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Friday, June 28, 2013

ATOD and Advocacy Update - Week-Ending June 28, 2013



More Offices Offer Workers Alcohol
The keg is becoming the new water cooler. At least, that's the case at such firms as the Boston advertising agency Arnold Worldwide, where workers cluster around a beer-vending machine—nicknamed Arnie—after the day's client meetings are done. As they sip bottles of home-brewed beer, employees exchange ideas and chitchat, often sticking around the office instead of heading to a nearby bar. Plenty of offices provide free food to their workers, but as the workday in many tech and media companies stretches past the cocktail hour, more companies are stocking full bars and beer fridges, installing on-site taverns and digitized kegs and even deploying engineering talent to design futuristic drink dispensers. Rest of the story is here.

Israeli-US research: Turning off brain trigger may prevent alcohol addictions
Israeli and US researchers were able to identify and deactivate a brain pathway linked to cravings for alcohol in rats. Continue reading here.

Why She Drinks: Women and Alcohol Abuse
Women's growing predilection for wine has a darker side—and the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge the profound differences between how women and men abuse alcohol. Rest of the story is here.

Experts: People Who Think They Are Taking “Molly” Don’t Know What They’re Getting
People who take “Molly,” the powder or crystal form of MDMA, the chemical used in Ecstasy, don’t know what they are actually ingesting, experts say. They warn many powders sold as Molly do not contain any MDMA. “Anyone can call something Molly to try to make it sound less harmful,” Rusty Payne, an agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) national office, told The New York Times. “But it can be anything.” The DEA considers MDMA to be a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it has a high potential for abuse, and no accepted use in medical treatment. Dr. John Halpern, a psychiatrist at Harvard who has conducted several MDMA studies, said some powders sold as Molly are synthetic versions that are designed to imitate the drug’s effects. The drug is now thought to be as adulterated as Ecstasy once was, he noted, adding, “You’re fooling yourself if you think it’s somehow safer because it’s sold in powdered form.” Molly has been a popular drug at music festivals. It has also been popularized by rappers. The drug costs between $20 and $50 a dose. Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says he now sees about four patients a month who come in with common side effects of Molly, including teeth grinding, dehydration, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and fever. More serious side effects can include uncontrollable seizures, high blood pressure, elevated body temperature and depression, the article notes. “Typically in the past we’d see rave kids, but now we’re seeing more people into their 30s and 40s experimenting with it,” he told the newspaper. “MDMA use has increased dramatically. It’s really a global phenomenon now.” According to the national Drug Abuse Warning Network, MDMA-related emergency department visits increased from 10,227 in 2004 to 22,498 in 2011.

Meds to Treat Addiction Often Hard to Get
Medicaid programs and health insurance companies are hindering access to FDA-approved drugs that treat opioid addiction, according to a report released Thursday by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The 216-page report -- called the "most comprehensive" on addiction medications to date -- showed wide variation in state coverage of opioid addiction medications, with many Medicaid programs requiring other treatments to fail before covering addiction drugs. Furthermore, private insurance companies use techniques like prior authorization to restrict access to drugs like buprenorphine (Probuphine), methadone, and naltrexone (Vivitrol), the Chevy Chase, Md. group said. Continue reading here.

Addiction, public policy and the role of anonymity
A bunch of alcoholics and addicts mingled throughout the elegant galleries of the Walker Art Center on a recent evening. They were there for a sold-out screening of a new documentary called “The Anonymous People.” The film’s title is — take your pick — a misnomer, ironic or a conundrum. Because these people, so universally and traditionally anonymous in American society for so long, were resolutely, even defiantly, not anonymous this night. Or anymore, for that matter. Read the rest here.

Boozy Memory Blocking Reduces Risk of Relapse among Alcohol Abusers
Wiping out drinking-associated memories could help those with alcohol problems to stay sober, suggests a study in rats. As with other forms of addiction, environmental cues linked to drinking — such as the smell of beer — can trigger the urge to consume alcohol and increase the risk of a relapse into abuse. Over time, these learned associations can be maddeningly difficult to break. Continue this story here.

Why Alcohol Labels Are More Important Now Than Ever
The first half of 2013 has seen a flurry of activity related to alcohol regulation. Heads first turned in February when controversial alcoholic beverage (and onetime energy drink) Four Loko was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to put new labels on its packaging to provide vital serving-size information. A few months later, in May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made headlines when it recommended that states lower the blood alcohol limit for drivers from .08 percent to .05 percent -- nearly a 40 percent reduction. Most recently, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) decided in early June to allow voluntary nutrition labels on alcoholic beverages for the first time in modern U.S. history. Perhaps the stars are finally aligning to require nutrition labeling on alcoholic beverages, the subject of hot debate for decades. Alcohol labeling and the blood alcohol limit have usually been separate conversations, but the issues are actually connected. The link: how much consumers want or need to know before they drink. Please click here to continue.

