‘Lyft’ Takes A Stand Against Intoxicated Driving

By this point, everyone is probably familiar with Lyft. The modern era’s equivalent of the yellow taxi, this unique ride sharing service operates off an app from people’s Smartphones. And as they grow in scope and size, Lyft is also growing its devotion to important causes; particularly intoxicated driving. In states across the country, company programs are in place which will offer free rides to people whose drinking or marijuana smoking has put them over the limit.


New England happens to be a region where the most recent headlines were taking place. Over in Massachusetts, Lyft, along with state’s Chief of Police Association, have donated $50,000 to keep intoxicated drivers off the road. One of the unique considerations in this state is its inclusion of marijuana “lifts” as well. This particular movement has the full support of the Cannabis Reform Coalition (who also contributed to the pledge).


Massachusetts, like our home state of California, has legalized pot use, but officials have emphasized the dangers of mixing it with driving. Jennifer Queally, undersecretary of Massachusetts’ Office of Public Safety and Security, said safety on the road is of the utmost importance.


“It’s not uncommon to hear people say, ‘I drive better when I’m high,’” she told local outlet WBUR.com. “[But] if you are high or stoned, you are not a safe driver. And you are a danger to everyone on the road.”


Lyft executives strongly agreed with that sentiment and started their own campaign to promote safe ride sharing. In fact; if you make a pledge to remain clean on the road via their social media sites, they will reward you with up to $4.20 in ride fare credit.


Not surprisingly, Lyft’s main competitor is also hoping to be a player in this program. The famed ride share company Uber is currently in talks with local law officials throughout New England to create similar programs. “We are eager to make impaired driving a thing of the past,” Uber Boston general manager said Persis Elavia told the site.


Both Uber and Lyft did add their names to a series of east coast Public Service Announcements highlighting the dangers of intoxicated driving. In one fo the the 30-second clips, you can see a succession of people whose lives were impacted by a driver under the influence.


The video can be seen by clicking below. Hopefully it will stir up similar movements in states like our own.


Links Discovered Between ADHD And Marijuana Use

There is no denying that society’s taken a much lighter stance toward marijuana today than it has in years’ past. With legalization movements happening across the country, recreational smoking is become more common than ever before. But that isn’t to say that cannabis is entirely healthy. In fact, new research is showing links between pot use and mental impairments, such as ADHD and schizophrenia.


The latest stats were revealed in The Miami Herald, who in turn, gathered material from a 2018 Nature Neuroscience Journal study. Researchers from that publication used data from 180,000 people across the United States. The goal was to find connections between a person’s genes and their relationship to marijuana.


What they found was that people who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia are more prone to “lifetime cannabis use” (and vice versa). Not only that, there were also genetic overlaps between marijuana consumption and addictions to tobacco and alcohol. In essence, this may be scientific proof that pot is indeed a gateway drug.


The researchers went on to single out THC (one of the primary components of marijuana) as the ingredient tying all of these statistics together. Warnings were then issued to all readers who have shown symptoms of some of the above conditions, particularly if they are underage.


“THC, the psychoactive component of weed that gives people a mental ‘high,’ could make the mental illness worse,” Sackler School of Medicine rep Ran Barzilay told The Herald. “And it is literally like ‘playing with fire’ if adolescents with a predisposition to schizophrenia smoke marijuana.”


As The Herald correctly pointed out, this comes at a time when there is widespread acceptance of the drug. In fact, as of this past January, 61 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana nationwide. And that is nearly double the amount of people who favored it back in 2000.


We too can agree that marijuana does not hold the same level of danger as substances like heroin, alcohol and cocaine. But it is a mind-altering substance that has been shown to lead to addiction in certain cases. It also poses big risks for people who use behind the wheel or on the job.


Our advice is approach a substance like marijuana with caution and always do your research before deciding to make it a habit. If you or someone in your circle has a genetic predisposition to ADHD or schizophrenia, then please consult a professional before indulging in recreational smoking.


The Latest Overdose Stats Are Not Looking Good

If you thought America may have turned a corner in overcoming the opioid epidemic, you are unfortunately mistaken. Sadly, we’re just nine months into 2018 and there is already a very good chance that the number of painkiller-related overdoses will outnumber the totals of 2017. And on that note, last year’s tallies were the worst the country has seen so far; with 72,000 people lost to the crisis.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shared the 2017 totals, which translated to roughly 200 overdose deaths per day. They also are substantially higher than the CDC’s 2016 OD count, which came out to around 64,000. And those fatalities have “officially” made drug abuse one of America’s primary sources of premature death. In fact, the opioid overdose totals now surpass lives taken by guns, car accidents and HIV/AIDS.


If there is one culprit behind the sharp increase of opioid-related fatalities it has to be fentanyl. The “street version” of the drug (which we’ve covered many times before) has now been commonly laced with dangerous chemicals, greatly increasing overdose risks. 2018 has seen a significant amount of deaths related to this synthetic narcotic and reports from The New York Times claim that fentanyl use is spreading all over the U.S.


