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tough luck in minnesota

12/09/13 3:15pm

Minnesota Struggles With Substance Abuse As Detox Centers Slip Away


Land of 10,000 23 detox centers
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Minnesota is struggling to cope with its substance abuse problem as half of the detox centers throughout the state have shut down over the last two decades, leaving already overcrowded jails and hospital emergency rooms to pick up the slack. There are only 23 detox centers throughout the state, but Minnesota health care officials believe there is still a desperate need for them. The binge drinking and heroin-related death rates for Minnesotans are among the highest in the country, but jails and ER's are simply unable to handle the long-term treatment or counseling services that chronic addicts need.

“Detox is always full and the emergency rooms are being overrun with intoxicated people,” said Jennifer DeCubellis, assistant administrator for health for Hennepin County. “We need an array of services that simply don’t exist today.” Bed shortages often mean that visibly intoxicated people who aren't suffering from alcohol poisoning or severely injured are turned away. In rural communities, this means that police are often forced to travel hundreds of miles to drop people off at distant detox centers. For an addict suffering from severe alcohol or drug withdrawals, those hours in a car without treatment can be potentially fatal.

“You can’t leave people lying in the snowbank when it’s 10 degrees below zero,” said Matt Westermayer, deputy director of public safety and police for the city of Mankato. “It’s our obligation to help these people, but something has to change.” Hennepin County is now looking at creating a 30-bed “sobering” center for those who need a place to sleep and sober up, but don’t require acute medical care. The facility could potentially save Hennepin $4 million annually, according to county estimates.

But even if the proposal is approved, it’s detox centers that Minnesota desperately needs. The 21-bed Mission Detox Center in Plymouth provides patients with long-term treatment and counseling, which has led to most of them not returning to the center after they first arrive. “There is this myth that people come here to hang out and have meals, and then it’s back to the streets to drink,” said Brian Zirbes, program director at the Mission Detox Center. “This misperception misses the success stories.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

veteran addicts

12/09/13 1:15pm

Veterans Court Gives Addicted Military Members A Second Chance


Roughly 22 vets commit suicide every day
Photo via Shutterstock

Because of the growing number of veterans dealing with mental illness and substance abuse, the U.S. legal system is seeing a surge in veterans court programs that are designed to give military veterans suffering with addiction a chance at redemption through treatment instead of prison time. The first special court for veterans was launched in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2008, and has since expanded to 130 similar courts in 40 states. Veterans court programs are modeled on drug courts that encourage support programs instead of incarceration based on the significantly reduced recidivism rates.

Former Marine Cpl. Eric Gonzalez, who served in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010, faced a nine-year prison sentence for leading police on a high-speed chase that resulted in charges of DUI, evading arrest, and assault of a police officer. But his depression and PTSD after serving in the war-torn country led Judge Wendy Lindley to recommend Gonzalez for her veterans court program in Orange County Calif; he graduated from the program last September.

“This guy was sent someplace no one should ever be sent, but that’s what we do to our kids because we’re good at it,” said Bert Eitner, Gonzalez’ former drug court parole officer. “And you can’t strap a gun on every day and not have it affect you.” The trauma of war is precisely why the veterans court program only deals with men and women no longer serving on active duty; Eitner believes “there’s no point giving them all these services and letting them go back to deployment.”

Gonzalez said the veterans court program consisted of living in a residential recovery center while undergoing treatment which included cognitive and exposure therapies, as well as meditation and exercise classes. Frequent and mandatory drug testing also took place; Gonzalez said he was tested six times each week by Eitner despite “already peeing for four other people.”

Because of this rigid program, veteran courts have a tremendous track record of success and a recidivism rate of only three percent. “We’ve got this battle force that kept us safe since 9/11,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “Now we’ve got to stay behind them.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

doctors on drugs

12/09/13 11:00am

Substance Abuse Rises Among Medical Trainees


Trust me, this is the good stuff.
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Headed by David O. Warner, MD of the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a study examining the disciplinary records of 44,612 residents between 1975 and 2009 showed that substance abuse is on the rise among anesthesiology residents.