Survey: 35% of Teens Think Stimulant Abuse is Major Problem
A new survey of young people ages 10 to 18 finds 35 percent think prescription stimulant abuse is a big problem with their peers, and 15 percent said they had used stimulants at some point. One-tenth of kids said they had diverted medications in some way. The survey found 7.5 percent said they had used stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin in the last month; 3.9 percent said they took the drugs for nonmedical reasons. The findings were reported at the recent annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, by Linda B. Cottler, PhD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine at the University of Florida. The study was designed to understand current levels and signals of misuse, abuse and diversion of prescription stimulants in youth ages 10 to 18. The researchers interviewed 11,000 teens in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Tampa, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The researchers went to places where teens congregate, such as malls, cinemas and skate parks, and interviewed participants from urban, suburban and rural areas. “We were surprised to find prescription stimulant rates were up in rural areas,” Dr. Cottler said. The teens were asked to anonymously fill out two booklets, which took about 15 minutes. In one booklet, they were asked what they knew about drugs and prescription stimulants. They were shown pictures of drugs, and asked if they knew what they were. A second booklet showed pictures of stimulants, and asked whether they used them. If they did, they were asked where they got them, how they got them, how often they took the drugs and why. Participants were also asked how they would prevent kids from using other people’s prescriptions, and how should young people be told what prescription drugs are and what harm they can cause. Suggestions ranged from requiring fingerprint matches to allow prescription bottles to open, to requiring teens to have their medications dispensed at the pharmacy. Some said it can’t be prevented, Dr. Cottler noted. “Teens said they want to be warned truthfully about prescription drugs, but they don’t want the danger exaggerated. They want to make their own decisions,” she said. The study confirms that parents and other family members need to be cautious about where they leave their medication, Dr. Cottler observed. “We need to reduce access,” she said. “We also need to teach young people who are taking prescribed ADHD medication that other kids would like to get their hands on their drugs, so they have to be careful and not share them.”


Drug addiction helped by running, other exercise, study shows
Last year, researchers at the University of Arizona published a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology examining the "neurobiological rewards" of treadmill running in 10 humans, eight dogs and eight ferrets. No, the researchers were not high when they came up with this study design. For humans and canines, distance running has an evolutionary advantage for chasing down food and running away from things that want to turn us into food. Ferrets were included in the study because they don't get high from running, which makes sense because these weasels hunt more by skulking and sprinting. Continue reading here.

The Extraordinary Science of Anti-Drug Vaccines
Let’s be clear: vaccines are seriously amazing.  In the last century, they’ve all but eliminated wretched diseases like smallpox (nightmarish) and polio (dreadful). It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like living in a world where anyone in your life could be lost to something as sudden, frightening and poorly-understood as an infectious disease. Without vaccines,  it seems everyone must have been ailing all the time: measles, whooping cough, diphtheria. Continue reading here.

The Problem With Pain Pills
In the new e-book “A World of Hurt: Fixing Pain Medicine’s Biggest Mistake,” the New York Times reporter Barry Meier explores the murky world of prescription pain medicine. He makes a strong case that opioid drugs used to treat chronic pain, like OxyContin, not only are addictive and deadly but often don’t work for many people who use them and lead to a range of additional health problems. It’s Mr. Meier’s second foray into the complicated world of pain relief. His first book, “Pain Killer: A ‘Wonder’ Drug’s Trail of Addiction and Death,” focused on the potential for abuse of OxyContin, particularly by teenagers. In the new, shorter e-book, Mr. Meier focuses on the long-term consequences of widespread use of opioid drugs to treat pain. I recently spoke with Mr. Meier about the problems associated with painkillers, why doctors and patients resist giving them up and some of the surprising side effects of these drugs. Rest of this article is here.



