Internet

Oxford academics say sales of synthetic opioid drug are proliferating on illicit websites, with Britain a significant player

Drug paraphernalia seized by North Yorkshire police in a recent case. Photograph: North Yorkshire police/PA

The UK is the largest host of fentanyl sales on the darknet in Europe, with 1,000 trades being made in the last few months, research shows.

Experts at the Oxford Internet Institute said the UK was a “significant player” in the trade of the synthetic opioid, a controlled class A drug that can be up to 100 times stronger than heroin. They warned that the drug was increasingly appearing on illicit websites.

It follows repeated warnings from the National Crime Agency for people to be “vigilant about fentanyl to protect themselves and their loved ones”, following at least 60 deaths linked to the substance.

A team at the institute has been scraping the world’s largest darknet marketplaces since April 2017. It found that the US accounts for almost 40% of global darknet trade, followed by Canada (15%) and Australia (12%). The largest seller in Europe is the UK (9%), followed by Germany, accounting for 5% of sales.

Joss Wright, a research fellow at the institute, said: “Why is the UK a significant player? … It’s because we have a relatively strong tech sector and users of the web, but also geographically the UK is quite well placed for trade coming from the US.”

He said that since data gathering began in April, there had been 4,850 trades in the US and about 1,000 in the UK.

Darknet markets or cryptomarkets have been operating since the launch of Silk Road in February 2011. On the darknet, those selling substances are able to remain relatively anonymous as their IP addresses are masked. People buy drugs using the online currency bitcoin.

Mark Graham, a professor of internet geography at the institute, said: “Many of the sellers in places like the US, Canada, and western Europe are likely intermediaries rather than producers themselves. While darknet marketplaces can, in theory, be accessed from anywhere in the world, our data suggests that there is often a local geography of trading. In other words, buyers tend to buy from domestic rather than international sellers.”

Two men were jailed last month for importing fentanyl and other class A drugs before selling them on the darknet. Ross Brennan, 29, from York, was sentenced to more than 13 years after making hundreds of thousands of pounds with 27-year-old Aarron Gledhill from Huddersfield, who was sentenced to just under four years for his part in the crime.

In what has been described as the first case of its kind in the UK because of their sophisticated use of technology, police searched Brennan’s property and found drugs with a street value of tens of thousands of pounds. They also seized a Chemistry for Dummies book, address labels, bags of cutting powder, a mixing machine, a microscope, a set of scales and packages from around the world.

The offences took place between 2013 and 2016. Between June and September 2015 alone, Brennan made 225 transactions using a dark website called AlphaBay, which has since been shut down.

Wright said fentanyl was appearing “more and more” on the dark web. “There has been a rise in the number of sales of that product … the darknet is a good place to buy things with extra guarantees of security and there is increasing trade there,” he said.

In response, some darknet marketplaces – including the drug market Hansa, which was shut down in July – had started banning fentanyl sales amid concerns it would attract too much attention from law enforcement, he said.

Judith Aldridge, a criminologist at the University of Manchester, said she would be surprised if sales of fentanyl did not increase. “Interestingly, over the past 12 months we’ve seen a demonisation of fentanyl, with many in the darknet community opposed to their sales on crypto-markets.”

Dr Andres Baravalle, from the University of East London, said research showed that 398 of 36,000 darknet adverts had mentioned fentanyl so far in 2017.

The Global Drug Survey 2017 said: “Despite disruptions from law enforcement efforts and scams, the size and scale of darknet markets for drugs continues to grow. At the time of the report there were over 20 functioning markets, according to dnstats.net.”

Graham, from the institute, said this had not deterred dealers. “Our research so far shows that shutting down these marketplaces has not reduced the total amount of trade. It’s a whack-a-mole game, so it is not reducing demand and supply … when you shut down one website another pops up. There is no indication it’s radically reducing demand or supply on these markets.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/16/uk-accounts-for-largest-share-of-darknet-fentanyl-sales-in-europe October 2017

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

Two 13-year-old boys in the ski town of Park City, Utah died within 48 hours of each other in September, likely overdosing on a powerful heroin substitute that had been delivered — legally — to their homes by the U.S. mail, and is now turning up in cities across the nation.

Ryan Ainsworth was found dead on his couch two days after his best friend Grant Seaver passed away. “I wish I had been better warned,” sang one of their friends at a massive memorial service. “But now it’s too late.”

The death toll could have been worse, say investigators, since as many as 100 Park City students had apparently been discussing the drug “Pink” on SnapChat and other social media.

“This stuff is so powerful that if you touch it, you could go into cardiac arrest,” Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter told NBC News. “The problem is if you have a credit card and a cell phone, you have access to it.”

One toxicology lab has linked 80 deaths to the synthetic opioid known as Pink. DEA

Pink, better known by chemists as U-47700, is eight times stronger than heroin, and is part of a family of deadly synthetic opioids, all of them more powerful than heroin, that includes ifentanyl, carfentanil and furanyl fentanyl. By themselves or mixed with other drugs, in forms ranging from pills to powder to mists, they’re killing thousands of people across the country, say law enforcement and health officials. The powerful, ersatz opioids are part of a surge of synthetic drugs, including bath salts and mock-ups of ecstasy, being shipped into the U.S. from China and other nations.

So far, however, only four states have made Pink illegal. It can still be ordered legally on-line and delivered to your home. The internet has many websites a Google search away where the drug is available for as little as $5 plus shipping.

Melissa Davidson, mother of a Park City teen who had friends in common with the dead boys, showed NBC News on her home computer screen how easy it was to find the drug for sale with just a few keystrokes. “Look! There are like pages and pages that you can buy this stuff online.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, total opioid overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, rising from 8,050 to 28,647. The portion of those deaths caused by synthetic opioids, however, rose almost twice as fast, from just 730 in 1999 to 5,544 in 2014.

Because of the surge in opioid-related deaths, and the regular appearance of new synthetics on the market, there is a time lag in toxicology reports from coroners, and the possibility that some deaths are mistakenly linked to other, better known substances.

