Just as bath salts mania seems to have (mostly) simmered down, a new designer drug known as "smiles" may be lining up to induce parental panic. A synthetic hallucinogenic otherwise known as 2C-I, it's most often sold as a powder, which can be mixed with candy or chocolate before ingesting. Like its synthetic predecessors, such as K-2 and bath salts, smiles seems to appeal to a younger demographic—half of those exposed to it in 2011 were teenagers, according to the American Association of Poison Control. Little research into the possible dangers of the new drug yet exists, although it's thought to have been responsible for two teen deaths in East Grand Forks, North Dakota in June. One of them, 17-year-old Elijah Stai, stopped breathing several hours after an alleged overdose caused him to "smash his head against the ground" and act "possessed," "shaking, growling, foaming at the mouth," say witnesses.
Smiles elicits intense aural and visual hallucinations that may last for days, users report. Some describe side effects like nausea, vomiting, anxiety and panic attacks; one online commenter describes the high as a "roller coaster ride through hell." Like LSD and psilocybin (or "magic mushrooms"), the drug causes hallucinations by interfering with the brain's serotonin system, Dr. Harris Stratyner, vice president of Caron Treatment Centers, tells The Fix. But unlike better-known hallucinogens, it has stimulating effects—meaning it carries some of the risks of meth and other uppers, like potentially fatal dehydration, arrhythmia and stroke. "Combining a psychedelic with a stimulant—it's pretty frightening. It's like taking ecstasy and LSD together," says Dr. Stratyner. But the effects are highly unpredictable when you're talking about synthetic compounds that have yet to be thoroughly researched.
The DEA has been quick to classify 2C-I as a Schedule 1 substance, making it illegal to manufacture, distribute or possess. Still, reports of teens using smiles across the US are popping up rapidly, which Dr. Straytner attributes largely to teens' tendency to spread "misinformation" through chat rooms, Facebook and blogs. He emphasizes the importance of parents sitting down with their kids to educate them on the dangers of smiles, and other synthetic drugs. K-2 and bath salts, once considered benign, have been made illegal since they were linked to a slew of hospitalizations earlier this year. "These kids are playing russian roulette," Dr. Staytner. "It's absolutely ludicrous that anyone would put this into your body. Its like trying to get high off arsenic or rat poison."
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Recovery from eating disorders doesn't seem to get as much media attention as recovery from drug and alcohol addiction—but that could be changing. During her new ABC talk show earlier today, Katie Couric opened up about battling bulimia in her late teens and early twenties. “I wrestled with bulimia all through college and for two years after that," she said. "And I know this rigidity, this feeling that if you eat one thing that’s wrong, you’re full of self-loathing and then you punish yourself, whether it’s one cookie or a stick of gum that isn’t sugarless, that I would sometimes beat myself up for that.” Couric was joined on the show by eating disorders specialist Cynthia Bulik, as well as singer and X-Factor judge Demi Lovato, 20, who has also been candid about her struggle with eating disorders and cutting, for which she sought treatment in 2010. “How do you have a healthy relationship with food, and say, ‘You know what, I can have one cookie and it’s okay?’ That is such a huge thing for people who wrestle with this,” said Couric, 55, who credits therapy with helping her in her recovery. Bulik praised the news anchor for her honesty, and for serving as an example to others that recovery is possible: "Just knowing that you can get past that, and learning strategies from someone who’s been there, that’s what it’s all about in terms of recovery,” she said.
It's long been known that legendary poet John Keats experimented with opium, but a new biography claims that he was a full-blown addict during his most prolific periods of writing. Professor Nicholas Roe of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the author of John Keats—A New Life, which is to be released next week, claims that Keats first took opium to address issues including a sore throat, and then continued to "keep up his spirits." He first gained access to laudanum—a form of opium—in 1818, in order to administer it to his brother Tom, who was dying from tuberculosis. Roe believes that two of Keats' most famous poems—"Ode on Indolence" and "Ode to a Nightingale"—were inspired while he was on opium and that the latter "is one of the greatest recreations of a drug inspired dream vision in English literature, a poem that frankly admits his own opium habit." Keats was warned about his habit by his writer friend Charles Brown and when the poet eventually came down with TB in 1820, his friend Severn apparently stopped Keats from taking laudanum by hiding the bottle. The new revelations add to the druggy legend of the Romantics: Samuel Coleridge supposedly wrote "Kubla Khan" in 1797 following an opium-induced dream, and the stereotype of the suffering, addicted genius stems in large part from this era.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health today; the study surveys 70,000 Americans over age 12 each year. And there are some very positive aspects to the data from 2011: first, the number of people between 18 and 25 who used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes declined 14%—from 2 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2011. Second, rates of underage drinking continued their decline since 2002—and the rate of binge drinking (five or more drinks in a single occasion at least once in the past 30 days) dropped from 19.3% in 2002 to 15.8% in 2011. "These findings show that national efforts to address the problem of prescription drug misuse may be beginning to bear fruit and we must continue to apply this pressure to drive down this and other forms of substance use," says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. "Behind each of these statistics are individuals, families and communities suffering from the consequences of abuse and addiction. We must continue to promote robust prevention, treatment and recovery programs throughout our country."
Not all substance use is declining, however; the use of illicit drugs remained stable at 8.7% of the population. Marijuana is still the most commonly used illicit drug, with 7% of Americans partaking—up from 5.8% in 2007. The number of people using heroin in the past year dropped just a fraction, from 621,000 in 2010 to 620,000 in 2011—but the 2007 figure was just 373,000. Sadly, the report also found that of the 21.6 million Americans who needed treatment for drug or alcohol problems last year, only 2.3 million actually received it in a specialized treatment setting. "Drug use in this country creates too many obstacles to opportunity—especially for young people," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. "The good news is that we are not powerless against this problem. By emphasizing prevention and treatment, as well as smart law enforcement efforts that break the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration, we know we can reduce drug use and its consequences in America."
In her first novel post-Harry Potter, author J.K. Rowling moves from wizards and Hogwarts to drug addiction. The New Yorker has provided the first mini-review of The Casual Vacancy, describing it as "a story of class warfare set amid semi-rural poverty, heroin addiction, and teen-age perplexity and sexuality." The tale is set in the comfortable middle-class town of "Pagford," England, which has a drug-treatment clinic that serves both the town and a neighboring area, The Fields—a neighborhood of public housing and poverty on the edge of a larger town nearby. Right-wing residents of the community seek to rid themselves of the obligation to help the struggling Fields. One of the central characters, the prostitute and drug addict Terri Weedon, is mother to a three-year-old child. The novel draws from Rowling's personal experiences of being surrounded by poverty; she says she now feels free to write "whatever the hell I like." "I am the freest author in the world," she says. "My bills are paid—we all know I can pay my bills—I was under contract to no one, and the feeling of having all of these characters in my head and knowing that no one else knew a damned thing about them was amazing… Pagford was mine, just mine, for five years. I wrote this novel as exactly what I wanted to write."