Prescription Drug Abuse Includes More Than Just Painkillers

Prescription painkillers have wreaked havoc on the nation for several years. The number of people who abuse pills like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet are still astronomical, and so are the number of people who have died from prescription painkiller overdoses. In fact, with millions of Americans abusing painkillers, it is likely that everyone knows someone who has been affected by it.

It is no wonder that this is the first thing that comes to mind when someone talks about prescription drug abuse. However, there are other types of medications that are being abused as well, and we cannot lose focus on preventing and treating all types of prescription drug problems.

Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse and other drugs that are prescribed to people with ADHD are prescription stimulants that are also commonly abused. These medications have often been dubbed as “study drugs” due to the number of college students who use the drug without having a prescription for it. Although the amphetamine-like qualities may allow them to stay awake longer and concentrate more for a short period of time, the risk is far greater than most young people realize.

Many experts have indicated that prescription stimulants are also popular gateway drugs that lead users on to trying more drugs as well. The abuse potential for drugs like Adderall is very high, and users can also feel cravings, irritability, anxiety and even paranoia.

“The bad side effects of it are that it sometimes makes me less social and sometimes I get easily annoyed if someone interrupts me when I am in the middle of something,” said Lilly, a college student that relies on Adderall and Vyvanse to get through her day.

So, while maintaining a heavy focus on prescription painkillers is important, it is also vital that we include all types of prescription drugs, as there are others beyond stimulants and painkillers that are frequently abused.

How Volunteering Could Help Prevent Substance Abuse

College student athletes are under tremendous pressure. They usually follow strict guidelines, workout times and game schedules while still having to maintain a passing GPA. Additionally, due to the nature of their physical activity, they are also more likely to sustain injuries that require medical intervention. Because of these stressors, this group can often become more susceptible to use and misuse drugs. In an effort to combat this phenomenon, researchers from the University of Missouri looked into what could help prevent student athletes avoid substance abuse and addiction problems.

The specific group these researchers decided to focus their study on was female student athletes. So, in a five-year study, female Division 3 student athletes were asked to self-report on their substance use, social, work and sports life, as well as any other stressors they were experiencing. At the end of the five years, researchers were able to conclude that the participants who spent part of their time volunteering or helping others in some other way were less likely to use drugs.

“Female student-athletes experience increased demands while in college from coaches and professors to family and friends. Because student-athletes occupy multiple roles simultaneously, they could be at an increased risk for substance abuse to cope with stress. Our findings suggest that community service might be a tool to reduce substance abuse among female student-athletes,” explained Alexandra Davis, one of the leaders of the research team.

The researchers went on to point out that these conclusions have an impact on colleges throughout the country. As part of the ongoing effort to reduce substance use on campus, colleges may want to look into volunteer programs for their students, providing them with an opportunity to help others and reduce their own odds of misusing drugs and alcohol.

Although this study was specifically focused on females, the results are likely similar if applied to other specialized populations as well. Scientists, religious leaders and scholars have continually demonstrated the power of giving, and this is yet another application of how it helps to enhance lives.

Turning Off Stress-Induced Relapse

Sobriety can be an elusive thing for many recovering drug addicts. Oftentimes addicts will undergo a period of treatment or abstinence and then seemingly out of nowhere, a relapse occurs. These sometimes-frequent spells of returning to drug use can plague an addict and their loved ones until long-lasting sobriety is hopefully achieved. What is it that causes these relapses? And do they have to be part of recovery?

In order to answer these questions, a team of researchers at Brown University and the University of Wyoming created a study that would examine the biology of a relapse. They began by focusing on the kappa opioid receptors (kORs). These receptors are located on the surface of the brain and are the ultimate target of opioids when they enter the body.

Next, researchers moved to a different part of the brain – the ventral tegmental area. This area of the brain reinforces behaviors related to fulfilling basic needs. Basic needs can include eating and sleeping. But in the brain of the addict, this basic need also can include drugs. Through extensive research, the scientists were able to see that stress can induce this part of the brain to excite the kappa opioid receptors, thus causing the person to seek out drugs.