But Pink, a relative newcomer among the synthetics, has been implicated in 80 deaths across the country in just the past nine months, according to Pennsylvania-based NMS Labs, which conducts forensic toxicology tests.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said it is aware of confirmed fatalities associated with U-47700 in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Though its own tally is only 15 deaths, an agency spokesperson said the number was probably higher because of challenges and delays in reporting.

On Sept. 7, the DEA took initial steps toward banning the drug nationally by giving notice of its intent to schedule the synthetic opioid temporarily as a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Some states aren’t waiting for a permanent federal ban. In late September, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi signed an emergency order outlawing the drug after it was tied to eight deaths in recent months. Florida joins Ohio, Wyoming and Georgia in outlawing the compound and other states are looking to do the same.

In some states, law enforcement is just learning about a threat that is especially challenging because so many transactions are done by computer and through the mail. And the chemists who manufacture the drugs can invent new variants as fast as the states can outlaw them.

“The hardest part is when something new comes up, and no one in the country or world has seen it in a forensic setting yet and trying to decide what that actual structure or drug is,” said Bryan Holden, senior forensic scientist with the Utah Department of Public Safety. “Sometimes we have had cases where the substance sat for months and months — no one had ever seen it before, and until someone else sees it or manufactures it then we kind of know what it is.”

The DEA has been using so-called temporary bans more and more often to combat designer synthetic drugs have made their way into the U.S. from China and other parts of the world. The U47700 ban allows them three years to research whether something should be permanently controlled or whether it should revert back to non-controlled status.

But experts say the most effective prevention may start in the home, at the computer and the mailbox.

“I’m worried about you,” Melissa Davidson told her 17-year-old daughter Jane.

Jane, however, was worried about her friends at school. “I can’t imagine the kids I’m in math class with, just not being there one day. One bad decision can have permanent consequences.”

Source:  http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/americas-heroin-epidemic/pink-stronger-heroin-legal-most-states-n666446     15th Oct.2016

Filed under: Internet,Synthetics,USA :

A new survey finds an estimated 17 percent of American high school students say they drink, smoke or use drugs during the school day. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found 86 percent of teens say they know which of their peers are abusing substances at school, CNN reports.

The findings come from an annual telephone survey of about 1,000 students ages 12 to 17. According to the survey, 60 percent of high school students say drugs are available on school grounds, and 44 percent know a classmate who sells drugs at school. Marijuana is the most commonly sold drug at school. Prescription drugs, cocaine and Ecstasy are also available.

Social media plays a role in peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol, the study found. Three-quarters of students said they are encouraged to use marijuana or alcohol when they see images of their peers doing so. The survey found 45 percent said they have seen photos online of their classmates drinking, using drugs or passing out, up 5 percent since last year.

For the first time in the history of the survey, a majority of private school students—54 percent—said their school was “drug-infected.” In 2011, that figure was 36 percent.

Teens are more likely to use drugs or alcohol if they have been left alone overnight, and are less likely to do so if they regularly attend religious services, the survey found.

“The take away from this survey for parents is to talk to their children and get engaged in their children’s lives,” Emily Feinstein, project director of the teen survey, said in a news release. “They should ask their children what they’re seeing at school and online. It takes a teen to know what’s going on in the teen world, but it takes parents to help their children navigate that world.”

Source:  www.partnership@drugfree.org.  5th Sept. 2012

Universal Internet-based prevention for alcohol and cannabis use reduces truancy, psychological distress and moral disengagement: A cluster randomised controlled trial.

Abstract

AIMS:

A universal Internet-based preventive intervention has been shown to reduce alcohol and cannabis use. The aim of this study was to examine if this program could also reduce risk-factors associated with substance use in adolescents.

METHOD:

A cluster randomised controlled trial was conducted in Sydney, Australia in 2007-2008 to assess the effectiveness of the Internet-based Climate Schools: Alcohol and Cannabis course. The evidence-based course, aimed at reducing alcohol and cannabis use, consists of two sets of six lessons delivered approximately six months apart. A total of 764 students (mean 13.1years) from 10 secondary schools were randomly allocated to receive the preventive intervention (n=397, five schools), or their usual health classes (n=367, five schools) over the year. Participants were assessed at baseline, immediately post, and six and twelve months following the intervention on their levels of truancy, psychological distress and moral disengagement.

RESULTS:

Compared to the control group, students in the intervention group showed significant reductions in truancy, psychological distress and moral disengagement up to twelve months following completion of the intervention.

CONCLUSIONS:

These intervention effects indicate that Internet-based preventive interventions designed to prevent alcohol and cannabis use can concurrently reduce risk-factors associated with substance use in adolescents.

Source:  Prev Med. 2014 May 10;65C:109-115. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.05.003. [Epub ahead of print]

The NDPA have been concerned for some time about the easy availability of drugs online.   There are sites actively promoting the legalization of drugs, misinformation about drugs, and even sites showing young children smoking cigarettes and encouraging others to do so.   Shocking research showed recently that 8 out of 10 of  UK youngsters watch porn online.   The world wide web has been a tremendous force for good in many ways – but there is a very dark side to the internet.  The following items show the extent of  big business involved in making money out of selling illegal drugs online.   (is Google the Tesco of  the internet ?)

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The article below from today’s Wall Street Journal shows the effectiveness of going after companies that aid and facilitate the illicit drug trade. Several years ago, I queried Amazon.com for a book on a particular drug that I was interested in learning more about and along with the responses from the Amazon.com search engine came a pop-up offering to sell me the very drug I was asking about — a Schedule II controlled substance – without a prescription! I wrote a letter to Amazon.com indicating that this could be interpreted as a “facilitation” violation of the Controlled Substances Act and needed to be stopped immediately.

