this is a disease that we can use the kind of tools for public health – screening and interventions – to help reduce it.

Look, let me give you the counter example.  It’s really not big brother.  It’s more like tuberculosis.  Schools in our area require children to be tested for tuberculosis before they come to school.  Why do they do that?  Because we know one, they will get sicker if they have tuberculosis and it’s not treated.  And we can treat them, and we want to treat them.  And two, they will spread that disease to other children because of the nature of the contact they will have with them and spreading the infectious agent.  The same thing happens with substance abuse.  Young people get sicker if they continue to use.  And they spread this to their peers.  They’re not secretive among their peers about it; they encourage them to use them with them.  Again, it’s not spread by a bacillus, but it’s spread by behavior.

If we take seriously the fact that this is a disease and stop thinking of it as something big brother does because it’s a moral decision that somebody else is making, we can save more lives.  And I think the science is slowly telling us that we need to be able to treat this in our families, for adults and young people.  We have public health tools that we’ve used for other diseases that are very powerful here, like screening – and that’s really what the random testing is.  We’re trying to get more screening in the health care system.  So when you get a check up, when you bring your child to a pediatrician, we screen for substance abuse and underage drinking.  Because we know we can treat this, and we know that we can make the whole problem smaller when we do. 

Q 7:  You have said there were about 4,000 schools across the country now that are doing this random drug testing.  What can we see in the numbers since the Supreme Court ruling in 2002, as far as drug use in those schools, and drug use in the general population?

WALTERS:  Well, what a number of those schools have had is of course a look at the harm from student drug and alcohol use.  Some of them have put screening into place, random testing, because they’ve had a terrible accident; an overdose death; death behind the wheel.  What’s great is when school districts do this, or individual schools do this, without having to have a tragedy that triggers it.  But if you have a tragedy, I like to tell people, you don’t have to have another one.  The horrible thing about a tragic event is that most people realize those are not the only kids that are at risk.

There are more kids at risk, obviously, in our communities in the Washington, DC area where this young woman died.  We know there’s obviously more children who are at risk of using in middle school and high school.  The fact is those children don’t have to die.  We cannot bring this young lady back.  Everybody knows that.  But we can make sure others don’t follow her.  And the way we can do that is to find, through screening, who’s really using.  And then let’s get them to stop – let’s work with their families, and let’s make sure we don’t start another generation of death.  So what you see in these areas is an opportunity to really change the dynamic for the better.

Q 8:  Now, although nationally drug use among our youth is going down – what does it say to you – when I look at the numbers specific to Virginia, the most recent that I could find tells me that 3% of 12th graders, over their lifetime, have used a drug like heroin?  What does it say to you?  To me, that sounds like a lot.

WALTERS:  Yeah, and it’s absolutely true.  I think the problem here is that when you tell people we are taking efforts that are making progress nationwide, they jump to the conclusion that that means that we don’t have a problem anymore.  We need to continue to make this disease smaller.  It afflicts our young people.  It obviously also afflicts adults, but this is a problem that starts during adolescence — and pre-adolescence in some cases — in the United States.  We can make this smaller.  We not only have the tools of better prevention but also better awareness and more recognition of addiction as a disease.  We need to make that still broader.  We need to use random testing.  If we want to continue to make this smaller, and make it smaller in a permanent way, random testing is the most powerful tool we can use in schools.

We want screening in the health care system.  We have more of that going on through both insurance company reimbursement and public reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid for those who come into the public pay system.  That needs to grow.  It needs to grow into Virginia, it’s already being looked at in DC; it needs to grow into Maryland and the other states that don’t have it.  We are pushing that, and it’s relatively new, but it’s consistent with what we’re seeing – the science and the power of screening across the board.

We need to continue to look at this problem in terms of also continuing to push on supply.  We’re working to reduce the poisons coming into our communities, which is not the opposite of demand; that we have to choose one or the other.  They work together.  Keeping kids away from drugs and keeping drugs away from kids work together.  And where we see that working more effectively, we’ll save more lives.  So again, we’ve seen that a balanced approached works, real efforts work, but we need to follow through.  And the fact that you still have too many kids at risk is an urgent need.  Today, you have kids that could be, again, victims that you have to unfortunately tell about on tonight’s news, that we can save.  It’s not a matter we don’t know how to do this.  It’s a matter of we need to take what we know and make it reality as rapidly as possible.

Q 9:  Where are these drugs coming from?  Where’s the heroin that these kids allegedly got coming from?

WALTERS:  We do testing about the drugs to figure out sources for drugs like heroin.  Principally, the heroin in the United States today has come from two sources.  Less of it’s coming out of Colombia.  Colombia used to be a source of supply on the East Coast, but the Colombian government, as a part of our engagement with them on drugs, has radically reduced the cultivation of poppy and the output of heroin.  There still is some, but it’s dramatically down from what it was even about five years ago.  Most of the rest of the heroin in the United States comes from Mexico.  And the Mexican government, of course, is engaged in a historic effort to attack the cartels.  You see this in the violence the cartels have had as a reaction.  So we have promising signs.  There are dangerous and difficult tasks ahead, but we can follow through on that as well.

Most of the heroin in the world comes from Afghanistan; 90% of it.  And we are working there, of course, as a part of our effort against the Taliban and the forces of terror and Al Qaeda, to shrink that.  The good news is that last year we had a 20% decline in cultivation and a 30% decline in output there.  Most of that does not come here, fortunately.  But it has been funding the terrorists.  It’s been drained out of most of the north and the east of the country.  It’s focused on the area where we have the greatest violence today, in the southwest.  We’re working now – you see Secretary Gates talking to the NATO allies about bringing the counter-insurgency effort together with the counter-narcotics effort to attack both of these cancers in Afghanistan.  We have a chance to change heroin availability in the world in a durable way by being successful in Afghanistan.  We’ve started that path in a positive way.  Again, it’s a matter of following through as rapidly as possible.

Q 10:  Greg Lannes, the father of the girl in Fairfax County who died, told me that one of his main efforts, as you imagined, was to let people know that those drugs, they’re coming from where it is produced, outside our country; that they’re getting all the way down to the street level and into our neighborhoods– something that people don’t realize.  So when you hear that they busted a ring of essentially teenagers who have been dealing, using and buying heroin, what does that say to you as the man in charge of combating drugs in our country?

WALTERS:  Well again, we have tools that can make this smaller.  But we have to use those tools.  And we have multiple participants here.  Yes we need to educate.  And we need to make sure that parents know they need to talk to their children, even when their children look healthy and have come from a great home.  Drugs – we’ve learned, I think, over the last 25 years or more, drugs affect everybody; rich or poor, middle class, lower class or upper class.  Every family’s been touched by this, in my experience, by alcohol or drugs.  They know that reality– we don’t need to teach them that.

What we need to teach them is the tools that we have that they can help accelerate use of.  Again, I think – there is no question in my mind that had this young woman been in a school, middle school or high school that had random testing – since that’s where this apparently started, based on the information I’ve seen in the press – she would not be dead today.  So again, we can’t go back and bring her to life.  But we can put into place the kind of screening that makes the good will and obvious love that she got from her parents, the obvious good intentions that I can’t help but believe were a part of what happened in the school, the opportunities that the community has to have a lot of resources that she didn’t get when she needed them.  And now she’s dead.  Again, we can stop this: we just have to make sure we implement that knowledge in the reality of more of our kids as fast as possible.

Q 11:  Should anyone be surprised by this case?  And that such a hardcore drug like heroin is being used by young people?

WALTERS:  We should never stop being surprised when a young person dies.  They shouldn’t die.  They shouldn’t die at that young age, and we should always demand of ourselves, even while we know that’s sometimes going to happen today, that every death is a death too many.  I think that it is very important not to say we’re going to accept a certain level.  Never accept this.  Never!  That’s my attitude, and I know that’s the president’s  attitude as well here.  Never accept that heroin’s going to get into the lives of our teenagers.  Never accept that our children are going to be able to use and not be protected.  It’s our job to protect themThey have a role, also, obviously in helping to protect themselves.  But we need to give them the tools that will help protect them.

When I talk to children and young adults in high school or college, they know what’s going on among their peers.  And in some ways, when you get them alone and they feel they can talk candidly, they tell us they don’t understand why we, as adults who say this is serious, don’t act.  They know that we see children who are intoxicated; they know that we must see signs of this, because as kid’s lives get more out of control, they show signs of it.  They want to know why we don’t act.

We can use the tools of screening, and we can use the occasion of a horrible event like this to bring the community together and say it’s time for us to use the shock and the sorrow for something positive in the future.  I haven’t met a parent of a child who’s been lost who doesn’t say I just want to use this now for something positive.  And that’s understandable, and I think we ought to honor that wish.

Q 12:  Well, I guess I’m not asking should we accept that this is in our schools, but is it naïve for people not to understand or realize that these hardcore drugs are in our schools, and in our communities, and in our neighborhoods. 

WALTERS:  Yeah.  Where it is naïve, I think, is to not recognize the extent and access that young people have to drugs and alcohol.  I think we sometimes think that because they come from a home where this isn’t a part of their lives now, that it’s not ever going to be part of their lives.  Look, your viewers should go on the computer.  Type marijuana into the Google search engine and see how many sites encourage them to use marijuana, how to get marijuana, how to grow marijuana, the great fun of marijuana.  Go on YouTube and type in marijuana, and see how many videos come up using marijuana, joking around about marijuana.  And then when you start showing one, of course the system is designed to show you similar things.  Type in heroin.  See what kind of sites come up, and see what kind of videos come up on these sites.  Young people spend more time on these sites than they do, frequently, watching television.  Remember, there is somebody telling your children things about drugs.  And if it’s not you, the chances are they’re telling them things that are false and dangerous.  So there is a kind of naiveté about what the young peoples’ world, as it presents itself to them, tells them about these substances.  It minimizes the danger, it suggests that it’s something that you can do to be more independent, not be a kid anymore. 

We, from my generation — because I’m a baby boomer — unfortunately have had an association of growing up in America with the rebellion that’s been associated with drug use.  That’s been very dangerous, and we’ve lost a lot of lives.  We have to remember that it’s alive and well, and has become part of the technological sources of information that young people have.  I also see young people in treatment centers who got in a chat room and somebody offered them drugs or offered them to come and buy them alcohol and flattered them, and got them involved in incredibly self-destructive behavior.  The computer brings every predator and every dangerous influence into your own child’s home – into their bedroom in some cases, if that’s where that computer exists.  You wouldn’t let your kids go out and play in the park with drug dealers.  If you have a computer and it’s not supervised, those drug dealers are in that computer.  Remember that.  And they’re only a couple of keystrokes away from your child.

Q 13:  And you talk about the YouTube and the computers and all those things.  What about just the overall societal image?  Because we have this whole image with heroin, of heroin chic.  How much does that contribute to the drug use, and how difficult does it make your job, when a drug is being made out to be cool in society by famous people?

WALTERS:  There are still some elements of that.  It was more prominent a number of years ago.  I would say you see less of that now glamorized in the entertainment industry, or among people who are celebrities in and out of entertainment.  You see more cases of real harm.  But it’s still out there.  The one place that I think is replacing that, just to get people ahead of the game here, is prescription pharmaceuticals.  Those have been marketed to kids on the internet as a safe high.  They falsely suggest that you can overcome the danger of an overdose because you can predict precisely the dosage of OxyContin, hydrocodone, Vicodin.  And there are sites that suggest what combination of drugs to use.  We’ve seen prescription drug use as the one counter example of a category of drug use going up among teens.  We’re trying to work on that as well, but that’s something that’s in your own home, because many people get these substances for legitimate medical care.  Young people are going to the medicine cabinet of family or friends, taking a few pills out and using those.  And those are as powerful as heroin, they’re synthetic opioids, and they have been a source of overdose deaths. 

So let’s not forget – while this Fairfax example reminds us of the issues of heroin chic and of the heroin that’s in our communities, the new large problem today is a similar dangerous substance in pill form in our own medicine cabinets.  Barrier to access is zero.  They don’t have to find a drug dealer; they just go find the medicine cabinet.  They don’t have to pay a dime for it because they just take it and they share that with their friends.  We need to remember, that’s another dimension here.  Keep these substances out of reach – under our control when we have them in our home.  Throw them away when we’re done with them.  Make sure we talk to kids about pills.  Because people, again, are telling them that’s the place to go to avoid overdose death, is to take a pill.

Q 14:  When you see a lot of these celebrities checking in and out of rehab, does it sort of glamorize it for kids?  And teach them hey, you can use, you can check into rehab, you can come back, you can – you know.  Is there a mixed message there?

WALTERS:  There is.  Some young people interpret it the way you describe; of it’s something you do and you can get away with it by going into rehab.  We do a lot of research on young people’s attitudes for purposes of helping shape prevention programs in the media, as well as in schools and for parents.  We do a lot with providing material to parents.  I would say that compared to where we’ve been in the last 15 or 20 years, there’s less glamorization today.

I think we should also remember the positive, because we reinforce that.  A lot of young people – obviously not all or we wouldn’t have this death – believe that taking drugs makes you a loser.  They’ve seen that a lot of those celebrities are showing their careers going down the toilet because they can’t get away from the pills and the drugs and the alcohol.  And I think they see that even among some of their peers.  That’s a good thing.  We should reinforce that as parents: teaching our kids that drug and alcohol use may be falsely presented to you as something you do that would make you popular, make you seem like you should have more status in society generally.  But actually, look at a lot of these people; they’ve had enormous opportunities, enormous gifts, and they can’t stop themselves from throwing them away.  And they may not stop themselves from throwing away their lives. 

I think you could use these events as a teachable moment.  It can go two ways.  Help your child understand what the truth is here.  And I tell young people – and I think parents have to start this more directly – this is the way this is going to come to you:  Somebody you really, really want to like you; somebody you really, really like; someone you may even love — or think you love — they’re going to say come and do this with me.  If you can’t find any other reason to not do this with them, say, “Before we do this, let’s go to a treatment center.  Let’s go talk to people who stood where we stood and said it’s not going to happen to me.”  If everybody, when they got the chance to start, thought of an addict or somebody who was dead, they wouldn’t start.  The fact is that does not enter their mind. 

Many people in treatment centers understand that part of the task of recovery is helping other people avoid this.  So they’re willing to talk about it.  In fact, that’s part of their path of staying clean and sober, which not many kids are going to be able to do on their own.  But it makes them think that what presents itself as something overwhelmingly attractive has behind it a horrible dimension, for their friends as well as for themselves.  And more and more, I think kids understand this.

We can use the science of this as a disease, and the experience of many families.  Remember, uncle Joe didn’t used to be like this.  Especially Thanksgiving, when we have families getting together and all of a sudden mom’s going to get loaded and become ugly in the corner.  We also have to remember we have an obligation to reach out to those people, and to get them help.  We can treat them.  Nobody gets sober, in my experience, by themselves.  They have to take responsibility.  But you have to overcome the pushback, and addiction and alcoholism have, as a part of the disease, denial.  When you tell somebody they have a problem, they get angry with you.  They don’t say hey thanks, I want your help.  They don’t hit bottom and become nice.  That’s a myth.  They need to be grabbed and encouraged and pushed.  Almost everybody in treatment is coerced – by a family member, by an employer, sometimes by the criminal justice system.

So remember that, when you find your child using and they want to lie to you up down and sideways saying, “It’s the first time I’ve ever done it.”  No, no, no, no, no, that’s the drugs talking.  That shows you, if anything, you have a bigger problem than you realized and you need to reach out, get some professional help.  But don’t wait!

Source:    National Institute of Citizen Anti-drug Policy (NICAP)

DeForest Rathbone, Chairman, Great Falls, Virginia, 703-759-2215, DZR@prodigy.net

A new report from Montreal public health indicates a new drug that’s stronger than fentanyl has hit the city’s streets.

MONTREAL — A new drug that is even more powerful than fentanyl is circulating on Montreal’s streets, according to public health officials.

Isotonitazene, a chemically manufactured opioid, has killed at least one person in Montreal. Jean-Francois Mary of harm reduction organization Cactus Montreal said similar drugs are often made in illegal labs, where cross-contamination and dosage size are risky variables.

Mary said he believes part of the solution the problem posed by opioids is legalization.

“People die because drug traffickers have had to divert into substances that are more portent and more profitable, but this potency kills,” he said. “Look in the pharmacy, there are very dangerous substances that are prescribes, they are given and people sometimes abuse them. But we don’t have so many deaths from because the quantity is controlled. Even when people abuse them, they can know how much they took.”

He said illegally-made pills don’t let users know how much Isotonitazene or fentanyl they’re ingesting.

Montreal public health seized 2,000 astonishment pills in August and is advising users that naloxone can be used to reverse the effects of an overdose.

Naloxone kits are available at most pharmacies. Anyone calling 911 to report an overdose has immunity from simple drug possession charges under the Good Samaritans Rescuing Overdose Victims Act.  

Source: New drug on Montreal’s streets even more potent than fentanyl: public health | CTV News November 2020

The rise in prescription opioid and heroin abuse creates countless problems for healthcare professionals, law enforcement, the drug abusers themselves and society as a whole. It’s a complex issue that continues to claim lives. Unfortunately, Fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine, is showing up on the streets disguised as other drugs, such as Norco and Xanax. The results are an increase in fatal overdoses.

Problems with fentanyl are not new. As recently as last year, we wrote about the dangers of fentanyl when it is mixed with heroin, and Dr. A.R. Mohammad, the founder of Inspire Malibu, did a recent interview with FOX 11 News in Los Angeles regarding the rise in fentanyl on the streets. What is new, however, are reports of synthetic fentanyl, likely manufactured in illegal labs in the states, China and Mexico, sold under different drug names to unsuspecting users.

In March of this year, Sacramento County, California, saw six deaths and 22 overdoses as a result of fentanyl peddled as Norco, which is supposed to be a mix of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. “In reality, they’re taking fentanyl, which is much, much, much more potent,” Laura McCasland, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told The New York Times.

Legally manufactured fentanyl is an injectable opioid often administered before surgeries. It also comes in a time release lozenge or patch for patients coping with severe chronic pain from conditions like pancreatic, metastatic and colon cancer.

Fentanyl is so strong, fast-acting and creates such a high tolerance, many patients find that other opiates no longer work for them. This is also one of the reasons that fentanyl is so addictive.

With abuse and addiction to fentanyl, quitting “cold turkey” can cause severe withdrawal.

What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Fentanyl?

  • Fast heart rate and rapid breathing
  • Muscle, joint and back pain
  • Insomnia, yawning and restlessness
  • Sweating and chills
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Anxiety, depression and irritability
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite and stomach cramps

Even a tiny amount of fentanyl can be deadly. The president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, J.P. Abenstein, told National Public Radio, “What happens is people stop breathing on it. The more narcotic you take, the less your body has an urge to breath.”

Abenstein added that people who don’t know how much to take will easily overdose. This no doubt also applies to users who aren’t even aware they’re taking the dangerous opiate when it’s sold under another name or mixed with heroin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that of the estimated 28,000 people who died from opioid overdoses in 2014, almost 6,000 of those deaths were fentanyl related.

The agency also suggests that states make Naloxone (Narcan), an overdose-reversal drug, more widely available in hospitals and ambulances to prevent deaths.

Abstinence from illicit drug use is the only guaranteed way to avoid an accidental overdose on fentanyl. Addiction, however, changes the brain’s chemistry and drives those affected to make decisions and behave in a manner that continues to put them at risk.

Source:  https://www.inspiremalibu.com/blog/drug-addiction/fentanyl-hits-the-streets-disguised-as-xanax-and-norco/  19th June 2019

The study by Sadananda et al published in the current issue of the IJMR highlights the neurophysiological basis of altered cognition in subjects with opioid addiction. The study demonstrated aberrant network activity between the default mode network (DMN) and fronto-parietal attentional network (FAN) as a major cause for working memory deficits in drug addiction. Working memory is an important to retain the cognitive information essential for goal directed behaviours. Human beings are endowed with an efficient cognitive faculty of working memory, essential for efficient functioning of the executive network system of the brain. As working memory is the key to carry out any cognitive process involving attention, volition, planning, goal directed behaviour, etc., consciousness is linked largely to working memory processing. The importance of integrating neuroscience knowledge especially the executive functions of human brain in leadership has been taught in neuro-leadership programs as a mean to maximize the human capabilities, productivity, creativity, leadership, wellness, positive attitude.

Aberrant network activities and structural deficits in brain areas of executive functioning impede most of our intellect including mental flexibility, novel problem solving, behavioural inhibition, memory, learning, planning, judgement, emotion regulation, self-control and other social functioning. Deficits in working memory and attention owing to reduced fronto-parietal network (FPN) activity is reported in schizophrenia, autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders. Opioid addiction is reported to impede such dynamicity of the executive system leading to a wide range of deficits in cognition. Opioid addiction alters the network integrity between DMN and FPN networks and weakens the cognitive information processing in cognitively challenging paradigms. Dysfunctional dynamics of DMN activity is believed to contribute to impaired self-awareness, negative emotions and addiction related ruminations. Aberrant DMN activity and reduced medial prefrontal cortical functions are common neural phenotypes of cognitive deficits in conditions like mental illness, drug addiction, sleep deprivation and neurodegenerative disorders. People with substance use disorders develop mental illnesses as a serious comorbidity that in turn, leads to severe behavioural impairments at the social, emotional and cognitive domains. Chronic sleep deprivation associated with drug addiction and substance abuse is another predisposing factor that worsen the behavioural impairments. Over all, drug addiction, substance abuse and the subsequent maladaptive behaviours including mental illness and sleep deprivation trigger a complex set of network instability in the domains of cognition and affect. The euphoria and hallucinating experience of drugs of abuse would soon lead to psychological distress and to cognitive and emotional behavioural impairments due to the disruption of various top down and bottom-up network dynamics.

Substance use disorders are an imminent socio-economic burden and have become a major public health concern worldwide. Despite knowing the harmful effects and consequences of drug use, reports say that the youth especially the adolescents have a tendency to continue the habit. There is a need to have effective measures in place such as educational programmes to improve the self-efficacy of parents and family members to help their children to develop the right behavioural attitude, enhance the capacity building in teachers to strengthen the self-esteem and wellness of students to organize substance use control awareness programmes in coordination with NGOs at educational institutions, involvement of television and other visual and social media platforms to organise substance abuse control programmes and for interactive opportunity for children/youth with educators, researchers and professionals, organization of knowledge dissemination programmes to the public/schools/colleges to highlight the adverse effects of drug abuse on mental health and cognition. Introduction to such knowledge sharing platforms such as the Virtual Knowledge Network (VKN) at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, provide interactive skill building opportunities to safeguard them from substance abuse and addiction. People should have easy access to such services and rehabilitation centers. Various behavioural intervention strategies such as cognitive retraining, psychotherapy, yoga therapy, mindfulness-based intervention programmes etc. are reported to improve cognitive abilities, regulation of negative emotions and restoration of motivational behaviours. A study on single night exposure to olfactory aversive conditioning during sleep helped to quit addiction to cigarette smoking temporarily. Such studies highlight the possibility of learning new behaviours during sleep and its positive impact on wake associated behaviours. Such approaches are quite useful, easily testable and cost-effective. Thanks to the incredible phenomenon of adult brain plasticity, it is possible to re-establish social intelligence, prosocial motivation among people with substance abuse.

Source: Drug addiction – How it hijacks our cognition & consciousness – PMC (nih.gov) October 2021

Opioids have become a full-blown national crisis of epidemic proportions, killing 130 people each day. Drug overdose is now the number-one cause of death for Americans under 50. One doctor at the top of her game—who knew the risks better than anyone—almost became another statistic.

Alison ran around her palatial six-bedroom house in Georgia on a crisp January night in 2016, preparing to depart the next day for a family ski trip in Colorado. She washed dishes, tidied counters, put in several loads of laundry, and crossed items off her packing list. Whenever she found a moment alone—every 45 minutes or so—she retrieved the syringe containing sufentanil she’d tucked inside the Ugg boots she wore around her house, pulled a makeshift tourniquet out of her hooded sweatshirt, found a usable vein, and plunged the needle into her arm, delivering one tenth of a milliliter of the most powerful opioid available for use in humans.

That night, as Alison hustled her house into order, she shot up in her 13-year-old daughter’s closet (she once used her ballet-shoe laces as a tourniquet), her oldest son’s bathroom (he was away at college), the kitchen pantry (she sometimes kept vials inside boxes of dry pasta), the laundry room (her favorite place to use), the bathroom (her least favorite), and the stairway leading up to the second floor, where she could gauge if family members were getting close.

By the end of the night, she had polished off two milliliters, an amount that could kill an average-size adult if given in a single dose. Sufentanil is an opioid painkiller five to seven times more potent than fentanyl—another powerful opioid—at the time of peak effect and 4,521 times more powerful than morphine, but Alison wasn’t intimidated. As an anesthesiologist, she’d spent her entire professional life delivering such substances to patients during surgery.

What Alison didn’t know then was that in just over two months, her whole world would come crashing down. She had no idea that three nurses would grow wise to the ways she was stealing drugs from the hospital. Or that she’d spend 90 days at an in-treatment center, followed by a five-year monitoring program for physicians. All she was thinking about that night was that her drugs of choice, sufentanil and fentanyl, made her happy at a time when her work demands were overwhelming and her second marriage was falling apart. “It was immediate; everything just chilled out. For me, it felt like when you have a really good glass of wine and you’re like, ‘Ahhh,’ ” says Alison, now 46. “During that time, that was the only thing I looked forward to. That was really the only thing that was good in a day of life for me.”

Before she started abusing opioids six months earlier, Alison had never used a drug recreationally other than a puff of marijuana during high school. (She didn’t like it.) She enjoyed a glass of red wine with dinner once or twice a month but hadn’t ever thought of using the substances she injected into patients all day, every day. “I’d been in anesthesia for 18 years, and it never even tempted me,” she says. “I never wondered what it felt like. It did not enter my mind.”

Alison was raised in a small town in Tennessee, the third youngest of seven children born to strict, conservative Christian parents. Her father is a physicist who liked to pose math questions at the dinner table (“In a group of 27 kids, there are 13 more girls than boys. How many girls and boys are there? Go!”), and her mother is a stay-at-home mom. For vacation, “we didn’t go to the beach or Disney World; we went to a place with a telescope or a planetarium,” says Alison, recalling one trip in which they piled in a station wagon and drove to South Dakota to watch an eclipse.

Today, three siblings are physicians, one worked for the CIA, and another chaired a university department. Alison likes to joke that she’s the underachiever in the family, and though she deserves no such title, the lifelong pressure she felt to outperform her siblings took a toll. “I was raised in a family where the lowest thing that was allowed was perfection,” she says. “I felt like I needed to do more, always. That was a big thing that came up in treatment—that my ‘good enough’ wasn’t good enough.” She had an eating disorder as a young teen and remembers dropping 30 pounds from her petite frame one summer by consuming only iceberg lettuce and fat-free French dressing. She says she felt like a failure because a younger sister weighed 15 pounds less.

One of Alison’s older brothers taught her square roots when she was two years old. (“It was like his little dog and pony trick to show me off to his friends,” says Alison, laughing.) She took up the violin at age four and started piano lessons when she was six. She skipped first and seventh grades and completed high school in three years, graduating days after she turned 16. She finished college in three years too and enrolled in medical school in California at 19. A wunderkind, yes, but she wonders now about the damage racing through her youth caused. “Perfectionism is horrible,” Alison says. “I know that I didn’t develop good coping mechanisms. Some of my treatment team thinks I got stunted.”

Medical school was the first time Alison had to study in her life. She chose to specialize in anesthesia because of how tangible it was. “I liked how when someone’s blood pressure is high, you give them medicine and it goes down,” she says. “That immediate gratification.” She married a man she met while she was in medical school when she was 22 and had her first son one month before graduation. (Her second son was born during her residency.)

Three years of her medical schooling were paid for by the Navy (“With my dad being a teacher and me being one of seven kids, there was no money,” she explains), so after finishing her residency, she paid the military back with three years of service, during which she was stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. True to form, Alison was not just any anesthesiologist in the Navy, she was the one asked to do the anesthesia for a president (“A huge honor,” she says) and a high-ranking senator. (She was called in from maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter at the surgeon’s request.)

Alison left the Navy in 2003 and moved to Georgia, about an hour from where she grew up. She and her husband wanted to raise their kids in the South, and she was eager for a slower pace. The years of schooling and success with three young children had been hard on her marriage. “I fell in love with my kids immediately, and I let the marriage slip,” Alison explains. “I put my kids before my husband.”

Source: An Opioid Addict Who Was Also a Top Doctor Shares Her Story of Recovery | Marie Claire February 2019

Fullerton, California, police officer Jae Song conducts a field sobriety test on a driver suspected of driving while impaired by marijuana. A growing number of drugged drivers have been killed in crashes. Bill Alkofer/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP

As legal marijuana spreads and the opioid epidemic rages on, the number of drugged drivers killed in car crashes is rising dramatically, according to a report released today.

Forty-four percent of fatally injured drivers tested for drugs had positive results in 2016, the Governors Highway Safety Association found, up more than 50 percent compared with a decade ago. More than half the drivers tested positive for marijuana, opioids or a combination of the two.

“These are big-deal drugs. They are used a lot,” said Jim Hedlund, an Ithaca, New York-based traffic safety consultant who conducted the highway safety group’s study. “People should not be driving while they’re impaired by anything and these two drugs can impair you.”

Nine states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana to be sold for recreational and medical use, and 21 others allow it to be sold for medical use. Opioid addiction and overdoses have become a national crisis, with an estimated 115 deaths a day.

States are struggling to get a handle on drugged driving. Traffic safety experts say that while it’s easy for police to test drivers for alcohol impairment using a breathalyzer, it’s much harder to detect and screen them for drug impairment.

There is no nationally accepted method for testing drivers, and the number of drugs to test for is large. Different drugs also have different effects on drivers. And there is no definitive data linking drugged driving to crashes.

“With alcohol, we have 30 years of research looking at the relationship between how much alcohol is in a person’s blood and the odds they will cause a traffic crash,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s traffic safety director. “For drugs, that relationship is not known.”

Another problem is that drivers often are using more than one drug at once. The new study found that about half of drivers who died and tested positive for drugs in 2016 were found to have two or more drugs in their system.

Alcohol is also part of the mix, the report found: About half the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

Drug Testing Varies

More than 37,000 people died in vehicle crashes in 2016, up 5.6 percent from the previous year, according to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration.

Using fatality data from the federal agency, Hedlund, the governors’ highway safety group’s consultant, found that 54 percent of fatally injured drivers that year were tested for drugs and alcohol. Of those who had drugs in their system, 38 percent tested positive for marijuana, 16 percent for opioids and 4 percent for both. The remaining 42 percent tested positive for a variety of legal and illegal drugs, such as cocaine and Xanax.

That means more than 5,300 drivers who died in fatal crashes in 2016 tested positive for drugs, Hedlund said. Those numbers don’t include all drivers killed in crashes or those who drove impaired but didn’t have a crash.

Driver drug testing varies from state to state. States don’t all test for the same drugs or use the same testing methods.

“A lot of the tools we developed for alcohol don’t work for drugs,” said Russ Martin, government relations director for the highway safety group. “We don’t have as clear a method for every officer to conduct roadside tests.”

Police who stop drivers they think are impaired typically use standard sobriety tests, such as asking the person to walk heel to toe and stand on one leg. That works well for alcohol testing, as does breathing into a breathalyzer, which measures the blood alcohol level.

But these standard sobriety tests don’t work for drugs, which can only be detected by testing blood, urine or saliva. Even then, finding the presence of a drug doesn’t necessarily mean the person is impaired.

With marijuana, for example, metabolites can stay in the body for weeks, long after impairment has ended, making it difficult to determine when the person used the drug.

States have dealt with drugged driving in different ways. In every state it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs, but some have created zero tolerance laws for some drugs, whereas others have set certain limits for marijuana or some other drugs.

That creates another challenge because policymakers are trying to make changes that aren’t necessarily based on research, said Richard Romer, AAA’s state relations manager.

“The presence of marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean impairment,” Romer said. “You could be releasing drivers who are dangerous and imprisoning people who are not impaired.”

State Statistics

In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, there were 51 fatalities in 2016 that involved drivers with THC blood levels above the state’s legal limit, according to the state department of transportation. THC is the main active ingredient in marijuana, and causes the euphoria associated with the drug.

An online survey in April by the department found that 69 percent of pot users said they had driven under the influence of marijuana at least once in the past year and 27 percent said they drove high almost daily. Many recreational users said they didn’t think it affected their ability to drive safely.

In Washington state, a 2016 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that fatal crashes of drivers who recently used marijuana doubled after the state legalized it.

The governors’ highway safety group is recommending that states offer advanced training to a majority of patrol officers about how to recognize drugged drivers at the roadside.

Officers in some states already are using a battery of roadside tests that focus on physiological symptoms, such as involuntary eye twitches, pulse rate and muscle tone, to determine whether a driver is impaired by drugs. And at the police station, some officers trained as drug examiners do a more extensive series of tests to identify the type of drug.

The safety group also wants states to launch a campaign to educate the public about how drugs can impair driving and work with doctors and pharmacists to make patients aware of the risks of driving while using prescription medications such as opioids.

And it is calling on states and the federal government to compile better data on drugged driving, including testing all drivers killed in crashes for drugs and alcohol.

“Not every driver in a fatal crash is tested. And plenty of drivers out there haven’t crashed and haven’t been tested,” Martin said. “We have good reason to believe there are more drug-impaired drivers out there than the data shows.”

Source: Drugged Driving Deaths Spike With Spread of Legal Marijuana, Opioid Abuse – Stateline May 2018

At the center of America’s deadly opioid epidemic, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl appears to be finding its way into illegal stimulants that are sold on the street, such as cocaine. Adulteration with fentanyl is considered a key reason why cocaine’s death toll is escalating. Cocaine and fentanyl are proving to be a lethal combination – cocaine-related death rates have increased according to national survey data. This has important emergency response and harm reduction implications as well—naloxone might reverse such overdoses if administered in time. A recent study by Nolan et. al. assessed the role of opioids, particularly fentanyl, in the increase in cocaine-involved overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 and found these substances to account for most of this increase.

Fentanyl and Cocaine

Fentanyl is a synthetic, short-acting opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and increasingly associated with a heightened risk of fatal overdose. The combination of heroin and cocaine, also known as “speedballing,” was popular in the 1970s.  Recently, there has been an uptick in cocaine being adulterated with other powerful substances like the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Unlike in the intentional combination of cocaine with other substances in the 70s, many modern users are not aware that their cocaine may be mixed with another substance, leaving them vulnerable to an accidental overdose.

Cocaine deaths have moved up to the second most common substance present in fatal overdoses—after opioids. Before 2015, fentanyl was involved in fewer than 5% of all overdose deaths each year. This rate increased to 16% in 2015 and continues to rise. At the beginning of 2016, 37% of cocaine-related overdose deaths in New York City involved fentanyl. By the end of the year, fentanyl was involved in almost half of all overdose deaths in NYC. Since then, several US cities have reported similar outbreaks of overdose fatalities involving fentanyl combined with heroin or cocaine. The combination of fentanyl and cocaine has been a considerable driver of the rising death toll since 2015, and opioid-naive cocaine users are at an especially high risk of unintentional opioid overdose.

Why is Fentanyl Appearing in Cocaine?

One theory is that the adulteration is an accident and occurs by residual fentanyl being present in the same space and on the same surfaces where cocaine is being processed. Another theory is that the increasing presence of fentanyl in cocaine concerns cost and supply. Drug cartels can add other cheaper drugs and medications as fillers to stretch out their product.1 By adding fentanyl they may also be producing a more potent and addictive product to expand their market. This, however, is risky since even a small amount of fentanyl can result in death. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) explains that even 2 milligrams of fentanyl, about the size of a grain of rice, can be deadly to an adult. In light of that fact, it’s distinctly possible that street-level illicit drug dealers do not have insight into the contents of their product and are unknowingly selling cocaine adulterated with fentanyl.

Present Study

Data in this study was acquired from death certificates from the New York City Bureau of Vital Statistics and toxicology results from the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Age-adjusted rates per 100,000 residents were calculated for 6-month intervals from 2010 to 2016.

Results suggested that individuals using cocaine in New York City were vulnerable to a greater risk of a fatal overdose due to the increasing presence of fentanyl in the city’s drug supply. In fact, 90% of the increase in cocaine overdose fatalities from 2010 to 2016 also involved fentanyl.

Public Health Challenges

This study highlighted some public health challenges caused by fentanyl-adulterated cocaine:

  1. First responders and those present at the scene of a cocaine overdose may consider administering Naloxone even if the patient denied using opioids.

  2. Fentanyl is very dangerous and powerful and dramatically increases the risk of lethal overdose.

  3. Opioid-naïve individuals that have been using fentanyl-free cocaine lack a potentially life-saving tolerance for opioids. Adding fentanyl to their drug of choice puts this group at an even higher risk of fatal overdose.

  4. Opioid-naïve cocaine users are typically not targeted by current harm reduction strategies and public messages concerning opioid overdose. A lack of education and access to critical resources, including naloxone —the lifesaving overdose reversal drug— render this population more vulnerable to a fatal overdose.

Looking to the Future

As the issue continues to get worse — 19,000 of the 42,000 reported opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were related to fentanyl — the authors of the study emphasize the importance of overdose prevention intervention for cocaine users, with a strong emphasis on access to naloxone and information about fentanyl.

Future prevention efforts must be widened to include cocaine users, especially those who are opioid-naïve, to prevent more fatal overdoses. Cocaine overdose awareness, treatment for dependence, and relapse prevention must be prioritized in a comprehensive response to addiction that puts us on a better path forward and ensures that this country does not repeat past mistakes by implementing substance-centric policy and education efforts.

Citation

Nolan, M. L., Shamasunder, S., Colon-Berezin, C., Kunins, H. V., & Paone, D. (2019). Increased presence of fentanyl in cocaine-involved fatal overdoses: implications for prevention. Journal of Urban Health, 1-6.

Source: Fentanyl-adulterated Cocaine: Strategies to Address the New Normal (addictionpolicy.org) Updated October 16th 2022

Abstract

Opioid use disorder is a highly disabling psychiatric disorder, and is associated with both significant functional disruption and risk for negative health outcomes such as infectious disease and fatal overdose. Even among those who receive evidence-based pharmacotherapy for opioid use disorder, many drop out of treatment or relapse, highlighting the importance of novel treatment strategies for this population. Over 60% of those with opioid use disorder also meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder; however, efficacious treatments for this common co-occurrence have not be established. This manuscript describes the rationale and methods for a behavioral treatment development study designed to develop and test an integrated cognitive-behavioral therapy for those with co-occurring opioid use disorder and anxiety disorders.

The aims of the study are (1) to develop and pilot test a new manualized cognitive behavioral therapy for co-occurring opioid use disorder and anxiety disorders, (2) to test the efficacy of this treatment relative to an active comparison treatment that targets opioid use disorder alone, and (3) to investigate the role of stress reactivity in both prognosis and recovery from opioid use disorder and anxiety disorders. Our overarching aim is to investigate whether this new treatment improves both anxiety and opioid use disorder outcomes relative to standard treatment. Identifying optimal treatment strategies for this population are needed to improve outcomes among those with this highly disabling and life-threatening disorder.

Source: Development of an integrated cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and opioid use disorder: Study protocol and methods – PubMed (nih.gov) July 2017

NEARLY 800 babies were born suffering the effects of their mother’s drug addiction in the past three years in Scotland – with experts warning the true toll is likely to be higher.

New figures show 774 babies were recorded as affected by addiction or suffering withdrawal symptoms from drugs between 2014 and 2017.

The drugs pass from mother to foetus through the bloodstream, resulting in babies suffering a range of withdrawal symptoms after birth and developmental delays in childhood.

Consultant neonatologist Dr Helen Mactier, honorary secretary of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, said there was a “hidden” number of women who took drugs in pregnancy and varying definitions of drug misuse in pregnancy which meant figures were likely to be an underestimate.

She said: “The problem largely in Scotland is opioid withdrawal – heroin and methadone.

“The baby withdraws from these substances and they are very irritable, cross, unhappy children who can be quite difficult to feed until they finally get over the withdrawal.”

Dr Mactier said at birth the babies were usually small, and had small heads and visual problems. She added there is evidence they suffer developmental delays in early childhood.

The figures, revealed in a written parliamentary answer, show an increase of 80% in cases from the three-year period from 2006-9, when 427 babies were born with the condition.

However, it said the data over time should be treated with caution as there has been an improvement in recording drug misuse.

The highest numbers over the past three years were recorded in Grampian, which had 169 cases. Glasgow had 137 cases, while Tayside recorded 90, Lanarkshire 78 and Lothian 72.

Numbers have been dropping since 2011-14, when a peak of 1,073 cases were recorded.

Dr Mactier, who works at Glasgow’s Princess Royal Maternity Hospital, said having to treat babies born addicted to drugs was becoming less common in recent years.

She said: “The numbers are coming down, but we are not sure why. It is partly because women who use drugs intravenously tend to be older, so are becoming too old to have children.”

However, she pointed out one controversial area was stabilising pregnant addicts on heroin substitutes such as methadone.

She added: “That may be good for the mum, to keep her more stable and out of criminality. It is not entirely clear if that is safe for the babies, so we need more research.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs, who obtained the figures, said: “It’s a national tragedy that we see such numbers of babies being born requiring drug dependency support – we need to see action to help prevent this harm occurring.”

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “We know how important it is for children to get a good start in life. We would like to see no babies born requiring drug dependency support.”

Source: https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/hundreds-of-babies-suffering-because-of-mums-drug-addiction October 2018

Abstract

Importance  Opioid-dependent patients often use the emergency department (ED) for medical care.

Objective  To test the efficacy of 3 interventions for opioid dependence: (1) screening and referral to treatment (referral); (2) screening, brief intervention, and facilitated referral to community-based treatment services (brief intervention); and (3) screening, brief intervention, ED-initiated treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone, and referral to primary care for 10-week follow-up (buprenorphine).

Design, Setting, and Participants  A randomized clinical trial involving 329 opioid-dependent patients who were treated at an urban teaching hospital ED from April 7, 2009, through June 25, 2013.

Interventions  After screening, 104 patients were randomized to the referral group, 111 to the brief intervention group, and 114 to the buprenorphine treatment group.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Enrollment in and receiving addiction treatment 30 days after randomization was the primary outcome. Self-reported days of illicit opioid use, urine testing for illicit opioids, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk, and use of addiction treatment services were the secondary outcomes.

Results  Seventy-eight percent of patients in the buprenorphine group (89 of 114 [95% CI, 70%-85%]) vs 37% in the referral group (38 of 102 [95% CI, 28%-47%]) and 45% in the brief intervention group (50 of 111 [95% CI, 36%-54%]) were engaged in addiction treatment on the 30th day after randomization (P < .001). The buprenorphine group reduced the number of days of illicit opioid use per week from 5.4 days (95% CI, 5.1-5.7) to 0.9 days (95% CI, 0.5-1.3) vs a reduction from 5.4 days (95% CI, 5.1-5.7) to 2.3 days (95% CI, 1.7-3.0) in the referral group and from 5.6 days (95% CI, 5.3-5.9) to 2.4 days (95% CI, 1.8-3.0) in the brief intervention group (P < .001 for both time and intervention effects; P = .02 for the interaction effect). The rates of urine samples that tested negative for opioids did not differ statistically across groups, with 53.8% (95% CI, 42%-65%) in the referral group, 42.9% (95% CI, 31%-55%) in the brief intervention group, and 57.6% (95% CI, 47%-68%) in the buprenorphine group (P = .17). There were no statistically significant differences in HIV risk across groups (P = .66). Eleven percent of patients in the buprenorphine group (95% CI, 6%-19%) used inpatient addiction treatment services, whereas 37% in the referral group (95% CI, 27%-48%) and 35% in the brief intervention group (95% CI, 25%-37%) used inpatient addiction treatment services (P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  Among opioid-dependent patients, ED-initiated buprenorphine treatment vs brief intervention and referral significantly increased engagement in addiction treatment, reduced self-reported illicit opioid use, and decreased use of inpatient addiction treatment services but did not significantly decrease the rates of urine samples that tested positive for opioids or of HIV risk. These findings require replication in other centers before widespread adoption.

Trial Registration  clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00913770

Source: Emergency Department–Initiated Buprenorphine/Naloxone Treatment for Opioid Dependence: A Randomized Clinical Trial | Emergency Medicine | JAMA | JAMA Network April 2015

Abstract

Background

Ecological research suggests that increased access to cannabis may facilitate reductions in opioid use and harms, and medical cannabis patients describe the substitution of opioids with cannabis for pain management. However, there is a lack of research using individual-level data to explore this question. We aimed to investigate the longitudinal association between frequency of cannabis use and illicit opioid use among people who use drugs (PWUD) experiencing chronic pain.

Methods and findings

This study included data from people in 2 prospective cohorts of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada, who reported major or persistent pain from June 1, 2014, to December 1, 2017 (n = 1,152). We used descriptive statistics to examine reasons for cannabis use and a multivariable generalized linear mixed-effects model to estimate the relationship between daily (once or more per day) cannabis use and daily illicit opioid use. There were 424 (36.8%) women in the study, and the median age at baseline was 49.3 years (IQR 42.3–54.9). In total, 455 (40%) reported daily illicit opioid use, and 410 (36%) reported daily cannabis use during at least one 6-month follow-up period. The most commonly reported therapeutic reasons for cannabis use were pain (36%), sleep (35%), stress (31%), and nausea (30%). After adjusting for demographic characteristics, substance use, and health-related factors, daily cannabis use was associated with significantly lower odds of daily illicit opioid use (adjusted odds ratio 0.50, 95% CI 0.34–0.74, p < 0.001). Limitations of the study included self-reported measures of substance use and chronic pain, and a lack of data for cannabis preparations, dosages, and modes of administration.

Conclusions

We observed an independent negative association between frequent cannabis use and frequent illicit opioid use among PWUD with chronic pain. These findings provide longitudinal observational evidence that cannabis may serve as an adjunct to or substitute for illicit opioid use among PWUD with chronic pain.

Author summary

Why was this study done?

  • High numbers of people who use (illicit) drugs (PWUD) experience chronic pain, and previous research shows that illicit use of opioids (e.g., heroin use, non-prescribed use of painkillers) is a common pain management strategy in this population.
  • Previous research has suggested that some patients might substitute opioids (i.e., prescription painkillers) with cannabis (i.e., marijuana) to treat pain.
  • Research into cannabis as a potential substitute for illicit opioids among PWUD is needed given the high risk of opioid overdose in this population.
  • We conducted this study to understand if cannabis use is related to illicit opioid use among PWUD who report living with chronic pain in Vancouver, Canada, where cannabis is abundant and the rate of opioid overdose is at an all-time high.

What did the researchers do and find?

  • Using data from 2 large studies of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada, we analyzed information from 1,152 PWUD who were interviewed at least once and reported chronic pain at some point between June 2014 and December 2017.
  • We used statistical modelling to estimate the odds of daily opioid use for (1) daily and (2) occasional users of cannabis relative to non-users of cannabis, holding other factors (e.g., sex, race, age, use of other drugs, pain severity) equal.
  • For participants who reported cannabis use, we also analyzed their responses to a question about why they were using cannabis (e.g., for intoxication, for pain relief)
  • We found that people who used cannabis every day had about 50% lower odds of using illicit opioids every day compared to cannabis non-users. People who reported occasional use of cannabis were not more or less likely than non-users to use illicit opioids on a daily basis. Daily cannabis users were more likely than occasional cannabis users to report a number of therapeutic uses of cannabis including for pain, nausea, and sleep.

What do these findings mean?

  • Although more experimental research (e.g., randomized controlled trial of cannabis coupled with low-dose opioids to treat chronic pain among PWUD) is needed, these findings suggest that some PWUD with pain might be using cannabis as a strategy to alleviate pain and/or reduce opioid use.

Introduction

Opioid-related morbidity and mortality continue to rise across Canada and the United States. In many regions, including Vancouver, Canada—where drug overdoses were declared a public health emergency in 2016—the emergence of synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl) in illicit drug markets has sparked an unprecedented surge in death. The overdose crisis is also the culmination of shifting opioid usage trends (i.e., from initiating opioids via heroin to initiating with pharmaceutical opioids) that can be traced back, in part, to the over-prescription of pharmaceutical opioids for chronic non-cancer pain.

Despite this trend of liberal opioid prescribing, certain marginalized populations experiencing high rates of pain, including people who use drugs (PWUD), lack access to adequate pain management through the healthcare system. Under- or untreated pain in this population can promote higher-risk substance use, as patients may seek illicit opioids (i.e., unregulated heroin or counterfeit/diverted pharmaceutical opioids) to manage pain. In Vancouver, this practice poses a particularly high risk of accidental overdose, as estimates show that almost 90% of drugs sold as heroin are contaminated with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Another less-examined pain self-management strategy among PWUD is the use of cannabis. Unlike illicit opioids and illicit stimulants, the cannabis supply (unregulated or regulated) has not been contaminated with fentanyl, and cannabis is not known to pose a direct risk of fatal overdose. As a result, cannabis has been embraced by some, including emerging community-based harm reduction initiatives in Vancouver, as a possible substitute for opioids in the non-medical management of pain and opioid withdrawal. Further, clinical evidence supports the use of cannabis or cannabinoid-based medications for the treatment of certain types of chronic non-cancer pain (e.g., neuropathic pain).

As more jurisdictions across North America introduce legal frameworks for medical or non-medical cannabis use, ecological studies have provided evidence to suggest that states providing access to legal cannabis experience population-level reductions in opioid use, opioid dependence, and fatal overdose. However, these state-level trends do not necessarily represent changes within individuals, highlighting a critical need to conduct individual-level research to better understand whether cannabis use is associated with reduced use of opioids and risk of opioid-related harms, particularly among individuals with pain. Of particular interest is a possible opioid-sparing effect of cannabis, whereby a smaller dose of opioids provides equivalent analgesia to a larger dose when paired with cannabis. Although this effect has been identified in pre-clinical studies, much of the current research in humans is limited to patient reports of reductions in the use of prescription drugs (including opioids) as a result of cannabis use. However, a recent study among patients on long-term prescription opioid therapy produced evidence to counter the narrative that cannabis use leads to meaningful reductions in opioid prescriptions or dose. These divergent findings confirm an ongoing need to understand this complex issue. To date, there is a lack of research from real-world settings exploring the opioid-sparing potential of cannabis among high-risk individuals who may be engaging in frequent illicit opioid use to manage pain. We therefore sought to examine whether frequency of cannabis use was related to frequency of illicit opioid use among PWUD who report living with chronic pain in Vancouver, Canada, the setting of an ongoing opioid overdose crisis.

Methods

Study sample

Data for this study were derived from 2 ongoing open prospective cohort studies of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada. The Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS) consists of HIV-negative people who use injection drugs. The AIDS Care Cohort to evaluate Exposure to Survival Services (ACCESS) consists of people living with HIV who use drugs. The current study, nested within these cohorts, was designed as part of a larger doctoral research project (SL) examining cannabis use and access among PWUD in the context of changing cannabis policy and the ongoing opioid overdose crisis. The analysis plan for this study is provided in S1 Text. This study is reported as per the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) guidelines for cohort studies (S1 Checklist).

Recruitment for the cohort studies has been ongoing since 1996 (VIDUS) and 2005 (ACCESS) through extensive street outreach in various areas across Vancouver’s downtown core, including the Downtown Eastside (DTES), a low-income neighbourhood with an open illicit drug market and widespread marginalization and criminalization. To be eligible for VIDUS, participants must report injecting drugs in the previous 30 days at enrolment. To be eligible for ACCESS, participants must report using an illicit drug (other than or in addition to cannabis, which was a controlled substance under Canadian law until October 17, 2018) in the previous 30 days at enrolment. For both cohorts, HIV serostatus is confirmed through serology. Other eligibility requirements include being aged 18 years or older, residing in the Metro Vancouver Regional District, and providing written informed consent. Aside from HIV-disease-specific assessments, all study instruments and follow-up procedures are harmonized between the 2 studies to facilitate combined data analysis and interpretation.

At study enrolment, participants complete an interviewer-administered baseline questionnaire. Every 6 months thereafter, participants are eligible to complete a follow-up questionnaire. The questionnaires elicit information on socio-demographic characteristics, lifetime (baseline) and past-6-month (baseline, follow-up) patterns of substance use, risk behaviours, healthcare utilization, social and structural exposures, and other health-related factors. Nurses collect blood samples for HIV testing (VIDUS) or HIV clinical monitoring (ACCESS) and hepatitis C virus serology, providing referrals to appropriate healthcare services as needed. Participants are provided a Can$40 honorarium for their participation at each study visit.

Ethics statement

Ethics approval for this study was granted by the University of British Columbia/Providence Health Care Research Ethics Board (VIDUS: H14-01396; ACCESS: H05-50233). Written informed consent was obtained from all study participants.

Measures

To examine the use of illicit opioids and cannabis for possible ad hoc management of pain among PWUD, we restricted the study sample to individuals experiencing major or persistent pain. Beginning in follow-up period 17 (i.e., June 2014), the following question was added to the study questionnaire: “In the last 6 months, have you had any major or persistent pain (other than minor headaches, sprains, etc.)?” We included all observations from participants beginning at the first follow-up interview in which they reported chronic pain. For example, a participant who responded “no” to the pain question at follow-up 17 and “yes” at follow-up 18 would be included beginning at follow-up 18. For the purpose of these analyses, this first follow-up period with a pain report is considered the “baseline” interview.

The outcome of interest was frequent use of illicit opioids, defined as reporting daily (once or more per day) non-medical use of heroin or pharmaceutical opioids (diverted, counterfeit, or not-as-prescribed use) by injection or non-injection (i.e., smoking, snorting, or oral administration) in the previous 6 months. This outcome was captured through 4 different multipart questions based on class of opioid (i.e., heroin and pharmaceutical opioids) and mode of administration (i.e., injection and non-injection). For example, at each 6-month period, injection heroin use was assessed through the question: “In the last 6 months, when you were using, which of the following injecting drugs did you use, and how often did you use them?” Respondents were provided a list of commonly injected drugs, including heroin, and were asked to estimate their average frequency of injection in the past 6 months according to the following classifications: <1/month, 1–3/month, 1/week, 2–3/week, ≥1/day. An identical question for non-injection drugs assessed the frequency of non-injection heroin use. Pharmaceutical opioid injection was assessed through the question “In the past 6 months, have you injected any of the following prescription opioids? If so, how often did you inject them?” Participants were provided a list of pharmaceutical opioids with corresponding pictures for ease of identification. The question was repeated for non-injection use of pharmaceutical opioids, and the frequency categories were identical to those listed above. Using frequency categorizations from these 4 questions, participants who endorsed past-6-month daily injection or non-injection of heroin or pharmaceutical opioids were coded as “1” for the outcome (i.e., daily illicit opioid use) for that follow-up period. The main independent variable was cannabis use, captured through the question “In the last 6 months, have you used marijuana (either medical or non-medical) for any reason (e.g., to treat a medical condition or for a non-medical reason, like getting high)?” Those who responded “yes” were also asked to estimate their average past-6-month frequency of use according to the frequency categories described above. Frequency was further categorized as “daily” (i.e., ≥1/day), “occasional” (i.e., <1/month, 1–3/month, 1/week, 2–3/week), and “none” (no cannabis use; reference category). Sections of the questionnaire used for sample restriction and main variable building are provided in S2 Text.