FDA Announces Shutdown of 1,677 Illegal Websites Selling Medicines
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday it has shut down 1,677 illegal online pharmacies, CNN reports. The websites sold counterfeit or substandard medications, or sold drugs without appropriate safeguards. Additional websites received warnings, the article notes. More than $41 million worth of illegal medicines were seized, and 58 people were arrested. Some of the sites had names that were similar to legitimate pharmacy sites. For instance, the FDA closed Walgreens-Store.com. It was not associated with the pharmacy chain Walgreens, which runs Walgreens.com. The United States government worked with more than 100 countries to shut down the online pharmacies. Many of them advertised drugs such as Viagra, Levitra and Celebrex. “These products can have none of the active ingredient that people need for the treatment of their disease,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “They can have too much or too little (of the ingredient); they can have toxic ingredients, and they can prevent patients from getting the actual medications that they badly need to treat their disease.” Carmen Catizone, Executive Director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, told CNN most of the illegal online pharmacies are based overseas, and present themselves as Canadian. “The fact of the matter is very few, if any, of these sites are actually based in Canada or (are) Canadian,” Catizone said. “In fact, they are located in China, India, Pakistan, around the world.” The group has created a list of online pharmacies it has accredited. “Illegal online pharmacies put American consumers’ health at risk by selling potentially dangerous products. This is an ongoing battle in the United States and abroad, and the FDA will continue its criminal law enforcement and regulatory efforts,” John Roth, Director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, said in a news release.


Small Study Suggests Ritalin May Help Treat Cocaine Addiction
A single dose of Ritalin may help improve brain function in people addicted to cocaine, according to a small study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York studied 18 people addicted to cocaine. Half received a single 20-milligram pill of Ritalin (methylphenidate), and half received a placebo. They all underwent MRI brain scanning to measure the strength of connectivity in certain brain circuits that play a role in addiction. The study also included people not addicted to cocaine, for comparison. Ritalin decreased the connectivity between areas of the brain thought to be involved in habit formation, including compulsive drug-seeking and craving. The drug also strengthened connectivity between several regions of the brain involved in regulation of emotions and exerting control over behaviors. Previous studies suggest these connections are disrupted in cocaine addiction. “These findings may also be generalizable to other types of addiction,” lead researcher Dr. Rita Goldstein told CBSNews.com. “The benefits of methylphenidate were present after only one dose, indicating that this drug has significant potential as a treatment add-on for addiction to cocaine and possibly other stimulants,” she noted in a news release. “This is a preliminary study, but the findings are exciting and warrant further exploration, particularly in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive remediation.”


Tasting Alcohol at Early Age Common, Study Finds
A study of youth exposure to alcohol finds 37 percent of children in one Pennsylvania county had tasted alcohol by age 8, and two-thirds had tried it by the time they were 12. Tasting alcohol at a young age leads to early drinking, researcher John Donovan of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center told HealthDay. “Our earlier research found that childhood sipping predicts early initiation of drinking — drinking by age 14 or younger,” he said. The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, included 450 children ages 8 to 18. They were asked how old they were when they first tried alcohol, when they first had a drink and when they first had three or more drinks on one occasion, or got drunk. They were also asked about problems related to alcohol, such as hangovers or passing out. Children who had sipped alcohol by age 10 were nearly twice as likely to start drinking by age 14 or younger, compared with their peers who had not tasted alcohol when they were 10. Early drinking has been shown to increase the likelihood of involvement in other problem behaviors in adolescence and in young adulthood, Donovan said. By age 14, three-quarters reported sipping alcohol, 19 percent said they drank, 3 percent said they had three or more drinks on one occasion, and 2 percent said they had been drunk. By age 18, almost all of the teens said they had sipped or tasted alcohol, 78 percent reported drinking, and almost one-third said they had two or more alcohol-related problems. The study found ethnic differences: 18 percent of black children tried alcohol by age 8, compared with 44 percent of children of European-American descent.

Friday, June 21, 2013

ATOD and Advocacy Update - Week-Ending June 21, 2013



Whiskey Makers Court Jewish Market
For avid whiskey lovers, few events are more eagerly anticipated than WhiskyFest, an enormous tasting that
touches down in several American cities throughout the year. But when sponsors of the New York festival suddenly moved it last year from Tuesday to Friday and Saturday, many regulars were unable to attend.
 A "K" symbol used in Britain to indicate that a product is kosher.  An alternative arrived suddenly in the form of a new one-night event, held on the eve of WhiskyFest. Despite little time to advertise, it drew a crowd of 250 to its unlikely Manhattan location: the West Side Institutional Synagogue. Click here to read the rest of the story.


Survey: Many Teens Have Unsupervised Access to Their Prescription Medications
A survey of eighth and ninth graders prescribed medication finds 83.4 percent say they have unsupervised access to the drugs at home. This included 73.7 percent who took pain relief, anti-anxiety, stimulant and sedative medication that have the potential for abuse, Science Daily reports. The online survey and in-person interviews with 230 teens is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “It was surprising to me that parents were not storing medications securely because I expected them to be locked up and for parents to administer the medications,” said lead researcher Paula Ross-Durow, PhD, of the University of Michigan. She said parents don’t think about their teens’ friends coming into their homes and stealing medications. In addition, teens may give their prescription drugs away, thinking they are helping a friend and not understanding the risk. They also may not realize their friends may sell the drugs. “It is critical that clinicians educate parents and patients about the importance of proper storage and disposal of medications, particularly those with abuse potential,” the researchers conclude.

