A couple that was arrested last August for giving their 12-year-old daughter hallucinogenic mushrooms escaped prison time yesterday when a judge sentenced them to five years' probation. The girl was found walking around in a creek bed a mile from her home in Omaha, NE at 3am, crying and covered in mud. She said that her parents gave her the hallucinogenic 'shrooms for "religious" reasons, and that it wasn't the first time. Cynthia and Christopher Ewerdt's probation conditions include spending the first six months at a halfway house—and another six months in jail, if they don't stick to the terms. Judge Duane Doherty took into account their six months' incarceration prior to sentencing and the fact that the pair got help for their drug addictions through programs in Jail. The Ewerdts—who ran an operation growing mushrooms inside their home—pleaded no contest to child abuse and possession of a controlled substance. The maximum prison sentence they could have received was ten years. If they follow the conditions of their probation, they can regain custody of their daughter, who is now 13 and being looked after in foster care.
- The Mouse in the Addiction and Depression Maze [Scientific American]
Unlucky is (s)he who has both addiction and depression. But determining which came first can be daunting. Researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine wanted to explore this chicken-and-egg question behind mood disorders and drugs: Does substance use cause changes in the brain that produce depression, or is depression a byproduct of using? Out came the lab mice. In experiments published in January's issue of Neuron, the critters that were first given coke for a week and then exposed to stress got a case of the blues lasting much longer than in their coke-free peers. After cutting open their brains (talk about stress!), the neuroscientists found coke-users had lower levels of reward-center molecule histone deacetylase (HDAC)—exactly like mice that are bred to be prone to stress and depression. When researchers artificially stimulated HDAC, the result was a brighter mood. When it was dialed down, darkness set in.
The take-home? Don’t do coke for a week straight. Also, cocaine and other substances may spark a neurochemical reaction that turns down the expression of HDAC, so if you weren’t depressed before you started using, you probably will be soon, creating a mutually reinforcing addiction-depression loop.
- The Neuroscience of Chasing the Dragon [Science Daily]
HDACs are one of the hottest spots in addiction neuroscience because they appear to directly manipulate the expression of certain genes in one of the brain's reward regions, like a finger on a volume fader. In another HDAC study reported in Neuron, researchers at the University of Southwestern Texas made a discovery that could answer a common junkie's question: Why do we consume more and more alcohol or drugs in a futile pursuit of ever-diminishing satisfaction? Studying the same HDAC molecules in the same reward region of the brains as the coke-taking mice, these researchers found that the drug set in motion HDAC activity that limited not only the pleasure payoff but also the long-term memory of the experience.
The take-home? A built-in mechanism making you eternally frustrated and stupid—unable to remember, and therefore learn not to do the same thing over again and expect a different result—appears to define addictive behavior.
- The Poorest Smokers Make the Poorest Quitters [The American Journal of Public Health]
A new study of nicotine addicts in Arkansas—the third poorest state per capita—found that those with the least income had the lowest success rate in a statewide smoking-cessation program headed by Dr. Christine Sheffer, a former University of Arkansas prof. Although those at the top of the financial ladder and those at the bottom had equal quit rates right after the cognitive behavioral nicotine patch treatment, the poorest quitters were, three months into recovery, 55% more likely to start smoking again—and at six months, 250% more likely. In the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Sheffer offers several explanations: (1) Stressful money worries, job woes and discrimination plague the poor, while nicotine floods the brain with feel-good dopamine, making cigarettes a relatively cheap sedative. (2) Rates of teen smoking increase as household income decreases, and the earlier you start the harder it is to quit. (3) Lower-paying jobs are less likely to be protected by no-smoking rules.
The take-home? "The evidence-based treatments that are around have been developed for middle-class patients," says Sheffer. "So in therapy we talk about middle-class problems."
- Bonus Detox-Safety Brief [European Addiction Research]
For detoxing drinkers, withdrawal seizures pose a major health risk. German researchers have now identified biological markers to better predict the probability of seizures. They advise rehabs to measure both homocysteine (HCT) and carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT) before detox in all alkies with a vulnerable profile.
Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky issued a stark call for action at the state's Prescription Drug Abuse Summit yesterday, confronting a problem he says is "killing our people." Asserting that "nothing is more important," he declared: "We must be aggressive, and we must act now." Beshear plans to spend $4 million over two years to bolster the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER). He's also working on legislation to make use of KASPER mandatory and to crack down on pill mills. "We are galvanizing our forces in this fight," he said, calling on health workers and church and business leaders to help. Kentucky has a particularly severe pill problem: Nearly 1,000 Kentuckians die from prescription drug abuse each year, and 9.5% of 12th-graders there say they've used prescription narcotics in the past 30 days. A commonwealth's attorney in Floyd County, Brent Turner, told the 300 conference delegates that at least 5,000 of his county's 40,000 residents are somehow involved in prescription drug trafficking. People in his area have even started selling drug-free urine at flea markets, enabling buyers to pass drug tests.
Daniel Radcliffe has revealed that he would come to the Harry Potter set drunk, but managed to keep his addiction under the radar. “People with problems like that are very adept at hiding it. It was bad,“ says the 22-year-old recovering alcoholic in a new interview with Heat magazine. “I don’t want to go into details but I drank a lot and it was daily—I mean nightly. I can honestly say I never drank at work on Harry Potter. I went into work still drunk, but I never drank at work." The actor says he can point out the some of his “drunk scenes,” describing himself as “dead behind the eyes” in them. Radcliffe, who started drinking at 11, doesn’t blame Hollywood for his addictive behavior. Instead, he says it was something that he believes was inside him. “I think it’s just in me. I loved the fact I suddenly could talk to people and feel so entertaining and so interesting,” he explains, “But after a while, you’re living under such a cloud of shame about what you’ve done and the dread of who you might see, what you might have said to them, what you might have done with them. You either have to change something or give into that shame and I wasn’t prepared to do that at 21.” The star is now sober.
- DEA Sees Sharp Drop in Florida Oxy Purchases [Miami Herald]
- Painkiller Addiction Is "Killing Our People," Says Governor of Kentucky [Louisville Courier-Journal]
- Low-Level Marijuana Arrests in NYC Rise for Seventh Straight Year [New York Times]
- Police Raid Five-Story New York Pot Farm [LA Times]
- The Dunes Rehab Battles Permit Problems in The Hamptons [Patch]
- Man Busted for Driving Zamboni Drunk During Hockey Game [CBS]
If you're looking for signs that the recession is drawing to a close, look no further than the rapid upswings of booze sales last year. US shipments of spirits in 2011 increased 2.7 percent over the previous year, marking the strongest increase in five years and nearly hitting the 2.9 percent annual average increase of pre-recession times. Spirit sales increased by 2.0 percent in 2010 and 1.4 percent in 2009. ""We are back to pre-recession growth levels," said David Ozgo, an economist with the Distilled Spirits Council of the US. Sales of high-end spirits are also in line with pre-recession growth levels, reaching 5.3 percent in 2011 and nearly hitting the annual average increase of 5.8 percent. This compares to a 3.3 percent increase in 2010 and a decrease of 3.5 percent in 2009. Although the overall revenues only went up 4 percent last year to $19.9 billion, well short of pre-recession annual growth of 6.5 percent, it's still a big increase from the 2.3 percent rate in 2010 and the zero growth rate in 2009. Ozgo said that while unemployment is still high at 8.5 percent nationwide as of December 2011, that number has been coming down and easing tension in the spending habits of consumers.