Back came a nice letter (by FedEx) from Amazon.com’s chief counsel  advising me that the company was just as upset and concerned as I but was powerless to stop these “pop-ups.” The chief counsel said that the ad likely was inserted by one of the anonymous servers used to transmit my Internet request to Amazon.com. It seems that data mining software used by the servers detect key words used in emails and unencrypted messages that pass through them and automatically generate unsolicited return messages to the sender offering, as in my case, something for sale. On the basis of what little I knew about all this, I concluded nothing further could be done.

I was wrong! Fortunately, in the interim, brighter minds at my alma mater (DOJ) and elsewhere figured this out and concluded that Google was one of several companies at fault.

A fine of $500  million is a drop in the proverbial bucket for Google. Of potentially greater interest here may be what happens after Google settles the current criminal case. Unlike a civil case in which a defendant may settle without having to admit wrongdoing, a settlement in a criminal case usually requires admissions of guilt to specific law violations. If this is the case, will there be subsequent state actions filed against Google on behalf of harmed residents? Will we begin seeing TV ads asking “If you or a loved one ever ordered drugs via the Internet, call the law offices of so-and-so; you may be eligible for a cash settlement, etc.”?

Given the fact that unregistered Internet “rogue” pharmacies more often than not sell counterfeit drugs or outdated, toxic, and/or ineffective drugs and, in doing so, accept only credit cards or international money orders in payment, I’m sure there are retrievable records of such purchases and possibly aggrieved patients who may have been harmed by products illegally advertised and sold via the Internet and facilitated by the advertising services provided by Google. When all is said and done, the total payout for these potential claims, if indeed they are viable, could be several times the amount of the proposed settlement in the current criminal case against Google. Better yet, it should be enough to end or severely curtail this aspect of modern-day drug dealing.

John J. Coleman, PhD  President, Drug Watch International  2011

Google Near Deal in Drug Ad Crackdown

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576319572448399628.html#ixzz1MGNqwAfe

Google Inc. is close to settling a U.S. criminal investigation into allegations it made hundreds of millions of dollars by accepting ads from online pharmacies that break U.S. laws, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Internet company disclosed in a cryptic regulatory filing earlier this week that it was setting aside $500 million to potentially resolve a case with the Justice Department. A payment of that size would be among the highest penalties paid by companies in disputes with the U.S. government.   Google gave few details in its filing about the probe, saying only that it involved “the use of Google advertising by certain advertisers.”   The federal investigation has examined whether Google knowingly accepted ads from online pharmacies, based in Canada and elsewhere, that violated U.S. laws, according to the people familiar with the matter.

A Google spokesman declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokeswoman.     WSJ’s Thomas Catan reports that Google is close to settling with the government over allegations that the company made millions from illegal ad companies.

Search engines can be liable if they are found to be profiting from illegal activity. In December 2007, the three largest Internet companies, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. agreed to pay a combined $31.5 million fine to settle civil allegations brought by the Justice Department that they had accepted ads from illegal gambling sites.

Prosecutors can charge such acts under a number of different statutes. From a legal standpoint, a key distinction for Google would be that the illegal activity allegedly took place through its paid advertising service, not just the results that its search engine produces.

There are scores of websites that offer to sell prescription drugs. Some violate U.S. laws by selling counterfeit or expired medicines or dispensing without a valid doctor’s prescription.  One question under investigation is the extent to which Google knowingly turned a blind eye to the alleged illicit activities of some of its advertisers—and how much executives knew, the people familiar with the matter said.   The probe has been conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island and the Food and Drug Administration, among other agencies, according to these people. A spokesman for Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the FDA said the investigation was ongoing and declined to comment further.

Google generated nearly $30 billion in total ad revenue in 2010, largely from its AdWords system. AdWords helped revolutionize online advertising, offering marketers the chance to bid to display their ads when people searched for certain keywords on the Google search engine. An advertiser only pays when a user clicks on the ad.

Google, like other Internet companies, has struggled for years to deal with what it calls “rogue online pharmacies.” In 2003, for instance, Google said it banned ads from U.S. companies that offer drugs like Vicodin and Viagra without a prescription.   Google acted after rivals, including Yahoo and Microsoft, made similar moves as the FDA began publicly pressuring sites to accept only drug ads from licensed Internet pharmacies.

But Google said in 2004 it would continue carrying ads for Canadian pharmacies that send medicines to U.S. customers. The decision riled some U.S. druggists and drew criticism from regulators.  After the FDA began its latest investigation, Google made changes last year to its policies for drug ads, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Google said in February 2010 it would begin allowing ads only from U.S. pharmacies accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and from online pharmacies in Canada that are accredited by the Canadian International Pharmacy Association.   In September Google filed a federal lawsuit in San Jose, Calif., seeking to block individuals running illegitimate pharmacies from advertising on its search engine and to recover damages.

“Rogue pharmacies are bad for our users, for legitimate online pharmacies and for the entire e-commerce industry—so we are going to keep investing time and money to stop these kinds of harmful practices,” Google lawyer Michael Zwibelman wrote on the company blog at the time.

Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and a current high-ranking executive and board member, sidestepped questions about the investigation at a conference Wednesday and alluded to the fact that Larry Page is now running the company.

“Luckily, since we changed roles a few months ago, I don’t have to deal with filings, and the DOJ, the SEC or other acronyms,” Mr. Brin said, using the initials for the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission.

The current investigation is Google’s latest brush with law enforcement and regulatory agencies in both the U.S. and abroad. The company is facing multiple investigations into possible antitrust and privacy violations in several nations. Google maintains that its breakneck growth will inevitably attract greater regulatory scrutiny, and that it’s done nothing wrong in connection with other probes.    There are other signs the government is serious about cracking down on illegal online pharmacies. On Thursday, entering the words “no prescription required” into Google’s search engine produced an ad that led to a Justice Department alert reading: “Prescription Drugs. Buying online could mean doing time.”