Teenagers Getting Prescription Drugs Online
More teenagers are getting their hands on prescription drugs and deterring them isn't as easy as monitoring your own medicine cabinet anymore. Controlled medications can be just a few computer clicks away. Recently, a 15-year-old from Maryland turned to the Internet to buy prescription painkillers. In his first phone call, that you can hear in a video obtained by WUSA 9, the teen calls a hotline for an online pharmacy based overseas to place an order for Percocet. When asked if he has a prescription, the teen says, "No, I don't have a prescription." The operator then responds, "No problem. Sir, we can get that, because if you do not have a prescription, we provide the medication, no problem." Click here for more on this story.

Alcohol abuse is fueling military sexual assault
Lately it has been awkward to be both a soldier and a woman. Civilian friends gently inquire about my welfare, always after a kindly and meaningful pause. They’ve read about the military’s problems with sexual assault, they say, and they’d like to support me if I need it. Fortunately, I do not. To what should my luck be attributed? I am physically fit, friendly and attractive. I have deployed overseas and sometimes work alone late at night. I attend social events and occasionally enjoy a nice glass of pinot grigio. Continue reading here

NY Senator Schumer Wants Colleges To End 'Academic Doping'; Up To 35% Of College Students Use ADHD Meds
With increasing competition to get into college and even fiercer competition once in college, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug abuse is on the rise in so called "academic doping." Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, has called on colleges in the state to regulate student access to drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin, medications which are often abused by students to help them study and cram for tests. Currently, they are only approved for use by patients with ADD and ADHD. Continue reading here.

Alcohol ads push underage girls to drink more, research finds
A woman in a tight T-shirt holds a cup in front of her chest as she pours a beer in a TV ad. Her face is cut out of the shot. In another beer commercial, there is a closeup on a woman’s torso from behind as she dances at a party. Next to a bottle of tequila, a man embraces a woman, lifting her up with a smile on his face. These images of sexually attractive, popular women associated with alcoholic beverages are not meant for women as young as 13. But underage girls see them, and the exposure to advertising is having an adverse effect on their health. That’s the argument made in an editorial published on the Canadian Medical Association Journal website on Monday by senior associate editor Dr. Ken Flegel. Rest of this story is here.

The Unlikely Force Driving Teen Prescription Drug Addiction: Parents?
So many issues in parenting are a matter of opinion. Work or stay home? Spank or don't spank? Parents argue passionately on both sides, but there will likely never be a clear resolution to these questions. Luckily, a few issues are (or should be) cut and dry. None of us want our children using drugs. Unfortunately, even on this point, not all parents agree on the gravity of the problem. A recent study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org reveals that parents are taking a hands-off approach to prescription drugs even though we have clear evidence of the magnitude of the epidemic. Researchers found that one in four teens has misused prescription medication at some point in their young lives. At a time when most other types of substance abuse are stabilizing, prescription drug abuse is up 33 percent from 2008. Continue here.

Craft brewing renaissance hits college campuses
A boom in the craft beer industry combined with an increase in food science programs means that more students are graduating college with a different kind of alcohol education. Read more here.

Improper Use Of Prescription Drugs Costs $200 Billion A Year, Report Finds
The U.S. spends $200 billion each year — about 8 percent of the nation’s health care tab — on medical care stemming from improper or unnecessary use of prescription drugs, a new report out Wednesday says. Much of those costs result from unneeded hospitalizations or doctor visits, according to the study by the IMS Health’s Institute for Healthcare Informatics, which provides data and other consulting services to the health care industry. Medical costs are driven up by patients who don’t get the right medications or fail to take their drugs, the misuse of antibiotics, medication errors and inadequate oversight when patients take multiple drugs. Please click here for more.

Prescription Drugs: 7 Out Of 10 Americans Take At Least One, Study Finds
A new study from Mayo Clinic researchers reveals how many Americans are on prescription drugs -- and it's a lot of us. The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, shows that seven out of 10 Americans take at least one prescription drug. The most commonly prescribed drug is antibiotics -- taken by 17 percent of Americans -- followed by antidepressants and opioids -- each taken by 13 percent of Americans. Rest of the story is here.

