Addiction News & Policy Update

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.

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