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Substance Abuse

USA - 'Johnny’s': The Latest Killer on the Street - (16 August 2018)

By abusing Gabapentin, drug addicts have figured out how to mimic an opioid high. Walking through Webb Park, Doug Crowley said that’s when life is most still. But although that calmness is drug-induced it’s not the Suboxone he’s prescribed to help with his withdrawal from heroin. The 25-year-old is abusing Gabapentin pills which are called "Johnny’s" on the street. Gabapentin is an anti-epileptic seizure and nerve pain medication which doctors prescribe as a safe alternative to opioids. But addicts have figured out that in high doses it mimics an opioid euphoria. They’re a dollar each so Johnny’s are cheaper than other prescription drugs sold on the street such as Xanor at $5 and OxyContin at $30 a pill. The state medical examiner’s office ruled Gabapentin as the cause of death in 520 overdoses last year in Massachusetts alone, more than triple two years earlier.

USA - Researchers Have Underestimated the Number of Opioid Deaths - (01 August 2018)

The statistics of opioid overdose deaths are staggering as more than 42 000 people died of an opioid overdose in 2017 alone. Among young adults, these drugs deaths accounted for 23% of all deaths in 2017 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated. In a paper published in Public Health Reports researchers found that cause of death are listed on death certificates using codes determined by the National Center for Health Statistics. A code exists for “narcotics.” Of the more than 438 600 overdose deaths, roughly 255 500 were coded as opioid-related, approximately 85 600 as non-opioid-related and about 97 100 as other and unspecified. The researchers hypothesized that many of these other-coded deaths were actually attributable to opioids.

Australia - Study Finds Marijuana Does Not Reduce or End Opioid Use - (01 August 2018)

 In the USA, Canada, and the Netherlands, chronic non-cancer pain is the most commonly cited reason for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Furthermore, there is an increasing discussion about the potential opioid-sparing effects of cannabinoids in the media. Australian researchers recruited 1514 people from community pharmacies across the nation using prescription opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. The participants completed baseline interviews and were followed up annually for four years. Compared to people who did not use marijuana, participants who did had greater pain severity scores, greater pain interference scores, lower pain self-efficacy scores and greater generalized anxiety disorder severity scores. The researchers “found no evidence of a temporal [causal] relationship between cannabis use and pain severity or pain interference and no evidence that cannabis use reduced prescribed opioid use or increased rates of opioid discontinuation.” The study by Dr Garbrielle Campbell and colleagues from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales Sydney, was published in the Lancet.

UK - Baby dies after pain relief patch becomes attached to her - (17 July 2018)

A baby girl has died in the UK after her mother’s powerful pain relief patch became attached to the child’s skin as the pair slept in the same bed. The 15-month-old Amelia was taken to hospital after she was discovered lifeless in the bed. She could not be saved and a post-mortem found that that she had high levels of the opioid fentanyl in her bloodstream. It is not clear when, where or how the patch came to be attached to Amelia. ”The coroner will write to NHS chiefs and suggest a nationwide warning be issued urgently”, and said that “The drug can cause a reduction in breathing, and seizures”. The report says patches are prescribed to people who cannot take morphine orally.

USA - Washington introduces bill to federally decriminalize marijuana - (17 July 2018)

Washington Senator Chuck Schumer has introduced a new bill to decriminalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. The legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) where it is classified among drugs such as heroin and cocaine. This bill would effectively decriminalize the drug at the federal level but would still allow states to determine their own marijuana laws while maintaining federal law enforcement against trafficking to states where it is illegal. A similar measure aimed at loosening federal guidelines on marijuana was introduced earlier this month by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Colorado State.

South Africa - Raising awareness about substance abuse - (17 July 2018)

On Substance Abuse Awareness Day June 26th companies and organizations all over the country did their part to raise awareness about the crippling social ill. People living with mental illness or suffering from a previous trauma turn to substances in a misguided attempt to treat the symptoms of their illness, or reduce the side effects of their prescribed medication. Substance abuse has an impact on our communities and families and has many negative effects on the youth. “Often people who are suffering with a substance abuse problem do not go and get help by themselves,” said clinical psychologist, Zamo Mbele. People can get help for addiction from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline.

