Study Identifies Three Ways to Reduce Risk of Opioid Overdose in Addition to Treatment

There are three new helpful recommendations for doctors to follow in order to reduce deaths associated with prescription painkiller overdoses. While some of it is common sense, other parts are simple measures that can save lives. Researchers at the RAND Corporation have found that not prescribing opioids or anti-anxiety medication to patients with opioid dependence problems, ensuring that patients received psychosocial counseling and keeping up with quarterly doctor visits greatly reduced the chances of opioid-related deaths.

Researchers were able to come to these conclusions after observing the care that over 30,000 Veterans received through the VA health system. This at-risk population often sees a large amount of opioid abuse, and researchers were anxious to see what was effective within this vulnerable group. This is also the first study that has looked at developing quality measures to assure against potential opioid overdose deaths. This was important because another group of researchers have recently released data that shows the number of people dying from opioid overdoses is likely not going to reduce for several years unless some drastic changes are enacted.

These changes would be different from, or in addition to changing other prescribing habits, physician education programs about opioid abuse and prescription drug monitoring programs. It also presents another set of guidelines that can be easily checked.

“This is a very large drop in mortality and we need to conduct more research to see if these findings hold up in other patient care settings. But our initial findings suggest that these quality measures could go a long way toward improving patient outcomes among those who suffer from opioid addiction,” commented Dr. Katherine Watkins, lead author of the study.

These three recommendations have been published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, but researchers are hopeful that the information is more broadly dispensed because of the potential life-saving information to physicians everywhere.

Hormone Research May Provide New Avenues of Treatment for Alcoholics

The brain has increasingly been a point of interest for researchers when it comes to studying addiction. In the last several years it has been discovered that areas of the brain responsible for self-control and rewards are most affected by addiction. Scientists have also found evidence of the long-lasting effects of drugs and alcohol on the biology of the brain. And now, a team of researchers from multiple universities and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have released information about a potential cause for alcoholism.

One of the major functions of the brain is to release and regulate hormones. Hormones are an essential component of life, dictating to the body when it is time to grow, eat, sleep, and even think. One major hormone is called aldosterone. Aldosterone is an essential hormone because it regulates kidney function and ensures that the body maintains a water and salt balance. There are two parts to a hormone pathway, the hormone itself and the receptor it binds to.

The researchers of this study found that there could be a link between the aldosterone receptors and alcohol use after it was observed that the receptors for the hormone are located on areas of the brain traditionally linked to alcohol use disorders. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are areas of the brain that have proven to be associated to alcohol use disorder and therefore the researchers are indicating that aldosterone and its receptors could be beneficial for future medicinal trials to prevent or treat alcoholism. The findings can be seen in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

“We believe that this target might be particularly promising for those individuals who drink excessive amounts of alcohol to cut their stress and anxiety – this is technically what we refer to as the ‘withdrawal/negative affect state,’ [and] it is a domain for which we do not have approved targeted medications,” commented Lorenzo Leggio, MD, PhD and one of the authors of the study.

Other research indicates that increased drinking produces a higher level of aldosterone levels in the body. Upon closer examination, patients with higher aldosterone levels and history of alcoholism report stronger cravings, according to the study.

The research has not yet produced any new medication geared to aldosterone receptors as a way of handling alcoholism, but scientists are hopeful that this next step will be taken soon.

Methamphetamine Use Rising Again

methamphetamine abuseMethamphetamine addiction was a major concern for law enforcement and health officials several years ago, before the opioid crisis reached epidemic proportions. States in the Western United States were hit especially hard by the abundance of methamphetamine being manufactured, and as a result thousands of people suffered from debilitating addictions to the powerful drug. But, after major attempts to curb methamphetamine production and use, the United States saw a decline in the number of meth users.

Restrictions on purchasing some of the main ingredients for manufacturing the drug and powerful ad campaigns like, Faces of Meth, were attributed to the de-escalation of methamphetamine use. However, recent reports find that while the country experienced a reprieve from the meth problem, more people are using the drug again, and massive quantities of the drug are being smuggled across the border.