“There is some early evidence that drug distributors are finding ways to mix fentanyl with black tar heroin, which could increase death rates in the West,” New York Times reporter Margot Sanger-Katz explained in a recent article. “If that becomes more widespread, the overdose rates in the West could explode as they have in parts of the East.”


TheFix.com also covered this story and recommended some solutions to potentially slow down the epidemic. Using international examples, they are pushing for more accessible treatment options. France, for instance, has allowed buprenorphine prescriptions to go out regularly to its citizens (something that is roadblocked here) and in that country, there has been a 79 percent decrease in opioid deaths over the past four years.


Other potential solutions include allowing for more clean needle exchanges (dirty needles have been listed as a contributor to fentanyl overdoses) and making the OD reversal drug naloxone more available to first responders. It would also be nice for these issues to be brought to a national forum. Though President Trump has made several remarks about the crisis, his administration has yet to take major action against it.


We certainly want to be an available resource for anyone who is struggling. If you or someone you love is in the grips of an opioid addiction, please reach out for help before it’s too late.


‘Fast Company’ Profiles Innovative Recovery App

There is certainly no shortage of online services that claim to help people battling an addiction. But when your app is getting praise from famed startup mag Fast Companythat is certainly something worth noting. The tech company Data Cubed is behind the hot new iPhone download, which goes by the name ResQ.


ResQ is actually based on psychological assessments and utilizes a person’s network of family and friends. It is also targeted specifically toward the opioid crisis, which has earned its fair share of recent headlines. Neurobiologist Paul Glimcher is part of the team who put the app together and made a point to emphasize its scientific elements.


“The vast majority of recovery apps out there, and there are hundreds of them, have almost no science behind them,” Glimcher explained to Fast Company. “ResQ translates the assessments that I and other practitioners use in clinics to mobile games. The development team includes both game designers and researchers who have studied opioid addiction under National Institutes of Health grants.”


ResQ does implement a wide variety of techniques to assess a person’s penchant to relapse. They range from simple “lottery game” trivia questions, to touch button surveys, to deeper measurements of cravings and loneliness.


The app also lets struggling users add contacts from their support network. The peer groups can then view and track their loved one’s progress over time. And this works with both warning alerts, as well as rewards when a person has stayed clean for a significant amount of time. In fact, those in the network receive push notifications to send congratulatory emojis if a sobriety milestone is met.


As mentioned above, ResQ was designed by leading professionals in the field. This can be extremely beneficial for the friends and family of a struggling loved one. If the time has come to reach out, trained coaches can tell the networkers what to say and how to handle a potential relapse risk. This also works for counselors and medical professionals, who can monitor progress and potentially adjust something like a methadone dosage, if a high risk user is showing warning signs.


One thing that also caught our attention about ResQ was its complete user friendliness. Though these are complicated and difficult topics, the app makes a point to display data in a way that’s easily digestible. It’s also very colorful and upbeat, which can be very welcome for someone battling a dark addiction.


To find out more about ResQ, we recommend visiting the app’s official site.


Opioid Addiction Within The Construction Industry

Over the past few years, hundreds of studies have been released probing into the devastation of America’s opioid addiction epidemic. Everything from annual overdose counts, to gender data and much more. One notable addition to that list came out this past summer and delved into the industries hit hardest by the crisis. Interestingly enough, it was construction workers who seem to be the most at risk.


TheFix.com gathered the stats pointing to this alarming trend (based on research that had come out of Massachusetts). That data showed that contractors, engineers and everyday lay people appear to have the highest opioid-related overdose rates. Worse yet, their numbers are continuing to shoot up; with two times as many OD’s in 2015 than at the start of the decade.


Gathering overdose data from within the state, it was determined that construction industry workers made up over 24 percent of all fatalities. And knowing that opioids are primarily prescribed as painkillers, there is some logic behind the stats.


“The primary workforce in construction is male, and they’re twice as common to abuse prescription drugs than females,” study rep Eric Goperlund explained on the site. “And pain is a common feature among injured workers. Previous research indicates that opioids are frequently prescribed for pain management following work-related injuries, which has the potential to lead to opioid use disorders.”


Indeed, research has shown that four out of every 100 construction workers has been injured on the job. Just like many Americans impacted by the crisis; a simple fall or slip has led to disastrous consequences. Though these workers may start off receiving traditional painkillers, the habit can quickly escalate into heroin and other dangerous street drugs.


The Fix piece also notes that the construction industry has particularly harsh policies when it comes to addiction. On most jobs, if you are shown to be positive for substances during a random test you are let go immediately. Zero tolerance is the name of the game, primarily for safety reasons.


And while that is completely logical and acceptable, it doesn’t take into the account that uncontrollable disease that has taken over these people’s lives. Help and treatment options are usually never offered and, sadly, losing a job can spiral someone even deeper into an addiction,.


John Tello, another rep interviewed for the article, summarized it well when he said that the whole industry may need to take a step back and re-think how it’s dealing with this problem.