USA - Missouri babies being born are in painful drug withdrawals - (21 June 2018)

A new group of health care and social services experts called the Peri-natal Recovery Collaborative gathered to discuss the growing rate of Missouri babies born drug dependent, with painful withdrawal symptoms increasing. Federal official Kimberly Nelson said that every year since 2011 there has been a roughly 312% increase up until 2017 and that opioids are likely to blame. The Missouri numbers fit a national trend of rapidly increasing rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). According to the National Institutes of Health a baby is born in opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes in the United States. According to Stanford Children's Health, NAS is usually treated with comfort care but some babies with severe withdrawal symptoms may need to be treated temporarily with drugs until they can be weaned off the substances.

USA - Tobacco interventions improve health in behavioral treatment facilities - (21 June 2018)

Integrating tobacco cessation interventions in behavioral health treatment facilities could decrease tobacco-related disease and death. It could also improve outcomes for patients with mental and substance abuse disorders. According to research published in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report people with mental or substance abuse disorders are more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes as people without these disorders and are more likely to die from tobacco-related illnesses than from behavioral health conditions. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration analyzed data from the 2016 National Mental Health Services Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services to assess tobacco-related policies in mental health and substance abuse facilities.

Scotland - Deaths increase amid questions on 'parking' addicts on methadone - (21 June 2018)

A Scotland National Health Service (NHS) report said there were 865 drug-related deaths in 2016, a 24% increase compared to the previous year and the highest rate ever in Europe. It warned that the "trajectory" suggests that "deaths will continue to increase in the future" and highlighted the high number of fatalities among users being treated on the NHS with an Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) drug. The proportion of drug users who had been prescribed an OST, such as methadone, at the time of their death increased to 37 per cent. In a disturbing trend the report also found said that the number of deaths involving so-called 'legal highs' more than tripled in a year, from 103 in 2015 to 363 the following year.

USA - Study Reveals More children are overdosing on ADHD Drugs - (07 June 2018)

A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reveals an increase in overdoses of Attention Deficit and Hyper Activity disorder (ADHD) drugs among children. The study examined data on pediatric exposures from the National Poison Data System between 2000 and 2016. The report found that poison control centers in the US received reports of over 150,000 exposures to ADHD drugs during that period. While some exposures were credited as therapeutic error, substance abuse accounted for a significant number of exposures. Half of those reported exposures among the adolescent age group were the result of intentional misuse or abuse. The report concludes that the rising rate of pediatric exposure to ADHD drugs, particularly the increase in intentional misuse and substance abuse is of serious concern.

South Africa - People smoking in public could be jailed for up to 3 months - (07 June 2018)

The draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill proposes three month prison sentences for smoking in public. Among the many new provisions proposed are that dedicated smoking areas in restaurants will be removed. South Africans have until August 9 to comment on the bill. South Africans may be jailed up for up to three months for smoking in public and employers for up to a year if employees are unwillingly exposed to smoking. Smoking will also be banned in vehicles with passengers and specifically for children under the age of 18. Manufacturers of cigarettes and electronic tobacco devices will be forced to remove all branding on packages with an exception of a company logo or risk a five-year prison sentence.

USA - Over a Dozen People Hospitalized for Synthetic Marijuana - (07 June 2018)

More than a dozen people were hospitalized in Brooklyn, New York for what police are claiming is bad synthetic marijuana. The cause is a toxic batch of “spice,” otherwise known as “K2” or simply synthetic marijuana. Unlike cannabis, spice can cause aggression, hallucinations, severe anxiety, and overdoses. Users were found by police unconscious, having trouble breathing, and vomiting. Each of the hospitalized was treated with naloxone, an anti-overdose drug usually associated with opioids. New York City hospitals have recorded 600 emergency room visits caused by synthetic cannabis this year. A warning also recently came from the Centre’s for Disease Control about synthetic cannabis containing Brodifacoum, a rat poison. Four people died and 153 were sickened by spice in central Illinois as well. Most states have banned synthetic cannabis.

UK - Substance abuse and addiction services decline with lack of funding - (11 May 2018)

Dependency services are at a crisis point as a result of a lack of funding from government, a new survey has warned. In a report from Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern, the survey, which received 154 completed responses from medical professionals and service users, found that only 12% of the medical facilities and doctors surveyed felt that substance abuse services in their area were sufficient and cuts of up to 58% were reported. ”Public Health England estimates that around 595,000 people in England alone are in need of specialist treatment. In 2016-17, only 80,454 people received treatment for dependencies, with 80% of substance and alcohol dependent people currently not in rehabilitation services. Government needs to recognise the vital role that treatment plays in addressing the tragic consequences dependency can have on individuals.”

