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Substance Abuse

Opioid Overdose in Veterans Linked To Receipt of Benzodiazepines

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A team of researchers from three medical facilities discovered via a cohort study that many of the cases of veterans drying from opioid overdose involved benzodiazepines as well.

Data from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from October 2004 to September 2009 were traced back to identify a link between painkiller abuse and use of benzos. The results were staggering, as reported by study co-author Tae Woo Park. “The risk of receiving both opioids and benzodiazepines during this six-year period was approximately four times higher than in those who received opioids alone,” Park said in a news release. Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs usually prescribed to patients who are taking opioid medication for their pain.

Results of the study revealed that close to half of veterans who died due to opioid overdose were also receiving benzos. “From a public health perspective, this is deeply troubling, because drug overdoses are a leading cause of death in the U.S. and prescribing benzodiazepines to patients taking opioids for pain is quite common. In 2010, 75 percent of pharmaceutical-related drug-overdose deaths involved opioids,” Park added.

The researchers hope that their study could pave the way for better methods of pain treatment. “As we learn more about pharmaceuticals and how they interact with each other, we can try to reduce the risk of harm to patients,” Park said.

The study was jointly conducted by Boston Medical Center, Rhode Island Hospital, and Veteran Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System.


Substance Abuse

Study: Emergency Department Important In Decreasing Prescription Drug Overdose Cases

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A study recently published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed that emergency departments (EDs) play a vital role in curbing the long-standing issue on prescription drug abuse.

Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) surveyed beneficiaries of Project ASSERT from 2011 to 2012 to check the effectiveness of the campaign to offer education and intervention in opioid overdose cases. The initiative provides nasal naloxone rescue kits to emergency departments as a counter-measure for drug overdose patients, as well as education programs focused on overdose prevention.

Results of the survey showed that 73 percent were able to receive nasal naloxone rescue kits from EDs or other sources to counter the overdose. Meanwhile, more than 50 percent of survey respondents were able to report an overdose case and contacted 911 for the necessary assistance, while roughly one third of them were able to use the naloxone kit onto the overdose patient during the rescue.

Study lead author Dr. Kristin Dwyer, who works at the emergency department of BMC, expressed the importance of their research. “This study confirms that the emergency department provides a promising opportunity for opioid overdose harm reduction measures through overdose education and naloxone rescue kit distribution… Our program reached a high-risk population that commonly witnessed overdoses, called for help and used naloxone to rescue people, when available,” Dwyer said in a news release.

Project ASSERT is a banner program of BMC. Beginning in 1993, the project has conducted intervention programs, treatment referrals, and screening for drug and alcohol intoxication.


Substance Abuse

FDA Shifts Focus On Manufacturers To Combat Prescription Drug Abuse

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In a move to prevent the growing issue on prescription drug abuse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed a new set of guidelines aimed at helping drug manufacturers formulate abuse-deterrent medication. According to the FDA News Release, the document is entitled “Guidance for Industry: Abuse-Deterrent Opioids – Evaluation and Labeling,” which delineates the appropriate study methods in ensuring that manufactured drugs prevent potential abuse.

FDA chief Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. said that this latest initiative aims to help both drug companies and consumers to make drugs safer. “The science of abuse-deterrent medication is rapidly evolving, and the FDA is eager to engage with manufacturers to help make these medications available to patients who need them… We feel this is a key part of combating opioid abuse. We have to work hard with industry to support the development of new formulations that are difficult to abuse but are effective and available when needed,” Hamburg said.

The latest statement from FDA also includes several recommendations on the method of conducting studies about abuse-deterrent drugs, the correct way of evaluating these studies, and the appropriate claims placed on labels. Despite the newness of the concept, abuse-deterrent medication is being envisioned by the FDA as a good sign of things to come, especially in defeating the rising problem of prescription opioid abuse. “Development of abuse-deterrent products is a priority for the FDA, and we hope this guidance will lead to more approved drugs with meaningful abuse-deterrent properties,” according to FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research director Janet Woodcock, M.D.

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Addiction Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

Indiana Dealing with HIV Outbreak Due to Prescription Drug Abuse

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Indiana has called in federal experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help with an HIV outbreak that has swelled to 55 confirmed cases and 13 other preliminary positive cases, the Indiana State Department of Health said.

