New Campaign Targets Young E-Cigarette Users

For many, the concept of “vaping” seems a lot more harmless than substance abuse or even smoking. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (aka the FDA) feels very differently and has launched an aggressive awareness campaign to steer young people away from e-cigarettes.

 

Based on their research, nearly 11 million Americans aged 12-17 have tried vaping at least once and a good portion of them have now become addicted. The fear is, that this type of habit can escalate into future dependencies; specifically involving drugs or alcohol.

 

One common misconception about vaping is that it is much less harmful than traditional smoking. But the facts of the matter are, e-cigarettes do contain nicotine and substances that are harmful for the body.

 

Besides the peer pressure and so-called “cool factor” these e-cigs represent, the FDA believes that the allure of tasty flavors and packaging also play a role.

 

“E-cigarettes have become an almost ubiquitous – and dangerous – trend among youth that we believe has reached epidemic proportions,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb M.D. said in a statement. “Based on our evidence, we believe the presence of flavors is one component making these products especially attractive to kids. The mandate to reverse this trend in youth addiction to nicotine is one of my highest priorities.”

 

The PSA’s are working to address all of those issues and then some. Titled “Know The Real Cost of Vaping,” the messages are being released in video form for YouTube and with galleries and radio reads better suited for Facebook, Twitter and Pandora. They also include a warning about the chemicals that e-cigarettes contain, such as acrolein, formaldehyde and chromium (which have been known to cause cancer).

 

Additionally, “The Real Cost” has a highly engaging website that was launched as part of the campaign. Clearly aimed at the teenage set, it’s got a variety of bold stats highlighting the dangers of vaping. There are also shareable quizzes, visual memes and even a video game that illustrates the damage that e-cigs can have on the brain.

 

Of course, the biggest highlight is the video page. Over two million web users have watched the series of “Real Cost” clips, which include some creative and impactful messaging.

 

We definitely agree that this is a campaign worth spreading and encourage everyone to talk to teenage friends and loved ones about this issue. Take a look at one of videos below for the full impact.

Phase 2 Of The Opioid Crisis

It certainly feels like the opioid crisis has been plaguing America for quite some time. The overdose counts keep growing, hospitalizations are at an all-time high and everything from the work force to the economy is being impacted. Well sadly, many experts are saying we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. In fact, Yahoo Finance claims we are about to enter “Phase Two.”

 

The money and business site highlighted many of the alarming stats associated with the crisis (including the fact that it claimed the lives of over 72,000 Americans last year). It then shared some insights from Narcan inventor Dr. Roger Crystal, which included a whole new level of danger.

 

“I strongly believe that we are now in the next phase of this opioid crisis, where the majority of deaths arise from fentanyl.” Dr. Crystal explained. “It is the strongest of the opioids, 50 times stronger than heroin, it’s also easier and cheaper to make than heroin, and we see it growing year on year.”

 

Indeed, many studies are showing that prescription opioid use is actually declining throughout the country. Now apparently, the crisis is heading into the direction of street drugs and moving away from pharmacies. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are on the rise and have a much higher rate of overdoses. These meds are also more prone to being laced with stronger, more addictive chemicals; which could lead to even more deaths in the coming year.

 

Going back to the 72,000 overdose fatality stat shared by Yahoo Finance, there are some truly scary indicators once you start slicing that number apart. The site added that 30,000 (or nearly a third) of that total can be attributed to fentanyl OD’s; making it among the fasting rising killers in the U.S.

 

A new phase can certainly mean that this crisis has to now be approached in different ways. Targeting dealers and the sources of these fentanyl supplies can certainly be a good first step.

 

And, coming from Yahoo Finance, there are also the monetary ramifications to consider. Their data shows that within the last two years, the economic cost of America’s opioid crisis was as much as $504 billion (or 2.8% of the GDP).

 

Our hope is that this addiction epidemic gets targeted from all angles. Of course, we should still enforce regulations and monitoring of the prescription drug industry. But let’s also not ignore “Phase Two,” which involves a closer focus on imports/exports, criminal activities and synthetic opioid treatments.

 

Addiction Hits Home For Surgeon General

In the past, we have highlighted the important work that America’s Surgeon Generals have done to bring awareness to addiction in this country. Jerome Adams, the latest doctor to hold that title, is no different and actually has a very personal connection to the cause. As he revealed in a recent report, his own brother suffered with a severe opioid dependency.