“You go on construction sites, and you see those signs saying ‘you’re out of there if you test positive,’” he explained. “It seems like there is a divide in what’s going on and what needs to be done to help these people. Helping wean workers off opioids as they prepare to return to work should be part of any rehabilitation treatment.”


The Psychology Behind Gambling Addictions

It’s a sad fact, but there is no denying that certain industries do try to lure people into dependent behaviors. And, per a recent article on Heavy.com, some of the worst offenders are casinos and slot machine makers. According to their article, nefarious tactics are in play to create full-fledged gambling addictions.


Wesleyan University professor Mike Robinson authored the story and outlined intentional tricks of the trade that can turn casual gamers into addicts.


“As an addiction researcher for the past 15 years, I look to the brain to understand the hooks that make gambling so compelling,” Robinson writes. “I’ve found that many are intentionally hidden in how the games are designed. And these hooks work on casual casino-goers just as well as they do on problem gamblers.”


One highlight he calls out is the “reward component” that many card games and slot machines offer. Tapping into the brain’s dopamine sensations (which are also triggered by sex, eating and drugs), these activities create a level of risk, excitement and uncertainty that prey upon primal urges. Eventually even losing money at a table could become a trigger that releases dopamine, setting off the urge to keep playing and “chase” a victory.


Robinson also zeroes in on the outside stimulators that are common at every casino. Things like buzzers, lights and colorful screens, which actually play psychological tricks on the brain. If you’ll notice, even a small win at a slot machine triggers big bells and whistles. This is intentionally done, to lead gamblers to over-estimate how often they are winning.


There are plenty of illusions and “magic tricks” at play too, particularly at the video machines. Modern slots have multiple win lines, which can allow for more ways to bet. They can easily fool you as one line may hit (signaling the stimulants), while the others miss. Thus you think you’ve won something, but with your maximum bet actually didn’t pay off.


Robinson concluded his article with some alarming facts. We all know that gambling addiction can be a gateway into substance abuse, but recent research has shown that it can lead to anxiety, isolation and even suicide (particularly with online betting).


Always be aware that casino game designers are becoming more and more shrewd with their addictive tactics.


“When you engage in recreational gambling, you are not simply playing against the odds, but also battling an enemy trained in the art of deceit and subterfuge,” Robinson concluded. “Games of chance have a vested interest in hooking players for longer and letting them eventually walk away with the impression they did better than chance, fostering a false impression of skill.”


Inspiring ‘Recovery Restaurant’ Opens In Kentucky

Here’s a note to take down: The next time you happen to visit Lexington, Kentucky, set aside some time to enjoy a home cooked meal at DV8 Kitchen. Not only is the acclaimed eatery (with 185 five-star Yelp reviews) serving customers top-notch food, it is also going out of its way to promote the message of recovery.


For starters, DV8 has filled its entire staff with people who have beaten a substance abuse disorder. And owner Rob Perez doesn’t just advocate for recovery, he himself has proudly gone through treatment and is now 28 years sober.


DV8 also maneuvers its operating hours so that staff members can attend meetings or participate in their treatment programs. Tips are split evenly and added to paychecks, to avoid quick cash exchanges and help the entire team as a whole.


The restaurant also hosts regular guest speaker nights, where community members come in and discuss issues like health, finances, teamwork and responsibility. Rideshares are also available to assist employees who may have lost their licenses or need transportation for court appointments.


As Perez explained to TheFix.com, the unique business model of DV8 Kitchen is attracting a lot of positive attention.


“I think that the customers see a different face of recovery. It is about helping the folks that work here,” he explained. “But it’s also about helping the general public understand that the recovery community is worth a shot. The recovery community can perform good work.”


Perez also firmly believes that the fundamentals of a restaurant service job closely align with treatment and recovery goals.


“When you do a job with quality, you build self respect, self-esteem and pride in a craft you’re developing,” he added. “In recovery, we need a support system and an accountability system. And the camaraderie you get out of a job when you have common interests, backgrounds and circumstances, is pretty powerful.”


And let’s not forget the restaurant’s primary claim to fame. They proudly carry over the message of health onto every menu item. As their website proclaims, DV8 provides all-natural, delicious food which is always made to order.


We are certainly thrilled to spread the word about this inspirational new eatery. And it makes us even more excited to hear that a business model such as this can not only succeed, but thrive! Let’s hope more entrepreneurs in our home state of California take notice and follow suit.


‘Recovery On Demand’ Is Gaining Notoriety

Up in the northern part of California, an interesting movement is taking place. Oakland-based Highland Hospital has been garnering national headlines for its revolutionary approach to treating people battling opioid addictions. Executives at that medical facility have decided to implement a “Recovery On Demand” approach for people in need, opening up their emergency room for immediate treatment and prescriptions.


One big hurdle that they are helping addicts overcome is providing around-the-clock access to buprenorphine. This particular prescription has been shown to immediately slow down cravings and stabilize people who may be in crisis mode.