“We are engaging local, state, and national partners to determine where we can most effectively focus our efforts,” Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams said in a news release. “Extra care is being taken to invest resources in getting people off drugs and into treatment, since drug abuse is the clear driving force behind this outbreak.”

Most of the infected people had shared needles while injecting the painkiller Opana, a prescription drug that’s more potent than Oxycontin, the agency has reported, while some of the HIV cases have been linked to unprotected sex.

Indiana’s health department said it has created a public awareness campaign dubbed “You Are Not Alone” that provides information on drug abuse, safe sex, needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment. The three-month campaign began recently and will include radio, digital and social media ads and billboards along Interstate 65.

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Addiction Substance Abuse

Abuse-Deterrent Drugs Not A Guarantee To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

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Several studies aimed to combat prescription drug abuse involve altering the medicine formulation in order to prevent or tame down addiction. However, a recent study claims that some measures are still abuse-prone.

The study was conducted by St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine, and involved conducting a survey on close to 11,000 drug dependents listed in drug treatment centers all over the U.S. Despite the modification of components in the prescription painkiller Oxycontin, survey results showed that nearly 25 percent of drug users checked into rehab facilities admitted to abuse the drug, according to a news item.

Study lead author Theodore J. Cicero, who works at the university as professor of neuropharmacology in psychiatry, said that some users “who have figured out how to circumvent abuse-deterrent formulation.” This is contrary to claims by Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P., which has reformulated the product to prevent abuse. “The product’s label states that OxyContin has physical and chemical properties expected to make abuse via injection difficult and to reduce abuse via snorting,” said Purdue Pharma VP for corporate affairs Raul Damas.

The study suggests that prescription drug dependents have created ways to skip past the reformulation and still use Oxycontin against its intended purpose. Some survey respondents said that procedures to circumvent abuse-deterrent drugs are available in online chat rooms and forums. Worse, some people who find it difficult to abuse the prescription opioid have turned to heroin use. “It used to be an inner city problem, heroin use involving poor minority groups… That problem has now moved in to the suburbs and in rural areas, white middle class individuals who are basically now peddling heroin,” Cicero added

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Addiction Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

US Schools Switch Focus of Anti-Drug Programs to Prescription Drugs

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Anti-drug programs in United States schools are switching things up, focusing more on prescription drugs than illicit drugs and focusing more on the science of addiction than outright scare tactics.

One such program, Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) offers high school and middle school students education about prescription opiate painkillers. Developers of the programs emphasize the of use studies and interactive computer programs and focus on the science of addiction and how that affects the teens who abuse these drugs.

testcountry bannerHowever, it still does employ some of those old-fashioned scare tactics, although rooted in reality rather than the ridiculous fried eggs of the past. One tactic is to play a real 911 call for students from a mother who has just discovered her son’s body. His ashes sit in an urn for the students to look at as they listen to the call recording.

NOPE instructors also teach students how to recognize the symptoms of a drug overdose and emphasize the importance of quickly seeking medical attention for overdose victims. The programs also work to teach teens that prescription drugs are not safe to use other than under a doctor’s orders.

The Heroin Prevention Education program, meanwhile, uses interactive software based on the life of a recovering teen heroin addict who began abusing opioid painkillers after having his wisdom teeth removed and gradually started abusing heroin intravenously.




Substance Abuse

Obama Sets $100 Million in 2016 Budget To Address Prescription Drug Abuse

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In one of the biggest declarations of the federal government against prescription drug abuse, President Barack Obama’s financial budget for 2016 includes more than $100 million to be invested in programs of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The budget allocation will be granted to U.S. states that have prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) put in place.

The budget provision will complement the government’s plans to increase the number of agencies that monitor, collect and analyze data from controlled substance prescriptions, as well as provide support for the five-step Strategic Prevention Framework implemented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Budget for the 2016 fiscal year is estimated at $27.6 billion, and strategies for drug control are included in the top priorities for the government on that year.

