- Perry Says Alcohol, Painkillers Not Involved in Speech that Went Viral [ABC News]
- Fatty Foods Addictive Like Cocaine, Shows Growing Body of Research [Bloomberg Businessweek]
- Atlanta Voters to Decide on Sunday Alcohol Sales [Neighbor Newspapers]
- Prison Guard Arrested for Selling Heroin [KSL]
- Slideshow: Mexicans Commemorate Drug War Victims in "Day of the Dead" [BBC]
- Heroin Addicts Cost Society 850,000 Pounds Each, British Police Warn [Daily Telegraph]
- Bubba Smith Died of Drug Intoxication, Says Coroner [LA Times]
- Former Kiss Guitarist Brands Gene Simmons a Sex Addict [Ultimate-Guitar.com]
Nicotine boosts the hit from cocaine, making smokers more likely to get hooked after first trying the drug, says new research, which may explain why smoking can be a "gateway" to addiction to other substances. Researchers in the laboratories of New York’s Columbia University found that mice accustomed to drinking nicotine-laced water responded far more strongly to cocaine than mice that drank just plain water. Cocaine-injected mice that drank nicotine solution were almost twice as hyperactive as those drinking just plain water—and the activity in their brains’ reward centers was boosted. Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Amir Levine and colleagues say nicotine may enhance cocaine’s effect on a gene (FosB) linked to drug-seeking behavior. And what happens in mice may well happen in people, too. Reviewing long-term studies of cocaine use among former New York High School students, the researchers found that most of them first sampled cocaine after starting smoking. A separate review showed that across the US population, smokers were over three times more likely to become dependent on cocaine than non-smokers who start using. While this points to the wider benefits of anti-smoking campaigns in tackling drug dependence, it also highlights the potential perils of giving up smoking in early recovery. Since nicotine patches may be have the same effect on cocaine users as cigarettes, excessive use could help turn a slip into a downhill slope, if the mice experience is applicable to humans.
Just in case anyone still doubted the extent of the prescription drug epidemic gripping the US, along comes a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detailing a huge surge in painkiller abuse and overdose deaths—which have tripled in the past ten years. In 1999, 4,000 people died from painkiller ODs. By 2008, that had risen to 14,800 attributed fatalities—Heath Ledger was the most famous of them—or 4.8 per 100,000 population. And with 12 million Americans—5% of those aged 12 and over—using these drugs unprescribed in 2010, mortality rates are unlikely to have dropped since, as the report notes. Death is typically caused by respiratory depression, which stops you breathing. Sales to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices of opiod painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin have quadrupled since 1999. In 2010, enough opiod painkillers were sold to give every single American adult a 5mg dose of hydrocodone every four hours for a whole month.
Painkiller abuse is highest among white and Native American populations, in rural and poor areas, among men and among middle-aged people. Many get hooked on legitimately prescribed drugs, quickly building up a tolerance. In some areas, many of these addicts move on to use heroin—although to describe this as an escalation of the problem is perhaps missing the point, when prescription pain pills themselves now kill more US citizens than heroin and cocaine put together. What's more, these stark stats actually underestimate the lethal impact of painkillers, because many death certificates fail to specify the drug responsible. So where's the hope here? Well, the government can hardly ignore numbers like these; a federal prescription tracking program has been approved by every state except Missouri and New Hampshire this year. And the nature of supply is more concentrated, and so perhaps more easily targeted, than the countless street-level dealers of previous illegal drug epidemics: one study showed that just 3% of doctors account for 62% of all the opiod painkillers prescribed in the US, and they can now expect to find themselves under more scrutiny than ever. "It is an epidemic but it can be stopped," says CDC Director Thomas Frieden.
When he was serving in Iraq, Sergeant Jamey Raines saw friends get “vaporized” right in front of him. After he returned from war, he suffered from sleeplessness, nightmares, “the urge to kill everything in sight,” and an inability to talk to people. The Veterans Administration seemed too busy to find out what was wrong with him and give him the right medicine. He was first diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” and only years later given the correct diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. He was given handfuls of Seroquel, Zoloft, and Ambien—despite growing evidence that these meds are ineffective. Raines told The Fix, “None of it worked. I would sleep, but I would still have nightmares. Their idea was to keep me doped up on as many drugs as possible. And that was a common thing. All of my buddies I talk with had the same thing happen to them.” Then he found out what worked for him: marijuana. “It helped me immediately, just to be at ease,” he said. “I was eating better, I slept better, it helped me go to school.” After he graduated from college and had “more time to work on me,” he decided to phase out marijuana, as well as the other drugs.
