Category Archives: Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse

Leftover Prescription Drugs Not Disposed By Parents

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excess prescription drugs

In a poll survey conducted among 1,200 participants, results showed that one third of the participating parents said their children received narcotic painkillers, as reported in a news release. About 8 percent of parents said they returned excess medicine to the doctor or pharmacy. Another 30 percent of them said they disposed the medicines by flushing it in the toilet or simply put it in the garbage. A good six percent reported keeping the leftovers to be used by other family members, while 9 percent of them said they misplaced the pills.

In addition to all the illicit drugs being used in the U.S., prescription painkillers have become agents of substance abuse due to excess medicine left unattended by parents with children aged 5-17 years old.

Opioid painkillers like Oxycontin or Percocet are used to treat severe to chronic pain due to surgery and illnesses. However, an overdose of these drugs can lead to physiological, cognitive and behavioral problems.

In the U.S. some physicians overprescribe opioid drugs, which may lead to the opportunity to misuse the medication. Oftentimes, the amount of prescribed drugs for pain is far greater than what the patient actually needs.  In the case of children prescribed with painkillers, parents simply keep the excess pills instead of taking these back to the prescribing doctor or the pharmacy.

The issue on leftover prescription drugs not disposed by parents can lead to early addiction of young adults who are very curious, said Sarah Clark, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Clark also added that parents may lose the opportunity to inhibit their kids from misusing prescribed medicines. Ignorance and apathy towards the treatment of leftover prescription medication may result to drug addiction in their teenage children.


Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

Washington State Records More Car Accident Deaths After Marijuana Legalization

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car crash deaths marijuana use

A recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that the number of traffic-related deaths more than doubled in Washington after the legalization of marijuana use and sale. This remarkable increase in marijuana-related road mishaps is very alarming, said foundation president Peter Kissinger in a news item.

Washington legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana on December 2012. As per recorded fatal vehicular accidents from 2013 until 2014, the percentage has gone up from 8 percent to 17 percent, all of which are attributed to marijuana use. Marijuana legalization in the state is seemingly leaving policymakers and safety advocates worried that people who are high on pot are being allowed to drive freely.

In most accidents, drivers are immediately tested for alcohol toxicity. If found positive, they will be slapped with charges. In contrast, drug testing becomes a second option not unless the driver is suspected to be drug-impaired. Authorities cannot yet disclose on the extent of the accountability of pot use in these accidents since THC does not carry the same effects in all users regardless of the amount used. Some people automatically become impaired even with minimal consumption, while some users on high dosage don’t seem fazed.

Authorities can only be hopeful that Washington will serve as a case study for future states planning to legalize recreational marijuana, so that flaws on the enforcement of the law may still be corrected.

The use and sale of recreational marijuana has been legalized in Washington and four other U.S. states, but driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal in all areas in the country. Bottom line, people who are drug-impaired are not allowed to drive.


Substance Abuse

Smoking Cessation Significantly Lowers Health Care Costs, Says Study

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Smoking is one of the major causes of chronic diseases in both smokers and non-smokers, resulting to casualties due to heart diseases and respiratory problems. Nevertheless, according to the American Heart Association, smoking is the most preventable root of untimely deaths among Americans.

According to a recent study published in PLOS Medicine, cessation of smokers – especially in areas where the policies to reduce smoking were strongly implemented – has improved the lives and health conditions of residents, resulting to lower medical costs. In addition, study first author James Lightwood (associate professor in the UCSF School of Pharmacy) said via a news release that a remarkable drop in health care disbursements is noticeable after the smokers decided to kick the habit.

The researchers emphasized that in 2009, the reported health care cost in California was less than $15 billion, far below the national average. On the other hand, Kentucky’s medical cost is above the average, at roughly $2 billion more in the health care expenses.

In related news, proponents of a study from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) believe that even a 10 percent decrease in smoking will help lower the cost of U.S. health care by $63 billion on the succeeding year.


Substance Abuse

Strength of Ecstasy and Party Drugs Reaches Alarming Levels

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ecstasy pills MDMA

The use of party drugs has gone up significantly, especially in the U.K. Most of these drugs – which come in the form of ecstasy or MDMA – are manufactured in the Netherlands, according to police records.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction (EMCDDA) warned the public of its spread and the hazards it poses to human health and society.  The new formula in recent pills and crystals has a component concentration that is stronger than what it used to be in the ‘80s.

According to a news report, law enforcement authorities in the U.K. recently showed a 17-year-old minor as the new victim of ecstasy. Faye Allen, a resident of Liverpool, died after being in a rave party in Manchester during the weekend.  The authorities suspected the cause of her untimely death to be an adverse response to a strong variant of ecstasy called “Mastercard”.

Harry Shapiro, who works as editor of an online drug information service called Drugwise, commented that it is irresponsible to design a tablet of deadly strengths. He even questioned the legitimacy of these “street chemists” to be manufacturing an illicit pill so strong. Furthermore, he advised the public to completely avoid ecstasy and similar drugs, and under no circumstances should it be taken all at once.

The revival of disco music plays a big role in the rebirth of ecstasy use. To date, the rising demand for and easy access to the drug have reached alarming levels. Estimated dose of these pills is around 75 to 100 milligrams per tablet, and it is believed that a lot of pills with extremely higher doses are also being circulated in the streets of UK. This has been discovered in ecstasy of either powder or crystal form.


