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.

 

The Dangers Behind ‘Risky Drinking’

There is no doubt that alcoholism can do tremendous long term damage. But it’s important to remember that shot chugging and rowdy nights out can cause harm in the short term as well. In fact, a new study is pointing to just that. Recent research published on TheFix.com outlined the large of amount of young men who participate in “risky drinking” and very real dangers that go along with it.

 

For the record, the way risky drinking was described in the study pertained to fistfights, intoxicated driving and unprotected sexual behavior. Bar binging is certainly known to contribute to all of those things, as is the newfound “freedom” of turning 21. The research did show a strong connection of bad boozing behavior among men who are just reaching that age.

 

In conclusion, the study’s author felt that loose drinking laws and perhaps 21-year-old immaturity could merit a re-evaluation of each state’s legal drinking age.

 

“A growing body of evidence suggests large increases in criminal behavior and mortality coinciding with a young adult’s 21st birthday, when alcohol consumption becomes legal,” author and University of Wisconsin professor Jason M. Fletcher stated. “The policy implications from these findings have focused on the need to reduce drinking among young people, potentially by enforcing stricter alcohol controls.”

 

Upon further examination, Fletcher also stated that the statistics show an increase in alcohol-related deaths and violent crimes among males aged 21. Again, he emphasized that parental interventions are an important tool in keeping these young men grounded. But one of the more curious data points showed that this group is close to their families and often times living with them. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to have regular conversations with college-aged children about alcohol.

 

“It might be a reasonable intervention to remind parents of individuals about to turn 21, that especially their sons, about these negative consequences,” Fletcher emphasized to The Fix. “Maybe they could at least be part of these interventions, in terms of reducing these risky behaviors right around the legal age of drinking.”

 

We couldn’t agree more with that advice. Not only is this risky drinking behavior a gateway into violence and physical harm; once intoxicated driving enters the picture, it could easily lead to death. We encourage all parents to stay close to their sons and daughters as they approach their young 20’s. Open dialogues and regular check ins are crucial as they enter this exploratory (and potentially addictive) stage of life.

 

Ancient Virus May Play A Role In Addiction

Have you ever wondered how far back addictions go? According to some new research, dependencies to pleasure seeking can be traced to the Neanderthal Era and, interestingly enough, that could educate some of our behaviors today.

 

CNN is reporting that a new study out of London has identified a particular virus (or retrovirus) that may present in many modern users. It is labeled HK2 and has existed in human DNA for centuries. Though somewhat rare (impacting roughly 5 to 10 percent of the overall population), it is apparently much more common in people who abuse drugs or alcohol.

 

Oxford scientists found the virus in 34 percent of the drug users they tested in Scotland; which is more than three times the norm. There was also a higher likelihood in subjects of Greek origin (for the record, the University of Athens in Greece also participated in the study).

 

The general location of the HK2 virus has been in the RASGRF2 gene, which mirrors some findings that happened earlier in the decade. RASGRF2 had previously been identified as a “pleasure gene” because it increases the activity of dopamine released into the brain.

 

“What this study suggests is that these people could be prone to any sort of addictive behavior,” researcher Gkikas Margionkinis told CNN.

 

So if this data is proven to be true, what happens next? Aris Katzourakis, another researcher who led the study, explained that science could eventually intervene and perhaps “antidotes” could be used to conquer this age old virus.

 

“This could potentially lead to better intervention strategies,” Katsourakis said. “If we can make a drug to target this insertion, we may be in a better place to help people recovering from this kind of behavior.”

 

Currently, scientists are already trying to develop treatments for the HK2 strain present in RASGRF2. It is believed that this virus has many vulnerabilities and could succumb to different treatments injected into the body.

 

Obviously, HK2 doesn’t account for all of the addictions that are happening around the world. But if this small segment of the population can be helped with science and antivirus antidotes, we fully support the progress.

 

Katzourakis and Margionkinis agree that there is a lot more testing that needs to be done. But they are both confident (and excited) about a positive outcome.

 

“I think we’re off to a very good start,” Katzourakis concluded. “And a lot of interesting work lays ahead.”

 

Can Stem Cells Help Beat Cocaine Addiction?