We also considered several socio-demographic, substance use, and health-related factors with the potential to confound the association between cannabis use and illicit opioid use. Secondary socio-demographic variables included in this analysis were sex (male versus female), race (white versus other), age (in years), employment (yes versus no), incarceration (yes versus no), homelessness (yes versus no), and residence in the DTES neighbourhood (yes versus no). We considered the following substance use patterns: daily crack or cocaine use (yes versus no), daily methamphetamine use (yes versus no), and daily alcohol consumption (yes versus no). Health-related factors that were hypothesized to bias the association between cannabis and opioid use were enrolment in opioid agonist treatment (i.e., methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone; yes versus no), HIV serostatus (HIV-positive versus HIV-negative), prescription for pain (including prescription opioids; yes versus no), and average past-week pain level (mild–moderate, severe, or none). The pain variable was self-reported using a pain scale ranging from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worse possible pain). We used 3 as the cut-point for mild–moderate pain and 7 as the cut-point for moderate–severe pain. Although there is no universal standard for pain categorization, these cut-points are common and have been validated in other pain populations. Due to low cell count for mild pain (scores 1–3), we collapsed this variable with moderate pain (4–6) to create the mild–moderate category. With the exception of sex and race, all variables are time-updated and refer to behaviours and exposures in the 6-month period preceding the interview. All variables except HIV status were derived through self-report. As data for the present study were derived from 2 large cohort studies with broader objectives of monitoring changing health and substance use patterns in the community, the study participants and interviewers were blinded to the objective of this particular study.

Statistical analysis

We explored differences in characteristics at baseline according to daily cannabis use status (versus occasional/none) using chi-squared tests for categorical variables and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests for continuous variables. Then, we estimated bivariable associations between each independent variable and the outcome, daily illicit opioid use, using generalized linear mixed-effects models (GLMMs) with a logit-link function to account for repeated measures within individuals over time. Next, we built a multivariable GLMM to estimate the adjusted association between frequency of cannabis use and illicit opioid use. We used the least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) approach to determine which variables to include in the multivariable model. This method uses a tuning parameter to penalize the model based on the absolute value of the magnitude of coefficients (i.e., L1 regularization), shrinking some coefficients down to 0 (i.e., indicating their removal from the multivariable GLMM). Four-fold cross-validation was used to determine the optimal value of the tuning parameter. GLMMs were estimated using complete cases (98.6%–100% of observations for bivariable estimates; 99.0% of observations for multivariable estimates).

In the most recent follow-up period (June 1, 2017, to December 1, 2017), participants who reported any cannabis use in the previous 6-month period were eligible for the follow-up question: “Why did you use it?” Respondents could select multiple options from a list of answers or offer an alternative reason under “Other”. These data were analyzed descriptively, and differences between at least daily and less than daily cannabis users were analyzed using a chi-squared test, or Fisher’s test for small cell counts.

All analyses were performed in RStudio (version 1.1.456; R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria). All p-values are 2-sided.

Results

Between June 1, 2014, and December 1, 2017, 1,489 participants completed at least 1 study visit and were considered potentially eligible for these analyses. Of them, 13 participants were removed due to missing data on the fixed variable for race (n = 9), no response to the pain question (n = 1), or multiple interviews during a single follow-up period (n = 3). Of the remaining 1,476 participants, 1,152 (78.0%) reported major or persistent pain during at least one 6-month follow-up period and were included in this analysis. We considered all observations from these individuals beginning from the first report of chronic pain, yielding 5,350 study observations, equal to 2,676.5 person-years of observation. There were 424 (36.8%) female participants in the analytic sample, and the median age at the earliest analytic interview was 49.3 years (IQR 42.3–54.9).

Over the study period, a total of 410 (35.6%) respondents reported daily and 557 (48.4%) reported occasional cannabis use throughout at least 1 of the 6-month follow-up periods; 455 (39.5%) reported daily illicit opioid use throughout at least 1 of the 6-month follow-up periods. At baseline (i.e., the first interview in which chronic pain was reported), 583 (50.6%) participants were using cannabis either occasionally (n = 322; 28.0%) or daily (n = 261; 22.7%), and 269 (23.4%) were using illicit opioids daily. At baseline, 693 (60.2%) participants self-reported a lifetime chronic pain diagnosis including bone, mechanical, or compressive pain (n = 347; 50.1%); inflammatory pain (n = 338; 48.8%); neuropathic pain (n = 129; 18.6%); muscle pain (n = 54; 7.8%); headaches/migraines (n = 41; 5.9%); and other pain (n = 53; 7.6%).

Table 1 provides a summary of baseline characteristics of the sample stratified by daily cannabis use status (yes versus no). Daily cannabis use at baseline was significantly more common among men (odds ratio [OR] 1.76, 95% 95% CI 1.30–2.38, p < 0.001) and significantly less common among those who used illicit opioids daily (OR 0.54, 95% CI 0.37–0.77, p < 0.001).

Discussion

In this longitudinal study examining patterns of past-6-month frequency of cannabis and illicit opioid use, we found that the odds of daily illicit opioid use were lower (by about half) among those who reported daily cannabis use compared to those who reported no cannabis use. However, we observed no significant association between occasional cannabis use and daily opioid use, suggesting that there may be an intentional therapeutic element associated with frequent cannabis use. This is supported by cross-sectional data from the sample in which certain reasons for cannabis use were observed to differ according to cannabis use frequency. Specifically, daily users reported more therapeutic motivations for cannabis use (including to address pain, stress, nausea, mental health, or symptoms of HIV or antiretroviral therapy, or to improve sleep) than occasional users, and non-medical motivations—although common among all users—were not more likely to be reported by daily users. Together, our findings suggest that PWUD experiencing pain might be using cannabis as an ad hoc (i.e., improvised, self-directed) strategy to reduce the frequency of opioid use.

A recent study analyzed longitudinal data from a large US national health survey and found that cannabis use increases, rather than decreases, the risk of future non-medical prescription opioid use in the general population, providing important evidence to challenge the hypothesis that increasing access to cannabis facilitates reductions in opioid use. The findings of our study reveal a contrasting relationship between cannabis use and frequency of opioid use, possibly due to inherent differences in the sampled populations and their motivations for using cannabis. Within the current study population, poly-substance use is the norm; HIV and related comorbidities are common; and pain management through prescribed opioids is often denied, increasing the likelihood of non-medical opioid use for a medical condition. Furthermore, our study is largely focused on this relationship in the context of pain (i.e., by examining individuals with self-reported pain and accounting for intensity of pain). Our findings align more closely with those of a recent study conducted among HIV-positive patients living with chronic pain, in which the authors found that patients who reported past-month cannabis use were significantly less likely to be taking prescribed opioids. While this finding could have resulted from prescription denial associated with the use of cannabis (or any illicit drug), we show that daily cannabis users in this setting were slightly more likely to have been prescribed a pain medication at baseline, and adjusting for this factor in a longitudinal multivariable model did not negate the significant negative association of frequent cannabis use with frequent illicit opioid use.

The idea of cannabis as an adjunct to, or substitute for, opioids in the management of chronic pain has recently earned more serious consideration among some clinicians and scientists. A growing number of studies involving patients who use cannabis to manage pain demonstrate reductions in the use of prescription analgesics alongside favourable pain management outcomes. For example, Boehnke et al. found that chronic pain patients reported a 64% mean reduction in the use of prescription opioids after initiating cannabis, alongside a 45% mean increase in self-reported quality of life. Degenhardt et al. found that, in a cohort of Australian patients on prescribed opioids for chronic pain, those using cannabis for pain relief (6% of patients at baseline) reported better analgesia from adjunctive cannabis use (70% average pain reduction) than opioid use alone (50% average reduction). However, more recent high-quality research has presented findings to question this narrative. For example, in the 4-year follow-up analysis of the above Australian cohort of pain patients, no significant temporal associations were observed between cannabis use (occasional or frequent) and a number of outcomes including prescribed opioid dose, pain severity, opioid discontinuation, and pain interference. Thus, several other explanations for our current results, aside from an opioid-sparing effect, are worthy of consideration.

We chose to include individuals with chronic pain regardless of their opioid use status to avoid exclusion of individuals who may have already ceased illicit opioid use at baseline, as these individuals may reflect an important subsample of those already engaged in cannabis substitution. On the other hand, there may be important characteristics, unrelated to pain, among regular cannabis users in this study that predispose them to engage in less frequent or no illicit opioid use at the outset. We attempted to measure and control for these factors, but we cannot rule out the possibility of a spurious connection. For example, individuals in this cohort who are consuming cannabis daily for therapeutic purposes may simply possess greater self-efficacy to manage health problems and control their opioid use. However, it is notable that our finding is in line with a previous study demonstrating that cannabis use correlates with lower frequency of illicit opioid use among a sample of people who inject drugs in California, all of whom used illicit opioids. Our study builds on this work by addressing chronic pain, obtaining detailed information on motivations for cannabis use, and examining longitudinal patterns.

We observed that daily cannabis users endorsed intentional use of cannabis for a range of therapeutic purposes that may influence pain and pain interference. After pain, insomnia (43%) and stress (42%) were the second and third most commonly reported motivations for therapeutic cannabis use among daily cannabis users. The inability to fall asleep and the inability stay asleep are common symptoms of pain-causing conditions, and experiencing these symptoms increases the likelihood of opioid misuse among chronic pain patients. The relationship between sleep deprivation and pain is thought to be bidirectional, suggesting that improved sleep management may improve pain outcomes. Similarly, psychological stress (particularly in developmental years) is a well-established predictor of chronic pain and is also likely to result from chronic pain. Thus, another possible explanation for our finding is that cannabis use substitutes for certain higher-risk substance use practices in addressing these pain-associated issues without necessarily addressing the pain itself.

Notably, our findings are consistent with emerging knowledge of the form and function of the human endocannabinoid and opioid receptor systems. The endogenous cannabinoid system, consisting of receptors (cannabinoid type 1 [CB1] and type 2 [CB2]) and modulators (the endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol), is involved in key pain processing pathways. The co-localization of endocannabinoid and μ-opioid receptors in brain and spinal regions involved in antinociception, and the modification of one system’s nociceptive response via modulation of the other, has raised the possibility that the phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might interact synergistically with opioids to improve pain management. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found strong evidence of an opioid-sparing effect for cannabis in animal pain models, but little evidence from 9 studies in humans. However, the authors of the meta-analysis identified several important limitations potentially preventing these studies in humans from detecting an effect, including low sample sizes, single doses, sub-therapeutic opioid doses, and lack of placebo. Since then, Cooper and colleagues have published the results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject study among humans in which they found that pain threshold and tolerance were improved significantly when a non-analgesic dose of an opioid was co-administered with a non-analgesic dose of cannabis. Suggestive of a synergistic effect, these findings provide evidence for cannabis’s potential to lower the opioid dose needed to achieve pain relief.

Finally, there is pre-clinical and pilot clinical research to suggest that cannabinoids, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), may play a role in reducing heroin cue-induced anxiety and cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. Although preliminary, this research supports the idea that cannabis may also be used to stabilize individuals undergoing opioid withdrawal, as an adjunct to prescribed opioids to manage opioid use disorder, or as a harm reduction strategy. Although this evidence extends beyond chronic pain patients, it warrants consideration here given the shared history of illicit substance use amongst the study sample. It is not clear what role harm reduction or treatment motivations may have played in the current study since daily and occasional users did not differ significantly in reporting cannabis use as a strategy to reduce or treat other substance use. The phenomenon of using cannabis as a tool to reduce frequency of opioid injection has been highlighted through qualitative work in other settings, but further research is needed to determine whether this pattern is widespread enough to produce an observable effect. Clinical trials that can randomize participants to a cannabis intervention will be critical for establishing the effectiveness of cannabis both for pain management and as an adjunctive therapy for the management of opioid use disorder. Such trials would begin to shed light on whether the current finding could be causal, what the underlying mechanisms might be, and how to optimize cannabis-based interventions in clinical or community settings.

There are several important limitations to this study that should be taken into consideration. First, the cohorts are not random samples of PWUD, limiting the ability to generalize these findings to the entire community or to other settings. The older median age of the sample should especially be taken into consideration when interpreting these findings against those from other settings. Second, as discussed above, we cannot rule out the possibility of residual confounding. Third, aside from HIV serostatus, we relied on self-report for all variables, including substance use patterns. Previous work shows PWUD self-report to be reliable and valid against biochemical verification, and we have no reason to suspect that responses about the outcome would differ by cannabis use status, especially since this study was nested within a much larger cohort study on general substance use and health patterns within the community. Major or persistent pain, which qualified respondents for inclusion in this study, was also self-reported. Our definition for chronic pain is likely to be more sensitive than other assessments of chronic pain (e.g., clinical diagnoses or assessments that capture length of time with pain). Although more than half (60%) of the sample reported ever having been diagnosed with a pain condition, it is possible that some of the included respondents would not have met criteria for a formal chronic pain diagnosis. Finally, we did not collect information on the type of cannabis, mode of administration, cannabinoid content (e.g., percent THC:percent CBD), or dose during the study period. Future research will need to address these gaps to provide a more detailed picture of the instrumental use of cannabis for pain and other health concerns among PWUD.

Conclusions

In conclusion, we found evidence to suggest that frequent use of cannabis may serve as an adjunct to or substitute for illicit opioid use among PWUD with chronic pain in Vancouver. The findings of this study have implications for healthcare and harm reduction service providers. In chronic pain patients with complex socio-structural and substance use backgrounds, cannabis may be used as a means of treating health problems or reducing substance-related harm. In the context of the current opioid crisis and the recent rollout of a national regulatory framework for cannabis use in Canada, frequent use of cannabis among PWUD with pain may play an important role in preventing or substituting frequent illicit opioid use. PWUD describe a wide range of motivations for cannabis use, some of which may have stronger implications in the treatment of pain and opioid use disorder. Patient–physician discussions of these motivations may aid in the development of a treatment plan that minimizes the likelihood of high-risk pain management strategies, yet there remains a clear need for further training and guidance specific to medical cannabis use for pain management.

Source: Frequency of cannabis and illicit opioid use among people who use drugs and report chronic pain: A longitudinal analysis – PubMed (nih.gov) November 2019

In recent years, we’ve reported about concerns over heroin use in Denver, and statistics from over the past decade-plus, including provisional data for 2016, demonstrate that there’s definitely reason for worry. According to numbers assembled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, heroin-related fatalities in Denver have increased a staggering 933 percent since 2002.

The rise is nearly as steep on a statewide basis. During the past fifteen years, fatalities related to heroin in Colorado as a whole are up 756 percent, and they’ve kept escalating during the past three years even as heroin deaths in Denver have leveled off.

CDPHE provided the information to Westword under the auspices of Kirk Bol, manager of the agency’s registries and vital-statistics branch, as well as chair of its internal review board. When it comes to heroin, he describes the situation with straightforward simplicity. “Heroin use has gone up,” he says.

That’s definitely the case in recent Denver history. In 2001, the first year listed in the CDPHE’s report, there were no Mile High City deaths directly attributable to heroin: zero. (Statewide in 2001, 23 people died from heroin use.) This performance was actually repeated in 2004, and in general, as shown in the full statistics shared below, the fatality figures stayed in the single digits for the next five years.

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Colorado 23 27 23 22 41 39 39 46
Denver 0 3 3 0 4 6 12 16

 

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 (provisional)
Colorado 69 46 79 91 118 151 160 197
Denver 32 21 24 17 25 35 32 31

Source: http://www.westword.com/news/heroin-deaths-in-denver-up-933-percent-in-14-years-colorado-numbers-shocking-8847581 March 2017

Increases seen in deaths from other drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine.

Colorado drug deaths almost certainly were the worst in the state’s history last year, as the opioid epidemic morphed into a broader overdose crisis.

Deaths from methamphetamine exploded. What had been seen as a hopeful downturn in deaths from opioid painkillers reversed. Deaths from heroin and cocaine remained well above where they were just two years ago.

All together, drug overdoses probably killed more people last year than car crashes, according to preliminary numbers. And those numbers are more likely to increase than decrease as the state collects the remaining figures and finalizes the data in the coming weeks.

“Yes, it’s getting worse, and it continues to grow,” said Rob Valuck, the director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Prevention. “It’s a long problem. I’m of the mind that it’s going to be anywhere from five to 10 years until we see this thing turn.”

The reason for that: Even as the state moves aggressively to crack down on the proliferation of opioids, the overdose epidemic is changing in ways that are harder for policy-makers to target, according to the latest data and a new report from the Colorado Health Institute.

The preliminary figures show that 959 people died in Colorado last year from drug poisoning, a figure that includes both intentional and unintentional overdoses. In 2016, 912 people died. In 2000, for comparison, drug poisonings claimed fewer than 400 lives.

Opioid deaths at an all-time high

Opioid overdose deaths in Colorado hit a new high in 2017. While the death rate* for painkillers, which include legal prescription drugs and drugs manufactured illegally, have climbed steadily since 1999, the rate for heroin and methamphetamine deaths has spiked since 2010. For the first time since 2007, there were more overdose deaths from meth than heroin in 2017.

The preliminary age-adjusted rate of deaths from drug overdoses, which accounts for population growth, was 16.7 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2017 — its highest in at least two decades. The largest number of deaths in 2017 occurred in the Denver metro area and in El Paso County, according to the preliminary figures. Areas of southern Colorado had some of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths, though.

Opioid painkillers continue to lead the way. In 2017, the drugs — whether obtained legally with a prescription or illegally — claimed a documented 357 lives, a record for Colorado, according to the preliminary figures. Two years of declining death numbers turned out not to be a trend but “just a blip,” Valuck said.

Their real toll was also likely higher because the state lists dozens of other deaths as being from “unspecified” drugs. A study published last year, for instance, estimated that Colorado’s death rate from opioid painkillers would have been almost 25 percent higher in 2014 had the drugs involved in those deaths been identified.

But the state’s overdose epidemic is no longer confined to opioid painkillers, according to the new Colorado Health Institute report.

The report documents a rise in cocaine deaths in recent years — from 60 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, falling only slightly to a preliminary 93 last year. Fatal methamphetamine overdoses increased dramatically — 139 in 2015, 196 in 2016 and a preliminary 280 in 2017. And heroin deaths have also risen sharply — 160 in 2015, 228 in 2016 and a preliminary 213 in 2017.

Jaclyn Zubrzycki, the report’s lead author, said those increases could partly be a result of the opioid epidemic. As hospitals and doctors’ offices crack down on their prescribing, those addicted to opioids may be forced into looking for drugs on the black market — and taking whatever they can find there.

“I think it’s tied to the opioid epidemic and the prescription epidemic, but it’s also an independent growth,” Zubrzycki said.

Colorado’s trends are not unique nationally. Preliminary numbers released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that drug overdose death rates increased in 36 states and the District of Columbia during the 12-month period ended July 1.

And, for Valuck, this all just shows how much work Colorado and other states have to do in fighting the epidemic.

An opioid death isn’t instantaneous, he said. It’s the conclusion of an often years-long addiction that begins with a doctor’s prescription. So, the first step in stopping overdoses, he said, is to reduce the flow of opioids out of pharmacies — both to prevent people from becoming addicted to their own medicine and to limit the number of leftover opioids floating around that commonly fuel additional cases of addiction.

Colorado hospitals have made progress in reducing opioid prescribing, Valuck said. But their prescription levels are still 87 percent of what they used to be.

“The faucet is being shut off at a slower rate than we would like,” he said.

But even if new cases of addiction can be stopped, that still leaves thousands of people in need of treatment who are vulnerable to overdosing on any of an expanding list of drugs. But, Valuck said, treatment services lag in rural areas, while urban areas also have challenges reaching everyone who needs help.

“If you look at the numbers,” he said, “everywhere in Colorado has a problem.”

Source: More Coloradans died last year from drug overdoses than any year in the state’s history. That shows how the opioid epidemic is changing. – The Denver Post April 2018

Government warnings about fentanyl hitting UK streets have inadvertently sparked a demand for the deadly opioid among drug users, a community leader has told IBTimes UK.

Last month, the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that 60 drug deaths had been linked to fentanyl and its cousins, including the elephant tranquilizer carfentanyl, since December 2016.

This followed a warning in April from Public Health England (PHE) that the synthetic opiates, which are 50 to 10,000 times stronger than heroin, were being mixed with the street drug.

But these announcements have merely whetted the appetite of some heroin users, according to Martin McCusker, chair of the Lambeth Service User Council, a support network for drug users in south London.

“The warnings have generated a lot of interest among drug users who think ‘wow – this fentanyl stuff is sh*t cool – it must be really strong’,” he said.

McCusker said he was not surprised by the response of his peers when they learned that fentanyl, which is ravaging communities across North America, was becoming more prevalent in this country.

“We get these warnings about overdoses but that’s not what we hear,” he said, adding that a drug user’s typical thought process might be: “Wow, people are overdosing in Wandsworth. Oh right, they must have good gear in Wandsworth.”

As little as 0.002g of fentanyl and 0.00002g of carfentanyl – a few grains – can be fatal. When dealers mix this with heroin the resultant product may contain “hotspots” – unintended concentrations of the more potent substances.

People experiencing an opioid overdose effectively forget to breathe as their respiratory systems shut down.

McCusker acknowledged agencies’ predicaments when it comes to safeguarding drug users without giving harmful substances undue publicity.

But he said the government warnings, combined with media coverage about the spate of fentanyl-related deaths in the UK, had acted as “adverts” for the extra-strong painkiller, which killed the pop musician Prince.

“It’s not that people want fentanyl. It’s that people want stronger opioids and if fentanyl comes along then great,” he said. “Just today I was talking to this guy and he said ‘this dealer in [redacted] estate has got fentanyl.'”

McCusker claimed fentanyl was not being discussed among people who use heroin in the Brixton area until about six months ago, when reports of it being mixed with UK street supplies hit the mainstream press.

Recent interventions from government agencies had only heightened the buzz surrounding the drug, he added.

A spokesperson for PHE said: “The alert we put out was aimed primarily at emergency, medical and other frontline professionals. But we are aware that the decision about whether, and when, to issue an alert about a dangerous drug is a delicate balance between informing the right people to prevent overdoses and not driving demand for it.”

No UK opioid epidemic – for now

At least 60 drug-related deaths have been linked to fentanyl and its analogues in the last eight months, according to figures released by the NCA at a briefing on 31 July. That number refers to cases where the substances showed up in toxicology reports and does not mean they were the outright cause of death.

The synthetic substances, largely imported from Chinese manufacturers, were not instrumental to the recent surge in UK opiate deaths, which jumped from 1,290 in 2012 to 2,038 in 2016. That rise has been attributed to an ageing heroin-using population more prone to underlying health problems, and the increased purity of street heroin.

McCusker pointed out that it was impossible for users to know they were buying fentanyl-laced heroin “unless you’ve got an amazing drug testing kit at home”. He said that some of the excitement surrounding fentanyl was “just hype”.

NCA Deputy Director Ian Cruxton told reporters at the July briefing he was “cautiously optimistic” that the UK heroin market would not be flooded with fentanyl.

He said there had been a significant reduction in fentanyl-related deaths after major busts on mixing ‘labs’ in Leeds and Wales as well as the seizure of dark web marketplaces Alpha Bay and Hansa by law enforcement agencies.

In an April briefing paper, the NCA said: “We have not seen any evidence to date of UK heroin users demanding fentanyl-laced heroin.” McCusker’s testimony suggests the tide may have turned.

Source: https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/heroin-addicts-now-want-fentanyl-after-government-campaign-advertises-how-much-stronger-it-1634152 August 2017

A. Benjamin Srivastava, MD
Mark S. Gold, MD

The opioid epidemic is the most important and most serious public health crisis today. The effects are reported in overdose deaths but are also starkly evident in declines in sense of well-being and general health coupled with increasing all-cause mortality, particularly among the middle-aged white population. As exceptionally well described by Rummans et al in this issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the cause of the epidemic is multifactorial, including an overinterpretation of a now infamous New England Journal of Medicine letter describing addiction as a rare occurrence in hospitalized patients treated with opioids, initiatives from the Joint Commission directed toward patient satisfaction and the labeling of pain as the “5th vital sign,” the advent of extended-release oxycodone (OxyContin), an aggressive marketing campaign from Purdue Pharma L.P., and the influx of heroin and fentanyl derivatives.

To date, most initiatives directed toward fighting the opioid initiatives, and the focus of the discussion from Rummans et al, have targeted the “supply side” of the equation. These measures include restricting prescriptions, physician drug monitoring programs, and other regulatory actions. Indeed, although opioid prescriptions have decreased from peak levels, the prevalence of opioid misuse and use disorder remains extremely prevalent (nearly 5%). Further, fatal drug overdoses, to which opioids contribute to a considerable degree, continue to increase, with 63,000 in 2016 alone. Thus, although prescription supply and access are necessary and important, we need to address the problem as a whole. To this point, for example, the ease of importation and synthesis of very cheap and powerful alternatives (eg, fentanyl and heroin) and the lucrative US marketplace have contributed to the replacement pharmacy sales and diversion with widespread street-level distribution of these illicit opioids; opioid-addicted people readily switch to these illicit opioids.

A complementary and necessary approach is to target the “demand” side of opioid use, namely, implementation of preventive measures, educating physicians, requiring physician continuing education for opioid prescribing licensure, and addressing why patients use opioids in the first place. Indeed, prevention of initiation of use is the only 100% safeguard against addiction; however, millions of patients remain addicted, and they need comprehensive, rather than perfunctory, treatment. Rummans and colleagues are absolutely correct in their delineation of the unwitting consequences of a focus on pain, given that a perceived undertreatment of pain fueled the opioid epidemic in the first place. They are correct to point out how effective pain evaluation and treatment are much more than prescribing and should routinely include psychotherapy, interventional procedures, and nonopioid therapies. In addition, we have described the crossroads between pain and addiction as well as successful strategies to manage patients with both chronic pain syndromes and addiction.

Rummans and colleagues also mention much needed dissemination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT; eg, methadone and buprenorphine) and the opioid overdose medication naloxone, and we agree with both of these measures. However, in addressing the demand side of the opioid epidemic, the focus must be much more comprehensive. Viewing opioid addiction as a stand-alone disease without consideration of other substance use or comorbid psychiatric pathology provides only a limited perspective. Rather, dual disorders are the rule and not the exception, and thus addiction evaluation and treatment should also specifically focus on psychiatric symptomatology and comorbidity. Epidemiological evidence indicates that over 50% of individuals with opioid use disorder meet criteria for concurrent major depressive disorder.Recent evidence from Cicero and Ellis indicates that the majority of opioid-addicted individuals seeking treatment indicate that their reasons for use are for purposes of “self-medication” and relief of psychiatric distress. To expand on this concept, we have suggested that drugs, by targeting the nucleus accumbens, alter motivation and reinforcement circuits and change brain reward thresholds; this change results in profound dysphoria and anhedonia, which, in turn, lead to further drug use.

Obviously, then, opioid addiction treatment should focus on diagnosing and assessing psychiatric comorbidity and monitoring of affective states and other depressive symptoms. However, a bigger problem might be the pretreatment phase, considering that, as Rummans et al note, only 10% of patients with opioid use disorder receive any treatment at all. Resources have principally been devoted to mitigating the effects of acute opioid toxicity both before and during intervention in the emergency department. A principal means of medical stabilization has been overdose reversal with the μ-opioid receptor antagonist naloxone, and efforts have been largely focused on dissemination of this agent. However, while increased naloxone use among the lay public, first responders, and medical personnel has been successful in reducing deaths, recidivism is high and increased naloxone use has not affected the problem as a whole. Generally, when patients present to the emergency department, clinical experience dictates that opioid overdoses are considered accidental until proven otherwise, which, after stabilization, allows the physician to discharge the medically stable patient, the hospital to collect reimbursement, and the pharmaceutical company to raise prices (eg, naloxone prices increased by 400% from 2014 to 2016, for autoinjection formulations).

In addition to the substantial costs associated with repeated naloxone administration and emergency department visits, recidivism is inextricably linked with another problem—the reason for overdose in the first place is not addressed. As mentioned earlier in this editorial, depression prevalence is high in patients with opioid use disorders. Strikingly, using nationwide data from US poison control centers, West et al found that over 65% of opioid overdoses reported were indeed suicide attempts, and of completed overdoses, the percent of those characterized as suicides climbed to 75%. Thus, an “inconvenient truth” may be that many of these opioid overdoses presenting to emergency departments may be unrecognized suicide attempts and that many of the over 66,000 deaths may indeed be completed suicides. Thus, comprehensive evaluation and treatment become even more relevant.

Clearly, more thorough evaluations in emergency departments with comprehensive risk assessments are needed, especially given that these patients may be guarded about suicidal ideation in the first place. Indeed, efforts to initiate buprenorphine in the emergency department, which independently is being investigated for its therapeutic effects on suicidal ideation, have spread; however, while abstinence outcomes are favorable at 30 days, the therapeutic benefit seems to disappear at both 6 months and 1 year. This failure of opioid reversal treatment is important, especially given that at 1 year, 15% of patients rescued with naloxone had died. Additionally, lack of psychiatric services and overcrowding at many emergency departments may preclude a comprehensive evaluation; however, target screening of all high-risk patients may identify patients with even hidden suicidal ideation and allow for appropriate triage.

Most addiction treatment today is centered around time-limited settings without adequate follow-up. Although MAT is an important addition to treatment for opioid addicts, it is generally not sufficient for long-term sobriety given (1) the relatively high rates of immediate and short-term treatment discontinuation and (2) that patients rarely are using just opioids. In fact, regarding long-term outcomes, methadone may be the only MAT treatment that demonstrates superior abstinence rates, safety, opioid overdose prevention, and treatment retention. We recommend that future studies include random assignment to different treatment modalities, assessing abstinence with urine testing and other modalities, psychosocial outcomes, and overall level of functioning for 5 years.

In terms of treatment, we suggest a continuing care approach, viewing addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease, but higher quality data are needed. For example, in most states, physicians with substance use disorders who are referred for treatment indeed undergo evaluation and detoxification, but they are also monitored for 5 years with frequent drug testing, contingency management, evaluation and treatment of comorbid psychiatric issues, and mutual support groups. Outcomes are generally superior, with 5-year abstinence and return to work rates approaching 80%. Notably, most of these programs do not allow MAT, yet opioid-addicted physicians do as well in the structured, supportive, long-term care model as physicians addicted to other substances. Obviously, the threat of professional license sanctions may impel physicians to comply with treatment, but many of the aforementioned strategies including contingency management, long-term follow-up, comprehensive psychiatric evaluation, and mutual support have demonstrable evidence for addiction treatment in general.

More resources need to be devoted to addressing the opioid epidemic, particularly on the prevention and also the demand side. Access to treatment is important, but more investment is needed in improving treatment including implementing 5-year comprehensive care programs. Thus, we recommend that future studies involve random assignment to different treatment groups, focusing on urine drug test–confirmed abstinence, psychosocial outcomes, and overall functioning. Additionally, advances in neuroscience may allow for the development of novel therapeutics targeting specific neurocircuitry involved in reward and motivation (ie, moving beyond the single receptor targets). A parallel can be drawn to the AIDS epidemic, in which massive basic science investments yielded novel effective therapies, which have now become standard of care and one of the world’s great public health successes. Resources focused on these interventions and reinvigorating drug education and prevention may prove fruitful in addressing this devastating epidemic. Further, lessons from this epidemic may help us move beyond a specific “one drug, one approach” so that for future epidemics, irrespective of the drug involved, we would already have in place a generalizable framework that utilizes the full repertoire of responses and resources.

The United States is confronting a public health crisis of rising adult drug addiction, most visibly documented by an unprecedented number of opioid overdose deaths. Most of these overdose deaths are not from the use of a single substance – opioids – but rather are underreported polysubstance deaths. This is happening in the context of a swelling national interest in legalizing marijuana use for recreational and/or medical use. As these two epic drug policy developments roil the nation, there is an opportunity to embrace a powerful initiative. Ninety percent of all adult substance use disorders trace back to origins in adolescence. New prevention efforts are needed that inform young people, the age group most at-risk for the onset of substance use problems, of the dangerous minefield of substance use that could have a profound negative impact on their future plans and dreams.

MOVING BEYOND A SUBSTANCE-SPECIFIC APPROACH TO YOUTH PREVENTION

The adolescent brain is uniquely vulnerable to developing substance use disorders because it is actively and rapidly developing until about age 25. This biological fact means that the earlier substance use is initiated the more likely an individual is to develop addiction. Preventing or delaying all adolescent substance use reduces the risk of developing later addiction.

Nationally representative data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are by far the most widely used drugs among teens. This is no surprise because of the legal status of these entry level, or gateway, drugs for adults and because of their wide availability. Importantly, among American teens age 12 to 17, the use of any one of these three substances is highly correlated with the use of the other two and with the use of other illegal drugs. Similarly for youth, not using any one substance is highly correlated with not using the other two or other illegal drugs.

For example, as shown in Figure 1, teen marijuana users compared to their non-marijuana using peers, are 8.9 times more likely to report smoking cigarettes, 5.6, 7.9 and 15.8 times more likely to report using alcohol, binge drink, and drink heavily, respectively, and 9.9 times more likely to report using other illicit drugs, including opioids. There are similar data for youth who use any alcohol or any cigarettes showing that youth who do not use those drugs are unlikely to use the other two drugs. Together, these data show how closely linked is the use by youth of all three of these commonly used drugs.


Among Americans age 12 and older who meet criteria for substance use disorders specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV). Marijuana remains illegal under federal law but is legal in some states for recreational use the legal age is 21, and in some states for medical use, the legal age is 18. Nationally the legal age for tobacco products is 18 and for alcohol it is 21.

These findings show that prevention messaging targeting youth must address all of these three substances specifically. Most current prevention efforts are specific to individual substances or kinds and amounts of use of individual drugs (e.g., cigarette smoking, binge drinking, drunk driving, etc.), all of which have value, but miss a vital broader prevention message. What is needed, based on these new data showing the linkage of all drug use by youth, is a comprehensive drug prevention message: One Choice: no use of any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for youth under age 21 for reasons of health. This no use prevention message provides clarity for young people, parents, physicians, educators, communities and for policymakers. It is not intended to replace public health prevention messages on specific substances, but enhances them with a clear focus on youth.

Some claim adolescent use of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana is inevitable, a goal of no use of any drug as unrealistic and that the appropriate goal of youth prevention is to prevent the progression of experimentation to later heavy use or problem-generating use. These opinions are misleading and reflect a poor understanding of neurodevelopment that underpins drug use. Teens are driven to seek new and exciting behaviors which can include substance use if the culture makes them available and promotes them. This need not be the case. New data in Figure 2 (below) show over the last four decades, the percentage of American high school seniors who do not use any alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana or other drugs has increased steadily. In 2014, 52% of high school seniors had not used any alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana or other drugs in the past month and 26% had not used any alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana or other drugs in their lifetimes. Clearly making the choice of no use of any substances is indeed possible – and growing.

 

Key lessons for the future of youth prevention can be learned from the past. Substance use peaked among high school seniors in 1978 when 72% used alcohol, 37% used cigarettes, and 37% used marijuana in the past month. These figures have since dropped significantly (see Figure 3 below). In 2016, 33% of high school seniors used alcohol, 10% used cigarettes and 22% used marijuana in the past month. This impressive public health achievement is largely unrecognized.

Although the use of all substances has declined over the last four decades, their use has not fallen uniformly. The prevalence of alcohol use, illicit drug use and marijuana use took similar trajectories, declining from 1978 to 1992. During this time a grassroots effort known as the Parents’ Movement changed the nation’s thinking about youth marijuana use with the result that youth drug use declined a remarkable 63%. Rates of adolescent alcohol use have continued to decline dramatically as have rates of adolescent cigarette use. Campaigns and corresponding policies focused on reducing alcohol use by teens seem to have made an impact on adolescent drinking behavior. The impressive decline in youth tobacco use has largely been influenced by the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which provided funding to anti-smoking advocacy groups and the highly-respected Truth media campaign. The good news from these long-term trends is that alcohol and tobacco use by adolescents now are at historic lows.

It is regrettable but understandable that youth marijuana use, as well as use of the other drugs, has risen since 1991 and now has plateaued. The divergence of marijuana trends from those for alcohol and cigarettes began around the time of the collapse of the Parents’ Movement and the birth of a massive, increasingly well-funded marijuana industry promoting marijuana use. Shifting national attitudes to favor legalizing marijuana sale and use for adults both for medical and for recreational use now are at their highest level and contribute to the use by adolescents. Although overall the national rate of marijuana use for Americans age 12 and older has declined since the late seventies, a greater segment of marijuana users are heavy users (see Figure 4). Notably, from 1992 to 2014, the number of daily or near-daily marijuana uses increased 772%. This trend is particularly ominous considering the breathtaking increase in the potency of today’s marijuana compared to the product consumed in earlier decades. These two factors – higher potency products and more daily use – plus the greater social tolerance of marijuana use make the current marijuana scene far more threatening than was the case four decades ago.

Through the Parents’ Movement, the nation united in its opposition to adolescent marijuana use, driving down the use of all youth drug use. Now is the time for a new movement backed by all concerned citizens to call for One Choice: no use of any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for youth under age 21 for reasons of health. This campaign would not be a second iteration of the earlier “Just Say No” campaign. This new no-use message focuses on all of the big three drugs together, not singly and only in certain circumstances such as driving.

We are at a bitterly contentious time in US drug policy, with front page headlines and back page articles about the impact of the rising death rate from opioids, the human impact of these deaths and the addiction itself. At the same time there are frequent heated debates about legalizing adult marijuana and other drug use. Opposing youth substance use as a separate issue is supported by new scientific evidence about the vulnerability of the adolescent brain and is noncontroversial. Even the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading pro-marijuana legalization organization, states “the safest path for teens is to avoid drugs, including alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription drugs outside of a doctor’s recommendations.”

This rare commonality of opinion in an otherwise perfect storm of disagreement provides an opportunity to protect adolescent health and thereby reduce future adult addiction. Young people who do not use substances in their teens are much less likely to use them or other drugs in later decades. The nation is searching for policies to reduce the burden of addiction on our nation’s families, communities and health systems, as well as how to save lives from opioid and other drug overdoses. Now is precisely the time to unite in developing strong, clear public health prevention efforts based on the steady, sound message of no use of any alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for youth under age 21 for reasons of health.

Robert L. DuPont, MD, President, Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc.

Source: https://www.ibhinc.org/blog/reducing-adult-addiction-youth-prevention  February 2018

After Lynley Graham’s custody photo was posted to a police force’s Facebook page, horrified users were quick to discuss the harmful effects of hard drugs

Deep lines etched across a woman’s face and cheeks sunken to the bone – this one shocking image illustrates the effects of substance abuse.

Lynley Graham’s custody picture has been released by Humberside Police after she was jailed for 18 months for drug offences.
Graham was found in possession of class A drugs, including heroin and cocaine, and was subsequently charged with possessing a class A drug with intent to supply, Grimsby Live reports.

After the photo was posted to Humberside Police’s Facebook page on Wednesday, users were quick to discuss the 53-year-old’s weathered appearance.

Before and after pictures show a striking physical transformation.

One said: “I’m 64, I look young compared to her. Is she a lesson, perhaps, in what substance abuse can do to your skin?”

Another added: “Let’s hope some young people look at her and see what a life of drugs does apart from ruining entire families.”

Drug addiction and misuse contributed to more than 2,500 UK deaths in 2017.

Inhalants can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and bone marrow, and persistent drug consumption can result in abscesses, tooth decay – known as ‘meth mouth’ in the United States.

Other symptoms include premature ageing of the skin, often adding decades to someone’s appearance.

Rehabs.com, a US-based charity, has also published startling images of drug users to demonstrate the long-term toll narcotics have on one’s appearance.

Drugs can damage almost every system in the body; bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, puffy faces and discoloured skin are all noticeable signs.

Some users suffer a rapid physical deterioration – with facial appearances sometimes ruined in just a matter of years.

Self-inflicted wounds, common among consumers of methamphetamine, can be caused by users picking at their skin to relieve the sensation of irritation – sometimes described as like crawling insects.

And a skeletal appearance can be the result of appetite-suppression.

Cocaine can commonly lead to chronic skin ulcers, pus-filled skin and the development of Buerger’s disease – an inflammation in small and medium-sized blood vessels.

Heroin has been known to dry the skin, leaving addicts with itchy and aged skin.

In May, Sir Angus Deaton, a world-leading economist, warned that drug abuse and alcoholism claim more lives of those in middle-age than heart disease.

‘Economic isolation’ is cited as one of the biggest contributors.

In 2017, a poll of 1,600 adults found that almost nine in ten said that seeing the physical effects of hard drugs made them less likely to take them.

The publication of such images is a common tactic among anti-addiction campaigners.

Scotland is experiencing its own drug crisis, with a 27 per cent rise in drug-related deaths, according to official statistics.

It puts Scotland’s drug mortality rate three times higher than the UK as a whole, and higher than any other country in the European Union.

The NHS offer services for drug and alcohol recovery, as do outside agencies, such as Addaction

Source: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/shocking-image-illustrates-how-drugs-18790997 July 2019

As more cases turn up, doctors are concerned about the extent to which memory loss may be undetected.

Just over five years ago, a man suffering from amnesia following a suspected drug overdose appeared at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. He was 22, and had injected what he believed to be heroin. When he woke up the next morning, he was extremely confused, repeatedly asking the same questions and telling the same stories. Doctors at Lahey quickly diagnosed the man with anterograde amnesia—the inability to form new memories.

His brain scan revealed why. “I thought it was an extremely strange scan—it was almost hard to believe,” says Jed Barash, a neurologist working at Lahey at the time. In the scan, the twin, seahorse-shaped structures of the man’s hippocampi were lit up against the dark background of the rest of the brain—a clear sign of severe injury to just that one region.

“It was strange because that was all there was,” Barash says.

Memory researchers have known since the late 1950s that the hippocampi are responsible for turning short-term memories into lasting ones, so the amnesia was not surprising. Just how the damage occurred, however, remained a mystery. Lack of oxygen to the brain that would have occurred during the overdose could not be the only explanation. The number of survivors in the state that year could easily have numbered in the thousands, so why was there only one patient with this seemingly unique brain damage?

Along with his colleagues, Barash—now the medical director at the Soldiers’ Home health-care facility in Chelsea, Massachusetts—figured that the opioids must have played a role, and that hunch became only more acute as three more patients—each fitting the same pattern—appeared at Lahey over the next three years. All had the same unique destruction of the hippocampi, all had amnesia, and all were suspected to have overdosed. By that point, the doctors at Lahey faced two fundamental questions: What was causing the strange new syndrome? And precisely how rare was it?

Both questions remain unanswered, but a case report published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the problem is far from isolated, and that a potent opioid variation could be involved. A total of 14 patients have now been identified in Massachusetts, one of whom was first admitted to a hospital in his home state of New Hampshire. The new case study reveals two more patients—one from Virginia, and one from Maryland. Both turned up at a medical facility in West Virginia.

Although many of the patients had taken a variety of drugs, all but one either have a history of opioid use or tested positive for opioids. The most recent case, a 30-year-old man examined last year in West Virginia, is the first patient proven to have taken fentanyl, an extremely potent and dangerous opioid that is rarely tested for in toxicology screens.

There are many barriers to determining the true scope of the problem, from lack of proper testing to the fact that many patients never come to attention in the first place. And amid a larger opioid crisis that some experts say could claim as many as 500,000 lives over the next decade, pinning down the cause of a dozen or so amnesia cases can seem trifling. “It’s sort of like the Titanic going down and you’re worried about some details,” says Alfred DeMaria, the state epidemiologist for Massachusetts.

At the same time, DeMaria suggests that, at the very least, these patients may offer a different route for understanding a disorder, as was the case with a small cluster of patients in the early 1980s who developed Parkinson’s disease after taking contaminated drugs—a misfortune that turned out to be limited to a few people, but which nonetheless gave Parkinson’s researchers a new tool for studying the disease. More worryingly, he also points to several examples of medical investigations that began with a small number of mysterious cases and turned out to have significant public health-implications, such as the appearance of West Nile Virus, or the AIDS epidemic.

Bertha Madras, a psychobiologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and a member of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, agreed that getting to the bottom of these amnesia cases is crucial—particularly given that many cases may be going undetected since the type of cognitive testing needed to diagnose amnesia may not be routinely done in overdose survivors. She also suspects that with overdose-antidote drugs like naloxone becoming more widely available, it is possible that more patients, rather than turning up dead, will show up at hospitals.

And with more survivors, Madras said in an email message, “there conceivably will be more cases of brain damage, especially in the very oxygen-sensitive hippocampus, the ‘epicenter’ of initial learning and memory.”

* * *

After encountering more patients following that first one in 2012, Barash contacted the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2015, which put out a request to emergency-room physicians, neurologists, and radiologists statewide for information that might identify additional cases. By the end of 2016, a total of 14 people who matched the pattern had been identified. Then, in May of 2017, the DPH made what they called “an unusual amnestic syndrome” with “acute, bilateral hippocampal” damage a reportable disease syndrome—a status that requires any doctor who sees such a case to forward patients’ medical records for review.

As of today, however, DeMaria believes there is no such mechanism in place in other states, and that’s one of the barriers to getting a handle on the prevalence of the amnestic syndrome. Marc Haut, the neuropsychologist who examined the man from Virginia in 2015, and one of the authors on the new Annals paper, had no way of knowing about the investigation in Massachusetts and initially chalked up the damage to cocaine use. At the time, he saw no reason to consider opioids, in part because of the information the patient shared with him. “Patient reports about substance use [are] not always accurate for a couple of reasons, one being the patients themselves,” he says. “And the other being that patients often don’t know what they’re buying and using.”

So it was not until he received an email from Barash that Haut, the chair of the behavioral medicine and psychiatry department at West Virginia University, reconsidered whether opioids could have played a role. To date, only eight of the 16 patients reported in the cluster had cocaine in their system, making opioids a more consistent link than any other drug. Barash, who is also an author on the Annals paper, wonders if fentanyl—considered to be 50 times more potent than heroin—is a key component, in part because the timing and location of the appearance of these amnestic cases parallels the rise of fentanyl overdoses in two of the hardest hit regions in the country. Teasing this out is complicated with the ever-changing landscape of drugs that people are taking, often in combination. “Cocaine overdose deaths are escalating,” said Madras, “along with evidence of combined use of fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine in some deaths.”

And despite the fact that fentanyl abuse has become so common, routine toxicology screens don’t test for the presence of the drug. It was only because Haut had been tipped off that he requested the advanced toxicology screen for the 2017 patient, which found evidence that he had taken fentanyl in addition to cocaine. His MRI scan also revealed the signature hippocampal damage: “bright, big, and intense,” according to Haut.

Like Barash, Haut is concerned about the possibility that what they’ve seen so far could be just the tip of the iceberg. “We don’t know if this is a rare occurrence, or if this has occurred more, and people have not noticed,” he says, “because some of the folks who have these events are pretty marginalized in society. If they don’t have family to notice, it may not be noticed even though it’s pretty dense amnesia.”Several other doctors who contributed cases to the Massachusetts cluster have also raised the question of whether more patients are going undetected. They point to the fact that many illegal drug users don’t go to a hospital after an overdose. If they do, their confusion is likely to be chalked up to a temporary symptom of the overdose. If they don’t get to a hospital within a narrow window of approximately one week, the telltale signal may have faded from the brain and all evidence of drugs will likely have cleared the system.

Even if all those conditions are met, doctors across the country don’t know where or how to share the information. DeMaria, the state epidemiologist for Massachusetts, believes his is the only state that has notified physicians and is collecting cases. If doctors in other states are seeing cases that fit the pattern, they may assume that it’s a one-off phenomenon, just as Barash and others did when they first saw the cases.

Michael Lev, an emergency-room neuroradiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who contributed cases to the Massachusetts cluster, thinks it’s possible that the appearance of this amnestic syndrome may date back far earlier than 2012. He recalls seeing similar brain images in a few sporadic cases between 1986 and 1989 when he was working at Boston City Hospital. The patient history was always the same, he says. “The history was ‘heroin found down,’”—emergency-room shorthand for an overdose victim.

* * *

For now, doctors can only go on the well-documented data that they have—the 16 patients identified between October 2012 and May 2017—and one key question is whether they represent just one narrow band along a spectrum of damage, which would have ramifications for the ability of addicts to get the treatment they need. “Getting a sense of the severity and scope of this is important,” Haut says. “If we find that these dense amnesias are really rare, that’s good. But if we find in the interim that they have significant memory problems even though they’re not amnestic as a result of these events, that have gone under the radar, then we have to take that into account when we’re trying to get people into treatment and staying in treatment.”

Barash agrees, pointing out that understanding the amnestic syndrome may give medical professionals insight into some of the larger problems that can accompany overdoses. “These cases are a very particular subset of brain damage that can occur from use of opioids,” he notes. “But I think more likely there are probably cases of patients who may not necessarily have this particular syndrome but suffer cognitive difficulties from longer-term use of opioids and it’s important to know the scope of that.” It’s also plausible that there are more extreme cases on the other end of the spectrum—people who have taken sublethal doses but are too far gone to have their memory tested.

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/01/fentanyl-overdose-amnesia/551846/ January 2018

President Donald Trump took a few minutes in his State of the Union address to acknowledge what he called the “terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction – never been has it been like it is now”.

The American President told Congress that “we have to do something about it”, stating that 174 drug-addiction caused  deaths a day meant that “we must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers”.

This should come as no surprise. The crisis, which claimed well over 100,000 lives between 2015 and 2016, is now so widespread and catastrophic it was declared a public health emergency by President Trump in October.

The rate of American deaths caused by overdoses of heroin-like synthetic opioids has doubled since 2015, in a tragic symptom of the opioid epidemic ravaging the United States.

The US’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has published figures showing that the rate of deaths due to synthetic opioids excluding methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, jumped from 3.1 per 100,000 in 2015 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2016.

The total number of deaths due to opioid overdoses also climbed from 52,400 to 63,600, a 21 per cent increase – marking a steady rise since 1999.

Synthetic opioids are the biggest killers

The dramatic rise in the use of synthetic opioids owes more to practicality than demand, Dr David Herzberg, a University of Buffalo expert in the history of drug addiction, told The Telegraph.

“Fentanyl [the most widely used synthetic opioid] is much easier to smuggle than heroin because you need less of it,” he said.

Since synthetic opioids are made in labs rather than from plants, like traditional heroin, they can be made anywhere in the world, and vary dramatically in strength.

Fentanyl is around 50 times stronger than heroin – and some new strains are up to 10,000 times stronger.

This huge variation in potency is what makes makes synthetic opioids so deadly, since users are often completely unaware of the strength of the substance they are injecting, said Dr Jon Zibbell, a Senior Public Health Scientist at RTI International, a nonprofit that funds opioid research.

“I know a kid who buys carfentanil [a newer strand of fentanyl] online and that’s all he injects; he argues it’s totally safe but people mixing it with other stuff don’t really know what they’re doing.

“It’s not the drugs themselves that are killing people but the inability of people to adapt to the uneven potency in the illicit market,” he said.

The rise in fentanyl dates back to 2013, when drug traffickers in Mexico started adding it to heroin to stretch their product further to meet growing demand.

Now fentanyl has also grown in popularity with small drug dealers within the US who buy it online from China, which Dr Zibbell said has led to a bloated supply of fentanyl with no standardization of strength.

Rise of drug overdose death most pronounced among men

Fentanyl is not the only heroin-like drug experiencing a boom in users in the US; the country’s mushrooming opioid crisis is well documented, with the overall rate of opioid drug overdoses increasing every year since 1999.

This owes much, Dr Herzberg said, to a history of over-prescription of painkillers dating back more than three decades to the Reagan administration, when tight controls on opioid sales were relaxed: “Opioid markets were opened up to the full range of strategies drug companies use to sell their products. So a large volume of these drugs were pumped into the market without adequate warnings about the risks.”

While data shows a higher rate of overdoses in men, recent research has found the serious health impacts for women are just as severe.

A recent paper by Dr Zibbell published in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrated that those regions of the US particularly ravaged by the opioid epidemic have also seen an outbreak of new cases of the degenerative blood disease hepatitis C.

While the rate of death by opioid overdose is lower for women, the rate of new hepatitis C cases developing is much higher. This is particularly concerning as researchers have also documented a large increase in babies born to infected mothers, along with a rise in neonatal abstinence syndrome (babies born physically dependent on opioids).

The trouble in poor, white states may be spreading

Rust belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – with an astonishing rate of 52 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 – have shouldered the brunt of the opioid crisis.

This is partly due to the poverty of these states, but race is also a huge factor – areas with large white populations are disproportionately impacted since the epidemic is rooted in prescription drug abuse, said Dr Herzberg.

“Studies prove that physicians are less likely to prescribe opioids to African Americans or other racial minorities – even when they need them – because of the stereotypes associating them with drug abuse,” he said.

There are signs, however, that the problem has spread to other communities. The mostly non-white District of Columbia, for example, had a rate of death by drug overdose of 38.8 per 100,000 – almost most twice the national average of 19.8.

Dr Zibbell’s research also found high rates of drug treatment and new hepatitis C cases among hispanics. “That was a big deal because the epidemic has been described as mostly affecting the white population,” he said.

Experts say the spread of the opioid crisis beyond the mostly white rust belt states is particularly worrying as it highlights the nationwide extent of the crisis.

“The Trump administration is not putting action or money behind its pronouncements on the problem. If the present trajectory continues it will claim many more young lives,” he said.

President Trump remained defiant in his speech, however.

“The struggle will be long and it will be difficult,” he acknowledge, before adding “we will succeed”.

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/31/deadly-fentanyl-behind-dramatic-doubling-synthetic-opioid-death/ January 2018

A USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin project

Heroin entered their lives so easily.

For 10 addicts, the hard part is staying clean.

They got the pills from their doctors, then kept using them until they couldn’t stop. They switched to heroin because it was cheaper, because a friend said it was an easier, better way to get high.

They went to parties as teens, took pills, snorted powders. They got bored with the drugs they were doing and then found heroin, the drug they loved the most.

They had faced abuse, poverty, tragedy. Their pain was deep, and psychological, and the drug was an escape.

The stories of 10 recovering heroin addicts from Wisconsin are the stories of millions of Americans who have been hooked on opiates and either died, or lived with the consequences. They’ve lost friends. They’ve been arrested. They’ve lost touch with their family and friends, lost custody of their children.

COUNTY BY COUNTY: Deaths and ODs in Wisconsin.

“It wasn’t what they always told us it was going to be,” said Moriah Rogowski, a 22-year-old recovering addict, about her first time using heroin. She didn’t develop an addiction right away. But somewhere, more gradually than she expected, she lost control.

Like the other nine recovering heroin users profiled in this special report from USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, Rogowski has taken back control of her life. She’s clean. She lives in a different city, imagines a different future for herself.

Recovery from opiate addiction is hard, filled with setbacks. But these 10 people from across Wisconsin have taken the first steps toward a life after heroin. In photos, in words and in their own voices, these are their stories about how they started on heroin and fought to get off the drug.

‘That was the only way I liked to get high’

Moriah Rogowski, Green Bay

Moriah Rogowski liked the feeling of downers: Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin. She and her friends, the summer before high school, would go out to parties and crush pills and snort them.

She and her three siblings lived in a rural home near Mosinee, where she was homeschooled until eighth grade. In high school, she found her place among the stoners. One night she found herself in a drug house in Marshfield with 33-year-olds. She was 15.

That was the day she first tried heroin. She was afraid of needles, so she let someone else shoot the drug into a vein in her arm.

“That was the only way I liked to get high after that,” she said.

Rogowski is now 22. She’s been in and out of programs in Minnesota and Green Bay as she tried to get clean. But she’d come home and hang out with the same friends; each time they led her back to the drug.

She sought treatment at the methadone clinic in Wausau, where she saw others abusing the methadone and still using heroin. She fell into the same pattern.

She mixed heroin, crack, Xanax. There is a week of her life she can’t remember. She took her brother’s car and got an OWI. Her license was suspended.

Then, from somewhere, she found the will to change. She called her mom to come get her because she wanted to get clean. She began to use the methadone program correctly, taking classes and attending therapy sessions.

Rogowski has lived in Green Bay for two years. She hopes to complete her GED. And she’s trying to help others by working toward becoming a recovery coach.

— Laura Schulte, leschulte@gannett.com

A soldier’s widow masks her pain

Sarah Bear, Wausau

Sarah Bear didn’t want to feel anymore.

Her husband, Jordan, was killed in Afghanistan in 2012 during an attack at his base in the Kandahar province. More than a year later, just when she started being able to grieve her husband’s death, her oldest son’s dad died.