“With a single E.R. visit we can provide 24 to 48 hours of withdrawal suppression, as well as suppression of cravings,” Highland emergency medicine specialist, Dr. Andrew Herring, told The New York Times. “It can be this revelatory moment for people — even in the depth of crisis, in the middle of the night. It shows them there’s a pathway back to feeling normal.”


Typically, addiction meds like buprenorphine are challenging to receive on a quick basis. There are insurance challenges, multiple doctor visits and delays in availability. The team at Highland is hoping to change that by offering quick referrals for people they believe to be in danger. Their goal is to avoid overdoses and relapses at all costs.


And per the NYT article, buprenorphine has led to several success stories. A study they shared showed that addicted patients who were given the med in an emergency room were twice as likely to be in treatment within a month (vs. those who got it with an informational pamphlet from a doctor’s office).


Other Highland physicians associated with the movement shared their thoughts with the Times as well. As Dr. Kelly Pfeifer explained, a big part of this work is being done to de-stigmatize the concept of addiction; particularly when it comes to the opioid epidemic.


“We don’t think twice about someone having a heart attack, getting stabilized in the emergency department, and then getting ongoing care from the cardiologist,” she added. “And the risk of death within a year after an overdose is greater than it is for a heart attack.”


The Highland program has been in effect since the beginning of last year. Over the past 12 months, their data has shown that two-thirds of the 375 E.R. patients who were treated for a dependency accepted the buprenorphine prescription and moved towards entering treatment.


There is no denying that the faces and cravings of addiction are changing. And we applaud organizations like Highland Hospital for continuing to be fluid and seeking out new ways to implement recovery.


America Is Drinking More Alcohol

Trends can be an interesting thing to follow when it comes to addiction. When certain habits shift on a national scale, not only is it cause for concern; it also points to environmental factors that are changing the country’s behavior. A notable trend recently uncovered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) revealed that Americans are now drinking more than 500 alcoholic drinks per year.


For the record, that number is the highest annual consumption count since 1990. U.S. citizens reportedly guzzled more than 2.35 gallons of booze last year. And that was a .9 percent increase over 2016. In fact, the statisticians pointed to an actual timeframe in early 2017 where the drinking numbers shot up (and never seemed to stop).


Whether it had to do with a different presidential administration, the opioid crisis reaching new levels or perhaps changes in the economy, remain to seen. But we certainly advocate the exploration of a national event that set America on this addictive path.


To gather this info, the NIAAA used alcoholic beverage sales data and population info gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau. They also went so far as to rank the top ten states with the heaviest drinking problems.


Most of the rankings fell into the midwest, with Montana, North Dakota and Idaho listing high. Closer to the west coast, Nevada reached number three on the tally, with a total of 3.46 alcoholic gallons per capita. But the state with the highest levels (and by a wide margin) was none other than New Hampshire. Citizens in that region are said to consume roughly 4.76 alcoholic gallons per capita.


Interestingly, our home state of California houses two of the cities with the highest annual alcoholic consumption. San Diego was number three on that list, with an average yearly drinking expenditure cost of $850 per person. San Francisco actually hit number one, with locals there spending about $1,100 on booze each year (granted it is also one of the country’s most expensive cities).


All of these rankings have certainly raised red flags, however. This particular story was picked up by major publications nationwide, including Yahoo News and U.S. News and World Reports. We are definitely eager to see this trend looked into further and continually measured, as Americans face new challenges.


If you or someone you are close to has increased their alcohol consumption over the past several months, make sure the issue is addressed, evaluated and rectified.


When Will The Opioid Crisis Reach Its ‘Peak?’

For a major part of this decade, Americans across the country have been ravaged by opioid addiction. Each year, we hear about increases in overdoses, incarcerations and fatalities related to the epidemic with no end in sight. Now, however, one of the leading U.S. health-care authorities is telling CNBC that the crisis may have hit its “peak” and could slow down in future years.


Dr. Tony Cosgrove, who headed the renowned Cleveland Clinic for nearly 13 years, was recently on the CNBC show Squawk Box and issued some pretty bold words.


“The opioid epidemic in the United States has peaked,” Cosgrove explained on the show.” “We’re starting to see the understanding of the problem. And we are getting to the point where people are certainty prescribing fewer drugs and people are recognizing how serious this is.”


Of course, that statement happens to contradict another round of research that was recently released. But Dr. Cosgrove stood firmly behind his statement (though he did add a few caveats). According to his data, the prescription totals are going down. But Dr. Cosgrove did admit that “street versions” of the drug continue to pose a serious risk.


Dr. Cosgrove acknowledged how painkiller dealers are often times lacing their stashes and he emphasized the deadliness of laboratory-produced products like carfentanil and fentanyl.


“Carfentanil is 10,000 times as potent as morphine. These drugs are most certainly getting laced,” Dr. Cosgrove added on the program. “We just had an outbreak of deaths in Ohio from drugs being laced with very potent carfentanil and fentanyl.”