Source:  Wall Street Journal     MAY 13, 2011

 

 

 

The story that broke one afternoon in mid-March was startling, even to editors who have been around for a while.
A 19-year-old man had died and 10 others were sickened in a mass overdose after experimenting with a synthetic drug during a party in Blaine.
We have written before about the problems of designer synthetic drugs, which are molecularly different from illegal drugs and sometimes can be acquired legally in shops or over the Internet. But this was the first time we had seen such deadly ramifications. After covering the case in Blaine, which resulted in one man being charged with third-degree murder, we set out to discover just how big a problem these drugs are posing in society. Our preliminary research revealed that this was a growing problem nationally, with devastating consequences across the country.
In the months since, we have researched or acquired dozens of these synthetic drugs, to discover how easy they are to buy and whether consumers are given any warnings at all when they buy the drugs.
We have talked to users, victims and witnesses across the country about some of the unintended consequences of ingesting synthetic drugs. And we have enlisted a number of experts, researchers and businesses in the greater Twin Cities community to help us identify what exactly is in the most common compounds so we can pinpoint the true risk to consumers. For example, Internet Exposure, a web development and marketing firm, is conducting research for us on how people are using the Internet to research and buy drugs, while MedTox Laboratories in St. Paul is testing chemicals for us.
The results of our investigation will unfold in stories that we will publish over the next few months, with the first appearing online today. It is a tragic story of a party that went wrong in a small town in Oklahoma, with eerie similarities to the party in Blaine earlier this year. We went to Oklahoma to illustrate that if synthetic drugs are a problem in such a small, tight-knit community like Konawa, they can create trouble anywhere in Middle America.
Police officer Kat Green, who arrives at the party in Oklahoma to find her own son nearly incapacitated, repeatedly wonders why her son would put something in his body without knowing exactly what it was.
Why indeed, would anyone?
The answer to that question seems to be that these partygoers are taking synthetic drugs because they think it will be fun, the drugs are often touted as legal, and the drugs are easily acquired, making them seem less dangerous than illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine or hallucinogens. (Some people also take synthetic drugs because they may not show up on drug tests. )
Pamela Louwagie, who has been one of the primary reporters on this investigation, said that some of the partygoers in both Blaine and Oklahoma had researched the drugs they thought they were acquiring, while others “simply seemed to trust that their friends had done enough research to be safe.
“It was striking that, in each case, they didn’t get what was ordered,” Louwagie said. “That showcases the true danger in these things. Many of these substances, while they have been around … for a while, are truly untested. And if you buy them, you don’t know what they have been mixed with and, in some cases, whether you’re even getting the right thing.”
What’s also striking is the trust buyers put in the notion that it is safe to acquire a synthetic drug over the Internet, from an unproven source.
We hope that when we have finished our investigation, we will have helped parents, teenagers and other adults truly understand the risk that synthetic drugs pose — as well as the dangers of buying substances from some unknown source somewhere around the globe who just happens to advertise on the Internet.
I’ll be sharing this story with my own daughters; I urge others to share it with friends and family as well.

Source: Nancy Barnes, Editor, www. StarTribune.com 24th July 2011


Combining a randomised trial with a ‘real-world’ test, studies of the Dutch Drinking Less programme have gone further than any others to establish the beneficial impacts of web-based alcohol self-help interventions.

Abstract

The study was a ‘real-world’ test of a promising Dutch internet-based self-help intervention for problem drinking. A previous randomised trial employing the methodological safeguards possible in tightly controlled research (particularly the recruitment of a comparison group not given access to the intervention) had established that the intervention reduced drinking. At issue in the featured study was whether similar drinking reductions would be seen when the intervention was made freely available to the general public. If they were, then the assumption could be made that these too were caused by having access to the intervention.

Drinking Less is an on-line, interactive programme with no personal therapist input. Aimed at risky drinkers among the general adult population, the intervention is based on principles derived from motivational interviewing, cognitive-behavioural therapies and self-control training. Its home page offers links to alcohol-related information, treatment services, a discussion forum, and the Drinking Less self-help programme, the core of the intervention. Over a recommended six weeks (though this is entirely up to the user) the programme guides visitors in preparing to change their drinking, setting goals , implementing change, and finally sustaining it, preferably by drinking within recommended limits.
The earlier trial had found that six months later, at least 17% of adult problem drinkers randomly allocated to this intervention had reduced their drinking to within Dutch guidelines, compared to just 5% allocated to an on-line alcohol education brochure. Before the study, both groups had averaged about 55 UK units a week. At follow-up, the Drinking Less group had cut consumption to about 36 UK units a week, but the brochure group had barely changed.
The featured study monitored what happened when over 10 months spanning 2007 and 2008 the web site was advertised to the Dutch public. During this time round 27,500 people visited the site, of whom 1625 signed up for the self-help programme, accessing it on average 23 times. Typically they were well educated, employed, middle-aged men. On average they drank about 50 UK units a week, and nearly all who completed the on-line AUDIT screening questionnaire scored in a range indicative of alcohol abuse or dependence.
During the first seven of the 10 months, 378 of site visitors who signed up to the Drinking Less programme also agreed to participate in research to assess its impact. On average they drank roughly the same amount (95% exceeded Dutch guidelines) as all 1625 who signed up and were also similar in age, sex, employment, and motivation to change. Despite some statistically significant differences, they were also broadly similar to participants in the earlier randomised trial. Over 8 in 10 had never received professional help for their drinking. A few weeks later a survey suggested that after signing up, nearly 9 in 10 went on to use the programme, though generally only a few times.
Of the 378 in the baseline sample, 153 responded to an on-line follow-up survey six months later. Before signing up to the programme, just 4% had confined their drinking within Dutch guidelines; six month later, 39% did so. They had also nearly halved their average consumption from 50 UK units to 27. On the ‘fail-safe’ assumption that the intervention had no impact on people who were not followed up, still the drinking reductions were statistically significant; from 5%, the proportion drinking within guidelines rose to 19%, and consumption fell from 51 UK units to 42.
Next the analysts compared these results with those from the six-month follow-up in the randomised trial. Based only on respondents to the follow-up surveys, and adjusting for differences between the samples, in the ‘real-world’ test over twice as many (unadjusted figures 36% v. 19%) people moved to drinking within Dutch guidelines. When the assumption was made that in both trials the intervention had no impact on people not followed up, the figures still favoured the ‘real-world’ test (15% v. 10%), but the difference was no longer statistically significant.
The researchers concluded that the featured study had shown that the benefits established by the randomised controlled trial would be sustained when the intervention was made routinely and generally available to the public. The expected throughput of 3000 Drinking Less programme users a year would amount to nearly 3% of the country’s problem drinkers who would otherwise not have received professional help. Probably because they require the drinker to take the initiative and visit the site, such interventions reach people who, compared to the totality of problem drinkers, are more likely to be women, employed, highly educated, and motivated to change their drinking. Given its low cost per user, this type of intervention seems to have a worthwhile place in a public health approach to reducing alcohol-related problems.
Though only a minority of site visitors may sign up for web-based alcohol programmes, nevertheless the numbers engaged can be very large, and the risk-reductions seem of the order typical in studies of brief advice to drinkers identified in health care settings. In these settings screening programmes typically identify people who are not actually seeking help for drinking problems – ‘pushing’ them towards intervention and change – while web sites ‘pull’ in people already curious or concerned about their drinking. As such these two gateways can play complementary roles in improving public health and offering change opportunities to people who would not present to alcohol treatment services. However, in Britain and elsewhere, both tactics reach only small fractions of the population who drinking excessively, leaving the bulk of the public health work to be done by interventions which drinkers generally cannot avoid and do not have seek out, such as price increases and availability restrictions.
With its combination of a randomised trial and a ‘real-world’ test, the featured research programme has gone further than any other in establishing the beneficial impacts of web-based alcohol interventions. However, largely because many site users do not complete research surveys, it remains impossible to be sure that the results seen in such studies will be replicated across the entire usership of the sites. Details below.