 

Titled Facing Addiction In AmericaAdams’ powerful essay confronts many harsh realities about substance abuse in this country. In the first few pages, he openly discusses the pain his younger brother’s issues caused the family and why this mission is so important to him.

 

“My family and I are among the millions of Americans affected by substance use disorder,” Adams explained in the report. “My younger brother has struggled with this disease, which started with untreated depression leading to opioid pain reliever misuse. Like many with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder conditions, my brother has cycled in and out of incarceration. I tell my family’s story because far too many are facing the same worries for their loved ones. We all ask the same question: How can I contribute to ending the opioid crisis and helping those suffering with addiction?”

 

He goes on to list many of the hurdles the country is facing when it comes to treatment and recovery. One major call out is the lack of staffing in America’s healthcare industry, as well as a gap in proper training. Prepping people in hospitals (and first responders, for that matter) with lifesaving overdose prevention techniques is crucial, particularly amid this devastating crisis.

 

Speaking from the heart, Adams went on to emphasize a new way of thinking when it comes to addiction. As he puts it, this is not a character flaw nor a weakness of the spirit. It is, in fact, a chronic disease and should be treated as such. Adams went on to emphasize that family members, friends and law enforcement personnel should be non-judgmental in this matter and properly in trained in the administration to anti-overdose medication naloxone.

 

“Through partnerships, we can address the overall health inequities and determinants of health that exist where we live, learn, work, and play,” Adams concluded. “Together we can reduce the risks of opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and related health consequences such as overdose and infectious disease transmission.”

 

Cracking Down On DUI Scooting

The world is certainly changing and one of the biggest trends to occur over the past year is the rise in electric scooter rentals. In our hometown of Los Angeles this has now become commonplace, with riders accessing the fast paced two-wheelers through apps on their phone. But just like any vehicle, there are risks to consider; particularly if you choose to operate one while intoxicated. In fact, several SoCal officials have now given the city permission to hand out DUI’s for renters who are over a legal limit.

 

Truth be told, these scooters are not fast enough to cause the type of damage you could inflict being behind the wheel of car. But there has been a reported increase in accidents across L.A., including one notable incident where a renter three times over the drinking limit smashed into a 64-year-old woman. Thankfully she wasn’t critically injured, but the city did issue the rider a $550 ticket and make him enroll in a mandatory alcohol program.

 

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer wound up issuing a statement after the notable incident, hoping to bring attention to riding under the influence.

 

“Unfortunately, someone will always find a way to use these types of vehicles inappropriately,” he stated. “Let me emphasize that drinking while operating a vehicle, a bike—or a scooter—is not only illegal, but can lead to serious injury or worse.”

 

Amazingly, in the short amount of time that these vehicle have been operational, the ridership numbers have skyrocketed. In the past year alone, popular scooter maker Bird has touted 2.1 million rentals across 100 cities. And often times (just like in our backyard of Santa Monica), they are accessed by young people who use them to scoot from bar to bar.

 

While scooter-to-person accidents have yet to lead to fatalities, there is the very real risk of intoxicated riders getting hit by cars or injuring themselves doing dangerous stunts. As of right now no real monitoring program is in place, which has led to a lot of recklessness across the sidewalks of L.A.

 

Nevertheless, several local organizations have gone out of their way to promote scooter safety. UCLA, for example, released a viral video, touting helmets and proper etiquette while riding on campus grounds.

 

In our opinion, there is still a lot more than can be done. As this trend continues to grow, we are hopeful that the companies themselves (Bird and Lime being the most noteworthy) will help to promote safety and discourage any and all intoxicated riding.

 

House Passes Bipartisan Bill To Address Opioid Epidemic

Washington politics has been in the news a lot lately. But one story that may not have made as many headlines as it should, concerned some major progress in America’s fight against the opioid crisis. Late last week (and in a rare bipartisan moment), the House of Representatives passed the final version of a large package that will directly address the epidemic.

 

Dubbed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, the bill aims to increase access to addiction treatment centers, push for opioid alternatives to pain treatment, intercept illegal painkillers at mail facilities and combat the use of fentanyl. So far this measure has been met with an overwhelming amount of support, with the final approval vote being 393-8.

 

Several representatives have spoken out publicly about the measure, emphasizing that it is an important step in overcoming the crisis.

 

“Seldom can we say that federal legislation will actually save lives, but we know this bipartisan package will do just that by improving treatment for those battling addiction, and slowing the flow of illegal, deadly synthetic drugs into America,” Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden told CNN. “While this legislation will not solve every problem, I do believe it includes important policies that will help turn the tide of this tragic opioid epidemic. It will also improve treatment options for those battling other substance use disorders.”