We, for one, are a little less optimistic when it comes to the slowdown of this crisis. Though it’s nice to hear, the facts don’t quite agree with Dr. Cosgrove’s statements. For starters, there were more than 42,000 overdose deaths related to opioids and fentanyl last year. And that number is continuing to skyrocket in 2018, with all signs pointing to much higher number come December.


Nevertheless, Dr. Cosgrove and CNBC shared several factors that they believe will slow the crisis down. One being the actions of President Donald Trump and his initiative to penalize drugmakers for their role in fueling the epidemic.


Dr. Cosgrove does appear to have the support of Google, though. The internet giant recently added him to their Cloud Healthcare and life Sciences team as an executive advisor. His role there will involve helping their parent company, Alphabet, lower health costs and improve patient experiences.


You can watch Dr. Cosgrove’s full CNBC interview below…


Why ‘Tough Love’ Doesn’t Always Work With Addiction

Being the loved one of a person battling an addiction can be devastating. One the hand, you want to do everything in your power to “rescue them” from their destructive habits. But then again there is always the risk of enabling, which leads many to turn turn their backs and institute “tough love.” Interestingly that latter approach may do more harm than good, per a new NPR article. According to their research, compassion leads to more successful resolutions.


For the record, the NPR piece focuses specifically on those who have been impacted by the opioid crisis. Speaking to parents, spouses and close friends, they shared several positive examples of the power of empathy. They also cited data from The U.S. National Library of Medicine, illustrating that a compassionate approach is the most effective way to engage drug users in recovery and keep them alive.


Nora Volkow, a director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, also spoke to the outlet and urged relatives (particularly parents) to intervene, even if the loved one is continuing to rebel.


“The concept of letting their children hit bottom is not the best strategy,” she explained to NPR. “Because in hitting bottom they may die.”


One big component of the piece discussed shifting the perception of addiction. We all know how dependencies tend to be stigmatized and users often feel embarrassed or ashamed. But more professionals in the scientific community are speaking out and labeling it how is should be called: a chronic medical condition.


That is particularly where the compassion comes in. Once loved ones understand that this is a problem that the addicted person simply can’t control, they should approach it like they would any other medical issue.


“If a child had cancer, parents wouldn’t disengage with them or be angry with them,” Volkow added in the article. “So I do think it aligns our scientific understanding that addiction is a disease and not a moral failure.”


Of course, we all understand how every situation is unique and sometimes there are dangers associated with addicted family members. An example was used about potential violence when a person is under the influence, or concern if there are younger children in the home. Safety is obviously of the utmost concern, but kicking that loved one out in the streets can be a hasty solution.


We too believe in a compassionate approach to addiction. If there are worries that this is something you, as a loved one, cannot tackle alone, please reach out and let the trained professionals at Valley Recovery Center be your guide.


Exercise Being Used As Tool To Beat Cocaine Addiction

There is no denying that every dependency is entirely unique and should be fought off using different methods. Cocaine, for example, is a highly addictive stimulant which many researchers have analyzed and “tried to crack” when it comes to treatment. Now, a group of scientists at Albany Medical College claim to have found an effective relapse prevention tool for those who have battled this addiction. The answer? Exercise.


As mentioned above, “science” is playing a critical role in this assessment. What study co-author Lisa Robison, Ph.D gathered in her research was a deeper analysis of brain functions and how a drug like cocaine impacts them. One well-known side effect of using involves increased levels of dopamine (the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers). This, Dr. Robison found, relates to cranial stress, and overt symptoms where addicted people experience anxiety and hyperactivity. It was noted that when someone tries to quit the drug, outside stressors can become a trigger mechanism for a relapse.


Dr. Robison’s research then delved into the physiological effects of exercise and how it can potentially fill the void that former cocaine users may experience.


“There has been great work done in human studies showing that physiological and psychological reactions to stress can predict a person’s likelihood to relapse,” Robison explained to Inverse.com. “We also know that exercise relieves stress and anxiety in humans. So putting this together, in addition to our findings in animal studies, it suggests that reducing stress responses in people with substance use disorders with something like exercise should result in lower relapse rates.”


One of the key components of the study focused on the reward pathway associated with raised dopamine levels. Dr. Robison’s work has shown that exercise can potentially alter that pathway and repair the damage done by drug use. Using test rats, her team monitored behaviors of subjects that had halted their cocaine use and become sedentary. That group quickly sought out cocaine whenever it was presented to them. The alternate rats, however, who were also prior users but now regularly exercising, were much less inclined to take the drug again.


Dr. Robison found this result to be exciting for multiple reasons. For one, it seems to be clear progress in helping win the battle over cocaine addiction. Secondly, she felt that exercise was an easy, inexpensive solution that many former users can take advantage of.


“What’s great about exercise is that it’s a two-for-one deal!” she concluded. “Exercise has been shown to both improve the functioning of the reward pathway and reduce stress responses. Exercise presents a natural and cost-effective means of combating substance abuse, and has a multitude of other benefits for physical and psychological health.”