Marijuana shows real promise for treating PTSD in combat veterans, with early research indicating the beneficial effects of some of the cannabinoids in the drug. The FDA has approved a federal study to measure the effects of pot on veterans with PTSD, part-funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). But that was only the first hurdle; now the scientists need to obtain the pot to use in the study. They can’t just go buy some; they have to get it from the government. MAPS Communications Director Brad Burge explained to The Fix that NIDA, a branch of the department of Health and Human Services, has “a monopoly of supply of marijuana that they have been growing for research to show the harms of marijuana,” but are unwilling to supply a study that might show benefits, continually finding often-contradictory "problems" with it. One approval committee member wrote that the study should exclude vets who have previously smoked pot. Another demanded the opposite. (The study proposes to study both as separate samples). “So we’re stuck sitting here with an FDA approved study, but nothing to study," complains Burge.
Raines says of marijuana, “I understand that it’s illegal, but so is opium. And opiates are all over not just the VA, but all of medicine... I don’t understand why they’re not willing to do everything in their power to give vets and even soldiers some relief. These guys don’t know what it’s like to have to look over your shoulder 99% of the time, and the other 1% of the time you’re asleep. It’s like any other med; it works for some and not for others. But they should make it available.” As MAPS founder Rick Doblin said: “These are people who we put in harm’s way, and we have a moral obligation to help them.”
A hard-drinking father and son, who viciously subjected a man to an agonizing ordeal using a vodka bottle, a knife and the water from a boiling kettle, were jailed by a court in Edinburgh yesterday. Paul Farrell, 44, and his 19-year-old son Ross Gourley gatecrashed a drinking party in the southern Scottish town of Galashiels on March 28. After large quantities of vodka and beer were consumed, a fight broke out between Farrell and the host, 42-year-old George Anderson. In a savage attack, Farrell struck Anderson repeatedly on the head with a vodka bottle and slashed him with a knife. As Anderson lay on the floor, fearing for his life, he heard Farrell instructing his son to "boil the kettle." The attackers then poured the water over Anderson, inflicting extensive scalding to his face, arm and shoulder—and laughed as they did it. The judge who sentenced them commented, "I have seen pictures which portray the nature of the horrific injuries you inflicted on him and he will be permanently scarred as a result." Anderson was saved by the speedy arrival of police, along with an ambulance. Gourley's lawyer said her client's behavior was "fueled by far too much alcohol," and that he regretted it. He was sentenced to six years in prison. Farrell's lawyer stressed that his client had been taking Valium—which can increase sensitivity to the effects of alcohol—but that also failed to impress the judge and he received eight years.
Chinese cops cracked down on a counterfeit drug ring in the country last week, arresting an estimated 114 people and seizing $30 million worth of fake medications and more than 65 million med bottles. Ironically, this happened just as a US Food and Drug Administration official, Dara Corrigan, was visiting Shanghai to discuss the importance of safe drugs and China’s role as a major supplier to the US. Other scandals, including fake drugs and unsafe medications, have sparked concern over China's increasing importance in the global prescription drug market. The issues date back to 2008, when hundreds of people in the US reported severe allergic reactions to Chinese-manufactured heparin, a medicine to prevent blood clots. Those reactions were eventually traced to contaminants in drug ingredients from a factory west of Shanghai. After that, the FDA set up offices in China and increased its inspections there, from only a few in 2007 to more than 80 last year. One of the biggest areas of concern is mail-ordered prescriptions and online pharmacies, which have often been linked to counterfeit drug scandals not only in China, but in countries such as the Dominican Republic as well, where scammers recently posed as DEA agents to trick US-based online prescription drug consumers out of their money. China is fighting problems with online sales of fake drugs too, sometimes from fraudulent websites that use names of common pharmaceutical companies—but not their products. “It’s not just drugs but dietary products that can have all sorts of things in them,” Corrigan said. “Limiting risk in that area is a big challenge.”