So, while stress is oftentimes a precursor to relapse, there may be hope. That is because these scientists expanded their experiment to show what happens when certain medications are administered to a person who is experiencing stress. After administering norBNI to rats that were abstinent from opioids for some time but in the midst of experiencing stress, the researchers observed that the kappa opioid receptors were disengaged, no longer producing a craving within the rats.

While this research is still new, it does confirm previous studies that have showed that stress is a problem for maintaining sobriety, but these researchers have taken it a step further with the introduction of a potential medicine for treatment. “Ours is the first demonstration of experience-induced changes in constitutive activity of these receptors,” explained the authors of the study.

In addition to treatments like the one above, many more people are also opting for different approaches to dealing with stress in recovery. One growing movement is rooted in mindfulness-based practices, where there are many forms of exercises and meditations that help people become more consciously aware moment to moment, thus having greater control over their actions.

Alcohol Consumption Continues to Increase for Older Women

Binge drinking is a phenomenon most often seen among college students and younger adults. It is usually classified as having 5 or more drinks in a single setting for men, and 4 or more drinks for women. It is extremely dangerous as it increases the chances of alcohol poisoning and risky decision making, which can have a very wide array of consequences, including death.

Now a new study suggests that older women are increasingly participating in binge drinking behavior and are now at a greater risk of developing a dependence on alcohol and suffering from alcohol-related disorders.

Researchers at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) looked at data collected between 1997 and 2014. They found that men consumed alcohol at much the same rate throughout these seven years. However, the amount of alcohol consumed by women increased roughly 4% each year. They also found that older women were more likely to increase their alcohol consumption.

This is especially troubling because of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol use among women. “We know that, overall, women are more sensitive to the negative health consequences of alcohol than men. These consequences include liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and cognitive impairment – serious problems – and addiction to alcohol is possible as well,” commented Dr. J.C. Garbutt, medical director of the University of North Carolina Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program.

While there isn’t a reason that has been given for this increased consumption by older women, it uncovers a hole in alcoholism prevention that shows additional populations that need to be reached. There should be no end to the help for substance abusers, from prevention and intervention to treatment and aftercare support. This study shows that we cannot assume that it is only younger people who have binge drinking problems.

Elderly Being Targeted for Financial Abuse by Addicted Relatives, Friends

The heroin crisis affects more than just the addicts using the drug. The elderly are also becoming victimized by this illegal drug in increasing numbers. Officials say that this segment of the population is being neglected by addicted family members and friends on whom they are dependent for care. The abuse is often financial, meaning that they are being drained of their assets by those they trust.

Number of Cases Involving Adult Protective Services Growing

The situation is particularly acute in Ohio. Sara Junk, the chairperson of the State’s Coalition of Adult Protective Services (APS), told the House finance committee recently that she had never seen the number of referrals to APS reach current levels in all the years she had been in this field. Ms. Junk also said that there was a “dire need” for more workers to investigate and respond to protect situations involving the elderly.

She referred directly to the opioid crisis when speaking about seniors who were trusting their addicted loved ones, “sometimes to their downfall or death.”

While that particular state has provided $10 million in one-time funding to improve protection for the elderly over the last few years, Ms. Junk said that level is not adequate to deal with the number of cases APS is seeing. The State has also provided new training for caseworkers and set consistent standards. It also introduced a helpline reporting number to report instances of abuse.

Financial Abuse Cases Common

The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that one in 10 seniors in the US is abused or neglected annually. The number of seniors who have been financially abused has increased in recent years, mostly due to addicted children and relatives taking advantage of them.

Actual numbers may be higher than reported. Victims may be reluctant to tell police or social workers because they are afraid of reprisals from their relatives. The senior may also fear the loss of their only caregiver if they report the abuse.

Adult children and grandchildren are moving in with elderly parents in order to care for them. If they have good intentions, then this arrangement can work out well.

Drug-dependent adults can use this opportunity to take advantage of the senior by gaining access to the older person’s bank account or having them sign a power of attorney. The addict may even get the senior to sign over assets or change their will to the addict’s advantage.

All of these examples are often overlooked in the larger picture of the impact of substance abuse on society. This is just one of many more reasons why we have to continue to provide evidence-based treatment, intervention and prevention services to help as many people as possible.

If you have a loved one who is addicted, contact us today to find out how we can help.