Substance Abuse

All You Need To Know About Steroid Abuse

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Steroids use has become one of the worst problems in the field of sports.

The use of anabolic steroids has increased over the years, primarily used by body builders, athletes, and fitness “buffs” for the various benefits it gives them. We have seen a lot of athletes use this banned substance for enhancing performance.

In this article, we shall delve into the increasing problem of steroids abuse.

What are steroids?

Steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the primary hormone found in males. These substances produce a wide range of side effects in different parts of the body such as the muscles, bones, hair follicles, liver, kidneys, immune system, reproductive system, and central nervous system.

At puberty, an increase in testosterone level can result to the development of male characteristics such as beard and body hair growth, linear growth, deep voice, sex drive, and accumulation of muscle mass. Testosterone also contributes to the laying down of bone minerals and can boost competitiveness, self-esteem, and aggressiveness.

Anabolic steroids can be administered orally, injected, or applied to the skin. It travels through the bloodstream and makes its way to the muscle tissue where they are bound to an androgen receptor. The drug then interacts with the DNA of the cell to activate the promote synthesis leading to cell growth.

Anabolic steroids may be administered through injection.

Anabolic steroids may be administered through injection.

For non-medicinal purposes, steroids are usually taken in a cycle of 6 to 12 weeks, followed by 4 weeks to several months off. This helps reduce the likelihood of undesirable effects.

Even with the risk, some body builders continuously take anabolic steroids. This may result to tolerance and may lead to the body producing its own testosterone. It is often combined with other kinds of steroids or incorporated into supplements for maximum effectiveness.

Statistics on Steroids Use

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) revealed that over half a million 8th and 10th grade students are using steroids. Another study revealed that 1,084,000 Americans or 0.5 percent of the adult population revealed that they used anabolic steroids. Meanwhile, a separate study reported by Reuters revealed that 5% of middle and high school students have used anabolic steroids to bulk up.

Signs and Symptoms of Steroid Abuse

The first signs of steroids abuse will usually involve the rapid lean muscle growth within the first 10 weeks of use. There is also the desire to work out more and frequent receipt of random packages in the mail. If the pills are in a bottle, the patient would often be heard rattling around.

As steroids can also come in vials, you may often see packages that contain warnings that the contents are fragile. Patients will also be ordering syringes and needles.

Injectable steroids can leave holes in the skin in the form of red and inflamed track marks. You may also find pill packets in the trash or in the bag of people who abuse steroids.

Acne is another symptom of steroid abuse. Pimples may break out, which signals that something is wrong. Be aware, though, that acne is a common problem among teenagers.

Steroids abuse can also bring a strange odor especially if someone you know who is using steroids is applying the substance topically.

Anabolic steroids also have androgynous effects that may affect sex-specific characteristics. One unpopular side effect of steroid use is the shrinking of testicles and the development of breast tissues in men, as the steroid is converted into estradiol. Steroids abuse can also cause infertility.

In women, steroids are converted into testosterone resulting to an increase in body hair and menstrual irregularities. It can also result to deepening of the voice.

The long term effects for both men and women include increase in cholesterol level and elevated blood pressure. It is also likely to increase the likelihood of diabetes. In addition, testosterone can lead to extra acne which results from the stimulation of oil-producing sebaceous glands and can also hasten balding.

Steroids abuse can also cause muscle dysmorphia or “reverse anorexia syndrome.” It also causes the patient to develop feelings of low self-esteem and depression during withdrawal. The latter may be related to temporary hypogonadism, a condition that involves the failure of the gonads to secrete the right amount of testosterone or estrogen.

Steroid abuse for building muscle mass may result to adverse health effects.

Steroid abuse for building muscle mass may result to adverse health effects.

Dangers of Using Steroids

Steroids abuse can have a wide range of side effects on the individual, including the following:

Physiological Dangers

Steroids can have a huge impact on the functions and activities of individuals. It can affect the organs, tissues, cells, and chemical reactions between them. When left untreated, physiological side effects can be serious and even fatal.

Gonad Effects

Anabolic steroids can put in disarray the production of sperm, maintenance of sex drive, erectile potency, and prostate glands functioning. It can also hamper the natural production of testosterone by the set of hormones called gonadotrophins. When this process is hampered, it can cause testicular atrophy, impotence, reduced sex drive, decreased mental and physical activity, infertility due to reduced sperm production, and bone loss.

Skeletal-Muscular Injury

While steroids can have a positive effect on bone and muscle strength, any alteration in the structure of connective tissues induced by using the drug can cause the weakening of the tendons. Likewise, steroids can lead to the abnormal growth or development of collagen fibrils, which could lead to a reduction in tendon strength.

Steroid usage can also cause tricep tendon rupture. This is most common in the usage of Winstrol and Stanozolol, which is more prominent in sports requiring hard starts and stops such as in track and field or baseball.

Cholesterol & Lipoproteins

Recreational users and patients receiving steroids therapy often experience fluctuations in lipid profiles. In a study that involved body builders who don’t use steroids and people who do, it was revealed that the latter showed lower levels of good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein or HDL) and increased levels of bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL). In the same manner, weekly administration of nandrolene decanoate to hemodialysis patients led to a significant decrease in HDL.

Cardiovascular Effects

Studies on rodents have revealed that steroids abuse can increase water concentration in the body and hamper the conversion mechanism that manufactures corticosterone, resulting to hypertension. This is an important matter because retention of fluids can contribute to the development of hypertension.