Bear’s addiction started in the summer of 2014 with pills — Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet. They dampened the pain of her losses. A friend had been prodding her to try heroin: It was cheaper, he said, and she wouldn’t have to use as much. She swore she would never touch it.

One day, Bear couldn’t get any pills. The withdrawals hit. She got sick; she couldn’t take care of her children. Eventually, she called the friend, and within a half hour was snorting heroin for the first time in her Antigo apartment.

Then, she felt nothing, just like she wanted.

“I completely, seriously fell in love with that drug,” she said. “There was nothing that compared to it, honestly. Sadly.”

She did heroin every day, either snorting or smoking it, and eventually injecting it.



Beginning in January 2015, Bear was in and out of jail, and on and off heroin. She tried methadone treatment but it didn’t stick.

In October 2016, Bear’s four children were taken from her. Two went to stay with her mom, and two with her grandmother.

Almost a year later, Bear, 33, found herself in North Central Health Care’s Lakeside Recovery in Wausau, a 21-day medically monitored substance abuse treatment program. She believes she hit rock bottom.

She started the program in mid-September and could feel the change within her as her Oct. 6 graduation approached. She’s determined to get better.

“I remember a time when my life was good, and I know that I can be back there,” she said. “I know that I can have that again.”

— Haley BeMiller, hbemiller@gannett.com

He laughed at the idea he could be saved

Nathan Scheer, Fond du Lac

Nathan Scheer felt the bottom drop out the day before Christmas Eve 2016. His wife and kids watched the cops haul him away.

His probation officer had heard he would test dirty and showed up at his home unannounced.

“On the way to jail I was higher than I’d been in years, but I remember my probation officer telling me she was going to save my life,” he said. “I laughed and told her you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.”

He first used prescription opiates after a car crash. One day he didn’t have enough money for hydrocodone pills. In their place, he was offered “dog food” —  a street name for heroin.

A decade-long fling with heroin followed, and it turned the 35-year-old factory worker from a regular, middle-class guy into a liar and a thief.


“I once explained to my wife that it (heroin) felt like what I imagine looking into the eyes of God would feel like,” Scheer said. “It’s the most religious experience you could ever imagine.”

But since the day the probation officer showed up a little more than a year ago, Scheer got clean through counseling, group support and a local church. He learned to feed his addictive personality through the gratification that comes with community service.

Today, Scheer and his 4-year-old son, Bentley, have gained recognition in Fond du Lac by cleaning up parks and playgrounds. Giving back is his metaphor for recovery. Father and son call it #cleanstreetforkids.

“I call it my beautiful disaster, because the way everything happened, I was so lucky. I had people who stuck by me while I waged war on myself.”

— Sharon Roznik, sroznik@gannett.com

‘They just kept prescribing pain meds’

Rebecca Palmieri, Wisconsin Rapids

Rebecca Palmieri’s house is quiet now. In August, a court commissioner ordered her to give up her five children. It was the second time in two years that she lost them.

She’s lost everything since she started using heroin. She’s been homeless. She has a record.

Palmieri, 39, had medical complications when she had her fifth child. That was in 2013.

“They just kept prescribing pain meds for five months after I had my son. They did corrective surgery, but, by then, I was hooked.”

She used pills for about two years. In January 2015, a friend came to her Wisconsin Rapids apartment with heroin. He told her to hold out her arm. In the empty bedroom, with her children in another part of the house, he injected her.

Using wasn’t an everyday thing, she said, until it was. She would look around her apartment to see what she could sell or return for money to buy the drug.

The courts put her kids into foster care. She was homeless for about six months. The kids went to live with her husband; they came back to her when he went to prison. She got clean and found a house. But the courts sent the kids back to her husband when he got out.

Palmieri said she has been clean since November 2016. She goes to the YMCA every day to work out; she attends addiction support group meetings. She wants to get her kids back.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I ever had to do,” she said, “to get clean and stay clean.”

— Karen Madden, kmadden@gannett.com

Sacred fire lights a path to recovery

Joey Powless, Oneida

Joey Powless stood by the sacred fire burning under a tepee in the center of Oneida. He busied himself by keeping the fire steady and clean, moving ash and coals out of the flames.

Powless, 36, a member of the Oneida Nation, called it the Grandpa Fire, and without it, he said, he would not have been able to stay clean for the past five years or so.

The sacred fire represents the spirit of native people, a connection to the past and present, a source of strength, a place to pray, a gateway to understanding.

“Without fire, we couldn’t live,” Powless said. “This is what we cooked our food with. This is what gave us life. Gave us heat. So without it we could never live. This is our very first teaching right here.”

His mother abandoned him and his family when he was a kid, and he responded at a young age with anger, he said. He started drinking and smoking pot at age 13. By the time he was in his early 20s, he added opioid medications and cocaine to the mix.



Powless was 28 when he first tried heroin at a party. He was deep into drug culture, and selling drugs to pay for his own drugs. “Cocaine really wasn’t doing nothing for me no more,” he said. Snorting heroin seemed like a natural thing to do.

It made him sick at first, but as that feeling eased, he felt the high. “That’s when the magic happens,” he said. He continued to chase that high. He graduated from snorting heroin to shooting it into his veins.

He was about 31 when he was jailed, and put into solitary confinement. It was there that he decided he didn’t want to be an addict anymore. “Because I have children,” he said. (Powless is the father of two teenagers.) “I didn’t want to be out of their lives no more.”

— Keith Uhlig, kuhlig@gannett.com

Arrests pile up after friend overdoses

Jennifer Solis, Stevens Point

Jennifer Solis was out of pills and already felt sick.

In the bathroom of her friend’s house in Stevens Point, she crushed up a little heroin and snorted it. It was the first time she had tried the drug.

Her friend, close by, was injecting it. They didn’t talk.

Solis, who was in her mid-20s at the time, looked down on people who used needles. She told herself she wouldn’t cross that line. She would.

Solis, now 34, was born in Colorado but moved to Wisconsin as a teenager. She was already using drugs with her friends — first marijuana, then cocaine — by the time she was 16.

“I think I was always looking for the next best thing,” she said. “I didn’t see myself as an addict back then.”

Solis became addicted to pain pills after she suffered a serious back injury as a result of domestic abuse, she said. After her friend introduced her to heroin, she used it every day.

She called paramedics when a friend overdosed a few years ago, then watched as they used the counteracting drug naloxone to revive her. She was charged in that incident, and then arrests piled up quickly.

 

She joined Portage County’s drug court in May and stayed clean for her first three months. Then she relapsed by using heroin and methamphetamine. By October 2017, Solis had again been clean for three months.

Solis has five children but no contact with them. Her three oldest live with a relative and her two youngest were adopted as infants.

She wants to go back to school for interior design. But for now, Solis lives at the Salvation Army in Stevens Point, working to put her life back together.

— Chris Mueller, cmueller@gannett.com

‘I smoked pot with both my parents’

Kevin Williams, Wisconsin Rapids

Kevin Williams is 35 and lives in a Wisconsin Rapids assisted-care facility. His mother and father divorced when he was 8, and, he said, “I basically smoked pot with both my parents by the time I was 15.”
By the time Williams was an adult, he tried every drug he could.

Cocaine: “Why not? I was already stoned on weed.”

Meth: “I tell people I used meth once in my life for eight months.”

Opiates: A friend first gave him an oxycodone pill, “and I was like, ‘Why not?’ I crushed it up and snorted it. … It was like the absolute, most warmest hug I ever felt.”

He can’t remember when he first switched from prescription opiates to heroin. But shooting up the drug, he said, “was like stepping into the perfect temperature of bath water, and (the feeling) would go all the way up, and all the way down.”

Williams is disabled. He walks with a limp and his left arm hangs at his side.



“I went to prison a couple years back. I found out I had a brain tumor. They went in to take it out, and they cut a blood vessel … gave me a stroke.”

One day, two years ago, he ran out of money and got clean. He can’t explain why.

“These days … I feel better about my life than I ever have before. Which sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? I only got half a freakin’ body right now. … But I get by. I still joke and love and make it to the Dollar Tree. All my essentials are taken care of.”

— Keith Uhlig, kuhlig@gannett.com

Addiction becomes a legacy of abuse

Jodi Chamberlain, Stevens Point

Jodi Chamberlain couldn’t get pills. They cost too much.

She got heroin from a friend instead. She was alone in her bedroom the first time she snorted the drug.

She didn’t have to think or feel. She didn’t have to deal with anything. But, Chamberlain said, “when it ends, you just crave more.”

She used heroin again within a week.

Chamberlain was living in Stevens Point at the time. She was barely in her 20s, but was already a regular drug user — mostly pain pills, but also cocaine and other stimulants. Her addictions grew out of a turbulent childhood, which, she said, included incidents of sexual abuse by a relative.

“I was taught to lie and to not have feelings,” she said. “I’ve never felt feelings.”

Now 41, Chamberlain has been clean for about eight months. She moved back to Stevens Point late last year after living in Eau Claire. Sometimes she slept in a truck.

Chamberlain was arrested again and again. She was sentenced in May on felony drug charges, but instead of going to prison, a judge allowed her to participate in Portage County’s drug court. She’s never made it through treatment without going back to heroin. If she fails in drug court, she faces a prison sentence.

Chamberlain regrets how many people she hurt with her drug use, particularly her two children, who watched their mother struggle with addiction.

She wants to stay clean, but even she can’t say whether she will make it.

“I can’t make that promise to anyone, not even myself,” she said. “But I choose to have people in my life now who can help me when I am going through rough times.”

— Chris Mueller, cmueller@gannett.com

‘A very functional addict’ awaits prison

Kyle Keding, Wisconsin Rapids

Kyle Keding was 26 years old and had been a heavy user of drugs for years before he tried heroin.

He had been drinking and smoking marijuana for about half his life. He had been dependent on opiate painkillers such as Percodan and Oxycontin for about five years. The pills helped him get through long days as a welder and they helped him forget about the crap life handed him.

Keding was sexually molested when he was about 5 years old, first by a babysitter, then by a relative, he said. Those memories never left him, unless he was high. So he got high. A lot. For him, that was just part of life, in addition to work, being a parent and a husband.

 

“I was what you call ‘a very functional’ addict,” he said.

The heroin was a practical choice. Opiate painkiller manufacturers had changed the formula of their pills, making them more difficult to use to get high, and also created a huge opiate shortage.

“So I couldn’t find what I wanted. I called up my friend, and he was like, ‘Well, I’ve got some ‘ron (heroin). … (I was) kind of skeptical,” Keding said. “I had not done it before.”

He did not feel as if he had stepped over any kind of line. He had already liquefied prescription opiates and shot those up intravenously.

Shooting up, both synthetic opiates and heroin, gave him a stronger high. He chose the needle because his friend and dealer did not have enough pills to get Keding as high as he wanted.

“I can remember the words that came out of my mouth once I released the strap off my arm,” he said. “‘Oh, my God. This is amazing.’ And I knew right there, this is it. I was like, there was no turning back now. But there was.”

He used heroin for five years, until Dec. 2, 2014. That night he was with friends, getting high, and one of the people he was with died. He was charged with first-degree reckless homicide/deliver drugs. He accepted a plea deal on that charge on Dec. 1, 2017. He awaits sentencing in February and could face years in prison.

— Keith Uhlig, kuhlig@gannett.com

‘This is a lifelong battle’

Tommy Casper, Neenah

Tommy Casper said one of the main reasons he has stayed clean for more than seven months is because of his nephew Owen, who has only ever known him sober. Casper sees his sister Carly Fritsch, who overcame her own struggle with addiction, and Owen most days of the week after work. Casper plays on a recreational volleyball team with other recovering addicts and attends Narcotics Anonymous meeting three times a week.

Tommy Casper was alone in the basement of the two-story home where he grew up.

He sat on his bed and opened a small bag of heroin that had been on top of a dresser beside him. He hadn’t used the drug before, but at about $120 a bag, it was cheaper than the pills he used. He snorted it.

He found himself asking one thing as the feeling went away: “What do I need to do in order to feel that way again?” He used heroin again three hours later.

Casper was 21 years old and living in Muskego, a community of fewer than 25,000 people on the outskirts of Milwaukee. His mother had died about six months earlier and he struggled with the loss. His sporadic use of pain pills became an addiction.

“The first time I used (as a way) to cope — rather than using to have fun or go out — was at her funeral,” he said.

After he turned to heroin, Casper told himself he wouldn’t use a needle because “then I wasn’t as bad as other people.” He used a needle for the first time a year later.

After his mother died, Casper moved around — to a house in West Allis, then an apartment in Neenah. He began to steal to support his addiction, but got caught shoplifting at a Walmart in Fond du Lac. He was charged and went to treatment a few days later.

Casper hardly slept or ate for two weeks as he fought through the physical withdrawal from the drug.

 

Casper, now 29, has relapsed twice since going to treatment. He hasn’t used for about the last seven months and attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings three times a week. He has a full-time job at a call center in Appleton and hopes to use his story to help others.

“This is a lifelong battle that we’re going to be in,” he said.

— Chris Mueller, cmueller@gannett.com

About this project

Wisconsin has a heroin problem directly linked to its opioid epidemic. Every corner of the state has been affected, every taxpayer, every school district, every police department, every social service agency, every hospital.

But why do an estimated 6,600 Wisconsin residents regularly snort, inject or smoke heroin? And how do we get our state off this deadly drug?

A team of journalists from USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin went to 10 people who know firsthand how heroin enters a person’s life, and how best to get away from its grip. Their stories are part of a project the news organization will continue in 2018 to investigate Wisconsin’s response to the opioid crisis and the most successful paths to recovery.

All photos and videos by Alexandra Wimley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Send feedback to Robert Mentzer, project editor: rmentzer@gannett.com

How to get help

For people who want to get help with heroin addiction:

Emergency: In a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

United Way 2-1-1: If it’s not an emergency but you want information over the phone at any hour about local options, call 211.

Narcotics Anonymous: Local meetings can be found online at wisconsinna.org or by calling 1-866-590-2651.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services: Guide to treatment resources statewide, online at dhs.wisconsin.gov/opioids/.

Source: http://www.wisinfo.com/usat/heroin_addiction/?for-guid=7ba874c6-08dd-e611-b81c-90b11c341ce0#start

 

 

The authors of this ‘Before and After’ library (American Addiction Centers) have obviously spent a great deal of time in merging several still photographs which have produced a strikingly progressive presentation for each user, as time progresses.

 

Millions of Americans are trapped in a cycle of drug abuse and addiction: In 2013, over 24 million reported that they had abused illicit drugs or prescription medication in just the past month. More than 1.7 million were admitted to treatment programs for substance abuse in 2012. The pursuit of a drug habit can cost these people everything – their friends and family, their home and livelihood. And nowhere is that impact more evident than in the faces of addicts themselves.

Here, the catastrophic health effects of drug abuse are plain to see, ranging from skin scabs to decayed and missing teeth. While meth is often seen as one of the most visibly destructive drugs, leading to facial wasting and open sores,various other illicit drugs, and even prescription medications can cause equally severe symptoms when continuously abused. The use of opioids like OxyContin or heroin can cause flushing and a rash of red bumps all over the skin, while cocaine abuse can result in a significant drop in appetite and dangerous malnutrition and weight loss. Ecstasy may cause grinding of teeth, and smoking cannabis releases carcinogens and other chemicals that can diminish skin collagen and produce an appearance of premature aging. Even alcohol abuse can lead to wrinkles, redness, and loss of skin elasticity.

Beyond the direct effects of substance abuse, perhaps its most damaging result is addiction itself. The compulsion of addiction makes drug use the most important purpose in an addict’s life, leading them to pursue it at any cost and treat anything else as secondary. Self-neglect becomes normal – an accepted cost of continuing to use drugs. And the consequences of addiction can remain etched in their very skin for years.

Click here for an animated infographic

Disclaimer

The individuals in these before and after drug addiction photos were arrested on drug charges or related charges. There may be errors in arrest record reporting. All persons are considered innocent of these charges until proven guilty. These photos do not necessarily just show people after drugs and addiction; rather, they depict the physical deterioration of individuals who have been involved in repeated arrests, indicative of a life of crime and/or substance abuse.

Source: https://www.rehabs.com/explore/faces-of-addiction/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON PROGRESSIVE EFFECTS OF DRUG ABUSE

Thanks must go to the Daily Telegraph (London) for this second format.

This presents still photographs, in contrast with the animated presentation above.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/pictures/8345461/From-Drugs-to-Mugs-Shocking-before-and-after-images-show-the-cost-of-drug-addiction.html?image=31255

 

Smaller cities and towns carry a unique burden when it comes to drug addiction.

I grew up in Mounds, Ill. It’s a small farming community of about 800 people in the southernmost part of the state. It may seem an unlikely place for a drug epidemic, but opioid addiction and substance abuse have plagued families there for decades. Years ago, the first of my close relatives died after a long struggle with prescription opioids.

That’s one reason why, as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, I keep the victims of this crisis close to my heart.

Under President Donald Trump, HHS has made the opioid crisis a top priority because it leaves no corner of our country untouched. When the crisis began, we worked mostly in rural areas to address overdoses and opioid-use disorder. The opioid crisis is nationwide and claimed approximately 116 American lives every day in 2016.

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides even more grim details. Nearly 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, a 21 percent increase from the previous year and the largest increase on record. More than 42,000 of those deaths involved opioids, more than the total number of all drug overdose deaths in 2012. Further, provisional data indicate that approximately 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017. In 2015, there were more than 1 million opioid-related hospital stays and emergency-room visits in the U.S.

A publication from the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy brings the crisis closer to this region. Titled “Combating the Opioid Crisis in Northern Minnesota,” it found that the Duluth area in particular has been hit hard. St. Louis County has the highest opioid overdose death rate in the state.

As part of the Trump administration’s focused mission to support states and local communities on the front lines of this fight, one of our primary strategies is to learn directly from those on the ground so we may be able to benefit from the experience and understanding of local leaders and communities. Over the last few months I have traveled to Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Texas, California, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to exchange ideas with medical experts, local officials, and, especially, individuals currently receiving treatment for opioid addiction.

My visit to Duluth in July was part of the same journey — and a personal one as well. My mother was born in Esko. I consider your remarkable region a second home.

While I was there, one family told me of tragic loss. Their son was injured on the job, was prescribed opioids for pain, and soon became addicted. After only a few months, he lost his life to opioid overdose.

I also heard inspiring stories of people in recovery and how well they know the severe hurdles to battling addiction. They are now providing crucial help by connecting others to treatment and educating the public about lifesaving overdose-reversing drugs.

I was particularly encouraged visiting Duluth’s Lake Superior Health Clinic and learning how grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration at HHS are aiding in the clinic’s vital mission of care.

My message that day was clear: HHS stands ready to assist local heroes helping to end this epidemic in their communities. We are backing up that commitment in Minnesota by awarding more than $10.7 million in state-targeted opioid-crisis grants, $6 million in medication-assisted treatment, and more than $24 million in substance-abuse prevention and treatment block grants last year. Additional awards will be announced in the coming months.

As an indication of the priority he places on this effort, President Trump donated a quarter of his salary last year to the planning and design of a large-scale public-awareness campaign to enhance understanding of the dangers of opioid misuse and addiction. He hopes his example will spur Congress to take even more action.

We at HHS recognize that the American people, in local communities like Duluth and all across our great country, will be the ones to end this terrible crisis. It will require nothing less than a united effort from not just government but the business community, our churches, our schools, and all of civil society.

We can win this battle in Minnesota and all across the country.

Source: https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/columns/4481662-deputy-secretarys-view-opioids-battle-can-be-won-beginning-minnesota-and August 2018

You’re aware America is under siege, fighting an opioid crisis that has exploded into a public-health emergency. You’ve heard of OxyContin, the pain medication to which countless patients have become addicted. But do you know that the company that makes Oxy and reaps the billions of dollars in profits it generates is owned by one family?

The newly installed Sackler Courtyard at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the most glittering places in the developed world. Eleven thousand white porcelain tiles, inlaid like a shattered backgammon board, cover a surface the size of six tennis courts. According to the V&A;’s director, the regal setting is intended to serve as a “living room for London,” by which he presumably means a living room for Kensington, the museum’s neighborhood, which is among the world’s wealthiest. In late June, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was summoned to consecrate the courtyard, said to be the earth’s first outdoor space made of porcelain; stepping onto the ceramic expanse, she silently mouthed, “Wow.”

The Sackler Courtyard is the latest addition to an impressive portfolio. There’s the Sackler Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses the majestic Temple of Dendur, a sandstone shrine from ancient Egypt; additional Sackler wings at the Louvre and the Royal Academy; stand-alone Sackler museums at Harvard and Peking Universities; and named Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian, the Serpentine, and Oxford’s Ashmolean. The Guggenheim in New York has a Sackler Center, and the American Museum of Natural History has a Sackler Educational Lab. Members of the family, legendary in museum circles for their pursuit of naming rights, have also underwritten projects of a more modest caliber—a Sackler Staircase at Berlin’s Jewish Museum; a Sackler Escalator at the Tate Modern; a Sackler Crossing in Kew Gardens. A popular species of pink rose is named after a Sackler. So is an asteroid.

The Sackler name is no less prominent among the emerald quads of higher education, where it’s possible to receive degrees from Sackler schools, participate in Sackler colloquiums, take courses from professors with endowed Sackler chairs, and attend annual Sackler lectures on topics such as theoretical astrophysics and human rights. The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science supports research on obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. Meanwhile, the Sackler institutes at Cornell, Columbia, McGill, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sussex, and King’s College London tackle psychobiology, with an emphasis on early childhood development.

The Sacklers’ philanthropy differs from that of civic populists like Andrew Carnegie, who built hundreds of libraries in small towns, and Bill Gates, whose foundation ministers to global masses. Instead, the family has donated its fortune to blue-chip brands, braiding the family name into the patronage network of the world’s most prestigious, well-endowed institutions. The Sackler name is everywhere, evoking automatic reverence; the Sacklers themselves, however, are rarely seen.

The descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, a pair of psychiatrist brothers from Brooklyn, are members of a billionaire clan with homes scattered across Connecticut, London, Utah, Gstaad, the Hamptons, and, especially, New York City. It was not until 2015 that they were noticed by Forbes, which added them to the list of America’s richest families. The magazine pegged their wealth, shared among twenty heirs, at a conservative $14 billion. (Descendants of Arthur Sackler, Mortimer and Raymond’s older brother, split off decades ago and are mere multi-millionaires.) To a remarkable degree, those who share in the billions appear to have abided by an oath of omertà: Never comment publicly on the source of the family’s wealth.

That may be because the greatest part of that $14 billion fortune tallied by Forbes came from OxyContin, the narcotic painkiller regarded by many public-health experts as among the most dangerous products ever sold on a mass scale. Since 1996, when the drug was brought to market by Purdue Pharma, the American branch of the Sacklers’ pharmaceutical empire, more than two hundred thousand people in the United States have died from overdoses of OxyContin and other prescription painkillers. Thousands more have died after starting on a prescription opioid and then switching to a drug with a cheaper street price, such as heroin. Not all of these deaths are related to OxyContin—dozens of other painkillers, including generics, have flooded the market in the past thirty years. Nevertheless, Purdue Pharma was the first to achieve a dominant share of the market for long-acting opioids, accounting for more than half of prescriptions by 2001.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fifty-three thousand Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, more than the thirty-six thousand who died in car crashes in 2015 or the thirty-five thousand who died from gun violence that year. This past July, Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, declared that opioids were killing roughly 142 Americans each day, a tally vividly described as “September 11th every three weeks.” The epidemic has also exacted a crushing financial toll: According to a study published by the American Public Health Association, using data from 2013—before the epidemic entered its current, more virulent phase—the total economic burden from opioid use stood at about $80 billion, adding together health costs, criminal-justice costs, and GDP loss from drug-dependent Americans leaving the workforce. Tobacco remains, by a significant multiple, the country’s most lethal product, responsible for some 480,000 deaths per year. But although billions have been made from tobacco, cars, and firearms, it’s not clear that any of those enterprises has generated a family fortune from a single product that approaches the Sacklers’ haul from OxyContin.

Even so, hardly anyone associates the Sackler name with their company’s lone blockbuster drug. “The Fords, Hewletts, Packards, Johnsons—all those families put their name on their product because they were proud,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine who has written extensively about the opioid crisis. “The Sacklers have hidden their connection to their product. They don’t call it ‘Sackler Pharma.’ They don’t call their pills ‘Sackler pills.’ And when they’re questioned, they say, ‘Well, it’s a privately held firm, we’re a family, we like to keep our privacy, you understand.’ ”

The family’s leaders have pulled off three of the great marketing triumphs of the modern era: The first is selling OxyContin; the second is promoting the Sackler name; and the third is ensuring that, as far as the public is aware, the first and the second have nothing to do with one another.

To the extent that the Sacklers have cultivated a reputation, it’s for being earnest healers, judicious stewards of scientific progress, and connoisseurs of old and beautiful things. Few are aware that during the crucial period of OxyContin’s development and promotion, Sackler family members actively led Purdue’s day-to-day affairs, filling the majority of its board slots and supplying top executives. By any assessment, the family’s leaders have pulled off three of the great marketing triumphs of the modern era: The first is selling OxyContin; the second is promoting the Sackler name; and the third is ensuring that, as far as the public is aware, the first and the second have nothing to do with one another.


If you head north on I-95 through Stamford, Connecticut, you will spot, on the left, a giant misshapen glass cube. Along the building’s top edge, white lettering spells out ONE STAMFORD FORUM. No markings visible from the highway indicate the presence of the building’s owner and chief occupant, Purdue Pharma.

Originally known as Purdue Frederick, the first iteration of the company was founded in 1892 on New York’s Lower East Side as a peddler of patent medicines. For decades, it sustained itself with sales of Gray’s Glycerine Tonic, a sherry-based liquid of “broad application” marketed as a remedy for everything from anemia to tuberculosis. The company was purchased in 1952 by Arthur Sackler, thirty-nine, and was run by his brothers, Mortimer, thirty- six, and Raymond, thirty-two. The Sackler brothers came from a family of Jewish immigrants in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Arthur was a headstrong and ambitious provider, setting the tone—and often choosing the path—for his younger brothers. After attending medical school on Arthur’s dime, Mortimer and Raymond followed him to jobs at the Creedmoor psychiatric hospital in Queens. There, they coauthored more than one hundred studies on the biochemical roots of mental illness. The brothers’ research was promising—they were among the first to identify a link between psychosis and the hormone cortisone—but their findings were mostly ignored by their professional peers, who, in keeping with the era, favored a Freudian model of mental illness.

Concurrent with his psychiatric work, Arthur Sackler made his name in pharmaceutical advertising, which at the time consisted almost exclusively of pitches from so-called “detail men” who sold drugs to doctors door-to-door. Arthur intuited that print ads in medical journals could have a revolutionary effect on pharmaceutical sales, especially given the excitement surrounding the “miracle drugs” of the 1950s—steroids, antibiotics, antihistamines, and psychotropics. In 1952, the same year that he and his brothers acquired Purdue, Arthur became the first adman to convince The Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the profession’s most august publications, to include a color advertorial brochure.

In the 1960s, Arthur was contracted by Roche to develop an advertising strategy for a new antianxiety medication called Valium. This posed a challenge, because the effects of the medication were nearly indistinguishable from those of Librium, another Roche tranquilizer that was already on the market. Arthur differentiated Valium by audaciously inflating its range of indications. Whereas Librium was sold as a treatment for garden- variety anxiety, Valium was positioned as an elixir for a problem Arthur christened “psychic tension.” According to his ads, psychic tension, the forebear of today’s “stress,” was the secret culprit behind a host of somatic conditions, including heartburn, gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, and restless-leg syndrome. The campaign was such a success that for a time Valium became America’s most widely prescribed medication—the first to reach more than $100 million in sales. Arthur, whose compensation depended on the volume of pills sold, was richly rewarded, and he later became one of the first inductees into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.

As Arthur’s fortune grew, he turned his acquisitive instincts to the art market, quickly amassing the world’s largest private collection of ancient Chinese artifacts. According to a memoir by Marietta Lutze, his second wife, collecting, exhibiting, owning, and donating art fed Arthur’s “driving necessity for prestige and recognition.” Rewarding at first, collecting soon became a mania that took over his life. “Boxes of artifacts of tremendous value piled up in numerous storage locations,” she wrote, “there was too much to open, too much to appreciate; some objects known only by a packing list.” Under an avalanche of “ritual bronzes and weapons, mirrors and ceramics, inscribed bones and archaic jades,” their lives were “often in chaos.” “Addiction is a curse,” Lutze noted, “be it drugs, women, or collecting.”

When Arthur donated his art and money to museums, he often imposed onerous terms. According to a memoir written by Thomas Hoving, the Met director from 1967 to 1977, when Arthur established the Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to house Chinese antiquities, in 1963, he required the museum to collaborate on a byzantine tax-avoidance maneuver. In accordance with the scheme, the museum first soldArthur a large quantity of ancient artifacts at the deflated 1920s prices for which they had originally been acquired. Arthur then donated back the artifacts at 1960s prices, in the process taking a tax deduction so hefty that it likely exceeded the value of his initial donation. Three years later, in connection with another donation, Arthur negotiated an even more unusual arrangement. This time, the Met opened a secret chamber above the museum’s auditorium to provide Arthur with free storage for some five thousand objects from his private collection, relieving him of the substantial burden of fire protection and other insurance costs. (In an email exchange, Jillian Sackler, Arthur’s third wife, called Hoving’s tax-deduction story “fake news.” She also noted that New York’s attorney general conducted an investigation into Arthur’s dealings with the Met and cleared him of wrongdoing.)

In 1974, when Arthur and his brothers made a large gift to the Met—$3.5 million, to erect the Temple of Dendur—they stipulated that all museum signage, catalog entries, and bulletins referring to objects in the newly opened Sackler Wing had to include the names of all three brothers, each followed by “M.D.” (One museum official quipped, “All that was missing was a note of their office hours.”)

Hoving said that the Met hoped that Arthur would eventually donate his collection to the museum, but over time Arthur grew disgruntled over a series of rankling slights. For one, the Temple of Dendur was being rented out for parties, including a dinner for the designer Valentino, which Arthur called “disgusting.” According to Met chronicler Michael Gross, he was also denied that coveted ticket of arrival, a board seat. (Jillian Sackler said it was Arthur who rejected the board seat, after repeated offers by the museum.) In 1982, in a bad breakup with the Met, Arthur donated the best parts of his collection, plus $4 million, to the Smithsonian in Washington, D. C.


Arthur’s younger brothers, Mortimer and Raymond, looked so much alike that when they worked together at Creedmoor, they fooled the staff by pretending to be one another. Their physical similarities did not extend to their personalities, however. Tage Honore, Purdue’s vice-president of discovery of research from 2000 to 2005, described them as “like day and night.” Mortimer, said Honore, was “extroverted—a ‘world man,’ I would call it.” He acquired a reputation as a big-spending, transatlantic playboy, living most of the year in opulent homes in England, Switzerland, and France. (In 1974, he renounced his U. S. citizenship to become a citizen of Austria, which infuriated his patriotic older brother.) Like Arthur, Mortimer became a major museum donor and married three wives over the course of his life.

Mortimer had his own feuds with the Met. On his seventieth birthday, in 1986, the museum agreed to make the Temple of Dendur available to him for a party but refused to allow him to redecorate the ancient shrine: Together with other improvements, Mortimer and his interior designer, flown in from Europe, had hoped to spiff up the temple by adding extra pillars. Also galling to Mortimer was the sale of naming rights for one of the Sackler Wing’s balconies to a donor from Japan. “They sold it twice,” Mortimer fumed to a reporter from New York magazine. Raymond, the youngest brother, cut a different figure—“a family man,” said Honore. Kind and mild-mannered, he stayed with the same woman his entire life. Lutze concluded that Raymond owed his comparatively serene nature to having missed the worst years of the Depression. “He had summer vacations in camp, which Arthur never had,” she wrote. “The feeling of the two older brothers about the youngest was, ‘Let the kid enjoy himself.’ ”

Raymond led Purdue Frederick as its top executive for several decades, while Mortimer led Napp Pharmaceuticals, the family’s drug company in the UK. (In practice, a family spokesperson said, “the brothers worked closely together leading both companies.”) Arthur, the adman, had no official role in the family’s pharmaceutical operations. According to Barry Meier’s Pain Killer, a prescient account of the rise of OxyContin published in 2003, Raymond and Mortimer bought Arthur’s share in Purdue from his estate for $22.4 million after he died in 1987. In an email exchange, Arthur’s daughter Elizabeth Sackler, a historian of feminist art who sits on the board of the Brooklyn Museum and supports a variety of progressive causes, emphatically distanced her branch of the family from her cousins’ businesses. “Neither I, nor my siblings, nor my children have ever had ownership in or any benefit whatsoever from Purdue Pharma or OxyContin,” she wrote, while also praising “the breadth of my father’s brilliance and important works.” Jillian, Arthur’s widow, said her husband had died too soon: “His enemies have gotten the last word.”


The Sacklers have been millionaires for decades, but their real money—the painkiller money—is of comparatively recent vintage. The vehicle of that fortune was OxyContin, but its engine, the driving power that made them so many billions, was not so much the drug itself as it was Arthur’s original marketing insight, rehabbed for the era of chronic-pain management. That simple but profitable idea was to take a substance with addictive properties—in Arthur’s case, a benzo; in Raymond and Mortimer’s case, an opioid—and market it as a salve for a vast range of indications.

In the years before it swooped into the pain-management business, Purdue had been a small industry player, specializing in over-the-counter remedies like ear-wax remover and laxatives. Its most successful product, acquired in 1966, was Betadine, a powerful antiseptic purchased in industrial quantities by the U. S. government to prevent infection among wounded soldiers in Vietnam. The turning point, according to company lore, came in 1972, when a London doctor working for Cicely Saunders, the Florence Nightingale of the modern hospice movement, approached Napp with the idea of creating a timed-release morphine pill. A long-acting morphine pill, the doctor reasoned, would allow dying cancer patients to sleep through the night without an IV. At the time, treatment with opioids was stigmatized in the United States, owing in part to a heroin epidemic fueled by returning Vietnam veterans. “Opiophobia,” as it came to be called, prevented skittish doctors from treating most patients, including nearly all infants, with strong pain medication of any kind. In hospice care, though, addiction was not a concern: It didn’t matter whether terminal patients became hooked in their final days. Over the course of the seventies, building on a slow-release technology the company had already developed for an asthma medication, Napp created what came to be known as the “Contin” system. In 1981, Napp introduced a timed-release morphine pill in the UK; six years later, Purdue brought the same drug to market in the U. S. as MS Contin.

“The Sacklers have hidden their connection to their product,” said Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine. “They don’t call it ‘Sackler Pharma.’ They don’t call their pills ‘Sackler pills.’”

MS Contin quickly became the gold standard for pain relief in cancer care. At the same time, a number of clinicians associated with the burgeoning chronic-pain movement started advocating the use of powerful opioids for noncancer conditions like back pain and neuropathic pain, afflictions that at their worst could be debilitating. In 1986, two doctors from Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital in New York published a fateful article in a medical journal that purported to show, based on a study of thirty-eight patients, that long-term opioid treatment was safe and effective so long as patients had no history of drug abuse. Soon enough, opioid advocates dredged up a letter to the editor published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1980 that suggested, based on a highly unrepresentative cohort, that the risk of addiction from long-term opioid use was less than 1 percent. Though ultimately disavowed by its author, the letter ended up getting cited in medical journals more than six hundred times.

As the country was reexamining pain, Raymond’s eldest son, Richard Sackler, was searching for new applications for Purdue’s timed-release Contin system. “At all the meetings, that was a constant source of discussion—‘What else can we use the Contin system for?’ ” said Peter Lacouture, a senior director of clinical research at Purdue from 1991 to 2001. “And that’s where Richard would fire some ideas—maybe antibiotics, maybe chemotherapy—he was always out there digging.” Richard’s spitballing wasn’t idle blather. A trained physician, he treasured his role as a research scientist and appeared as an inventor on dozens of the company’s patents (though not on the patents for OxyContin). In the tradition of his uncle Arthur, Richard was also fascinated by sales messaging. “He was very interested in the commercial side and also very interested in marketing approaches,” said Sally Allen Riddle, Purdue’s former executive director for product management. “He didn’t always wait for the research results.” (A Purdue spokesperson said that Richard “always considered relevant scientific information when making decisions.”)

Perhaps the most private member of a generally secretive family, Richard appears nowhere on Purdue’s website. From public records and conversations with former employees, though, a rough portrait emerges of a testy eccentric with ardent, relentless ambitions. Born in 1945, he holds degrees from Columbia University and NYU Medical School. According to a bio on the website of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, where Richard serves on the advisory board, he started working at Purdue as his father’s assistant at age twenty-six before eventually leading the firm’s R&D; division and, separately, its sales and marketing division. In 1999, while Mortimer and Raymond remained Purdue’s co-CEOs, Richard joined them at the top of the company as president, a position he relinquished in 2003 to become cochairman of the board. The few publicly available pictures of him are generic and sphinxlike—a white guy with a receding hairline. He is one of the few Sacklers to consistently smile for the camera. In a photo on what appears to be his Facebook profile, Richard is wearing a tan suit and a pink tie, his right hand casually scrunched into his pocket, projecting a jaunty charm. Divorced in 2013, he lists his relationship status on the profile as “It’s complicated.”

When Purdue eventually pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2007 for criminally “misbranding” OxyContin, it acknowledged exploiting doctors’ misconceptions about oxycodone’s strength.

Richard’s political contributions have gone mostly to Republicans—including Strom Thurmond and Herman Cain—though at times he has also given to Democrats. (His ex-wife, Beth Sackler, has given almost exclusively to Democrats.) In 2008, he wrote a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journaldenouncing Muslim support for suicide bombing, a concern that seems to persist: Since 2014, his charitable organization, the Richard and Beth Sackler Foundation, has donated to several anti-Muslim groups, including three organizations classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (The family spokesperson said, “It was never Richard Sackler’s intention to donate to an anti-Muslim or hate group.”) The foundation has also donated to True the Vote, the “voter-fraud watchdog” that was the original source for Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that three million illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election.

Former employees describe Richard as a man with an unnerving intelligence, alternately detached and pouncing. In meetings, his face was often glued to his laptop. “This was pre-smartphone days,” said Riddle. “He’d be typing away and you would think he wasn’t even listening, and then all of the sudden his head would pop up and he’d be asking a very pointed question.” He was notorious for peppering subordinates with unexpected, rapid-fire queries, sometimes in the middle of the night. “Richard had the mind of someone who’s going two hundred miles an hour,” said Lacouture. “He could be a little bit disconnected in the way he would communicate. Whether it was on the weekend or a holiday or a Christmas party, you could always expect the unexpected.”

Richard also had an appetite for micromanagement. “I remember one time he mailed out a rambling sales bulletin,” said Shelby Sherman, a Purdue sales rep from 1974 to 1998. “And right in the middle, he put in, ‘If you’re reading this, then you must call my secretary at this number and give her this secret password.’ He wanted to check and see if the reps were reading this shit. We called it ‘Playin’ Passwords.’ ” According to Sherman, Richard started taking a more prominent role in the company during the early 1980s. “The shift was abrupt,” he said. “Raymond was just so nice and down-to-earth and calm and gentle.” When Richard came, “things got a lot harder. Richard really wanted Purdue to be big—I mean really big.”

To effectively capitalize on the chronic-pain movement, Purdue knew it needed to move beyond MS Contin. “Morphine had a stigma,” said Riddle. “People hear the word and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not dying or anything.’ ” Aside from its terminal aura, MS Contin had a further handicap: Its patent was set to expire in the late nineties. In a 1990 memo addressed to Richard and other executives, Purdue’s VP of clinical research, Robert Kaiko, suggested that the company work on a pill containing oxycodone, a chemical similar to morphine that was also derived from the opium poppy. When it came to branding, oxycodone had a key advantage: Although it was 50 percent stronger than morphine, many doctors believed—wrongly—that it was substantially less powerful. They were deceived about its potency in part because oxycodone was widely known as one of the active ingredients in Percocet, a relatively weak opioid- acetaminophen combination that doctors often prescribed for painful injuries. “It really didn’t have the same connotation that morphine did in people’s minds,” said Riddle.

A common malapropism led to further advantage for Purdue. “Some people would call it oxy-codeine” instead of oxycodone, recalled Lacouture. “Codeine is very weak.” When Purdue eventually pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2007 for criminally “misbranding” OxyContin, it acknowledged exploiting doctors’ misconceptions about oxycodone’s strength. In court documents, the company said it was “well aware of the incorrect view held by many physicians that oxycodone was weaker than morphine” and “did not want to do anything ‘to make physicians think that oxycodone was stronger or equal to morphine’ or to ‘take any steps . . . that would affect the unique position that OxyContin’ ” held among physicians.

Purdue did not merely neglect to clear up confusion about the strength of OxyContin. As the company later admitted, it misleadingly promoted OxyContin as less addictive than older opioids on the market. In this deception, Purdue had a big assist from the FDA, which allowed the company to include an astonishing labeling claim in OxyContin’s package insert: “Delayed absorption, as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug.”

The theory was that addicts would shy away from timed-released drugs, preferring an immediate rush. In practice, OxyContin, which crammed a huge amount of pure narcotic into a single pill, became a lusted-after target for addicts, who quickly discovered that the timed-release mechanism in OxyContin was easy to circumvent—you could simply crush a pill and snort it to get most of the narcotic payload in a single inhalation. This wasn’t exactly news to the manufacturer: OxyContin’s own packaging warned that consuming broken pills would thwart the timed-release system and subject patients to a potentially fatal overdose. MS Contin had contended with similar vulnerabilities, and as a result commanded a hefty premium on the street. But the “reduced abuse liability” claim that added wings to the sales of OxyContin had not been approved for MS Contin. It was removed from OxyContin in 2001 and would never be approved again for any other opioid.

The year after OxyContin’s release, Curtis Wright, the FDA examiner who approved the pharmaceutical’s original application, quit. After a stint at another pharmaceutical company, he began working for Purdue. In an interview with Esquire, Wright defended his work at the FDA and at Purdue. “At the time, it was believed that extended-release formulations were intrinsically less abusable,” he insisted. “It came as a rather big shock to everybody—the government and Purdue—that people found ways to grind up, chew up, snort, dissolve, and inject the pills.” Preventing abuse, he said, had to be balanced against providing relief to chronic-pain sufferers. “In the mid-nineties,” he recalled, “the very best pain specialists told the medical community they were not prescribing opioids enough. That was not something generated by Purdue—that was not a secret plan, that was not a plot, that was not a clever marketing ploy. Chronic pain is horrible. In the right circumstances, opioid therapy is nothing short of miraculous; you give people their lives back.” In Wright’s account, the Sacklers were not just great employers, they were great people. “No company in the history of pharmaceuticals,” he said, “has worked harder to try to prevent abuse of their product than Purdue.”


Purdue did not invent the chronic-pain movement, but it used that movement to engineer a crucial shift. Wright is correct that in the nineties patients suffering from chronic pain often received inadequate treatment. But the call for clinical reforms also became a flexible alibi for overly aggressive prescribing practices. By the end of the decade, clinical proponents of opioid treatment, supported by millions in funding from Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies, had organized themselves into advocacy groups with names like the American Pain Society and the American Academy of Pain Medicine. (Purdue also launched its own group, called Partners Against Pain.) As the decade wore on, these organizations, which critics have characterized as front groups for the pharmaceutical industry, began pressuring health regulators to make pain “the fifth vital sign”—a number, measured on a subjective ten-point scale, to be asked and recorded at every doctor’s visit. As an internal strategy document put it, Purdue’s ambition was to “attach an emotional aspect to noncancer pain” so that doctors would feel pressure to “treat it more seriously and aggressively.” The company rebranded pain relief as a sacred right: a universal narcotic entitlement available not only to the terminally ill but to every American.

The company rebranded pain relief as a sacred right: a universal narcotic entitlement available not only to the terminally ill but to every American. By 2001, annual OxyContin sales had surged past $1 billion.

OxyContin’s sales started out small in 1996, in part because Purdue first focused on the cancer market to gain formulary acceptance from HMOs and state Medicaid programs. Over the next several years, though, the company doubled its sales force to six hundred—equal to the total number of DEA diversion agents employed to combat the sale of prescription drugs on the black market—and began targeting general practitioners, dentists, OB/GYNs, physician assistants, nurses, and residents. By 2001, annual OxyContin sales had surged past $1 billion. Sales reps were encouraged to downplay addiction risks. “It was sell, sell, sell,” recalled Sherman. “We were directed to lie. Why mince words about it? Greed took hold and overruled everything. They saw that potential for billions of dollars and just went after it.” Flush with cash, Purdue pioneered a high-cost promotion strategy, effectively providing kickbacks—which were legal under American law—to each part of the distribution chain. Wholesalers got rebates in exchange for keeping OxyContin off prior authorization lists. Pharmacists got refunds on their initial orders. Patients got coupons for thirty- day starter supplies. Academics got grants. Medical journals got millions in advertising. Senators and members of Congress on key committees got donations from Purdue and from members of the Sackler family.

It was doctors, though, who received the most attention. “We used to fly doctors to these ‘seminars,’ ” said Sherman, which were, in practice, “just golf trips to Pebble Beach. It was graft.” Though offering perks and freebies to doctors was hardly uncommon in the industry, it was unprecedented in the marketing of a Schedule II narcotic. For some physicians, the junkets to sunny locales weren’t enough to persuade them to prescribe. To entice the holdouts—a group the company referred to internally as “problem doctors”—the reps would dangle the lure of Purdue’s lucrative speakers’ bureau. “Everybody was automatically approved,” said Sherman. “We would set up these little dinners, and they’d make their little fifteen-minute talk, and they’d get $500.”

Between 1996 and 2001, the number of OxyContin prescriptions in the United States surged from about three hundred thousand to nearly six million, and reports of abuse started to bubble up in places like West Virginia, Florida, and Maine. (Research would later show a direct correlation between prescription volume in an area and rates of abuse and overdose.) Hundreds of doctors were eventually arrested for running pill mills. According to an investigation in the Los Angeles Times, even though Purdue kept an internal list of doctors it suspected of criminal diversion, it didn’t volunteer this information to law enforcement until years later.

As criticism of OxyContin mounted through the aughts, Purdue responded with symbolic concessions while retaining its volume-driven business model. To prevent addicts from forging prescriptions, the company gave doctors tamper-resistant prescription pads; to mollify pharmacists worried about robberies, Purdue offered to replace, free of charge, any stolen drugs; to gather data on drug abuse and diversion, the company launched a national monitoring program called RADARS.

Critics were not impressed. In a letter to Richard Sackler in July 2001, Richard Blumenthal, then Connecticut’s attorney general and now a U. S. senator, called the company’s efforts “cosmetic.” As Blumenthal had deduced, the root problem of the prescription-opioid epidemic was the high volume of prescriptions written for powerful opioids. “It is time for Purdue Pharma to change its practices,” Blumenthal warned Richard, “not just its public-relations strategy.”

It wasn’t just that doctors were writing huge numbers of prescriptions; it was also that the prescriptions were often for extraordinarily high doses. A single dose of Percocet contains between 2.5 and 10mg of oxycodone. OxyContin came in 10-, 20-, 30-, 40-, and 80mg formulations and, for a time, even 160mg. Purdue’s greatest competitive advantage in dominating the pain market, it had determined early on, was that OxyContin lasted twelve hours, enough to sleep through the night. But for many patients, the drug lasted only six or eight hours, creating a cycle of crash and euphoria that one academic called “a perfect recipe for addiction.” When confronted with complaints about “breakthrough pain”—meaning that the pills weren’t working as long as advertised—Purdue’s sales reps were given strict instructions to tell doctors to strengthen the dose rather than increase dosing frequency.

Sales reps were encouraged to downplay addiction risks. “It was sell, sell, sell,” recalled Sherman. “We were directed to lie. Why mince words about it?”

Over the next several years, dozens of class-action lawsuits were brought against Purdue. Many were dismissed, but in some cases Purdue wrote big checks to avoid going to trial. Several plaintiffs’ lawyers found that the company was willing to go to great lengths to prevent Richard Sackler from having to testify under oath. “They didn’t want him deposed, I can tell you that much,” recalled Marvin Masters, a lawyer who brought a class-action suit against Purdue in the early 2000s in West Virginia. “They were willing to sit down and settle the case to keep from doing that.” Purdue tried to get Richard removed from the suit, but when that didn’t work, the company settled with the plaintiffs for more than $20 million. Paul Hanly, a New York class-action lawyer who won a large settlement from Purdue in 2007, had a similar recollection. “We were attempting to take Richard Sackler’s deposition,” he said, “around the time that they agreed to a settlement.” (A spokesperson for the company said, “Purdue did not settle any cases to avoid the deposition of Dr. Richard Sackler, or any other individual.”)

When the federal government finally stepped in, in 2007, it extracted historic terms of surrender from the company. Purdue pleaded guilty to felony charges, admitting that it had lied to doctors about OxyContin’s abuse potential. (The technical charge was “misbranding a drug with intent to defraud or mislead.”) Under the agreement, the company paid $600 million in fines and its three top executives at the time—its medical director, general counsel, and Richard’s successor as president—pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. The executives paid $34.5 million out of their own pockets and performed four hundred hours of community service. It was one of the harshest penalties ever imposed on a pharmaceutical company. (In a statement to Esquire, Purdue said that it “abides by the highest ethical standards and legal requirements.” The statement went on: “We want physicians to use their professional judgment, and we were not trying to pressure them.”)

Fifty-three thousand Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, more than the thirty-six thousand who died in car crashes in 2015 or the thirty-five thousand who died from gun violence that year.

No Sacklers were named in the 2007 suit. Indeed, the Sackler name appeared nowhere in the plea agreement, even though Richard had been one of the company’s top executives during most of the period covered by the settlement. He did eventually have to give a deposition in 2015, in a case brought by Kentucky’s attorney general. Richard’s testimony—the only known record of a Sackler speaking about the crisis the family’s company helped create—was promptly sealed. (In 2016, STAT, an online magazine owned by Boston Globe Media that covers health and medicine, asked a court in Kentucky to unseal the deposition, which is said to have lasted several hours. STAT won a lower-court ruling in May 2016. As of press time, the matter was before an appeals court.)

In 2010, Purdue executed a breathtaking pivot: Embracing the arguments critics had been making for years about OxyContin’s susceptibility to abuse, the company released a new formulation of the medication that was harder to snort or inject. Purdue seized the occasion to rebrand itself as an industry leader in abuse-deterrent technology. The change of heart coincided with two developments: First, an increasing number of addicts, unable to afford OxyContin’s high street price, were turning to cheaper alternatives like heroin; second, OxyContin was nearing the end of its patents. Purdue suddenly argued that the drug it had been selling for nearly fifteen years was so prone to abuse that generic manufacturers should not be allowed to copy it.

On April 16, 2013, the day some of the key patents for OxyContin were scheduled to expire, the FDA followed Purdue’s lead, declaring that no generic versions of the original OxyContin formulation could be sold. The company had effectively won several additional years of patent protection for its golden goose.


Opioid withdrawal, which causes aches, vomiting, and restless anxiety, is a gruesome process to experience as an adult. It’s considerably worse for the twenty thousand or so American babies who emerge each year from opioid-soaked wombs. These infants, suddenly cut off from their supply, cry uncontrollably. Their skin is mottled. They cannot fall asleep. Their bodies are shaken by tremors and, in the worst cases, seizures. Bottles of milk leave them distraught, because they cannot maneuver their lips with enough precision to create suction. Treatment comes in the form of drops of morphine pushed from a syringe into the babies’ mouths. Weaning sometimes takes a week but can last as long as twelve. It’s a heartrending, expensive process, typically carried out in the neonatal ICU, where newborns have limited access to their mothers.

But the children of OxyContin, its heirs and legatees, are many and various. The second- and third-generation descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler spend their money in the ways we have come to expect from the not-so-idle rich. Notably, several have made children a focus of their business and philanthropic endeavors. One Sackler heir helped start an iPhone app called RedRover, which generates ideas for child-friendly activities for urban parents; another runs a child- development center near Central Park; another is a donor to charter-school causes, as well as an investor in an education start-up called AltSchool. Yet another is the founder of Beespace, an “incubator for emerging nonprofits,” which provides resources and mentoring for initiatives like the Malala Fund, which invests in education programs for women in the developing world, and Yoga Foster, whose objective is to bring “accessible, sustainable yoga programs into schools across the country.” Other Sackler heirs get to do the fun stuff: One helps finance small, interesting films like The Witch; a second married a famous cricket player; a third is a sound artist; a fourth started a production company with Boyd Holbrook, star of the Netflix series Narcos; a fifth founded a small chain of gastropubs in New York called the Smith.

Holding fast to family tradition, Raymond’s and Mortimer’s heirs declined to be interviewed for this article. Instead, through a spokesperson, they put forward two decorated academics who have been on the receiving end of the family’s largesse: Phillip Sharp, the Nobel-prize-winning MIT geneticist, and Herbert Pardes, formerly the dean of faculty at Columbia University’s medical school and CEO of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Both men effusively praised the Sacklers’ donations to the arts and sciences, marveling at their loyalty to academic excellence. “Once you were on that exalted list of philanthropic projects,” Pardes told Esquire, “you were there and you were in a position to secure additional philanthropy. It was like a family acquisition.” Pardes called the Sacklers “the nicest, most gentle people you could imagine.” As for the family’s connection to OxyContin, he said that it had never come up as an issue in the faculty lounge or the hospital break room. “I have never heard one inch about that,” he said.

Pardes’s ostrichlike avoidance is not unusual. In 2008, Raymond and his wife donated an undisclosed amount to Yale to start the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Institute for Biological, Physical and Engineering Sciences. Lynne Regan, its current director, told me that neither students nor faculty have ever brought up the OxyContin connection. “Most people don’t know about that,” she said. “I think people are mainly oblivious.” A spokesperson for the university added, “Yale does not vet donors for controversies that may or may not arise.”

In May, a dozen lawmakers in Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the World Health Organization warning that Sackler-owned companies were preparing to flood foreign countries with legal narcotics.

The controversy surrounding OxyContin shows little sign of receding. In 2016, the CDC issued a startling warning: There was no good evidence that opioids were an effective treatment for chronic pain beyond six weeks. There was, on the other hand, an abundance of evidence that long-term treatment with opioids had harmful effects. (A recent paper by Princeton economist Alan Krueger suggests that chronic opioid use may account for more than 20 percent of the decline in American labor-force participation from 1999 to 2015.) Millions of opioid prescriptions for chronic pain had been written in the preceding two decades, and the CDC was calling into question whether many of them should have been written at all. At least twenty-five government entities, ranging from states to small cities, have recently filed lawsuits against Purdue to recover damages associated with the opioid epidemic.

The Sacklers, though, will likely emerge untouched: Because of a sweeping non-prosecution agreement negotiated during the 2007 settlement, most new criminal litigation against Purdue can only address activity that occurred after that date. Neither Richard nor any other family members have occupied an executive position at the company since 2003.

The American market for OxyContin is dwindling. According to Purdue, prescriptions fell 33 percent between 2012 and 2016. But while the company’s primary product may be in eclipse in the United States, international markets for pain medications are expanding. According to an investigation last year in the Los Angeles Times, Mundipharma, the Sackler-owned company charged with developing new markets, is employing a suite of familiar tactics in countries like Mexico, Brazil, and China to stoke concern for as-yet-unheralded “silent epidemics” of untreated pain. In Colombia, according to the L.A. Times, the company went so far as to circulate a press release suggesting that 47 percent of the population suffered from chronic pain.

Napp is the family’s drug company in the UK. Mundipharma is their company charged with developing new markets.

In May, a dozen lawmakers in Congress, inspired by the L.A. Timesinvestigation, sent a bipartisan letter to the World Health Organization warning that Sackler-owned companies were preparing to flood foreign countries with legal narcotics. “Purdue began the opioid crisis that has devastated American communities,” the letter reads. “Today, Mundipharma is using many of the same deceptive and reckless practices to sell OxyContin abroad.” Significantly, the letter calls out the Sackler family by name, leaving no room for the public to wonder about the identities of the people who stood behind Mundipharma.