Strengths and limitations of the featured study

The featured study’s combination of a randomised trial with all its methodological safeguards, and a ‘real-world’ trial approximating normal conditions, affords what seems to be the best indication to date of the contribution web-based self-help interventions could make to reducing heavy drinking and associated health risks. However, its twin pillars are weakened by the fact that many people either did not join the studies or did not supply follow-up data; those who did may not have been typical of all the people who might access such sites. In the randomised trial, 40% of the baseline sample did not complete the six-month follow-up survey, and in the featured study, nearly 60%. Though on the measures taken by the study the respondents generally seemed typical of the baseline sample, clearly something was sufficiently different to cause them to respond while the others did not. In both studies this problem was catered for by assuming that non-responders were also non-changers. Though this almost certainly underestimated the impact of the intervention, still in both there remained significant and worthwhile improvements.
What could not be catered for in either study was the degree to which people who join such studies differ from the much greater number who would use the web sites, but decline participation in research. This problem was especially apparent in the featured study, in which it seems that around 6% of site visitors signed up for the self-help programme. Of these, perhaps a third or slightly more of the people who signed up for the programme during the relevant period also agreed to participate in the research. In some important ways (including amount drunk and motivation to change) they seemed similar to the bulk of programme sign-ups, though the researchers suspect they were more likely to have engaged with the programme.

Opening more doors to change for more people

A review of computer-based alcohol services for the general public has rehearsed the advantages: immediate, convenient access for people (the majority in developed nations) connected to the internet; consequently able to capitalise on what may be fleeting resolve; anonymous services sidestep the embarrassment or stigma which might deter help-seeking; such services are available to people unwilling or less able to talk about their problems to a stranger; generally they are free and entail no travel costs or lost income due to time off work; very low operating cost per user if widely accessed; easily updated. In consumption terms, the drinking problems of web site users are comparable to those of drinkers who seek treatment, yet few have received professional help, perhaps partly because their higher socioeconomic status and greater resources have enabled them to restrict the consequential damage. People who actually engage with web-based assessments of their drinking problems have more severe problems than those who just visit and leave. Including the randomised trial which paved the way for the featured study, the review found eight studies which evaluated the effectiveness of computer-based interventions for the general public. In all but one the users significantly improved on at least one of the alcohol-related measures recorded by the studies.
A particular role for alcohol self-help sites may be to offer an easy, quick and accessible way to for drinkers to actualise their desire to tackle their problems, especially when that desire is allied with the resources to implement and sustain improvements without face-to-face or comprehensive assistance. After conducting the Project MATCH trial, some of the world’s leading alcohol treatment researchers argued that “access to treatment may be as important as the type of treatment available”. The implication is that in cultures which accept ‘treatment’ as a route to resolving unhealthy and/or undesirable drinking, having convincing-looking and accessible ‘treatment doors’ to go through may be more important than what lies behind those doors, as long as this fulfils the expectations of the client or patient. This is likely to be especially the case for people who retain a stake in conventional society in the form of marriages, jobs, families, and a reputation to lose. These populations – the kind the featured study suggests are attracted to self-help alcohol therapy web sites – have more of the ‘recovery capital’ resources needed to themselves do most of the work in curbing their drinking.

The British Down Your Drink site

The best known British alcohol self-help web site is the Down Your Drink site run by a team based at University College London, an initiative originally funded by the Alcohol Education and Research Council and now by the Medical Research Council’s National Prevention Research Initiative. In 2007 this was revised to offer set programmes from a one-hour brief intervention to several weeks, but also to generally give the user greater control over the use they made of the site. The approach remained based on principles and techniques derived from motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioural therapies.
The previous version had been structured as six consecutive modules to be accessed weekly. An analysis of data provided by the first 10,000 people who registered at the site after piloting ended in September 2003 revealed that most were in their 30s and 40s, half were women, nearly two-thirds were married or living with a partner, just 4% were unemployed, and most reported occupations from higher socioeconomic strata. As an earlier study commented, site users were predominantly middle class, middle aged, white and European. Six in 10 either did not start the programme, or completed just the first week. About 17% completed the six weeks. Of these, 57% returned an outcome questionnaire. Compared to their pre-programme status, on average they were now at substantially lower risk, and functioning better and living much improved lives. The sample had been recruited over about 27 months, a registration rate of about 4500 a year. By way of comparison, in England during 2008/09, around 100,000 adults were treated for their alcohol problems at conventional services. User profile and site usage had been similar during the earlier pilot phase. Results from surveys sent to pilot programme completers indicated that three quarters had never previously sought help for their drinking.

