With painkiller abuse skyrocketing in recent years, there's good news in the form of a new non-addictive opioid medication looming on the horizon. Currently, there are about a dozen drugs being developed to replace addictive, commonly abused painkillers such as oxycodone, but one particular drug promises to provide pain relief without the high or unpleasant side effects.
Cara Therapeutics, a company based in Connecticut, recently unveiled an opioid drug that is allegedly far less likely to cause patients to feel high. The compound is called CR845 and works on different nerve-ending receptors than traditional treatments without entering a patient’s brain.
Cara claims that CR845 does not cause nausea, respiratory depression, or other bad side effects, unlike other non-addictive opioid drugs that come with side effects like seizures or hallucinations.
“We need safer medications,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, lead investigator on the trials for the Cara compound and past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “They will not solve the problem of prescription drug abuse, but they will reduce overdose deaths.”
The UN World Health Organization reported last week that nearly 70,000 lives are claimed by opioid overdose each year. Although the majority of people dependent on opioids use heroin, a fast rising proportion are dependent on prescription opioids.
In September, the American Academy of Neurology said that the risk of taking strong painkillers, which includes death, overdose, and addiction, far outweigh the benefits of treating chronic pain and other non-cancer conditions. “If we can effectively replace these drugs, that would be a game changer,” said Bob Twillman, deputy executive director of policy and advocacy for the American Academy of Pain Management.
The idea of a non-addictive painkiller is drawing its share of skeptics, like Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “It wasn’t that long ago we were told (OxyContin) wasn’t that addictive,” Ingram said.
But people like Dr. Gavril Pasternak, an opioid researcher and expert at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, are hopeful. Pasternak said non-addictive painkillers are getting closer than ever to market. “Is (a non-addictive opioid) a possibility? Absolutely. And there are a lot of people devoting a lot of time and effort to it,” Pasternak said. “It could be ready relatively soon.”
Just hours after Silk Road 2.0 was shut down by authorities last week, the third installment of the online drug market on the Dark Web was launched for customers. However, the new site has been met with far less enthusiasm by consumers.
Silk Road 2.0 was launched in response to the original Silk Road being shut down, but Silk Road 3 Reloaded is actually a strategic name change from a website that was formerly named Diabolus Market. That site was launched just under a month ago as a “cannabis-only” marketplace, but an automated email sent to users describes the new site as “an anonymous, professional and peaceful marketplace selling all sorts of goods and services…there is no judgement, censorship or repercussion here. We are truly free.”
Automated messages from Silk Road 3 even use the name Dread Pirate Roberts, which the original Silk Road founder went by. The alleged operator of the site even claims to actively be working with a member of the Silk Road 2.0 team. They wrote in an email to Daily Dot that “He/she is using my code and servers but is operating SR 3.0 themselves. I don’t have anything more to say.”
But Silk Road 3 users remain skeptical of this claim and have not been pleased with the overall functionality of the new site. “The Silkroad [sic] 2.0 was designed with a lot more sophistication,” wrote Budflood on the web chat. “This looks like it’s just been thrown together by a bunch of kids.”
Silk Road 2.0 operator Blake Benthall was arrested last week and now faces 10 years behind bars on charges including conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiring to commit computer hacking, conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents, and money laundering conspiracy. He was reportedly second-in-command for Silk Road 2.0 until December 2013, but began running the website when its founder ceased his operations when the original Silk Road operators were arrested. As of last September, Silk Road 2.0 was generating $8 million per month in revenue through its roughly 150,000 active users.
The founder of the original Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht, was arrested last October by federal authorities. He is currently being charged with soliciting murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, and facilitating computer hacking.
A wave of special treatment courts designed for veterans who have gotten themselves into drug-related troubles have been appearing across the country, addressing the undeniable mental and physical issues many soldiers face when returning from overseas.
The first Veteran Treatment Court was founded in early 2008 by Judge Robert Russell, and now the number of courts has increased to 197 across the U.S. that serve more than 10,000 veterans. Many of the veterans would be in jail without the services offered by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
These courts are only available to veterans who have been clinically diagnosed with a substance abuse or mental health disorder. In most cases, the charges against them are dropped and their records expunged if they complete a 12-step program—the length of which is determined based on the crime and medical history.