Local Native Americans ‘Walk For Sobriety’

Up in the northern California city of Richmond, an exciting movement took place last month. Neighbors, friends and community members united to spread the word about addiction within the Native American community. To help gather charity funds and media attention, the group organized a very successful Walk For Sobriety; which emphasized the struggles certain tribes face.


The United Urban Warrior Society (UUWS) was the main org behind the Walk, building flyers and YouTube videos to spread the message. The beauty is that this group is not just made up of Native Americans. They reflect local Richmond residents from all walks of life, who were proud to unite for this important cause.


Throughout the event, participants carried large awareness signs and marched in organized fashion across several blocks in the main stretch of town. As we mentioned in our blogs before, drugs and alcohol have become more commonplace in tribes across the U.S. California happens to be impacted too, partially because of the struggles that many Native Americans continue to face.


“Mass extermination and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans over centuries has Indian Country’ suffering from historic trauma. And for many of us, unsolved grief has led to alcoholism.” UUWS chairperson Mike Kinney explained on TheFix.com“The most important goal of the Native Walk for Sobriety [are] the ideas of self-empowerment, self-worth and self-esteem.”


As mentioned in the quote, recovery and awareness were also big goals of the event. Kinney added that many tribespeople around Richmond aren’t always aware what a common issue this is and how many treatment resources are available for them. The Walk makes a point to de-stigmatize addiction and build a welcoming environment where people can seek out help.


Many local businesses got involved in the event too. A particular nod of the cap went to the Richmond retail store Rebecca Marlin Pet Care, which donated meals for participants and a gathering place for Native Americans looking to learn about treatment.


As Kinney concluded, the Walk was born out of prior marches that helped bring awareness to Native American issues. The hope is, that this too will gain national exposure and steer struggling tribe members away from drugs and alcohol.


“Historically, Indian Country has always had social marches throughout the United States to bring awareness to mainstream society to better educate them about our conditions and how we were living both then and now,” he said. “Native Sobriety Walks are a direct outgrowth of that.”


You can see some highlights from last month’s Walk For Sobriety below…


‘Wearables’ Cannot Prevent An Overdose

Modern technology can serve many purposes. And one of the more surprising uses we’ve been hearing about concerns popular “wearable” devices, such as the Apple Watch or the Fitbit. Apparently these gadgets are gaining popularity among heavy drug users, as a way to monitor heart rates during cocaine binges. Clearly this is far from their intended purpose and doctors are warning that they shouldn’t be used as guides to prevent an overdose.


This latest trend actually came to light on the social media network, Reddit (which we’ve covered in previous blogs). An anonymous online forum where users can express themselves freely, Reddit has been overflowing with message boards covering this particular topic. So much in fact, that the popular news site CNBC covered the story on their homepage.


The way the wearables trend works is, users begin indulging in stimulants (such as cocaine) while synchronizing their Apple Watch or Fitbit. Heart rates are then monitored throughout the night and if the number rises above 150, they know it’s time to abruptly stop.


While “in theory” that sounds like a saving grace for those who are addicted to stimulants, these wearables are often inaccurate and should not be held accountable for keeping your heart rate in check. As several medical professionals told the site, this type of behavior is dangerous and can create a false sense of security. It also may lead people to increase their habit.


“Taking drugs is always a risk, whether you’re monitoring a tracker or not,” UC San Francisco cardiologist Ethan Weiss told CNBC. “It’s possible this is leading people to do more cocaine.”


Indeed, heart attacks are a common link with cocaine overdoses. Per CNBC’s data, the drug is responsible for more than 5,000 deaths each year.


Several anonymous Reddit users were also interviewed for the piece and still feel confident in letting their wearables be their guide. A user by the name of Owen told the site that Fitbit is his tool of choice. He added that, via Google, he was able to get accurate reads of what normal heart rates should be and which numbers are the most alarming.


“If someone says, ‘Let’s do a line,’ I’ll look at my watch,” Owen explained. “If I see I’m at 150 or 160, I’ll say, ‘I’m good.’ That’s totally fine. Nobody gives you a hard time.”


We, for one, side strongly with the medical professionals. While it is somewhat admirable to be thinking about your heart rate before indulging into an addiction, these wearables are not the answer. Their inaccuracies can be extremely dangerous (and potentially deadly). Our recommendation has always been To Seek Help First.


HIV Outbreak Tied To Opioid Abuse

There have always been links between HIV and intravenous drug use. Addiction cravings can lead to many bad decisions, which often times include sharing dirty needles. Now with the rise of opioid abuse, that issue is rearing its ugly head again; particularly in working class communities across the east coast.


Lawrence, Massachusetts is the city making headlines this week, after new a study showed a significant spike in HIV contractions throughout its borders. Consisting of just 80,000 citizens, the small town registered 52 diagnoses over the past several months. That is double the amount of HIV cases from the year prior, leading city reps to declare an official “outbreak.”