USA - New data shows that fatal drug overdose has nearly tripled - (11 May 2018)

Fatal drug overdoses nearly tripled between 2014 and 2017 according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Opioid related fatal overdoses accounted for nearly 61 percent of overdoses in 2016 and for 63 percent of the fatal overdoses in 2017. Deaths from heroin and synthetic opioids increased sharply across many states. Between 2014 and 2017 fatal overdoses involving synthetic opioids increased by 71%.This epidemic is a problem that doesn’t discriminate. Rates of opioid deaths increased overall between both sexes aged 25 to 44 and all ethnic groups. The CDC data was analyzed by the Office on National Drug Control Policy and revealed that opioid related fatalities outnumbered gun-related deaths by nearly 3 to 1.

USA - Quantifying population-level health harms of e-cigarette use - (20 April 2018)

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may help cigarette smokers quit smoking but more than likely will facilitate cigarette smoking for never-smokers. Using the Monte Carlo stochastic simulation model parameters were drawn from census counts, national health and published literature. The model estimated that 168,000 additional never-cigarette smoking adolescents aged 12–17 and young adults aged 18–29, would initiate cigarette smoking in 2018 and eventually become daily cigarette smokers at age 35–39 through the use of e-cigarettes from 2017. Overall, the model estimated that e-cigarette use in 2017 would lead to 1,510,000 years of life lost. Based on the existing scientific evidence related to e-cigarettes, use currently represents more population level harm.

Canada - Energy drinks cause many sudden cardiac deaths in young people - (20 April 2018)

High amounts of caffeine can aggravate underlying heart issues, causing fatal arrhythmias in many adolescents and young adults. A new study by an international research team, led by Dr. Fabian Sanchis-Gomar of Madrid, Spain, has concluded that energy drinks are the cause of many sudden cardiac deaths in young, healthy individuals. The problem is that there are many additional sources of caffeine that are “masked” by the labeling. Ingredients such as guarana, ginseng and taurine have very high caffeine concentrations that are higher than found in coffee. Roughly 31% of adolescents from ages 12 to 19 consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Of 5,448 caffeine overdoses in 2017, 46% of them occurred in people under the age of 19.

USA - Binge drinking rates among students are worrying - (20 April 2018)

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) say that binge drinking is becoming more prevalent among young people. Study author Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., says the problem may stem from young adults who aren't in college; there aren't the same organizational supports to implement interventions he said. The group found that binge drinking and related problems increased among people aged 18-24, 45% of students reported drinking more than 5 drinks at an occasion at least once in the last 30 days and 28% admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol. There is an urgent need to stop extreme binge drinking which has become a serious public health concern. The full study has been published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

UK - One in 10 Sober People Have Cocaine or Heroin on Their Fingertips - (06 April 2018)

There's a lot of cocaine and heroin in the world and there's a good chance you have some on your hands right now. A new paper published in the journal of Clinical Chemistry found that 13% of drug-free study participants had traces of drugs on their fingertips. The participants were tested at the University of Surrey and had enough drugs on their hands to trip instruments and it did not go away when participants washed their hands. This study was confirmed by chemists who already knew that trace amounts of drugs are everywhere, said Rolf Halden, director of the Bio-design Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University USA. ”Think of drugs on paper money," used in conjunction with drugs said Halden.

USA - Vaping debate: do e-cigarettes cause cancer? - (14 March 2018)

Latest research on health impacts of the growing trend in E-cigarette devices are promoted as a safer alternative to tobacco .New US research shows that vaping is “far from harmless” and could pose a serious health risk. A US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine review examined the effects of e-cigarette smoke on mice and lab-grown human cells by exposing them to a 10mg/ml e-cigarette solution for three hours a day, five days a week, for four months. This dose would be equivalent to light vaping for ten years, say the researchers, from the New York University School of Medicine. The mice exposed to e-cigarette smoke had “higher levels of DNA damage” in the heart, lungs, and bladder, compared with a control group exposed to filtered air, according to the team. Scientists also recorded damage to the human cells that in turn inhibits the process whereby the body repairs them and increases the possibility of cancer.