Many times, you’ll hear about scientists touting that they’re on the cutting edge of developing a “cure for addiction.” Though those words offer promise and hope, more times than not the discoveries have minimal impact. This week, however, several large scale publications (including The Guardian) are claiming otherwise, highlighting a significant breakthrough via stem cell research.

 

Cocaine dependencies are the primary focus of these experiments. Through genetically engineered skin implants, it appears as though cravings for this particular drug can diminish significantly (at least in the laboratory mice they’ve been testing).

 

These subjects have supposedly shown great promise in overcoming stimulant addictions. Apparently, the injected stem cells release a powerful enzyme that removes all traces of cocaine from the bloodstream. So far, the tests have shown that that mice fitted with these implants have completely lost their cravings and survived dangerous overdoses that killed 100 percent of the untreated animals.

 

In essence, this type of therapy cleared all drugs from their bodies (whether injected, inhaled or ingested) and made the animals completely immune to the substances. According to researcher Ming Xu, this could be groundbreaking for the recovery industry.

 

“Compared to other gene therapies, our approach is minimally invasive, long term, low maintenance and affordable,” he explained to The Guardian. “It is also highly efficient and specific for eliminating cocaine. I find it to be very promising.”

 

Getting to these developments was certainly no easy task. According to the article, these researchers had to literally rewrite the DNA codes is mouse skin stem cells to create the appropriate reaction. Months of testing and research followed, until they felt confident that the process was working.

 

But, there is still some progress that needs to be made before this treatment is deemed safe for humans. Cells and DNA signatures are quite different between the two species and long term effects of the treatment have yet to be fully realized.

 

Xu acknowledged that this treatment still has a way to go before it get in front of the FDA. But he is confident that it will only be a matter of time before a true cocaine addiction cure becomes widely available. In fact, he is confident that this could be the start of effective treatments for all types of dependencies.

 

“We have not observed obvious side effects, but will study them carefully,” Xu added. “But I believe the approach has the potential to make drug users immune to cocaine and protect them from fatal overdoses. Even now, the team is working on similar genetically-engineered cells to treat alcohol and nicotine addiction, and soon expect to start research on a therapy for opioid addiction.”

 

We can only hope that this will someday become a reality.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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.”

 

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.”

 

 

More Young Alcoholics Diagnosed With Liver Disease

Typically when we think of an alcoholic succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver, it is after decades of abuse. But some newly released data is pointing to a change in that statistic. Apparently liver disease is becoming much more common for chronic drinkers in their 30’s, which is an alarming stat that we think is worth sharing.

 

NPR.org published a telling piece on this latest research and the trends that many doctors are seeing when it comes to cirrhosis. The stats were published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and covered a period from 1999 to 2016. Within that timeframe, chronic liver disease as a whole saw a drastic increase; but its the death tolls among young people that have been raising the most alarms.

 

In blunt terms, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds who have died each year from alcohol-related liver disease almost tripled between 1999 and 2016. The annual increase rate has now hit around 10 percent; with an initial total of 259 deaths in 1999 and a much higher total of 767 deaths in 2016.

 

University of Michigan assistant professor of medicine (and liver specialist), Dr. Elliot Tapper, spoke with NPR’s writers and shared his personal firsthand accounts of what he’s been seeing.

 

“What’s happening with young people is dismaying to say the least,” he told the site. “A young man I’ve been recently seeing, his whole body was yellow. He could hardly move. It was difficult for him to breathe, and he wasn’t eating anything. We had long, tearful conversations, but he continued to struggle with alcohol addiction.”

 

Not surprisingly, these new findings have led to a lot of speculations as to the causes of the spike. Another medical professional interviewed for the article, Dr. Vijay Shah who works at the Mayo Clinic, felt that outside global factors may be contributing to the rise in 30-something chronic alcoholism.

 

“It correlates with the global financial crisis,” he explained. “We hypothesize that there may be a loss of opportunity, and the psychological burden that comes with that may have driven some of those patients to abusive drinking.”

 

Regardless, these issues are raising much concern. Particularly because of how fast-acting these liver disease cases have become. Typically, cirrhosis occurs after 30-plus years of heavy drinking. The fact that it’s happening to people in their 20’s and 30’s certainly merits further investigations.

