More than seven million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2009, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey in Drug Use and Health—and many of these are kids who nick drugs from the family bathroom. To help Americans get rid of unused medications without fear, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is holding its fourth National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day at locations nationwide on April 28 from 10 am-2 pm. The DEA and its local law-enforcement partners will staff sites where people drop off their drugs, no questions asked. “The idea is to get people to get this stuff out of their medicine cabinets without fear or concern of anyone checking or questioning,” says Jeffrey Scott, a DEA special agent who has worked in the field all over the country, most recently in Arizona, and has staffed drug take-back sites. “You bring in your medications, they’re given to state or local police departments, and they maintain them until the DEA collects them for destruction,” he tells The Fix.
The DEA claims an “overwhelming” response to its first three take-back events, having collected almost half a million tons of pills from across the country. The drugs are taken to incineration sites for destruction. Scott says that since “it’s a blind drop”—meaning there are no questions asked about the drugs brought in—the DEA conducts no sorting process of the drugs, so it’s impossible to know which drugs are most commonly surrendered. Over 5,300 sites will be staffed by more than 4,000 of the DEA’s state and local partners. Last September’s event encouraged participation by long-term care facilities and Indian nations, in addition to the general public. To find your local drop-off point, visit the Office of Diversion Control’s site here and search by Zip code or city.
A history of binge-eating may predispose you to other addictions, if a recent study of binge-eating, coke-addled rats is any indication. Eating disorders generally tend to be co-morbid with other conditions involving compulsions, and now we have evidence that it may be an indicator of likely cocaine addiction in particular. “Given the common characteristics of these two types of disorders, it is not surprising that the co-occurrence of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders is high,” says Patricia Sue Grigson, PhD. "It is unknown, however, whether loss of control in one disorder predisposes an individual to loss of control in another.” Grigson and her colleagues at the Penn State College of Medicine conducted a study in which rats were conditioned to a range of dietary habits, and then given cocaine. The rats were put on four different diets: one group on normal rat chow; one group on rat chow plus regular access to an optional dietary fat source; one group on rat chow put one hour of optional fat daily; and the final group on rat chow plus an hour of optional fat three days a week. Researchers discovered that the rats with the most restricted fat diet—those receiving fat only three days a week—developed binge eating behaviors. This group of rats liked cocaine more than the others: they attempted to get more coke when there was none available and worked harder to try to get it. Grigson says that the development of binging behavior in the rats altered their brain physiology and opened them up to drug addiction. She notes that while about 20% of rats and humans alike develop addiction when exposed to cocaine, the chances jump to 50% if the subject has a history of binging on fatty food.
Belinda Carlisle, lead singer of The Go-Go's, gave up alcohol and drugs at the age of 47, and has been clean for seven years. "I did it one way for thirty-something years, so it was time to try something different. It wasn't working anymore," she tells Hollywood Access Live. Carlisle describes being "struck sober" after realizing she was "sick of it—not just the drugs and the alcohol, but the behavior that goes along with it." The singer chronicles her decades of addiction in her memoir Lips Unsealed, and hopes her story will inspire other addicts who get sober later in life: "You can teach an old dog new tricks, basically," she says. The Go-Go's rose to fame in the '80s and were the first all-female rock band who wrote their own music to top Billboard charts. They've sold more than seven million albums, and still perform a few times a year. But "we don't party like crazy anymore," says Carlisle.
Rather than having to sneak prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet, researchers say, most prescription drug abusers—and the DEA estimates there are seven million in the US—are given pills by friends or family willingly, and for free. Over 70% of prescription drug abusers procure drugs in this way, shows a new study released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It's a tough problem for law enforcement to tackle. Because prescription drugs are often initially obtained quite legally, regulation involves persuading legitimate patients to be more diligent about disposing of their meds. But that's little help if prescribed users have no qualms about selling or giving their prescriptions away. "At the end of the day, our strongest tool is vigilance among everyone with access to a medicine cabinet," says Gil Kerlikowske, chief of the White House's anti-drug campaign. But right now a lack of vigilance—or worse—is our biggest weakness.
Cocaine use could make you lose your marbles much earlier than planned. According to findings from the University of Cambridge, middle-aged people dependent on cocaine demonstrate symptoms of older brains, such as cognitive decline and memory problems. Also, people who are addicted to the drug seem to lose twice the brain volume each year as non-users. "We have a growing number of older people seeking treatment for drug problems," says Karen Ersche, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. "The Baby Boomer generation is a generation that has used more drugs than any generation before them, so they actually may suffer from an accelerated aging process, and we need to take this into account when we provide treatment." Using MRIs to measure gray matter volume in 120 adults who were of a similar age, gender and verbal IQ, but half of whom had cocaine dependency, the research showed that the cocaine-dependent adults had 3.08 milliliters per year in gray matter loss, compared to 1.69 milliliters in those without substance abuse. Ersche says the brain atrophy may be a result of oxidative stress, which is caused by the production of unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species; when the body can't remove these molecules or repair the damage they cause, disease can result. According to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, cocaine is used by 21 million people worldwide, about 1% of whom become dependent on the drug.
American Pie's Chris Klein may have publicly stated that his German Shepherd, Chief, helped him to get and stay clean, but he's certainly not the only sober person to call a four-legged friend a serious aid on the road to recovery. In her new Kindle Single, Animal Attraction, Fix Executive Editor Anna David writes that while she's "not going to claim my kitten made me see that I didn’t need to slowly kill myself anymore…a few weeks after this sweet little furball came into my life, I’d simply had enough of the late, jittery nights and realized I couldn’t bear the loneliness and depression I was living with any longer." David will be leading a hotly-anticipated video discussion about addiction, sobriety and pets over on the recovery social networking site In The Rooms tomorrow (Thursday), April 26 at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST. It's one not to miss: considering that ITR has—among the many groups on its site—over 13 pet-related ones, including Cat Lovers and Pug Addicts, the live video chat should be an animal-lover's paradise. But no catty comments allowed.