USA - Study: “Medical marijuana” outlets don’t only sell to the sick - (14 March 2018)

A study of four medical marijuana outlets in California showed that dispensaries attracted many customers outside of their immediate area and appeared to target specific ethnic, gender and/or age groups. "If you need a prescription, you're not going to go across town to fill it -- you're going to go to the pharmacy closest to where you live. That's what we should be seeing with medical marijuana dispensaries.” said Bridget Freisthler, co-author of the study and professor of social work at Ohio State University. Instead, these dispensaries are acting more like bars, which develop niche markets she said. "While there has been speculation that medical dispensaries target recreational users, now we are starting to collect evidence that suggests this is true," she said. The results appear online in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

South Africa - Durban calls for halt on supply of free syringes to addicts - (14 March 2018)

Mayor Zandile Gumede tasked City officials to urgently address the issue and said while the matter was being investigated that the distribution of syringes to drug addicts must stop. The city’s Legal Compliance Unit has also been approached to provide an opinion on the legality of supplying the syringes with needles to communities without ensuring a proper, restricted disposal process by the project owner. Officials were finding a number of discarded, used syringes on the beachfront which had to be cordoned off for safety reasons. “An investigation was launched and it was discovered that a company operating in Durban has been supplying syringes to the public who requested it, as a way to stop the sharing of syringes. However, there are no control measures in place regarding disposal,” deputy mayor Fawzia peer added. “They are using the syringes and leaving it on the ground. However, this company has a memorandum of agreement with the national and provincial departments of health to supply syringes. She added that it was a serious concern and a societal problem with youngsters being given leeway to do drugs.

USA - Judge tosses lawsuit challenging federal marijuana laws - (14 March 2018)

A judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging federal laws criminalizing marijuana as unconstitutional, saying the five plaintiffs had failed to pursue changes in the drug’s legal status by first going through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein did not address the plaintiffs claim that marijuana has medical benefits, but said the DEA has the authority to make that decision and not the courts. Michael Hiller, lead attorney for the plaintiffs said they would appeal the decision. The suit originally was filed as a growing number of states broke with the federal government and declared marijuana to be legal. Thirty have now legalized it in some fashion, including six for recreational use. The lawsuit challenged the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category that includes heroin and LSD. The federal government says drugs under that classification have no accepted medical use and cannot legally be prescribed.

UK - Government not about to legalize medicinal Marijuana for pain medication - (23 February 2018)

Rhian Cowen a Multiple Sclerosis patient said she had experienced "frightening" symptoms from the disease before using products which contain cannabis to ease pain. Cannabis should be made available on prescription to stop people who use it to ease pain being criminalised. Assembly Members argued in a Senate debate that they want the UK to change the law. They were concerned that some living with conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) that are using cannabis are putting them at risk of prosecution by purchasing illegal marijuana. But the UK government said it had no plans to legalise the Class B drug and that the Home Office said there is clear scientific and medical evidence that it is harmful. Cannabis is currently banned for sale in the UK and that for the foreseeable future it will remain that way.

USA - Cannabis: Brain alterations may explain feelings of alienation - (09 February 2018)

New research has revealed altered brain activity in young adults with cannabis addiction. The study was carried out by Dr. Peter Manza, Dr. Dardo Tomasi, and Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda. The findings have been published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. Dr.Manza and his colleagues explain in their paper that heavy cannabis use has been linked with a higher risk of psychosis, depression and schizophrenia, disorder, hyper connectivity and feelings of alienation. The researchers focused on feelings of alienation, that is, the feeling that friends betray you and others reject you or wish to harm you. Their previous research had shown that people who abused cannabis reported very high levels of this feeling. The researchers used functional MRI’s to examine the "resting-state brain function" of the sub cortical brain regions of 441 adults, aged 22 and 35 as laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV.

USA - Volunteer to Cuddle Drug Addicted Babies - (09 February 2018)

Cuddling really helps babies fighting for their lives in hospitals across the country. These special babies are addicted to drugs and snuggles from some very loving volunteers just might be the ticket to their healing. As drug addiction rates skyrocket across the country, more and more infants are suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).These infants, exposed to opioids and drugs in the womb, require a special amount of care to survive the excruciating withdrawal process. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the incidence of NAS has increased 383 percent in the United States since 2000. A Pennsylvania nurse, Jane Cavanaugh, started a volunteer program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to help, “They need human touch” she said. Maribeth McLaughlin, chief nursing officer and vice president of Patient Care Services at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, strongly agrees. It seems to be working. According to McLaughlin, babies in withdrawal who are held regularly need less medication and go home sooner, on average, than those who are not.