 

The only possible good news, is that modern medicine is helping to reduce the amount of deaths related to this problem. Thankfully, this condition can be treated and overall, liver disease only accounts for 1.4 percent of total deaths for people aged 25-34.

 

More Brain Injuries Linked To Alcohol Abuse

Now here is some research worth spreading around. According to new data coming out of Scotland, brain damage related to drinking is at all-time high. Now the interesting thing here is that it does not relate to prolonged brain cell destruction after years of alcohol abuse (which is also a very real stat). This study analyzed injuries to the cranial region caused by reckless boozing.

 

Though not discussed much, drinking most certainly leads to physical abuse. Sometimes it’s stumbling over and causing an injury. Sometimes it’s a life threatening car crash. And, in the case of the Scottish research, it can be rowdy fights and concussions. Whatever the reason, these are points worth bringing out to the public.

 

The data from the study showed that 36,000 hospital inpatient stays happened because of alcohol misuse. There were also dozens of fatalities and over 660 brain damage cases. And in Scotland, for example (where soccer rowdiness is at an all-time high thanks to the World Cup), there are currently 22 deaths each week attributed to reckless drinking.

 

Certain recommendations that accompanied this research included implementing more alcohol education programs and raising the prices of booze. But local advocacy groups like Alcohol Focus feel that may just be a band aid for a bigger problem.

 

“Increases in preventable conditions like alcohol-related brain damage are devastating consequences of the high levels of alcohol consumption we see,” Alcohol Focus rep Alison Douglas told The Daily Mail. “This is all driven by widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing of alcohol. Minimum unit pricing will save hundreds of lives, but it is not sufficient to turn the tide of alcohol harm.”

 

Certainly these types of issues are just as common in the states. Binge drinking continues to be a popular pastime (particularly among college students) and it has been shown to lead to aggression and bad decisions.

 

The research also showed that inebriated brains may be more susceptible to injury. Alcohol-related brain damage (or ARBD as it is labeled) is quite common with over-drinkers, particularly because of swelling and dehydration. It is also said that the body cannot absorb nutrients as easily when it is intoxicated.

 

All of figures definitely deserve an awareness campaign. Though many don’t realize it, one night out of reckless drinking could lead to serious physical damage. If you or someone you know partakes in regular binge drinking, make sure they are fully aware of the consequences and have access to the tools that can get them help.

 

How Much Does Drinking Shorten Your Life?

There is no denying that continuously consuming alcohol can have long-lasting effects on the body. Studies have shown its negative impact on the heart, the brain and, most commonly, the liver. But could “casual drinking” also be doing damage? European researchers are saying yes and have issued stern warnings to anyone who regularly raises a glass.

 

The study started off outwardly dismissing the age old saying of “a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away.” Their researchers (who were quoted in The Washington Postmade a point to criticize that notion and highlight the fact that serious health risks can begin for people who drink as little as five glasses a week.

 

Currently, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department says that women should consume no more than one drink per day and men shouldn’t touch more than two. This study contradicts that and has gotten some increased support within the American scientific community.

 

“Guidelines are very debatable things,” U.S. Public Health Institute rep William C. Kerr told The Post. “In addition to genetic variants among the population, there’s the issue that some people might take them not as guidelines, but as permission or recommendations to drink a certain amount, even if they shouldn’t drink at all. For those reasons, guidelines have to be conservative.”

 

The study then delved into just how much damage alcohol is causing to U.S. citizens. Though the opioid crisis is receiving a lot of attention at the moment (as it rightly should), it’s a little known fact that drinking still kills more Americans than painkiller overdoses. Roughly 88,000 people die each year in this country due to problems with alcohol abuse. And let’s not forget about the driving fatalities.

 

But what this study focused on was the long term effects, emphasizing that casual drinkers are still putting themselves at risk. Cirrhosis of the liver has become much more common in the last decade and can certainly impact people who claim to not be alcoholics. Long term light drinkers also were singled out as candidates for aortic aneurysms and even strokes. The truth is certain people, simply because of body type, may be more prone to developing these conditions.