 

It is certainly noteworthy to see Republicans and Democrats coming together to push this forward (particularly in today’s chilly political climate). But some critics argue that the amount of funds allocated to the SUPPORT Bill are lacking.

 

According to Vox.com, experts believe that it would take over $10 billion to quickly reverse the epidemic. This bill would fall extremely short of that goal and, in fact, does not provide a significant increase of spending for the opioid crisis at all.

 

The Vox piece singled out several other programs that received increased government funds during times of crisis. To combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example, Congress set up the Ryan White Program, which generated billions to provide resources and care for those infected by the disease. Of course that allocation was merited, but the argument now is that opioid crisis deserves the same amount of urgency. Truth be told, overdose death rates now greatly outnumber fatalities related to AIDS (or guns or car crashes for that matter).

 

Getting more government funds will certainly be another hurdle to climb, but this bipartisan example is encouraging and we applaud lawmakers for helping to make a difference.

 

Recovery Scams Targeted In Orange County

Often times, we talk about scientific breakthroughs happening in the world of recovery. And while they are certainly exciting to hear about, they should NEVER be released to the public without proper testing and regulatory approvals. Sadly many fraudulent sobriety clinics prey upon that hope, offering fake “miracle cures” that lack proper vetting and could be entirely made up. Over in our nearby region of Orange County, scams like that were apparently afoot; leading to a task force crackdown by local police.

 

Multiple recovery operators were charged with felony counts for taking money from patients in exchange for an “opioid-blocking surgery.” In some cases it was just a set of false promises, but in others (shockingly) real operations were performed.

 

Most of these followed an M.O. that our readers are familiar with. Recovery “body brokers” were sent out, targeting real users in need. They would ask for several thousand dollars in exchange for surgical implants. Questionable doctors would then allegedly perform these operations, which would insert a so-called opioid blocker named Naltrexone into the patients’ bodies.

 

The county’s top prosecutors clearly stated that this surgery is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Regardless, the crooked doctors would wind up billing insurance companies as much as $40,000 for each operation. Many victims in these cases underwent procedures which did nothing to improve their addictions and actually put their health in jeopardy.

 

“This is entirely experimental,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told NBC Los Angeles. “There’s no study as to the efficacy of this procedure. And worst of all, some of the patients developed serious side effects following their surgeries.”

 

NBC went on to report that Orange County has now become a “Rehab Riviera” and a prime hunting ground for body brokers. Several of the region’s sober living homes now recruit most of their patients from out of state and they often refuse to follow city regulations.

 

According to the latest reports, four acting OC physicians have been charged with fraud, as well as four local body brokers. An administrator of the noted treatment center SoberLife USA was also charged, with felonies ranging from medical insurance fraud to unauthorized practice of medicine.

 

We, for one, are happy these illegitimate practices are getting shut down. Performing experimental and unethical surgeries is definitely one of the lowest points we’ve seen when it comes to recovery scams. As we’ve said many times before, PLEASE always do thorough research before choosing a treatment for you or a loved one.

 

Addiction And The ‘Dark Web’

There is no doubt about it; technology has drastically changed the state of addiction. In some ways it has become a powerful healing tool, connecting people to recovery clinics and creating forums for open conversations. But on the flip side, it has also become a haven for predators and dealers who solicit vulnerable users via the dark web.

 

Just this past week, the notorious “Drug Llama” was arrested because of her illegal behavior on the internet. In that case (which happened down in San Diego), 31-year-old Melissa Scanlan was taken in and accused of selling over 50,000 fentanyl pills across the dark web. She had used the “Llama” moniker for two years, seeking out customers in chat rooms and underground message boards. It is alleged that her practices led two people to fatally overdose.

 

Sadly there are many others just like “The Drug Llama,” who use aliases and secret sites to peddle illegal narcotics. A few months back, another alleged kingpin, Gal Vallerius also known as “OxyMonster,” was arrested outside of Austin and accused of using the net to ship crystal meth and OxyContin to customers around the world.

 

For those unaware, the dark web is accessible only through bootlegged Tor software; which was originally developed by Naval Researchers to surf online anonymously with maximum security. Soon it got into the hands of hackers and a whole new universe emerged, where people could easily engage in illegal activities. Not surprisingly, drug dealing has become a popular pastime there; with customers purchasing large shipments of narcotics via Bitcoin exchanges.