The final assessment of the Sacklers’ global impact will take years to work out. In some places, though, they have already left their mark. In July, Raymond, the last remaining of the original Sackler brothers, died at ninety-seven. Over the years, he had won a British knighthood, been made an Officer of France’s Légion d’Honneur, and received one of the highest possible honors from the royal house of the Netherlands. One of his final accolades came in June 2013, when Anthony Monaco, the president of Tufts University, traveled to Purdue Pharma’s headquarters in Stamford to bestow an honorary doctorate. The Sacklers had made a number of transformational donations to the university over the years—endowing, among other things, the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. At Tufts, as at most schools, honorary degrees are traditionally awarded on campus during commencement, but in consideration of Raymond’s advanced age, Monaco trekked to Purdue for a special ceremony. The audience that day was limited to family members, select university officials, and a scrum of employees. Addressing the crowd of intimates, Monaco praised his benefactor. “It would be impossible to calculate how many lives you have saved, how many scientific fields you have redefined, and how many new physicians, scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are doing important work as a result of your entrepreneurial spirit.” He concluded, “You are a world changer.”

Source: https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a12775932/sackler-family-oxycontin/ October 2017

Last week Scotland’s leading law officer, the Lord Advocate, brought a shuddering halt to a proposal from Glasgow City Council to develop a safe injecting centre in the city. Such a centre would have required a change in UK drug laws to enable individuals in possession of illegal drugs to use those drugs within the centre without fear of prosecution. Supporters of this initiative will be disappointed by the outcome, but they need to recognise that the provision of some level of legal protection covering the possession of illegal drugs within the injecting centre would also, by implication, need to be extended to all of those who might claim, legitimately or otherwise, that their drug possession should be green-lighted because they were en route to the injecting centre. In effect, such an initiative would deliver what many of its supporters actually desire – the legalisation of illegal drugs within at least some part of the UK.

In his judgement, the Lord Advocate has not ruled against setting up a centre where doctors can prescribe opiate drugs to addicts. Rather he has simply pointed out that he is not prepared to offer legal protection to a centre where illegal drugs are being used. The Glasgow proposal sought unwisely to tie the proposal for a doctor-led heroin prescribing clinic, which would be legal, with a setting where individuals are allowed to use illegal drugs which would break UK drug laws. There will be many who rightly question the wisdom (and the cost to the public purse) of linking those two proposals.

It is often said by the supporters of these centres that where they have been established in other countries no individual has actually died in a drug consumption room. That might be so, but the lack of such deaths is not the high-water mark of success for drug treatment services. The rise in addict deaths in Scotland and in England shows that we need to do much more by way of engaging drug users in services. Doing more should entail taking services to drug users themselves wherever they are living and wherever they are using illegal drugs. Setting up a city-centre location where people can use illegal drugs under some level of legal protection betrays a worrying lack of knowledge both about Glasgow itself and about the life of an addict. Glasgow is a territorial city par excellence and there are addicts who cross into different parts of the city at their genuine peril. Similarly, when addicts secure the drugs they so desperately need their first thought is not ‘How do I travel to a city-centre location where I may use these drugs without fear of prosecution?’ but ‘Where is the needle that will enable me to inject now?’ It is for both of those reasons that we should be talking about how to take services to the addicts rather than how to get the addicts to go to the services.

Glasgow’s addiction services have been slow to adopt a focus on recovery, and even to date they are unable to report how many drug users they have treated have managed to overcome their addiction – this despite having a strategy which for the last ten years has emphasised the importance of enabling drug users to become drug-free. That strategy is now being reviewed by the Scottish Government with the real risk that the commitment to abstinence-based recovery will be diluted in preference to the much woollier goal of seeking to reduce the harm associated with addicts’ continued drug use.

Within Scotland we spend more than £100million a year on drug treatment. We should be asking why our services seem to be achieving so little in terms of getting addicts into long-term recovery and why, in the face of that failure, public officials are seeking to promote centres where illegal drug use can take place without fear of prosecution. Injecting on the streets is a terrible reality but the response to that problem should not be the provision of a centre where injecting can occur beyond public view, but actively to discourage injecting at all.

The reason we need to be doing much more to discourage drug injecting is because the substances addicts are injecting are often manufactured, stored, and transported in dreadfully unhygienic conditions with the result that they often contain serious and potentially fatal bacterial contaminants. These drugs do not become safe when they are used in a drug consumption room, but remain harmful wherever they are injected. We need to do all we can to discourage drug use, to discourage injecting, and to ensure that as many addicts as possible are in contact with services focused on assisting their recovery. We need to be very wary of developing initiatives that run the real risk of normalising illegal drug use and driving a possible further increase in the number of people using illegal drugs.

Professor Neil McKeganey is Director of the Centre for Substance Use Research, Glasgow

Source: https://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/neil-mckeganey-good-sense-kills-not-safe-injecting-centre/ November 2017

 

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

With the Canadian government legalizing cannabis in the year 2018, the potential harms to certain populations-including those with opioid use disorder-must be investigated. Cannabis is one of the most commonly used substances by patients who are engaged in medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, the effects of which are largely unknown. In this study, we examine the impact of baseline and ongoing cannabis use, and whether these are impacted differentially by gender.

METHODS:

We conducted a retrospective cohort study using anonymized electronic medical records from 58 clinics offering opioid agonist therapy in Ontario, Canada. One-year treatment retention was the primary outcome of interest and was measured for patients who did and did not have a cannabis positive urine sample in their first month of treatment, and as a function of the proportion of cannabis-positive urine samples throughout treatment.

RESULTS:

Our cohort consisted of 644 patients, 328 of which were considered baseline cannabis users and 256 considered heavy users. Patients with baseline cannabis use and heavy cannabis use were at increased risk of dropout (38.9% and 48.1%, respectively). When evaluating these trends by gender, only female baseline users and male heavy users are at increased risk of premature dropout.

INTERPRETATION:

Both baseline and heavy cannabis use are predictive of decreased treatment retention, and differences do exist between genders. With cannabis being legalized in the near future, physicians should closely monitor cannabis-using patients and provide education surrounding the potential harms of using cannabis while receiving treatment for opioid use disorder.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29117267 November 2017

Legalizing opioids may give Americans greater freedom over their decision-making, but at what cost? One painful aspect of the public debates over the opioid-addiction crisis is how much they mirror the arguments that arise from personal addiction crises.

If you’ve ever had a loved one struggle with drugs — in my case, my late brother, Josh — the national exercise in guilt-driven blame-shifting and finger-pointing, combined with flights of sanctimony and ideological righteousness, has a familiar echo. The difference between the public arguing and the personal agonizing is that, at the national level, we can afford our abstractions.

When you have skin in the game, none of the easy answers seem all that easy. For instance, “tough love” sounds great until you contemplate the possible real-world consequences. My father summarized the dilemma well. “Tough love” — i.e., cutting off all support for my brother so he could hit rock bottom and then start over — had the best chance of success. It also had the best chance for failure — i.e., death. There’s also a lot of truth to “just say no,” but once someone has already said “yes,” it’s tantamount to preaching “keep your horses in the barn” long after they’ve left.

But if there’s one seemingly simple answer that has been fully discredited by the opioid crisis, it’s that the solution lies in wholesale drug legalization. In Libertarianism: A Primer, David Boaz argues that “if drugs were produced by reputable firms, and sold in liquor stores, fewer people would die from overdoses and tainted drugs, and fewer people would be the victims of prohibition-related robberies, muggings and drive-by-shootings.”

Maybe. But you know what else would happen if we legalized heroin and opioids? More people would use heroin and opioids. And the more people who use such addictive drugs, the more addicts you get. Think of the opioid crisis as the fruit of partial legalization. In the 1990s, for good reasons and bad, the medical profession, policymakers, and the pharmaceutical industry made it much easier to obtain opioids in order to confront an alleged pain epidemic. Doctors prescribed more opioids, and government subsidies made them more affordable. Because they were prescribed by doctors and came in pill form, the stigma reserved for heroin didn’t exist. When you increase supply, lower costs, and reduce stigma, you increase use.

And guess what? Increased use equals more addicts. A survey by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one-third of the people who were prescribed opioids for more than two months became addicted. A Centers for Disease Control study found that a very small number of people exposed to opioids are likely to become addicted after a single use. The overdose crisis is largely driven by the fact that once addicted to legal opioids, people seek out illegal ones — heroin, for example — to fend off the agony of withdrawal once they can’t get, or afford, any more pills. Last year, 64,000 Americans died from overdoses. Some 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War.

Experts rightly point out that a large share of opioid addiction stems not from prescribed use but from people selling the drugs secondhand on the black market, or from teenagers stealing them from their parents. That’s important, but it doesn’t help the argument for legalization. Because the point remains: When these drugs become more widely available, more people avail themselves of them. How would stacking heroin or OxyContin next to the Jim Beam lower the availability? Liquor companies advertise — a lot. Would we let, say, Pfizer run ads for their brand of heroin? At least it might cut down on the Viagra commercials. I think it’s probably true that legalization would reduce crime, insofar as some violent illegal drug dealers would be driven out of the business.

 I’m less sure that legalization would curtail crimes committed by addicts in order to feed their habits. As a rule, addiction is not conducive to sustained gainful employment, and addicts are just as capable of stealing and prostitution to pay for legal drugs as illegal ones. The fundamental assumption behind legalization is that people are rational actors and can make their own decisions. As a general proposition, I believe that. But what people forget is that drug addiction makes people irrational. If you think more addicts are worth it in the name of freedom, fine. Just be prepared to accept that the costs of such freedom are felt very close to home.

 Source: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/453304/opioid-crisis-legalization-not-solution November 2017

The costs of using hard drugs are worse and more horrific than the costs of prohibition. There are times in life when ideas are overtaken by events, when the hard experience of reality meets and overcomes the hopefulness of ideas. Now is just such a time. As the opioid crisis takes lives on a historic scale, it’s time to kill a bad idea. Just say no to legalizing hard drugs.

To be sure, there’s not a large constituency in support of legalizing any drugs other than marijuana, but their legalization, including that of narcotics, has been a topic of lively intellectual debate ever since the war on drugs truly took off. The editors of National Review have long supported legalization, libertarians have argued vociferously for legalization for decades, and a number of influential thinkers on the left and the right have joined in agreement on this one issue.

Outside of college dorms, the argument for legalization, in general, isn’t that drugs should be legalized because they’re fun and people can be trusted to use them responsibly. Rather, it’s that the costs of the war on drugs — in lives lost, lives squandered in prison, and civil liberties curtailed — outweigh the probable harm of legalization. Here are the editors of National Review in 1996: “It is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states.”

Intelligent supporters of legalization know that drug use would increase, but would it increase so much as to overtake the cost of homicide, robbery, and incarceration? Well, after years of experimenting with opioid prescriptions so promiscuous that they functioned as a form of quasi-legalization, the answer appears to be yes. The costs of drug use are worse and more horrific than the costs of prohibition.

OxyContin. Opioid prescriptions skyrocketed and addiction rates increased, and as addiction increased, so did overdoses. To be clear: Not all these new addicts were the actual patients. Simply put, families and communities were suddenly awash in narcotics, with extraordinarily potent drugs filling medicine cabinets from coast to coast. I distinctly remember the change. I remember my confusion when an emergency-room nurse asked me to measure my pain on a scale from 1 to 10 after a friend scraped my eyeball in a pickup basketball game. It all seemed so subjective. Since I’d never experienced ultimate agony, how could I measure? I said “seven” and got a bottle of Vicodin. In reality, I probably could have managed with a shot of bourbon and a few Advil. Later that same year, I asked my secretary at my law firm if she had some Tylenol to help a stress headache. Her response? “No, but I have some Percocet.”

 As Robert VerBruggen notes in his own piece rethinking drug libertarianism, it seems that most addicts don’t actually get their pain pills from a doctor. Why bother? The drugs were simply everywhere, with enough pill bottles prescribed to provide one to every American, many times over. And once addiction took hold, greater restrictions on prescriptions meant that addicts just switched to a cheaper and deadlier drug, heroin. The numbers are startling.   And now, as virtually every American knows, we face a national crisis.

In 2016 drug-overdose deaths increased 11 percent over 2015’s already-high number. A stunning 52,404 Americans lost their lives. To compare, that’s almost 15,000 more than died in car crashes and roughly 16,000 more than died to guns, including homicides and suicides. In fact, that number probably undercounts the toll from drug abuse, since doubtless some number of suicides represented addicts who’d hit rock bottom and saw no way out but through the barrel of a gun or the bottom of the pill bottle. In other words, opioids are monstrous inventions that overpower the human will on a mass scale. There are no “rational actors” among addicts, and the substances are extraordinarily addictive. Do you know an opioid addict? Then you’ve seen them slide slowly away from reality. The formula is simple — flood the market with pills, and you’ll flood the country with addicts.

A number of smart (no, brilliant) people thought that the costs of enforcement outweighed the costs of legalization. That may well be true of marijuana, but can we make that argument any longer with opioids? If people have access to pills, they tend to take pills, and an uncomfortably large proportion of them get so hooked on them that if you take them away, they move to even harder and more powerful drugs. A horrifying percentage overdose and die. That’s not to say that fighting the war on drugs means winning the war on drugs. It may mean that we do nothing more than contain the problem, preventing it from spiralling out of control even further. And, as Lopez notes in Vox, arguing against legalization isn’t the same thing as arguing against reform, including reforming the way in which the criminal-justice system deals with drug offenders.

There is much room for creativity and thoughtfulness in dealing with the crisis. I see no room for broader availability and greater ease of access. Last year I sat next to a man on a plane who lost his daughter to a combination of Xanax and Lortab. She’d taken both drugs for years, to deal with anxiety and chronic pain. As he told the story, every year she grew more tolerant. Every year she had to take more to achieve the same effect. One terrible and stressful night, she took an extra dose to force herself to sleep. She never woke up. If we legalize hard drugs, there will be more stories like that — many more. Opioids make slaves of men. There is no choice but to continue the fight.

Source:  http://www.nationalreview.com/article/447190/opioid-crisis-legalization-drugs-marijuana-narcotics-pain-killers April 2017

The typical overdose victim is becoming younger and more urban

EVERY 25 minutes an American baby is born addicted to opioids. The scale of both use and abuse of the drugs in the United States is hard to overstate: in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, an estimated 38% of adults took prescription opioids. Of those, one in eight (11.5m people in total) misused their prescription. Around 1m Americans overdosed last year, and 64,000 of them died.

The scourge of opioid abuse gained political salience last year, as voters in parts of the country with high levels of drug overdoses swung strongly towards Donald Trump. The president has taken few steps to combat the opioid crisis since taking office, but on October 26th he is expected to direct his secretary of health and human services to declare a public-health emergency. His national drug commission is due to publish a report on November 1st recommending a mix of rehabilitation, awareness-building and policing as the best response the epidemic.

Politically, it stands to reason that Mr Trump would show interest in the opioid crisis, given that press reports paint the typical abuser as an archetypal older, rural Trump voter, perhaps with a prescription to treat back pain. Yet the government runs the risk of fighting the last war in its effort to quell the epidemic, because the causes and victims of drug overdoses in America are changing fast.

The number of deaths from prescription opioids has continued to rise, from around 11,000 in 2013 to 15,000 a year now. But the rate of growth has slowed, and many forecasters predict it may be nearing its peak. By contrast, the toll from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, is soaring. After claiming just 3,000 lives in 2013, it killed 22,000 people in America last year, more than either heroin or prescription opioids. Deaths from heroin have become far more frequent as well: after being roughly a quarter as common as fatal prescription overdoses in the mid-2000s, they overtook deaths from prescription opioids in 2015.

This change in the leading causes of opioid-related deaths has been accompanied by a shift in the profile of the average victim. The highest rates of prescription-opioid abuse can be found among middle-aged rural whites, including women. By contrast, both fentanyl and heroin users tend to be much younger, more likely to live in cities, somewhat more racially diverse and overwhelmingly male (see heat map above). Reaching people at high risk of exposure to these more potent opioids cannot be done by offering services to former Rust Belt factory workers or Appalachian coal miners, but will require a different approach.

Similarly, most media attention has focused on substance abuse in states Mr Trump won, such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. But blue states like Maryland, Delaware and Massachusetts also figure among the current top ten for deaths from drug overdoses. That means Mr Trump will need to extend the government’s efforts far beyond his electoral base if he hopes to address the opioid epidemic.

Source: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2017/10/26/the-shifting-toll-of-americas-drug-epidemic October 2017

The Washington County drug court graduation ceremony for Maria Kestner. Photograph: Fred R Conrad

Photographer  visited a Virginia drug court last year and saw how individuals and families had been given a second chance – so when he went back this summer he had a question: did they take it?

“Opioid and methamphetamine abuse tore through this area like a wildfire.”

This is the view of Rebecca Holmes, who is responsible for mental health and drug use outpatient treatment in Abingdon, Washington County, Virginia, as she looks back at the decision to set up a drug court.

Holmes, the medical director of Highlands Community Services, had seen how the growing crisis around opioids had taken such a heavy toll on families in the town, which is home to just over 8,000 people.

 

There was a growing need for a small group of addicts that did not respond to treatment or programs offered by the existing court or probation, she said, so five years ago she applied for a grant to use a federal model for a drug court that had first emerged in 1989.

The county’s drug court has been in place for several years now and Holmes feels that it has never been more needed. Last year in Virginia there were more deaths from heroin and opioids than highway fatalities for the first time, and the governor declared a public health emergency.

Nationally, opioids are said to be killing 90 people a day.

  • The Washington County court house. Inside the county court room where the drug court meets every week.

Judge Lowe presides over the court and the program, which is a year and half long for those who are placed on it. It combines therapy with a structured program of court visits, random drug screens, curfews and full-time employment for participants.

  • Judge Lowe poses with Wayne Smith, who has completed the second phase of the four-phase drug court. Participants are rewarded for good behavior.

There is the ever-present threat of court sanctions if a participant relapses. Lowe says: “The point of drug court is not just to treat the addict, it’s to make that person a model for the rest of their family so that they can break the cycle of drug abuse.”

The Guardian visited last year and again this year in late summer to see how people who had gone through the court – and who worked there – were getting on.

Bubba

  • Bubba and Ginger in their bedroom.

Bubba Rouse started abusing painkillers when he was a young teenager. He then stole various pills he could get his hands on. At 17 Bubba started smoking meth. He also became a father for the first time.

Bubba continued to use drugs and found a new girlfriend, Ginger, whose father had been sent to prison for meth when she was eight years old. Bubba and Ginger were both using meth and heroin when Ginger got pregnant. “The reason I stopped using was because I knew I had a future coming with my baby and I didn’t want to bring a child into a world like the one I grew up in.”

  • Family pictures of the Rouse family are displayed throughout the home where Bubba Rouse grew up.
  • Playing with her Barbie dolls.

Ginger was able to get sober and her baby was born without any complications while Bubba was in prison. While in prison he was offered a place in the Washington County drug court program. Drug court can be very difficult, especially at the beginning. There are mandatory therapy meetings, frequent random drug screens, curfew calls in the middle of the night and you have to have to be employed full time. It was even more difficult for Bubba because he could not legally drive. Ginger became both chauffeur and workmate for Bubba this past year.

  • Bubba with his daughter. 

They have managed to work together in a factory, on a construction crew and now at a fast-food restaurant. Bubba and Ginger moved in with Bubba’s parents where Bubba was able to able to get closer to his oldest daughter. For most of the year his younger daughter, with Ginger, was taken care of by Ginger’s mother.

The family is now reunited and Bubba and Ginger have taken over the payments on a double wide trailer that they hope to move next to Bubba’s parents home. After drug court graduation in six months, Bubba hopes to start working construction with Ginger’s stepfather.

Bubba said: “Drug court has been good for me but there are not many programs in this area and I wish there were more things to help people quit early rather than when things get really bad.”

Chris Brown

  • Maria Kestner is hugged by Chis Brown at her drug court graduation ceremony.

Chris Brown is a retired police officer with nearly 30 years on the job. “As a police officer you get jaded after a while. You go to the same addresses and visit the same families all the time. It hit me when I started arresting the grandchildren of people I arrested when I was a rookie cop. You realize early on that you can’t incarcerate your way out of this drug problem.”

After retiring from the police force, Chris was looking for a job where he could help people. “When the job of drug court coordinator became available, I jumped at the chance.

  • Bubba hands a drug test cup filled with his urine to Chris Brown.

“This is a wonderful way to help people. I found my humanity with this job.” Chris takes his job very seriously. He’s on call 24/7. He handles compliance with spot drug screens, curfew calls as well as issues of transportation, housing and dealing with family issues of those in the program.

You realize early on that you can’t incarcerate your way out of this drug problem

He is not judgmental and he is a good listener. “I remember talking with a drug addict years ago and asking him how he wanted to be treated. He told me he just wanted to be treated like a human being. That’s what I try to do with everyone in the program: treat them like human beings rather than drug addicts.”

Joyce Yarber

  • Joyce Yarber manages a cattle ranch and hay farm with her husband.

Joyce Yarber, age 59, has always walked with a limp. She has suffered with hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis for most of her life. For over 20 years, her doctor had prescribed a painkilling cocktail that included Lortab, Percocet and oxycodone. When her doctor was arrested for over prescribing opiates she became desperate and eventually wrote half a dozen prescriptions for herself. She was arrested and offered drug court. Because she had written scripts in both Virginia and Tennessee, it took two years of legal wrangling before she could start the drug court program in Washington County, Virginia.

Before starting drug court, she was required to get a hip replacement operation, the hope being that the operation would eliminate the pain that caused her to become a drug addict. Determined to stay sober, Joyce refused to take any opiates after the operation. Her only post-operation painkiller was an over-the-counter one. That determination impressed the drug court team. “When I first started drug court, I was a drug snob. I thought that because I got my drugs from a doctor rather than buying them on the street, I was somehow better. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was wrong. I was no better than anyone else in the program. I was just as much an addict as they all were.”

  • The start of a therapy session at Highlands Community Services for drug court participants.

Joyce has been a model client in drug court and because of her age and her outgoing personality, she has become a mother figure for the group. The only time she missed a therapy meeting was when she was trapped in a tree without her cellphone by a young bull on the cattle farm that she and her husband operate. That bull was culled from the herd the next day.

I thought that because I got my drugs from a doctor rather than buying them on the street, I was somehow better. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was wrong

A few months into the drug court program, Joyce went to her doctor and was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Because the pain caused by the cancer was so great, she knew that she would have to go back on to opiate pain medication just to get through her chemotherapy. She offered to resign from the program but the team insisted that she stay. Her medication level is monitored by the drug court and she still attends all of the meetings. “I got a call from the probation office in Tennessee and they gave me a date that I need to call them by after I complete drug court. I sure hope I’m around and that I can remember to call. This chemo brain is a real pain.”

Zac Holt

Zac Holt was always a gifted athlete. His goal after graduating from college was to attend seminary and become a Presbyterian minister. Those plans were delayed after Zac fell 45ft while free climbing. He broke a leg and fractured a vertebra. While in hospital, he was given narcotic pain medication. Zac had experimented with marijuana and cocaine in high school and college but drugs were never a major part of his life.

  • Zac trains daily and has competed in two triathlons since beginning drug court

That changed after he was exposed to percocet and oxycodone. After he was released from the hospital, he began doctor shopping and getting multiple prescriptions. He went off to seminary and continued using drugs. “I became a raging drug addict. I would do anything for my drugs. I lied, cheated and stole, mostly from my family. I dropped out of school. I went through therapy several times but always came back to my drugs.” Zac’s drug use went on for nine years.

  • Zac Holt was addicted to opioids for nearly nine years.

When he was arrested for possession and put on probation he continued to use drugs. He confessed this to his probation officer who then sent him to jail. While in jail his jaw was broken in a lunch room fight. He had reached bottom when he was offered drug court earlier this year. “Drug court was the best thing in the world for me. I wanted to change my life and drug court gave me a way to change.” Zac embraced the discipline and structure of drug court. He went back to live with his parents and started reconnecting with his family. He also started training for a triathlon. It seemed like an impossible goal for someone who had never competed in one. The regimen of drug court and constant training fills every waking moment. Zac has 10 more months of drug court before graduating. He is active in his church and is contemplating a return to seminary. He has also completed two triathlons.

  • Zac is thinking about returning to seminary and becoming a Presbyterian minister after he completes drug court.

Drug use in south-western Virginia shows no sign of decline. Use of Suboxone is on the rise and meth is still entrenched in the hills of Appalachia. Brown, the drug coordinator for the Washington County drug court said: “You can’t let yourself get discouraged by the numbers. You just work and fight drug addiction one family at a time.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/23/drug-court-opioids-virginia-second-chance October 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Crime/Violence/Prison,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,Social Affairs,Treatment and Addiction :

From afar, America’s opioid epidemic may seem like just another sensationalised scare story in a country constantly at war with drugs. But this is not a fad, nor an overblown segment on morning television. It is real, it is decimating entire counties, and it represents the summation of the country’s failures towards its own citizens over decades.

Twenty million Americans have some form of opioid addiction, and those addictions kill almost 150 people every day.

The CDC estimates that 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year

Twenty million is a shocking number of people for whom the ordinary act of living is crushing. An opioid addiction is fundamentally an instinct to numb, to sleep, to exist unencumbered. It is made possible by over-prescription from doctors and aggressive lobbying from pharmaceutical companies, but it reflects the deeper malaise of places and people whose lives have few prospects for dramatic improvement.

As we saw last November, that malaise has become desperation, and that desperation now covers a vast swathe of the electorate.

America was never a feudal society, and so our national mythology does not include a character who exemplifies the nobility of poverty; in a country of pilgrims and pioneers, driven by Calvinist mores, being poor suggests that you’re just not working hard enough.

Faced with a society where poverty is considered a deficiency of both morals and material wealth, and where it has become more difficult to outdo your parents, it is easy to see how a life enslaved to the brief release of opioids seems preferable to one spent in the ugly realities of hardship.

The death toll has been staggering. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year – the whole 20 years of the Vietnam War, by contrast, cost 58,000 American lives.

Between 1999 and 2015, drugs killed 560,000 Americans; over the next decade, they are expected to take another half million lives. These are the kind of numbers that make you sit up and wonder how there aren’t daily protests outside the Food and Drug Administration’s headquarters – until you realise that many of those affected by this crisis gave up on the idea of change, or even hope, a long time ago.

If you believe, as so many Americans do, that everything from voting to the economic system itself is rigged, why would you bother trying to change things?

In the wake of the financial crisis, when a generation (my generation) was told that the white-collar jobs for which they’d spent 20 years and a small fortune preparing were no longer available, many dissembled entirely. In previous generations, being a middle-class white kid in America guaranteed a life devoid of difficult decisions; suddenly, the system (and the social contract which came with it) collapsed.

President Donald Trump announced in August that he would declare opioid abuse a national emergency

With the purposeful numbness of the corporate world out of reach, many chose a different sort of numbing agent. And so what began as “hillbilly heroin” went mainstream, snaking its way through leafy suburbs up and down the East Coast.

Nevertheless, the reinvention of heroin and opioids as scourges of “nice” families means that drug reform and rehabilitation are stamped in bold type on to the conservative political agenda.

Nearly every GOP candidate in the crowded 2016 primary spent time stomping around New England and the Rust Belt, partaking in the grief of families who had lost children or spouses to this epidemic, and offering aggressive plans for reform.

President Donald Trump announced in August thathe would declare opioid abuse a national emergency, a mechanism ordinarily deployed after natural disasters. It appears that this declaration could be coming early next week, although its parameters, and thus its efficacy in addressing a problem as systemic as opioid abuse, remain unclear.

It is difficult to imagine any successful intervention in this crisis which stops at methadone clinics, naloxone for overdoses and needle exchanges. Addiction perpetuates the cycles of poverty, but it is also a symptom of that poverty and the despair that accompanies it.

Creating hope in communities where the lights went out years ago is key to preventing the creation of future addicts, and to convincing current addicts that society can offer them something better than a few hours of escape.

It is time for this administration to move past flashy announcements, and to settle into the grunt work of crafting policy that tackles the effects, but also the root causes, of opioid addiction.

Molly Kiniry is a researcher at the Legatum Institute

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/21/opioid-epidemic-crushing-americas-middle-class-need-action-not/ October 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,USA :

Science Spotlight

New research suggests that marijuana users may be more likely than nonusers to misuse prescription opioids and develop prescription opioid use disorder. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and Columbia University.

The investigators analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which interviewed more than 43,000 American adults in 2001-2002, and followed up with more than 34,000 of them in 2004-2005. The analysis indicated that respondents who reported past-year marijuana use in their initial interview had 2.2 times higher odds than nonusers of meeting DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for prescription opioid use disorder by the follow-up. They also had 2.6 times greater odds of initiating prescription opioid misuse, defined as using a drug without a prescription, in higher doses, for longer periods, or for other reasons than prescribed.

A number of recent papers suggest that marijuana may reduce prescription opioid addiction and overdoses by providing an alternate or complementary pain relief option. That suggestion is partly based on comparisons of aggregate data from states that legalized marijuana for medical use vs. those that didn’t. In contrast, the current study focuses on individual marijuana users vs. nonusers and their trajectories with regard to opioid misuse and disorders. These findings are in-line with previous research demonstrating that people who use marijuana are more likely than non-users to use other drugs and develop problems with drug use.

For a copy of the paper, go to – “Cannabis Use and Risk of Prescription Opioid Use Disorder in the United States” – published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

For information about the link between marijuana use and increased risk of addiction to other drugs, go to: www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/latest-science/marijuana-use-raises-sud-risk.

For more information, contact the NIDA press office at media@nida.nih.gov or 301-443-6245. Follow NIDA on Twitter and Facebook

Source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2017/09/marijuana-use-associated-increased-risk-prescription-opioid-misuse-use-disorders September 2017

Filed under: Cannabis/Marijuana,Heroin/Methadone :

Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of prime-age American men who don’t have a job — and aren’t looking for one — has risen dramatically. Over the same time period, per-capita sales of opioid painkillers in the United States has more than quadrupled. A new study suggests that there may be a relationship between these two facts.

In a paper published by the Brookings Institution on Thursday, Princeton economist Alan Krueger compares county-level data on opioid-prescription rates and labor-force participation, and finds that the more opioids were prescribed in a given region, the more likely that region was to have seen a significant decline in workforce participation.

The correlation was so dramatic, Krueger estimates that rising opioid prescriptions could plausibly account for one-fifth of the decline in the labor-force participation among American men between 1999 and 2015.

In previous research, Kreuger revealed that nearly half of all American men between the ages of 25 and 54 who were not in the labor force took pain medication on a daily basis. For two-thirds of those men, that daily pain medication was the kind that requires a prescription.

Critically, Krueger’s new research suggests that the counties where opioids are most widely prescribed aren’t, necessarily, places where the population is exceptionally ill or disabled. Rather, they are places where doctors seem to be exceptionally comfortable writing opioid prescriptions to treat pain.

Currently, America’s overall labor-force participation rate is 62.9 percent, unchanged from three years ago, and well below the 67 percent level that was typical in the late 1990s. Most of this decline can be attributed to benign factors — the retirement of the baby boomers, and a rising percentage of young Americans delaying work to pursue higher education. But the drop in participation by prime-age men has been sharp — right now, America has the second-lowest such rate among OECD countries — and very much malign: Krueger finds that prime-age men who have dropped out of the labor force are significantly less happy than their employed and unemployed peers.

There is still some ambiguity in Krueger’s findings. It’s possible that, to some extent, labor-force detachment increases demand for prescription opioids, rather than vice versa. Nonetheless, his paper offers compelling evidence that America’s painkiller habit isn’t just producing 100 overdose deaths in our country each day, but also impairing our economy’s capacity to grow.

Notably, the prescription opioid industry has achieved all this without actually reducing the levels of pain that Americans report.

“Despite the massive rise in opioid prescriptions in the 2000s,” Krueger notes in his paper, “there is no evidence that the incidence of pain has declined.”

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/09/the-opioid-crisis-is-taking-a-toll-on-the-american-workforce.html

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,Social Affairs :

By Dean A. Dabney

The United States has been waging a war on drugs for nearly 50 years . Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this long campaign to thwart the production, distribution, sale and use of illegal drugs.

This sustained investment has resulted in millions of drug offenders being processed through the American criminal justice system. It has also influenced crime control strategies used by American police.

Under President Barack Obama, there was a period of reform and moderating of tactics.

But President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is announcing plans to return to “law and order” approaches, such as aggressive intervention by law enforcement and use of mandatory minimum sentences by prosecutors.

I recently co-authored a book with University of Louisville criminal justice professor Richard Tewksbury on the role of confidential informants . In my view, a return to a “law and order” approach would undo recent gains in reducing crime rates as well as prison populations and would further strain tense police-community relations .

Drugs are different

Unlike violent or property crimes – which usually yield cooperative victims and witnesses – police and prosecutors are at a disdvantage when fighting drugs. Drug users don’t see themselves as crime victims or their dealers as criminals. Police thus have limited options for identifying offenders.

Alternatives include the use of undercover operations or conducting aggressive crackdown operations to disrupt the market in real time.

But sneaking up on or infiltrating secretive and multilayered drug organizations is not easy to do, and usually produces only low-level offenders . Poor police-community relations don’t help. Heightened enforcement and punishments have made matters worse by increasing the secrecy and sophistication of the illegal drug market and forcing police to develop criminal intelligence on offenders.

So how do police gather criminal intelligence on drug crimes?

The most honorable way is to rely on law-abiding sources who see the criminal activity and feel compelled to report it to the police in order to stop the problem.

The second option is for police to turn to a paid informant who is familiar with the drug operations to set up a buy or inform on the criminal activities of others in exchange for money.

A third option is to apprehend known drug offenders and coerce them into divulging information on higher-ups in exchange for a lighter sentence. We call these folks “indentured informants” because they “owe” the police information. If they don’t follow through on their end of the deal, they face the weight of criminal prosecution, often through heavy mandatory minimum sentences.

As police-community relations have eroded over time, police have slowly but surely increased their reliance on criminal informants – especially to develop cases on higher-level criminals.

The consequences of coercive tactics

Mandatory minimum sentences serve as a strong motivator to snitch. It has become the “go-to move” for authorities.

Not surprisingly, drug dealers fight back against this coercive method of getting evidence with a “stop snitchin'” campaign. Retaliatory violence often erupts , and it becomes harder for police to get evidence from both criminal and civic-mindedinformants who fear reprisals from drug dealers. Anger grows against police who are perceived as not following through on promises to protect witnesses or clean up neighborhoods.

There exists yet another wrinkle in the equation. Reliance on harsh drug sentences and confidential informants has become part and parcel to how other types of criminal cases are solved.

Witnesses or persons privy to information in homicide or robbery cases are routinely prodded into cooperating only after they find themselves facing a stiff penalty due to their involvement in an unrelated drug case.

Here again, this produces short-term gains but long-term complications for criminal justice authorities as states move to decriminalize or legalize drugs. What happens when prosecutors working violent or property crime cases can no longer rely on the threat of mandatory minimum sentences to compel individuals to provide information?

By exploiting intelligence sources and putting them at risk, the war on drugs has pitted the police against residents in drug-ridden communities. This runs contrary to the ideals of community policing, in which trust and legitimacy are essential to members of the community and law enforcement collaborating to prevent and combat crime.

The past decade has witnessed significant reforms within the criminal justice system, particularly as it relates to drug enforcement. Authorities have sought to integrate apublic health approachinto the long-standing criminal justice model and adopt a more patient and long-term view on the drug problem.

In the end, the reliance on informants and mandatory minimum sentences creates numerous unanticipated negative consequences which will continue to grow if we revert back to them.

Dean A. Dabney is an associate professor of justice and criminology at Georgia State University. He wrote this piece for The Conversation where it first appeared.

Source: https://articles.pennlive.com/opinion/2017/08/reviving_the_war_on_drugs_isnt.amp August 2017

Filed under: Crime/Violence/Prison,Heroin/Methadone :

By Robert DuPont

Abstract

The current narrative describing the national opioid epidemic as the result of overprescribing opioid pain medicines fails to capture the full dimensions of the problem and leads to inadequate and even confounding solutions. Overlooked is the fact that polysubstance use is nearly ubiquitous among overdose deaths, demonstrating that the opioid overdose death problem is bigger than opioids. The foundation of the nation’s opioid overdose crisis – and the totality of the nation’s drug epidemic – is widespread recreational pharmacology, the use of drugs for fun or “self-medication.” The national focus on opioid overdose deaths provides important new opportunities in both prevention and treatment to make fundamental changes to the way that substance use disorders and related problems are understood and managed.

The first-ever US Surgeon General’s report on addiction provides a starting point for systemic changes in the nation’s approach to preventing, treating and managing substance use disorders as serious, chronic diseases. New prevention efforts need to encourage youth to grow to adulthood not using alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or other drugs for reasons of health. New addiction treatment efforts need to focus on achieving long-term recovery including no use of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361923017302927  June 2017

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector :

WASHINGTON – The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced the establishment of six new enforcement teams focused on combatting the flow of heroin and illicit fentanyl. 

 “At a time when overdose deaths are at catastrophic levels, the DEA’s top priority is addressing the opioid epidemic and pursuing the criminal organizations that distribute their poison to our neighborhoods,” said DEA Acting Administrator Robert W. Patterson. “These teams will enhance DEA’s ability to combat trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues and the violence associated with drug trafficking.”

The enforcement teams will be based in communities facing significant challenges with heroin and fentanyl, including New Bedford, Mass.; Charleston, W.Va.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Raleigh, N.C.; and Long Island, N.Y.

In determining the locations for these teams, DEA considered multiple factors, including rates of opioid mortality, level of heroin and fentanyl seizures, and where additional resources would make the greatest impact in addressing the ongoing threat. While the teams are based in specific cities, their investigations will not be geographically limited. DEA will continue to pursue investigations wherever the evidence leads.

DEA received funding in its FY 2017 enacted appropriations to establish these teams, which will be comprised of DEA special agents and state and local task force officers. 

The abuse of controlled prescription drugs is inextricably linked with the threat the United States faces from the trafficking of heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. 

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, eclipsing deaths from motor vehicle crashes or firearms. According to initial estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, or approximately 175 per day. More than 34,500, or 54 percent, of these deaths were caused by opioids. 

The DEA continues to aggressively pursue enforcement actions against international and domestic drug trafficking organizations manufacturing and distributing heroin, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. Just last week, the Department of Justice announced indictments against two Chinese nationals and their North America-based traffickers and distributors for separate conspiracies to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues and other opiate substances in the United States.  

Source: Email from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration <dea@public.govdelivery.com> October 2017

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Legal Sector :

Dr. Mark Gold and Dr. Stacy Seikel discuss opioid addiction

Experts have concluded that the opioid crisis started with physicians overprescribing opioid pain medication.

Q – You are one of the few double board certified, pain evaluation and treatment experts, and addiction evaluation and treatment expert. How do you decide who should be given opioids for chronic pain? What are your advantages in patient evaluation and treatment as a clinical expert in having such training?
A – The first thing when you are evaluating a patient who has pain, or pain and addiction, is that all pain is real. The patients who have chronic or intermittent pain have an underlying fear of suffering. They may appear controlling or resistant to treatment, but actually it is this “fear of suffering” that is driving most of their behavior.

Q – If the person in recovery needs opioids for chronic pain or acute pain how do you manage that and prevent abuse and/or addiction?
A – If the person in recovery needs opioids for acute pain, such as due to an injury or surgery, we develop a “Pain Management Relapse Prevention Agreement”. I have the patient, family, surgeon, sponsor, caregivers and anesthesiologist involved in that plan.

Q – You have written about how to get off Suboxone. Why is it so hard to get off Suboxone and how do you get off Suboxone?
A – First of all, the goal of patients on Suboxone is not to get off Suboxone. The goal is to get into recovery. The Suboxone and other buprenorphine formulations is one tool, among many, to help patients have a meaningful self-directed life, and not a drug directed life.

Q – You have run methadone programs, how do you get off methadone?
A – I taper methadone the same way I taper buprenorphine, that is slowly and with the patient able to stop the taper at any time. I would typically start a methadone taper in a motivated patient at about 10% per month if tolerated. Maybe less. As you can see it can take over a year to successfully taper someone.

Q – How do you detox and get on naltrexone or Vivitrol. How do you get off naltrexone?
A – In order to start a patient on Vivitrol, the patient needs to have the opiates out of their system and not have any withdrawal symptoms. Typically a patient must be off short-acting opiates for one week or long-acting opiates for 10 to 14 days. There are rapid induction techniques for Vivitrol, but I do not use those in an outpatient setting.

Q – Do you have any advice on how to use Narcan in a suspected opioid overdose?
A – Georgia has made naloxone for overdose reversal available in pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. With one person dying of overdose every 15 minutes, I believe every citizen needs to be trained in overdose reversal and carry Narcan.

Q – What makes fentanyl so deadly? How do you reverse the fentanyl overdose? Does the overdose reverse successfully?
A – Fentanyl is a very potent opioid and it is very easy to take too much. Most of my patients do not realize that the heroin that they have been using has fentanyl in it. So as you can see, a person may not even know they are taking fentanyl. They may think they are taking heroin and take too much and overdose.

Q – MAT programs often have too little in the way of behavioral health and psychiatric treatment. You do the opposite, please describe.
A – I provide MAT within a treatment program in an outpatient setting. We provide intensive outpatient (three hours per day) or PHP (six hours per day) of counseling and group therapy. In addition we provide a psychiatric evaluation, weekly physician visits, med management, individual therapy and a very robust family program.

Q – Describe your program. Who benefits from this program?
A – Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center, AARC, our Christian program, combines our scientific evidence-based treatment with Christian principles. Biblical teachings are embedded in all aspects of our programming. Though we welcome patients from all faiths, Christian teachings are utilized.

Q – Do you see an upswing in cannabis addiction?
A – I have seen an increase in cannabis addiction. Typically we see young adults who have not been able to move through “adulting” because their cannabis use got in the way of their school, their relationships, their work and their ability to mature.

Source: Email from Mark Gold, MD <donotreply@rivermendhealth.com>  February 2018

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Another day, another troubling headline.

If you believe that the access to “safer” drugs is the problem, maybe vending machines will “fix Vancouver’s drug crisis.”

For more than a decade, we’ve been told that Vancouver is the model the US should emulate. No North American city has been more aggressive in implementing harm reduction practices—safe injection rooms, heroin maintenance, hydromorphone (dilaudid) maintenance, crack pipe vending machines and, of course, all the less sensational forms of harm reduction.

So . . . all these years later, where are they at?

“Last year, overdoses killed 1,422 people in British Columbia, the highest number ever, a 43 per cent increase over 2016.”

Pretty discouraging.

The provincial CDC’s conclusion is that they have not gone far enough.

“. . . sometime in the next several weeks, in March or April, Tyndall will launch a pilot program to distribute hydromorphone pills (a pharmaceutical narcotic derived from morphine) to registered users . . .”

What’s it like there?

“Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, defined as a de facto colony for people who inject or smoke hard drugs, is smaller than it used to be—maybe half the 20 blocks it used to cover, with condo developments looming on all sides. On the warm January day when I visited, a lot of people are out, lining the sidewalks of East Hastings Street, a few side streets and many wide alleys off the main artery. Many are openly smoking or injecting drugs. It’s a shocking sight the first time you visit. You get used to it pretty quickly.”

How many times does recovery come up in this article? 1 time, as a glib rebuttal that equates questioning the approach to malignant neglect.

“You can’t ask people to recover if they’re dead. But the stigma goes so deep that I think a lot of people go, ‘Well, who gives a shit? They die. Better for us. We don’t have to pay their medical bills.’ ”

What’s the animating belief? (emphasis mine)

“Addiction, he says, is a chronic relapsing disease. Most addicts don’t stop.”

If you believe that addicts don’t want to and are unable to stop, then this seems like a pragmatic and compassionate approach.

If you know that addicts hate their lives and that there is hope for recovery, this is very, very sad. If you know that the hopelessness of most addicts requires that professional helpers acts as hope carriers, this will make you angry.

This does not have to be an either/or matter. There is room for a both/and approach. However, as a casual observer, I have not seen BC public health officials, politicians, researchers, or policy advocates address the need and hope for recovery.

 

 

Source: https://addictionandrecoverynews.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/another-day-another-disappointing-headline/
Februrary 2018

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone :

RESEARCH UPDATE

Co-prescription of opioids and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) was common in the US from 2013 to 2014, according to a recent study.1 In March 2016 the FDA issued a safety warning about the risk of serotonin syndrome with combined use of opioids and triptans, or SSRIs/SNRIs.2 Whether the FDA warning has resulted in changes in prescribing practices is unknown, though it may be too early to know.

However, what’s clear is that the opioid problem in the US is not going away quickly. Despite recommendations against opioids for acute migraine from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the American Headache Society (AHS) and despite CDC guidelines3 against opioids for chronic non-cancer pain, prescription of opioids in the US tripled between 1999 and 2015.

Serotonin syndrome is a very rare but serious adverse effect of serotonergic antidepressants, caused by excess serotonergic agonism. Symptoms range from mild (diarrhea, shivering) to severe and potentially life-threatening (muscle rigidity, fever, seizures). The opioids most commonly linked to serotonin syndrome include fentanyl, methadone, andoxycodone. Meperidine, methadone and tramadol carry label warnings about the risk of serotonin syndrome.

To provide better epidemiological data about the nationwide prevalence of co-prescription of these medications in the period before the FDA warning, researchers lead by David A. Sclar, PhD, of the Midwestern University College of Pharmacy in Glendale, Arizona, used data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) database for 2013 to 2014. NAMCS is a cross-sectional nationally representative survey of office-based physician visits run annually by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The analysis included data from 903.6 million outpatient visits.

Key results

• 2% of visits (17.7 million) involved co-prescription of opioids with a triptan or SSRI/SNRI

-Opioid–SSRI/SNRI: 16,044,721 visits

-Opioid–triptan: 1,622,827 visits

• 20% of opioid co-prescribing involved higher-risk opioids with a label warning about serotonin syndrome

-Tramadol most common: 18.6% of opioid–SSRI/SNRI and 21.8% of opioid–triptan co-prescriptions

• 16.3% of visits for migraine involved opioid prescribing

-3.8% of these involved opioid-SSRIs/SNRIs co-prescriptions

-2.0% of these involved opioid-triptan co-prescriptions

The authors emphasized that the prevalence of opioid prescriptions for migraine has changed little over the past decade. A complicating factor is that patients with migraine commonly suffer from depression, making them at increased risk of co-prescription for serotonergic antidepressants and opioids. While acknowledging the importance of effective pain control in migraine, they warned that these results should not discourage undertreatment of depression.

“[T]reatment with serotonergic antidepressants in patients with migraine and comorbid depression must not be unnecessarily discouraged, given the importance of treatment with appropriate pharmacotherapy and evidence that depression is highly prevalent and may be undertreated in this patient population,” they wrote.

They noted that the study precedes the FDA warning by about 2 years, and most of the study occurred before the 2014 DEA re-classification of tramadol as a schedule-IV controlled substance and hydrocodone as a schedule-II controlled substance. Further study is needed to evaluate how these changes may have affected prescribing practices.

Take home points

• Between 2013 to 2014, 2% of outpatient visits surveyed by NAMCS involved co-prescription of opioids with a triptan or SSRI/SNRI

• 20% of these involved higher-risk opioids with a label warning about serotonin syndrome

• 16.3% of visits for migraine involved opioid prescribing

• Further study is needed to evaluate how a 2016 FDA warning about co-prescription of opioids and SSRIs/SNRIS or triptans may have affected prescribing practices.

Source: http://www.neurologytimes.com/high-co-prescription-opioid-ssri-snris-despite-risks?rememberme=1&elq_mid=2125&elq_cid=1748615&GUID=8CCBBF2C-6541-4A09-A30A-3E72BFE8C975 June 27th 2018

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,USA :

Interviewed by Mark Gold, MD

FEATURED ADDICTION EXPERT:
Daniel M. Blumenthal, MD, MBA
Attending Physician, Division of Cardiology, Massachusetts General Hospital
Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Associate Chief Medical Officer at Devoted Health

Do FDA-approved psychostimulants increase the risk of cardiovascular events?

There is no convincing evidence that FDA-approved psychostimulants (e.g. methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, amphetamine salts, and atomoxatine) increase the risk for cardiovascular events among patients without pre-existing cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, among those with pre-existing heart disease, including arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or in patients for whom an increase in heart rate or blood pressure could be harmful, psychostimulants may increase the risk for cardiovascular events.

How does cocaine end up as the number two cause of drug deaths, just behind opioids? Excluding adulteration with opioids, how does cocaine kill you?
The effects of cocaine on the cardiovascular system can be grouped into acute and chronic processes. Cocaine use can cause one or more of several acute, life-threatening cardiovascular effects. The most common is myocardial ischemia or infarction (e.g. a heart attack). Cocaine can induce a heart attack through one of several mechanisms. First, cocaine causes arterial (including coronary artery) vasoconstriction, which can lead to coronary vasospasm. Second, cocaine activates platelets, which increases the risk of thrombosis (including coronary thrombosis). Third, cocaine use produces an adrenergic surge which induces tachycardia (high heart rate) and hypertension. High heart rate and hypertension both increase myocardial oxygen demand, which can cause supply-demand mismatch and precipitate myocardial ischemia or infarction. Fourth, vasospasm or stress associated with cocaine use can also precipitate coronary artery plaque rupture (the mechanism underlying most classic heart attacks).

     Two thirds of heart attacks due to cocaine occur within three hours of cocaine use; the risk of a heart attack is 24-fold higher than normal in the first sixty minutes after using cocaine. Cocaine has several other potentially devastating acute effects, including stroke, aortic dissection (e.g. dissection of the major artery connecting the heart to the rest of the body), life threatening heart arrhythmias, and myocarditis which can also occur with chronic use. Chronic cocaine can result in accelerated atherogenesis (i.e. accelerated plaque buildup in the coronary arteries), hypertrophy of the left ventricle, dilated cardiomyopathy, aortic aneurysms, and coronary aneurysms.

Patients who are acutely intoxicated with cocaine and present with chest discomfort should be referred to an emergency room immediately for evaluation. They should undergo a chest-x-ray, an electrocardiogram, blood work to evaluate for evidence of a heart attack and non-myocardial muscle breakdown (e.g. rhabdomyolysis), and to assess kidney function, white and red blood cell counts, and liver function.

    Cocaine intoxication is diagnosed if and when patients report recent cocaine use and through serum and urine toxicology screens (which should be performed immediately as well). If a clinician suspects that a patient is acutely intoxicated with cocaine, treatment should not be withheld while waiting for the results of the toxicology screen. Patients with acute cocaine intoxication and symptoms concerning for cerebrovascular or other cardiovascular sequelae of cocaine intoxication may also need additional imaging to assess for evidence of damage to the heart, aorta, or other blood vessels.

In terms of treatment, these patients should receive benzodiazepines to help mitigate the adrenergic surge. If chest pain due to myocardial ischemia is suspected, sublingual nitroglycerin should be administered. Ongoing ischemic symptoms, as well as hypertension and tachycardia (drivers of myocardial oxygen demand) should be treated with calcium channel blockers (i.e. diltiazem or verapamil). Beta blockers should ideally be avoided until there is no cocaine remaining in the patient’s system. If beta blockers must be used, we recommend using either labetalol or carvedilol, which are non-selective inhibitors of both alpha and beta receptors (note: other beta blockers that are selective for beta receptors are contraindicated due to a theoretical risk that selective beta blockade could lead to unopposed alpha-mediated arterial vasoconstriction, which could precipitate marked hypertension and even peripheral and splanchnic ischemia).

    Alternative, and highly effective, agents for treatment of hypertension include IV nitroglycerin (which should also be used if the patient has chest pain) and IV nitroprusside. Phentolamine, an alpha blocker, can be used for refractory hypertension. Patients presenting with chest pain should also receive a full dose chewable aspirin (325 mg) and 80 mg of atorvastatin (if available). Patients with ECG changes consistent with myocardial ischemia or infarction and/or elevated blood levels of cardiac biomarkers should be managed identically to patients with non-cocaine induced myocardial ischemia and infarction.

Cocaine and methamphetamine addicts often have heart disease. Why? How is a diagnosis made?
Cardiac sequelae are the second most common cause of death (behind overdose) in patients who use methamphetamines (“meth”). Like cocaine use, use of methamphetamines can produce both acute and chronic cardiovascular disease. Acute intoxication with methamphetamines produces a hyperadrenergic state, not unlike having a pheochromocytoma. The hypertension and tachycardia that result can lead to myocardial ischemia and infarction, aortic dissection, malignant arrhythmias, Takotsubo’s (stressinduced) cardiomyopathy, and cardiac arrest.

     Chronic methamphetamine use can lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (due to persistent severe hypertension) or dilated cardiomyopathy (due to the drug’s toxic effects on myocardium), and the clinical syndrome of heart failure. In addition, chronic meth use can also cause pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Meth-associated PAH is a devastating disease, with five year mortality rates above 50%.

Diagnosing and managing acute methamphetamine intoxication:

Patients who present with suspected acute methamphetamine intoxication should undergo a full physical exam, electrocardiogram, and basic lab work (including basic metabolic panel, blood counts, clotting times (prothrombin time and international normalized ratio), liver function tests, creatine phosphokinase (CPK), urinalysis, and urine and serum toxicology screens). Amphetamine intoxication or toxicity is ultimately diagnosed by confirming the presence of amphetamines in urine or serum. However, if patients present with signs and symptoms which raise concern for amphetamine intoxication—including hyperthermia, agitation, hypertension, and tachycardia—treatment should not be delayed while waiting for these test results to return.

If there is concern for myocardial ischemia or infarction (for example, if the patient complains of chest discomfort or shortness of breath or the ECG shows ischemic changes), then cardiac biomarkers should be checked as well (i.e. troponin I or T). Acute methamphetamine intoxication with secondary sequelae (i.e. agitation, hypertension, tachycardia) should be managed initially with sedatives (benzodiazepines and 2nd generation atypical antipsychotics).

Hyperthermia should be managed aggressively by controlling core body temperature with sedatives and, if necessary, with paralysis and intubation (but antipyretics should not be used).

Rhabdomyolysis is common, and a CPK level should always be checked in patients who are acutely intoxicated with meth. If the hypertension is refractory to treatment with an adequate trial of sedation, then nitrates and/or phentolamine should be used. Calcium channel blockers can also be used, and are effective agents for managing tachycardia that persists despite sedation. Beta-blockers should be avoided in the acute setting to avoid precipitating unopposed alpha-mediated vasoconstriction (via identical mechanisms to those described above).

     If beta blockers are necessary for chronic management of a different disease process (e.g. cardiomyopathy or coronary artery disease), then labetalol or carvedilol are the preferred agents due to their partial alphaantagonism. Myocardial infarction in the setting of methamphetamine intoxication should be managed per evidence-based guidelines for the management of heart attacks, and as described above (for cocaine). The one exception is that, if heart rate control is needed, calcium channel blockers, not beta blockers, should be used. Interestingly, monoclonal antibodies against methamphetamine have been developed and are currently in clinical trials.

Chest pain in the setting of acute methamphetamine intoxication should raise concern not only for myocardial infarction, but also for acute aortic dissection. Methamphetamine abuse is the second most common cause of acute fatal aortic dissection in the US, after hypertension. Unlike chest discomfort due to myocardial ischemia, which often starts as mild or moderate discomfort and worsens progressively over minutes-hours, chest discomfort due to aortic dissection is typically extreme from the outset.

What does the patient PE and EKG look like if a patient has overdosed on opioids? What about when injected with Narcan and reversed? Does Methadone, when given as a MAT, have QT and other effects on the heart? What about Suboxone and the heart?
Opiate overdose can precipitate respiratory depression and coma. The pupils will be mioitic, or “pinpoint.” Patients commonly experience mild hypotension as well. The electrocardiogram classically shows sinus bradycardia with nonspecific changes. Approximately 20% of patients will have prolongation of the QT interval. Administration of an adequate dose of Narcan rapidly reverses the respiratory depression, miosis, and coma, and can also lead to improvements in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate.