“We’re seeing it pour across the border in bigger quantities. It used to be that loads of 20, 30, 40 pounds were big for us. Now we have 200-pound loads,” cautioned Mark Conover, the deputy U.S. Attorney in Southern California.

Methamphetamine originally soared in popularity because addicts could manufacture the drug themselves, using relatively common household ingredients. But, now that many of these ingredients require an ID to purchase and are only available in limited quantities, drug cartels in South America have taken over. As a result, methamphetamine is not being made in small at-home labs, but instead is being produced in giant warehouses where they make it in bulk and then smuggle it into the United States.

This massive influx of methamphetamine has led to some of the biggest numbers that officials have ever seen. States like Ohio, Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin have all seen massive spikes in methamphetamine in the last year. Some reports show that methamphetamine use has jumped by 250% since 2011.

Meth has somewhat silently crept back on the radar. Despite having a different set of problems associated with its use where overdose deaths are less likely compared to opioids, methamphetamine addiction is still a very serious threat to the public health in America.

If you have a loved one who is abusing or addicted to methamphetamine, contact us today to find out how our treatment program can help.

CDC: Number of Opioid Prescriptions Falling

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States fell 18% between its peak in 2010 and 2015. However, it is still three times higher than it was in just 1999.

The reduction in prescriptions is partially due to the revised prescribing practices that have been recommended for physicians, as well as the general awareness campaigns brought on by the overdose epidemic. For more than a decade our nation has lost many thousands of lives each year to drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Opana and many others. Unfortunately, those horrible losses are still occurring today.

While there are still some counties around the nation that have shown increased activity in this regard, there are also additional good news reports, such as the number of prescriptions with high doses dropping by 41% since 2010.

It is still unclear what kind of impact this reduction will have on current and future opioid abusers. While there will still be thousands of people who die each year, hopefully that number continues to go down as well.

“We do know that when you start people on prescription opioids, the risk of unintended consequences and illicit use goes up. But our staff has done intensive analyses to see whether changing policies for prescription drugs shifts people into illicit use, and the answer is no,” explained Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of CDC, in response to the suggestion that limiting the number of pills being prescribed will drive abusers to seek out street drugs like heroin.

The painkiller epidemic is one area where it seems that cutting down the supply will have an effect on the demand, eventually. This is encouraging news for the continued efforts to help save lives from prescription drug addiction of all kinds, not just opioids. These and other forms of interventions are often necessary when it comes to

Study Cites Benzo Use as Cause for Brain Changes

A new research study has shown that benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin, actually change the structure of the brain. This discovery could lead to further research regarding benzodiazepine addiction that can be explained by altered brain chemistry.

The study, which will be published in the August edition of Psychiatry Neuroimaging, shows that long term use of benzodiazepines can change the caudate in the brain. The caudate is responsible for the reward system, a function of the brain that is often linked to addiction.

The study, which was conducted in Finland, gathered data from MRI scans of 38 people diagnosed with schizophrenia. The MRIs were taken when the subjects were 34-years-old and then again when they were 43-years-old. Comparing the MRIs showed distinct changes in the brains of those that were using benzodiazepines. In order for a study to be valid, researchers have to take into account age, illness, and medication dose, yet even with these adjustments, benzodiazepines still seem to have a major effect on the brain.

Because this is the first study that has analyzed the potential of benzodiazepines to change the structure of the brain, researchers are anxious to further their understanding of this new development.

“There is a need for understanding the mechanisms behind antipsychotic – and benzodiazepine – related structural and functional changes in the brain. Further studies should also focus on how medication-related structural alterations correspond to cognition and functioning,” explained the authors of the study. They also understand that there will need to be a more large-scale population to gather enough data to back up their initial findings more thoroughly.

However, the study is interesting because it may answer questions about the potential for benzodiazepine addiction. Medications like Xanax or Valium are highly addictive and oftentimes abused by people who do not have their own prescription for the drug. Traditionally prescribed to those that suffer from anxiety disorders, these drugs are oftentimes sold on the street to people looking for the high that benzodiazepines can provide.