 

Silk Road had been the most popular dealing site on the dark web and was ultimately brought down after a DEA investigation in 2016. But, as expected, many new hidden www.’s began emerging and underground exchanges have grown substantially over the past two years. Vallerius, for example, operated out of a site called Dream Market.

 

Judging by the fates of Scanlan and Vallerius, dark web drug crackdowns are starting to happen more frequently. But we cannot urge our readers enough to stay off of those sites. Not only could they lead to federal prosecutions, the narcotics shipped out could have a very high risk of being laced or tainted (as evidenced by Scanlan’s OD victims). The dark web is most certainly not a place to feed any type of habit. If you or someone you care about is soliciting illegal drugs online, please reach out and get help.

 

A Warning For L.A. Pot Shop Visitors

Los Angeles is certainly a different world today than it was 10 years ago. On street corners and billboards across the Southland, it’s hard to miss a message from a local marijuana dispensary. And while the legalization movement has certainly changed people’s views on the drug and its addictive tendencies, there are still plenty of things to be concerned about. Particularly, illegal pot shops operating throughout the city.

 

This month, the City of Los Angeles has begun targeting dispensaries that are not properly licensed. According to City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, that number could shoot way past 200. In fact, the issue has become so concerning that Feuer himself held a press conference addressing the punishments and risks associated with illegal shops.

 

“The goal of this is to enforce common-sense rules that regulate recreational marijuana, so public safety is protected in our neighborhoods,” Feuer said at the press conference. “Our message is clear: if you are operating an illegal cannabis business, you will be held accountable.”

 

And apparently that accountability is going to be taken very seriously. Business owners who are running unlicensed pot shops could face criminal felony charges, with fines up to $1,000 and a sentence of six months in jail. According to recent stats, 21 local Angelenos have been taken in so far.

 

So what does this mean for customers of these businesses?  For one thing, it’s a red flag to do your research before randomly visiting a pot shop for cannabis. Those who are accused of breaking these rules have been rumored to have tampered with their packaging and (more importantly) their products. Though marijuana’s reputation doesn’t compare to that of a narcotic like cocaine or heroin, a tainted strain could do serious physical and emotional damage.

 

And, as we’ve written about in previous blogs, there are studies that have shown marijuana to be addictive. So if the batches you are receiving are potentially laced or tainted, there is a higher likelihood that they could create unnatural cravings.

 

Interestingly enough, several legitimate L.A.-based marijuana businesses support the measure. They prefer to keep the industry regulated and as safe as possible for customers. Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Cannabis Coalition, went on record saying, “Cracking down on black market retailers is beneficial for the state’s industry as a whole. I applaud the city for doing this. You can’t have a regulated industry without strong enforcement.”

 

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.

 

‘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…

 

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.”

 

 

Addiction Treatment Ads Return To Google

If you’ve been following our blogs, then you’re probably aware of the issues Google has been taking with the recovery industry. Clearly their intentions were good; but due to fraudulent clinics and deceptive ads, they had halted the promotion of treatment centers in their searches. Well this week, that policy appears to have changed with the platform now opening its doors to digital recovery advertising.

 

First, let’s go back with a little history lesson on the whole situation. Thanks to articles on sites like The Vergescams were uncovered where so-called “body brokers” hunted online for vulnerable victims to send them money for fake recovery centers. Clearly that was an awful practice that deserved to be exposed. But due to the embarrassing nature of it all, Google took action by pulling all addiction treatment search ads in the United States. This happened right at the end of last year and continued as such for the past several months.

 

Now, however, new parameters are in place which allow reputable clinics to begin resuming their online promotions. It is still a slower process, which requires proper vetting from a third Google party called LegitScript. This online security org set up specific criteria, which any recovery advertiser must meet before launching a campaign. Everything from criminal background checks, to license verifications were enacted, which ensured that all “body brokers” would be scared away.

 

The good news is, the process appears to be working. This month, more than 100 addiction treatment centers have been cleared to use Google’s AdWords service. LegitScript rep, David Khalaf, praised the efforts and feels very confident that this will ultimately work to serve those who really need help.

 

“As we began vetting applicants with many closely related facilities that shared a website, we developed ways in which we could streamline the process to make it more efficient,” he explained.