New Study Shows Power of Prescription Length

quantity of pillsEmergency rooms throughout the country have recently started cutting back on the number of days’ worth of painkillers are prescribed to patients. Instead of the previously standard seven days, most hospitals have now instituted a policy that only allows up to three days of pills.

Policymakers wanted to ensure that patients were following up with their regular doctors, and most hospitals did not want the ER to be a destination for drug seekers or the start of a dependency issue. Now a recent study has provided further support to the argument of prescription opioid reduction, as it confirms that the longer a painkiller is prescribed, the more likely it is for the patient to become addicted.

“The initial prescription a clinician writes has a pretty profound impact on a person’s (likelihood) for being a long-term opioid user,” commented Bradley Martin, coauthor of the study. This means that patients who are given prescriptions for more than a month at a time have a 30% increase in their chances of becoming addicted. Although very few patients are actually given such a large number of painkillers at once, the study shows that patients who are only given enough painkiller for one day still have up to a 6% chance of continuing use throughout the year.

This detailed research illustrates just how addictive painkillers can be for people who are simply seeking relief from their discomfort. As a nation, we have been forced to look at prescribing practices and how they can be better tuned in multiple settings to help reduce the availability of addictive substances as well as protect patients from becoming dependent.

On the front end, new policies can act as both an intervention as well as a preventive measure, but there are still millions of people who have already become addicted and need help. If you have a loved one in need of treatment, contact us today to learn more about how we can help.

Gateway or Not, Marijuana Use Often Comes First

Whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug has been debated for years. Advocates of marijuana legalization have argued that marijuana is in no way associated with future use of harder drugs. However, there is yet another study that recently shows this not to be the case, at lease with regard to prescription painkillers.

This information comes at a time when several states are in the process of legalizing marijuana for adults, or considering putting the issue on the ballot. And while no state is looking to make marijuana legal for adolescents, it previous surveys have found that it becomes more prevalent and they have greater access to the drug.

The recent survey was conducted with 11,000 children and teenagers who were asked a series of questions related to their drug and alcohol use. Included in these questions was whether or not they had used prescription opioids in the past 30 days and if they had ever used marijuana. The survey was specifically looking to see if there was a connection between marijuana use and prescription painkiller use. After the data was collected, it was discovered that out of 11,000 participants, 524 had used prescription painkiller in the last month. Of those 524 children and teenagers, 80% had used marijuana prior to using painkillers.

And while this certainly does not mean that if you use marijuana you will definitely use opioids, it does a show a link. Teenagers who use prescription painkillers are more likely to have used marijuana first. This information may provide a guideline for parents and educators for prevention measures.

Additional information synthesized from the study shows that teenagers who drink alcohol and use tobacco products in addition to opioids are much more likely to have started out with just marijuana. Stopping a child when they are smoking marijuana is likely much easier than stopping a child when they are addicted to prescription drugs, where more serious interventions may be needed.

Study Recommends Simple Method to Reduce Painkiller Problem

As the prescription painkiller opioid epidemic continues, healthcare officials and top leaders in government are scrambling to find effective solutions. Most states have implemented prescription monitoring tools, more doctors are increasing their education regarding painkillers, and hospitals throughout the country have started screening their patients for potential painkiller addictions. One overlooked population includes the large number of people who are prescribed opiates following outpatient surgery. One researcher has identified this as a way to cut down on the number of pills being given to patients.

According to Richard J. Barth, chief of general surgery at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, doctors often prescribe larger numbers of painkillers after surgery as more of a convenience factor. However, reducing the number of visits or steps for a prescription refill has contributed to the painkiller problem in America.

This single action has the potential to have a significant impact on the volume of drugs being legally prescribed – and the subsequent overflow onto the black market. This theory was tested and proven by Dr. Barth and his group of researchers at five outpatient surgery clinics.

Many outpatient surgeries are invasive and the recovery can be difficult and painful. Sometimes patients are given 50 pills or more as part of their post-op care. But upon further inspection, the patients report that they were only taking about 28% of their prescriptions. This is an important factor because it shows that doctors are overprescribing and that because of the all the leftover pills, there leaves room for other people to use the prescription, especially addicts. Barth indicated that most patients really only need an average of about 15 pills, and that switching to non-narcotic pain relievers earlier was very effective.