Wiser Prescription Drug Use Could Cut Health Costs By Billions: Study
If doctors and patients used prescription drugs more wisely, they could save the U.S. health care system at least $213 billion a year, by reducing medication overuse, underuse and other flaws in care that cause complications and longer, more-expensive treatments, researchers conclude. The new findings by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics improve on numerous prior efforts to quantify the dollars wasted on health care. More is available here.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Autism May Share Similarities: Rodent Study
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and autism spectrum disorder may share some molecular similarities, a new study of rats suggests. The findings could help researchers trying to develop new treatments for both disorders, Fox News reports. Researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago exposed pregnant rats to alcohol, and found their offspring showed symptoms of social impairment and changed levels of genes that have been linked to autism in humans. Rats exposed to alcohol when pregnant who were given low doses of the thyroid hormone thyroxin showed reductions in some effects of alcohol damage, and a reversal in the production of autism-related genes in their offspring, the article notes. “The novel finding here is that these two disorders share molecular vulnerabilities, and if we understand those, we are closer to finding treatments,” said senior author Eva Redei. Both disorders have symptoms of social impairment, and begin during brain development in the womb, HealthCanal reports. The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Minorities Less Likely to Complete Substance Abuse Treatment in Many States
A state-by-state analysis of substance abuse treatment programs finds that in many states, minorities are less likely than whites to successfully complete substance abuse programs. The analysis found significant disparities among states with regard to racial and ethnic differences. Overall, 46.25 percent of whites, 45.6 percent of Latinos, and 37.5 percent of African-Americans completed substance abuse treatment programs, Newswise reports. In Tennessee, African-American clients were 35 percent less likely to complete treatment programs, compared with whites. In Vermont, Latinos were almost 22 percent less likely than whites to complete treatment programs. While Latinos and African-Americans had lower completion rates in many states, there were some exceptions, the University of Iowa researchers found. In Hawaii, Utah and Mississippi, African-American clients were slightly more likely than whites to complete programs. Latinos were more likely than whites to complete programs in 17 states, including Texas, Florida, Oregon and Kansas. “Our findings suggest that for most states there’s something amiss,” researcher Stephan Arndt, PhD, said in a news release. “There are strong racial and ethnic disparities for people in being able to complete substance abuse treatment programs successfully, and those disparities are something we need to set as targets to remove.” Arndt added, “On the positive side, the study clearly shows that some states have been able to eliminate disparities. We need to examine the states that are being successful and compare what they are doing with those states that are not doing so well – what can we learn from successful states?” The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. It included data from 940,058 participants in outpatient substance abuse treatment centers.

Tide Detergent Stolen, Traded for Drugs, Law Enforcement and Retail Officials Say
Law enforcement and retail officials say Tide detergent is being stolen and traded for drugs. Liquid Tide or Tide Pods are also being sold at open swap meets and secret meetings, according to The Press-Enterprise. Detergent is fairly easy to steal and difficult to trace, law enforcement officials say. Stealing detergent is relatively low in risk, compared with other types of crime, they add. Unlike cold medicines, which are frequently stolen to make methamphetamine, Tide is not being broken down to make drugs, the article notes. A 150-ounce bottle of Tide that sells for about $18 can be exchanged for $5 in cash, or $10 worth of marijuana or crack cocaine, according to New York Magazine. Riverside, California Police Lieutenant Dan Hoxmeier said the thefts often involve three people: someone to identify the product, a second person to make sure no one is watching and loads the cart, and a third who pushes the cart out of the store. Richard Mellor, Vice President of Loss Prevention for the National Retail Federation, says some merchants are shrink-wrapping extra inventory on shelves, or making the detergent difficult to reach. Others are attaching electronic devices to the products, which will activate if they are not removed at the checkout counter. Stores are also comparing surveillance photos, and forwarding the information to law enforcement.

The Friends You Keep: Non-Medical Use Of Prescription Drugs
As I look back through my writing — particularly on highly-caffeinated drinks and synthetic marijuana or other previously-legal highs — I’m reminded of the need to put societal drug use risks in proper perspective. For example, we’ve discussed the implication of 5-Hour Energy Shots in cardiac events and deaths in heavy users. But these events occurred in a dozen or two people out of millions of users. And while high-dose caffeine is know to precipitate such adverse events, the FDA has yet to establish causality in these specific cases. Continue reading here.


Friday, June 14, 2013

ATOD and Advocacy Update - Week-Ending June 14, 2013



SOBERLINK's Alcohol Monitoring Technology Is Giving Parents of College-Aged Students Peace of Mind
Remote alcohol monitoring helps parents feel more secure about their investment in their child's college education

SOBERLINK, Inc., a technology company based in Southern California, has developed a discreet, wireless breathalyzer for secure remote alcohol monitoring that is currently being sought after by parents of college-aged students. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States. Binge drinking, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as drinking four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five for men within the span of two hours, brings a person's blood alcoholic concentration to 0.08 or above. Rest of this story is here.