 

And as Behavioral.net (the site that broke the news) went on to say, this new chapter will start to let “the good guys win.” Doug Tieman, another digital security rep who spoke to the article writer, explained that this will ultimately help legitimate recovery businesses. But more importantly, it will help people who are sincerely seeking out addiction treatment.

 

“Unethical marketing practices in the addiction treatment industry have become common,” Tieman added. “Yet prohibiting all treatment facilities from advertising is not a viable option for anyone—Google, treatment centers or consumers.”

 

As mentioned above, over 100 businesses have been cleared thus far with many more on the way. And once that happens, everyone who advertises properly will receive a special certification that they can proudly display on their website.

 

New Plan May Allow Inmates To Receive Recovery Treatment

It is a well known fact that addictions run rampant throughout the nation’s prison system. Many times, drugs and using are what put people behind bars in the first place. Well over in Massachusetts, a radical new plan is coming into play that may allow inmates to receive treatment and recovery help while serving time.

 

The legislation comes from Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker and has already gotten approval votes from the state House of Representatives. It is also backed by a coalition of 26 health care groups, who continue to publicly show support. Currently, however, it is just a provision. But it could make its way to becoming a law if the Senate agrees. At its essence, this new program will offer anti-addiction medications to qualified prisoners and to people civilly committed for treatment.

 

As of right now, most jails and prisons deny access to these types of meds (primarily identified as methadone and buprenorphine). Doing that, leaves the addicted inmates at a very high risk of OD’ing when released for their minor crimes.

 

The “pilot” program that was approved would focus on six Massachusetts prisons (not publicly identified) and be run by the Department of Corrections. If prisoners were in treatment before their arrest and already taking buprenorphine or methadone to wean off of an addiction, they would still get access to those medications.

 

Inmates who were not in treatment but volunteer on the inside would be evaluated by the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, then potentially brought into the program. Addictions specialists would also be on hand, to measure progress and monitor the recovery steps.

 

The move is not without its critics, of course. One of the primary issues that has come up with this legislation has to do with cost. Certain politicians brought up financial figures when debating the measure. According to their estimations, the program could cost as much as $125 per week per participant and as much as $22.5 million annually.

 

Clearly an initiative like this won’t be a completely easy sell, but many believe (ourselves included) that the pros far outweigh the cons. Local Department of Corrections director Patricia Coyne-Fague has seen overdoses skyrocket in the prisons that she oversees and wrote an impassioned letter urging legislators to take action.

 

“We are constantly vigilant for any diversion of medications, and yes, we have had to educate staff about the benefits of (medication-assisted treatment) in order to achieve their buy-in,” she wrote. “But we believe the challenges are not insurmountable, and that the benefits to this program far outweigh the difficulties.”

 

New Doc Addresses Fraudulent Recovery Clinics

As a recovery facility that holds itself to the highest standards, we are truly appalled when we see crooked characters come in and tarnish our industry. And sadly, that trend is becoming more commonplace as the opioid crisis leaves more Americans addicted. It is during this vulnerable time that fraudulent treatment centers and “body brokers,” as they are called, come swooping in, making false sobriety claims and bilking millions in the process. Well now CNBC is bringing this negative trend to the forefront, with an American Greed docu-special titled The Road To Retox.

 

TheFix.com did a nice job summarizing what the special entails. Basically, over the course of 60 minutes viewers are taken on a brutally honesty journey profiling human trafficking and recovery scams. The episode will also focus on Kenny Chatman, a notorious con man who used fake sober living homes to collect insurance money, bamboozle families and set up prostitution rings.

 

“Kenny Chatman saw an opportunity, saw a chance to make a lot of money, and didn’t care who he hurt to make that happen,” Florida attorney Maria Villafana explained in the American Greed teaser clip “These types of facilities encouraged, rather than prohibited, drug use to perpetuate the cycle of ‘treatment’ and keep millions of dollars’ worth of insurance payments coming in.”

 

Indeed, the promos for the Retox episode are alarming and eye-opening. One example below, illustrates how Florida’s “body brokering” industry became a lucrative practice. It also delves into the nefarious practices of Chatman, who used intimidation to control and bilk his “clients.”

 

Another preview clips details how the fraudulent billing practices took place and the crooked doctors who also participate in these scams. Worse yet, it illustrates how much wealth a person like Chatman was able to accumulate pulling these types of schemes. According to the clip below, Chatman was earning as much as a $100,000 a week because of these fraudulent recovery practices.

