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opiate addiction

9/10/14 7:30pm

Virginia AG Determined to Tackle Opiate Addiction Problem



Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced a plan to tackle heroin and prescription drug abuse during an address to the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police on Monday. Herring’s plan calls for better prevention efforts and more effective prosecutions.

According to the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, more than 800 Virginians died from drug overdoses in 2012. The number of fatal heroin overdoses nearly doubled between 2011 and 2013.

“People really need to understand that the nature of this problem has changed,” Chief Howard Hall of the Roanoke County Police Department told WDBJ7. “The typical heroin user has changed. It’s affecting young people, it’s affecting people at every level of our society.”

Herring’s plan includes working with law enforcement and prosecutors to create a Good Samaritan policy, which would provide “limited immunity” from prosecution for minor offenses for those who witness an overdose. Similar policies have been enacted in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Fear of prosecution often deters people, who are often addicts themselves, from calling for help in the event of an overdose.

The attorney general also wants more accountability, from heroin dealers to medical professionals. According to Herring, current laws in Virginia make it difficult to prosecute dealers whose drugs lead to an overdose. He promised that his office will “aggressively” take action against medical professionals including doctors, pharmacists, and pharmacy technicians, who make it easier for Virginians to obtain prescription drugs.

Improving prevention by way of better education and training is also a large part of Herring’s plan. Law enforcement will be provided with new training materials on how to properly handle an overdose situation.

Last but not least, the attorney general’s office will examine the state’s Naloxone pilot project and decide whether to expand it in Virginia. Naloxone is a medication that reverses opiate drug overdose, temporarily blocking the opiate effects and allowing a person to breathe again long enough for help to arrive. Police departments across the country have equipped officers with the drug.

State law enforcement leaders, prosecutors, and health professionals will gather on October 2 in Charlottesville for a day long summit to discuss strategies on tackling this problem.

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By Victoria Kim

alcoholism & genetics

9/10/14 5:30pm

Scientists Discover Gene That Links Alcoholism to Heredity



A new study has uncovered a key gene that strongly influences the development of alcohol dependence and alcoholism, which may prove significant in learning how the disease can occur in families.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Center conducted experiments on mice, which revealed a gene called Nf1, or neurofibromatosis type 1. The gene regulates the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutryic acid, or GABA, which aids the central nervous system in decreasing anxiety and promoting feelings of relaxation. Previous research has shown that GABA plays a significant role in differentiating individuals who can drink without becoming dependent and those who cannot.

Two groups of test animals were utilized in the study, one with Nf1 genes and another with Nf1 genes that had been partially deleted through genetic modifications. Alcohol was then administered on several occasions to both test groups. Scientists discovered that the mice with intact Nf1 genes consumed more alcohol on subsequent offerings, while those with genetic modifications did not.

The researchers next analyzed the test groups for GABA levels, and again found that those with Nf1 produced more of the neurotransmitter, while those without the gene showed no increase. Finally, the researchers looked at genetic data from 9,000 human test subjects and found that those individuals with Nf1 were more susceptible to alcohol dependency and alcoholism.

Scientists have known for years that genes play an important role in dependency. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a person’s genetic makeup is approximately 50% responsible for the propensity for alcohol addiction. But which genes were specifically involved remained unclear until the publication of the Scripps Research Center’s study.

With this information, researchers are hoping that the study will lead to future testing that will allow families to determine if their children are more at risk for alcohol issues and then make appropriate early intervention.

“A better understanding of the molecular processes involved in the transition to alcohol dependence will foster novel strategies for prevention and therapy,” said Pietro Paolo Sanna an associate professor at the Scripps Research Center and a corresponding author on the study.

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By Paul Gaita

stop smoking

9/10/14 3:30pm

CVS Drug Stores to Stop Selling Tobacco Products



CVS Caremark has opted to stop selling tobacco products in their stores in an effort to promote better health for their customers.

President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo announced in February that starting this Oct. 1, CVS locations across the nation will no longer sell cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or any other forms of tobacco.

“Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company,” CVS said in a statement. “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purposes – helping people on their path to better health.”

Every day, CVS helps millions of patients manage chronic conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and the selling of tobacco products in CVS pharmacies goes against their health care mission, Merlo said.

CVS will be the first national pharmacy chain to set an outright ban on tobacco sales, and CVS Medical Officer Dr. Troyen Brennan hopes the bold move will make cigarettes and other harmful products more difficult to come by.

“This action may not lead many people to stop smoking; smokers will probably simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes,” Brennan said in an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “but if other retailers follow this lead, tobacco products will become much more difficult to obtain.”