It can also garner further insight into how to treat benzo addictions in terms of helping to rehabilitate the brain and repair lost function from the drugs.

Prisons Failing to Provide Adequate Help to Inmates with Behavioral Health Disorders

Prisons have long been a final destination for drug addicts and people suffering from various types of mental illnesses. Oftentimes they are convicted of selling or using drugs or committing some unlawful act due to their mental state. However, while imprisoned, many of these people are not getting the help they actually need in order to get better.

According to a new study published by the Department of Justice, over 60% of inmates who are in need of help are not receiving any form of treatment. In this case mental health problems include drug abuse. This is despite the fact that there is plenty of information that would indicate that prisons, both state and federal, should have policies in place to help their mental health population.

The study shows that prisoners are five times more likely to have a mental health problem than other U.S. citizens, and most prisoners report that they have had a mental health issue at least once in their lives prior to being convicted.

As part of the study, the researchers wanted to determine how many current prisoners exhibit mental health issues without receiving treatment. They found that many of the inmates polled exhibited major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, all things that can lead to a drug addiction or a higher recidivism rate. What is unknown is how much being in prison escalated their symptoms, although some treatment experts have indicated that incarceration can trigger mental health issues.

“Once you’re in jail, your life is going to be destabilized – you’re going to lose your house, employment, it can have a snowball effect. Again and again we are seeing people who are in crisis and are being put in jail for substance abuse issues or mental health issues and that’s just not the best way to be dealing with those problems. Jails aren’t treatment programs,” explained Wendy Sawyer, an analyst with the Prison Policy Institute.

Of course, the main debate is whether the prison system is intended to help a person or punish the person. If prison policies aim to restore an individual to a working, honest and contributing member of society, then mental health help will need to be provided. There should also be frequent screenings to ensure that prison life is not creating more mental health issues and the focus should be on actual rehabilitation as much as possible.

The Rising Societal Costs of the Heroin Epidemic

Some may think that drug abuse is a problem with only one victim – the user. However, their family members also suffer as well and society feels the effects in the form of dollars. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, taxpayers shelled out more than $51 billion in 2015 to go towards the fall out of the heroin problem.

Incarcerations due to heroin abuse and the sale of the drug, treatment costs, treatment of infectious diseases caused by heroin use, cost of treating infants born addicted to heroin, loss of productivity at work and heroin deaths were all variables used to calculate the astronomical number. This record-breaking amount is like pouring salt in the wound of already having the highest number of overdose deaths.

The researchers went even further and determined how much each heroin user costs society. According to the data, a single heroin user can cost taxpayers as much as $50,799 a year. This is due to the above variables as well as the fact that heroin users are more likely to be unproductive, and have large blocks of time where they are not working or contributing to the economy.

Interestingly, patients with different chronic problems cost society much less. For instance, a person who is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease costs society about $2,567 a year. And a person who has diabetes generally costs about $11,148 a year.

“The downstream effects of heroin use, such as the spread of infectious diseases and increased incarceration due to actions associated with heroin use, compounded by their associated costs, would continue to increase the societal burden of heroin use disorder,” explained Dr. Simon Pickard, one of the lead authors of the study from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Of course the research is not only to illustrate the burden heroin addiction has on society, it also indicates that effective treatment and prevention efforts are perhaps the only way to get this incredibly high number down. By getting more people the help they need, not only are we saving billions of dollars, but most importantly, we’re saving lives.

Alcohol Mixed with Marijuana Proves to be Deadlier Behind the Wheel

alcohol and marijuanaDespite pro-marijuana advocates claiming the drug isn’t harmful, new research from Columbia University proves otherwise with statistics on traffic fatalities involving marijuana and alcohol. Of the thousands of two-car accidents they gathered data from, it is very clear that driving under the influence of either substances poses a serious danger.

“The risk of crash initiation from concurrent use of alcohol and marijuana among drivers increases by more than fivefold when compared with drivers who used neither of the substances,” explained Dr. Guohua Li, co-author of the study and professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The statistics also showed that fatalities increase by 62% when the driver is under the influence of marijuana alone, and 437% for alcohol. This information highlights the need for better regulation of marijuana-impaired drivers, as someone could be under the legal blood alcohol level but have also smoked weed and be highly dangerous on the road.