 

The good news (at least in this case) is that Chatman was ultimately arrested and convicted for his crimes. This past May, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison after pleading guilty to health care fraud. This actually led to a spiral effect in Florida, with 50 additional arrests tied to mismanaged sober living homes.

 

Now thankfully there is much more good than bad out there when it comes to the recovery industry. But we do highly recommend doing your homework before choosing treatment and always seeking out facilities that are properly licensed and accredited.

 

L.A. Warning Issued About Contaminated Heroin

The opioid epidemic is continuing to wreak havoc across the country, which has led to several red alerts in our own backyard. One important one that arose this week came from Los Angeles County Public Health officials, who issued a stern warning about black tar heroin strains that are being dealt throughout the city. This particular batch is reportedly contaminated with bacteria, which has led to wound botulism and, in several cases, death.

 

Our own local outlet, The Santa Clarita Valley Signal, plastered the warning on the front pages of their site. Sadly, this community has experienced a large share of ER visits and arrests related to the opioid crisis. And nationally, heroin use has been a major contributor to the problem. According to recent stats, it has now surpassed gun homicides as a leading cause of U.S. deaths.

 

In regards to the bacteria, the alert is primarily focused on intravenous users. Injecting the drug has shown the greatest risk for wound botulism, particularly if needles are inserted into people’s muscles. It is also worth noting that the contaminated batches look exactly like regular ones and “cooking” the drug will not kill the germ. Apparently the infections are not contagious between people, but if multiple users tap into the same batch, there is a high likelihood that botulism will occur.

 

The Department of Public Health also detailed the logistics related to these infections. At its core, botulism is a toxin which attack’s the body’s nerves; leading to muscle weakness. The primary warning signs to look out for are drooping eyelids, blurred vision, difficulty speaking, swallowing issues, shortness of breath and severe coughs. Often times, these symptoms can be mistaken for a drug overdose and may occur within days or weeks of injecting a contaminated batch.

 

San Diego, our neighbor to the south, recently suffered their own outbreak of this epidemic. It is thought that the contaminated heroin batches are related to shipments that came through that city.

 

As of right now, the biggest call to action is to visit the Substance Abuse Prevention and Control website or call their toll-free number at 844-804-7500 if you know someone experiencing symptoms, There are also educational resources about botulism that can be found via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. We urge everyone to spread the word about this and work to get heroin-addicted loved ones into treatment immediately.

 

Alcoholism Becoming More Prominent Among Seniors

This past week, we ran across an alarming headline in The Wall Street Journal. The famed financial paper took some time out to address a growing problem happening in this country. Though many are not aware of it, U.S. senior citizens have been seeing a sharp increase in alcohol abuse.

 

According to WSJ, over 3 million U.S. adults aged 65 and older are currently alcoholics. And worse yet, that stat is expected to nearly double by the year 2020.

 

Studies have uncovered a myriad of reasons as to why older Americans are falling prey to this addiction. Excuses often used are the “empty nest” syndrome, where parents feel lonely after their children leave home. It is also true that seniors have to deal with chronic pain more frequently and turn to drinking as a way to cope.

 

Worse yet, are the reactions this population receives when confronted with this problem. For starters, many family members may not even notice the symptoms. Issues like shaky hands, forgetfulness or stumbling may get associated with aging, when they are in fact signs of inebriation.

 

Additionally, it is said that family members are often uncomfortable bringing up the issue. Per the WSJ data, 22 percent of adult children fear angering their parents. One in five say they don’t even know how to address alcoholism with a parent.

 

Several examples were provided within the article, outlining high-functioning seniors who secretly consumed beer and wine away from family members. One 64-year-old neglected her babysitting duties because of her addiction, which led to a very close call with a young granddaughter.

 

One positive thing to come out the article was a breakout of discussion tips related to addicted older parents. Ideas listed included…

 

Stick to things you know can be verified, versus taking an accusatory approach or making an assumption. Avoid words like ‘alcoholic.’

 

Focus on the impact of substances on a loved one’s behavior and ability to function, as well as the relationships they care most about, including their grandchildren.

 

Write down talking points, including responses to parents’ objections. If a parent says drinking helps them relax, say there are healthier ways to relax, like taking a walk or reading. If they suggest it makes them feel better, note that alcohol is a depressant.

 

Be patient. If a parent gets angry or defensive, step back and bring up the conversation later.

 

Be respectful. Treat a parent as an adult.

 

Seek out help. If you do suspect a substance-abuse problem, contact the parent’s health-care provider and discuss the best approach to getting appropriate treatment.