And yes, opioids are being deemed the culprit. Specifically its the synthetic offshoot, fentanyl, that’s receiving most of the blame. Police have uncovered several illegal manufacturing operations throughout Lawrence, which distribute the drugs via injectable vials. Worse yet, this particular strain delivers an extremely short (and addictive) high, leading to more frequent injections. Fentanyl’s cheap street price is also a concern, as it is becoming more and more available to desperate people sharing needles.


“People just don’t care,” Tufts University School of Medicine infectious disease rep Thomas Stopka explained in a recent Huffington Post article. “When it comes down to it, if you’ve got a bag in your hand and somebody next to you’s got a dirty needle, you’re not going to run and find a clean one.”


Sadly, these cases aren’t just limited to the city of Lawrence. Nearby Lowell, Massachusetts is experiencing its own outbreak as well. Dozens of more HIV cases have been diagnosed in that city and the risks are rising as the opioid crisis grows.


The Center of Disease Control (CDC) has also gotten involved, sending a rapid response team of Epidemic Intelligence Service officers (also known as “disease detectives”) into both communities. They discovered that the majority of these cases involved white men between the ages of 20 and 39. 90 percent of them had also been infected with hepatitis C as well, which is also strongly correlated with intravenous drug use.


One other interesting footnote to these findings is the fact that Massachusetts has robust local health systems in place, with near-universal coverage for its residents (HuffPo called it “the gold standard for access to health care”). So if this can happen there, there are grave concerns about the epidemic spreading.


Stopka feels that needle exchanges and sterile syringe availability is one quick way to make a dent in the outbreak.


“Lack of access to sterile syringes is paramount,” he concluded. “If it can happen in Massachusetts, which has all the support in the world and all the services in the world, it can happen anywhere.”


States Now Helping With Free Recovery Treatment

For many, getting into a good sobriety program is easier said than done. Besides having to bob and weave through fraudulent practices, there is also the very real problem of cost. People facing serious addictions can often go bankrupt during the process, ultimately limiting the amount of funding they have available for recovery Interestingly, now certain states are stepping in; with grants that allow low-income residents the opportunity for free treatment.


Mississippi has recently been singled out as one of the states making a real difference in this area. Just this month, legislators ok’d a $3.58 million grant (via the organization Stand Up Mississippi) that will allow free treatment options for thousands of addicted residents.


Approximately eighty percent of that grand total will be used to expand treatment services. After meeting certain qualifications, those eligible will now receive free inpatient or outpatient care; individual, family and group therapy; and access to craving-blocking medications like methadone.


Part of the reason this movement received the support that it did had to do with the devastation the opioid crisis has caused in the state. Last year alone, there were 256 confirmed overdoses tied to painkillers. And the actual number is most likely much higher, making Mississippi one of the country’s hardest hit regions.


Stats like that, as well as personal connections to those impacted, have begun the reshape the narrative of addiction within the state. Once stigmatized, dependencies are now being heralded as a universal problem that “good, hard-working people” are getting caught up in.


“I used to have a low opinion of addicts. I’m ashamed of myself now,” Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher told the press following the announcement. “They are people who need help, and people from all walks of life can get addicted to opioids, even if they get a legitimate prescription from a doctor.”


Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant,  has gotten involved too. His administration was responsible for setting up a state’s Opioid and Heroin Study Taskforce back in 2016 and had a hand in the launch of Stand Up Mississippi. Through his influence, organizations like the FBI, the DEA and the Department of Health have been partnering with the initiative.


The grant is certainly a step in the right direction and, for the record, some of its funds will also be given to Mississippi law enforcement. Part of the $3.58 million will be used to distribute 10,000 doses of the anti-overdose medication Narcan to officers throughout the state.


Opioid Prescriptions May Not Be Slowing Down

Though we see dozens of news stories, documentaries and political ramblings about America’s opioid crisis, one question (above all) deserves to be raised. Are these drugs being distributed less across the U.S.? And shockingly, according to new research provided by Forbes, the answer may be no.


That’s right. With as much publicity as the crisis is getting, prescriptions for these painkillers are not slowing down. And while we certainly agree that treatment, recovery and care for those addicted is a primary concern, a key component of stopping this epidemic is making these drugs less available.


Forbes cites the Mayo Clinic for providing this latest data. Their research claims that over the past 10 years (since the epidemic truly kicked into high gear), opioid prescriptions have remained consistent and not decreased. Worse yet, those that have gone to Medicare patients have reportedly increased since 2008. Interestingly this contradicts similar research conducted by The Center Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has created even more confusion within media circles.


Reps for the Mayo Clinic claim their investigation began because of skepticism. Ultimately, they wanted to validate whether the CDC’s “encouraging” findings about reduced prescriptions were actually true.


“We wanted to know how the declines were experienced by individual people,” lead study author Molly Jeffery, Ph.D., told Forbes in a statement. “Did fewer people have opioid prescriptions? Did people taking opioids take less over time? When we looked at it that way, we found a different picture.”