 

And did you know that drinking has been linked to cancer diagnoses as well? The carcinogenic agents in alcoholic beverages include ethanol and acetaldehyde, which have been associated with cancers of the intestines, oral cavity and breasts.

 

As we’ve said many times in our blogs: Knowledge is power. Before you brush off any weekly casual drinking habits, do your research and get help if needed.

 

New Marijuana Research Raises Concerns

There is no doubt that marijuana is much more widely accepted now than it used to be. Just a handful of years ago, it was classified as a dangerous hallucinogen and lumped into the “illegal drug” category. But times have changed and, in California at least, legalization is well in effect. But, according to at least one scientist, serious dangers are still related to cannabis and they should still be addressed.

 

Dr. Christian Hopfer works in the psychiatry department of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. His team has been conducting a series of tests to see just how harmful marijuana may be. Truth be told, Dr. Hopfer’s research is quite extensive and has over $5.5. million in funding. Part of the data comes from measuring twins (5,000 sets to be exact) and the impact users have versus non-users.

 

“This legalization move is really all just a giant experiment,” Dr. Hopfer told TheFix.com“There is no question that legalization has a normalizing effect on something that used to be against the law. By age 21, 98% of the population has had a drink. But only 10% of the population has tried cocaine, and 50% [have] tried marijuana. And if you smoke a couple times a day, marijuana will knock off your memory. That is pretty certain.”

 

And though many have argued that cannabis is not addictive, Dr. Hopfer begs to differ. His research has shown that at least three million Americans have what is classified as “marijuana use disorder.” There are also signals that point to weed being a gateway drug (which means it can lead to harmful, more addictive substances) and posing a serious risk to teens.

 

“If you start smoking pot as a teenager, you have a four times higher likelihood of getting addicted,” Dr. Hopfer added. “The brain of a teenager is more sensitive to the effects than the brain of an adult would be. [Marijuana] is likely to have a more detrimental effect on kids.”

 

The final point that Dr. Hopfer emphasized following is the danger associated with using and driving. We all know that ingesting weed inebriates people, which poses a serious risk if they choose to get behind the wheel. In Colorado, marijuana-involved traffic fatalities have doubled since the state’s legalization efforts.

 

So while we won’t try and dispute the medicinal benefits that many believe are helpful, we do want to expose the dangers. Legal or not, make sure to keep the marijuana habits of you or your loved ones in check. And if you do sense a problem, please reach out for help.

 

Could LSD Be Used To Treat Addiction?

We have to admit, this latest news story even caught us by surprise. For decades, the psychedelic hallucinogen LSD (also known as “acid”) has been grouped with harmful substances like ecstasy. But similar to the recent stance on marijuana, the public may be turning a corner on how this drug is perceived. In a June Newsweek article, a study was revealed that now claims that LSD could actually be a tool to help treat addiction and depression.

 

Taking data from Cell ReportsNewsweek writer Dana Dovey shared details on animal testing and LSD. Measuring brain cell activity after using the drug, scientists were able to uncover that more dendritic spines and synapses occurred after the hallucinogen was ingested. This, researchers claim, could lead to new breakthroughs in depression treatment.

 

“One of the hallmarks of depression is that the neurites in the prefrontal cortex—a key brain region that regulates emotion, mood, and anxiety—those neurites tend to shrivel up,” study author David E. Olson told the site. “These brain changes also appear in cases of anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

 

Olson also pointed out that this type of behavior actually differs to the reactions that come from anti-depressants like Zoloft and Prozac. Unlike those pills, which influence brain chemicals, LSD actually affects brain plasticity. The common belief is that drugs that behave this way promote the growth of new neural connections. Dovey then took the conversation one step further, illustrating how this type of cranial behavior could be successfully applied to addiction treatment as well.

 

The big caveat is that acid itself is not the designated miracle cure. Dr. Olson emphasized that if they continue to see these types of positive results, they would need to recreate new less potent prescription forms of the drug. He left the author with a stern warning about LSD and it potential risks, such as drastic mood changes and paranoia. These tests were only conducted on mice and still have a ways to go.

 

Nevertheless, both Dovey and Olson believe these are steps in the right direction.