Meanwhiele, autoradiographic and biochemical analysis of the hearts of female rhesus monkeys and baboons revealed androgen receptors, one of steroids’s primary absorption site, in the arterial and ventricular heart cells. These receptors suggest that sex steroid hormones can have direct impact on heart function and may be the reason for the peculiar differences in heart diseases of men and women.

Hepatic Effects

Studies have revealed a connection between different abnormal live function tests with steroids abuse. Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin and whitening of the eye as a result of liver problems, frequently occurs in patients due to hepatotoxicity. Cholestatic hepatitis results from the failure of the bile to flow from the liver to the duodenum and the failure of the stomach to connect to the jejunum. If jaundice occurs, it will generally develop in 2 to 5 months.

Psychiatric Effects

Anectodal evidence discovered that steroids abuse may result to “roid rage” phenomenon, a condition characterized by an increase in aggression and irritability. The scientific validity of this assertion is doubtful in consideration of the fact that almost all evidence in support of this behavior is based on either case reports or studies that are related to each other.

Few well-managed studies have shown an association between steroids usage and the feelings of aggression, alertness, irritability, anxiety, suspiciousness, and other mood overactive behaviors. However, some of the results of these studies were contradicted by other studies that found zero evidence of aggressive behavior when supraphysiological doses of steroids were administered.

Steroids use has become one of the worst problems in the field of sports.

Steroids use has become one of the worst problems in the field of sports.

Treatment of Steroids Abuse

The good news is that steroids abuse is curable. Some strategies can help users quit the drug and live a normal life again. Here are some of the available treatments for steroids users:

In-Patient Treatment

In-patient steroid abuse treatment programs offer 24-hour care with access to medical services whenever necessary so steroid users can receive the best and most professional care possible.

Most in-patient programs will start with a supervised detox period involving management of serious steroid withdrawal symptoms, which may vary from one person to another and may include the following:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Anorexia
  • Mood disorders

As depression with suicidal ideation is one of the immediately life-threatening symptoms of steroids abuse, an in-patient-program will keep track of changes in the mood of the patient. In case of severe depression symptoms, an in-patient program will provide close supervision and will use antidepressant medications and similar forms of treatment.

When the initial period of withdrawal is over, the treatment of substance abuse may involve ongoing therapy, which can also be done on an outpatient basis, in order to address any issues that trigger the abuse and addiction. The treatment will provide users with a wide range of benefits as it will help them improve self-esteem and will also help them love themselves and appreciate their bodies.

Studies have shown that some people use steroids due to their dissatisfaction with their body. In addition, they are also obsessed to having a muscular body or abnormally desire to get increasingly bigger.

Therapy sessions are designed to help patients cope with any triggers that can result to a relapse. Participating in adjunct therapy like yoga and meditation can also help patients in reducing stress and anxiety related to withdrawal.

There are also support groups that can help provide additional support for continued abstinence from steroids use.

Getting the right treatment is dependent on three factors:

  • The severity of steroid use
  • Abuse of other substances aside from steroids
  • The presence of other symptoms such as anxiety or depression

Aside from inpatient program, the following treatment methods are also being offered to overcome steroid abuse:

  • Doctor’s consultation. Your doctor may be able to address some concerns that you have about abstaining from steroids use and may refer you to other kinds of substance abuse treatment methods.
  • Outpatient program. Outpatient programs may require sessions a few times a week for about two hours. These programs may involve individual and group counseling, as well as management of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Rehabilitation program. There are live-in facilities that offer individual and group counseling and continuous medical supervision.

Steroids abuse can have serious consequences on the body if not treated right away. Immediate intervention is the key before everything becomes too late.


Substance Abuse

All You Need To Know About Alcohol Abuse And Treatment

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Alcohol abuse results to detrimental health signs and symptoms.

Several studies and surveys have shown that alcohol is still the most commonly abused substance in the U.S. Despite the intensified focus on abusive drugs, alcohol abuse is still a persistent problem in the country.

In 2014, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that about 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older suffered from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) while 679,000 adolescents between the ages 12 and 17 were found with the same fate. Meanwhile, excessive alcohol drinking accounts for the deaths of approximately 88,000 annually.

What is AUD?

Previously known as alcoholism or alcohol dependence, AUD is a medical condition characterized by a compulsive pattern of heavy drinking over a period of time. This condition leads to serious potential health risks and impairs the patient’s ability to perform regular activities in daily life. The disorder may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the criteria prescribed by the American Psychiatric Association in the 5th edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) issued in May 2013:

  • The concurring presence of at least two out of the 11 criteria within any given year is sufficient to conclude a diagnosis of mild AUD.
  • Having at least four of those symptoms signifies that the patient has moderate AUD.
  • Having six or more indicators means that the patient has a severe disorder.
Alcohol abuse results to detrimental health signs and symptoms.

Alcohol abuse results to detrimental health signs and symptoms.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Diagnostic indicators that point to AUD include the following:

  • Having frequent cravings for alcohol consumption
  • Having high tolerance for alcohol
  • Giving up normal or usual activities
  • Neglecting to perform responsibilities and obligations
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems associated with alcohol use
  • Experiencing social and interpersonal issues related to alcohol intake
  • Dedicating long periods of time to drinking activities
  • Consuming larger amounts than initially intended
  • Repeated attempts to quit or control alcohol use
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms or entering a “withdrawal state” after cessation of alcohol use
  • Using alcohol persistently regardless of known or experienced hazardous effects

Frequent episodes of heavy drinking and binge drinking are also suggestive of AUD. Binge drinking refers to the consumption of four or more drinks (for women) and five or more drinks (for men) during a single occasion.