     However, Narcan is short acting and the reversal is temporary. Thus, patients must be monitored following Narcan administration to determine if they need subsequent doses, or even initiation of an IV naloxone drip. Methadone may also cause QT prolongation but is an uncommon cause of Torsades Des Pointes, the potentially fatal arrhythmia that can result from QT prolongation. Suboxone can also cause hypotension, including orthostatic hypotension, and should be used with caution in patients with established cardiovascular disease (e.g. coronary artery disease). However, I am unaware of any unique cardiovascular side effects associated with suboxone use.

Does smoking have effects on the heart?
Smoking is an extremely strong and independent risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Smoking increases the risk of these conditions in a dose dependent fashion, and no amount of smoking is safe. People who smoke less than five cigarettes per day are at increased risk for myocardial infarction relative to non-smokers. The incidence of myocardial infarction among men and women who have smoked at least twenty cigarettes per day for any period of time is three fold and six fold higher, respectively, than the incidence of myocardial infarction in never smokers.

     More generally, smoking increases the risk of coronary artery disease, heart attack, arterial aneurysms, aortic dissection, blood clots, carotid artery stenosis, upper and lower extremity ischemic claudication, and death. Smoking’s deleterious cardiac, cerebrovascular, and peripheral vascular effects are the result of a variety of mechanisms that contribute to atherogenesis. Smoking is associated with insulin resistance and oxidization of low-density lipoprotein (LDL-c, or bad cholesterol). Oxidization of LDL-c makes it more proatherogenic. Smoking also activates the sympathetic nervous system which increases heart rate and blood pressure and leads to peripheral vasoconstriction.

    Moreover, smoking increases inflammation, which activates platelets and creates a prothrombotic milieu. Furthermore, smoking damages blood vessel walls, rendering them less elastic and promoting premature arterial stiffening; in addition, smoking promotes endothelial dysfunction, which impairs the ability of coronary arteries to vasodilate. The risks of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and peripheral artery disease and associated events decrease significantly and relatively rapidly with smoking cessation.

What about cannabis addicts or chronic smokers and the cardiologist?
While we know relatively less about the effects of marijuana on the cardiovascular system, there is significant and growing interest in understanding how marijuana use impacts heart and blood vessel function. We do know that smoking marijuana leads to an acute, four- to five-fold increase in the risk of myocardial infarction in young men. This risk persists for approximately 60 minutes following inhalation. Daily cannabis use is associated with a 1.5%-3% annual increase in the risk of myocardial infarction. There is some evidence that the mechanism underlying this increased risk is a higher likelihood of experiencing coronary artery vasospasm (as opposed to accelerated atherogenesis).

The physiologic effects of marijuana may surprise some people. Marijuana intoxication typically leads to a slowing of the reflexes, and the appearance of a relaxed state. However, marijuana use actually stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to tachycardia, the release of systemic catecholamines, and increased myocardial oxygen demand. At the same time, marijuana use increases supine systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and increases the likelihood of experiencing orthostatic hypotension.

     There is also some evidence that marijuana use activates platelets by modulating the endocannabinoid system. Longitudinal prospective studies of cannabis users have failed to reveal evidence that chronic cannabis use leads to significant alterations body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein, triglycerides, or blood glucose levels. There is no consistent evidence that marijuana use increases cardiovascular mortality. We know relatively little about whether the mode of use (i.e. smoking vs. ingestion) modifies the effects of marijuana on the cardiovascular system.

Ketamine is being used off label for depression. What are the cardiovascular risks and concern when this is done?
This is an extremely interesting question. Ketamine is a sympathomimetic. Studies of the cardiovascular effects of Ketamine have found that the drug increases cardiac output by up to 50% in healthy subjects. However, among sicker patients, the drug’s effects appear to be more variable, with some patients experiencing augmented ventricular performance, and others demonstrating some impairment in left ventricular function due to Ketamine use (among coronary artery bypass graft patients, for example, induction of anesthesia with Ketamine has been shown to significantly reduce left ventricular stroke volume).

     Ketamine does consistently produce tachycardia and this simple fact should lead us to be cautious about using it to treat depression in patients with obstructive coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure. The cardiovascular effects of Ketamine remain incompletely characterized, and the prospect of widespread use to treat chronic illnesses like depression heightens the need to more clearly elucidate how Ketamine effects the cardiovascular system.

Withdrawal from opioids is associated with hypertension and tachycardia. Is this a concern?
Yes—the hypertension and tachycardia which occur during opioid withdrawal can undoubtedly stress the cardiovascular system. Patients with a history of coronary artery disease (particularly those with a history of angina), patients with congestive heart failure, and those with aortic aneurysms should be monitored closely during the withdrawal period for new or worsening cardiovascular symptoms. In addition, patients’ home cardiovascular medication regimens, including beta blockers, antihypertensives, and anti-anginals (i.e. nitrates) should ideally be continued during the withdrawal period if possible in order to blunt the physiologic effects of opioid withdrawal.

Are any drug withdrawal syndromes a concern to a cardiologist?
In general, most withdrawal syndromes result in some degree of heightened sympathetic tone, which can produce hypertension and tachycardia. In patients with serious chronic cardiovascular illness, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, valvular disease (i.e. aortic stenosis, mitral stenosis, or mitral regurgitation), or arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, this sympathetic surge can precipitate symptoms or even acute decompensations. So, and this is a key point, it is the patient substrate which matters more than the specific withdrawal syndrome. Put another way, if the patient has significant cardiovascular comorbidities, any withdrawal syndrome may be dangerous.

In general, I worry most about alcohol withdrawal for a few reasons. First, alcoholics regularly live with multiple comorbidities, including cardiovascular comorbidities like atrial fibrillation and heart failure (which may be due to an alcoholic cardiomyopathy). I have seen alcohol withdrawal precipitate new or recurrent atrial fibrillation, and lead to acute heart failure decompensations in patients with underlying alcoholic cardiomyopathies.

     Second, alcohol withdrawal is by far the most mortal withdrawal syndrome; seizures due to withdrawal, or delirium tremens, carry a significant risk of mortality in patients without underlying cardiovascular illness, and may be even more dangerous in patients who are suffering from concomitant cardiovascular disease. Third, many alcoholics are poorly nourished, and have significant electrolyte disturbances, including hypokalemia (which is a risk factor for ventricular arrhythmias).

     The wasting of magnesium that occurs in alcoholics is particularly concerning, because potassium repletion is ineffective in the absence of adequate serum magnesium levels. Thus, when checking basic electrolytes in an alcoholic (e.g. sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, chloride, etc.), be sure to also check magnesium levels. And, if an alcoholic is hypokalemic and you don’t have a serum magnesium level, replete the magnesium before giving potassium (or alongside the potassium). A little extra magnesium won’t have any adverse consequences, but failing to replete magnesium could result in failure to correct the low potassium level, which could have serious consequences.

Which patients should an addiction rehab send to a cardiologist for evaluation?
This is a difficult question to answer with high specificity.  First, any patient with new or concerning cardiovascular symptoms or confirmed cardiovascular disease, including 1) exertional chest discomfort; 2) documentation of a new or recurrent arrhythmia; 3) new exertional shortness of breath; and/or 4) new signs or symptoms of congestive heart failure, including exertional shortness of breath, new or progressive lower extremity edema, and/or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea or orthopnea, should be evaluated by a cardiologist.  In addition, anyone with a syncopal event without a prodrome (i.e. sudden, unexplained, and unheralded syncope) or with a history of complex congenital heart disease should be referred to see a cardiologist. 

     Patients with chronic, stable cardiovascular comorbidities, including coronary artery disease (with or without angina), congestive heart failure, peripheral artery disease (with or without claudication), valvular disease (i.e. aortic stenosis or mitral regurgitation), and/or cerebrovascular disease do not necessarily need to be seen by a cardiologist while they are in Rehab, and provided they remain stable and are able to continue their long term outpatient treatment regimens for these conditions. However, a rehab should generally have a low threshold to engage a cardiologist in the management of any patient with complex, chronic cardiovascular disease.

What are the CVD effects of alcohol use, abuse, and addiction? Alcohol users have a variety of CV effects including noticing that their heart skips a beat or so…is this related to alcohol abusers or alcoholics heart blocks?
Modest alcohol consumption—two or fewer drinks per night for a man, and one drink per night for a woman— has been shown to be healthy, and may even reduce all-cause mortality and mortality due to cardiovascular disease. However, when consumed in greater quantities, alcohol is a cardiotoxin. People who abuse or are dependent on alcohol have a heightened risk of arrhythmias—including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and ventricular arrhythmias (due to electrolyte abnormalities or an alcoholic cardiomyopathy)—and alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

     Alcoholic cardiomyopathies can be profound; I have taken care of daily drinkers who present with severe, bi-ventricular dysfunction and left ventricular ejection fractions (LVEF) of 10%-15% (normal is 52- 70%). Importantly, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is usually not this fulminant. Many daily drinkers may suffer from very mild, and even subclinical, forms of this cardiomyopathy, and their LVEF may be normal.

However, in these patients the cardiotoxic effects of alcohol may still predispose to premature atrial and ventricular beats—which they may experience, and describe, as “skipped beats.” As noted above, alcoholic cardiomyopathy increases the risk of both atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, and prior work shows that the risk of ventricular tachycardia in alcoholic cardiomyopathy is comparable to that seen in patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathies. The electrolyte abnormalities commonly found in alcoholics—most notably hypomagnesemia and hypokalemia— further compound the risk for these arrhythmias.

Fortunately, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is usually a reversible process; I have multiple patients whose LVEF has improved from this 10%-15% range (while drinking daily) to 50% or more (essentially normal) after one-two years of abstinence from alcohol and adherence with traditional heart failure therapies. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy may at times reach a point of irreversibility, of course, but, broadly speaking, it has a very favorable prognosis if long term abstinence can be achieved.

Alcoholic abuse/dependence is also associated with a modestly increased risk for myocardial infarction, particularly in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

Source:

https://www.rivermendhealth.com/resources/qa-daniel-blumenthal-abuse-cardiovascular-disease  May 2018

Filed under: Alcohol,Cannabis/Marijuana,Cocaine,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Ketamine,Nicotine :

In 2016, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a $9.75 million grant to McKesson Corporation. Now, Texas is among the states investigating the giant drug distributor’s role in a growing opioid crisis

In the early months of 2016, as U.S. overdose deaths were on track to break records and the number of Texas infants born addicted to opioid painkillers climbed steadily higher, Gov. Greg Abbott was courting a massive pharmaceutical company, McKesson, with a multimillion-dollar offer.

At the time, the two stories — Texas public health officials grappling with an overdose epidemic while the governor’s office worked on economic development — seemed unrelated. When Abbott announced he would give McKesson a $9.75 million grant from the state’s Enterprise Fund to woo the pharmaceutical distributor into expanding its operations in North Texas, he mostly received favorable news coverage for promising nearly 1,000 jobs to the local Irving economy.

But as the state and nation’s focus on the opioid crisis has sharpened in recent months, McKesson and other drug companies have come under legal scrutiny and the deal has put Abbott in an uncomfortable position.

Texas has since joined a multistate investigation into pharmaceutical companies, including McKesson, over whether they are responsible for feeding the nation’s opioid crisis and whether they broke any laws in the process. Several Texas counties have moved to sue McKesson and other companies for economic damages, alleging that manufacturers downplayed addiction risks and their distributors failed to track suspicious orders that flooded communities with pills.

The state grant to McKesson, worth about $10,000 for each job it brought to North Texas, is the largest Abbott has doled out from the Enterprise Fund, the controversial deal-closing incentives program created in 2004 under former Gov. Rick Perry. No U.S. state or local government has publicly given McKesson a more generous grant since 2000, according to data compiled by Good Jobs First, a Washington D.C.-based group that tracks government subsidies and other economic incentives.

In statements at the time, Abbott said the company’s expansion would “serve as an invaluable contribution to the Texas economy.”

But if Texas decides to sue McKesson, as several of its counties have, lawyers for the state will likely argue the opposite has happened — at least in the context of the company’s distribution of opioids. Across the country, local and state governments have begun to argue they are bearing the financial burden associated with opioid addiction.

One state lawmaker suggested Abbott’s office should have more closely scrutinized McKesson’s record before issuing the grant — even though the grant happened more than a year before Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Texas was joining the multistate investigation.

“There needs to be better oversight here,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat and member of the new House panel examining the opioid crisis. “You’re in the middle of the opioid crisis, and we’re issuing an enormous grant that comprises a significant amount of grants this company is getting across the country.” 

Abbott’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Faced with the lawsuits and investigations, McKesson — headquartered in San Francisco but with a sizable Texas footprint — has denied any wrongdoing and insisted it is trying to work toward halting the opioid crisis, not fuel it.

“Our partnership with the state remains strong,” said Kristin Chasen, a company spokeswoman. “We certainly agree that the opioid epidemic is a national public health crisis, and we’re cooperatively having lots of conversations with AG Paxton and the others involved in the multistate investigation.”

A nationwide emergency

Opioids are a family of drugs that include prescription painkillers like hydrocodone as well as illicit drugs like heroin. Last Thursday, President Donald Trump declared a nationwide emergency to address the surging human and financial toll of opioid addiction.

U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2015 far outnumbered deaths from auto accidents or guns, and opioids account for more than 60 percent of overdose deaths — nearly 100 each day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That death toll has quadrupled over the past two decades. 

“Beyond the shocking death toll, the terrible measure of the opioid crisis includes the families ripped apart and, for many communities, a generation of lost potential and opportunity,” Trump said Thursday

In Texas, opioids have claimed proportionately fewer lives than in other states, and the growth of opioid-related deaths has been slower, according to U.S. mortality data. Still, the casualties in Texas — 1,107 accidental opioid poisoning deaths in 2016 — have seized the attention of state policymakers.

Last week, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus ordered lawmakers to form a select committee on opioids and substance abuse to examine an issue that he said has had a “devastating impact on many lives.” The announcement came after Paxton joined a 41-state investigation into whether a slew of drug manufacturers and distributors broke any laws in allegedly fueling the crisis.

“This is a public safety and public health issue. Opioid painkiller abuse and related overdoses are devastating families here in Texas and throughout the country,” Paxton said when he announced the probe in June.

Some Texas counties have already taken the drug companies to court.

In late September, Upshur County, population about 40,000, sued a slew of painkiller manufacturers and distributors — including McKesson. Seeking to recoup an unspecified amount in financial damages, the East Texas county argues the drug companies broadly “ignored science and consumer health for profits,” meaning the county “continues to spend large sums combatting the public health crisis created by [a] negligent and fraudulent marketing campaign.”

More specifically, the suit argues McKesson and other distributors “did nothing” to address the “alarming and suspicious” overprescription of drugs.

Bowie County, a rural slice of East Texas nudging Arkansas, has since joined the lawsuit, with other East Texas counties expected to follow. El Paso County isalso mulling legal action, and Bexar County, home to San Antonio, has announced plans to sue.

In an interview last week, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said he couldn’t immediately offer a complete list of companies his county would target, but “I’m sure McKesson is one of them.”

Wolff chuckled when asked about the company’s grant from the state. “That’d give us $10 million more that we could get out of their hides in our lawsuit, if you look at it that way.”

In teaming up to probe drug companies, some experts suggest governments are following a playbook similar to one used during the 1990s to sue tobacco companies for their role in fueling a costly health crisis — an effort that resulted in a settlement yielding more than $15 billion for Texas alone.

“It’s like a polluter externalizing all his risk,” said Mike Papantonio, a Florida-based lawyer with experience in tobacco litigation. 

“He makes a lot of money because he pours the poison right into the river,” said Papantonio, who now organizes a legal conference for groups interested in suing pharmaceutical companies. “The shareholders love it, but then the taxpayers have to come back and fix it.”

“McKesson is a great company”

At the April grand opening of the new McKesson campus in Las Colinas, near Irving, local leaders gathered alongside Abbott and company executives for a ribbon-cutting at the $157 million, 525,000-square foot campus.

“McKesson is a great company,” Abbott said on the stage of a large meeting room at the newly renovated headquarters. 

“I am proud of the work McKesson is doing,” he went on, “and make a commitment of my own to continue to ensure Texas attracts further business and expanding enterprise.”

Beth Van Duyne, then the mayor of Irving, now a U.S. Housing and Urban Development administrator under Trump, defended the city’s decision to give the pharmaceutical company a more than $2 million incentives package on top of the state’s Enterprise Fund gift.

“Having to offer incentives is always a difficult decision to make, but as long as the return on that investment is strong, we can support it,” Van Duyne said in a video recorded from the grand opening.

Even though the promise of taxpayer funds came before Paxton launched his investigation, Moody, the Democratic lawmaker, said Abbott’s office should more carefully vet companies before granting them taxpayer money, and in McKesson’s case, it should have considered the drug company’s alleged role in the opioid crisis.

“We know there’s a problem with drug distribution. These drugs being taken out of the regular route, finding their way into other people’s hands — leading to deaths, leading to overdoses,” he said, later adding, “I don’t think it’s unrealistic to ask that to be part of the evaluation at all. Part of the conversation of growing the economy is what types of companies, businesses do you want?” 

State Rep. Kevin Roberts, a Houston Republican and fellow member of the House panel studying opioids, said he did not know what went into Abbott’s decision making, so he couldn’t comment on the wisdom of the grant. But he agreed that the state should also consider wider issues when deciding which businesses are awarded grants from the enterprise fund.

“I do believe that there is some ethical responsibility in that process as well,” he said. “Just because things look profitable doesn’t mean you do them.”

The fact that McKesson got the state grant doesn’t shield it from liability if Texas ultimately files an opioid lawsuit, Roberts added. “If General Paxton goes forward, the fact that they got a TEF grant does not excuse them.”

Pressure to act

McKesson is also facing legal challenges outside of Texas.

In a recent report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company noted an opioid-related lawsuit brought by the State of West Virginia and nine similar complaints filed in state and federal courts in West Virginia against McKesson and other large distributors. McKesson also listed a federal lawsuit in which the Cherokee Nation alleges the company oversupplied drugs to its population.

In January, McKesson agreed to pay $150 million and revamp its compliance procedures to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice after prosecutors alleged the company failed to detect and report “suspicious orders” of opioids.

The company paid $13.25 million to settle a similar Justice Department suit in 2008. McKesson did not admit wrongdoing in either case.

Chasen, the spokeswoman, said McKesson is “really proud of our controlled substances monitoring program today,” and the recent scrutiny addresses conduct “that was really far in the past at this point.”

Chasen added that the company reports all orders “in real time” to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, flagging suspicious ones. 

Mark Kinzly, a co-founder of the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, which educates police officers and the public on overdose prevention, has been critical of the state’s mixed response to the opioid epidemic. In 2015, for example, Abbott drew the ire of Kinzly and other advocates when he vetoed a “Good Samaritan” bill that would have protected someone from prosecution, even if they possessed a small amount of drugs, when they called 911 to help a friend in the throes of overdose.

Abbott said at the time that the bill had an admirable goal but did not include “adequate protections to prevent its misuse by habitual drug abusers and drug dealers.”

Kinzly said Trump’s declaration of a national opioid emergency may lead more politicians to demonstrate support for expanding drug treatment programs. “That will put some pressure on Republican governors, I would imagine,” he said.

Trump, for his part, suggested Thursday that pharmaceutical companies remained in the federal government’s crosshairs.

“What they have and what they’re doing to our people is unheard of,” he said. “We will be bringing some very major lawsuits against people and against companies that are hurting our people.” 

Source: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/10/31/during-opioid-crisis-texas-subsidized-drug-company-its-now-investigati/

October 2017

Filed under: Economic,Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,Social Affairs (Papers),USA :

By Christopher Ingraham

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to provisional estimates recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents an increase of more than 6,000 deaths, or 9.5 percent, over the estimate for the previous 12-month period.

That staggering sum works out to about 200 drug overdose deaths every single day, or one every eight minutes.

The increase was driven primarily by a continued surge in deaths involving synthetic opioids, a category that includes fentanyl. There were nearly 30,000 deaths involving those drugs in 2017, according to the preliminary data, an increase of more than 9,000 over the prior year.

Deaths involving cocaine also shot up significantly, putting the stimulant on par with drugs such as heroin and the category of natural opiates that includes painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. One potential spot of good news is that deaths involving those latter two drug categories appear to have flattened out, suggesting the possibility that opiate mortality may be at or nearing its peak.


Overdose estimates for selected drug types in 2017.

The CDC cautions that these figures are early estimates based on monthly death records processed by the agency. The CDC adjusts these figures to correct for underreporting, because some recorded deaths are still pending full investigation. Final mortality figures are typically released at the end of the following calendar year.

The CDC updates these provisional numbers monthly. The recent inclusion of December 2017 means that a complete, albeit early look at 2017 overdose mortality is now available for the first time.

Geographically the deaths are distributed similarly to how they’ve been in prior years, with parts of Appalachia and New England showing the highest mortality rates. Once again, the highest rates were seen in West Virginia, with 58.7 overdose deaths for every 100,000 residents. The District of Columbia (50.4), Pennsylvania (44.1), Ohio (44.0) and Maryland (37.9) rounded out the top five.

At the other end of the spectrum, states in the Great Plains had some of the lowest death rates. Nebraska had the fewest with just 8.2 deaths per 100,000, a rate less than one-seventh the rate in West Virginia.

Despite the nationwide increase, the CDC’s preliminary data also shows overdose rates fell in a number of states, including North Dakota and Wyoming, compared with the prior year. Particularly significant were the decreases in Vermont and Massachusetts, two states with relatively high rates of overdose mortality.

Beyond that, the month-to-month data brings some potentially good news: Nationwide, deaths involving opioids have plateaued and even fallen slightly in recent months, from an estimated high of 49,552 deaths in the 12-month period ending in September 2017 down to 48,612 in the period ending January of this year. While it’s too early to say whether that trend will continue through 2018, those numbers are somewhat encouraging.


Opiate death estimates through January 2018.

A chief concern among substance abuse experts is the ubiquity of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s roughly 50 times more potent than heroin. Because it’s cheap and relatively easy to make, it’s often mixed with other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Policymakers have struggled to come up with an adequate response to the opioid crisis. Overdose deaths initially ballooned during the Obama administration, which was criticized by experts for being slow to respond to the problem. Last year, the Trump administration declared the epidemic a “public health emergency” but allocated no new funding for states to address the issue. Former congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a member of the task force that the administration convened to tackle the epidemic, criticized President Trump late last year for being “all talk and no follow-through” on opioids.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/08/15/fentanyl-use-drove-drug-overdose-deaths-record-high-cdc-estimates/?utm_term=.9c9d31666886

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs (Papers),Synthetics :

By Jason Schwartz

British Columbia has long been cited as a model for North American drug policy and harm reduction implementation.

BC has established a Death Review Panel in response to the overdose crisis. The panel recently issued a report with 3 recommendations. The first recommendation to regulate recovery homes, which currently require only a simple inspection of the facility. (The other 2 were for more maintenance treatments and more harm reduction.)

The chair of the panel cited the abstinence orientation of houses as a concern.

A columnist at the Vancouver Sun pushes back against the argument that BC is suffering from insufficient harm reduction:

This is, after all, a city and a province that for nearly 20 years has been at the forefront of harm-reduction with needle exchange programs, safe injection sites, methadone and suboxone treatment programs, a prescription heroin program and, more recently, free naloxone kits, free-standing naloxone stations and training for first-responders and even teachers in how to use it as an antidote for fentanyl overdoses.

We’ve gone from crisis to crisis, each one sucking up incredible resources. Currently, a quarter of a million dollars a day goes into the Downtown Eastside alone for methadone treatment. This year, the B.C. government expects the number of British Columbians receiving replacement drug therapy to rise to 30,000 and then nearly double to 58,000 by 2020-21.

In 2006 when Vancouver updated its four pillars approach, it noted that there were 8,319 British Columbians being treated with methadone.

By 2020-21, the province also expects to be supplying 55,000 “free” take-home naloxone kits, up from 45,000 this year.

We keep hearing about an overdose crisis, but what we have is an addictions crisis. Solving it will require a lot more than simply reducing harm.

What’s needed is a recovery orientation. (Which does not rule out harm reduction.)

Source: https://addictionandrecoverynews.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/overdose-crisis-or-addiction-crisis/

April 2018

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Public health officials say the nerve pain medication gabapentin is being found in an increasing number of overdose deaths, according to CBS News.

Gabapentin is a non-narcotic drug used to treat seizures and pain associated with shingles. Doctors have been prescribing it for a growing number of other conditions, as a way to offer pain relief without opioids. A study published last year found that for people who use heroin, the combination of opioids with gabapentin potentially increases the risk of overdose death.

“Unfortunately, we now need to worry about it because people are abusing it,” Dr. James Patrick Murphy, a pain and addiction specialist in Kentucky, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Alone, it’s not something that will stop your breathing or your heart,” he said. “But if you take it along with a drug like heroin or fentanyl, together it might be enough to make you stop breathing and put you over the edge.”

Source: https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/nerve-pain-medication-gabapentin April 5th 2018

Filed under: Health,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs :

A growing number of drug overdose deaths are due to cocaine laced with fentanyl, NPR reports. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. The image above shows two potentially fatal dosages of fentanyl and heroin

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 7 percent of cocaine seized in New England in 2017 included fentanyl, up from 4 percent the previous year. In Connecticut, the number of deaths involving fentanyl-laced cocaine has increased 420 percent in the last three years. Massachusetts officials say an increasing amount of fentanyl-laced cocaine is changing hands on the streets. The DEA, in its National Drug Threat Assessment, says people typically add fentanyl to cocaine for the purpose of “speedballing,” which combines the rush of cocaine with a drug that depresses the nervous system, such as heroin. Some experts told NPR fentanyl may be mixed with cocaine accidentally during packaging. Others say drug cartels are adding fentanyl to cocaine to expand the market of people who are addicted to opioids.

How Can I Protect My Child from Fentanyl? 5 Things Parents Need to Know

Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (not including methadone), rose a staggering 72 percent in just one year, from 2014 to 2015. Government agencies and officials of all types are rightly concerned by what some are describing as the third wave of our ongoing opioid epidemic.

As a concerned parent, whose top priority is keeping your child safe — and alive — the following are the most important things to understand about fentanyl.

1. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin or morphine. It is a schedule II prescription drug typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic® and Sublimaze®.

2. It is relatively cheap to produce, increasing its presence in illicit street drugs. Dealers use it to improve their bottom line. According to a report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, evidence suggests that fentanyl is being pressed into pills that resemble OxyContin, Xanax, hydrocodone and other sought-after drugs, as well as being cut into heroin and other street drugs. A loved one buying illicit drugs may think they know what they’re getting, but there’s a real risk of it containing fentanyl, which can prove deadly.

3. Naloxone (Narcan) will work in case of overdose, but extra doses may be needed. Because fentanyl is far more powerful than other opioids, the standard 1-2 doses of naloxone may not be enough. Calling 911 is the first step in responding to any overdose, but in the case of a fentanyl-related overdose the help of emergency responders, who will have more naloxone, is critical. Learn more about naloxone and responding to opioid overdose >>

4. Even if someone could tell a product had been laced with fentanyl, it may not prevent their use. Some individuals claim they can tell the difference between product that has been laced with fentanyl and that which hasn’t, but overdose statistics would say otherwise. Some harm reduction programs are offering test strips to determine whether heroin has been cut with fentanyl, but that knowledge may not be much of a deterrent to a loved one who just spent their last dollar to get high.

5. Getting a loved one into treatment is more critical than ever. If you need help in determining a course of action, please reach out to one of our parent counselors on our free Parent Helpline. Learn more about all the ways you can connect with our free and confidential services and begin getting one-on-one help.

Source: https://drugfree.org/parent-blog April 2017

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

BATON ROUGE — When a classmate died of a drug overdose, Symmes Culbertson bought a black suit for the funeral.

“It didn’t feel right to wear a blue sports jacket,” the 23-year-old political science major said.

What he didn’t count on was how many more funerals of classmates he would attend — six since he began attending Louisiana State University in 2013. “The number of people that I have known by name or in passing that have died from prescription drug overdoses, just in my college years, is well into the teens,” Culbertson said.

These kinds of events have become increasingly common at U.S. colleges, where many students view mixing pills and chasing them with alcohol as a rite of passage, rather than a dangerous and often deadly practice.

“It’s a dirty secret,” said April Rovero, whose son, Joey, a student at Arizona State University, overdosed in 2009 after taking prescription opioids, benzodiazepines and alcohol. (Dr. Lisa Tseng, who prescribed the drugs that led to the deaths of him and two other young men, is now serving a 30-years to life prison sentence for illegally prescribing the medication.)

In the year that followed, she said nine more students from there also died at the hands of drugs.

National addiction expert Dr. Drew Pinsky said one thing that is killing many students is mixing opioids with benzodiazepines, such as Xanax — something he says doctors should never prescribe together because it can be lethal.

Since 1999, drug overdose deaths of those 15 to 24 have quadrupled to 5,376 a year, far surpassing the number of those dying from alcohol-related accidents.

“These are perfectly healthy young people,” said Rovero, who founded the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. “Every one of these deaths is avoidable.”

‘A Perfect Storm’

Ken Hale, associate director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery on the Ohio State University campus, said “a perfect storm” has hit college campuses and the nation, starting with “the drug-taking culture in which we live. We use more medication than any other country.”

In 2016, the nation filled more than 4.5 billion prescriptions, including antibiotics, cancer drugs and other drug treatment protocols — an average of more than 14 per person.

But Hale said many of those prescriptions are the powerful and often addictive opioids. Even though the U.S. makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it consumes 80 percent of opioids.

As a result, these drugs are easily available to students through family members or friends, he said.

With these prescription drugs come misperceptions about safety and legality, he said. Of those addicted to heroin, 80 percent started on prescription drugs.

“If I go to a party and someone says, ‘Here’s some heroin,’ flags go up, but if someone hands me a Vicodin (an opioid painkiller), they don’t,” he said.

College campuses have become incubators for the bigger problem, where students “may not hit the wall in college, but they start behaviors that led to the problem we have,” he said.

Hale noted that the No. 1 cause of death of those under 50 is drug overdose and that fact has contributed to the U.S. seeing life expectancy decline for two years in a row for the first time since the 1950s.

Ohio State is one of more than 100 colleges that have recovery centers, where students can live, Hale said. “College dormitories are not a good environment for someone trying to get sober.”

Funeral for a friend

Culbertson grew up in Greenville, a fast-growing small town in South Carolina. “In high school, the most hardcore thing was weed,” he said.

By 2014, pills had begun to seep into college life, no longer just for the weekend parties.

Students took Adderall, the stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, if they needed to study or take a test.

And students who didn’t have classes till the afternoon might visit the bar and get Xanax, sometimes chasing that tranquilizer with alcohol — what can be a deadly combination.

When 2015 came, so did news about a high school classmate, a former cross-country track star who became hooked on opioids after hurting his back and blowing out his ACL.

His sister, Callie, had helped him get sober, letting him live with her for six months.

Callie Culbertson, the older sister of Symmes Culbertson, graduated in December from LSU with a degree in animal science, history and psychology. She knows of eight young people from her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, who have died of drug overdoses. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)

Afterward, she kept in touch by telephone. One morning she learned on Facebook that he had overdosed — news that stunned her because she had just spoken to him the night before.

She and Culbertson attended the funeral, and she couldn’t believe that so many people attending were high, doing the same drugs that killed her friend.

Since that funeral, she knows of eight people from her hometown who have died of overdoses.

“Everybody knows somebody this has touched,” she said. “The problem is no one is changing.”

‘He only took five’

Culbertson returned to LSU, and the next funeral of someone he knew took place just a few months later.

The environment has become “so accepting of the drugs,” he said. “If you don’t enjoy them, then you’re the a–hole — at least if you speak up about it.”

More funerals followed, and last January, he got a call that a friend of his had just overdosed.

Culbertson had just seen his friend the night before, taking Xanax in a bar. “We were with him at midnight,” he said.

When it was obvious he needed help getting home, friends took him there. He never woke up.

Word came that he had died of fentanyl, a drug up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and that fentanyl may have been mixed with the Xanax pills.

After this death, Culbertson said some slowed down in their drug taking, but no one quit.

Months later, he heard of a classmate back home who had been hooked on opioids before secretly moving to heroin and overdosing.

On Oct. 14, hours after LSU defeated Auburn University in football, Culbertson and his friends met at a bar.

After midnight, a friend informed him that he had just stolen a bottle of liquor from the bar, and that he was going back to his place to celebrate with his girlfriend.

The next morning, a friend called him in tears, letting him know their friend was dead.

“That’s crazy,” Culbertson replied. “He only took five (Xanax) sticks last night.”

As soon as he hung up, he realized the insanity of his own words, nonchalantly saying that his friend had taken five Xanax bars.

“And I thought that was completely normal,” he said. “And that’s what has come to scare me — the culture here is so accepting of it that even me, who doesn’t do any of this stuff, it’s normalized to me. My thinking had gotten as distorted as anybody engaging in the culture.”

He wore the dark suit for his friend’s funeral in New Orleans and returned home to write out an idea for a short film, based on what he had experienced.

The next day, he pitched his idea to his film class. His movie proposal, “Only the Good,” resonated with his fellow students.

“I just wanted to tell the story about my peers that shows everybody thinks they’re having a good time, and while that’s true 90 percent of the time, there’s that 10 percent of the time where you not only do, you die from it, but it devastates the lives of the people that care about you.”

Turning a blind eye

Rovero would like to see learning about medicine safety start in kindergarten, saying schools and colleges need to do a better job of educating students.

“Colleges should be educating students about how addictive and dangerous these drugs can be, especially mixed with other drugs and alcohol, and about the risk factors and signs of addiction and overdose,” she said.

Students should be trained to aid those in trouble, she said. “Parents should work with their administrators to have resident assistants have a naloxone rescue kit on hand in dorm settings, just in case, and everyone with a kit needs to be trained to use it.”

All incoming LSU freshman receive orientation regarding alcohol, drug use and sexual violence prevention. University officials say they continue to work with students to identify and reduce high-risk drinking, providing addiction programs and services, including the Anxiety and Addictive Behaviors Clinic.

Culbertson praised LSU for its all of its efforts, including education, outreach and support groups.

But there is a huge hurdle, he said. “There’s not much a support group can do when people aren’t looking for support. Nobody feels like they have a problem.”

The problem is one of perception, he said. “Students don’t really identify themselves as drug addicts, and everybody else is turning a blind eye.”

Source: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2018/02/05

Filed under: Drug use-various effects on foetus, babies, children and youth,Heroin/Methadone,Youth :

New Hampshire’s Heroin Crisis Takes Toll with Record Overdose Deaths 2:24

LONDONDERRY, New Hampshire — Nearly a decade later, Susan Allen-Samuel still vividly remembers the moment that she first realized her son Joe was a heroin addict.

“It took my breath away,” Allen-Samuel told NBC News.

Allen-Samuel says that she began to notice all the metal spoons — typically used by users to melt down the heroin — in her kitchen were disappearing. She says she suspected heroin but admits that she couldn’t fully accept that Joe had been caught up in what she calls the “heroin epidemic” sweeping New Hampshire. “I was that person: ‘It’s not gonna happen, I’m a good mom,'” said Allen Samuel. “Wow, I got a wake-up call.”

At the time, Joe was just a teenager. He had recently switched from abusing opiates in pill form— primarily pain killers like OxyContin – to using heroin. The reason, he says, was purely financial. One OxyContin pill can cost as much as $80 on the black market. Joe says he was spending roughly $400 a day on his addiction. “They [the pills] were so expensive,” said Joe, 26. “You can’t afford a habit.”

At just $10-15 a bag, heroin was cheaper and more readily available. A short-drive to nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts — just across the state border — and he and his friends could purchase the drug on just about every street corner. Three overdoses and two arrests later, Joe’s life was forever altered by the deadly drug known as the “Big H.”

A State at the Center of a Heroin Crisis

The lush, rolling hills and idyllic red barns here can transform you to another time. Every town’s main street sprinkled with mom-and-pop shops and glistening white church steeples provide a backdrop to the scene of a Norman Rockwell painting, the personification of New England nostalgia.

In 2016, however, New Hampshire finds itself on the front lines of a heroin crisis that, critics warn, is unravelling the state’s social fabric. The numbers, alone, are daunting.

Last year, there were roughly 400 drug-overdose related deaths in New Hampshire — the most in the state’s history. With a population of roughly 1.4 million, the Granite State has one of the highest per-capita rates of addiction in the country.

As the problem has worsened over the last decade, however, access to substance abuse treatment has not improved. According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the state is second to last — ahead of only Texas — in access to treatment programs. New Hampshire does not fund any methadone treatment programs and relies on a network of privately-run for-profit clinics to treat the thousands of addicts across the state. “There’s a stigma out there for users,” said Diane St. Onge, director of the Manchester Comprehensive Health Center — one of only eight clinics in the state that provides methadone treatment for heroin addiction. “We need more treatment options. People’s lives are at stake.”

In 2013, St. Onge’s clinic had 250 patients. Today, it has 540 patients and a two-week long waiting list. On a recent weekday, the clinic’s waiting room was teeming with weary

patients, most appearing middle-aged, and young children whose parents were there to receive their daily dose of methadone, the drug that reduces the withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin or other narcotic drugs.

Outside, amid the political paraphernalia and live-shots being set up by crews ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, patients sat on benches waiting to go inside. The juxtaposition was striking.

A Town under Siege

Situated along the I-93 interstate between the state’s two largest cities of Manchester and Nashua, the small town of Londonderry is at the center of a drug-trafficking route where heroin cuts across socio-economic and political lines.

Ed Daniels has worked with the Londonderry Fire Department for 11 years. For most of that time, he says, he saw one or two overdose cases a year. He says he now sees at least one every shift. He says the victims he treats come from all demographics. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” said Daniels.

Daniels says the numbers began to spike last summer and have continued to rise, unabated. He blames the increase on fentanyl — an extremely potent pain killer drug that is now commonly cut with heroin to produce a more intense high — and feels, at times, that there is little long-term that he can do for his patients. “They can leave the hospital,” said Daniels. “[But] once they have the addiction, where can they go for help?”

For Londonderry Fire Department Chief Darren O’Brien, who has lived his entire life in Londonderry, “it’s hard to see what’s going on in a community you grew up in.” O’Brien noted that there were 82 reported overdoses last year — nearly three times the 31 reported cases in 2014. “I’m hoping we can get a handle on it,” he said.

Joe’s heroin addiction lasted nearly a decade, a time that Allen-Samuel says she was fearful to come home to confront her son. “It’s a hell of a ride, it’s devastating,” she said. Allen-Samuel tried everything to help Joe. On one occasion, after he had been placed in jail for a minor offense, she had officers keep him there for months knowing that he’d likely not have access to any drugs inside. Meanwhile, she says, Joe’s childhood friends were dying one-by-one from overdose.

Joe says he had periods of sobriety but ultimately relapsed. It was not until his second stint in jail, he says, where he vowed to fight back. “That was probably my lowest point,” he said. He sought treatment and, ultimately, got clean.

He says losing his closest friends was motivation for him to be there for his girlfriend and young children. He has been sober for more than two years. “I’m just thankful,” said Joe. “[Before] I wasn’t able to be a dad. I’m glad I’m able to be here and experience it now.”

For Allen-Samuel, the unfolding crisis in New Hampshire should be an impetus for reform. Heroin addiction, she says, is a disease that should be dealt with the same way society treats cancer or any other deadly illness. “Our families are dying,” said Allen-Samuel. “What’s going on in our community is a war.” Source: http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/our-families-are-dying-new-hampshire-s-heroin-crisis-n510661?cid=sm_fb Feb.2016

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs :

SIXTY people have died in the UK in the past eight months, in circumstances believed to be linked to a drug more potent than heroin, it has been revealed.

The National Crime Agency (NCA), which is investigating the use of the potentially deadly fentanyl and its variants, warned the toll could rise as they await further toxicology results.

Tests on heroin seized by police since November found traces of the synthetic drug, with more than 70 further deaths pending toxicology reports, the NCA.

The toxic synthetic opioid is being mixed with heroin and in some cases proving fatal, the agency said, as it accused dealers of playing “Russian roulette” with users’ lives.

The NCA’s deputy director Ian Crouton said recent investigations have uncovered that fentanyl and its chemical derivatives are being both supplied in and exported from the UK.

He said: ”We believe the illicit supply from Chinese manufacturers and distributors constitutes a prime source for both synthetic opioids and the pre-cursor chemicals used to manufacture them.”

Fentanyl, which can be legally prescribed as a painkiller sometimes in the form of a patch or nasal spray, is around 50 times more potent than heroin, according to America’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

A variant known as carfentanyl – which is often used to anaesthetise large animals like elephants – can be up to 10,000 times stronger than street heroin.

The potency means investigating officers often have to wear protective clothing to handle the substance.

Health officials and police have warned drug users to be “extra careful” as heroin and other class A drugs were being laced with synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

The 60 victims, whose post mortem examination results indicated their drug-related deaths were known to be linked to fentanyl or one of its chemical variants, were predominantly men and a range of ages, although no person was younger than 18.

Detective Superintendent Pat Twiggs, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “People are playing Russian roulette with their lives by taking this stuff, that’s why we would strongly recommend to the drug-using community to stay away from it.

“The business is not done under lab conditions, it’s not done by scientists, it’s done in a very uncontrolled way by people seeking out profit – this is why we’re concerned when you’re dealing with such toxic chemicals.”

Following links between fentanyl and deaths this year in the north of England, Public Health England (PHE) said it began an urgent investigation.

Pete Burkinshaw, the organisation’s alcohol and drug treatment and recovery lead, said the “sharp increase” in overdoses that had been feared did not appear to have materialised.

He said: “We have been working with drug testing labs and local drug services to get more information on confirmed and suspected cases.

“We do not have a full picture, but the deaths in Yorkshire do appear to have peaked earlier in the year and fallen since our national alert and, encouragingly, our investigations in other parts of the country suggest we are not seeing the feared sharp increase in overdoses.

“Investigations are ongoing and plans are in place for a scaled-up response if necessary.”

PHE is working with the Local Government Association to increase the availability of naloxone, an overdose antidote, to drug users and at hostels and outreach centres.

A raid at a drug-mixing facility in Morley, Leeds, in April resulted in three people being charged with conspiracy to supply and export class A drugs.

The NCA said it had identified 443 customers of that “criminal enterprise” – 271 overseas, and 172 within the UK.

A fourth man was charged on Monday night, following a separate investigation in May, after police said they identified him using the so-called dark web to buy fentanyl or synthetic opioids.

Kyle Enos, of Maindee Parade in Gwent, is accused of importing, supplying and exporting class A drugs.

The 25-year-old, who is in custody, is due at Cardiff Crown Court for a hearing on August 29.

The death of US pop star Prince was linked to an overdose of fentanyl in 2016.

The opioid was first made in 1960 by Belgian doctor Paul Janssen and introduced in hospitals as an intravenous anaesthetic.

Last November, 18-year-old Briton Robert Fraser died after unintentionally overdosing on the drug.

Robert’s mother Michelle said: “It shouldn’t be on the streets, this sort of stuff.

“These days there is too much and its too easily accessible for teenagers especially as we have mobile phones and the internet.

“It’s kids giving it to kids a lot of the time – they don’t know what they are giving.”

Source:

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/835794/Fentanyl-heroin-painkiller-overdose-60-dead-NCA-PHE-carfentanyl

Filed under: Europe,Heroin/Methadone :

LONDONDERRY, New Hampshire — Nearly a decade later, Susan Allen-Samuel still vividly remembers the moment that she first realized her son Joe was a heroin addict.

“It took my breath away,” Allen-Samuel told NBC News.

Allen-Samuel says that she began to notice all the metal spoons — typically used by users to melt down the heroin — in her kitchen were disappearing. She says she suspected heroin but admits that she couldn’t fully accept that Joe had been caught up in what she calls the “heroin epidemic” sweeping New Hampshire.   “I was that person: ‘It’s not gonna happen, I’m a good mom,'” said Allen Samuel. “Wow, I got a wake-up call.”

Joe sits outside his home in Londonderry. Joe suffered from heroin addiction for the better part of a decade. He is now two years sober. NBC News

At the time, Joe was just a teenager. He had recently switched from abusing opiates in pill form— primarily pain killers like OxyContin – to using heroin. The reason, he says, was purely financial. One OxyContin pill can cost as much as $80 on the black market. Joe says he was spending roughly $400 a day on his addiction.  “They [the pills] were so expensive,” said Joe, 26. “You can’t afford a habit.”

At just $10-15 a bag, heroin was cheaper and more readily available. A short-drive to nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts — just across the state border — and he and his friends could purchase the drug on just about every street corner. Three overdoses and two arrests later, Joe’s life was forever altered by the deadly drug known as the “Big H.”

A State at the Center of a Heroin Crisis

The lush, rolling hills and idyllic red barns here can transform you to another time. Every town’s main street sprinkled with mom-and-pop shops and glistening white church steeples provide a backdrop to the scene of a Norman Rockwell painting, the personification of New England nostalgia.

In 2016, however, New Hampshire finds itself on the front lines of a heroin crisis that, critics warn, is unravelling the state’s social fabric. The numbers, alone, are daunting.

Last year, there were roughly 400 drug-overdose related deaths in New Hampshire — the most in the state’s history. With a population of roughly 1.4 million, the Granite State has one of the highest per-capita rates of addiction in the country.

As the problem has worsened over the last decade, however, access to substance abuse treatment has not improved. According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the state is second to last — ahead of only Texas — in access to treatment programs.  New Hampshire does not fund any methadone treatment programs and relies on a network of privately-run for-profit clinics to treat the thousands of addicts across the state. “There’s a stigma out there for users,” said Diane St. Onge, director of the Manchester Comprehensive Health Center — one of only eight clinics in the state that provides methadone treatment for heroin addiction. “We need more treatment options. People’s lives are at stake.”

In 2013, St. Onge’s clinic had 250 patients. Today, it has 540 patients and a two-week long waiting list. On a recent weekday, the clinic’s waiting room was teeming with weary patients, most appearing middle-aged, and young children whose parents were there to receive their daily dose of methadone, the drug that reduces the withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin or other narcotic drugs.

Outside, amid the political paraphernalia and live-shots being set up by crews ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, patients sat on benches waiting to go inside. The juxtaposition was striking.

A Town under Siege

Situated along the I-93 interstate between the state’s two largest cities of Manchester and Nashua, the small town of Londonderry is at the center of a drug-trafficking route where heroin cuts across socio-economic and political lines.

Ed Daniels has worked with the Londonderry Fire Department for 11 years. For most of that time, he says, he saw one or two overdose cases a year. He says he now sees at least one every shift. He says the victims he treats come from all demographics. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” said Daniels.

Daniels says the numbers began to spike last summer and have continued to rise, unabated. He blames the increase on fentanyl — an extremely potent pain killer drug that is now commonly cut with heroin to produce a more intense high — and feels, at times, that there is little long-term that he can do for his patients.  “They can leave the hospital,” said Daniels. “[But] once they have the addiction, where can they go for help?”

For Londonderry Fire Department Chief Darren O’Brien, who has lived his entire life in Londonderry, “it’s hard to see what’s going on in a community you grew up in.” O’Brien noted that there were 82 reported overdoses last year — nearly three times the 31 reported cases in 2014. “I’m hoping we can get a handle on it,” he said.

Joe’s heroin addiction lasted nearly a decade, a time that Allen-Samuel says she was fearful to come home to confront her son. “It’s a hell of a ride, it’s devastating,” she said.   Allen-Samuel tried everything to help Joe. On one occasion, after he had been placed in jail for a minor offense, she had officers keep him there for months knowing that he’d likely not have access to any drugs inside. Meanwhile, she says, Joe’s childhood friends were dying one-by-one from overdose.

Joe says he had periods of sobriety but ultimately relapsed. It was not until his second stint in jail, he says, where he vowed to fight back. “That was probably my lowest point,” he said. He sought treatment and, ultimately, got clean.

He says losing his closest friends was motivation for him to be there for his girlfriend and young children. He has been sober for more than two years.  “I’m just thankful,” said Joe. “[Before] I wasn’t able to be a dad. I’m glad I’m able to be here and experience it now.”

For Allen-Samuel, the unfolding crisis in New Hampshire should be an impetus for reform. Heroin addiction, she says, is a disease that should be dealt with the same way society treats cancer or any other deadly illness.  “Our families are dying,” said Allen-Samuel. “What’s going on in our community is a war.” 

Source:  

http://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/our-families-are-dying-new-hampshire-s-heroin-crisis-n510661?cid=sm_fb    Feb.2016

 

Filed under: Crime/Violence/Prison,Heroin/Methadone :

By HAEYOUN PARK and MATTHEW BLOCH JAN. 19, 2016

Deaths from drug overdoses have jumped in nearly every county across the United States, driven largely by an explosion in addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin.

Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest, according to new county-level estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of these deaths reached a new peak in 2014: 47,055 people, or the equivalent of about 125 Americans every day.

Deaths from overdoses are reaching levels similar to the H.I.V. epidemic at its peak.

The death rate from drug overdoses is climbing at a much faster pace than other causes of death, jumping to an average of 15 per 100,000 in 2014 from nine per 100,000 in 2003.

The trend is now similar to that of the human immunodeficiency virus, or H.I.V., epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Robert Anderson, the C.D.C.’s chief of mortality statistics.

H.I.V. deaths rose in a shorter time frame, but their peak in 1995 is similar to the high point of deaths from drug overdoses reached in 2014, Mr. Anderson said. H.I.V., however, was mainly an urban problem. Drug overdoses cut across rural-urban boundaries.

In fact, death rates from overdoses in rural areas now outpace the rate in large metropolitan areas, which historically had higher rates.

Heroin abuse in states like New Hampshire make it a top campaign issue.

Drugs deaths have skyrocketed in New Hampshire. In 2014, 326 people died from an overdose of an opioid, a class of drugs that includes heroin and fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times as powerful as morphine.

Nationally, opioids were involved in more than 61 percent of deaths from overdoses in 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses have more than tripled since 2010 and are double the rate of deaths from cocaine.

In New Hampshire, which holds this year’s first presidential primary, residents have repeatedly raised the issue of heroin addiction with visiting candidates.

“No group is immune to it — it is happening in our inner cities, rural and affluent communities,” said Timothy R. Rourke, the chairman of the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Most of the deaths from overdose in the state are related to a version of fentanyl. “Dealers will lace heroin with it or sell pure fentanyl with the guise of being heroin,” Mr. Rourke said.  But fentanyl can be deadlier than heroin. It takes much more naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, to revive someone who has overdosed on fentanyl.

Mr. Rourke said that high death rates in New Hampshire were symptomatic of a larger problem: The state is second to last, ahead of only Texas, in access to treatment programs. New Hampshire spends $8 per capita on treatment for substance abuse. Connecticut, for example, spends twice that amount.

Appalachia has been stricken with overdose deaths for more than a decade, in many ways because of prescription drug addiction among its workers.  West Virginia and neighboring states have many blue-collar workers, and “in that group, there’s just a lot of injuries,” said Dr. Carl R. Sullivan III, the director of addiction services at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

“In the mid-1990s, there was a social movement that said it was unacceptable for patients to have chronic pain, and the pharmaceutical industry pushed the notion that opioids were safe,” he said.

A few years ago, as laws were passed to address the misuse of prescription painkillers, addicts began turning to heroin instead, he said. Because of a lack of workers needed to treat addicts, overdose deaths have continued to afflict states like West Virginia, which has the highest overdose death rate in the nation.

“Chances of getting treatment in West Virginia is ridiculously small,” Dr. Sullivan said. “We’ve had this uptick in overdose deaths despite enormous public interest in this whole issue.”

While New Mexico has avoided the national spotlight in the current wave of opioid addiction, it has had high death rates from heroin overdoses since the early 1990s.

Heroin addiction has been “passed down from generation to generation in small cities around New Mexico,” said Jennifer Weiss-Burke, executive director of Healing Addiction in Our Community, a non-profit group formed to curb heroin addiction. “I’ve heard stories of grandparents who have been heroin users for years, and it is passed down to younger generations; it’s almost like a way of life.”

Dr. Michael Landen, the state epidemiologist, said the state recently began grappling with prescription opioids. Addictions have shifted to younger people and to more affluent communities.

Ms. Weiss-Burke, whose son died from a heroin overdose in 2011, said it was much harder to treat young people. “Some young people are still having fun and they don’t have the desire to get sober, so they end up cycling through treatment or end up in jail,” she said.

Her center recently treated a 20-year-old man who was sober for five months before relapsing, then relapsed several more times after that.  “When you go right back to the same environment, it’s hard to stay clean,” she said. “Heroin craving continues to haunt a person for years.”

Source : https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/07/us/drug-overdose-deaths-in-the-us.html

 

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,USA :

Studies show that approximately 187,000 people die each year from drug overdose. A majority of these deaths are attributed to opioids, one of the most powerful drugs available both legally and illegally. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 90 Americans die each day from opioids overdose, a tragic and alarming statistic.

While many have images of underground drug peddlers, cartels, and violent gangs, a large part of opioid abuse is actually from prescription drugs. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that almost one-third of patients that are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Around 80 percent of heroin users first abused prescription opioids.

The unfortunate reality is that the roots of the opioid crisis run deep. Arguably, it is a greater challenge to combat the “legal” side of the crisis–prescriptions, pharmaceutical companies, and the like–than the illegal side. This is because, despite stricter Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, rules and regulations are extremely difficult to enforce.

What’s more, it is increasingly hard to monitor over-prescriptions, prescription fraud, and documentation abuses. Pharmacies are compelled to trust doctors’ judgments, and physicians are sometimes unaware that patients have been prescribed drugs by other physicians for the same medical problem. Despite repeated attempts to solve these problems, no viable answer has been found.

However, thanks to the promising prospects of blockchain technology, all of these issues may be solvable. One company, BlockMedX, is working on an HIPAA compliant system that provides a completely secure, end-to-end solution that will go to great lengths in solving the opioid and prescription drug epidemic.

BlockMedX’s Ethereum Based Solution

BlockMedX’s solution revolves around creating a streamlined, secure system for drug providers, pharmacists, and patients. It runs on the Ethereum blockchain, creating a cryptographically secure prescriber-to-patient platform.

Prescriptions are securely transmitted and recorded by the blockchain, in conjunction with platform’s token (MDX). Each token is paired with a unique and specific prescription, thus validating the origin of the prescription. In order to access the prescription, physicians, pharmacies, and patients will have to login to a website that is connected to the blockchain.

Each physician will have access to their personal prescribing history as well as the history of each patient they interact with. This will help them detect prescription abuse, which often takes place when a patient sees multiple doctors to receive medication for one issue. Physicians will also be able to make use of BlockMedx proprietary verification system, which ensures that only the actual physician can digitally sign prescriptions.

Once a physician issues a prescription it is sent in the pending state, where it awaits a signature by BlockMedx. When the prescription is digitally signed on the blockchain, it is moved to the approved state. It is then logged on the blockchain as an immutable record. Physicians can therefore know for certain that their patients have been issued the correct prescription. They can also track its progress, allowing them to make sure that their prescriptions aren’t defrauded or misused.

Pharmacies are given a list approved prescriptions that can be accepted, declined, or revoked. They will then open the BlockMedX decentralized app to access the network.

The pharmacy can view the prescription information as well as the patient’s full prescription history. They will then accept or decline each prescription on the queue, based on the information they have.

If a prescription is accepted, the pharmacy will receive the MDX tokens sent by the physician and deposited into its wallet. Then, pharmacies can receive payment from the valid patient via MDX tokens.

From a regulatory perspective, the blockchain provides unique advantages that the current pharmaceutical system doesn’t have. Because all transactions, from physician to pharmacy to patient, are logged on the public ledger, any third party entity can audit the transactions. For governments and regulatory bodies, this means there is an easy and secure way to enforce existing regulations and requirements. By viewing the immutable record stored on the blockchain, authorities can track prescription abuses and prosecute them accordingly.