Source: Published in Findings 19 May 2010 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: 2009, 33(8), p. 1401–1408

Combining a randomised trial with a ‘real-world’ test, studies of the Dutch Drinking Less programme have gone further than any others to establish the beneficial impacts of web-based alcohol self-help interventions.
Abstract The study was a ‘real-world’ test of a promising Dutch internet-based self-help intervention for problem drinking. A previous randomised trial employing the methodological safeguards possible in tightly controlled research (particularly the recruitment of a comparison group not given access to the intervention) had established that the intervention reduced drinking. At issue in the featured study was whether similar drinking reductions would be seen when the intervention was made freely available to the general public. If they were, then the assumption could be made that these too were caused by having access to the intervention.

Drinking Less is an on-line, interactive programme with no personal therapist input. Aimed at risky drinkers among the general adult population, the intervention is based on principles derived from motivational interviewing, cognitive-behavioural therapies and self-control training. Its home page offers links to alcohol-related information, treatment services, a discussion forum, and the Drinking Less self-help programme, the core of the intervention. Over a recommended six weeks (though this is entirely up to the user) the programme guides visitors in preparing to change their drinking, setting goals , implementing change, and finally sustaining it, preferably by drinking within recommended limits.
The earlier trial had found that six months later, at least 17% of adult problem drinkers randomly allocated to this intervention had reduced their drinking to within Dutch guidelines, compared to just 5% allocated to an on-line alcohol education brochure. Before the study, both groups had averaged about 55 UK units a week. At follow-up, the Drinking Less group had cut consumption to about 36 UK units a week, but the brochure group had barely changed.
The featured study monitored what happened when over 10 months spanning 2007 and 2008 the web site was advertised to the Dutch public. During this time round 27,500 people visited the site, of whom 1625 signed up for the self-help programme, accessing it on average 23 times. Typically they were well educated, employed, middle-aged men. On average they drank about 50 UK units a week, and nearly all who completed the on-line AUDIT screening questionnaire scored in a range indicative of alcohol abuse or dependence.
During the first seven of the 10 months, 378 of site visitors who signed up to the Drinking Less programme also agreed to participate in research to assess its impact. On average they drank roughly the same amount (95% exceeded Dutch guidelines) as all 1625 who signed up and were also similar in age, sex, employment, and motivation to change. Despite some statistically significant differences, they were also broadly similar to participants in the earlier randomised trial. Over 8 in 10 had never received professional help for their drinking. A few weeks later a survey suggested that after signing up, nearly 9 in 10 went on to use the programme, though generally only a few times.
Of the 378 in the baseline sample, 153 responded to an on-line follow-up survey six months later. Before signing up to the programme, just 4% had confined their drinking within Dutch guidelines; six month later, 39% did so. They had also nearly halved their average consumption from 50 UK units to 27. On the ‘fail-safe’ assumption that the intervention had no impact on people who were not followed up, still the drinking reductions were statistically significant; from 5%, the proportion drinking within guidelines rose to 19%, and consumption fell from 51 UK units to 42.
Next the analysts compared these results with those from the six-month follow-up in the randomised trial. Based only on respondents to the follow-up surveys, and adjusting for differences between the samples, in the ‘real-world’ test over twice as many (unadjusted figures 36% v. 19%) people moved to drinking within Dutch guidelines. When the assumption was made that in both trials the intervention had no impact on people not followed up, the figures still favoured the ‘real-world’ test (15% v. 10%), but the difference was no longer statistically significant.
The researchers concluded that the featured study had shown that the benefits established by the randomised controlled trial would be sustained when the intervention was made routinely and generally available to the public. The expected throughput of 3000 Drinking Less programme users a year would amount to nearly 3% of the country’s problem drinkers who would otherwise not have received professional help. Probably because they require the drinker to take the initiative and visit the site, such interventions reach people who, compared to the totality of problem drinkers, are more likely to be women, employed, highly educated, and motivated to change their drinking. Given its low cost per user, this type of intervention seems to have a worthwhile place in a public health approach to reducing alcohol-related problems.
Though only a minority of site visitors may sign up for web-based alcohol programmes, nevertheless the numbers engaged can be very large, and the risk-reductions seem of the order typical in studies of brief advice to drinkers identified in health care settings. In these settings screening programmes typically identify people who are not actually seeking help for drinking problems – ‘pushing’ them towards intervention and change – while web sites ‘pull’ in people already curious or concerned about their drinking. As such these two gateways can play complementary roles in improving public health and offering change opportunities to people who would not present to alcohol treatment services. However, in Britain and elsewhere, both tactics reach only small fractions of the population who drinking excessively, leaving the bulk of the public health work to be done by interventions which drinkers generally cannot avoid and do not have seek out, such as price increases and availability restrictions.
With its combination of a randomised trial and a ‘real-world’ test, the featured research programme has gone further than any other in establishing the beneficial impacts of web-based alcohol interventions. However, largely because many site users do not complete research surveys, it remains impossible to be sure that the results seen in such studies will be replicated across the entire usership of the sites. Details below.
Strengths and limitations of the featured study
The featured study’s combination of a randomised trial with all its methodological safeguards, and a ‘real-world’ trial approximating normal conditions, affords what seems to be the best indication to date of the contribution web-based self-help interventions could make to reducing heavy drinking and associated health risks. However, its twin pillars are weakened by the fact that many people either did not join the studies or did not supply follow-up data; those who did may not have been typical of all the people who might access such sites. In the randomised trial, 40% of the baseline sample did not complete the six-month follow-up survey, and in the featured study, nearly 60%. Though on the measures taken by the study the respondents generally seemed typical of the baseline sample, clearly something was sufficiently different to cause them to respond while the others did not. In both studies this problem was catered for by assuming that non-responders were also non-changers. Though this almost certainly underestimated the impact of the intervention, still in both there remained significant and worthwhile improvements.
What could not be catered for in either study was the degree to which people who join such studies differ from the much greater number who would use the web sites, but decline participation in research. This problem was especially apparent in the featured study, in which it seems that around 6% of site visitors signed up for the self-help programme. Of these, perhaps a third or slightly more of the people who signed up for the programme during the relevant period also agreed to participate in the research. In some important ways (including amount drunk and motivation to change) they seemed similar to the bulk of programme sign-ups, though the researchers suspect they were more likely to have engaged with the programme.
Opening more doors to change for more people
A review of computer-based alcohol services for the general public has rehearsed the advantages: immediate, convenient access for people (the majority in developed nations) connected to the internet; consequently able to capitalise on what may be fleeting resolve; anonymous services sidestep the embarrassment or stigma which might deter help-seeking; such services are available to people unwilling or less able to talk about their problems to a stranger; generally they are free and entail no travel costs or lost income due to time off work; very low operating cost per user if widely accessed; easily updated. In consumption terms, the drinking problems of web site users are comparable to those of drinkers who seek treatment, yet few have received professional help, perhaps partly because their higher socioeconomic status and greater resources have enabled them to restrict the consequential damage. People who actually engage with web-based assessments of their drinking problems have more severe problems than those who just visit and leave. Including the randomised trial which paved the way for the featured study, the review found eight studies which evaluated the effectiveness of computer-based interventions for the general public. In all but one the users significantly improved on at least one of the alcohol-related measures recorded by the studies.
A particular role for alcohol self-help sites may be to offer an easy, quick and accessible way to for drinkers to actualise their desire to tackle their problems, especially when that desire is allied with the resources to implement and sustain improvements without face-to-face or comprehensive assistance. After conducting the Project MATCH trial, some of the world’s leading alcohol treatment researchers argued that “access to treatment may be as important as the type of treatment available”. The implication is that in cultures which accept ‘treatment’ as a route to resolving unhealthy and/or undesirable drinking, having convincing-looking and accessible ‘treatment doors’ to go through may be more important than what lies behind those doors, as long as this fulfils the expectations of the client or patient. This is likely to be especially the case for people who retain a stake in conventional society in the form of marriages, jobs, families, and a reputation to lose. These populations – the kind the featured study suggests are attracted to self-help alcohol therapy web sites – have more of the ‘recovery capital’ resources needed to themselves do most of the work in curbing their drinking.
The British Down Your Drink site
The best known British alcohol self-help web site is the Down Your Drink site run by a team based at University College London, an initiative originally funded by the Alcohol Education and Research Council and now by the Medical Research Council’s National Prevention Research Initiative. In 2007 this was revised to offer set programmes from a one-hour brief intervention to several weeks, but also to generally give the user greater control over the use they made of the site. The approach remained based on principles and techniques derived from motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioural therapies.
The previous version had been structured as six consecutive modules to be accessed weekly. An analysis of data provided by the first 10,000 people who registered at the site after piloting ended in September 2003 revealed that most were in their 30s and 40s, half were women, nearly two-thirds were married or living with a partner, just 4% were unemployed, and most reported occupations from higher socioeconomic strata. As an earlier study commented, site users were predominantly middle class, middle aged, white and European. Six in 10 either did not start the programme, or completed just the first week. About 17% completed the six weeks. Of these, 57% returned an outcome questionnaire. Compared to their pre-programme status, on average they were now at substantially lower risk, and functioning better and living much improved lives. The sample had been recruited over about 27 months, a registration rate of about 4500 a year. By way of comparison, in England during 2008/09, around 100,000 adults were treated for their alcohol problems at conventional services. User profile and site usage had been similar during the earlier pilot phase. Results from surveys sent to pilot programme completers indicated that three quarters had never previously sought help for their drinking.
Source: Published in Findings 19 May 2010 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: 2009, 33(8), p. 1401–1408