Dangerous Consequences

When left untreated, AUD aggravates over time and may result in perilous consequences that affect several aspects of the individual’s life. It also disturbs the lives of immediate family members, friends, co-workers and acquaintances.

Some of these threatening consequences include the following:

  1. Health risks

The immediate effects of alcohol abuse include slurred speech, dizziness, blurred vision, disorientation or confusion, lack of muscle coordination, altered perception and judgment, impaired memory, vomiting, and respiratory depression. It also causes increased levels of blood alcohol content (BAC) that can cause breathing difficulties, coma and, in worse cases, death.

Continued consumption of large amounts of alcohol increases the risks of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, liver diseases (including cirrhosis and fatty liver), hepatitis, gastrointestinal conditions (like gastritis, pancreatic and ulcers), certain cancers (such as liver, colon, pancreas, throat, esophagus, and breast), dementia, stroke, brain atrophy, diabetes, anemia, abnormal weight loss, and malnutrition.

AUD is also associated with psychiatric ailments such as insomnia, anxiety, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and similar conditions. Failure to cope with or manage these conditions intensifies the probability of suicide attempts.

  1. Family life

Parental alcoholism negatively impacts inter-family relationships and is one of the underlying sources of recurrent antagonism in the home. Left unaddressed, this can lead to domestic violence and abuse, child neglect, loss of parental authority and child custody, separation and divorce.

Children of alcoholic parents are predisposed to anxiety, depression and social isolation. These conditions may be manifested in academic underperformance, bullying and association with cliques or even gangs. The latter is resorted to by the child or teenager as an attempt to fill in the void caused by parental neglect.

Moreover, studies show that a child exposed to drinking by a family member or relative is three times more likely to develop alcoholism during teenage or adult life. Thus, the home can be a cradle of alcohol dependence.

  1. Social disorder

Among the most common disturbances that can result from alcohol abuse is the occurrence of road mishaps and vehicular accidents. According to the Traffic Safety Facts 2014 Data of the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol-impaired driving accounted for 31 percent of traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2014.

Aside from death, motor vehicle crashes also result in physical injuries, trauma and property damage.

Because increased alcohol intake impairs rational judgment, alcohol abuse influences acts of violence such as homicide, suicide and sexual assault. It also leads to risky behavior such as engaging in unprotected sex or having sex with multiple partners that can increase risks of unwanted pregnancy and HIV.

  1. Economic costs

Alcohol abusers are a liability in the workplace. Compared to their other co-workers, alcoholics are more given to absenteeism, tardiness and low work efficiency. These affect the overall productivity that can lead to business downturns.

Alcoholic employees are more likely to incur health care costs due their recurring medical issues. These expenses can be a heavy burden for employers who provide medical subsidy or health insurance.

Termination and unemployment are also associated with alcohol abuse. With a high probability of being displaced from their homes and workplaces, alcohol abusers are constrained to seek housing and financial aid from various government-sponsored shelters and social programs.

Alcohol abuse may affect a person's daily routine, including social life and work productivity.

Alcohol abuse may affect a person’s daily routine, including social life and work productivity.

When to Seek Medical Help

Confronting the issue in its early stages can be challenging as the signs of alcohol dependence may differ from person to person. Alcohol abusers are quick to deny their addiction to the substance, and in the early phases of abuse, they will adopt means to conceal their drinking. They will rarely seek treatment voluntarily. In most cases, intervention by family members or close friends is necessary to address the problem.

When the frequency of drinking begins to interfere with professional or social life, or when it moderately affects mental and physical health, then it is best to seek medical assistance.

In recognizing alcohol abuse, it is helpful to consult the list of criteria suggested by the DSM-5 document. The presence of any two markers coupled with the incidence of any of the problems associated with alcohol use (i.e.unemployment, financial distress, violent behavior, or involvement in vehicular accidents) indicates that professional help for the patient must be sought.

While covering up for the abuser or tolerating his behavior may be well-intended, it will only worsen the addiction to the detriment of the patient’s well-being. Difficult as it may be, it is best to face the problem head-on.

Treatment Options

It is imperative to entrust the treatment of AUD to physicians and professional health care workers with specialized training in addiction medicine. These experts have received the proper instruction necessary to clinically diagnose the condition, address the symptoms and handle episodes of alcohol withdrawal. Complications arising from alcohol withdrawal syndrome can be life-threatening and are best managed by trained professionals.

According to NIAAA, more than 700,000 people in the U.S. are treated for alcoholism per day. Patients may choose between confinement at treatment centers or outpatient therapy.

Inpatient Treatment

For more severe cases of alcohol dependence, the recommended option is confinement for a specific period of time at a medically-managed treatment or rehabilitation center. These centers offer and implement detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

Detoxification refers to the process of eliminating the body’s dependence to a particular substance (which, in this case, is alcohol). Because there is abrupt cessation of alcohol use, the patient may enter a “withdrawal state.” During this period, the recovering alcoholic may experience various symptoms such as hallucinations, tremors, seizures and delirium, which may require administration of certain drugs in varying doses until the withdrawal syndrome is effectively controlled.