From the perspective of physicians and pharmacies, the blockchain provides a way to view prescription histories in order to help prevent fraud and over-prescribing. The BlockMedX platform allows all parties involved, including third party auditors, to crack down on the opioid crisis in an efficient and streamlined manner.

Source: https://www.techworm.net/2018/01/blockchain-startup-can-help-prevent-medical-prescription-abuse.html 7th January 2018

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,Social Affairs :

America’s worsening opioid crisis has caused life expectancy to fall for the second year running for the first time in more than half a century.

The average life expectancy in the US is now 78.6 years – down by 0.1 years, figures from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found.

It is the first consecutive drop in life expectancy since 1962-63 and surpasses the previous one-year dip in 1993 at the height of the Aids epidemic.

America’s opioid addiction crisis – caused by the over-prescription of opioid based painkillers – has been blamed for the trend.

The addiction sees patients turning to heroin and other substances when their doctors stops issuing prescription medication.

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which has flooded the US drugs market and is 100 times more powerful than heroin, are thought to be behind the dramatic increase in overdoses among heroin users.

“The key factor in all this is the increase in drug overdose deaths,” said Robert Anderson, from the NCHS, who said the two-year drop was “shocking”.

US president Donald Trump has called the crisis a “public health emergency” and pledged to tackle illegal drug trades.

He said: “Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now.

“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction.”

Official figures show the number of people who died from a drug overdose in 2016 was 63,000 – 21 per cent higher than the previous year and three times the rate in 1999.

Opioid-related overdoses increased by 28 per cent, causing 42,249 deaths, mostly in the 25-to-54 age group.

Average male life expectancy has fallen 0.2 years – average female life expectancy is unchanged at 81.1 years.

A continued decline in life expectancy in 2017 would represent the first three-year fall in the US since the outbreak of Spanish flu 100 years ago.

Death rates fell for seven leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, however an ageing population meant Alzheimer’s related deaths increased by 3.1 per cent and suicide rates increased by 1.5 per cent.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/22/americas-opioid-crisis Dec.22.2017

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs,USA :

The use of buprenorphine and other Medically-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for opioid use disorder has increased rapidly in response to the opioid epidemic in the United States. From the clinician’s perspective, buprenorphine seemed like a panacea. I remember feeling the same way about methadone in the 70s and Naltrexone in the 80s.

Buprenorphine’s unique chemistry, being a partial agonist and antagonist medication, meant patients were able to detox from heroin or powerfully addictive prescription pain medications using Suboxone (a trade name for buprenorphine) and then taper off with relative ease, compared to heroin or oxycodone. In some cases, patients were not able to come off of Suboxone and remained on a small maintenance dose for months, and even years, but had attained a quality of life they never believed was possible when addicted to illicit opioids.

However, a large study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2017) reports that a significant proportion of patients on Suboxone therapy, or shortly after the conclusion of their therapy, were attaining and filling prescriptions for other opioid medications. Outcome measures matter. Different treatments work if your outcome measure is one month of adherence to the treatment versus five years of drug-free outcome and return to work.

The methodology in the Johns Hopkins study reviewed pharmacy claims for over 38,000 persons who had been prescribed Suboxone between 2006 and 2013. The results were shocking. Two-thirds of these patients had filled a prescription for an opioid painkiller in the first 12 months following Suboxone treatment—while 43 percent had received a prescription for an opioid during Suboxone therapy. In addition, approximately two-thirds of the patients who received Suboxone therapy stopped filling prescriptions for it after just three months.

What These Data Cannot Tell Us

At first glance these data are disappointing. Just looking at patient return to the program over a short time like six months, it is very clear that most methadone patients come back and many Suboxone patients do not. However, there is much the study results don’t tell us.

In a clinical and policy environment where the number of prescribers, the volume and nature of opioid prescriptions, overdoses, prescribing policies, laws and regulations are changing frequently and dramatically, data loses some of their value. In Florida, for example, the legislature, in response to the “Pill Mills,” enacted a monitoring program whereby all prescribed scheduled medications were on a single database, accessible by any licensed physician.

Twelve months after implementation, the outcomes were evaluated. Overall opioid prescriptions decreased by 1.4%. Opioid volume decreased by 2.5%, and a decrease of 5.6% in MME per transaction was observed. These data were limited to prescribers and patients with the highest baseline opioid prescribing and usage. The findings also accounted for potential confounding variables including sensitivity analyses, varying time windows and dynamic enrolment criteria. The opioid landscape in Florida continues to improve, and the pill mills are virtually gone. This is just one example of how a state’s policies impact the data and the outcome in longitudinal research.

In addition, prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are associated with reductions in all drug use (including opioids). Data culled from adult Medicare beneficiaries in states that utilize PDMPs compared with states that do not have PDMPs show significant reductions in prescription opioid transactions. Moreover, the top treatment centers may prescribe buprenorphine but also set up voluntary drug monitoring and continuing care programs for their patients, much as the programs do for impaired physicians, nurses and pilots who mandate random and for-cause drug testing for five years.

Most heroin addicts have multiple drug dependencies and problems. They also have multiple medical co-morbidities. It is not as simple as switching the patient’s heroin for buprenorphine. But street heroin is more than a drug, it is many drugs and dangerous adulterants. Over 80 percent of the Physician Health Program participants are treated effectively, monitored and never had a positive drug test throughout the five years of post-treatment outpatient monitoring.

Lastly, the Institute of Medicine released their exhaustive report on Pain in America, revealing that 100 million Americans currently suffer from chronic or intractable pain syndromes. The Johns Hopkins study does not indicate what percent of the study participants have a pain syndrome, requiring treatment with opioid medication, hopefully under the supervision of a specialist in pain managements and addiction medicine.

Why Does This Matter?

The findings certainly raise questions about the effectiveness and the appropriateness of Suboxone for addiction treatment. Clearly, if we were to adopt an oncology standard of five years, Suboxone is not likely to be considered an effective treatment. But it is a viable and important option and part of an arsenal of treatment modalities used to individualize treatment for our patients.

The study researchers noted, and I agree, that the continued use of pain medication during and after addiction treatment indicates that too many patients did not receive a multimodal, integrated treatment plan for their addiction or concurrent chronic pain or co-occurring mental illness, which approximately 50-65% of those with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) have.

Dr. Alexander, the lead author of the study noted: “There are high rates of chronic pain among patients receiving opioid agonist therapy, and thus concomitant use of buprenorphine and other opioids may be justified clinically. This is especially true as the absence of pain management among patients with opioid use disorders may result in problematic behaviors such as illicit drug use and misuse of other prescription medications.”

Addicts are quick to discover the probabilities of attaining a “high” from just about any drug they come across. Buprenorphine, while not commonly abused or sold on the streets, can be used to get high or to ease the pangs of withdrawal when heroin and other opioids are scarce.

The efficacy of treatment for SUD, regardless of the drug, is largely dependent upon non-medical factors. Yes, monitoring is important, but only if the potential for losing something one values is at stake. Surrendering, which cannot be described in medical or psychological language, is the single most important factor in determining recovery. Adjunctive treatments such as Suboxone, Methadone, N.A., A.A., CBT, yoga, meditation, diet and exercise can help a highly motivated individual. When treatment is

individualized and a bond of trust is established between a counselor and patient, good and even improbable things happen, and lives are restored.

MATs are not a replacement for the traditional foundations of treatment and recovery. At best, they can provide a specific need for a specific patient. They are not for everyone. When people ask me what the elements of success are in treatment, I often start with long-term. If a person has been abusing and addicted for years, it is difficult to imagine treatment in weeks. But, as a shortcut to what works, I tell them the 3 M’s: treatment that is high-dose, intense multimodal, multidisciplinary and multifaceted, staffed by dedicated professionals who are experienced and really do care about the patients.

Suboxone and the similar medications that will be developed are inherently not good or bad and certainly don’t work for every opioid addict. But I am thankful we have them. I believe they have saved thousands of lives. The real trick of successful treatment is to know your patients and collaborate with him or her in developing a plan that gives them the best shot at recovery.

Source: https://www.rivermendhealth.com/resources/buprenorphine-saves-lives-but-its-far-from-a-panacea/? Author: Mark Gold, MD

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Pain and pleasure rank among nature’s strongest motivators, but when mixed, the two can become irresistible. This is how opioids brew a potent and deadly addiction in the brain. Societies have coveted the euphoria and pain relief provided by opioids since Ancient Sumerians referred to opium poppies as the “joy plant” circa 3400 B.C. But the repercussions of using the drugs were ever present, too. For centuries, Chinese patients swallowed opium cocktails before major surgeries, but by 1500, they described the recreational use of opium pipes as subversive. The Chinese emperor Yung Cheng eventually restricted the use of opium for medical purposes in 1729. Less than 100 years later, a German chemist purified morphine from poppies, creating the go-to pain reliever for anxiety and respiratory conditions. But the Civil War and its many wounds spawned mass addiction to the drugs, a syndrome dubbed Soldier’s Disease. A cough syrup was concocted in the late 1800s — called heroin — to remedy these morphine addictions. Doctors thought the syrup would be “non-addictive.” Instead, it turned into a low-cost habit that spread internationally. More than 70 percent of the world’s opium — 3,410 tons — goes to heroin production, a number that has more than doubled since 1985. Approximately 17 million people around the globe used heroin, opium or morphine in 2016.

Today, prescription and synthetic opioids crowd America’s medicine cabinets and streets, driving a modern crisis that may kill half a million people over the next decade. Opioids claimed 53,000 lives in the U.S. last year, according to preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — more than those killed in motor vehicle accidents.

How did we arrive here? Here’s a look at why our brains get hooked on opioids.

The pain divide

Let’s start with the two types of pain. They go by different names depending on which scientist you ask. Peripheral versus central pain. Nociceptive versus neuropathic pain.

The distinction is the sensation of actual damage to your body versus your mind’s perception of this injury.

Your body quiets your pain nerves through the production of natural opioids called endorphins.

Stuff that damages your skin and muscles — pin pricks and stove burns — is considered peripheral/nociceptive pain.

Pain fibers sense these injuries and pass the signal onto nerve cells — or neurons — in your spine and brain, the duo that makes up your central nervous system.

In a normal situation, your pain fibers work in concert with your central nervous system. Someone punches you, and your brain thinks “ow” and tells your body how to react.

Stress-relieving hormones get released. Your immune system counteracts the inflammation in your wounded arm.

Your body quiets your pain nerves through the production of natural opioids called endorphins. The trouble is when these pain pathways become overloaded or uncoupled.

One receptor to rule them all

Say you have chronic back pain. Your muscles are inflamed, constantly beaming pain signals to your brain. Your natural endorphins aren’t enough and your back won’t let up, so your doctor prescribes an opioid painkiller like oxycodone.

Prescription opioids and natural endorphins both land on tiny docking stations — called receptors — at the ends of your nerves. Most receptors catch chemical messengers — called neurotransmitters — to activate your nerve cells, triggering electric pulses that carry the signal forward.

But opioid receptors do the opposite. They stop electric pulses from traveling through your nerve cells in the first place. To do this, opioids bind to three major receptors, called Mu, Kappa and Delta. But the Mu receptor is the one that really sets everything in motion.

The Mu-opiate receptor is responsible for the major effects of all opiates, whether it’s heroin, prescription pills like oxycodone or synthetic opioids like fentanyl, said Chris Evans, director of Brain Research Institute at UCLA. “The depression, the analgesia [pain numbing], the constipation and the euphoria — if you take away the Mu-opioid receptor, and you give morphine, then you don’t have any of those effects,” Evans said.

Opioids receptors trigger such widespread effects because they govern more than just pain pathways. When opioid drugs infiltrate a part of the brain stem called the locus ceruleus, their receptors slow respiration, cause constipation, lower blood pressure and decrease alertness. Addiction begins in the midbrain, where opioids receptors switch off a batch of nerve cells called GABAergic neurons.

GABAergic neurons are themselves an off-switch for the brain’s euphoria and pleasure networks.

When it comes to addiction, opioids are an off-switch for an off-switch. Opioids hold back GABAergic neurons in the midbrain, which in turn keep another neurotransmitter called dopamine from flooding a brain’s pleasure circuits. Image by Adam Sarraf

Once opioids shut off GABAergic neurons, the pleasure circuits fill with another neurotransmitter called dopamine. At one stop on this pleasure highway — the nucleus accumbens — dopamine triggers a surge of happiness. When the dopamine rolls into amygdala, the brain’s fear center, it relieves anxiety and stress. Both of these events reinforce the idea that opioids are rewarding.

These areas of the brain are constantly communicating with decision-making hubs in the prefrontal cortex, which make value judgments about good and bad. When it hears “This pill feels good. Let’s do more,” the mind begins to develop habits and cravings.

Taking the drug soon becomes second nature or habitual, Evans said, much like when your mind zones out while driving home from work. The decision to seek out the drugs, rather than participate in other life activities, becomes automatic.

The opioid pendulum: When feeling good starts to feel bad

Opioid addiction becomes entrenched after a person’s neurons adapt to the drugs. The GABAergic neurons and other nerves in the brain still want to send messages, so they begin to adjust. They produce three to four times more cyclic AMP, a compound that primes the neuron to fire electric pulses, said Thomas Kosten, director of the division of alcohol and addiction psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine.

That means even when you take away the opioids, Kosten says, “the neurons fire extensively.”

The pendulum swings back. Now, rather than causing constipation and slowing respiration, the brain stem triggers diarrhoea and elevates blood pressure. Instead of triggering happiness, the nucleus accumbens and amygdala reinforce feelings of dysphoria and anxiety. All of this negativity feeds into the prefrontal cortex, further pushing a desire for opioids.

While other drugs like cocaine and alcohol can also feed addiction through the brain’s pleasure circuits, it is the surge of withdrawal from opioids that makes the drugs so inescapable.

Could opioid addiction be driven in part by people’s moods?

Cathy Cahill, a pain and addiction researcher at UCLA, said these big swings in emotions likely factor into the learned behaviors of opioid addiction, especially with those with chronic pain. A person with opioid use disorder becomes preoccupied with the search for the drugs. Certain contexts become triggers for their cravings, and those triggers start overlapping in their minds.

“The basic view is some people start with the pain trigger [the chronic back problem], but it gets partially substituted with the negative reinforcement of the opioid withdrawal,” Cahill said.

That’s why Cahill, Evans and other scientists think the opioid addiction epidemic might be driven, in part, by our moods.

Chronic pain patients have a very high risk of becoming addicted to opioids if they are also coping with a mood disorder. A 2017 study found most patients — 81 percent — whose addiction started with a chronic pain problem also had a mental health disorder. Another study found patients on morphine experience 40 percent less pain relief from the drug if they have mood disorder. They need more drugs to get the same benefits.

People with mood disorders alone are also more likely to abuse opioids. A 2012 survey found patients with depression were twice as likely to misuse their opioid medications.

“So, not only does a mood disorder affect a person’s addiction potential, but it also influences if the opioids will successfully treat their pain,” Cahill said.

Meanwhile, the country is living through sad times. Some research suggests social isolation is on the rise. While the opioid epidemic started long before the recession, job loss has been linked to a higher likelihood of addiction, with every 1 percent increase in unemployment linked to a 3.6 percent rise in the opioid-death rate.

Can the brain swing back?

As an opioid disorder progresses, a person needs a higher quantity of the drugs to keep withdrawal at bay. A person typically overdoses when they take so much of the drug that the brain stem slows breathing until it stops, Kosten said.

Many physicians have turned to opioid replacement therapy, a technique that swaps highly potent and addictive drugs like heroin with compounds like methadone or buprenorphine (an ingredient in Suboxone).

These substitutes outcompete heroin when they reach the opioid receptors, but do not activate the receptors to the same degree. By doing so, they reduce a person’s chances for overdosing. These replacement medications also stick to the receptors for a longer period of time, which curtails withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine, for instance, binds to a receptor for 80 minutes while morphine only hangs on for a few milliseconds.

For some, this solution is not perfect. The patients need to remain on the replacements for the foreseeable future, and some recovery communities are divided over whether treating opioids with more opioids can solve the crisis. Plus, opioid replacement therapy does not work for fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that now kills more Americans than heroin. Kosten’s lab is one of many working on a opioid vaccine that would direct a person’s immune system to clear drugs like fentanyl before they can enter the brain. But those are years away from use in humans.

And Evans and Cahill said many clinics in Southern California are combining psychological therapy with opioid replacement prescriptions to combat the mood aspects of the epidemic.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a magic bullet on this one,” Evans said. “It’s really an issue of looking after society and looking after of people’s psyches rather than just treatment.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/brain-gets-hooked-opioids/

Filed under: Addiction,Brain and Behaviour,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

US life expectancy fell because of the opioid crisis. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

September 28, 2017 The opioid crisis in the United States is killing nearly one hundred people per day. Some areas are particularly hard hit, leaving officials to deal with constantly multiplying bodies of those claimed by overdose. In Ohio, morgues keep running out of space, forcing authorities to use temporary cold-storage trailers instead. In New Hampshire, medical examiners can’t handle the influx of bodies, making them unable to perform routine autopsies.

Add to that a new, terribly sad number: in West Virginia, officials had to spend nearly $1 million on the transportation of corpses in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Authorities told the Charleston-Gazette Mail that the number of body transports nearly doubled from 2015 to 2017, with a record 880 people dying in the state of overdose last year—the highest rate in the US. One embalmer had to come out of retirement three years ago to help deal with the amount of bodies.

Each death requires at least two trips—to the morgue and to the funeral home. With only two state-run morgues, long trips become costly. West Virginia lawmakers had to approve an additional $500,000 in funding to transport the dead this year. With body transport becoming such a big business—$881,620 paid to private contractors in fiscal year 2017—some improprieties emerged as well. A company that at one point controlled 94% of the state’s business has recently been suspended for a potential and alleged breach of confidentiality, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The opioid crisis has reached such dire proportions in the US that a recent analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said it cut the life expectancy in the US by 2.5 months. The total estimates of the epidemic’s cost to the economy vary, from $25 billion to even $150 billion a year, when you consider the cost of a lost life (paywall).

The Trump administration promised to take on the issue, with the president himself saying it was a “national emergency,” but no concrete steps have been made yet—including a formal declaration that the epidemic is a national emergency, which would unlock resources that could help.

Source: Reuters . September 28, 2017

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,Social Affairs,USA :

Objective:

The authors sought to determine whether cannabis use is associated with a change in the risk of incident nonmedical prescription opioid use and opioid use disorder at 3-year follow-up.

Method:

The authors used logistic regression models to assess prospective associations between cannabis use at wave 1 (2001–2002) and nonmedical prescription opioid use and prescription opioid use disorder at wave 2 (2004–2005) of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Corresponding analyses were performed among adults with moderate or more severe pain and with nonmedical opioid use at wave 1. Cannabis and prescription opioid use were measured with a structured interview (the Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule–DSM-IV version). Other covariates included age, sex, race/ethnicity, anxiety or mood disorders, family history of drug, alcohol, and behavioral problems, and, in opioid use disorder analyses, nonmedical opioid use.

Results:

In logistic regression models, cannabis use at wave 1 was associated with increased incident nonmedical prescription opioid use (odds ratio=5.78, 95% CI=4.23–7.90) and opioid use disorder (odds ratio=7.76, 95% CI=4.95–12.16) at wave 2. These associations remained significant after adjustment for background characteristics (nonmedical opioid use: adjusted odds ratio=2.62, 95% CI=1.86–3.69; opioid use disorder: adjusted odds ratio=2.18, 95% CI=1.14–4.14). Among adults with pain at wave 1, cannabis use was also associated with increased incident nonmedical opioid use (adjusted odds ratio=2.99, 95% CI=1.63–5.47) at wave 2; it was also associated with increased incident prescription opioid use disorder, although the association fell short of significance (adjusted odds ratio=2.14, 95% CI=0.95–4.83). Among adults with nonmedical opioid use at wave 1, cannabis use was also associated with an increase in nonmedical opioid use (adjusted odds ratio=3.13, 95% CI=1.19–8.23).

Conclusions:

Cannabis use appears to increase rather than decrease the risk of developing nonmedical prescription opioid use and opioid use disorder.

Source: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17040413

Filed under: Cannabis/Marijuana,Crime/Violence/Prison,Heroin/Methadone,Marijuana and Medicine,USA :

Legalizing opioids may give Americans greater freedom over their decision-making, but at what cost? One painful aspect of the public debates over the opioid-addiction crisis is how much they mirror the arguments that arise from personal addiction crises.

If you’ve ever had a loved one struggle with drugs — in my case, my late brother, Josh — the national exercise in guilt-driven blame-shifting and finger-pointing, combined with flights of sanctimony and ideological righteousness, has a familiar echo. The difference between the public arguing and the personal agonizing is that, at the national level, we can afford our abstractions.

When you have skin in the game, none of the easy answers seem all that easy. For instance, “tough love” sounds great until you contemplate the possible real-world consequences. My father summarized the dilemma well. “Tough love” — i.e., cutting off all support for my brother so he could hit rock bottom and then start over — had the best chance of success. It also had the best chance for failure — i.e., death. There’s also a lot of truth to “just say no,” but once someone has already said “yes,” it’s tantamount to preaching “keep your horses in the barn” long after they’ve left.

But if there’s one seemingly simple answer that has been fully discredited by the opioid crisis, it’s that the solution lies in wholesale drug legalization. In Libertarianism: A Primer, David Boaz argues that “if drugs were produced by reputable firms, and sold in liquor stores, fewer people would die from overdoses and tainted drugs, and fewer people would be the victims of prohibition-related robberies, muggings and drive-by-shootings.”

Maybe. But you know what else would happen if we legalized heroin and opioids? More people would use heroin and opioids. And the more people who use such addictive drugs, the more addicts you get. Think of the opioid crisis as the fruit of partial legalization. In the 1990s, for good reasons and bad, the medical profession, policymakers, and the pharmaceutical industry made it much easier to obtain opioids in order to confront an alleged pain epidemic. Doctors prescribed more opioids, and government subsidies made them more affordable. Because they were prescribed by doctors and came in pill form, the stigma reserved for heroin didn’t exist. When you increase supply, lower costs, and reduce stigma, you increase use.

And guess what? Increased use equals more addicts. A survey by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one-third of the people who were prescribed opioids for more than two months became addicted. A Centers for Disease Control study found that a very small number of people exposed to opioids are likely to become addicted after a single use. The overdose crisis is largely driven by the fact that once addicted to legal opioids, people seek out illegal ones — heroin, for example — to fend off the agony of withdrawal once they can’t get, or afford, any more pills. Last year, 64,000 Americans died from overdoses. Some 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War.

Experts rightly point out that a large share of opioid addiction stems not from prescribed use but from people selling the drugs secondhand on the black market, or from teenagers stealing them from their parents. That’s important, but it doesn’t help the argument for legalization. Because the point remains: When these drugs become more widely available, more people avail themselves of them. How would stacking heroin or OxyContin next to the Jim Beam lower the availability? Liquor companies advertise — a lot. Would we let, say, Pfizer run ads for their brand of heroin? At least it might cut down on the Viagra commercials. I think it’s probably true that legalization would reduce crime, insofar as some violent illegal drug dealers would be driven out of the business.

I’m less sure that legalization would curtail crimes committed by addicts in order to feed their habits. As a rule, addiction is not conducive to sustained gainful employment, and addicts are just as capable of stealing and prostitution to pay for legal drugs as illegal ones. The fundamental assumption behind legalization is that people are rational actors and can make their own decisions. As a general proposition, I believe that. But what people forget is that drug addiction makes people irrational. If you think more addicts are worth it in the name of freedom, fine. Just be prepared to accept that the costs of such freedom are felt very close to home.

Source: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/453304/opioid-crisis-legalization-not-solution

 

Filed under: Addiction,Global Drug Legalisation Efforts,Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,USA :

St. Petersburg, FL – Thursday, August 31, 2017 – Drug Free America Foundation today introduced a first-of-its-kind Opioid Tool Kit in an effort to help address the opioid epidemic gripping the United States.

The Opioid Tool Kit was unveiled in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on August 31st each year that aims to raise the awareness of the problem of drug overdose-related deaths.

“With more than 142 people dying each day, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50,” according to Calvina Fay, Executive Director of Drug Free America Foundation. “Moreover, deaths from drug overdose are an equal opportunity killer, with no regard to race, religion or economic class,” she said.

“While alcohol and marijuana still remain the most common drugs of abuse, the nonmedical use of prescription painkillers and other opioids has resulted in a crisis-level spike in drug overdose deaths,” said Fay.

The Opioid Tool Kit has been designed to educate people about the opioid epidemic and offer strategies that can be used to address this crisis. “The Tool Kit is also intended to encourage collaboration with different community sectors and stakeholders to make successful and lasting change,” Fay continued.

The Opioid Tool Kit is a comprehensive guide that defines what an opioid is, examines the scope of the problem, and addresses why opioids are a continuing health problem.  The Tool Kit also provides strategies for the prevention of prescription drug misuse and overdose deaths and includes a community advocacy and action plan, as well as additional resources.

Fay emphasized that the best way to prevent opioid and other drug addiction is not to abuse drugs in the first place.  “The chilling reality is that the long-term use and abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs rewire the brain, making recovery a difficult and often a life-long struggle,” she concluded. The Opioid Tool Kit can be found on Drug Free America Foundation’s website at https://dfaf.org/Opioid%20Toolkit.pdf.

Source:   https://dfaf.org/Opioid%20Toolkit.pdf..  August 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction,USA :

Medication-assisted treatment is often called the gold standard of addiction care. But much of the country has resisted it.

If you ask Jordan Hansen why he changed his mind on medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, this is the bottom line.

Several years ago, Hansen was against the form of treatment. If you asked him back then what he thought about it, he would have told you that it’s ineffective — and even harmful — for drug users. Like other critics, to Hansen, medication-assisted treatment was nothing more than substituting one drug (say, heroin) with another (methadone).

Today, not only does Hansen think this form of treatment is effective, but he readily argues — as the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows — that it’s the best form of treatment for opioid addiction. He believes this so strongly, in fact, that he now often leads training sessions for medication-assisted treatment across the country.

“It almost hurts to say it out loud now, but it’s the truth,” Hansen told me, describing his previous beliefs. “I was kind of absorbing the collective fear and ignorance from the culture at large within the recovery community.” Hansen is far from alone. Over the past few years, America’s harrowing opioid epidemic — now the deadliest drug overdose crisis in the country’s history — has led to a lot of rethinking about how to deal with addiction. For addiction treatment providers, that’s led to new debates about the merits of the abstinence-only model — many of which essentially consider addiction a failure of willpower — so long supported in the US.

The case for prescription heroin

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which Hansen works for, exemplifies the debate. As one of the top drug treatment providers in the country, it used to subscribe almost exclusively to the abstinence-only model, based on an interpretation of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous popularized in American addiction treatment in the past several decades. But in 2012, Hazelden announced a big switch: It would provide medication-assisted treatment.

“This is a huge shift for our culture and organization,” Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, said at the time. “We believe it’s the responsible thing to do.”

From the outside, this might seem like a bizarre debate: Okay, so addiction treatment providers are supporting a form of treatment that has a lot of evidence behind it. So what?

But the growing embrace of medication-assisted treatment is demonstrative of how the opioid epidemic is forcing the country to take another look at its inadequate drug treatment system. With so many people dying from drug overdoses — tens of thousands a year — and hundreds of thousands more expected to die in the next decade, America is finally considering how its response to addiction can be better rooted in science instead of the moralistic stigmatization that’s existed for so long.

The problem is that the moralistic stigmatization is still fairly entrenched in how the US thinks about addiction. But the embrace of medication-assisted treatment shows that may be finally changing — and America may be finally looking at addiction as a medical condition instead of a moral failure.

The research is clear: Medication-assisted treatment works

One of the reasons opioid addiction is so powerful is that users feel like they must keep using the drugs in order to stave off withdrawal. Once a person’s body grows used to opioids but doesn’t get enough of the drugs to satisfy what it’s used to, withdrawal can pop up, causing, among other symptoms, severe nausea and full-body aches. So to avoid suffering through it, drug users often seek out drugs like heroin and opioid painkillers — not necessarily to get a euphoric high, but to feel normal and avoid withdrawal. (In the heroin world, this is often referred to as “getting straight.”)

Medications like methadone and buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone) can stop this cycle. Since they are opioids themselves, they can fulfil a person’s cravings and stop withdrawal symptoms. The key is that they do this in a safe medical setting, and when taken as prescribed do not produce the euphoric high that opioids do when they are misused. By doing this, an opioid user significantly reduces the risk of relapse, since he doesn’t have to worry about avoiding withdrawal anymore. Users can take this for the rest of their lives, or in some cases, doses may be reduced; it varies from patient to patient.

The research backs this up: Various studies, including systemic reviews of the research, have found that medication-assisted treatment can cut the all-cause mortality rate among addiction patients by half or more. Just imagine if a medication came out for any other disease — and, yes, health experts consider addiction a disease — that cuts mortality by half; it would be a momentous discovery.

“That is shown repeatedly,” Maia Szalavitz, a long time addiction journalist and author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, told me. “There’s so much data from so many different places that if you add methadone or Suboxone in, deaths go down, and if you take it away, deaths go up.” That’s why the biggest public health organizations — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization — all acknowledge medication-assisted treatment’s medical value. And experts often describe it to me as “the gold standard” for opioid addiction care.

The data is what drove Hansen’s change in perspective. “If I wanted to view myself as an ethical practitioner and doing the best that I could for the people I served, I needed to make this change based on the overwhelming evidence,” he said. “And I needed to separate that from my personal recovery experience.”

Medication-assisted treatment is different from traditional forms of dealing with addiction in America, which tend to demand abstinence. The standards in this field are 12-step programs, which combine spiritual and moralistic ideals into a support group for people suffering from addiction. While some 12-step programs allow medication-assisted treatment, others prohibit it as part of their demand for total abstinence. The research shows this is a particularly bad idea for opioids, for which medications are considered the standard of care.

There are different kinds of medications for opioids, which will work better or worse depending on a patient’s circumstances. Methadone, for example, is only administered in a clinic, typically one to four times a day — but that means patients will have to make the trip to a clinic on a fairly regular basis. Buprenorphine is a take-home drug that’s taken once or twice a day, but the at-home access also means it might be easier to misuse and divert to the black market.

One rising medication, known as naltrexone or its brand name Vivitrol, isn’t an opioid — making it less prone to misuse — and only needs to be injected once a month. But it doesn’t work in the same way as methadone or buprenorphine. It requires full detoxification to use (usually three to 10 days of no opioid use), while buprenorphine, for example, only requires a partial detoxification process (usually 12 hours to two days). And instead of preventing withdrawal — indeed, the detox process requires going through withdrawal — it blocks the effects of opioids up to certain doses, making it much harder to get high or overdose on the drugs. It’s also relatively new, so there’s less evidence for its real-world effectiveness.

One catch is that even these medications, though the best forms of opioid treatment, do not work for as much as 40 percent of opioid users. Some patients may prefer not to take any medications because they see any drug use whatsoever as getting in the way of their recovery, in which case total abstinence may be the right answer for them. Others may not respond well physically to the medications, or the medications may for whatever reason fail to keep them from misusing drugs.

This isn’t atypical in medicine. What works for some people, even the majority, isn’t always going to work for everyone. So these are really first-line treatments, but in some cases patients may need alternative therapies if medication-assisted treatment doesn’t work. (That might even involve prescription heroin — which, while it’s perhaps counterintuitive, the research shows it works to mitigate the problems of addiction when provided in tightly controlled, supervised medical settings.)

Medication can also be paired with other kinds of treatment to better results. It can be used in tandem with cognitive behavioral therapy or similar approaches, which teach drug users how to deal with problems or settings that can lead to relapse. All of that can also be paired with 12-step programs like AA and NA or other support groups in which people work together and hold each other accountable in the fight against addiction. It all varies from patient to patient.

It is substituting one drug for another, but that’s okay

The main criticism of medication-assisted treatment is that it’s merely replacing one drug with another. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price recently echoed this criticism, saying, “If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much. Folks need to be cured so they can be productive members of society and realize their dreams.” (A spokesperson for Price later walked back the statement, saying Price supports all kinds of drug treatment.)

On its face, this argument is true. Medication-assisted treatment is replacing one drug, whether it’s opioid painkillers or heroin, with another, such as methadone or buprenorphine.

But this isn’t by itself a bad thing. Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s not enough for someone to be using or even physically dependent on drugs to qualify for a substance use disorder, the technical name for addiction. After all, most US adults use drugs — some every day or multiple times a day — without any problems whatsoever. Just think about that next time you sip a beer, glass of wine, coffee, tea, or any other beverage with alcohol or caffeine in it, or any time you use a drug to treat a medical condition.

The qualification for a substance use disorder is that someone is using drugs in a dangerous or risky manner, putting himself or others in danger. So someone with a substance use disorder would not just be using opioids but potentially using these drugs in a way that puts him in danger — perhaps by feeling the need to commit crimes to obtain the drugs or using the drugs so much that he puts himself at risk of overdose and inhibits his day-to-day functioning. Basically, the drug use has to hinder someone from being a healthy, functioning member of society to qualify as addiction.

The key with medication-assisted treatment is that while it does involve continued drug use, it turns that drug use into a much safer habit. So instead of stealing to get heroin or using painkillers so much that he puts his life at risk, a patient on medication-assisted treatment can simply use methadone or buprenorphine to meet his physical cravings and otherwise go about his day — going to school, work, or any other obligations.

Yet this myth of the dangers of medication-assisted treatment remains prevalent — to deadly results.

In 2013, Judge Frank Gulotta Jr. in New York ordered an opioid user arrested for drugs, Robert Lepolszki, off methadone treatment, which he began after his arrest. In January 2014, Lepolszki died of a drug overdose at 28 years old — a direct result, Lepolszki’s parents say, of failing to get the medicine he needed. In his defense,  Gulotta has continued to argue that methadone programs “are crutches — they are substitutes for drugs and drug cravings without enabling the participant to actually rid him or herself of the addiction.”

This is just one case, but it shows the real risk of denying opioid users medication: It can literally get them killed by depriving them of lifesaving medical care.

The myth is also a big reason why there are still restrictions on medication-assisted treatment. For example, the federal government still caps how many patients doctors can prescribe buprenorphine to, with strict rules about raising the cap. This limits how accessible the treatment is. A Huff Post analysis found that even if every doctor who can prescribe buprenorphine did so at the maximum rate in 2012, more than half of Americans with opioid use disorders could not get the medication. That’s on top of barriers to addiction treatment in general. According to a 2016 report by the surgeon general, just 10 percent of Americans with a drug use disorder obtain specialty treatment. The report attributed the low rate to severe shortages in the supply of care, with some areas of the country, particularly rural counties, lacking affordable options for treatment — which can lead to waiting periods of weeks or even months. Only recently has there been a broader push to fix this gap in care.

The medications used in treatment do carry some risks

None of this is to say that the medications used in these treatments are without any problems whatsoever. Methadone is tied to thousands of deadly overdoses a year, although almost entirely when it’s used for pain, not addiction, treatment — since it’s much more regulated in addiction care. Buprenorphine is safer in that, unlike common painkillers, heroin, and methadone, its effect has a ceiling — meaning it has no significant effect after a certain dose level. But it’s still possible to misuse, particularly for people with lower tolerance levels. And there are some reports of buprenorphine mills, where patients can get buprenorphine for misuse from unscrupulous doctors — similar to how pill mills popped up during the beginning of the opioid epidemic and provided patients easy access to painkillers.

Naltrexone, meanwhile, can heighten the risk of overdose and death in case of full relapse. Overdose and death are risks in any case of relapse, but they’re particularly acute for naltrexone because it requires a full detox process that eliminates prior tolerance. (Although this would typically require someone to stop taking naltrexone, since otherwise it blocks the effects of opioids up to certain doses.)

But when taken as prescribed, the medications are broadly safe and effective for addiction treatment. For regulators, it’s a matter of making sure the drugs aren’t diverted into misuse, while also providing good access to people who genuinely need them.

The fight over medication-assisted treatment is really about how we see addiction

Behind the arguments about medication-assisted treatment is a simple reality of how Americans view addiction: Many still don’t see it, as public health officials and experts do, as a disease.

With other diseases, there is no question that medication can be a legitimate answer. That medication is not viewed as a proper answer by many to addiction shows that people believe addiction is unique in some way — particularly, they view addiction as at least partly a moral failing instead of just a disease.

I get emails all the time to this effect. Here, for example, is a fairly representative reader message: “Darwin’s Theory says ‘survival of the fittest.’ Let these lost souls pay the price of their criminal choices and criminal actions. Society does not owe them multiple medical resuscitations from their own bad judgment, criminal activity, and self-inflicted wounds.”

This contradicts what addiction experts broadly agree on. As Stanford psychiatrist and Drug Dealer, MD author Anna Lembke put it, “If you see somebody who continues to use despite their lives being totally destroyed — losing their jobs, losing loved ones, ending up in jail — nobody would choose that. Nobody anywhere would ever choose that life. So clearly it is beyond this individual’s control on some level.”

Many Americans may understand this with, say, depression and anxiety. We know that people with these types of mental health problems are not in full control of their thoughts and emotions. But many don’t realize that addiction functions in a similar way — only that the thoughts and emotions drive someone to seek out drugs at just about any cost.

Some of the sentiment against medications, as Hansen can testify, is propagated by people suffering from addiction. Some of them believe that any drug use, even to treat addiction, goes against the goal of full sobriety. They may believe that if they got sober without medications, perhaps others should too. Many of them also don’t trust the health care system: If they got addicted to drugs because a doctor prescribed them opioid painkillers, they have a good reason to distrust doctors who are now trying to get them to take another medication — this time for their addiction.

The opioid epidemic, however, has gotten a lot of people in the addiction recovery world to reconsider their past beliefs. Funeral after funeral and awful statistic after awful statistic, there is a sense that there has to be a better way — and by looking at the evidence, many have come to support medication-assisted treatment.

“I remember sitting there,” Hansen said, speaking to his experience at a funeral, as a mother sang her dead son a lullaby, “thinking that we have to do better.”

Source:  German Lopez@germanrlopezgerman.lopez@vox.com  Jul 20, 2017

 

Filed under: Addiction,Addiction (Papers),Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Blue Cross Blue Shield issued a report on the opioid crisis with their data from all members in their commercial plans.  Early in the document, they report a pair of striking numbers.

First, that 21% of members filled a prescription for an opioid in 2015. I’ve heard these kinds of numbers before, but I never get numb. That’s 1 in 5 members, despite growing attention to excessive prescribing of opioids.

Second, a 493% increase in diagnosis of opioid use disorders over 7 years. My reaction is that this has to reflect changes in coding or diagnostic practices rather than the population. It’s implausible that there was an increase this large in the number of people with an opioid use disorder.

The document then devotes a great deal of attention to opioid prescribing.

Toward the end, there are a couple of graphics that caught my attention.

First, a map showing rates of opioid use disorders.

 

Then, this:

Though critical to treating opioid use disorder, the use of medication-assisted treatments (e.g., methadone) does not always track with rates of opioid use disorder (compare Exhibits 10 and 11). For example, New England leads the nation in use of medication-assisted treatments but it has lower levels of opioid use disorder than other parts of the country

 

So . . . they note that New England has average rates of opioid use disorders, yet they have high rates of utilization of medication-assisted treatment. This caught my attention because New England has higher rates of overdose, as depicted in the CDC graphics below.

Number and age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths by state, US 2015

 

Statistically significant drug overdose death rate increase from 2014 to 2015, US states

(It’s worth noting that BCBS is not among the top 3 insurers in Maine or New Hampshire, but they are the biggest in Massachusetts and Vermont.)

It begs questions about what the story is, doesn’t it?

I don’t presume to know the answers.

§ What was the sequence of events for the high OD rates and the utilization of MAT? And, what impact, if any, has the expansion of MAT had on overdose rates?

§ Is the BCBS data representative? (This brand new SAMHSA report suggest that the data about use is representative.)

§ We know that opioid maintenance meds reduce risk of OD, but we also know that people stop taking these meds at high rates. Does this imply that, in the real world, these meds end up providing less OD protection than hoped?

§ What are the policies and practices of the other insurers in the state?  (For example, we know that Anthem [the largest insurer in Maine and Vermont] recently ended prior authorization requirements for MAT. It’s not clear how restrictive they had been. They also are attempting to institute reformsto address the fact that, “only about 16 to 19 percent of the members taking the medications for opioid use disorder also were getting the recommended in-person counseling.”)

§ Are there regional differences in drug potency that explain this?

Let’s hope that more insurers follow suit and share their data.

Source:   https://addictionandrecoverynews.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/blue-cross-blue-shield-publishes-major-opioid-report/

Filed under: Addiction,Addiction (Papers),Heroin/Methadone,USA :

Residential treatment has received a lot of criticism and scepticism over the last several years, especially for opioid use disorders. (Some of it is deserved. Too many providers are hustlers and others provide little more than detox with inadequate follow-up. Of course, many of the same criticisms have been directed at medication-assisted treatment. But, that’s not what this post is about.)

At any rate, the Recovery Research Institute recently posted about a study looking at completion rates for outpatient and residential treatment.   The study looked at A LOT of treatment admissions, 318,924.  Residential completion rates appear to have surprised a lot of people:

Results: Residential programs reported a 65% completion rate compared to 52% for outpatient settings. After controlling for other confounding factors, clients in residential treatment were nearly three times as likely as clients in outpatient treatment to complete treatment.

But, what really surprised some readers was this:

Compared to clients with a primary alcohol use disorder:
Clients with marijuana use disorder were only 74% as likely to complete residential treatment.
Clients with an opioid use disorder were 1.29x MORE likely to complete residential treatment.

So opioid users were much more likely to benefit from residential treatment compared to alcohol users. . . .

We speculate that for opioid abusers, the increased structure and cloistering of residential treatment provide some protection from the environmental and social triggers for relapse or that otherwise lead to the termination of treatment that outpatient treatment settings do not afford. Indeed, environmental risk characteristics in drug abusers’ residential neighbourhoods, such as the presence of liquor stores and indicators of concentrated disadvantage at the neighbourhood level, have been found to be associated with treatment non-continuity and relapse.

Such environmental triggers may play a particularly substantial role for those addicted to opioids compared to those seeking treatment for marijuana abuse. Since opioid users have the lowest raw completion rates in general, this finding that residential treatment makes a greater positive difference for opioid users than it does for any of the other substances represents an important result that merits further investigation. Given the current epidemic of opioid-related overdoses in the U.S., our results suggest that greater use of residential treatment should be explored for opioid users in particular.

For the differences between residential and outpatient, they say the following:

In general, residential treatment completion rates are usually higher compared to outpatient settings, but what is particularly noteworthy is that even after controlling for various client characteristics and state level variations, the likelihood of treatment completion for residential programs was still nearly three times as great as for outpatient settings. Given the more highly structured nature and intensity of services of residential programs compared to outpatient treatment, it is understandable that residential treatment completion rates would be higher. It requires far less effort to end treatment prematurely in outpatient settings com-pared to residential treatment.

Given the strong association between treatment completion and positive post-treatment outcomes such as long term abstinence, the large magnitude of difference between outpatient and residential treatment represents a potentially important consideration for the choice of treatment setting for clients.

Source:  https://addictionandrecoverynews.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/opioid-users-complete-residential-at-higher-rates

Filed under: Addiction,Alcohol,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Author: Mark Gold, MD

Mortality resulting from opioid use (over 33,000 in 2015) is now epidemic in the U.S., exceeding drug-related deaths from all other intoxicants. Dr. Ted Cicero of Washington University, Dr. William Jacobs, Medical Director of Bluff Plantation, and I discussed the opioid over-prescribing and switch to heroin at DEA Headquarters on November 17, 2015. Things have gone from bad to worse. In a recent JAMA article (March 2017), Dr. Bertha Madras, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, offers compelling analysis and recommendations to rein in this crisis.

Physicians have increasingly prescribed opioids for pain since the AMA added pain as the “fifth vital sign,” which, like blood pressure, mandated assessment during each patient encounter. As a result of this and acceptance of low-quality evidence touting opioids as a relatively benign remedy for managing both acute and chronic pain, prescriptions for opioids have risen threefold over the past two decades.

Addiction, overdose and mortality resulting directly from opioid misuse increased rapidly. In addition, the influx of cheap heroin, often combined with homemade fentanyl analogues, became increasingly popular as prescription opioids became harder to attain and cost prohibitive on the streets. Consequently, a proportion of prescription opioid misusers transitioned to cheaper, stronger and more dangerous illicit opioids.

Opioid Mortality

The breakdown in mortality was confirmed by surveys (2015) revealing a disproportionate rise in deaths specifically attributable to: fentanyl/analogs (72.2%) and heroin (20.6%) compared with only prescription opioids, at less than eight percent. The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths and association with the heroin trade catalyzed the formation of federal and state policies to reduce supply and increase the availability of treatment and of a life saving opioid antagonist overdose medication Naloxone, a short-acting, mu 1, opioid receptor antagonist. Naloxone quickly reverses the effect of opioids and acute respiratory failure provoked by overdose.

Yet, according to Dr. Madras, the current federal and state response is woefully inadequate. She writes: “Of more than 14,000 drug treatment programs in the United States, some funded by federal block grants to states, many are not staffed with licensed medical practitioners. An integrated medical and behavioral treatment system, under the supervision of a physician and substance abuse specialist, would foster comprehensive services, provide expedient access to prescription medicines, and bring care into alignment with current medical standards of care.”

Why Does This Matter?

As baby boomers age and live longer, chronic non-cancer pain is highly prevalent. Opioids for legitimate non-cancer pain are not misused or abused by most patients under proper medical supervision. Yet there is no effective, practical means in this managed care climate whereby Primary Care Physicians (PCPs) can determine who is at risk for abuse and addiction and who is not. And frankly, addicts lie to their doctors to get opioids. Without proper training, physicians, who genuinely want to help their patients, get in over their heads and don’t know how to respond.

Further complicating the issue is that many of the affordable treatment programs do not employ medical providers who are trained and Board Certified in Addiction and Pain

Medicine, not to mention addiction psychiatry, or addiction medicine physicians. Thus the outcomes are dismal, which fosters doubt and mistrust of treatment.

Lastly, the lack of well-trained providers is due, in part, to the lack of training for medical doctors in addiction and behavioral medicine. At the University of Florida, we developed a mandatory rotation for all medical students in “the Division of Addiction Medicine.” We also started Addiction as a sub-specialty within psychiatry, where residents and post-doctoral fellows were immersed in both classroom and clinical training.

Since 1990, many other similar fellowship programs have started, yet few are training all medical students in the hands-on, two-week clerkship experience in Addiction Medicine like they have in obstetrics. We took this a step further when we developed a jointly run Pain and Addiction Medicine evaluation and treatment program which focused on prevention and non-opioid treatments. Many more are needed, as well as increased CME in addictive disease for physicians in any specialty.

Source:   http://www.rivermendhealth.com/resources/chronic-pain-opioid-use-consequences   June 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Health,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

DATE: June 1, 2017

DISTRIBUTION: All First Responders

ANALYST: Ralph Little/904-256-5940

SUBJECT: Grey Death compound in Jacksonville & Florida

NARRATIVE:  The compound opioid known as Grey Death has been detected for the first time in North Florida. Although Purchased in March in St. Augustine, the basic drugs were from Jacksonville and may have been purchased pre-mixed.  Other  samples have occurred from March through May. Delays are due to testing requirements.  Grey Death has been detected in Florida since November 2016 in four counties south of NFHIDTA. Palm Beach reported a related death on May 19th.  Grey Death has been reported in the Southeast, with overdoses and at least  two deaths in Alabama and Georgia. It has  also been found in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. The compound is  a mixture of U-47700, heroin and fentanyl. Overall, different fentanyls, including carfentanil, have been detected and the amount of each ingredient varies.  The substance’s appearance is similar to concrete mixing powder with a varied texture from fine powder to rock-like. While grey is most common and is the color seen in St. Augustine, pictures indicate tan as well. The potency is much higher than heroin and can be administered via injection, ingestion, insufflation and smoking.

DANGER: Grey Death ingredients and their concentrations are unknown to users, making it particularly lethal. Because these strong drugs can be absorbed through the skin, touching or the accidental inhalation of these drugs  can result in absorption. Adverse effects, such as disorientation, sedation, coughing, respiratory distress or cardiac  arrest can occur very rapidly, potentially within minutes of exposure. Any concoction containing U-47700 may not respond to Narcan, depending on its relative strength in the mix.   Light grey powder in a test tube.

CONCLUSION: Responders are advised to employ protective gear to prevent skin absorption or inhalation. Miniscule (grains) of this substance are dangerous. Treat any particles in the vicinity of scene or potentially adhering to your or victim outer clothing or equipment as hazardous.

Source:  HIDTA Intelligence brief.   1st June 2017

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Synthetics,USA :

As Cpl. Kevin Phillips pulled up to investigate a suspected opioid overdose, paramedics were already at the Maryland home giving a man a life-saving dose of the overdose reversal drug Narcan.

Drugs were easy to find:  a package of heroin on the railing leading to a basement; another batch on a shelf above a nightstand.

The deputy already had put on gloves and grabbed evidence baggies, his usual routine for canvassing a house.  He swept the first package from the railing into a bag and sealed it; then a torn Crayola crayon box went from the nightstand into a bag of its own.  Inside that basement nightstand:  even more bags, but nothing that looked like drugs.

Then—moments after the man being treated by paramedics come to—the overdose hit.

“My face felt like it was burning.  I felt extremely lightheaded.  I felt like I was getting dizzy,” he said.  “I stood there for two seconds and thought, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t just get exposed to something.’ I just kept thinking about the carfentanil.”

Carfentanil came to mind because just hours earlier, Phillips’ boss, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, sent an e-mail to deputies saying the synthetic opioid so powerful that it’s used to tranquilize elephants had, for the first time ever, showed up in a toxicology report from a fatal overdose in the county.  The sheriff had urged everyone to use extra caution when responding to drug scenes.

Carfentanil and fentanyl are driving forces in the most deadly drug epidemic the United States has ever seen.  Because of their potency, it’s not just addicts who are increasingly at risk—it’s those tasked with saving lives and investigating the illegal trade.  Police departments across the U.S. are arming officers with the opioid antidote Narcan.  Now, some first responders have had to use it on colleagues, or themselves.

The paramedic who administered Phillips’ Narcan on May 19 started feeling sick herself soon after;  she didn’t need Narcan but was treated for exposure to the drugs.

Earlier this month, an Ohio officer overdosed in a police station after bushing off with a bare hand a trace of white powder left from a drug scene.  Like Phillips, he was revived after several doses of Narcan.  Last fall, SWAT officers in Hartford, Connecticut, were sickened after a flash-bang grenade sent particles of heroin and fentanyl airborne.

Phillips’ overdose was eye-opening for his department, Gahler said.  Before then, deputies didn’t have a protocol for overdose scenes; many showed up without any protective gear.

Gahler has since spent $5,000 for 100 kits that include a protective suit, booties, gloves, and face masks.  Carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin and easily inhaled. and a single particle is so powerful that simply touching it can cause an overdose, Gahler said.  Additional gear will be distributed to investigators tasked with cataloguing overdose scenes—heavy-duty gloves and more robust suits.

Gahler said 37 people have died so far this year from overdoses in his county, which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia.  The county has received toxicology reports on 19 of those cases, and each showed signs of synthetic opioids.

“This is all a game-changer for us in law enforcement,” Gahler said.  “We are going to have to re-evaluate daily what we’re doing.  We are feeling our way through this every single day . . . we’re dealing with something that’s out of our realm.  I don’t want to lose a deputy ever, but especially not to something the size of a grain of salt.”

Source:  – Erie Times-News, Erie, Pa. – May 28, 2017 – www.goerie.com  The Associated Press

Filed under: Crime/Violence/Prison,Drug use-various effects,Drugs and Accidents,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Synthetics,USA :

Ohio had the most overdose fatalities in the United States in 2014 and 2015.

A newspaper’s survey of county coroners has painted a grim picture of fatal overdoses in Ohio: more than 4,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016 in the state badly hit by a heroin and opioid epidemic.

At least 4,149 died from unintentional overdoses last year, a 36 percent climb from the previous year, or a time when Ohio had the most overdose fatalities in the United States so far.

“They died in restaurants, theaters, libraries, convenience stores, parks, cars, on the streets and at home,” wrote The Columbus Dispatch in its report revealing the findings.

Survey Findings

It’s likely getting worse, too, as coroners warned that overdose deaths this year are fast outpacing these figures brought on by overdoses from heroin, synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil, and other drugs.

The Dispatch obtained the number by getting in touch with coroners’ offices in all 88 Ohio counties. Coroners in six smaller counties, according to the paper, did not provide the requested figures.

Leading the counties in rapid drug overdose rises are counties such as Cuyahoga, where there were 666 deaths in 2016, as well as Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Montgomery, and Summit.

The devastation, added the survey, did not discriminate against big or small cities and towns, urban or rural areas, and rich and poor enclaves.

“It’s a growing, breathing animal, this epidemic,” said Medina County coroner and ER physician Dr. Lisa Deranek, who has sometimes revived the same overdose patients a few times each week.

Fentanyl Overdoses

Cuyahoga County, which covers Cleveland, had its death toll largely blamed on fentanyl use. Heroin remains a leading killer, but the autopsy reports reflected the major role of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate 50 times stronger than morphine, and animal tranquilizer carfentanil.

“We’ve done so much, but the numbers are going the other way. I don’t see the improvement,” said William Denihan, outgoing CEO of Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

Cuyahoga County had 400 fentanyl-linked deaths from Nov. 21 in 2015 to Dec. 31 last year, more than double related deaths of all previous years in combination. The opioid crisis, too, no longer just affected mostly white drug users, but also minority communities.

Dr. Thomas Gilson, medical examiner of Cuyahoga County, warned that cocaine is now getting mixed into the fentanyl distribution and fentanyl analogs in order to bring the drugs closer to the African-American groups.

Plans And Prospects

The state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services stated that the overdose death toll back in 2015 would have been higher if not for the role of naloxone, an antidote use for opioid overdose cases. It has been administered by family members, other drug users, and friends to revive dying individuals.

State legislature moved to make naloxone accessible in pharmacies without a prescription. Ohio topped the nation’s drug overdose death numbers in 2014 and 2015. In the latter year, it was followed by New York, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation using statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts are pushing for expanding drug prevention as well as education initiatives from schoolkids to young and middle-aged adults, which also make up the bulk of dying people.

And while the state pioneered in crushing “pill mills” that issue prescription painkillers, health officials warned that this sent addicts to heroin and other stronger substances.

Naloxone, too, is merely an overdose treatment and not a cure for the growing addiction. Last May 22 in Pennsylvania, two drug counselors working to help others battle their drug addiction were found dead from opioid overdose at the addiction facility in West Brandywine, Chester County.

Source:  http://www.techtimes.com/articles/208540/20170529/ohio-leads-in-nations-fatal-drug-overdoses-with-4-000-dead-in-2016-survey.htm  29.05.17

Filed under: Addiction,Drug use-various effects,Drugs and Accidents,Health,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

“I wish that all families would at least consider investigating medication-assisted treatment and reading about what’s out there,” says Alicia Murray, DO, Board Certified Addiction Psychiatrist. “I think, unfortunately, there is still stigma about medications. But what we want people to see is that we’re actually changing the functioning of the patient.” Essentially, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help get a patient back on track to meeting the demands of life – getting into a healthy routine, showing up for work and being the sibling, spouse or parent that they once were. “If we can change that with medication-assisted treatment and with counselling,” says Murray, “that’s so valuable.” The opioid epidemic is terrifying, especially so for a parent of someone already struggling with prescription pills or heroin use. It’s so important to consider any and all options for helping your child recover from their opioid dependence.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to overcome an opioid addiction is because it rewires your brain to focus almost exclusively on the drug over anything else, and produces extreme cravings and withdrawal symptoms as a result. By helping to reduce those feelings of cravings and withdrawal, medication-assisted treatment can help your son or daughter’s brain stop thinking constantly about the drug and focus on returning to a healthier life.