For Immediate Release – January 5, 2010 – (Toronto) – A recent evaluation by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows that online interventions for problem alcohol use can be effective in changing drinking behaviours and offers a significant public health benefit.
In the first evaluation of its kind, the study published in Addiction found that problem drinkers provided access to the online screener www.CheckYourDrinking.net, reduced their alcohol consumption by 30% — or six to seven drinks weekly – rates that are comparable to face-to-face interventions. This result was sustained in both the three and six month follow-up.
Source: www.camh.net 5 Jan.2010

 

  • Problem drinking in Western societies leads to disease and death, as well as social and economic problems.
  • Few problem drinkers seek treatment help.
  • New findings show that a 24/7 free-access, anonymous, interactive, and Web-based self-help intervention can aid problem drinkers in the privacy of their own homes.
Problem drinking in Western societies contributes to disease and death as well as social and economic woes. Yet only a small number of people with alcohol problems – 10 to 20 percent – ever seek and participate in treatment. This study examined the real-world effectiveness of a 24/7 free-access, anonymous, interactive, and Web-based self-help intervention called Drinking Less (DL) at www.minderdrinken.nl. Findings show that DL can help problem drinkers in the privacy of their own homes. “We were concerned that so few problem drinkers access the help they need,” said Heleen Riper, a senior scientist at the Trimbos Institute and the Vrije Universiteit in the Netherlands, as well as corresponding author for the study.
“This may not come as a surprise, given that addiction services predominantly focus on severely dependent people.”

“Web-based interventions can provide a cheap and easily accessible intervention for the large majority of problem drinkers who are not treated,” noted Reinout W. Wiers, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Amsterdam.