The study revealed that a total of 384 trainees were disciplined for substance abuse during that time period. Since 2003, however, the rates of substance abuse among residents has more than doubled. By far, the greatest number of abusers had problems with IV opioids such as fentanyl, followed by alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. But while rates of abuse drastically increased, the rate of relapse remained unchanged. "To our knowledge, this report provides the first comprehensive description of the epidemiology and outcomes of substance use disorder for any in-training physician specialty group, showing that the incidence of substance use disorder has increased over the study period and that relapse rates are not improving," the study said.

Digging deeper into the data, the report showed that a total of 28 residents died while in training and in each case the cause of death was attributed to substance abuse. Other conclusions drawn from the study showed that far more men than women had problems with abuse, while 69 percent of those whose specific drug of choice was indicated in their records went on to finish their training. Fifty one percent received their board certification in anesthesiology. "Although relatively few anesthesiology residents develop substance abuse disorder, the incidence is continuing to increase," Warner said. "The problem is as serious now as it has been at any time over the period of study, and the consequences can be severe.”

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By Shawn Dwyer

boozing on campus

12/09/13 9:00am

Condom Use Among College Women Unchanged by Alcohol


Not so fast, buddy. Photo via Shutterstock

A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University and Syracuse University has splashed some cold water on the commonly held notion that alcohol greatly reduces common sense among college students, particularly women, when engaging in sexual activity.

The year-long research project stated its findings based on 297 responses from women who reported 1,856 instances of intercourse during their first year of college at an unnamed university in the Northeast. Of those reported sexual encounters, only 20 percent involved drinking any alcohol and 13 percent involved heavy alcohol use – or what people refer to as binge drinking. Flipping that around, the study found that a whopping 80 percent of reported sexual activity involved no alcohol whatsoever.

Meanwhile, study participants reported that condoms were used 61 percent of the time during intercourse; while that number dipped when sex involved regular romantic partners (58 percent), condom use actually increased (72 percent) when involving casual partners. What’s more, when alcohol was introduced, overall condom use actually increased to 70 percent. “Among college women, alcohol use and condom use tend to co-occur, because both are more likely in events involving casual partners,” the study said. “Even in situations involving heavy drinking (four or more drinks), during which we might expect disinhibition to lead to decreases in safe-sex behavior, we found no evidence of decreased condom use across this sample of women.”

The study seemed to belie the idea that alcohol seriously impairs judgment and perhaps points to the validity of another explanation for the behavior of some college kids. “There is a second theory about alcohol and sex that the findings of this study do support,” said writer and sexual health expert Martha Kempner. “Expectancy theory says that individuals’ behavior after drinking is driven by their beliefs about alcohol’s effects on behavior. Essentially, how you behave while drunk is a self-fulfilling prophecy—if you think you are going to take more sexual risks because of alcohol, you probably will.”

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By Shawn Dwyer


12/09/13 7:00am

Morning Roundup: December 9, 2014


Must be faking it... Photo via Shutterstock

By Shawn Dwyer

movies about addiction

12/06/13 7:30pm

Sundance to Show Films About Addiction


The festival runs Jan. 16-26, 2014
Photo via Sundance

As it does every year at this time, the Sundance Film Festival has just revealed its slate of films for their upcoming 30th annual event in Park City, UT.

Among the many entries that will make their debuts are three movies that deal with addiction issues. The most high-profile film is Low Down from director Jeff Preiss, a heart-wrenching drama based on the memoir of the same name by Amy Jo Albany. Both the book and film detail her troubled childhood being raised by her father, Joe Albany, a bebop pianist who played with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, but who struggled with heroin addiction and routine incarceration. The film stars John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, and Peter Dinklage, and will be slated for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

The festival also includes two harrowing documentaries about web addiction. Love Child, directed by Valerie Veatch, focuses on a young South Korean couple who allowed their infant daughter to starve to death while they raised a virtual child online. The film covers the 2010 trial and sentencing, while exposing the dark underbelly of gaming addiction. The other film is Web Junkie, a documentary from Israel that investigates a rehabilitation center in China – the first country to label Internet addiction a clinical disorder – where three teenagers are deprogrammed to kick their online habit. Both films will be shown in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.

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By Shawn Dwyer


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