Rehabilitation programs are facilitated and managed by psychiatrists or trained therapists through a mix of individual and group therapy support sessions. During these sessions, alcohol abusers are taught to acknowledge their addiction, identify its causes, explore alternative solutions to overcome it and develop skills for productive living. The end goal of the therapy is for the patient to leave the center with an in-depth understanding of his condition and a strong motivation to avoid its recurrence.

To best benefit from rehabilitation, it is best to enroll in long-term programs or to support the shorter courses by having follow-up and monitoring sessions on a regular basis.

Alcohol abuse treatment may include therapy sessions with a psychologist.

Alcohol abuse treatment may include therapy sessions with a psychologist.

Outpatient Treatment

Many alcohol abusers, especially those who could not afford the costs of a structured in-house treatment, may opt to attend outpatient therapy sessions or enlist in mutual-support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Women for Sobriety and SMART Recovery.

However, because the patients are not secluded or isolated from the community, they are more likely to succumb to the temptations of purchasing and consuming alcohol during the treatment period. In outpatient therapy, the chances of rehabilitation are relatively lower compared to inpatient treatment. As a result, this is best recommended for patients who have already successfully accomplished an inpatient treatment program.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

In addition to the above-mentioned psychosocial treatment approaches, medication-assisted treatment may also be used. This is especially suggested for patients who experience relapses or cravings despite having undergone detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

Depending on the severity of the physiologic dependence, physicians should consider prescribing at least one of the several medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment, management and control of alcohol dependence.

The success of the treatment is measured by the patient’s ability to maintain sobriety over a longer period of time or to permanently abstain from alcohol consumption after having undertaken therapy. Other crucial factors that contribute to effective recovery are good health, social support and motivation. According to statistics presented in WebMD, approximately 50% of 60% remain abstinent at the end of a year’s treatment and a majority of those are able to stay dry permanently.

While medical science and research offer promising developments for the treatment of AUD and alcohol-related health conditions, the costs associated with alcohol abuse remain high. The significant burden it imposes on family, relationships and society cannot always be measured in quantifiable terms.

These costs can only be reduced or avoided by the exercise of prevention methods, the most effective of which is total abstinence from alcohol. Unfortunately, given the easy access to alcohol in the market, abstaining from alcohol may not be viable for long-term addicts. In this case, alcohol users must be aware of the warning signs of alcohol dependence and take proactive steps to curb drinking habits before they cross the border from recreational to abusive drinking.


Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.

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While many people are aware of the dangers of marijuana for recreational purposes, many states are pushing for the legalization of medical marijuana. Several studies of cannabinoid compounds have revealed its medicinal qualities, which have further fueled the call for legalizing medical marijuana.

What is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana refers to the treatment of a disease or symptom using the whole unprocessed plant of marijuana or its basic extracts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet given its stamp of approval or recognition to the use of the marijuana plant as medicine.

However, scientific studies of marijuana chemicals called cannabinoids resulted to a couple of FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in the form of a pill. Because the marijuana plant contains chemicals useful for the treatment of a wide range of illnesses or symptoms, many people are calling for the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. In some states, medical marijuana has already been legalized.

Health Benefits

Medical marijuana comes in a variety of forms. It can be smoked, vaporized, or taken as a pill. It may also be prepared as edible foods such as brownies, cookies, and chocolate bars.

The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and with no legitimate medical uses. However, the idea that marijuana may have therapeutic uses is based in solid science. The body has the natural ability to manufacture its own cannabinoids designed for modulating pain.

The main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It targets the CB1 receptor, a cannabinoid receptor located in the brain as well as in the nervous system, liver, kidney, and lungs. This receptor is activated to silence the body’s response to pain and noxious chemicals.

medical marijuana legalization

Medical marijuana: Is it the miracle cure that millions of patients are looking for?

In a placebo-controlled study published in the journal Neurology, Abrams and his colleagues discovered that marijuana is effective at lowering neuropathic pain caused by damaged nerves. Opiates, such as morphines, are not effective at treating neuropathic pain.

Another study revealed that marijuana, aside from opiates, caused dramatic levels of pain relief. Researchers at the American Academy of Neurology revealed that medical marijuana in the form of pills or oral sprays had the ability to reduce stiffness and muscle spasm.

In addition, the medications also reduced certain symptoms of pain associated with spasms, painful burning and numbness, as well as overactive bladder, according to another study.

One of the well-known effects of using marijuana is the “munchies,” which is used to stimulate appetite among HIV/AIDS patients and others with suppressed appetite after a medical condition or treatment. Medical marijuana is also frequently used for treatment of nausea induced by chemotherapy, although scientific studies of smoked marijuana are limited.

Two FDA-approved chemically altered forms of THC, namely dronabinol and nabilone, have been proven to lower reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.

Medical marijuana may also be used for treating glaucoma, an elevated pressure in the eyeball that can result to blindness. The American Cancer Society revealed that while marijuana can decrease intra-ocular pressure, it must be taken several times during the day in order to produce the desired effect.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana that contains medicinal benefits. However, since it does not target the CB1 receptor, it does not leave people feeling stoned.

In a 2012 study published in the Journal Translational Psychiatry, it was revealed that cannabidiol can be effective as a treatment for schizophrenia. In a study conducted at the University of Cologne, 42 patients randomly received either cannabidiol or amisulpride, an effective drug used for treating schizophrenia for 28 days. When compared, clinical effects revealed “no relevant difference” between the two treatments.

