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Prescription Drug Abuse

10/23/12 2:31pm

US Addiction Diagnoses Up 70%

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22.5 million people in the US are dependent
on alcohol or drugs. Photo via

The number of drug and alcohol problems diagnosed by US doctors increased by 70% in the first decade of the 2000s, reveals a new study, just as painkiller abuse in the country reached an all-time high. The study, using data from two national surveys of doctors' visits, estimates that the number of addiction diagnoses jumped from 10.6 million between 2001 and 2003 to 18 million between 2007 and 2009. In addition, the number of visits involving a diagnosis of opioid painkiller abuse multiplied nearly sixfold in that time frame: from 772,000 to 4.4 million. "This finding is consistent with trends in substance use disorder-related utilization at the nation's community health centers and emergency departments and, sadly, use of its morgues," write the study's authors in the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the research team led by Dr. Joseph W. Frank, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 22.5 million people in the US are currently dependent on alcohol or drugs. 

The study has its bright spots, however. Prescriptions aimed at treating drug and alcohol addiction have also increased drastically: from 643,000 between 2001 and 2003 to 3.9 million between 2007 and 2009. And the increase in diagnoses means that more people are seeking treatment for addiction, from medications such as methadone, to talk therapy. "We know that increases in prescription drug use are a big part of what's going on nationally. I also think—in our study—the availability of effective treatment is a big part of it as well and likely drawing people into care," says Frank. In more good news, the most recent national survey from SAMHSA indicated that US Rx drug abuse began falling in 2011.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Alcohol Alternatives

10/23/12 1:30pm

Experiment Aims to Brew Hangover-Free Booze

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No headache, no problems? Photo via

An experiment is under way that seeks to produce a new version of booze, without the negative impact on drinkers' health. It's controversial—but then how could it not be, when it's run by Professor David Nutt, an ever-provocative drug expert from London’s Imperial College? He's aiming to develop a liquid cocktail that mimics alcohol's intoxicating effects, while negating the risk of addiction, hangovers and other health damage. To ward off those painful mornings after and all the other problems, the substance would need to contain an antidote to immediately reverse its own effects. "Every aspect of life, science has moved us on with the one exception, how we intoxicate ourselves,” says Nutt. “I think it's time for science to do something there as well.” He's already invented pills that act as an alcohol alternative, but believes a liquid version would be more popular, since people want the experience of imbibing. But Nutt is having some trouble financing his project; he says the drinks industry feels threatened, while the pharmaceutical industry worries that the UK government will block the resulting substance. If the product does end up on the market, the outcome is dubious. Taking the physical consequences of drinking out of the equation sounds good in theory, but Nutt's concoction would do nothing to reduce alcohol's other side effects—such as drunk driving, violence and self-destructive behaviors. For those inclined to overindulge, a substance that promises to "mimic" the effects of alcohol, without also promising a thumping headache in the morning, could prove, well, addictive.

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By Chrisanne Grise

zombie attacks

10/23/12 12:04pm

Man on PCP Eats His Own Finger

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Finger food Photo via

In a scenario fit for Halloween season, a man on the hallucinogenic drug PCP developed a taste for fleshhis own. According to police, Jagget Washington of Jersey City, who was under the influence of PCP and being held at Hudson County Jail, first tried and failed to gnaw off his own wrist. But he then succeeded in biting off and swallowing his own finger. Police say Washington earlier stripped naked in the middle of a busy intersection, screamed incoherently, pounded his fists on passing cars and attempted to pull one driver out of his vehicle. When cops arrived, Washington took a fighting stance and tried to attack them. He was eventually restrained and taken to the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC). “When he was released [from hospital] the hospital felt that he wasn’t a threat to himself or others,” says a JCMC spokesman. That prediction was inaccurate, it turned out. When Washington was placed in a holding cell at the jail, he first spat on an officer and tried to eat his medical bracelet. Returning from a second trip to JCMC, he defecated in the back of a police cruiser, before finally dining on himself. Washington is currently being treated at JCMC once again. The charges he's racked up include carjacking, throwing bodily fluids at law enforcement officers and being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.

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By McCarton Ackerman

ambient drugs

10/23/12 10:48am

There's Something in the Air in Italy: It's Cocaine

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Turin is Italy's capital of airborne coke.
Photo via

Plenty of people have found it stimulating to wander round one of the great Italian cities. Many will have been unaware that they were inhaling cocaine at the time. Researchers from Italy's Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research analyzed air particles in Naples, Verona, Palermo, Rome, Bologna, Florence, Turin and Milan, and have just published their findings in the Environmental Pollution journal. Traces of cocaine were ubiquitous, but sober folk may not need to count a trip to Italy as an automatic relapse: no one's getting high on quantities ranging from 0.02-0.26 nanograms per cubic meter. Despite Naples' solid reputation for organized crime, and all those tourists flooding into Rome and Florence, the highest level of atmospheric cocaine was found in Turin. The northern city's air also contains the most cannabinoids, nicotine and caffeine, which were measured at the same time. Intriguingly, caffeine and marijuana levels in all the cities were higher in the winter months and much lower in the summer (nicotine and cocaine levels remained steady year-round). A manifestation of seasonal affective disorder, perhaps? A previous Italian study showed a strong correlation between the concentration of cocaine in the air and requests for addiction treatment in a given area. What would airborne drug analysis in New York, San Francisco or Miami reveal?

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By The Fix staff

Headlines

10/23/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 23, 2012

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Before the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie struggled
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By Chrisanne Grise

Sex Addiction

10/22/12 5:44pm

Researchers Road-Test New "Sex Addiction" Criteria

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Will hypersexual disorder make it? Photo via

Experts have long debated whether "sex addiction" is real. But a new study moves one interpretation of it closer to inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association's upcoming DSM-5 diagnostic manual. A team of UCLA psychologists has tested criteria to define “hypersexual disorder” as a mental health condition. Symptoms compiled by a DSM work group include: recurring sexual fantasies, a pattern of sexual activity in response to depression, using sex to cope with stress, and urges and behaviors lasting at least six months that aren't caused by other issues, like substance abuse or other medical conditions.

Researchers conducted psychological tests and interviews with 207 patients around the US, all of whom were seeking help for out-of-control sexual behavior, a substance-abuse disorder, or another psychiatric condition like depression. The results, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, indicate that the proposed criteria accurately fit 88% of hypersexual patients, and identified negative results 93% of the time. “Our study showed increased hypersexual behavior was related to greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and an inability to manage stress,” says lead researcher Professor Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior.”

Despite the study's small sample size, other experts feel it's a good place to start. Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and addictions, likes that the study emphasizes the "disorder" aspect of the issue. "I think that particularly with self-destructive pathological behaviors, moving away from the description of them as an 'addiction,' defining them as 'disorders,' is a more realistic and beneficial way to go," he tells The Fix. Hokemeyer says that whether or not this study helps get hypersexual disorder in the DSM-5, it will still help doctors to start dialogues with their patients about troublesome sexual behaviors. "Everybody wants to quantify. They want to know 'How many drinks do I have to have a day before I’m an alcoholic?" he says. "Or how many sexual partners do I need to have? How many hours do I need to spend on the Internet to determine whether or not I have an addiction? They want to quantify it but it’s really a qualitative issue. What impact is it having on your life? How is it effecting your quality of life? What control does it have over you?"

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By Chrisanne Grise

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