New Jersey Drug Overdose Law Experiencing Growing Pains
There are some bumps along the road to implementing New Jersey’s new Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, which is expected to save lives. For the first time, the law allows someone who calls in a drug overdose emergency to 911 to not face charges for possession of a small amount of drugs. The idea, of course, is that the threat of arrest may have gotten in the way of the urge to help, and cost lives. Continue reading here.

Shopping for drugs online carries risks
When Steven Kovacs was in college, a doctor prescribed for him increasingly larger doses of the attention-deficit drug Adderall and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. When he returned home before starting graduate school, his family doctor insisted on weaning him off the drugs, says his mother Joni Kovacs. So Steven Kovacs did what many others do: He turned to online pharmacies, which often don't require a prescription from a personal physician. Kovacs says that's how her son bought the drugs on which he overdosed and died in 2009 at age 22. More of this story here.


Advertising of Prescription Drugs – Keeping it Honest and Balanced
It is well known that the pharmaceutical industry spends billions each year on promoting their products, especially to healthcare professionals. In the US, a significant amount is also spent on direct advertising to consumers. In a report by the FDA on Keeping Drug Advertising Honest and Balanced, Thomas Abrams, director of the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP), shares on how the agency “protects consumers from false and misleading ads for prescription drugs that appear on TV, radio, online and in print publications.” In the US and New Zealand, direct-to-consumer advertising is allowed because of the First Amendment, which provides for freedom of speech, including commercial speech by pharmaceutical companies. Abrams however points out that the FDA has been charged by law to ensure accurate and balanced advertising so that consumers are provided with helpful information about the medical conditions and the drugs to treat them. Continue reading here.


Designated Drivers Often Drink
A new study suggests that many designated drivers do not themselves refrain from drinking, creating an obvious barrier to the campaign’s effectiveness. Researchers interviewed and did breath tests on more than 1,000 people — including 165 who identified themselves as designated drivers — as they left bars in a Florida city. The tests were conducted six times over a three-month period, and the results were not encouraging. Only 65 percent of the designated drivers showed no blood alcohol content, 17 percent registered 0.02 percent to 0.049 percent, and 18 percent measured 0.05 percent or higher. Rest of this story is here.


Underage Drinking Laws on Campus
It is no secret that alcohol use is prevalent on college campuses. According to the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 80 percent of college kids drink alcohol, and over 50 percent of them have partaken in binge drinking in the last two weeks alone. Because less than half of  the collegiate student body is over 21 (the legal drinking age in the United States), most schools are left with a choice; they can either enforce underage drinking laws on and around their campuses, or they can ignore the underage drinking that takes place in their vicinity. Continue reading this blog here.


Chantix may also help curb alcohol addiction
The popular stop-smoking drug Chantix may also help treat alcohol addiction, a new study suggests. The study involved 200 people who reported drinking at least four to five drinks per day. Half of the participants were given Chantix to take every day for 13 weeks, while the other half were given a placebo. Those who took Chantix had reduced alcohol cravings and drank an average of 22 percent less each week compared to those who were given a placebo, the study found. Chantix was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to help people stop smoking. The drug works by suppressing the release of hormone receptors that are involved in both smoking and alcohol addiction. Click here to read more.

Study Suggests College Marijuana Use Linked With Academic Problems
A new study links marijuana use in college with an increase in academic problems, including skipping classes, spending less time studying, receiving lower grades, dropping out and being unemployed after graduating. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health studied 1,200 college freshmen over 10 years. They found early chronic marijuana use can lower a person’s IQ by as much as eight points, USA Today reports. “It’s really the first time that such an intense look at the health-risk behaviors of college students has been linked to the post-college functioning,” lead researcher Amelia Arria told the newspaper. The study found students who smoked marijuana more than 15 times a month were twice as likely to drop out of school, compared with those who smoked only a few times. Students who smoked marijuana about twice a month were 66 percent more likely than those who were minimal users to drop out. The study also found on average, 40 percent of college students drink alcohol excessively, and 16 percent meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder. In addition, 22 percent used a drug during the past month, with marijuana being the most common.

Health law could overwhelm addiction services
It has been six decades since doctors concluded that addiction was a disease that could be treated, but today the condition still dwells on the fringes of the medical community. Only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States goes toward addiction, and few alcoholics and drug addicts receive treatment. One huge barrier, according to many experts, has been a lack of health insurance. But that barrier crumbles in less than a year. In a major break with the past, 3 million to 5 million people with drug and alcohol problems -- from homeless drug addicts to working moms who drink too much -- suddenly will become eligible for insurance coverage under the new health care overhaul. The number of people seeking treatment could double over current levels, depending on how many states decide to expand their Medicaid programs and how many addicts choose to take advantage of the new opportunity, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. The analysis compared federal data on the addiction rates in the 50 states, the capacity of treatment programs and the provisions of the new health law. Click here for more.