Medication-assisted treatment is often misunderstood. Many traditional treatment programs and step-based supports may tell you that MAT is simply substituting one addictive drug for another. However, taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication for any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma. When it is used according to the doctor’s instructions and in conjunction with therapy, the medication will not create a new addiction, and can help.

As a parent, you want to explore all opportunities to get your child help for his or her opioid addiction, and get them closer and closer to functioning as a healthy adult – holding down a job, keeping a regular schedule and tapering, and eventually, stopping their misuse of opioids. Medication-assisted treatment helps them do that.

“MAT medications are most effective when they are used in conjunction with therapy and recovery work. We would never recommend medication over other forms of treatment. We would recommend it in addition to it.”

The three most-common medications used to treat opioid addiction are:

· Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

· Buprenorphine (Suboxone)

· Methadone

NALTREXONE

Naltrexone, known by its brand-name Vivitrol, is administered by a doctor monthly through an injection. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Antagonists attach themselves to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent other opioids such as heroin or painkillers from exerting the effects of the drug. It has no abuse potential.

BUPRENORPHINE

Buprenorphine, known by its brand-name Suboxone, is an oral tablet or film dissolved under the tongue or in the mouth prescribed by a doctor in an office-based setting. It is taken daily and can be dispensed at a physician’s office or taken at home. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist. Partial agonists attach to the opioid receptors in the brain and activate them, but not to the full degree as agonists. If used against the doctor’s instructions, it has the potential to be abused.

METHADONE

Methadone is dispensed through a certified opioid treatment program (OTP). It’s a liquid and taken orally and usually witnessed at an OTP clinic until the patient receives take-home doses. Methadone is an opioid agonist. Agonists are drugs that activate opioid receptors in the brain, producing an effect. If used against the doctor’s instructions, it has the potential to be abused. There is no “one size fits all” approach to medication-assisted treatment, or even recovery. Recovery is individual.

The most important thing to do is to consider all of your options, and speak to a medical professional to determine the best course of action for your family. The best path is the path that helps and works for your child.

Source:  http://drugfree.org/parent-blog/medication-assisted-treatment/  19th May 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Brain and Behaviour,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction,Youth :

Carfentanil. If there was ever a drug designed to wreak havoc – this is it!

5 milligrams (about 1/16th the size of a baby aspirin) is strong enough to take down a one-ton Buffalo, actually make that 7 one-ton Buffalos, and it’s readily available through illicit sales on street corners throughout the US. It is also now one of the leading causes of opioid related death, which claimed over 33,000 lives (out of 52,000+ drug related overdose deaths) in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.  Carfentanil first showed up in the Ohio area in mid-2016 and has been advancing it’s destructive power across the nation with a vengeance. If it came in a bottle, it would need to have a warning label that is longer than the Great Wall of China, stating something to the effect of “If you take this drug, you are committing suicide. Avoid it at all costs.” In fact, its only legal use is for the sedation of large animals, like “elephants”. Addicts generally work their way up to Carfentanil. The typical gateway is by medical prescription for something like Oxycontin, with the user then graduating to cheaper heroin once the prescriptions run out. In fact, the majority of heroin users admit they started with prescription opioids. They beckon you like the sirens from Greek mythology, tempting you past your breaking point. It eventually gets to a level that heroin is no longer nearly enough, so you start taking fentanyl, many multiple times stronger than morphine which sucked so many war veterans into addiction during the Vietnam era. Your tolerance builds as your habit expands from a few days a week to every day.  Eventually fentanyl too is not enough. What else is there? Carfentanil. ‘Do I risk it?’ is what an addict should now ask himself, but they rarely listen to their voice of reason. They jump ‘all in’ without any thought or concern of consequences, they just want to get high. Then again, oftentimes they don’t even get to make that choice, it’s made for them. Carfentanil is so cheap that it’s used as an additive on the street.

I read an article the other day where someone bought street Xanax. It was laced with Carfentanil; he was dead within minutes. This same scenario has repeated itself throughout the country, as drug dealers seek to convert a small amount of Carfentanil, into a large amount of sale-able product, mixing it with ‘whatever is available’, solely to line their pockets with addicts’ money. Carfentanil is also a concern for first responders. It is odorless, colorless and can be absorbed via skin contact, inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion. EMS crews typically wear protective gloves and masks because a dose as small as a grain of salt could kill a person even if just absorbed through the skin, much like Anthrax. The increases in opioid-related emergencies are overwhelming the country on a state-by-state and city-by-city basis. Incidents are up 13.3 percent in Minnesota, over 20 percent throughout Ohio and the numbers are even worse in Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Mexico and West Virginia. The growth in Native American communities is by far the worst at 32.7 percent. 50 people recently overdosed in one day alone in Philadelphia, which experienced 35 overdose related deaths over five days. Cincinnati had 174 overdoses in six days, Cleveland 46 in one day and tiny Akron 236 over 20 consecutive days. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency after opioids killed nearly 1,500 residents in the first nine months of 2016. The US represents just 4.6 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 80 percent of its opioids. So, where’s all this Carfentanil coming from?  The usual suspects. China and India were the largest suppliers for the illegal online pharmacies during the early 2000s.

Distributors located in the Caribbean and Central American countries, typically run by American ex-pats, bought knock-offs of everything from Viagra to Xanax to Oxycontin for pennies a pill, sending shipments ‘directly to your door’ without the need of a pesky prescription. Those same large suppliers simply shifted to the next hot product and now sell to Mexican cartels distributing it street-by-street. After recent pressure from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), China clamped down on bootleg opioid operations to curb the flow of illicit drugs into the US. Yet, the Mexican drug-lords are resourceful. I fear it won’t take too much time for them to find other suppliers to fill the gap. There’s already evidence of them trying to produce substantial quantities on their own, to eliminate the need for an outside source. According to the DEA, 144 people now die each day from a drug overdose. As recently as 10 years ago, gun related deaths outnumbered drug overdose deaths by a factor of 5-to-1. Today more people die from opioids than guns and traffic accidents combined. It is estimated that 600 people try heroin for the first time each and every day. The issue is now mission critical. President Trump has appointed a SWAT Team of business executives to tackle the opioid crisis, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a leading businessman and near billionaire in his own right. They are already working with a ‘Who’s Who’ of Fortune 500 Company leaders including such luminaries as Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, just to name a few. Kipu and our sister company, InRecovery Magazine, have reached out to this Team to offer our unique experience, knowledge, perspective and support. We are hopeful that this is a key step toward helping to start to turn the tide in this life-or-death struggle against addiction.

Source: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1125801102133&ca=c086bc62-9760-47b5-8dad-385b0609ab8d   May 2017

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

The opioid epidemic has led to the deadliest drug crisis in US history – even deadlier than the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

Drug overdoses now cause more deaths than gun violence and car crashes. They even caused more deaths in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did at the height of the epidemic in 1995.

A new study suggests that we may be underestimating the death toll of the opioid epidemic and current drug crisis. The study, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at 1,676 deaths in Minnesota’s Unexplained Death surveillance system (UNEX) from 2006 – 2015. The system is meant to refer cases with no clear cause of death to further testing and analysis. In total, 59 of the UNEX deaths, or about 3.5 percent, were linked to opioids. But more than half of these opioid-linked deaths didn’t show up in Minnesota’s official total for opioid related deaths.

It is unclear how widespread of a problem this is in other death surveillance systems and other states, but the study’s findings suggest that the numbers we have so far for opioid deaths are at best a minimum. Typically, deaths are marked by local coroners or medical examiners through a system; if the medical examiner marks a death as immediately caused by an opioid overdose, the death is eventually added to the US’s total for opioid overdose deaths. But there is no national standard for what counts as an opioid overdose, so it’s left to local medical officials to decide whether a death was caused by an overdose or not. This can get surprisingly tricky – particularly in cases involving multiple conditions or for cases in which someone’s death seemed to be immediately caused by one condition, but that condition had a separate underlying medical issue behind it.

For example, opioids are believed to increase the risk of pneumonia. But if a medical examiner sees that a person died of pneumonia, they might mark the death as caused by pneumonia, even if the opioids were the underlying cause for the death. “In early spring, the Minnesota Department of Health was notified of an unexplained death: a middle-aged man who died suddenly at home. He was on long-term opioid therapy for some back pain, and his family was a little bit concerned that he was abusing his medication,” said Victoria Hall, one of the study’s authors.

“After the autopsy, the medical examiner was quite concerned about pneumonia in this case, and that’s how the case was referred to the Minnesota Department of Health unexplained deaths program. Further testing diagnosed an influenza pneumonia, but also detected a toxic level of opioids in his system. However, on the death certificate, it only listed the pneumonia and made no mention of opioids.”

Since this is just one study of one surveillance system in one state, it’s unclear just how widespread this kind of underreporting is in the United States. But the data suggests that there is at least some undercounting going on – which is especially worrying, as this is already the deadliest drug overdose crisis in US history. “It does seem like it is almost an iceberg of an epidemic,” said Hall. “We already know that it’s bad. And while my research can’t speak to what percent we’re underestimating, we know we are missing some cases.” In 2015, more Americans died of drug overdoses than any other year on record – more than 52,000 deaths in just one year. That’s higher than the more than

38,000 who died in car crashes, the more than 36,000 who died from gun violence, and the more than 43,000 who died due to HIV/AIDS during that epidemic’s peak in 1995.

See more: • The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the US study • Today’s Heroin Epidemic – CDC

Source:  Prevention Weekly. news@cadca.org  May 2017

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs,USA :

Meet Ryan Hampton, 36, recovery advocate, political activist and recovering heroin addict igniting America’s social media feeds with stories of hope, recovery and activism. From his advocacy that led Sephora to take their eyeshadow branded “druggie” off the shelves to the activism that urged an Arizona politician to apologize for a statement stigmatizing addiction, he’s certainly become a social media powerhouse for all things addiction, recovery and policy. And with an estimated 7 out of 10 people on social media platforms, it’s no coincidence he’s found success taking the addiction advocacy fight digital.

Today, more than 22 million people are struggling with addiction, and it’s estimated that as a result, more than 45 million people are affected. But what many people don’t realize is that there are more than 23 million people living in active, long-term recovery today. Yet, because of shame and stigma, many stay silent. To fight this often-lethal silence, Hampton has urged the public to speak up and share personal stories of recovery through his recently launched Voices Project. The project, a collaborative effort to encourage people across the nation to share their story, exists to put real faces and names behind the addiction epidemic.

A Personal Struggle

Before becoming a national recovery advocate and social media powerhouse, Hampton himself faced a personal struggle with addiction. A former staffer in the Clinton White House, Hampton did not appear to be a likely candidate for heroin addiction, or so stigma would say. But after an injury and subsequent prescription for pain medication, Hampton found himself addicted to opiates, eventually leading to a heroin addiction that would span more than a decade.  After a long struggle, Hampton decided to get help.

It was the phone call that started his recovery journey that changed everything – his life and his view on the power of his phone. After getting sober, he began connecting with others in recovery, amazed at the magnitude of the digital community. But still, while uncovering these online stories of recovery, Hampton lost four friends to opioid addiction.

It was a breaking point for Hampton – one that led to the beginning of a movement that would someday reach and impact millions.

A Notable Partner

Hampton began reaching out to others in recovery and started realizing the power of digital tools to connect and build an online recovery community. And as he was slowly networking and meeting others in recovery, on October 4, 2015, Hampton’s advocacy met its catalyst: Facing Addiction.   The non-profit organization hosted a concert at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., an event that drew thousands to the capitol with celebrities, musicians and other well-known names willing to publicly celebrate the reality of recovery and call for reform in the addiction industry. Hampton, a Los Angeles resident, tuned into the event from across the country through Facebook Live and was again inspired by the content delivered through his mobile phone.

After meeting co-founders of Facing Addiction, Jim Hood and Greg Williams, Hampton plugged in, partnered and even joined the Facing Addiction team as a recovery advocate.

The importance of online advocacy aligns with Facing Addictions’ national priorities, shares CEO Jim Hood, “When enough people tell enough stories and the people who are impacted by addiction look like all of us and our kids and neighbors and relatives, the stigma has to start going away. And then we can get to work.”

After partnering with Facing Addiction, Hampton understood the priorities, the strategy and the mechanism. Said by Hampton, “I stand on the shoulders of giants”.

Leveraging the power of the algorithms at his fingertips every day, Hampton has grown his online presence to be one of the most influential in the recovery movement. Digital communication helped him get to treatment, connected him with Facing Addiction, and now is the platform in which he is sharing recovery stories from across the nation.

In just one week, more than 200 stories were submitted to the Voices Project and over 500 people sent in personal messages to express their support. Among those speaking up are notable voices such as pro skateboarder and former Jackass member Brandon Novak;   Grammy Award-winning musician Sirah;  rapper Royce da 5’9’’;   American politician and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy;  former child actress and now-addiction counselor Mackenzie Phillips, and more.

According to Royce da 5’9’’, “Addiction is a problem that we all have to deal with. It affects us all in one way or another, and having someone giving it a voice, a name and a face not only helps get rid of the stigma regarding addiction, but he’s [Ryan] on the forefront letting people know there are solutions out there and recovery is real.”

Patrick Kennedy shares the importance of building a digital recovery movement to influence and support political reform in the addiction recovery space. “With the push of a button we’ll be able to have others show up to support communities across the nation,” says Kennedy, “because their fight is our fight.”

“The face of addiction is everyone,” Sirah shares. “The Voices Project gives people a voice and a connection to hope.”

The hope offered through open dialogue about addiction and recovery has now grown into a digital movement.

The pages that Hampton started with $20 and an old computer have gained more than 200,000 followers across platforms, reaching nearly 1 million people each week. “We’re the fastest-growing social movement in history – and the funny thing is, we’re a community that nobody ever wanted to be a part of,” Novak says.

“This is the one space where we cannot be ignored. The time has come for us to speak out, and we’re a community that speaks loudly. With addiction, we’re dealing with imminent death every day,” Hampton says. “Through social media, we’ve found an innovative way to communicate with each other and connect with people we haven’t met, and now, we’re having this conversation with the rest of the world.”

Perhaps the most intriguing impact of Hampton’s work is the paradoxical ability to bring the work of addiction recovery advocacy online – only to take it back offline through real-world change in communities across the country. According to Hampton, the work he’s doing shouldn’t stay digital – it should impact community laws, help new non-profits emerge and influence real people to seek treatment and find it.

“No matter if you have social media or not – your way of doing this is talking about addiction at the dinner table, to a parent or a friend or an employer. You should not be afraid to tell your story of recovery or loss and, most importantly, your story of struggle and how you need help. It may not just change your life, it may change someone else’s life,” Hampton says.

At the crux of digital advocacy in the addiction recovery realm are real lives being saved – people finding treatment, families finding hope and those in recovery being freed of stigma that can keep them in shame and silence.  This is the mission that has fuelled Hampton’s work since the beginning. And Hampton’s reason is hard to refute: “My story is powerful, but our stories are powerful beyond measure.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/toriutley/2017/04/18/the-recovering-heroin-addict-shaking-social-media/2/#273606f0689c

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Internet,Social Affairs (Papers),Treatment and Addiction :

Formerly inconceivable ideas—like providing drug users a safe place to inject—are gaining traction.

America’s opioid problem has turned into a full-blown emergency now that illicit fentanyl and related synthetic drugs are turning up regularly on our streets. This fentanyl, made in China and trafficked through Mexico, is 25 to 50 times as potent as heroin. One derivation, Carfentanil, is a tranquilizer for large animals that’s a staggering 1,000 to 5,000 times as powerful.

Adding synthetic opioids to heroin is a cheap way to make it stronger—and more deadly. A user can die with the needle still in his arm, the syringe partly full. Traffickers also press these drugs into pills that they sell as OxyContin and Xanax. Most victims of synthetic opioids don’t even realize what they are taking. But they are driving the soaring rate of overdose—a total of 33,091 deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hence the ascendance of a philosophy known as “harm reduction,” which puts first the goal of reducing opioid-related death and disease. Cutting drug use can come second, but only if the user desires it. As an addiction psychiatrist, I believe that harm reduction and outreach to addicts have a necessary place in addressing the opioid crisis. But as such policies proliferate—including some that used to be inconceivable, such as providing facilities where drug users can safely inject—Americans shouldn’t lose sight of the virtues of coerced treatment and accountability.

What does harm reduction look like? One example is Maryland’s Overdose Survivor Outreach Program. After an overdose survivor arrives in the emergency room, he is paired with a “recovery coach,” a specially trained former addict. Coaches try to link patients to treatment centers. Generally this means counseling along with one of three options: methadone; another opioid replacement called buprenorphine, which is less dangerous if taken in excess; or an opioid blocker called naltrexone. Overdose survivors who don’t want treatment are given naloxone, a fast-acting opioid antidote. Coaches also stay in touch after patients leave the ER, helping with court obligations and social services.

Similar programs operate across the country. In Chillicothe, Ohio, police try to connect addicts to treatment by visiting the home of each person in the county who overdoses. In Gloucester, Mass., heroin users can walk into the police station, hand over their drugs, and walk into treatment within hours, without arrest or charges. It’s called the Angel Program. Macomb County, Mich., has something similar called Hope Not Handcuffs.

Another idea gaining traction is to provide “safe consumption sites,” hygienic booths where people can inject their own drugs in the presence of nurses who can administer oxygen and naloxone if needed. No one who goes to a safe consumption site is forced into treatment to quit using, since the priority is reducing risk.

In Canada, staffers at Vancouver’s consumption site urge patrons to go into treatment, but they also distribute clean needles to reduce the spread of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C. Naloxone kits are on hand in case of overdose. One study found that opening the site has reduced overdose deaths in the area, and more than one analysis showed reduced injection in places like public bathrooms, where someone can overdose undiscovered and die.

There are no consumption sites in the U.S., but in January the board of health in King County, Wash., endorsed the creation of two in the Seattle area. A bill in the California

Assembly would allow cities to establish safe consumption sites. Politicians, physicians and public-health officials have called for them in Baltimore; Boston; Burlington, Vt.; Ithaca, N.Y.; New York City; Philadelphia and San Francisco. Drug-war-weary police officers and harm reductionists would rather see addicts opt for treatment and lasting recovery, but they’ll settle for fewer deaths.

When all else fails, handcuffs can help, too. A problem with treatment is that addicts often stay with the program only for brief periods. Dropout rates within 24 weeks of admission can run above 50%, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Courts can provide unique leverage. Many drug users are involved in addiction-related crime such as shoplifting, prescription forgery and burglary. Shielding them from the criminal-justice system often is not in society’s best interests—or theirs.

Drug courts, for example, keep offender-patients in treatment through immediately delivered sanctions (e.g., a night in jail) and incentives (e.g., looser supervision). Upon successful completion of a 12- to 18-month program, many courts erase the criminal record. This seems to work. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals reports that 75% of drug court graduates nationwide “remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program.”

What’s more, if the carrot-and-stick method used by drug courts is scrupulously applied, treatment may not always be necessary. This approach, called “swift, certain and fair,” has been successful with methamphetamine addicts in Hawaii and alcoholics in South Dakota. Some courts in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have now adopted it with opioid addicts. I predict that the combination of anti-addiction medication plus “swift, certain, and fair” will be especially effective.

With synthetic drugs similar to fentanyl turbocharging the opioid problem, the immediate focus should be on keeping people safe and alive. But for those revived by antidotes and still in a spiral of self-destruction, the criminal-justice system may be the ultimate therapeutic safety net.

Source:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/saving-lives-is-the-first-imperative-in-the-opioid-epidemic-1491768767  April 9, 2017

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Synthetics,USA :

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – They’re the tiniest and most innocent victims of the heroin addiction crisis but it doesn’t spare them their suffering.

They cry relentlessly at a disturbing pitch and can’t sleep. Their muscles get so tense their bodies feel hard. They suck hungrily but lack coordination to successfully feed. Or they lack an appetite. They sweat, tremble, vomit and suffer diarrhea. Some claw at their faces.

It’s because they were born drug-dependent and are suffering the painful process of withdrawal. “It’s very sad,” says Dr. Christiana Oji-Mmuo, who cares for them at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. “You would have to see a baby in this condition to understand.”

As the heroin and painkiller addiction epidemic gripping Pennsylvania and the whole country worsens, the number of babies born drug dependent has surged.   Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. saw two or three drug-dependent babies annually when Dr. Lauren Johnson-Robbins began working there 17 years ago. Now Geisinger cares for about twice that many per month between its neonatal intensive care unit in Danville and the NICU at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.

Penn State Children’s Hospital is averaging about 20 per year, although it had cared for 18 through last June, with the final 2016 number not yet available, says Oji-Mmuo.

PinnacleHealth System’s Harrisburg Hospital also sees about 20 per year. That’s less than a few years ago, but only because a hospital that used to transfer drug dependent babies to Harrisburg Hospital equipped itself to care for them. “Now everybody is facing it and trying to deal with it one way or another,” says Dr. Manny Peregrino, a neonatologist involved with their care.

The babies suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, which results from exposure to opioid drugs while in the womb. An estimated 1 in 200 babies in the United States are born dependent on an opioid drug. More than half end up in a NICU, which care for unusually sick babies.

In 2015, 2,691 babies received NICU care in Pennsylvania as the result of a mother’s substance abuse, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council. That’s up from 788 in 2000, or a 242 percent increase in 15 years.

Nearly all babies born to opioid-addicted moms suffer withdrawal. The severity varies. About 60 percent need an opioid such as morphine or methadone to ease them through withdrawal. These babies typically spend about 25 days in the hospital.

Often, the only way to calm them is to hold them for long periods – so long that many hospitals enlist volunteer “cuddlers.” ”It really is a whole village. Everybody pitches in,” Peregrino says.

Giving medications to newborns can lead to other problems, so the preference is to get them through withdrawal without it. A scale based on their symptoms is used to determine which ones need medication. In cases where withdrawal isn’t so severe,

symptoms can be managed by keeping the baby away from noise and bright light, cuddling them, and using devices such as mechanical swings to sooth them.

Logan Keck of Carlisle feared the worst upon learning what her baby might face. The 23-year-old became addicted to heroin several years ago. She says it was prominent in her circle of high school classmates, and she became “desensitized” to the danger, figuring it couldn’t be as bad as some claimed.   Keck has been in recovery for more than two years with the help of methadone, a prescription drug used to prevent withdrawal and craving. She was a few weeks away from being fully tapered off methadone when Keck learned she was pregnant.

She was told stopping methadone during pregnancy would put her at risk of miscarriage. Keck further learned her baby might be born addicted. She gave birth on Feb. 1 at Holy Spirit-Geisinger in Cumberland County.

Her baby had difficulty latching on during breastfeeding and vomited milk into her lungs, but seemed fine otherwise. Keck expected she and her baby would go home soon after delivery.  But after a few days, withdrawal became obvious. Keck knows how withdrawal feels. “That’s when it really hit home for me – seeing her feel it,” she says.  Then she was hit again: she was discharged, but her baby remains in the NICU, possibly for several more weeks.

The opioid addiction epidemic affects people of all backgrounds and regions – rich, poor, urban, suburban. It’s prevalent in economically-stressed areas, including many of Pennsylvania’s rural counties.

Geisinger has found a bit of brightness within the 30-plus rural counties it serves. Some of the region’s doctors realized there was little access to methadone, which is dispensed from clinics usually located in more populated areas. That meant pregnant rural women lacked access to a legal drug that could keep them away from the risks of street drugs while also getting them onto the road to recovery. So the doctors became licensed to prescribe buprenorphine, another drug that staves off withdrawal and cravings for opioids. As a result, the majority of mothers of NAS babies at Geisinger have been taking buprenorphine during pregnancy, according to Johnson-Robbins.

Geisinger doctors have been pleased to find that buprenorphine, while it does cause NAS, withdrawal isn’t as severe as with methadone. It also impacts another major concern surrounding NAS babies: that the mother will continue to struggle with addiction and live a lifestyle that will prevent her from properly caring for her baby. Most Geisinger moms, being in recovery for a while, are better-equipped to care for their baby.

Still, there’s great concern about what happens to NAS babies after they leave the hospital. The mother might go back to heroin and become unable to properly care for her baby – there have been many news reports of addicted parents or fathers who neglected or otherwise hurt their babies, including a Pennsylvania woman who rolled over and suffocated her baby while high on opioids and other drugs. The mother might lack adequate housing or other means of having a stable home. There might be criminal activity in the home.

Delaware County woman says she didn’t know their whereabouts until news reports of their hospitalizations for alleged severe abuse.

“We are sending children out into compromised environments,” says Dr. Lori Frasier, who leads the division of child abuse paediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Those babies often return to the hospital as victims of abuse or neglect, Frasier says.

Another cause for worry is the fact that NAS babies can remain unusually fussy after leaving the hospital, potentially putting extra stress on a parent already dealing with the stress of addiction. “We know that crying, fussy babies can be triggers for abuse,” Frasier says. Cathleen Palm, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Center for Children’s Justice, said much more needs to done to provide help for mothers of NAS babies, and to monitor and protect the babies. “We have really been trying to get policy makers to understand the nuances,” she says.

Keck goes to Holy Spirit-Geisinger daily to breastfeed and hold her baby for one to two hours. Her time is limited by distance and the fact the baby’s father needs their only car for work. Looking forward, Keck says she’s in a stable relationship with the baby’s father, who is not an addict and accompanies her to the hospital. They have family support, and a Holy Spirit program will provide additional help.

Ultimately, Keck’s pregnancy and motherhood have taught her things that might have inspired her to make a different choice regarding heroin, including the fact it caused her newborn to suffer and forced her to go home without her baby. She agreed to be interviewed out of desire to get others to think and talk about such realities. “I want people to understand it’s something that’s not pretty,” Keck said. “It’s something that’s important to talk about.”

Source:  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/feb/18/born-addicts-opioid-babies-in-withdrawal

Filed under: Drug use-various effects on foetus, babies, children and youth,Health,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

The letter below speaks of the heroin epidemic in the USA.  The figure of heroin and opioid addiction that has destroyed countless families and killed more than 50,000 Americans in 2015 alone is salutary.

A chronicle of President Barack Obama’s tenure must include the heroin epidemic that he leaves us with. Our nation is plagued with a systemic heroin and opioid addiction that has destroyed countless families and killed more than 50,000 Americans in 2015 alone. This one-year death toll is greater than the total number of Americans killed in action during the Vietnam War.

The opioid casualty count only tells part of the story. More than half a million Americans admit to being addicted to heroin, and each of them has a very difficult, if not impossible, road to recovery. Yet, heroin flows into our nation every day and is readily available for $5 a bag 24/7 on street corners throughout the cities and suburbs of America.

How was this level of accessibility not reason enough for President Obama to make slowing our porous borders a priority?  Obama, in his final days as president is now becoming more vocal about the epidemic he leaves behind. However, this is too little, too late in the extreme. His record-setting pardoning and lessening of drug dealer sentences, which have included heroin dealers, further erodes his record on the heroin epidemic. Classifying a heroin dealer as a nonviolent criminal in the face of the American opioid death toll is nonsense.

Perhaps Obama was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have a close friend or relative addicted or taken by heroin and he just didn’t notice the plague that took root under his watch.

Robert Cochran Stafford

Source:  http://www.app.com/story/opinion/readers/2017/01/14/letter-obama-legacy-includes-drug-addiction-epidemic/96557686/

Filed under: Addiction,Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,USA :

National statistics show 2,367 users aged 18 to 24 sought treatment in 2015-16 as drug becomes increasingly unfashionable.   A total of 149,807 opiate addicts came for treatment in England during 2015-16, down 12% on a peak of 170,032 in 2009-10.

The number of 18 to 24-year-olds in England entering treatment for addiction to heroin has plummeted 79% in 10 years, as the stigma surrounding the drug and changing tastes in intoxication have made it increasingly unfashionable.

In the year to March, 2,367 people from that age group presented with heroin and opiate addiction at the approximately 900 drug treatment services in England, compared with 11,351 10 years earlier, according to statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS).

They constituted a tiny fraction of the 149,807 opiate addicts who came for help to kick their habit throughout the year, a number that is itself 12% down on a peak of 170,032 who came for treatment in 2009-10. The median age of those users was 39, the statistics showed.  Michael Linnell, the coordinator of UK DrugWatch, a network of drug treatment professionals, said many of the heroin users currently accessing treatment would have become addicted during a boom in the drug’s popularity in the late 1980s. Young addicts were “as rare as hen’s teeth”, he said.

Our neglect of ageing heroin users has fuelled the rise of drug-related deaths

“For the Thatcher generation who didn’t see a future and there were no jobs or employment and the rest of it, it was an alternative lifestyle in that you were really, really busy being a heroin user: getting up, scoring, nicking stuff to get the money to score and the rest of it,” Linnell said.

“There was a whole series of factors until you got to that point where people from those communities – the poorest communities – where you were likely to get heroin users, could see the visible stigma of the scarecrow effect, as some people called it.

“They didn’t want to aspire to be a heroin user because a heroin user just had negative connotations, rather than someone who was rebelling against something.”

Overall, 288,843 adults aged 18 to 99 came into contact with structured treatment for drug addiction during 2015-16, 52% of whom were addicted to heroin or some other opiate. Among opiate addicts, 41% were also addicted to crack cocaine, with the next highest adjunctive drugs being alcohol (21%) and cannabis (19%).

About half of those presenting to treatment – 144,908 – had problems with alcohol, a fall of 4% compared with the previous year. Among those, 85,035 were treated for alcohol treatment only and 59,873 for alcohol problems alongside other substances.

The most problematic drug among the 13,231 under-25s who came into contact with drug treatment services in the past year was cannabis, which was cited as a problem by 54%, followed by alcohol (44%) and cocaine (24%).

The numbers from this age group accessing treatment had fallen 37% in 10 years, which the Public Health England report accompanying the statistics said reflected shifts in the patterns of drinking and drug use over that time, with far fewer young people experimenting with drugs than in the past.  Karen Tyrell, the spokeswoman for the drug treatment charity Addaction, said the decline in problem drug use among young people reflected what drugs workers see on a daily basis, and credited evidence-based education, prevention and early intervention programmes for the change.

The shift, though, was precarious, Tyrell said, warning that yearly spending cuts to treatment services risked reversing the gains.

She added: “Of course, what this also means is that we have an ageing population of heroin users, many of whom have been using since the 80s or 90s, and who are now dealing with poor physical health and increasing vulnerability. In an environment of ever rising drug-related deaths, it’s imperative we don’t lose sight of their needs.”

Source:  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/03/

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs,Treatment and Addiction,Youth :

Current brain science is suggesting strong plausibility that the opiate and heroin epidemic will continue to worsen with commercializing and industrializing production and sales of marijuana at levels the likes of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs. With more 21st century marijuana in our communities, opiate and heroin use rises. The brain science is beginning to explain why this is. We are, with marijuana research, where we were in the 1920s and 30s with tobacco research linking smoking to cancer.

Studies are revealing that the cannabinoid-opioid systems of the brain are intimately connected.

In the areas of the brain where cannabinoids bind, opioids bind as well, and if you modify one system, you automatically change the other. Specifically, there is a functional interaction between the mu and Cb1 receptors of the brain; these receptors commonly exist together on brain cells. The mechanism is not yet well understood; more research is needed. But ultimately cannabinoids and opioids are known to strictly interact in many physiological and pathological functions, including addiction. Overall, evidence confirms a neurobiological convergence of the cannabinoid and opioid systems that is manifest at both receptor and behavioral levels.

What does this mean? We are learning that brain cross-talk between the endocannabinoid and endogenous opioid systems may cause, if there has been early brain exposure to marijuana, changes in the sensitivity to other drugs of abuse such as heroin.

Specifically, the sensitivity may be blunted, which would cause a greater risk for abuse and addiction. This new science supports the plausibility that a person who uses marijuana as a teenager may be increasing his/her risk of opiate addiction later in life. For example, a 20 year old who takes an opiate pain killer for a skiing injury or wisdom tooth removal may become much more at risk of becoming addicted to that pain killer as a result of his or her earlier marijuana use – no matter how insignificant that earlier use may seem. To be clear, this does not mean every teen marijuana user will be challenged with opioid addiction when they take an opiate-based pain killer later in life, as certainly, not every cigarette smoker ends up with lung cancer. Nor does this remove the enormous accountability opioid medications have in the current opiate crisis. It does put some teeth behind that old-school term “gateway drug” as now there is clear scientific evidence of a neuropathway link between opioids and cannabinoids in the brain. Perhaps “pathway drug” is a more accurate term.

The opioid-marijuana brain cross talk is very real and the newest research shows very important experimental evidence on “epigenetics.” A study in rodents showed that somehow, sperm or ova evade genetic cleansing during reproduction and epigenetic modifications triggered by THC are carried forward to the next generation. These changes were produced by THC exposure during adolescence, and yet persisted during reproduction in adulthood long AFTER exposure ended. The research needs to be reproduced in humans but there are others studies on trans-generational effects of other drugs in humans that appear to be consistent with discoveries in rodents.

This research is indicating that with more 21st century marijuana use, we are not only exposing more people to a serious decline in cognitive & mental-health functioning, but we conceivably are also priming populations for more opiate addiction and brain changes. And alarmingly, this priming can take place in utero, even if marijuana use ceases prior to childbearing years.

So frankly, it may not be a coincidence that the states with highest rates of youth marijuana use are also experiencing a soaring heroin epidemic – a trend we are seeing rise across the United States.

This science-based possibility that marijuana exposures in the brain are a foundational feature of the opiate addiction crisis deserves to be weighed heavily in the current decision-making process in how best to change marijuana law – especially given our nation’s tobacco history and tobacco’s impact on health and healthcare costs.  We will learn more about all of this opioid-cannabinoid brain connection, and very soon. with what this science is revealing, if it takes 50 years like it did with tobacco to confirm smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, our species may be facing a profound and permanent decline in cognitive functioning.

Those in the field of substance abuse and drug use prevention are grateful to our esteemed researchers in Massachusetts and throughout our nation working diligently every day to not only figure out this opioid-cannabinoid neuropathway link, but to explain it to the rest of us so we begin to truly understand what is at stake as the marijuana lobby pushes for full government protection to engineer, produce, market and sell marijuana products in every community for recreational use, like tobacco.

Source:   http://marijuana-policy.org/marijuana-and-opiateheroin-epidemic-brain-science-explains-a-connection/ Feb.2016     By Heidi Heilman, Founder and CEO Massachusetts Prevention Alliance (MAPA); Founder and CEO, Edventi  

The Marijuana Policy Initiative

Don’t Legalize. We Change Minds About Marijuana Legalization/Commercialization

A volunteer non-partisan coalition of people from across the US and Canada who have come to understand the negative local-to-global public health and safety implications of an organized, legal, freely-traded, commercialized and industrialized marijuana market.

With special thanks to Dr. Bertha Madras, Dr. Sion Harris, and Dr. Sharon Levy for their work in translating the complexities of the latest brain science. ___

References (partial list of a lengthy list)

1. Ellgren M, Spano SM, Hurd YL. Adolescent cannabis exposure alters opiate intake and opioid limbic neuronal populations in adult rats. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Mar;32(3):607-15

2. Spano MS, Ellgren M, Wang X, Hurd YL. Prenatal cannabis exposure increases heroin seeking with allostatic changes in limbic enkephalin systems in adulthood. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):554-63.

3. Ellgren M, Artmann A, Tkalych O, Gupta A, Hansen HS, Hansen SH, Devi LA, Hurd YL. Dynamic changes of the endogenous cannabinoid and opioid mesocorticolimbic systems during adolescence: THC effects. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2008 Nov;18(11):826-34.

4. DiNieri JA, Wang X, Szutorisz H, Spano SM, Kaur J, Casaccia P, Dow-Edwards D, Hurd YL. Maternal cannabis use alters ventral striatal dopamine D2 gene regulation in the offspring. Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Oct 15;70(8):763-9.

5. Spano MS, Ellgren M, Wang X, Hurd YL. Prenatal cannabis exposure increases heroin seeking with allostatic changes in limbic enkephalin systems in adulthood. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Feb 15;61(4):554-63.

Filed under: Brain and Behaviour,Cannabis/Marijuana,Drug use-various effects,Heroin/Methadone :

A new study finds the number of young children and teens hospitalized for opioid painkiller overdoses has almost tripled in recent years.

Opioid overdoses increased 205 percent from 1997 to 2012 among children ages 1 to 4, HealthDay reports. Among teens ages 15 to 19, overdoses increased 176 percent.

Most poisonings due to opioid painkillers among children under 10 were accidental. Lead researcher Julie Gaither of the Yale School of Medicine says young children are “eating them like candy.” Most overdoses among teens were accidental, although some were suicide attempts, Dr. Gaither noted.

Source: The study appears in JAMA Pediatrics. Partnership News Service thepartnership@drugfree.org  3rd Nov.2016

Filed under: Drug use-various effects on foetus, babies, children and youth,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

A synthetic opioid known as “pink” is legal in most states, even though it is almost eight times stronger than morphine, CNN reports.

The drug, also known as U-47700, is responsible for dozens of deaths nationwide, the article notes. Adam Kline, Police Chief of White Lake, Michigan, told CNN the drug can be legally purchased on the “dark web” in the form of a powder, pill or nasal spray. Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration told NBC News it is aware of confirmed deaths associated with the drug in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. The drug, along with other synthetic opioids, is being shipped into the United States from China and other countries.

Source:  thepartnership@drugfree.org  2nd Nov.  2016

Filed under: Drug Specifics,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

Drug cartels are selling lethal doses of fentanyl disguised as street heroin and counterfeit OxyContin pills, two U.S. government agencies are warning.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice are cautioning people who buy illegal drugs and painkillers on the street or in Tijuana, Mexico, that cartels are using fentanyl because they can produce it more cheaply. Just a few grains of fentanyl can be lethal, the agencies said. In September, authorities confiscated more than 70 pounds of fentanyl and 6,000 counterfeit pills, NBC 7 reports.

“It’s extremely profitable for the cartels. They aren’t having to wait for harvest. They aren’t having to harvest the poppy plants. They’re not having to manufacture that paste into heroin. They are literally just getting a chemical from China,” DEA spokeswoman Amy Roderick told NBC 7.

Source:  www.thepartnership@drugfree.org  13th October 2016

Filed under: Economic,Heroin/Methadone,USA :

Latest statistics show 305 admissions were diagnosed as drugs misuse in the year 2011/12 — compared to 97 in 2007/08.

Across NHS Tayside as a whole the number has more than doubled, with an increase from 244 five years ago to 512 last year.  Doctors have warned there is now a “constant background level of recreational drug use” in the region’s Accident and Emergency departments.

A&E consultant Dr Julie Ronald said people come in with drugs-related problems most weekends.  She said: “We deal with a lot of drugs-related admissions. It can be very time consuming — especially if patients cause disruption to the rest of the department.

“It’s something we see most weekends of some variety. The vast majority are brought in by ambulance.  Usually someone has been with the patient or found them and decided they require medical attention.”

Across Tayside, opioids — such as heroin — were the cause for more than 80% of admissions over the period.  Of these, 60 were categorised as resulting from multiple drugs or other less common drugs.

And 468 — more than 90% — were classed as emergency admissions. Also last year, 28 of the admissions were for cannabis-type drugs, nine were for cocaine, eight for sedatives or hypnotics and seven were for other sedatives.

Dr Ronald, who works in the A&E departments at Ninewells Hospital and Perth Royal Infirmary, said there has been a noticeable increase in younger patients for drugs misuse .She said: “There is a constant background level of recreational drug use. We’re always coming into contact with it. We do see heroin misuse. What we have certainly seen is more recreational legal high-type drugs.   A lot of teens and people in the younger age groups are coming in who have taken party drugs, such as bubbles or MCAT.”

Some 89 of the admissions for 2011/12 had to stay in hospital for a week or longer. Dr Ronald said: “A&E look after the vast majority of people coming in with recreational drug misuse. We tend to keep them in for a few hours for observation, or overnight if they need to be monitored for longer.”

Source:  www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk   15th June 2013

Filed under: Effects of Drugs,Europe,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

Dublin city coroner Dr Brian Farrell is to write to the Department of Health to highlight a link between methadone use and heart failure following an inquest into the death of a 30-year-old man.   Philip Wright of Celbridge, Co Kildare, died on December 13th, 2011, having collapsed after taking heroin.

He had discharged himself on December 12th from Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown where he had been taken off methadone, a heroin replacement drug, because of the dangerous effect it was having on his heart. Mr Wright had attended the hospital on December 9th after collapsing at home. He was also on antibiotics for a chest infection.

Dr Joseph Galvin, consultant cardiologist at the hospital, told the coroner an electrocardiogram (ECG) carried out on Mr Wright picked up a problem with his heart and his methadone was stopped on December 11th. He said the drug could put the heart out of rhythm by changing its electrical properties “in a dangerous way”.

Mr Wright’s heart returned to normal after he was taken off methadone, he said. Recent studies had shown up to 18 per cent of people on methadone had experienced the same heart problems, he said.   The doctor recommended that anyone who collapsed while using methadone should have an ECG carried out. “It is not as benign a drug as was first thought,” Dr Galvin said.

He also said he had recommended an alternative drug for Mr Wright to replace the methadone: buprenorphine.  By lunchtime on Monday, December 12th, Mr Wright had not received the drug. His father, James Wright, told the coroner his son feared he would go into severe withdrawal without it.  He discharged himself from hospital against medical advice and obtained heroin. He died of respiratory failure in the bathroom of his parents’ home the following day having injected the heroin.

Evidence was also given that the pharmacy in the hospital did not receive a request for buprenorphine for Mr Wright and there were issues around access to the drug.

There was also a recommendation that there should be an interval between the time methadone is stopped and buprenorphine is given.  Returning a verdict of death by misadventure, Dr Farrell said he would write to the department and to methadone maintenance authorities and clinics about the potential cardiac effects of methadone.

He would also raise the issue of availability of buprenorphine.

Source: www.irishtimes.com Sat. 5th Jan

Filed under: Effects of Drugs,Europe,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

THE methadone programme has failed drug addicts in Clydebank, a leading addictions worker said this week.

methadone-is-a-monsterDonnie McGilveray is the manager of Alternatives, a West Dunbartonshire charity that helps reform drug addicts, many of them methadone users.

He told the Post the methadone programme used to treat heroin addicts has gone unregulated — and described the green liquid as a “monster” that keeps people hooked for good.

His comments come after shock statistics were released last week showing that Clydebank pharmacies claimed £153,000 for methadone prescriptions in 2014.

Donnie told the Post: “I think methadone is helpful for a small cohort of people, the five to ten per cent of people who are chaotic, suicidal or maybe sex workers being used and abused by people. There is a small group of people who need to be made safe.

But that’s not what is happening. We’ve got this monster, a jolly green giant, that many, many addicts are stuck on. And again, it’s not just them who are stuck in this it’s the doctors and nurses who have an obligation to keep them safe.”

National data obtained by BBC Scotland showed pharmacists were paid £17.8 million for handling nearly half a million prescriptions of methadone in 2014. In Clydebank, £153,000 was paid to eight pharmacies to deliver 3,165 prescriptions of the heroin substitute. In Dalmuir Lloyds, £31,671 was claimed for prescribing and supervising methadone to addicts in 2014. But topping the chart was Lloyds Pharmacy on 375 Kilbowie Road which received £38,207 in payments. Pharmacists are paid around £2.32 for dispensing every dose of methadone and about £1.33 for supervising addicts while they take it. Chemists pay the wholesale cost of buying methadone from the government money they claim.

Around 60 per cent of the cash they are paid is made up of their handling fee for the drug and their charges for dishing it out to addicts. In 2013, pharmacies claimed back more than £17.9 million from the Scottish Government for handling 470,256 prescriptions of methadone — 22,980 prescriptions more than in 2014.

Donnie also told the Post he believes West Dunbartonshire, which has a long history of drug problems, is making progress tackling addiction. He said: “At the end of the day, the statistics don’t tell you how many people are on methadone or any details of the prescription, but what we can tell is the drug companies are making a killing from it.”

Figures released by the NHS in 2012 revealed that methadone-implicated deaths increased dramatically in cases where the individual had been prescribed the drug for more than a year.

The addictions worker told the Post he believes methadone should be reserved for the chaotic drug users and other substitutes such as Buprenorphine, Subutex and Dihydrocodiene should be implemented. He continued: “Methadone is not just a medical or pharmaceutical matter but a human rights issue. “The dilemma is that if you reduce someone’s methadone they become unstable and could relapse. Some of the people we work with at Alternatives have relapsed, it’s a regular situation.

If you start to reduce this person they could relapse and relapse significantly, and they might think they can go back onto heroin and inevitably could end up overdosing.”

He added: “That’s my position and I don’t envy the medical side of it in trying to square this problem.”

Top researcher Dr Neil McKeganey, from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, said the methadone programme “is literally a black hole into which people are disappearing”.

The statistics of methadone prescriptions can be viewed online at:    www.marcellison.com/bbc/methadone

Alternatives is an organisation funded by West Dunbartonshire Council that helps bring recovering addicts back into society. The project has been around since January 1995, firstly covering Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven, latterly broadening out to Clydebank.

Source: http://www.archive.clydebankpost.co.uk/ 7th April 2015

Filed under: Economic,Effects of Drugs,Heroin/Methadone,Prescription Drugs,Social Affairs (Papers) :

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Besides the risk of spontaneous abortion, heroin abuse during pregnancy (together with related factors like poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care) is also associated with low birth weight, an important risk factor for later delays in development. Additionally, if the mother is regularly abusing the drug, the infant may be born physically dependent on heroin and could suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a drug withdrawal syndrome in infants that requires hospitalization. According to a recent study, treating opioid-addicted pregnant mothers with buprenorphine (a medication for opioid dependence) can reduce NAS symptoms in babies and shorten their hospital stays.”

Source:   http://www.wmdt.com/news    Sept 18th 2015

Filed under: Drug use-various effects on foetus, babies, children and youth,Heroin/Methadone :

The overdose antidote is being offered for use in High Schools and is a sad indictment of the situation in the USA where lax drug policies have resulted in huge increases in drugs use – including heroin even amongst youth.

The opioid overdose antidote naloxone is being offered free to high schools around the country by the drugmaker Adapt Pharma, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, quickly reverses overdoses from heroin and prescription painkillers. Naloxone will be offered in nasal spray form to high schools through state departments of education. The Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Initiative is collaborating on the project.

Many states do not have rules that would permit high school staff to administer naloxone in an emergency without facing liability from parents or guardians, the article notes. There are significant variations in state and local rules about whether staff is allowed to administer medication to students. In some school districts, medication can only be administered by school nurses, who often work at more than one school.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) in June said that “incorporating use of naloxone into school emergency preparedness and response plans is a school nurse role.” In a statement, the group said “the safe and effective management of opioid pain reliever-related overdose in schools [should] be incorporated into the school emergency preparedness and response plan.” Last year, New York joined at least four other states in allowing public school nurses to add naloxone to their inventory. Other states with similar policies include Vermont, Massachusetts and Delaware.

Adapt Pharma is also providing a grant to NASN to support their education efforts concerning opioid overdose education materials. In a news release from the company, NASN President Beth Mattey said school nurses act as first responders in schools. “We educate our students, families, and school staff about prescription drug and substance abuse, and help families seek appropriate treatment and recovery options,” she said. “Having access to naloxone can save lives and is often the first step toward recovery. We are taking a proactive approach to address the possibility of a drug overdose in school.”

Source:  http://www.drugfree.org/join-together  26th Jan. 2016

Filed under: Education Sector,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs,Youth :

The methadone programme in Scotland is “out of control”, an expert has warned.

Prof Neil McKeganey, from the Centre for Drug Misuse Research, said “it is literally a black hole into which people are disappearing”. Data obtained by BBC Scotland showed pharmacists were paid £17.8m for dispensing nearly half a million doses of methadone in 2014.

In response, the Scottish government said both doses and costs linked to opioid treatment had been dropping. Community Safety Minister Paul Wheelhouse told the BBC: “Fewer Scots are taking drugs – numbers are continuing to fall amongst the general adult population, and drug taking among young people is the lowest in a decade.”

However, a lack of data to measure the programme’s impact was the focus of criticism from Prof McKeganey. He said: “We still don’t know how many addicts are on the methadone programme, what progress they’re making, and with what frequency they are managing to come off methadone.

“Successive inquiries have shown that the programme is in a sense out of control; it just sits there, delivering more methadone to more addicts, year in year out, with very little sense of the progress those individuals are making towards their recovery.”

But David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drug Forum, disputed claims that addicts were parked on the methadone programme. He said: “What we know is the level of methadone being dispensed continues at the same level, but it’s not the same individuals. “Our sense is that of the 20,000-plus people on methadone, it will be less than half who are on it for a very long period of time.” However Mr Liddell admitted that, unlike England, there is currently no data in Scotland on whether users are relying on the programme indefinitely.

Regional increases

In 2013, pharmacies claimed back more than £17.9m from the Scottish government for dispensing 470,256 doses of methadone – 22,980 doses more than in 2014.

But despite this overall decrease, new data – obtained from National Services Scotland through a freedom of information request – revealed the amount of methadone dispensed has increased in more than a third of Scottish local authorities over the last two years.

The Edinburgh council area saw the largest increase in doses (2,949), followed by Falkirk (421) and Argyll and Bute (405). The largest decreases were found in Renfrewshire (5,842), Inverclyde (5,611) and East Ayrshire (5,598).

And while fees paid to pharmacies for dispensing methadone have declined over a four-year period, Prof McKeganey said the average annual outlay does suggest users are parked on the drug.

Prof McKeganey said: “The aspiration contained within the government’s ‘Road to Recovery’drug strategy explicitly said that the goal of treatment must be to enable people to become drug-free rather than remain on long-term methadone. These figures show you that we are not achieving that goal – we are not witnessing large numbers of people coming off the methadone programme.”

New strategy

Methadone has been at the heart of drug treatment strategies since the 1980s, but its use has been widely criticised by recovering addicts and drugs workers.

Methadone is by far the most widely used of the opioid replacement therapies (ORT), with an estimated 22,000 patients currently receiving it, but some users take it for years without being weaned off it altogether. Howevera review commissioned by the Scottish governmentin 2013 concluded methadone should continue to be used to treat heroin addicts.

There are alternatives, including prescribing medical heroin, but many in the drugs field say the debate should move away from these to an examination of how the wider needs of drug users can be met. Prof McKeganey said methadone does have a role to play in helping addicts wean themselves off heroin, but it should not be prescribed as widely as it is now.

An estimated 22,000 people are currently on Scotland’s methadone programme

He said he would like to see a two-year reassessment implemented so that if the “highly addictive” methadone does not seem to be working for an individual, they can then either try the more expensive suboxone, or enter a drug-free residential home. “That seemed preferable to me than leaving people on a methadone prescription for years – and then the worry is that you’ve turned your heroin addicts into methadone addicts.”

Figures released by the NHS in 2012revealed that methadone-implicated deaths increased dramatically in cases where the individual had been prescribed the drug for more than a year.

Recent figures from the National Records of Scotland also revealmethadone was implicated in nearly the same number of deaths as heroin in 2013.

‘Methadone millionaires’

The methadone data obtained by BBC Scotland reveals how much each individual pharmacy claimed back in fees from the Scottish government.

Last year more than £102,000 was claimed by just one pharmacy on Glasgow’s Saracen Street in Possilpark – an area ranked the third most-deprived in Scotland. The largest claims were made by pharmacy giants Boots and Lloyds, who reclaimed £3.8m and £3.3m respectively from their hundreds of branches across the country.

The fees paid back to pharmacies are not only for the dispensing of methadone, but for oral hygiene services, and the services of a supervisor to ensure the dose is taken onsite and not sold on the street. Pharmacies apply to enter into a contract with their health board to provide methadone services and must justify the need for such a service within that locality. Pharmacists in Greater Glasgow are currently paid £2.16 for dispensing every dose of methadone and £1.34 for supervising addicts while they take it.

The fees are negotiated with individual health boards to suit local needs, and are lower than in England.

But a spokesman from Community Pharmacy Scotland dismissed the“methadone millionaire” tagplaced on such pharmacies in the past by certain media outlets.

He said: “Methadone is an NHS prescription medicine and as such a community pharmacy is obliged to provide it when it has been prescribed for a patient by a GP.

“While community pharmacists are paid to administer the program, the income is far outweighed by the time, administration and difficulties that can often be encountered by taking on a role in this difficult area. The argument is not a financial one – but a health and social issue.”

A statement by the Scottish government did not address the lack of data to prove the programme was enabling addicts to become drug-free. However, Mr Wheelhouse said: “Both the number of items and the number of defined daily doses of opioid treatment have dropped steadily over the past five years and the cost of methadone is down 19% since 2010-11. He added: “Independent experts advise that opioid replacement therapy is a crucial tool in treating opiate dependency. However, we believe it is important that there are a range of treatments available that suit the unique needs of individuals.

“Prescribing opioid replacement therapy is an independent decision for individual clinicians, in line with the current UK guidelines on the Clinical Management of Drug Misuse and Dependence.”

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31943109 24th March 2015

Filed under: Economic,Environment,Europe,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs :

President Obama this week told an audience in Jamaica that U.S. efforts against illegal drugs were “counterproductive” because they relied too much on incarceration—particularly for “young people who did not engage in violence.”

In what the president termed “an experiment … to legalize marijuana” in Colorado and Washington state, he said he believed they must “show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential of increased addiction.”

In regard to Jamaica and the entire Caribbean and Central American region, he said, “a lot of folks think … if we just legalize marijuana, then it’ll reduce the money flowing into the transnational drug trade, there are more revenues and jobs created.”

To some of us, Jamaica hardly seems an auspicious location for encouraging “experimentation” with drugs, in particular because of the challenges already faced by their deficient institutions of public health and criminal justice. The U.S. Department of State 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report(INCSR) states:

Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States and local Caribbean islands. Although cocaine and synthetic drugs are not produced locally, Jamaica is a transit point for drugs trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets. In 2014, drug production and trafficking were enabled and accompanied by organized crime, domestic and international gang activity, and police and government corruption. Illicit drugs are also a means of exchange for illegally-trafficked firearms entering the country, exacerbating Jamaica’s security situation.

Drugs flow from and through Jamaica by maritime conveyance, air freight, human couriers, and to a limited degree by private aircraft. Marijuana and cocaine are trafficked from and through Jamaica into the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and other Caribbean nations. Jamaica is emerging as a transit point for cocaine leaving Central America and destined for the United States, and some drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine. . . .

The conviction rate for murder was approximately five percent, and the courts continued to be plagued with a culture of trial postponements and delay. This lack of efficacy within the criminal courts contributed to impunity for many of the worst criminal offenders and gangs, an abnormally high rate of violent crimes, lack of cooperation by witnesses and potential jurors, frustration among police officers and the public, a significant social cost and drain on the economy, and a disincentive for tourism and international investment.

This does not seem like a place where “legal” marijuana would contribute to “reduced money flow” to the transnational drug trade, or “create jobs.”  The president apparently thinks Jamaica should consider allowing more drugs, based on a faulty understanding of what is actually happening in Jamaica and in the U.S.

His charge of high incarceration rates for non-violent offenders is not factual. For instance, data show that only a fraction of one percent of state prison inmates are low-level marijuana possession offenders, while arrests for marijuana and cocaine/heroin possession and use were no more than 7 percent of all arrests,nationwide, in 2013.

Though critics of drug laws claim that hundreds or even thousands of prisoners are low-level non-violent offenders unjustly sentenced, the reality was shown recently by the President’s inability to find more than a  of incarcerated drug offenders who would be eligible for  of their sentence because they fit the mythological portrait of excessive or unjust drug sentences.

Further, since 2007, the US is currently experiencing a surge in daily marijuana use, an epidemic of heroin overdose deaths (with minorities hardest hit), while the southwest border is flooded with heroin and methamphetamine flow, as shown by skyrocketing border seizures.

Importantly, Colorado, following marijuana “legalization,” has become a black-market magnet, and is currently supplying marijuana, including ultra-high-potency “shatter” to the rest of the U.S., leading to law suits by adjacent states. Legalization 

As for Central America, Obama’s policies have shown stunning neglect. Actual aid for counter-drug activities, and for resources for interdicting smugglers have all diminished, while the countries of Central America have become battlegrounds for Mexican cartels, with meth precursors piling up at the docks, the cocaine transiting Venezuela to Honduras is surging, and violence is at an all-time high, with families fleeing north in unprecedented numbers. The Caribbean/Central American region has become deeply threatened, as noted by the State Department report above—torn apart by drug crime.