Side Effects

The active compound in marijuana binds itself to cannabinoid receptors, located in the areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception. Its effects can disrupt attention, judgment, and balance.

Meanwhile, studies have produced different results on whether smoking marijuana can have a significant cancer risk.


When smoking marijuana, THC can quickly pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood transfers the chemical to the brain and other organs in the body. When eating or drinking it, the body absorbs THC more slowly with the user generally feeling the effects within 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that naturally respond to natural THC-like chemicals in the brain. These natural chemicals play a role in the normal functioning and development of the brain.

Marijuana over-activates that area of the brain that contains the biggest number of receptors. It is responsible for causing the “high” that marijuana users experience. It can bring about other effects such as:

  • impaired senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • impaired sense of time
  • mood changes
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory


Marijuana may have adverse effects on brain development. When used as early as teenage years, it can reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and may affect how the brain connects between the areas needed for these functions. The effects on these areas of the brain can be long-term or even permanent.

One study revealed that people who were heavy marijuana smokers during their teens and currently has cannabis use disorder lost an average of eight IQ points between 13 and 38 years old. The lost mental skills did not completely return even after they stopped smoking marijuana as an adult. On the other hand, those who began smoking marijuana as adults did not show a notable decline in their IQ.

Medical Marijuana Legalization By States

As of April 2016, there are 24 U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California was the very first state that legalized medical marijuana in 1996. From the list of 24 states above, Pennsylvania was the latest state that legalized medical marijuana. Meanwhile, New York legalized the vaporized form of medical marijuana in 2014.

As for recreational marijuana, only four states have so far legalized it: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. It is likely that 11 more states will also legalize recreational marijuana in the near future.

All the 24 states require the approval of a doctor. With the exception of Washington, all states require an identification card to be shown at the dispensary in a patient registry. In most of the states where medical marijuana is legal, there is an online application process.

In majority of the states, patients are required to fill up an application form, pay the necessary fee, and provide identification information. In order to receive an identification card, the patients are required to get a signed statement from a doctor who diagnosed the condition and proof that medical marijuana was the recommended form of treatment for the patient’s particular condition and situation.

In states where medical marijuana is legal, laws permit dispensaries and outline certain conditions for medical marijuana prescription. The restrictions on the format and amount of medical cannabis allowed for personal use in every visit may vary from one state to another.

marijuana legalization in the U.S.

Only time will tell if the entire U.S. legalizes marijuana for medical purposes.

In New York, medical marijuana is highly regulated and legalized for just a few medical conditions, such as epilepsy and cancer. In California, the law applies only for conditions such as arthritis, migraine, and other conditions for which marijuana can offer relief. As such, California legalizes medical marijuana for a wide range of conditions, ranging from insomnia to substance abuse.

In the District of Columbia, recreational marijuana has been decriminalized so residents are allowed to carry up to two ounces of cannabis and own six plants. However, it is still illegal to purchase pot in the District.

The expensive nature of incarceration is one factor that is stopping states from decriminalizing cannabis. In an interview with Vice News, President Obama said that it would require a huge amount of money.

“It costs a huge amount of money to states,” Obama said, speaking to Vice’s Shane Smith. “What I’m encouraged by is you’re starting to see not just liberal democrats but also some very conservative Republicans recognize that this doesn’t make sense, including the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. They see the money and how costly it is to incarcerate. At a certain point, if enough states end up decriminalizing, Congress may then reschedule marijuana.”

On the other hand, legalizing recreational marijuana has paved the way for a whole new economy involving the sale of cannabis, oils, lotions, edibles, and other paraphernalia. Efforts to promote new related businesses have started to emerge supporting these industries despite the regulations state by state. The states that have set the pace in the cannabis market are starting to reap the fruits in the form of tax revenues.

In Colorado, marijuana-specific tax revenue has reached $70 million during the last fiscal year. This was two times higher than what the state earned from alcohol tax revenues.

Throughout the U.S., sales of legal marijuana reached $2.7 billion in 2014, an increase from $1.5 billion the previous year, as reported by cannabis investment and research company ArcView Group. If all 50 states as well as District of Columbia were to legalize marijuana, the U.S. marijuana retail market could exceed the $35 billion plateau by 2020, based on estimates by independent research firm GreenWave Advisers.

The clamor for legalizing marijuana is growing, according to a new survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research published in The Washington Post. The study revealed that a record 61 percent of Americans support legalization of marijuana. A similar survey conducted by Gallup reflected a 58 percent support for legalization.


Marijuana has risen in popularity amidst controversies and the tendency for abuse and addiction. As the road to marijuana legalization continues to be paved, only time will tell whether the entire U.S. and other countries will follow suit.

Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

NORML Recommends Framework for Marijuana Policy In The Workplace

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construction workplace drug policy

As the issue on substance abuse continues to haunt the workplace, more and more companies are now laying out their drug policies. The aim is not to reprimand erring employees who are found positive for drug use, but rather to protect the welfare of these employees and the whole workforce.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has devised a model for marijuana workplace policy. Based on its recommended framework, here are some of the highlights of the NORML policy:

  • The company shall promote its interests in guaranteeing a secure, healthy, and efficient working condition for its employees, co-employees, and the customers it serves. The use or possession of alcohol or other intoxicating drugs in the workplace poses a risk to everyone. For these reasons, a framework that contains conditions for employment and continuous employment with the company will be established.
  • Federal and state governments shall define controlled substances in order to describe them according to five levels of drugs. Schedule I drugs shall be the most restrictive and illegal to possess or use, while Schedule V drugs will be easily accessible at retail stores even with no prescription.
  • Employees will not be allowed to report for work while under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs that can have an impact on the employee’s ability to safely continue with their job duties.
  • The company will not engage in random and/or pre-accident drug testing of workers. Any problems with substance abuse will be determined using behavior and performance measures only.
  • The company is aware that there is a distinction between substance use and substance abuse and that the former is not tantamount to abuse. Employees can freely choose their own lifestyle choices when outside their workplace or otherwise with the company. However, such choices should not interfere in the performance of their jobs.
  • Employees shall be restricted from reporting for work or staying on duty while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicants in their systems. Furthermore, they will not be allowed to consume alcohol or other intoxicants during office hours, as well as during their meal and break periods.
  • Failure to comply with these substance abuse policies will merit a disciplinary action, which could include discharge. For more details about the policy, you can get in touch with the immediate superior or the chief operating officer (COO).

This framework from NORML should serve as a base structure for companies to develop their own drug policies in the workplace.


Substance Abuse

Most Popular Synthetic Drugs Abused In The U.S.

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spice k2 synthetic marijuana

The U.S. continues to see a distressing escalation in synthetic drug abuse cases. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its National Drug Threat Assessment Summary reported a substantial increase in the number of calls to poison control centers related to synthetic cathinones from 2010 (304 calls) to 2011 (6,136 calls).

The alarming rise in these cases may be attributed to the accessibility of these drugs and the lack of effective legislation to suppress their use and availability.

Here are some of the most commonly abused synthetic drugs in the country:

Synthetic Cathinones

These are sold as “bath salts”, which physically resemble fine powder intended for bath use but are contained in smaller packages and labelled as “not for human consumption.” Despite this caption, manufacturers of these so-called bath salts designed the product for ingestion and not bathing.

While most of the chemical components of bath salts are already banned, manufacturers have found creative ways of combining the same with other elements to confuse the authorities, and give the substance the guise of legality.

Synthetic Marijuana / Cannabinoids

These are usually sold as herbal incense, potpourri and e-cigarette fluids. The more popular brands include K2 and Spice, although the market has already seen newer brand varieties.

Synthetic marijuana is packaged as common potpourri used for aromatherapy. However, it is really intended to be smoked because the dried plant material has been sprayed with chemical compounds that imitate the effects of 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)

The popular street names for MDMA are “ecstasy” or “love drug”, which may come in tablet or capsule form and in different colors and designs.

MDMAs first emerged in the ‘80s during the height of disco culture. The use of MDMAs remains prevalent today among partygoers due its known effects of increased euphoria.


Although the U.S. Congress has intensified efforts to regulate and ban the chemicals used in the production of synthetic drugs following the passage of the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act in 2012, these enforcement strategies struggle to keep up with the ingenuity of manufacturers adept at escaping detection and punishment.


Substance Abuse

Employee Drug Abuse: Truth, Impact, and Response At The Workplace

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workplace drug abuse office

Drug abuse has become a rampant problem in society. In the workplace, it can become an even bigger problem as it can have a huge impact on any business. In this article, we will look at the prevalence and effect of drug abuse in the workplace.

Facts about Drugs in the Workplace

Drug abuse in the workplace can be an expensive problem for businesses and industries. It carries with it a wide range of issues such as lost productivity, absenteeism, injuries, low employee morale, and others.

Figures from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) revealed that drug abuse in the workplace has cost employees approximately $81 billion a year. Likewise, 7 out of 10 of the 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed, as reported in EHS Today. In addition, employees who have three or more jobs are two times as likely to be current or previous illegal drugs users who have had less than two jobs.

Impact of Drug Abuse in the Workplace

Now more than ever, there is a need for employers to consider substance issues among their employees. In today’s workplace, employees need to be alert, accurate, and should have quick reflexes. Absence of these qualities can have serious impact on the accuracy and efficiency of work.

Some of the effects that drug abuse can have on employees include:

  • Tardiness or sleeping on the job
  • Poor job performance and productivity
  • Poor decision making
  • Tendency to commit theft
  • Loss or reduction of morale
  • Loss of attention and concentration
  • Illegal activities at work
  • Increased incidence of disciplinary action
  • Health-related issues

office drug abuse

The Role of the Workplace in Drug Abuse

Employers can play a huge role in putting an end to drug abuse in the workplace. Most employees have a problem addressing alcoholism and drug abuse issues and this can have an effect on their job performance. By establishing employee assistance programs (EAPs), employers can improve productivity and efficiency of their employees. From short-term counseling of employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems to intervention in personal problems, employers can look forward to reducing drug abuse prevalence in their workplace, and in the process lowering their expenses.

Another way that employers can lower drug abuse among their employees is to implement a drug-free workplace, as well as offer health benefits that include coverage for substance use disorders, including after care and counseling.

Implementing an employee assistance program can have long term effects on the workplace. Treating alcohol and drug abuse among employees can result to reduced healthcare costs. A successful employee assistance program also contributes to increasing morale and productivity while reducing absenteeism, accidents, downtime, turnover, and theft.