"It's really about the struggle re-integrating after experiencing the trauma of war," said Melissa Fitzgerald, a former West Wing actress turned Senior Director of Justice For Vets, a national non-profit that raises awareness and funds for Veterans Treatment Courts. "We have more than 23 million vets now," she added. "These courts ensure that when veterans return home, they have access to the structure, treatment, and mentoring they need to get their lives back on track."
The success rates of these courts have been high because former soldiers who enroll in them do so by choice, indicating they are motivated to get well. "You are here because it’s your choice…what I want our veteran defendants to understand is, if you're coming into my courtroom, you need to be ready to go to treatment,” said Patrick Dugan, a judge at the Philadelphia Municipal Court and a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves JAG Corps. “You need to be ready to address the underlying issues that cause the criminal behavior."
Data recently released by the RAND organization found that roughly one out of six Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, which is further exacerbated by the nearly 20% of these veterans who also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or some other mental health issue. Narcotics prescriptions among patients treated by VA have soared by 259% over the last 11 years.
Many in the Veteran Treatment Courts believe that the military could be doing more to address this issue by offering a transitional program for people coming out of the military. "Vets are not going to stop coming to the VA in pain," said Pearson Crosby, who is currently enrolled in a Veteran Court program in Philadelphia, "Between Iraq and Afghanistan, all the IEDs, explosions, the tolls it takes on soldiers' bodies and minds...I think they need to find a better way to handle severe pain."
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In what is becoming a recurring and unpleasant refrain with Republicans, newly re-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will put in motion a system to require drug tests for state residents who receive either unemployment insurance or food stamps.
The plan, which Walker announced during his re-election campaign, has not been finalized, but seeks to require drug testing for “those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working-age adults requesting food stamps from the state.” Current figures show that an estimated 836,000 Wisconsin residents, 40% of which are children, received FoodShare benefits, while more than 39,000 people filed weekly unemployment compensation claims.
Currently, at least eleven states have passed legislation that requires drug testing or screening for residents to receive public assistance, while unemployment compensation comes with a drug test in four states, two of which, Kansas and Missouri, have both requirements.
However, the success rate of ferreting out drug users from the ranks of the unemployed and those on welfare is exceptionally low. Tennessee found just one drug user out of 800 welfare recipients, while Utah generated 12 positive tests from its welfare recipients. Florida Governor Rick Scott has pursued a testing system in his state since 2011, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to grant his petition and a cost to tax payers of hundreds of millions of dollars, while the state of Texas just announced that it will has filed a new bill for review that will require testing for those seeking government assistance.
A spokesperson from the Drug Policy Alliance responded to the proposed Wisconsin plan by stating, “If Governor Scott Walker cared about families in his state, his first response would be to ensure that people who struggle with problematic drug use are able to receive treatment on demand and the help they need to live a healthy and productive lifestyle. Drug testing families and individuals struggling to make ends meet is uncaring, uncompassionate and unconstitutional.”
A new study has shown that antibody therapy can blunt an addict’s high by preventing certain drugs, specifically methamphetamine, from reaching the brain.
The experiment, presented last week by molecular biologist Eric Peterson of the University of Arkansas, aimed to integrate antibody engineering and gene therapy technology to generate an antibody-based medicine that could continue working for months or years.
Researchers were able to show that the therapy continued to prevent methamphetamine from reaching the brains of mice over a month after receiving a dose of the drug. This approach has the potential to protect recovering addicts from relapsing if it can be proved to work safely in humans.
In the experiment funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth-addicted mice received antibody therapy. They were injected with an adeno-associated virus, which is engineered to deliver genes that produce antibodies that bind tightly to methamphetamine.
Fifty days after the mice were injected with the virus, they received a dose of methamphetamine. Up to an hour after administering the methamphetamine, the researchers observed a greater presence of the drug in the blood of the mice that received the gene-based therapy than the mice that received a saline shot instead.
According to the researchers, this suggests that the drug, bound to the antibodies, never passed into the brain and remained in the bloodstream until it was filtered out. Similar therapies have the potential to help with other addictions, like cocaine and tobacco, but have yet to be found safe and long-lasting enough to help an addict get clean.