In this context the president encourages governments in the region to make drugs more acceptable and more accessible in their communities, and with even greater legal impunity?

Moreover, these developments have been accompanied by a steady drumbeat of medical science  increasingly showing the serious dangers of marijuana use, especially for youth.   Yet President Obama speaks in a manner increasingly disconnected from the domestic and international reality of the drug problem.

Source:  David W. Murray and John P. Walters  WEEKLY STANDARD  April 11, 2015

Filed under: Cannabis/Marijuana,Cocaine,Drug Specifics,Drugs and Accidents,Economic,Global Drug Legalisation Efforts,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Methamphetamine/GHB/Hallucinogens/Oxycodone,Others (International News),USA :

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies in between.

Pretty much everyone who has spent time smoking marijuana knows at least one diehard stoner. The guy whose eyes are always red, the girl who doesn’t use the term “wake and bake” ironically, the person who just can’t seem to ever get it together. These heavy smokers might work at a low-level job or they may be unemployed—but everyone who knows them well knows that they are capable of much more, if only they had any ambition.

Is this really addiction? I believe that it is (and I don’t think that’s an argument against legalization). In fact, the reasons why marijuana is addictive elucidate the true nature of addiction itself.  Addiction is a relationship between a person and a substance or activity; addictiveness is not a simple matter of a drug “hijacking the brain.” In fact, with all potentially addictive experiences, only a minority of those who try them get hooked—and people can even become addicted to apparently “nonaddictive” things, like carrots. Addiction depends on learning, context and psychology, not just neurotransmitters.

With two states having already legalized recreational marijuana use and several more considering doing so, understanding the nature of addiction is more important than ever. Partisans on both sides of the debate have made extreme claims here; some legalizers saying there’s no such thing as marijuana addiction, while some prohibitionists claim “cannabis as addictive as heroin.”

Our concepts of addiction, however, come primarily from cultural experience with alcohol, heroin and, later, cocaine. No one has ever argued that opioids like heroin don’t have the potential to cause addiction because the withdrawal symptoms—vomiting, shaking, pallor, sweating and diarrhea—are objectively measurable. Opioids cause physical dependence that is evident when they become unavailable. The same is true for alcohol, where withdrawal is even more severe and can sometimes even be deadly.

So early researchers focused on these measurable symptoms related to alcoholism and opioid addictions in defining addiction: Using a drug could lead to becoming tolerant to it, tolerance could lead to dose escalation, which could in turn lead to physical dependence, and then the addiction could be driven by the need to avoid the painful symptoms of withdrawal. It was simple and physical.

In this view, however, cocaine and marijuana were not “really” addictive. While people can experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, depression, craving and sleep problems when quitting these drugs, these are much more subjective and therefore can be dismissed as “psychological” rather than physical. You might really want coke or pot, but you didn’t need it like a real junkie, the thinking went.

And since most of us like to believe that we have much more control over our minds than we do over physical symptoms, “psychological” addiction is seen as far less serious than the “physical” type. It’s the remnants of this kind of thinking that mainly underlie the idea that marijuana addiction doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, that view of addiction is stuck in the 1970s.

In the 1980s—ironically, not long after Scientific American caused a big controversy by arguing that snorted cocaine is no more addictive than eating potato chips—entrepreneurs began marketing a ready-made smokeable form of the drug. The birth of crack shattered the idea that “physical” dependence is more serious than psychological dependence because people with cocaine addictions don’t vomit or have diarrhea when they quit; while they may appear desperate, it’s not in the physically obvious way of heroin or alcohol withdrawal. And so, if you are going to argue that marijuana is not addictive because you don’t get sick when you quit, you also have to argue the same for crack.

In the 1970s view, cocaine and marijuana were not “really” addictive: You might really want coke or pot, but you didn’t need it like a real junkie, the thinking went.

Good luck with that one, I say. Clearly, crack-addicted people are every bit as compulsive as those with heroin problems—and their criminal involvement if they can’t afford the drug is at least equally likely, though not as common as has been claimed. Crack dealt a deathblow to the “psychological” vs. “physical” distinction—and if it hadn’t, neuroscience was creeping up to show that the psychological and the physical aren’t exactly distinct anyway.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, researchers also began recognizing that simply detoxing heroin addicts—getting them through the two-week period of intense physical withdrawal symptoms—is not effective treatment. If heroin addiction was driven primarily by the need to avoid withdrawal, addicted people should be out of the woods after they complete cold turkey. But as those of us who have been through it know, that is far from the hardest part.

While kicking heroin isn’t fun, staying off it in the long run is the problem—those “mere” psychological cravings are what drive addiction. Physical dependence isn’t the main problem; it isn’t even necessary. Indeed, we now know that you can actually have physical dependence without any addiction at all: There are some blood pressure medications, for example, that can have deadly withdrawal symptoms if not tapered properly, but people on these meds don’t crave them even though they are quite dependent. Similarly, antidepressants like Paxil have physical withdrawal symptoms, but because they don’t produce a high, you don’t see people robbing drug stores to get them.

So what is addiction, then, if tolerance, withdrawal and physical dependence aren’t essential to it? All of these facts point to one definition that can sum up the problem: Addiction is compulsive use of a substance or engagement in a behavior despite negative consequences. (Put more in neuroscience, addiction is a learned distortion in the brain’s motivational systems that make us persist in pursuing things linked to evolutionary fitness like food and sex.) Anything that causes pleasure via these systems—and that’s basically anything that is possible to enjoy—can be addictive to some person at some time. And that includes marijuana (and, for that matter potato chips).

This doesn’t mean that marijuana addiction is necessarily as severe as cocaine, heroin or alcohol addiction—in fact, it typically isn’t. If given the choice, most families would vociferously prefer having a member addicted to marijuana rather than to cocaine, heroin or alcohol. The negative consequences associated with marijuana addiction tend to be subtler: lost promotions, for example, rather than lostjobsworse relationships, not no relationships. And of course, no risk of overdose death.

Marijuana addiction may quietly make your life worse without ever getting bad enough to seem worth addressing; it may not destroy your life but it may make you miss opportunities.

But this is also what can make it insidious. Marijuana addiction may quietly make your life worse without ever getting bad enough to seem worth addressing; it may not destroy your life but it may make you miss opportunities. With any pattern of regular drug use, it’s important to continually track whether the risks outweigh the benefits, keeping in mind that addiction itself may distort this calculation. This is especially true with marijuana.

However, as with all other drugs, only a minority of marijuana users ever struggle with addiction. Research suggests that about 10% get hooked—and on average, marijuana addiction lasts six years. Even more than other addictions, marijuana addiction seems to be driven by self-medication of mental health problems—90% of people with marijuana addiction also have another addiction or mental illness, typically alcoholism or antisocial personality disorder.

This suggests that exposing more of the population to marijuana won’t necessarily increase the addicted population. First, people with antisocial personality disorder, by definition, tend not to be law abiding, so most have probably already tried it. Second, the percent of people with other pre-existing mental illness will not change because marijuana becomes legal—in fact, in the UK, when they reversed their prior liberalization of marijuana law because of fears related to increased schizophrenia, psychosis rates actually went up. (The link probably wasn’t causal, but it does suggest that legal crackdowns on cannabis don’t prevent related psychosis).

If some people with alcohol, cocaine or heroin addiction switch to marijuana instead, overall harm would be reduced. As I and others have been reporting at least since 2001, using marijuana as an “exit” drug is a real phenomenon, both in cocaine and opioid addiction.

When we consider the risks of various substances, we tend to do so in isolation—but that’s not how choices are made in the real world. Most people would rather their partners have no addictions—but again, some are clearly worse than others. Marijuana craving is rarely as severe as crack craving, as is obvious.

Still, like anything that can be pleasurable, marijuana can be addictive. This doesn’t mean all addictions are the same or that it is as addictive as the currently legal drugs alcohol and tobacco—the data shows it is less so.

Pretending it can’t do any harm at all, however—or that there aren’t people who are addicted to it—does no one any good. If we want better drug policy, as with other types of recovery, we need to avoid denial.

Maia Szalavitz is one of the nation’s leading neuroscience and addiction journalists, and a columnist at Substance.com. She has contributed to Timethe New York TimesScientific American Mindthe Washington Post and many other publications. She has also published five books, including Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006), and is currently finishing her sixth, Unbroken Brain, which examines why seeing addiction as a developmental or learning disorder can help us better understand, prevent and treat it. Her last column for Substance.com was about why the oft-documented fact that most people age, or grow, out of substance misuse is not common knowledge.

Source: www.substance.com 15th October 2014

Filed under: Addiction,Alcohol,Cannabis/Marijuana,Cocaine,Drug use-various effects,Effects of Drugs,Health,Heroin/Methadone,Social Affairs,USA :

So who supports decriminalising cocaine, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy and all dangerous drugs, including marijuana?

No, it’s not your teenage nephew. It’s President Obama’s new acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta. In 2012, Gupta wrote that  “states should decriminalise simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs.” (Emphasis mine).

Last week, President Obama appointed Vanita Gupta to the position of acting head. According to the Washington Post, the administration plans to nominate her in the next few months to become the permanent assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. Her views on sentencing reform – a bi-partisan effort in recent years – have earned her qualified kudos from some conservatives.

But her radical views on drug policy – including her opinion that states should decriminalise possession of all drugs (cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana and so on) should damper that support of those conservatives, and raise serious concerns on Capitol Hill.

As the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of its Center for Justice, Gupta’s legal and policy positions are well documented in her long paper trail, which, no doubt, will be closely scrutinised if and when she is nominated and gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To begin, she believes that the misnamed war on drugs “is an atrocity and that it must be stopped.” She has written that the war on drugs has been a “war on communities of color” and that the “racial disparities are staggering.” As the reliably-liberal Huffington Post proclaimed, she would be one of the most liberal nominees in the Obama administration.

Throughout her career, 39-year old Gupta has focused mainly on two things related to the criminal justice system: first, what she terms Draconian “mass incarceration,” which has resulted in a “bloated” prison population, and second, the war on drugs and what she believes are its perceived failures.

She is particularly open about her support for marijuana legalisation, arguing in a recent CNN.com op-ed that the “solution is clear: …states could follow Colorado and Washington by taxing and regulating marijuana and investing saved enforcement dollars in education, substance abuse treatment, and prevention and other health care.”

Yet just last week the current Democratic Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, said that legalising recreational use of marijuana was a “reckless.” And there is a growing body of evidence to prove his point: (1) pot-positive auto fatalities have gone up 100 percent in 2012, the year the state legalized pot; (2) the majority of DUI drug arrests involve marijuana and 25 to 40 percent were pot alone; (3) from 2011 through 2013 there was a 57 percent increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits – and there are many other indications of failure. New research, from a 20-year study, proves the dangers of marijuana.

But Gupta does not stop with marijuana. In calling for all drugs to be decriminalised – essentially legalising all dangerous drugs – Gupta displays a gross lack of understanding of the intrinsic dangers of these drugs when consumed in any quantity.

Heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and methanqualone are Schedule I drugs, which are defined as “the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.” Cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol and other drugs are Schedule II drugs, defined as “drugs with a high potential for abuse…with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Sound public policy must be based on facts, not radical unsafe, and dangerous theories.

This article is reproduced by the kind permission of The Daily Signal, the multimedia news site created by the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC.

Source: conservativewoman.co.uk 22nd October 2014Bottom of Form 

Filed under: Cannabis/Marijuana,Cocaine,Global Drug Legalisation Efforts,Heroin/Methadone,Political Sector,USA :

Impact of Methadone on Brain Cell Development

Since 1999, there has been a dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths and addiction to opioid drugs, including both prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin. Increased rates of addiction have also been seen among pregnant women, which has led to a significant increase in the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.  Methadone is a long-acting opioid that is an effective treatment for addiction to opioid drugs and is often used to treat pregnant women. While methadone treatment is safer than non-medical use or abuse of opioids, it is known that methadone can cross the placenta, and little is known about the effects of methadone on an infant’s developing brain. 

During development, some brain cells, including oligodendrocytes, express opioid receptors that bind opioid drugs such as methadone. Oligodendrocytes are involved in multiple complex functions critical to normal brain development, including production of myelin, a substance that enables neurons to send electrical signals and communicate with other cells. In this study, researchers examined the effects of methadone on oligodendrocytes during development in an animal model. Rat pups were exposed to methadone both through the placenta and through maternal milk until postnatal day 14, a period that is equivalent to the third trimester in human pregnancy. The researchers found that therapeutic doses of methadone caused increases in multiple proteins found in myelin and an increase in number of neurons with mature myelin. This accelerated maturation and myelination could potentially disrupt normal connectivity within the developing brain.

These results highlight the importance of understanding how drugs that are used to treat addiction might impact the developing brain of infants prenatally exposed to them. They also raise questions about the impact of methadone on the adolescent brain, which is also still developing.

Source: The Opioid System and Brain Development: Effects of Methadone on the Oligodendrocyte Lineage and the Early Stages of Myelination, Dev Neurosci 2014;36:409–421

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25138998

 

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone :

Drug traffickers in the central city of Da Nang have switched their focus on methamphetamine and heroin from opium and marijuana over the last two years, a senior police officer told a press conference on drug prevention on Friday.

Lieutenant colonel Nguyen Xuan Cuong, Deputy Head of Counter Narcotics Office under the city’s Public Security Department, said the number of traffickers caught with methamphetamine in 2012 was seven times more than the amount in 2011.

Cuong added the city’s narcotics police force last year arrested a total of 128 drug offenders with 921.4 grams of methamphetamine, 54 grams of heroin and 133.6 grams of marijuana extracts.

A report at the conference shows there are an estimated 1,500 addicts and drug users at rehabilitation centers across the city.

Source: www.tuoitrenews.vn   16th June 2013

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Methamphetamine/GHB/Hallucinogens/Oxycodone,Others (International News) :


AUSTRALIAN and international scientists may have found a cure for heroin and morphine addictions.

The discovery could have wide-reaching implications leading to better pain relief without the risk of addiction to prescription drugs, while also helping heroin users kick the habit.

Dr Mark Hutchinson from the University of Adelaide said a team of researchers had shown for the first time that blocking an immune receptor, called TLR4, stopped opioid cravings.

“Both the central nervous system and the immune system play important roles in creating addiction, but our studies have shown we only need to block the immune response in the brain to prevent cravings for opioid drugs,” Dr Hutchinson said.

The scientists, including a team from the University of Colorado Boulder, used an existing drug to target and block the TLR4 receptor. The National Institutes on Drug Abuse in the United States is further developing the drug, which has been proven to work in the laboratory, to test in clinical trials. As a result, clinical trials on patients could be underway in just two to three years time, Dr Hutchinson said.

If the clinical trials were successful, opioid drugs used to treat acute pain could potentially be co-formulated with the additional drugs to limit the chance of addiction. This approach could also treat patients with heroin or other opioid addictions who are admitted to hospital and require pain relief.

These patients generally needed larger doses of drugs like morphine to treat pain because their bodies have developed a higher tolerance. However, Dr Hutchinson said co-formulated drugs would mean these patients could be given lower doses.

“It might make it much easier to treat those already addicted or tolerant populations,” Dr Hutchinson said.

President of the Australian College of the Anaesthetists Dr Lindy Roberts said although opioids were important for the treatment of pain they could have adverse effects. She said treatments that could potentially separate the pain relief aspects of drugs from adverse effects were welcomed.

The findings were published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience

Source: www.The Australian.com 15.08.12

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone :

Concerned that this might on balance cause more deaths by limiting an effective treatment for opiate addiction, an expert panel convened by the US government has changed its mind on whether the risk of a fatal heart attack potentially posed by methadone justifies routine electrocardiogram screening of patients.

Summary

The QT interval (or QTc as corrected for the heart rate) is an indicator of heart function derived from electrocardiogram measures. It refers to the delay between two phases of the electrical activity of the heart which drives it in pumping blood round the body. The health risks associated with a prolonged interval are not clear. It can lead to torsades de pointes, a potentially life threatening heart attack, but some medications prolong the interval yet rarely cause this condition, and it can occur even when the interval is normal. The risk threshold has been set variously at for example 450ms (0.45 seconds) for men and 460ms to 470ms for women or 450ms for both, though it is generally accepted that intervals greater than 500ms pose a significant risk of torsades de pointes.

Some studies have reported that methadone may contribute to the elongation of the QT interval, heightening the risk of torsades de pointes. In response the US government convened an expert panel to assess the risk to patients and make recommendations to enhance their cardiac safety. The featured article is the latest report of that panel, superseding an earlier version.

The panel framed its recommendations on the understanding that methadone must remain widely available because it has been associated with an overall reduction in deaths, there are few therapeutic alternatives, and it is cost-effective. Treatment providers are encouraged to consider the report and take action to the extent that they are clinically, administratively, and financially able to do so, but nothing in the report is intended to create a legal standard of care or accreditation requirement, or to interfere with the judgment of the clinicians treating the patients.

Main findings

Based on evidence published in the peer-reviewed literature, the panel concluded that both oral and intravenous methadone are not just associated with QT prolongation but actually cause it. Prolongation to over 500ms is thought to confer a significant risk of heart arrhythmias. In all but one study of methadone maintenance treatment, a QT of this level was seen in 2% of patients. Taken in the aggregate, the evidence also supports the view that as methadone doses increase, so too does the likelihood of significant QT prolongation.

The panel’s recommendations

Panel members agreed that their recommendations must preserve patients’ access to addiction treatment. Among patients with QT prolongation related to relatively high doses of methadone, it is unclear to what degree reducing doses would risk them relapsing [to illicit opiate use], but higher doses are associated with better treatment retention and better outcomes.

The Panel affirmed that methadone can be used with reasonable assurance that it is effective and that its benefits exceed its risks, providing that the potential for QT prolongation is recognised, that patients receive electrocardiogram screening at indicated intervals, and that appropriate clinical action is taken in the presence of significant QT prolongation.

Panel members agreed that, to the extent possible, every opioid treatment programme should have a cardiac risk management plan with the following elements:
• Clinical assessment: Intake assessments should include: a complete medication history; personal and family history of structural heart disease; any personal history of arrhythmia or syncope (fainting); and use of QT-prolonging medications or illicit drugs such as cocaine which also have this effect.
• Electrocardiogram assessment: Largely due to concerns over the resource implications and its effectiveness in achieving meaningful reductions in methadone-associated cardiac events, panel members and ex officio members could not agree whether to recommend routine electrocardiogram screening within the first 30 days of treatment. However, they did agree that a baseline electrocardiogram at the time of admission and within 30 days should be performed on patients with significant risk factors for QT prolongation. Among these patients, additional tests should be performed annually or whenever the methadone dose exceeds 120mg a day. In addition to scheduled electrocardiograms, any patient who experiences unexplained syncope or generalised seizures should be tested. If marked QT prolongation is documented, torsades de pointes should be suspected and the patient hospitalised for monitoring through telemetry.
• Risk stratification: If the QT interval is over 450ms but less than 500ms, methadone may be initiated or continued, accompanied by a risk-benefit discussion with the patient and more frequent monitoring. For methadone-maintained patients with marked QT prolongation of 500ms or more, strong consideration should be given to adopting a risk minimisation strategy, such as reducing the methadone dose, eliminating other contributing factors, transitioning the patient to an alternative treatment such as buprenorphine, or discontinuing methadone treatment.

Methadone-related cardiac risk should be mentioned in the informed consent document presented to patients at intake, and patients should receive plain-language educational materials explaining this risk. Medical staff too should be educated about the risks posed by a prolonged QT interval and trained in assessing patients for risk of torsades de pointes and other cardiac problems.

The panel acknowledged that acting on these conclusions will challenge many opioid addiction treatment programmes. Identifying clinically relevant QT prolongation remains difficult, given the variability of electrocardiogram machine measurements and the difficulty of defining the precise risk a prolonged QT portends for any given individual. Programmes will find it a challenge to integrate cardiac arrhythmia risk assessment into the care of opioid-addicted patients without reducing access to vital addiction treatment services. The panel was also aware that not all methadone maintenance treatment providers can administer an electrocardiogram to every patient in all the circumstances they recommended. Opioid addiction treatment programmes and other providers are encouraged to consider implementing these conclusions to the extent that they are practically or financially capable of doing so.

Source: Martin J.A., Campbell A., Killip T. et al.
Journal of Addictive Diseases: 2011, 30, p. 283–306.

Filed under: Addiction,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

A change in the formula of the frequently abused prescription painkiller OxyContin has many abusers switching to a drug that is potentially more dangerous, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The formula change makes inhaling or injecting the opioid drug more difficult, so many users are switching to heroin, the scientists report in the July 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

For nearly three years, the investigators have been collecting information from patients entering treatment for drug abuse. More than 2,500 patients from 150 treatment centers in 39 states have answered survey questions about their drug use with a particular focus on the reformulation of OxyContin. The widely prescribed pain-killing drug originally was thought to be part of the solution to the abuse of opioid drugs because OxyContin was designed to be released into the system slowly, thus not contributing to an immediate “high.” But drug abusers could evade the slow-release mechanism by crushing the pills and inhaling the powder, or by dissolving the pills in water and injecting the solution, getting an immediate rush as large amounts of oxycodone entered the system all at once.

In addition, because OxyContin was designed to be a slow-release form of the generic oxycodone, the pills contained large amounts of the drug, making it even more attractive to abusers. Standard oxycodone tablets contained smaller amounts of the drug and did not produce as big a rush when inhaled or injected.
Then in 2010, a new formulation of the drug was introduced. The new pills were much more difficult to crush and dissolved more slowly. The idea, according to principal investigator Theodore J. Cicero, PhD, was to make the drug less attractive to illicit users who wanted to experience an immediate high.

“Our data show that OxyContin use by inhalation or intravenous administration has dropped significantly since that abuse-deterrent formulation came onto the market,” says Cicero, a professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry. “In that sense, the new formulation was very successful.”

The researchers still are analyzing data, but Cicero says they wanted to make their findings public as quickly as possible. The new report appears as a letter to the editor in the journal. Although he found that many users stopped using OxyContin, they didn’t stop using drugs.

“The most unexpected, and probably detrimental, effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation was that it contributed to a huge surge in the use of heroin, which is like OxyContin in that it also is inhaled or injected,” he says. “We’re now seeing reports from across the country of large quantities of heroin appearing in suburbs and rural areas. Unable to use OxyContin easily, which was a very popular drug in suburban and rural areas, drug abusers who prefer snorting or IV drug administration now have shifted either to more potent opioids, if they can find them, or to heroin.”

Since the researchers started gathering data from patients admitted to drug treatment centers, the number of users who selected OxyContin as their primary drug of abuse has decreased from 35.6 percent of respondents before the release of the abuse-deterrent formulation to 12.8 percent now.

When users answered a question about which opioid they used to get high “in the past 30 days at least once,” OxyContin fell from 47.4 percent of respondents to 30 percent. During the same time period, reported use of heroin nearly doubled.
In addition to answering a confidential questionnaire when admitted to a drug treatment program, more than 125 of the study subjects also agreed to longer phone interviews during which they discussed their drug use and the impact of the new OxyContin formulation on their individual choices.

“When we asked if they had stopped using OxyContin, the normal response was ‘yes,'” Cicero says. “And then when we asked about what drug they were using now, most said something like: ‘Because of the decreased availability of OxyContin, I switched to heroin.'”

These findings may explain why so many law enforcement officials around the country are reporting increases in heroin use, Cicero says. He compares attempts to limit illicit drug use to a levee holding back floodwaters. Where the new formulation of OxyContin may have made it harder for abusers to use that particular drug, the “water” of illicit drug use simply has sought out other weak spots in the “levee” of drug policy.

“This trend toward increases in heroin use is important enough that we want to get the word out to physicians, regulatory officials and the public, so they can be aware of what’s happening,” he says. “Heroin is a very dangerous drug, and dealers always ‘cut’ the drug with something, with the result that some users will overdose. As users switch to heroin, overdoses may become more common.”
Funding for this research comes from the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, which provided an unrestricted research grant to fund the Survey of Key Informants’ Patients (SKIP) Program, a component of the RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addition-Related Surveillance) System.

Source: . Effect of Abuse-Deterrent Formulation of OxyContin. New England Journal of Medicine, 2012; 367 (2): 187 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1204141


Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

Kouimtsidis C., Reynolds M., Coulton S. et al.
Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy: 2011, early online publication.
Request reprint using your default e-mail program or write to Dr Kouimtsidis at drckouimtsidis@hotmail.com

Compromised by an inability to interest enough patients, the only randomised UK trial of cognitive-behavioural therapy for methadone patients was unable to be definitive but did find some signs of benefit and that the therapy had pulled some of the intended psychological levers.

Summary Cognitive approaches to treating substance misuse problems are still relatively new and it is important to understand how they work. Relevant treatment models emphasise the role of: self-efficacy to cope with situations associated with drug use without using; developing skills to cope with these situations as well as skills to generate broader lifestyle changes; and changing patients’ expectations of the positives and negatives of using the substance. Successful treatment is theorised to result from a reduction in the extent to which patients expect positive outcomes from substance use, an increase in their negative expectations, and enhanced self-efficacy and coping skills.

The featured study was the first study to directly test this model in the context of substitution treatment for opiate dependence. The findings derive from the UKCBTMM United Kingdom Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Study In Methadone Maintenance Treatment. study, which investigated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural therapy for patients in opiate substitute prescribing programmes, itself the first randomised controlled trial of a psychosocial intervention in this setting in the UK.

At several UK treatment centres, the study randomly allocated substitute prescribing patients to keyworking only or keyworking plus cognitive-behavioural therapy, and assessed whether the additional therapy improved outcomes six and 12 months later. Additional therapy was offered weekly for 24 weeks but typically patients attended only four sessions. Therapists and keyworkers were recruited from existing staff and the therapists were trained and supervised in the therapy.

Perhaps because so few patients were eligible for and prepared to join the trial (just 60 did so of 369 who were eligible), though there were outcome gains from the extra therapy, none were statistically significant. Nevertheless, as measured by their effect sizes, A standard way of expressing the magnitude of a difference (eg, between outcomes in control and intervention groups) applicable to most quantitative data. Enables different measures taken in different studies to be compared or (in meta-analyses) combined. Based on expressing the difference in the average outcomes between control and experimental groups as a proportion of how much the outcome varies across both groups. The most common statistic used to quantify this difference is called Cohen’s d. Conventionally this is considered to indicate a small effect when no greater than 0.2, a medium effect when around 0.5, and a large effect when at least 0.8. In the featured study effect sizes were expected to be about 0.3. the gains were as large as expected in terms of reductions in the severity of addiction and heroin use, and improved compliance with prescribed methadone use. The cost of the extra therapy was more than outweighed by savings in health, social, economic, work, and criminal justice costs. Perhaps because patients had already been in methadone treatment for on average five months, these savings were less than in some other studies, and the difference in cost savings between therapy and non-therapy groups was not statistically significant.

Main findings

However, the featured report was less concerned with whether extra cognitive-behavioural therapy improved the end result of methadone treatment, than with how it might have done so. One way was expected to be by improving how well patients coped with life’s problems, a concept measured by a standard questionnaire which assessed different aspects of this ability. Relative to keyworking only, as expected, at six months the therapy was followed by a significant improvement in the degree to which patients positively reappraised problems, and a non-significant improvement in problem solving. Other domains where additional improvements were expected (logical analysis, seeking guidance and seeking alternatives) improved to roughly the same degree regardless of the extra therapy. Six months later (and 12 months after therapy had started) a similar analysis revealed that nearly all the expected mechanisms had improved after cognitive-behavioural therapy but deteriorated without it. The exception was logical analysis, where the reverse pattern was seen. Despite these trends, none of differences between patients who had or had not been offered cognitive-behavioural therapy were statistically significant, so chance variation could not be ruled out.

As expected, the degree to which patients felt confident that they could resist the urge to use drugs (‘self-efficacy’) increased after cognitive-behavioural therapy but decreased (at six months) or increased less (at 12 months) without this therapy. Patients were also asked about the good and bad consequences they expected from cutting down their heroin use. These measures changed in the opposite to what was expected; patients offered the therapy became relatively less positive and more negative about cutting down. Again, none of these differences between the two groups of patients were statistically significant.

Further analyses not reported here assessed changes among only patients who attended at least one session of their intended psychosocial intervention and related changes to the number of therapy sessions attended.

The authors’ conclusions

Though no definite conclusions can be taken from this study, there are indications that the therapy may be effective through at least some of the intended mechanisms, but also that methadone-maintained patients at services as configured in England in the 2000s generally reject the chance for this form of extra therapy.

The fact that few patients were prepared to join the study and that those who did attended few therapy sessions suggest there could be major barriers to implementing cognitive-behavioural therapy in routine practice in the British drug treatment system, perhaps associated with a culture of limited psychological therapy and relatively low expectations of clients’ engagement and compliance with treatment.

With such a small sample there is a heightened possibility that real differences made by the therapy will fail to meet conventional criteria for statistical significance and be mistakenly dismissed as chance variation. That this might have happened is suggested by the fact that the relative increase in days free of heroin use after six months was as great as expected. With a larger sample, it might well have also proved statistically significant. Economic analyses also found non-significant but appreciable net social cost-savings. The featured analysis supplements these outcome findings with indications that cognitive-behavioural therapy may have fostered some but not all of the crucial problem-solving skills.

The main seemingly counter-productive finding related to expectations about the pros and cons of reducing heroin use as measured by a scale yet to be validated. Also, more sessions of therapy did not further enhance the presumed psychological mechanisms through which the therapy worked. Nor were these mechanisms significantly related to substance use and other outcomes – again, perhaps due to the small sample size.

While appreciating the limits set by sample size, the non-significant trends suggesting that the therapy worked though the intended mechanisms were generally small in size. Of 22 comparisons between the two sets of patients, in only one had a mechanism (positively reappraising life’s problems) changed to a statistically significant degree in the expected direction – a result to be expected purely by chance. Together with a few counterproductive trends, these minor changes in the mechanisms thought to be specific to cognitive-behavioural therapy do not suggest it has a special role (that is, over and above other forms of psychological therapy) as a supplement to routine keyworking in the circumstances of the trial. At the same time the findings suggest that extra therapeutic contact did help stabilise patients who were prepared to accept it. Whether this needed to be cognitive-behavioural or a recognised therapy of any kind is impossible to tell from the study. Broader research offers little support for a distinctive role in addiction treatment for cognitive-behavioural approaches, results from which are generally equivalent to other approaches. It also seems that, at least in the mid 2000s, a steep hill remained to be climbed before formal psychological interventions of any kind were routinely and expertly implemented inBritain’s methadone clinics. How far that has changed is unclear. Details below.

CBT in methadone treatment

Guidelines from Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend cognitive-behavioural therapy not as a routine means of further stabilising patients, but to help with lingering anxiety and/or depression among those already stabilised in maintenance treatment. However, the analyses which led NICE to counsel against routine use did not show that cognitive-behavioural therapy was ineffective, just that it was not convincingly more effective than other well structured therapies.

Published in 2007, these guidelines did not have available to them the latest update of an authoritative meta-analytic A study which uses recognised procedures to combine quantitative results from several studies of the same or similar interventions to arrive at composite outcome scores. Usually undertaken to allow the intervention’s effectiveness to be assessed with greater confidence than on the basis of the studies taken individually. review conducted for the Cochrane collaboration which combined results from studies comparing structured psychosocial interventions against normal counselling among methadone and other opiate substitution patients. Taking in new studies available up to 2011, it found that overall such interventions had improved neither retention nor outcomes (including opiate use) to a statistically significant degree. In particular, the same was true of the family of behavioural interventions including cognitive-behavioural therapy. Contrary to expectations, this update found contingency management conferred no significant benefits, contradicting both its earlier findings and the NICE guidelines referred to above.

In the Cochrane review, verdicts in respect of cognitive-behavioural therapy rested on three studies, one of which does not appear to have reported substance use outcomes but did find greater improvements in psychological health. Relative to drug counselling alone, so too did a study of male US ex-military personnel starting methadone treatment. A year later, in this study cognitive-behavioural patients had improved more on a much wider range of psychological, social and crime measures, but not in respect of substance use. From methadone plus routine drug counselling only, so complete were the reductions in opiate use that little space was left for additional therapy to further improve outcomes. These two US studies are supplemented by a German study which found that group cognitive-behavioural therapy led to significantly greater post-therapy reductions (at the six-month follow-up) in drug use than routine methadone maintenance alone. The effect was largely due to changes in cocaine use, but there were also minor extra improvements in abstinence from opiate-type drugs and benzodiazepines. What these three studies suggest is that offering extra psychotherapy (not necessarily cognitive-behavioural therapy in particular) improves psychological and social adjustment and perhaps too helps reduce non-opiate substance use, but that methadone maintenance itself as implemented in these studies was such a powerful anti-opiate use intervention that further gains on this front were harder to engineer.

CBT in substance use treatment generally

If in terms of core substance use outcomes, cognitive-behavioural therapy in methadone maintenance does little to improve on routine counselling, this will simply be in line with findings in respect of the therapy’s role in treating drug and alcohol problems in general. A review combining results from relevant studies suggested that it remains to be shown that cognitive-behavioural therapies are more effective than other similarly extensive and coherent approaches. Studies which directly tested this proposition often found little or no difference, even when the competing therapy amounted simply to well structured medical care.

The implication is that choice of therapy can be made on the basis of what makes most sense to patient and therapist, availability, cost, and the therapist’s training. In respect of cost and availability, cognitive-behavioural therapy may (more evidence is needed) prove to have two important advantages. The first is that effects may persist and even amplify without having to continue in therapy. The second is that it lends itself to manualisation to the point where it can be packaged as an interactive computer program and made available in services lacking trained therapists – potentially a crucial advantage for widespread implementation.

Will CBT help methadone patients leave treatment?

Beyond core substance use outcomes is what in Britain is now a priority issue – whether more intensive therapy, even if it seems to add little to the powerful opiate use reduction effect of methadone treatment, might help people gain sufficient psychological and social stability to leave this treatment, and leave it sooner. In respect of psychotherapy in general and cognitive-behavioural therapy in particular, this remains a live possibility with some support from studies of during and post-treatment changes, though none have directly tested whether these enable patients to more safely leave the shelter of substitute prescribing programmes.

However, from the starting point revealed by the featured study, there seems a long way to go before structured psychosocial interventions of any kind are routine in Britain’s methadone services. An earlier report from the study commented that services were overstretched and understaffed and suffered from high staff turnover. Very few staff had been trained in psychological interventions and sometimes even basic individual client keyworking was extremely limited. Difficulties in engaging clients in the study were attributed partly to a low level of psychological interventions in services, which in turn led to low expectations of clients engaging with these interventions. Perhaps too, the authors speculated, some clients were reluctant to become involved in more intensive treatment or to address psychological issues not previously identified in usual clinical care. Most tellingly, the researchers observed “a nihilistic view of psychological intervention and clients’ capacity for change among some staff”.

In this climate, and with the added burden of research procedures, the small proportion of patients prepared to accept therapy and attend more than a few sessions is likely to be an underestimate of the possible caseload if cognitive-behavioural therapy were well promoted as a part of usual care, especially if elements of the approach were incorporated in keyworking rather than offered as an optional add-on.

In a different set of services probably sampled in the mid-2000s, perfunctory brief encounters focused on dose, prescribing and dispensing arrangements, attendance records, and regulatory and disciplinary issues characterised the keyworking service offered by some British criminal justice teams to offenders on opiate substitute prescribing programmes. However, ‘relapse prevention’ was the most common therapeutic activity in the sessions, featuring in 44% of the last sessions recalled by the staff, a term often taken to imply cognitive-behavioural approaches. What staff included under this heading was unclear, and the time given to it averaged just seven minutes, but is does suggest that there is a platform which could be built on. Unfortunately the need to do this building to foster recovery and treatment exit has coincided with resource constraints which make widespread training in and implementation of fully fledged therapy programmes seem unlikely.

Thanks for their comments on this entry in draft to Christos Kouimtsidis of the Herts Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in England. Commentators bear no responsibility for the text including the interpretations and any remaining errors.

Last revised 16 December 2011

Source: www.findings.org.uk

Filed under: Addiction,Addiction (Papers),Education Sector (Papers),Effects of Drugs (Papers),Health,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment,Treatment and Addiction :

A clinical trial to test better treatment options for chronic heroin addiction is expected to begin in Vancouver at the end of this year. Led by researchers from Providence Health Care and the University of British Columbia, it’s the only clinical trial of its kind in North America.

The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) is a carefully controlled three-year clinical trial that will test whether hydromorphone (Dilaudid(R)), a licensed pain medication, is as effective as diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient of heroin, at engaging the most vulnerable long-term street heroin users, so they will enroll in treatment programs and end their use of illicit drugs.

The intent of the SALOME project is to determine whether some participants become healthier and reduce their illicit drug use or are able to switch to other forms of treatment. SALOME also intends to test if, after stabilizing patients on injectable medications, they can transition to oral formulations without losing effectiveness.

This study builds on the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), which was North America’s first-ever clinical trial of prescribed heroin that took place from 2005 to 2008. NAOMI, which also was led by researchers from Providence Health Care and UBC, was a randomized trial aimed at testing whether medically prescribed heroin (diacetylmorphine) was more effective than methadone therapy for individuals with chronic heroin addiction who were not benefiting from other conventional treatments.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that patients treated with the prescribed heroin were more likely to stay in treatment or quit heroin altogether and more likely to reduce their use of illegal drugs and other illegal activities than patients treated with oral methadone.

In the NAOMI study, the researchers also provided a small sample of patients with injectable hydromorphone, (Dilaudid(R)). An unexpected finding was that injection patients could not accurately discriminate whether they were receiving prescribed heroin or hydromorphone. The researchers also observed similar results and benefits with both these drugs although the small number of participants receiving hydromorphone did not permit any definite and scientifically valid conclusions to be drawn as to the efficacy of hydromorphone as a viable treatment option.

Should hydromorphone be proven to be as affective as heroin, the benefits of this form of injectable treatment may be more feasible and achievable without the emotional and regulatory barriers often presented by heroin maintenance.
SALOME, led by Dr. Michael Krausz, the Providence Health Care/UBC B.C. Leadership Chair in Addiction Research and Dr. Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, Providence Health Care researcher and an assistant professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, will enroll 322 individuals with chronic heroin dependency who currently are not sufficiently benefiting from conventional therapies, such as methadone treatment, at one site based in Vancouver, BC.

In the first stage, half of the 322 participants will receive injectable prescribed heroin, and the other half will receive injectable hydromorphone. Stage I will involve six-months of treatment. All volunteers retained in injection treatment at the end of Stage I will be eligible to enter Stage II.

In Stage II, half of the participants will then continue injection treatment exactly as in Stage I on a blinded basis while the other half will switch to the oral equivalent of the same medication (prescribed heroin or hydromorphone). Stage II will also involve six-months of treatment.

Throughout the treatment period, social workers will be assigned to both groups to assist them with reaching other addiction services and community resources such as counseling, housing and job training services.

Some 60,000 to 90,000 persons are affected by opioid addiction in Canada. This study will enroll the most chronically drug-dependent members of Vancouver’s population — those who are not benefiting from other treatments, such as methadone therapy and abstinence-based programs, and continue injecting street heroin.

The SALOME study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Government of Canada’s agency responsible for funding health research in Canada, Providence Health Care and the InnerChange Foundation.

Quotes:
Dr. Perry Kendall, BC’s Provincial Health Officer –
“SALOME addresses critical social and ethical concerns dealing with addiction. Opioid-dependent people are in need of treatment options to avoid marginalization from the health care system and this study aims to answer questions that could lead to improvements in the health of persons with chronic addictions and identify new ways of reintegrating this population into society.”

“If the SALOME study shows that hydromorphone can go head-to-head with heroin as an alternative therapy for people who have failed optimally provided methadone, then I think this should be part of the treatment continuum that’s available through licensed physicians.”

Dianne Doyle, Providence Health Care President and CEO –
“Providence Health Care is supporting this research because it is so aligned with our mission, vision and values. We have a very long tradition of providing compassionate care to the most marginalized and needy in our community, including those suffering from addictions.”

“What we need to get from this research is a better understanding of what the right approaches are to treating addicted populations. In particular our hope would be that we could find a new approach for those people who are addicted and not benefiting from current approaches to care. This treatment option would be one more component of a range of services offered by Providence Health Care and Vancouver Coastal Health, all of which are intended to reduce the harm to individuals and others from drug use, and to support recovery from addiction and mental illness.”

About Providence Health Care

Providence Health Care is one of Canada’s largest faith-based health care organizations, operating 15 facilities within Vancouver Coastal Health. Guided by the principle “How you want to be treated,” PHC’s 1,200 physicians, 6,000 staff and 1,500 volunteers deliver compassionate care to patients and residents in British Columbia. Providence’s programs and services span the complete continuum of care and serve people throughout B.C. PHC operates one of two adult academic health science centres in the province, performs cutting-edge research in more than 30 clinical specialties, and focuses its services on six “populations of emphasis”: cardiopulmonary risks and illnesses, HIV/AIDS, mental health, renal risks and illness, specialized needs in aging and urban health.

About the University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is one of North America’s largest public research and teaching institutions, and one of only two Canadian institutions consistently ranked among the world’s 40 best universities. Surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian West, it is a place that inspires bold, new ways of thinking that have helped make it a national leader in areas as diverse as community service learning, sustainability and research commercialization. UBC offers more than 50,000 students a range of innovative programs and attracts $550 million per year in research funding from government, non-profit organizations and industry through 7,000 grants.

To view the first video of the SALOME project, please visit the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFgV_bt8QAU&feature=youtu.be

To view the second video of the SALOME project, please visit the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8xfkkeHpdE&feature=related

Source:  www.marketwatch.com  13th Oct. 2011

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone :

 

BRIAN DONNELLY

THE controversial heroin substitute methadone was implicated in more deaths than the drug itself in two areas of Scotland last year.
The figures for the Lothians show methadone was implicated in 33 deaths, while the comparable figure for heroin was 26. In Grampian, another historical centre of drug abuse, the substitute was a factor in 19 deaths, set against 14 for heroin.
The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF), the national non- government drugs policy and information agency, said the prevalence of the substitute was “concerning”, while Tory health spokesman Murdo Fraser MSP said the figures showed there was a clear breakdown in the support system.

Source: www.Herald Scotland.com 17th Aug. 2011

Filed under: Drug use-various effects,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

 

A new study by a team of researchers in California shows it is possible to vaccinate laboratory animals against the effects of heroin. The vaccine not only blunted the painkilling action of heroin, it also prevented rats from becoming addicted to the drug. It didn’t keep the animals from gaining pain relief from many other opiates, suggesting the vaccine targets just heroin and a few related compounds. The experiments at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, reported in the current edition of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, are the latest effort to bring the power of the immune system to bear against addictive substances. The next task is to see whether the vaccine prevents relapse in previously addicted and then detoxified rats.

Source: Reported in St.Petersburg Times July 28th 2011

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

A new study suggests that abuse of prescription opioids may be a first step on the path toward misuse of heroin and other injected drugs.
Science Daily reports that the researchers found four out of five injection drug users misused an opioid drug before they injected heroin. They also found that almost one out of four young injection drug users first injected a prescription opioid, and most later switched to injecting heroin.
The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found that risk factors for misusing opioid drugs include family history of drug misuse, and a past history of receiving prescriptions for opioids.
“Participants were commonly raised in households where misuse of prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol, was normalized,” lead researcher Dr. Stephen Lankenau, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, said in a news release. “Access to prescription medications – either from a participant’s own source, a family member, or a friend – was a key feature of initiation into prescription drug misuse.”
The study included 50 injection drug users between the ages of 16 to 25. They had all misused a prescription drug at least three times in the past three months. Nearly three-fourths of participants had been prescribed an opioid, often for dental procedures or sports injuries. Most had family members who misused one or more substances. The authors called on parents to carefully monitor and safeguard prescription drugs, especially opioids, in their home

Source: International Journal of Drug Policy June 2011

Filed under: Addiction,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

Prescription narcotics were involved in more drug overdose deaths in 2007 than heroin and cocaine combined, according to a new article. And in some states, the number of deaths from prescription painkiller overdose is higher than suicide or car crashes.
Approximately 27,500 people died from unintentional prescription narcotics overdoses in 2007, driven to a large extent by prescription narcotics overdoses, said researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Narcotics pain medications were also involved in about 36 percent of all poisoning suicides in the U.S. in 2007.
many deaths from both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, from the beginning of both wars through Feb. 20, 2011, said study researcher Dr. Richard H. Weisler, an adjunct professor of psychiatry at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University.
Alternatively, the drug overdose deaths would be equivalent to losing an airplane carrying 150 passengers and crew every day for six months, researchers said.
The study findings come on the tail of another article published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that the risk of fatal overdose increases with the dose of drugs taken (though taking the medications as needed or as prescribed was not associated with overdose risk).
In 2009, the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 1 in 5 high school students in the United States have abused prescription drugs, including the narcotics painkillers OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Narcotics, also called opioids, are synthetic versions of opium that are used to treat moderate and severe pain.
And in June last year, the CDC reported that visits to hospital emergency departments involving nonmedical use of prescription narcotic pain relievers has more than doubled, rising 111 percent, between 2004 and 2008.
Researchers said one of the key reasons for the increase in prescription drug overdose deaths is increased nonmedical use of narcotics without a prescription because of the feeling it produces. They also said that medical providers, psychiatrists and primary care physicians may fail to anticipate the extent of overlap between chronic pain, mental illness and substance abuse among their patients.
For example, 15 percent to 30 percent of people with unipolar, bipolar, anxiety, psychotic, non-psychotic and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders will also have substance abuse problems, said study researcher Dr. Ashwin A. Patkar, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.
“Similarly, people with substance abuse are more likely to have another mental illness and a significant number of patients with chronic pain will have mental illness or substance abuse problems,” Patkar said in a statement.
Moreover, narcotics, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and sleep aids are commonly prescribed even though they are harmful and addictive when abused, researchers said. It’s the combinations of these drugs that are frequently found in the toxicology reports of people dying of overdoses.
Researchers suggest that before prescribing narcotics, doctors should try non-narcotic medications as well as — when possible — physical therapy, psychotherapy, exercise and other nonmedicinal methods.
The study was published last week in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Pass it on: Overdosing on narcotic painkillers accounts for more deaths than from heroin and cocaine combined.

Source:www.myhealthnewsdaily.com 27th April 2011

Filed under: Cocaine,Health,Heroin/Methadone :

Some 56 heroin-dependent patients who had undergone detoxification treatment and were particularly motivated to remain heroin-free took part in a research study. Half of the participants were implanted with a total of 20 subcutaneous pellets containing naltrexone, which was gradually released from a saline solution with the aim of producing a six-month blockage effect. All the participants continued their normal follow-up treatments while the study was ongoing.
After six months, over twice as many in the group receiving naltrexone as in the control group (11 out of 23 as opposed to 5 out of 26) managed to refrain from using heroin and other morphine substances. Heroin use among those patients receiving naltrexone who did not manage to discontinue using heroin altogether was more than halved compared with their level of heroin use before they started treatment. In the control group the majority of patients relapsed to daily heroin use.
Satisfaction with the naltrexone implants was high. On a scale from 0 to 100 the participants gave the capsules a score of 85.

Clear-cut findings

Helge Waal, Professor emeritus at SERAF, would like to see the naltrexone implant included as one of the treatment options offered to heroin-dependent patients in Norway.
“Although this is a relatively small-scale study, the findings are so clear-cut that we think this should become an important treatment option for substance abusers.”

Source: The Research Council of Norway (2011, February 17) Retrieved February 18, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com

Filed under: Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

EDINBURGH: The Scottish Executive’s anti-drug abuse policy was criticized sharply yesterday following a report that the government recommended heroin-substitute methadone is 97% ineffective.

Methadone, a drug used for recovery from heroin addiction, has a success rate of no more than 3.4%, according to Professor Neil McKeganey, chief researcher for Glasgow University’s Centre for Drug Misuse Research. McKeganey has just concluded a study on the effectiveness of the £12m a year Methadone programme.

The study observed a group of 695 heroin addicts who started taking treatment in 2001 at 33 different addiction centers across Scotland. A large percentage of this group was given methadone-based care while the rest were put on rehabilitation. Their progress was recorded over interviews 33 months after they started the treatment to see if they had become drug-free over a 90-day period.

The group given only-methadone had a very poor 3.4 percent recovery rate from drug addiction; whereas the group placed in residential rehabilitation (with no methadone throughout the treatment) showed a 29% success rate.

A key difference in methadone’s success rates between Scotland and England was also pointed out. While England emphasizes on getting people off drugs entirely, Scotland’s drug policy lacks any such direction; as a result, addicts simply substitute methadone with heroin.

McKeganey’s previous research had revealed a greater inclination to commit crimes among methadone patients when compared with addicts placed on abstinence programmes. People in the latter group also showed twice the level of interest in finding a job.

While the report makes no recommendation, sharp reactions have come in from various quarters demanding the Executive at least review its drug policy if not entirely scrap methadone. Tory leader Anabel Goldie said she recommended more investment in residential rehabilitation centres.

Meanwhile an official at the Greater Glasgow NHS facility said methadone may not be suitable for everyone but many addicts do benefit from it. He also said the government was looking to offer “a wider package of support” that would include rehabilitation, education and training, to addicts.

Source: Earthtimes.org. 30.10.06

Filed under: Addiction,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

Addicts require support from other recovering addicts, said the study.
Researchers believe they have identified some of the critical factors that determine whether alcoholics and heroin users can recover.
A study of more than 200 people in Glasgow found that spending time with other recovering addicts made success more likely.
Another predictor of success was whether addicts had something else in their lives to focus on, such as work.
The findings are due to be discussed at a conference in Glasgow.
The research was led by Dr David Best, a reader in criminal justice at the University of the West of Scotland.
“We found that the quality of life maintained by people in methadone maintained recovery wasn’t as good as for people in abstinent recovery” said Dr David Best Researcher He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Addiction becomes an all-consuming and all-encompassing thing for people “In order for them to meaningfully sustain a recovery, it means it’s not sufficient to have just clinical interventions.
“There have to be a range of replacement activities and the more socially and community-based they are – including things like volunteering, parenting, education and training and obviously working – the more that void is filled and the more successfully individuals manage to build up an architecture of life that replaces that time spent in active addiction.”
The study also considered the role that methadone played in recovery.
Dr Best said: “Certainly as far as our research was concerned, we found that the quality of life maintained by people in methadone maintained recovery wasn’t as good as for people in abstinent recovery.
“It fits with previous research that we’ve done which has shown that there are some long-term effects of methadone, particularly around cognitive functioning, which may act as a mechanism for blunting the aspiration and hope and quality of life.
“It doesn’t mean recovery’s not possible in methadone but there may be some limitations to the extent of it.”
The study, which marks the first Recovery Academy conference in the city, drew parallels between alcoholism and heroin addiction.
Researchers said few differences were noted in the paths to recovery.Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing, one of the speakers at the conference, said: “The Scottish government’s national drugs strategy, the Road to Recovery, recently reconfirmed by the Scottish Parliament, provides the framework for a fundamental change in our approach to tackling problem drug use through a focus on recovery.
“The Recovery Academy conference, the first of its kind in Scotland, provides the perfect platform for assessing the progress that is being made through this enhanced focus.
“Recovery from serious drug addiction is possible and the research being presented today clearly enhances our knowledge of the challenges faced.”
The event, taking place at the city’s Woodside Halls, is part of the wider Recovery Weekend, which invites people dealing with the effects of addiction, their families and friends to gather in Glasgow to meet and share ideas.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland 24th Sept.2010

Filed under: Alcohol,Heroin/Methadone,Treatment and Addiction :

“This report summarises the key findings from a report exploring public attitudes towards illegal drugs and drug misuse in Scotland, based on data from the 2009 Scottish Social Attitudes survey. It focuses in particular on attitudes towards opiate misuse, and on views of potential policy responses to this. However, it also places such attitudes in the context of wider views and experiences of illegal drugs.”

Main Findings
■ Support for legalising cannabis – which increased in Scotland (as in the rest of the UK) in the late 1990s – has fallen considerably in more recent years, from 37% in 2001 to 24% in 2009. Attitudes towards prosecution for possession of cannabis for personal use also hardened between 2001 and 2009.

■ Most people said taking cocaine occasionally is wrong – 76% rated it as 4 or 5 on a scale where 5 meant ‘very seriously wrong’.

■ 45% of people agreed that ‘Most people who end up addicted to heroin have only themselves to blame’, while just 27% disagreed.

■ Around half (53%) disagreed that ‘most heroin users come from difficult backgrounds’ (29% agreed).

■ Among those in paid employment, around half (47%) said they would be ‘very’ or ‘fairly comfortable’ working alongside someone they knew had used heroin in the past, while around 1 in 5 would be uncomfortable.

■ Just a quarter (26%) said they would be comfortable with someone who was receiving help to stop using heroin moving near to them, while half (49%) would be uncomfortable.

■ There was no public consensus on what should be the top government priority for tackling heroin use in Scotland – 32% chose ‘tougher penalties for those who take heroin’, 32% ‘more help for people who want to stop using heroin’ and 28% ‘more education about drugs’.

■ Just 16% agreed that people who possess heroin for personal use should not be prosecuted (compared with 34% for cannabis).

■ Public support for providing clean needles to injecting drug users fell from 62% in 2001 to 50% in 2009.

■ Opinion on educating young people about safer drug use was split – 44% agreed that young people should be given information about how to use drugs more safely, but 40% disagreed.

■ Four out of five (80%) agreed that ‘the only real way of helping drug addicts is to get them to stop using drugs altogether’. However, 29% agreed that ‘most heroin users can never stop using drugs completely’, while 27% said they neither agreed nor disagreed or did not know.

■ 63% disagreed that ‘Someone who has been a heroin addict can never make a good parent, even if their drug problems are in the past’.

■ Around two thirds (64%) said that young children of heroin users should be placed into temporary foster care until the parents stop taking heroin. A further 1 in 5 believed the child should stay at home while the family receives help from social workers and just 8% said the child should be permanently adopted by another family.

The full report is also accessible online.

Source: http://uwsnealb.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/scottish-social-attitudes-survey-2009-public-attitudes-to-drugs-and-drug-use-in-scotland/ May 25 2010

Filed under: Cannabis/Marijuana,Cocaine,Drug use-various effects,Education,Heroin/Methadone,Youth :

MULTIPLE DRUG USE NOW THE NORM, HEROIN SHUNNED BY YOUNG
Government drug policy is too centred on heroin abuse, fails to take account of the realities of current usage trends and needs to focus on individual user behaviour if it is to reflect the true picture and formulate meaningful responses, a leading academic at National University of Ireland Maynooth urged.
‘A Dizzying Array of Substances; An Ethnographic Study of Drug Use in the Canal Communities’ is the result of a long-term study which closely examined the realities of drug use in local life of Rialto, Bluebell and Inchicore, three communities served by the Canal Communities Local Drugs Task Force. It was led by principal investigator Dr A Jamie Saris and primary field researcher Fiona O’Reilly at the Department of Anthropology, NUI Maynooth.
The ethnographic research, carried out mostly in 2008 and early 2009, gives the most compelling evidence to date that multiple drug use is the norm amongst drug users in the Canal Communities and, the researchers concluded, most probably in other areas.
“The big problem is that as far as government is concerned, ‘drugs’, from a treatment perspective, has traditionally meant heroin. Thus, the apparent leveling off of the need for a very opiate-centric treatment service in the Canal Communities in recent years is deceptive” said Dr Saris.
Besides the ethnographic work, the study surveyed, on a long term basis, 92 people using either heroin or methadone in the study area. Unsurprisingly most of those surveyed were on methadone (98%). Of those surveyed:
•63% claimed to have used heroin in the previous three months
•30% had used crack cocaine
•22% had used powder cocaine
•46% had also taken street tranqu