USA – ‘Juuling’ a very dangerous smoking game for children - (18 January 2018)

JUULing is not a new dance but instead a dangerous form of vaping that is tearing through schools across the country. John Ross, an M.D. at Brigham Hospital who contributes to the Harvard Health Blog said long-term safety data on e-cigarettes do not yet exist, and research from a group called Truth Initiative shows that 25% see no danger. “Electronic cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into vapor, which is then inhaled; the liquid is anything from a flavored water or oil-type mixture to liquid nicotine to marijuana THC.” The True Initiative web panel survey of 5,018 15- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. revealed that 37% of teens don’t know they inhale nicotine, although on the JUUL website each pod is equal to 200 cigarette puffs, That’s like smoking a pack a day in one sitting. Like other forms of vaping, the JUULpods are offered in enticing flavors such as créme bruleé and mango and perky peach which is appealing to kids. And rather than smelling like an ashtray, JUUL smells pleasant. The JUUL device is sleek, and resembles a car key holder or flash drive or a pen that’s easily hidden.

USA – Trump administration toughens stance on recreational marijuana - (18 January 2018)

The US Justice Department announced a “return to the rule of law”. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded five key memos issued by the administration of President Barack Obama that discouraged enforcement of federal laws which still classify marijuana as a dangerous narcotic like heroin. This will clash with the six US states that have already moved ahead to legalize pot sales. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and California have legalized sales.”It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission. “He directed federal attorneys “to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations and tackle the growing drug crisis.” Nevertheless, the move was seen as a signal that the government is likely to resist more legalization and decriminalization of cannabis.

USA/South Africa – Kratom, an addict’s alternative, is found addictive itself - (18 January 2018)

It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to learn a lot more about it, said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a co-author of several scientific articles on Kratom. “Recreationally or to self-medicate opioid dependence, beware – potentially you’re at just as much risk” as with an opiate. Kratom is derived from Mitragyna speciosa, a tropical deciduous and evergreen tree in the coffee tree family native to Southeast Asia in Indochina. Its leaves are used for traditional medicinal properties. It is psychoactive and the leaves are used to uplift mood and treat health problems. A recent article in the New York Times argues that it is just as addictive as heroin, for which it was used as a recovery tool from heroin addiction. Kratom’s narcotic effects have been known for centuries in its native Thailand which banned the substance decades ago. The FDA did ban the import of Kratom into the United States in 2014; however, Kratom now exists in a kind of legal purgatory. Because it is categorized as a botanical dietary supplement the Food and Drug Administration cannot restrict its sale unless it is proved unsafe or producers claim that it treats a medical condition. (Some packages are coyly labeled “not for human consumption” to avoid tripping FDA alarms.) This plant is currently 100% legally available to purchase in South Africa, at shops or online.

USA – The first baby to die in the USA ‘associated with cannabis’ - (29 November 2017)

There might be a link between marijuana and heart failure in children. A baby boy’s death has prompted a debate among doctors after it was claimed that he died of a marijuana overdose. After suffering from a seizure, the 11-month-old died from heart failure and doctors subsequently produced a report linking his death to marijuana. “We just wanted to make sure that we’re not going to call this a marijuana-related fatality if there was something else that we could point it at,” said Dr. Christopher Hoyte of the Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Center. “And we have looked and couldn’t find it.” Dr Hoyte was on duty as a poison control officer when he treated the child and found that his urine and blood tested positive for marijuana, thereafter “One thing just led to another and the child ended up with a heart stopped. And the child stopped breathing and died.” The report concluded: this is the first reported pediatric death associated with cannabis.”

South Africa – Flakka on sale in SA '10 times more dangerous than cocaine' - (29 November 2017)

Flakka is in Durban and the authorities are warning about its dangerous effects, which include mental disturbance and psychotic episodes. “About 10 times more powerful than cocaine,” says director Walter Petersen of SANCA Durban, describing “flakka”. Mr. Petersen told newspapers that flakka – is also known as “bath baths”. Petersen explained it was a powerful upper like amphetamines and that its use could lead to paranoia, overheating, hallucinations, delirium, and even death! “It is cheaper than cocaine and you can buy it online.” Petersen also stated that if users came to SANCA their offices would treat them, however, “Users will probably be subject to a dual diagnosis –that of the addiction and for mental disturbance. They reported that the drug is being sold in Wentworth, Chatsworth and Pinetown.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of Doctors for Life International