Despite the bulked-up battle of the U.S. government against drug abuse, not everyone is happy. A recent report from Forbes revealed that Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a chief medical officer in one of the country’s drug treatment providers, was unimpressed by the government’s plans. “The response from President Obama to this crisis is shameful… I wouldn’t mind so much that he doesn’t speak about the problem if his agencies were working together to control the problem and if he was allocating the appropriate resources. But that’s not happening,” Kolodny said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pegged the number of deaths due to prescription opioids in 2013 at more than 16,000, while the total number of fatalities dur to drug overdose reached almost 44,000.

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Health & Wellness Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

New Study Finds Most Frequent Reason for Calling Poison Centers are Prescription Drugs

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emergency room visits due to synthetic marijuanaPoisonings from prescription drugs are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, according to National Poison Control Center data from 2012.

Also topping the list was poisonings from “bath salts,” synthetic marijuana and laundry detergent pods. The paper was published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“The poison center system can provide real-time advice and collect data regarding a variety of poisonings, including those that may be new or unfamiliar to emergency physicians,” said lead study author Richard Dart, MD, PhD, of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, CO. “Emergency physicians are continually challenged by the emergence of new types of poisonings, which lately include illicit street drugs as well as laundry detergent pods. The National Poison Data System (NPDS) plays an integral role in helping EMS and emergency departments respond to these dangerous substances.”

In 2012, poison centers nationwide recorded 2.2 million human poison exposures. Eighty-three percent of poisonings that ended in death in 2012 were linked to a pharmaceutical product, most commonly opioid painkillers. The total number of prescription opioid exposures by children more than doubled between 2002 and 2012 from 2,591 to 5,541.

The family of designer drugs such as “bath salts” (a type of amphetamine), “plant food,” synthetic marijuana and others continue to poison users severely enough that they require emergency medical treatment. Although bath salts exposures peaked in 2011, new illicit drugs sold to consumers continue to be monitored by poison control centers.

“Poisoning continues to be a significant cause of injury and death in the United States,” said Dr. Dart. “The near real-time responsiveness of NPDS helps emergency physicians respond to new poisoning threats, while also assisting patients who call for help to know when they need the ER and when they can manage things safely at home.”

Medical Marijuana Substance Abuse

Prescription Drug Fatalities Drop In Medical Marijuana States

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Is medical marijuana the key to addressing prescription drug abuse deaths? A study conducted by a professor from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health seems to conclude so.

prescription drug overdoseDr. Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Health Policy and Management, released a team study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that links lower deaths due to prescription drug abuse in states that legalize medical marijuana. “As our awareness of the addiction and overdose risks associated with use of opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin grows, individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal,” Barry said in a news item.

The study revealed that states where medical pot has been legalized posted a 25 percent lower mortality rate due to prescription medication overdose. The research used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between the years 1999 and 2010, which showed that the rate of fatalities arising from opioid painkiller abuse shot up within that particular time frame.

Study lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber from the University of Pennsylvania shared the details of the research results. “In absolute terms, states with a medical marijuana law had about 1,700 fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths in 2010 than would be expected based on trends before the laws were passed.”

Meanwhile, the study’s proponents urged for more studies related to this topic, noting that there is a need to determine the long-term effects of medical marijuana in “both overdose deaths and the health trajectories of individuals suffering from chronic pain.”

Addiction Real Drug Stories Substance Abuse

Government Tightens Restrictions on Commonly Abused Prescription Drug

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Ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st, the federal government tightened restrictions on the prescribing of hydrocodone,  the most common form of painkiller in the country.prescription drug abuse

Hydrocodone, is the most widely prescribed painkiller in the United States and is an ingredient in drugs like Vicodin.

The rule places hydrocodone in a tougher, more restrictive category. Doctors will no longer be able to call in prescriptions by telephone, and patients will not be allowed to get refills on the same prescription, but will have to return to a health care professional to get a new prescription. The drug will have to be kept in special vaults in pharmacies.

The Drug Enforcement Administration published the rule on Thursday and it will take effect in 45 days.

“This is substantial,” said Dr. Nathaniel Katz, assistant professor of anesthesia at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “It’s a sign of a shift toward more cautious opioid prescribing. This will be an inconvenience to some, but policy is a machete, not a scalpel, and you have to figure out where to use it. I think people will be more helped than harmed.”

Abuse of painkillers now claims the lives of more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to federal data, and the number of Americans who die from prescription drug overdoses has more than tripled since the late 1990s.