So, Dr. Jeffery and her associates began digging into anonymous insurance claims data obtained from OptumLabs. When zeroing in on people covered by Medicare Advantage plans, they were able to determine that these patients were taking an average daily opioid dose that equated to nine 5-milligram oxycodone pills in 2012. Last year, that dosage declined only slightly to eight pills (a very small difference, if you ask us). And more than 51% of disabled Medicare beneficiaries per year were using opioids, compared to 14% of people on commercial insurance plans and 26% of non-disabled Medicare patients. So despite the press and presidential declarations, this true change in opioid prescriptions is minimal at best.


In conclusion, the authors did understand that painkillers serve a positive purpose (in theory). But doctors doling out prescription after prescription should really take a step back and evaluate when they are truly necessary.


“What can doctors do to help change the course of opioid use in the U.S.?” Dr. Jeffery concluded. “They should think seriously about whether long-term opioid use by any patient is really improving his or her ability to function. If it isn’t, they should look seriously at other pain-management options.”



New Campaign Aims To Help Addicted Vets

The opioid crisis is certainly wreaking havoc across all segments of America’s population. And one group that has been hit particularly hard are military veterans. To help bring that issue to the forefront, famed Delta Force operator Norman Hooten is launching a campaign to assist current and former servicemen battling addiction.


Hooten gained notoriety back in 2002, when his story was told on the big screen in the famed movie Black Hawk DownHis heroics were legendary and to his credit, Hooten has continued to use his fame for good causes. This past decade he earned a doctorate in pharmacology, and he’s been using that degree for a high-profile partnership with the U.S. Veterans Administration (also known as the “VA“).


When speaking to People MagazineHooten shared an all-too-common story about some of his battle brethren. Two fellow officers who were with him during the famed Black Hawk Down Battle of Mogadishu survived fully intact. The tragedy was, they successfully fought their way through war but eventually died on U.S. soil due to substance abuse.


“When they come home and die of opioid overdose, I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Hooten told People. “I started to realize how bad the opioid epidemic was and I decided to do something about it.”


Now as a VA pharmacist, Hooten is using his previous notoriety to educate fellow vets about the dangers of addiction. He continually speaks nationally and authors online blogs and articles that are shared with those who are enlisted. Hooten is also working to reduce the shame stigma often associated with addiction. He knows firsthand how traumatic going into battle can be and how common it is for those who have served to use substances as a coping mechanism.


The VA is extremely proud of Hooten’s work and his second career as a military pharmacist.


“Norman Hooten’s dedication and commitment to serving his fellow veterans is what VA is all about,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie added in the article. “Other veterans should consider following his lead, choosing to give back to our nation’s heroes.”


Clearly Hooten’s feel-good story is having an impact. The People article became one of their most-shared stories of the past month and social media responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Though there is no denying that we have a long way to go to free veterans from the opioid crisis, people like Norman Hooten are making a very positive first step.


When ‘Weekend Drinking’ Becomes Alcoholism

One of the most difficult things a person can do is come to terms with their addiction. Denial is a big component in this equation, as is turning a blind eye to serious warning signs. In the case of alcoholism, many people classify their habits as “casual drinking” when in fact they are symptoms of a serious problem. The website Bustle.com actually did a pretty good job of covering this topic for millennials, with a list of warning signs when it comes to weekend boozing.


Warning Sign 1: Lying About Your Drinking

As harmless as “weekend drinking” may be, if you find yourself lying or covering up your behavior that may be sign of a serious problem. Key indicators here include making up stories to shield your loved ones or keeping Saturday night bottles hidden from the rest of the household.


Warning Sign 2: Repeated Blackouts

Blackouts are definitely a common behavior when it comes to binge drinking. If Sunday mornings consist of gathering clues about Saturday night, then something is amiss. This is actually a very serious sign, as it can greatly impact a person’s physical health and potentially do damage to their liver and brain.


Warning Sign 3: You Constantly Think About Your Next Party

You may be only a weekend drinker, but if you spend Monday through Thursday fantasizing about your next drunken party then consider yourself a potential alcoholic. As Bustle writer Carina Wolff explained in her piece, “As addiction takes over, the mind begins to develop an obsession with that particular substance or behavior. Even when an alcoholic isn’t drinking, their mind is telling them that they should be.”


Warning Sign 4: Changing Priorities

Is regular drinking making you lose interest in your healthier habits? That’s certainly another cause for concern. Though you may be a high-functioning alcoholic (going to work and making meetings), shifting away from hobbies, exercise and outside responsibilities means your priorities are in the wrong place.


Warning Sign 5: Underestimating Your Drinking

One exercise that Wolff encourages for any regular drinker is to keep tabs on their alcohol totals. As the weeks progress, are you noticing your consumption level is going up? Or perhaps it takes larger quantities of booze to catch a buzz? These too are warning signs that you’re becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol. And make sure to read your monthly credit card statements as well. Alcoholism can most certainly lead to larger and less manageable bar tabs at the end of a weekend.