Preventing Substance Use Disorders in People With Mental Illness
A researcher at Harvard Medical School is studying which substance use disorders are more common among people with different types of mental illness, and when they tend to develop. He hopes his research will one day be used to prevent drug and alcohol disorders among people with mental illness through early counseling, detection and treatment. Ronald C. Kessler, PhD, the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, is investigating at what age people tend to develop mental health problems and substance use disorders. “I am looking at when these problems develop, and at interventions to try to prevent a pileup of problems,” he says. “Often, when a person comes in for mental illness treatment, they already have several problems. For instance a young person with social phobias, depression or anxiety may start using alcohol to self-medicate, so by the time we see them, they have mental health issues and a drinking problem.” At the recent American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, Dr. Kessler discussed his goal of reaching people with mental health issues before they develop alcohol or drug disorders, known as secondary prevention. “If a person comes in for treatment of depression, social phobia or anxiety, we need clinicians to warn them they may also be at high risk of substance use disorders because of self-medication. We need to look at children, adolescents and young adults being treated for mental illness, and examine their risk for substance use. Find out if they are using drugs or alcohol as a crutch, and if they aren’t, give them the tools to prevent them from starting. Clinicians don’t normally think this way.” Dr. Kessler analyzed data from the World Mental Health Survey Initiative, which includes several hundred thousand people from 28 countries. He analyzed patterns of when mental health disorders and substance use disorders unfold over the course of a person’s life, to try to find why some people abuse substances and are able to stop, while others become dependent. For instance, he explained, some people start abusing marijuana in their teens and stop by their early 20s, while for others, marijuana use becomes central to their lifestyle. “We found that in people with anxiety problems, marijuana use is less likely to disappear, while juvenile delinquents tend to grow out of it.” People suffering from anxiety are also more likely to abuse alcohol chronically than those who are not anxious, he added. The survey looked at “internalizing” mental health disorders including depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, separation anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers also evaluated the prevalence of common “externalizing” disorders including drug and alcohol abuse, conduct disorder, attention-deficit disorder and intermittent explosive disorder.

Five myths about legalizing marijuana
Doug Fine is the author of “Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution,” in which he followed one legal medicinal cannabis plant from farm to patient. With 16 states having decriminalized or legalized cannabis for non-medical use and eight more heading toward some kind of legalization, federal prohibition’s days seem numbered. You might wonder what America will look like when marijuana is in the corner store and at the farmers market. In three years spent researching that question, I found some ideas about the plant that just don’t hold up. Continue reading here.


The Relationship Between Food and Alcohol
Food can be a perpetrator for alcoholism.  Simply put, food may be responsible for some people’s relationship to alcohol, or, alcoholism can be caused by food. Food tastes better when you’re drunk, for some people.  It ties into guilt, and when you drink your diet or food restrictions can get thrown to the wind.  As a result, we experience food on a new level that we can’t experience when we are sober.  Guilt for eating something “bad” like pizza doesn’t mean much when you’re drunk. This can cause alcoholism, or an unhealthy relationship between food and alcohol, once you find yourself making a connection to food based on booze. For example, you hit the bars with your friends, and make a stop at a taco stand after a night of drinking, and it tastes great, even though it’s the booze talking, we make a correlation or connection to that feeling of satisfaction with something we wouldn’t otherwise eat, or a connection to the feeling of food tastes better when you’re drunk.  So it carries over to your regular relationship to food.  Since you connect food to tasting better with alcohol, you find the need to drink before or while you eat. Is it the lack of restrictions on your food regime that you are trying to relive, or do you think that food will taste better when you’re drunk, so try and relive that “this tastes amazing” reaction to food? Alcoholisms roots are known to be in genetics, or one’s environment, among other known triggers, but, it can also have its roots in food, and the feeling you recall of food when you’re drunk, and you find yourself thinking food is only good with alcohol. Or some other substance, like marijuana.  For whatever reason, it’s a double-edged sword.