CVS will lose approximately $2 billion in annual revenue without the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, but executives hope the company’s new direction will ultimately bolster the health care business.

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By Brent McCluskey

changing policy

9/10/14 1:00pm

National Take-Back Initiative Marks Shift in U.S. Drug Policy


Drop-off boxes in West Hollywood, Calif. Photo via

On September 27, National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will take place in the United States. Although the national day reflects a past trend towards local events designed to inspire communities to safely dispose of expired and unneeded prescription drugs, it also marks a growing shift in policy. The new policy is the establishment of permanent prescription drug drop-off boxes at police and sheriff stations across the country.

As described on the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Diversion Control website, “The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.”

A growing number of police departments are addressing this safe prescription drug disposal concern by installing permanent prescription drug drop-off boxes to allow people to properly dispose of such drugs.

To help with the cost, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators is providing grants to police departments to pay for the drop-off boxes. Since pharmacies are not allowed to take back certain drugs, such as pain relievers and stimulants because they are controlled substances, take-back days have been hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration since September of 2010.

Since improper disposal methods pose safety and environmental dangers, it became clear that a more permanent solution was needed. A common concern is people flushing old prescriptions down the toilet. The drugs could eventually end up back in the water supply. Cmdr. Geoff Huff of the Ames, Iowa, police department described the flushing of prescription drugs as the, "worst thing you can do…I really don't want to be drinking everyone's' prescription drugs in my drinking water."

The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigator's Rx Drug Drop Box program has donated over 400 boxes across the country. California and New York have been particularly active with prescription drug boxes located across both states. California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery has the AwareRX website to help people find such boxes near them.

If you want to find a prescription drug drop-off box near you, you can go to the National Take Back Initiative Collection Site Search page for help.

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By John Lavitt


9/10/14 10:30am

Terminal Cancer Patient Found Guilty for Growing Marijuana



A terminally ill cancer patient who was caught growing marijuana narrowly avoided prison time after an Iowa judge sentenced him to probation Tuesday.

Benton Mackenzie, 48, adamantly defended his decision to break the law, telling Judge Henry Latham he didn’t have any other viable way to treat his advanced cancer. Mackenzie faced up to 15 years behind bars for his crime, but Judge Latham sentenced him to a three-year probation period based on the defendant’s poor health.

Mackenzie said he was using the plants to create cannabis oil to treat the tumors on his body, a result from a rare form of cancer known as angiosarcoma. Mackenzie’s tumors are so severe he is confined to a wheelchair, and claimed the cannabis oil was the only treatment that worked.

“I have lasted seven years on a disease that takes people who don’t get treated in two years,” Mackenzie told the judge. “And people who go through traditional methods, they last three years. So basically I have proven the decision I made was the right one, to save my life.”

Mackenzie was charged following a June 2013 raid, where deputies seized 71 marijuana plants and other various drug paraphernalia from a trailer outside his parents’ home. Mackenzie’s wife, Loretta Mackenzie, 43, and his son, Cody Mackenzie, 23, were also charged and found guilty.

The case has been a cause of public outcry among medical marijuana advocates, but many, including Mackenzie, hope it will serve to bring about change.

“I hope this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and brings some sanity to lawmakers’ decision-making process,” Mackenzie said. “I hope I am the last person who has to go through this.”

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By Brent McCluskey

drugs at work

9/10/14 8:30am

Positive Drug Tests Increase at Work for First Time In Decade



Positive drug tests in the workplace are up for the first time in a decade, indicating that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington could be potentially having an impact on employment.

Madison-based Quest Diagnostics confirmed that out of the 7.6 million drug tests they gave nationwide in 2013, 3.7% of them came back positive. That's a slight increase from the 3.5% of positive tests in 2012, but the numbers remain historically low compared to the peak of 13.6% in 1988. Ironically, once Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" campaign left office, the numbers drastically dropped during the late '90s and 2000's, eventually hitting its low of 3.5% between 2010 and 2012.

Marijuana was the most common drug to turn up in Quest tests, with 44% of all positive tests coming back positive for pot. Amphetamines came in second at 20.4%, followed by opiates at 9.8%, benzodiazepines at 9.3%, and cocaine at 4.6%.

However, the types of drugs coming up in positive tests shouldn't be entirely shocking since a new government report found that marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the U.S. Using data from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Abuse, the report showed that more than 20 million Americans over the age of 12 used marijuana in the last year. Non-medical prescription drug use came in second with 4.5 million users in the last year, followed by cocaine at 1.5 million.

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By McCarton Ackerman


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