The statistics were gathered from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which identified that males between the ages of 25 and 44 were the largest group of offenders. Although this isn’t surprising, it does bring up questions about the latest trend in “bro culture” that fosters irresponsible behavior such as frequent substance abuse.

As marijuana use has grown in popularity given its legalization in a few states, better testing and prevention measures for drivers must be implemented. It wasn’t too long ago that pot smokers thought they could get away with it by chewing some gum and using eye drops to reduce redness, but today there are more ways of testing, such as breathalyzers and saliva strips.

The bottom line is that it’s not worth it, and that we should be working to help people in need of substance abuse treatment. It is imperative to save lives though continued vigilance. If you have a friend or family member who has addiction-related problems, contact us today to find out more about what you can do to help and about successful treatment options.

Study Examines the High Rate of Alcohol Use and Binge Drinking

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) have released a study that shows that adults in the United States are consuming far more alcohol than is considered safe. In fact, the study states that almost 32 million people over the age of 18 consume more alcohol than the already dangerous limits of binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when a male consumes more than five drinks, and a female consumes more than four drinks. New data shows that millions of people are drinking twice these numbers and it is having an impact on their bodies and society.

“Drinking at such high levels can suppress areas of the brain that control basic life-support functions such as breathing and heart rate, thereby increasing one’s risk of death. The risk increases further is other sedative drugs, particularly opioids or benzodiazepines are added to the mix,” said Aaron White, one of the authors of the study. Additionally, people who binge drink are more likely to engage in risky decision-making, violence and even suicide. The side was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

And this amount of drinking is not only affecting people’s personally, but society as well. In fact, the toll that alcohol-related deaths, accidents, crime, and sickness take on the community can be in the billions.

Despite these dangers, many people are still turning to excessive amounts of alcohol. The study showed that 7 percent of participants reported consuming 15 or more drinks in one sitting. Further investigation showed that the amount of people consuming this much alcohol has risen since the last study, which was conducted in 2002. So, researchers can see that more adults are participating in dangerous levels of alcohol consumption, but it is unclear why this is occurring.

In addition to more education and prevention efforts, we must provide more successful alcohol treatment programs to assist those in need. If you have a loved one battling an alcohol problem such as binge drinking or daily dependency, contact us today to find out more about our rehab center.

Fentanyl More Prevalent in Drug Supply than Previously Suspected

Recent news that opioid-related overdose deaths rose again keeps the alarm sounding that more has to be done to help save lives. One of the biggest contributors to these fatalities has been the addition of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that is usually reserved for treating chronic and extreme pain, such as in cancer patients and after major surgeries. However, drug manufacturers and distributors have discovered that they can add it to other drugs to increase potency while making their supply last longer.

“What we see across the country is the drug cartels moving away from heroin and moving toward these opioids they’re going to produce themselves. People think they’re buying one thing and they’re actually buying another. The stuff they’re selling is so powerful. Some of the stuff we’re seeing produced is 50 times more potent than heroin, as if heroin wasn’t bad enough,” said Van Ingram, executive director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

What makes fentanyl-laced heroin so dangerous is that users usually have no idea that they are taking such powerful opioids and so they use the same quantity as they normally would. However, instead of getting the same result, they are ingesting a deadly amount and never make it long enough to receive a dose of naloxone to combat the overdose.

Recently, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, Canada implemented a testing procedure so users could test their drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Their report was shocking, as over 1,000 tests they found an extremely high percentage of the drugs contained fentanyl. This included over 80% of the heroin and even 80% of the methamphetamine and 40% of the cocaine.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has also released reports warning of the increasing presence of fentanyl in street drugs. Since users have no way of knowing what is really in the drugs they’re getting nor how potent they are, there really are only a few viable long-term options to fixing this problem. There has to be a stronger effort to get people into effective treatment programs and there has to be more focus on providing better prevention programs for people of all ages to stop addiction before it starts.