BU Mandates Online Alcohol Course for First-Year Students
More than a third (35 percent) of first-year BU students don’t drink alcohol. But many students may not know that, misled by urban myth about universal, Animal House imbibing on college campuses.  This year, the University is requiring first-year students to take an online alcohol course to separate truthful wheat from mythic chaff, starting before they even arrive on campus. Those students will receive log-in instructions midsummer for AlcoholEdu for College. The course includes two parts: the first, featuring educational material and surveys before and after the material is studied, takes between one and a  half and two and a half hours to complete. (It needn’t all be done in one sitting.) Part 2 is a third, 15-minute survey. In recent years, the University has offered students another online survey, iHealth, to dispel misconceptions, but has not required it. The hope is that through the mandatory course, students will be more responsible about alcohol use. “It is used by most of our peer institutions as a prevention-level intervention for first-year college students” to curb dangerous drinking, says Elizabeth Douglas, manager of wellness and prevention services at Student Health Services.  “We are using AlcoholEdu because it has the capacity to track student completion, in addition to having evidence of its being an effective intervention.”  That evidence comes from a three-year, 30-campus study that found reduced frequency of drinking, including binge drinking, and related problems among students who participated in AlcoholEdu, as compared with students who did not. Part 1 must be completed before students arrive on campus for the academic year. They will be required to finish Part 2 sometime in October; the University will send them a reminder email. AlcoholEdu is designed to be taken by both drinkers  and nondrinking students. The surveys and intersecting information touch on such topics as how many drinks are in a bottle of wine or beer, factors influencing whether people drink, exaggerated notions of heavy drinking on campuses, alcohol’s effects on the  body and mind, and tactics students can use to protect themselves and friends from harm in a variety of drinking situations. The course also provides information for parents about discussions they should have with their children: about alcohol, about its possible effects on schoolwork, and about drinking laws. It asks their views on college alcohol policies,  issues they deem important to discuss with their kids, and demographic information about their families. (Parents wanting a demonstration of the program can find it here.) The new program follows a drop in alcohol-related violations and hospital runs on campus last year, which officials attribute to their recent alcohol enforcement program, entering its third academic year this fall. That program features  increased police patrols of known party neighborhoods, dispersing parties, issuing citations, and publishing fall’s enforcement statistics on BU Today. Meanwhile, a city ordinance allows Boston police to arrest landlords and tenants in so-called problem properties—rentals with four documented complaints of loud parties or alcohol violations.  Douglas says the University likely will use AlcoholEdu in coming years, since BU chooses responsible drinking programs “based on research and evidence of effectiveness.”

Five Errors the Washington Post Should Have Caught About Marijuana
In recent years, the Washington Post has managed to strike a balance between pro- and anti-legalization opinion pieces (e.g. Rauch's "Let's Go Down the Aisle Toward Legalized Pot" and Wehner's "Republicans should just say no."). Importantly, even when the Post has published pieces that I disagree with, the basic facts presented have been correct. Their history of consistent balance is why I nearly fell off my chair when I read Doug Fine's Sunday Post piece, "Five Myths About Legalized Marijuana." It's not just that I disagree with Fine about marijuana policy (indeed, we debated once on CNBC). What I find disturbing is that the Post published a piece containing numerous major factual errors without, it seems, much thought. These were not close calls. The numbers in Fine's article are easily challenged with a simple Google search. Click here for more

The Many Different Faces Of Marijuana In America
On Tuesday, Vermont moved to decriminalize the possession of marijuana for quantities up to an ounce, replacing potential prison time for arrests with fines. Peter Shumlin, the state's governor, made a telling when he announced the move. "This legislation allows our courts and law enforcement to focus their limited resources more effectively to fight highly addictive opiates such as heroin and prescription drugs that are tearing apart families and communities," he said. The idea that weed isn't that big a deal and that governments need to readjust their priorities is pretty common. There's little vocal anti-pot government outcry, no temperance movement analog for cannabis. have found that a majority of Americans think marijuana should be legalized. Click here to read the rest of the story.


New, troubling heroin addiction trend grips southeast Michigan
At the 99-bed St. John Providence Brighton Center for Recovery, more clients are coming in these days addicted to opiates, including heroin. “Our 18- to 25-year population has exploded” in recent years, said outreach and referral specialist Scott Masi, 48. “The prescription medication problem is pushing this heroin problem. Anybody who tells you anything different doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I could poll every kid who comes in our clinic, and it’s a broken record. It’s the Vicodin and OxyContin, and then it goes to the heroin.” Authorities say a particularly toxic heroin mix known by some on the street as “black shadow” appears to be circulating in southeast Michigan communities, causing a rise in overdoses and at least one death this month. Please click here for more.

Meeting the needs of mature women in treatment
An estimated two million older women in the U.S. could benefit from treatment for issues related to alcohol misuse or dependence, though less than one percent receive treatment.  An even greater number misuse prescription drugs. Click here for the rest of this story.