Riper and her colleagues wanted to expand the use of DL – a self-help intervention for adults without therapeutic guidance – from a clinical trial to the community. “DL consists of motivational, cognitive-behavioral, and self-control information and exercises,” she said. “It helps problem drinkers decide if they really want to change their problem drinking and, if so, helps them set realistic goals for achieving a change in their drinking behavior, providing tools and exercises to maintain these changes, or deal with relapse if it occurs.”

The study authors recruited 378 (199 females, 179 males) of the 1,625 community-based people who used DL from May to November 2007 to complete an online survey six months later. All lived in the Netherlands; the vast majority, 91.5 percent, was of Dutch origin. Outcome measures included alcohol consumption during the preceding four weeks, and mean weekly alcohol consumption. The collected data were then compared with those from the previous trial of DL.

“The observed effectiveness of DL in a randomized, controlled trial setting was maintained when we offered the intervention to the general population in a real-world setting,” said Riper. “After six months, participants decreased their mean weekly alcohol consumption, and 18.8 percent changed their drinking patterns to ‘low risk drinking.’ For 84 percent of the participants, this was their first professional contact for problem drinking. Furthermore, more than half was female, indicating that this form of help is highly acceptable for female problem drinkers.”

Dutch guidelines for “low-risk drinking” are: for men, drinking less than 21 standard units per week, or six or more units at least one day per week; and for women, drinking less than 14 standard units per week, or four or more units at least one day a week. One standard unit contains 10 g of ethanol. In contrast, American standard drinks contain more alcohol, about 14 g. Thus, Dutch guidelines in terms of American drinks would mean: less than 15 drinks per week and no more than five in a row for men; and for women, no more than 10 drinks per week and no more than three in a row.

Both Riper and Wiers believe these findings from the Netherlands could easily be applied to a North American population. “This research is all about real world applications,” said Wiers. “Similar websites could easily be translated and/or developed in other countries.”

“While Web-based and digital interventions might not be effective for everyone,” added Riper, “almost 20 percent of our participants were able to change their problem drinking to low-risk, while others became aware of their problems and were more willing to seek professional guidance. Our study also indicated that Web-based treatment like this is effective for people with different educational backgrounds.”

Riper recommended that interventions such as DL become the “first step” to a collective approach to problem drinking in which online and offline services become integrated. “Web-based self-help … should be seen as an additional form of service next to existing services,” she said. “It could be used as a stand-alone intervention, expanded with therapeutic guidance for those who are ready for it, or used to mitigate waiting times. It also provides accessibility for populations who live in low-density areas where professional services are scarce. Alone it cannot change the world, but it could help to make a difference once integrated.”

Wiers agreed. “I think that this is an important first step in internet-delivered interventions for alcohol abuse and dependence,” he said. “I foresee that in the future these cognitive motivational approaches could be augmented by other approaches that can be delivered over the internet, such as interventions that directly interfere with cognitive processes in alcohol problems. In addition, internet-based treatments can become part of the aftercare of regular treatment, helping to prevent relapse back home, one of the major challenges in treating alcohol-use disorders.”

 

Source: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER). 33(8): 1401-1408. 2009

 

 

 

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Filed under: Alcohol,Internet :

Internet surfers are far more likely to come upon Web sites with wrong and potentially dangerous information about illicit drug use than they are to find more reliable, informed sites, a new study shows. A study in Thursday’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (news-web sites) found that popular Internet search engines tend to direct users to sites that appear to promote drug use and provide incorrect and even dangerous information. Often overlooked by the popular search engines are those Web sites that provide reliable information on illegal drugs, including sites funded by the federal government, the study found. Some 24% of college students use the Internet to find information about illegal drugs with some sites recording 160,000 hits a day, researchers said. Edward Boyer and two other doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston conducted the survey, studying seven ‘partisan’ sites “that promulgate information about illicit drugs. We looked at fairly common illicit substances, we found that serious errors were pretty easy to find,” Boyer told Reuters. “Not only do partisan Web sites condone drug use with its attendant health risks, but any adverse effect arising from illicit substances potentially would be mismanaged with potentially lethal consequences.

For example, one promotes ‘ for poisoning from psychedelic mushrooms such as ingesting carbon tetrachloride, which can destroy the liver. By contrast, sites with reliable information, especially those funded by the federal government, are often ignored or given a low priority by popular search engines that rank sites for information on Ecstasy and other illegal drugs. “We were stunned to find the federal government sites were absent from some searches entirely,” even thou the government is spending millions of dollars developing them, Boyer said. One reason is that those creating government-sponsored sites seem to ‘lack the technical expertise’ to make them appear prominently in a search, he said. For example, most Web sites use hidden keywords to help search engines flag them. Home pages for sites that promote drug use contain up to 60 such keywords.

But the home page for freevibe (http://www.freevibe.com), with drug information from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, had none. In order to find freevibe in a search, consumers had to know to ask specifically for freevibe.  “In all searches, antidrug sites from the federal government failed to appear as often as the partisan sites, which dominate the search results when people are looking for information on illicit substances such as Ecstasy, GHB, or ‘psychedelic mushrooms,’ the researchers said. GHB, or garrnpahydroxybutyrate, is similar to Rohypnol, the so-called date rape drug, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. “These data suggest that the US government, despite extensive and costly efforts, currently does not provide effective alternative sources of information about drugs on the Web, where partisan sites still get the attention of both search engines and users,” the researchers said. The Office of National Drug Control Policy, which sponsors the freevibe site, criticized the study and chastised the authors for failing to contact the agency before putting out the letter. As far as I know, the people who wrote that letter never contacted this office, said Jennifer Devallance, a spokeswoman for the agency.
She said there were more than 3,000 links around the Web to either freevibe or The Anti-Drug, (http://www.theatidrug.com)which targets parents.

Source: Author Gene Emey. Reported in an article published in New England Journal Medicine 2001.
Filed under: Internet :

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