While conducting their study, which appears in the Annals of Medicine, the researchers asked a group of outpatient surgeons to limit the number of painkillers they were prescribing for many procedures. They found that the patients who received less painkillers recovered quicker and did not ask for refills. The study shows a positive outcome when doctors limit their prescriptions for narcotics and also illustrates the need for more comprehensive studies into the level of pain associated with many outpatient surgeries.

Are Elite Athletes More Susceptible to Substance Abuse?

The results of a new study from the University of Alberta have found that there is a “strong relationship” between high-level (more intense) participation in sports and addiction. Laurie de Grace, the study’s author, found that a significant number of athletes were involved in binge drinking.

Ms. de Grace, who was pursuing a Master’s degree in the Faculty of Physical Education, originally planned to study the relationship that physical activity and participation in sports plays in developing a substance abuse issue. She had been forewarned that this may prove difficult, since physical activity seems to be linked with good mental health.

Some Sports Participation and Addiction Linked

Instead, Ms. de Grace discovered that the more risk factors that are present for a person, the more likely they are to become an addict. Participating in sports appears to have both the benefit of steering young people away from substance abuse if done as fun recreation and exercise, but it also has the potential to increase the increase the risk of addiction when taken to extreme levels with more stress and pressure.

For her research, de Grace chose to conduct interviews with people in recovery. Nearly all of them had some type of background in sport. She divided the participants into categories based on their level of participation in athletics. Specific groups in the study were recreational athletes, those who had played sports as children but who had dropped out in high school, and elite athletes.

Several sports were represented in the study, such as martial arts, rowing, gymnastics and dance. Most of the participants had competed in team sports like hockey, however.

Sports Culture May Fuel Addiction in Some Athletes

The research found that sports culture supports an attitude of machismo. The pressures on young athletes to perform is very high. Coaches may ignore drug and alcohol use, while some of them even encourage young people to adopt a lifestyle with a theme of, “Work hard, play hard.”

Some young players may start drinking to feel that they are part of the team, and model their behavior on older, more experienced players. Drinking has become intertwined with sports culture. We see winning teams filling trophies with champagne and celebrating in their locker room with alcohol after a big game.

Participating in sports is a healthy activity, and clearly not everyone who joins a sports team in their youth will become an addict. For those people who already have a number of risk factors for addiction, being in an environment where they are exposed to triggers for addiction could put them at higher risk. It would be tremendously difficult to be repeatedly exposed to that type of behavior and not take part in the drinking or drug use as well, at least to some level. We can prevent some of these problems from occurring by trying to provide better tools for young people to deal with pressure, such as mindfulness practices or various forms of non-harmful stress relief.

Cocaine Use by Fathers at Conception May Cause Learning Disabilities in Children

There has been extensive research regarding drug use by pregnant women and the effects on their children before and after birth. However, very little research has been conducted into possible links between a father’s drug use and the effects on the children. Recently, a research team at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania decided to take on the task of determining if there are any health repercussions for babies who were fathered by someone using cocaine at the time of conception.

It turns out that the researchers did find some interesting data regarding the possibility of negatively effecting the health of their children. Although initial research involved rats, the results implicated similar behavior in humans. The study authors found that male babies whose biological fathers used extensive amounts of cocaine were more likely to develop learning disabilities than those whose biological fathers did not consume drugs. Also, it appears that male babies and not female babies are effected by paternal cocaine use, the researchers are not clear as to why this is the case.

In order to come to these conclusions, the researchers studied baby rats that were born to fathers who had been administered cocaine for a substantial length of time and compared the babies behavior to those born to fathers who were not given cocaine. The scientists observed that babies in the first group had more difficulty locating objects or remembering locations of items. They also discovered that these rats had impaired synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning.

In this case, the researchers have concluded that the excessive cocaine use causes changes to the genes of the father, which he eventually passes to his son. So, even though the sons were never actually exposed to cocaine, they still felt the negative, and long lasting, effects of the drug. This study is telling in multiple ways, as little research has been done as to how genetics are affected from the start by the introduction of foreign substances such as illegal drugs or prescription drugs. In a time where our society is more drugged than ever with pharmaceuticals, we should continue to investigate the long-term effects.