Creating an Effective Employee Assistance Program

As an employer, you would always strive to make your employees happy and satisfied with their jobs. Like members of the family, you need to care for their health and well-being. Any sign of addiction among your employees can have a devastating impact on your company. It translates to increased healthcare costs, loss in productivity, reduced employee morale, and even fatalities.

This is where having an employee assistance program can come in. The aim of EAP is to help employees maintain a healthy work and life balance. The program is generally offered to the employees for free. It is paid for by an employer through a health insurance provider or through another third party administrator.

Most workers deal with various issues such as personal problems, mental and emotional health, and general well-being. Some issues that these programs focus on include:

  • Financial problems
  • Legal issues
  • Family problems
  • Major life-changing events
  • Relationship issues
  • Drug and alcohol abuse and dependence
  • Work-related issues
  • Psychological disorders

However, you should bear in mind that an EAP does not necessarily solve these issues. For instance, it is not designed to get an employee out of a financial problem. Instead, the program aims to assist employees in finding a way to cope with these issues in a healthy and productive manner.

EAPs are offered to workers in a variety of ways. It is dependent upon how a particular program is administered. The usual manner is that the employee can avail of assistance by getting in touch with a counselor over the phone or through a face-to-face encounter. There are no restrictions on the number of phone calls that an employee can make.

However, in the case of face-to-face meetings, there are limits to the number of sessions for every employee. The good news is that they can access a variety of online resources that help them learn more about their problems and how to cope with their difficulties.

One important aspect of an EAP that every employee should bear in mind is that all information is confidential. Even if the employee pays for the program, the information is held in extreme confidentiality. Employees may avail of the service without their employers knowing about it or having any knowledge about the issues. Employers can refer any of their employees to the program as long as they feel that their workers need assistance and will benefit greatly from the program.

Benefits of Employee Assistance Programs

Studies have shown that an employee assistance program offers a wide range of benefits to the workplace. These programs can help reduce the costs of medical care by addressing mental and substance abuse issues. Aside from that, EAPs can also reduce employee turnover.

In addition, EAPs help lower absenteeism among employees. With reduced absenteeism comes an increase in productivity. This is because the employees are happier, healthier, and more balanced.

While there are criticisms about these programs, the negative comments about them can be prevented by letting an outside party manage the program. When the company itself is running the program, there could be issues like bullying or targeting employees that can arise.

While employee assistance programs focus on a wide range of issues, it can be especially helpful when addiction is a problem in more than one employee. Substance abuse in the workplace can be a huge issue because addicted workers have the tendency to lose focus, have little care about the quality of their work, and will most likely miss time on the job.

Another advantage of employee assistance program is that it can extend to the family members of employees. If workers have family members who are suffering from drug or alcohol dependence, this may affect their performance at work. The said family member can enjoy the EAP benefits.

construction workers drug abuse

Choosing the Right Employee Assistance Program

The characteristics and provisions of EAPs may vary considerably, and so employers must carefully study each program before deciding. Here are some factors to consider when comparing programs:

  1. Are the staff who will run the program qualified?

Make sure that the people who will run the program are professionally qualified and licensed. They should have established connections with local health groups and national self-help agencies.  Likewise, they should be taking a continuous education program. You can always check their affiliations and experience in running EAPs.

  1. Are their fees affordable?

The cost of EAPs may be different from one program to another depending on the structure of operation, type and extent of services provided, and method of computing charges. Experts recommend that the base fee should include the materials and administration costs that will be incurred by the providers. National services tend to provide more affordable programs than local companies but this is not the case all the time.

  1. What is included in their services?

Employee assistance programs offer a variety of scope and subject matter. Comprehensive programs will usually provide managers with help in dealing with troubled employees, developing wellness policies, and setting up seminars on health issues.

  1. Is the facility accessible? Can they be easily reached?

One important aspect of choosing an employee assistance program is the accessibility of the facility. The training facility should be conveniently reached by employees who may want to visit before, during, or after work.

Likewise, the company should have a toll-free line that should be reachable round the clock in case the employee encounters difficulties while working. Response time is an important consideration when choosing a company to handle your EAP.

  1. Do they constantly communicate with members?

When choosing a company who will handle your employee assistance program, you should choose one that constantly communicates with you and other members. They should also have a record of their effectiveness in helping customers reach their productivity goals or implement safety programs.

Signs of a Defective Employee Assistance Program

Employee assistance programs have often been recognized for the roles they play in cost management. However, if the implementation or design is defective, then the expected cost savings goal of the program will not be achieved.

Employers should consider the following signs that the program may need some polishing:

  • Employees were generally dissatisfied with the program
  • Only a small percentage (i.e. less than 5 percent) of qualified employees use the program
  • Issues raised were not addressed within a reasonable amount of time
  • The program reflected an unwarranted bias towards a particular method of treatment
  • Employees indicated distrust to the program viewing it as a potential management tool for getting rid of punishment or justifying termination
  • There is conflict of interest on the part of the personnel running the program. For example, they have financial ties with a provider where they are referring employees.

While these warning signs can be easily addressed, it is important for employers to first have sufficient research regarding the needs and desires of their employees before trying to change the program. In similar fashion, when the company decides to revise their employee assistance program, they need to take all the necessary precautions to make sure that the employees who benefitted from the previous program will not be left behind.

Employers play an important role in getting rid of drug abuse in the workplace. While it may only be true to a handful of employees, sooner or later it can have a snowball effect on other employees as they may tend to decrease their morale and confidence in the company.