 

“We need to fully understand the signaling pathways that lead to neural plasticity,” Olson concluded. “Then we might be able to target critical nodes along those pathways with drugs that are safer than ketamine or psychedelics.”

 

We agree that this still a ways off from becoming legitimate, but the concept is intriguing and any new approach to combating addiction is certainly worth pursuing.

 

Opioids Blamed For 1 In Every 5 Young Adult Deaths

Consider this a hash warning for twenty and thirty-somethings. According to some new research released by TIME Magazineopioids are now responsible for one in every five deaths among young people. As you would expect, overdoses are the prime culprit; caused by everything from pills to heroin needles. But we find this stat to be truly alarming, as this demographic is now signaled out as the biggest fatality risk.

 

The study categorizes “young people” as Americans between the ages of 25 and 34. That grouping accounted for 8,400 U.S. opioid deaths in 2016, nearly a third of all fatalities related to the drug. The total OD number reached 28,496  that year and you can bet that totals from this year and beyond will be in even greater numbers.

 

Approximately 20 percent of all deaths within the 25 to 34 sect involved opioids. They were followed by Americans aged 35 to 44, who reported 6,700 fatal overdoses within the same timespan. Other painkiller death totals included 5,600 for people between the ages of 45 to 54, 3,800 for 55 to 64-year-olds and 800 among seniors aged 65 and up.

 

An additional scary stat from this study revealed that nearly 13 percent of all teenage deaths are caused by opioids. Children between the ages of 15 and 24 were responsible for 3,000 opioid-related fatalities in 2016. All of these numbers shot up significantly in the last decade, with the opioid D.O.A. rate doubling since 2009.

 

“Premature death from opioid-related causes imposes an enormous and growing public health burden across the United States,” TIME’s researchers said in the article. “These trends highlight a need for tailored programs and policies.”

 

One other interesting component of the study compared total opioid deaths to America’s other leading killers. When you want to look at the epidemic in cold, hard facts, these stats are pretty hard to ignore. According to TIME, painkiller abuse is responsible for more premature fatalities than high blood pressure, pneumonia and HIV/AIDS. It is also apparently closing in on cancer (which currently takes the most lives).

 

To close out their piece, TIME shared a very moving video from their Opioid Diaries series, which profiles real Americans impacted by the crisis. As the disclaimer says before the clip; this may be disturbing to watch, but it is very important for anyone who wants to truly understand how deadly this epidemic has become.

 

Job Loss And The Opioid Crisis

You may not think America’s opioid epidemic is affecting you directly, but the truth is you’re wrong. Even if no one in your inner circle is facing a painkiller dependency (which is becoming more and more rare), you are beginning to feel its effects in the U.S. economy and in the job market. New research from The American Action Forum emphasizes that point even more, revealing that nearly 1 million people were not working in 2015 because of the crisis.

 

The Action Forum has actually been watching this trend for a while. Dating back to 1999, they showed that year after year, an increasing amount of Americans lost their jobs because of a dependency. The 2015 stat measured people between the ages of 25 to 54 and put the grand total at approximately 919,400 let go because of addiction.

 

Worse yet, within that 16-year span between the late 1990’s and the mid-2010’s; it is believed that workforce issues cost the U.S. economy as much as $702 billion. This data also mirrors more recent analyses, including one from Princeton University which showed that a good portion of 2017’s 20 percent workforce decline can be attributed to opioid addiction.

 

Ben Gitis, one of the co-authors of the American Action study, believes that billions of work hours were lost over the decades because of this. He also thinks this could have serious repercussions on taxpayers and America at large.

 

“It’s something we hear companies talk about all the time, not being able to have workers pass drug tests and being unable to simply get workers to apply because they know they won’t pass the drug test,” Gitis told TheFix.com. “It was really important that we get a sense of what the magnitude of this could be. The opioid crisis is a major health issue and the overdose fatalities by themselves suggest how big of a problem it is. But it’s also a major constraint on our economy.”

 

And as we’ve mentioned in previous articles, it’s not just blue collar workers who are affected by this crisis. Millions of experienced professionals (such as doctors, attorneys and Wall Street traders) are in the midst of it as well, with an impact on virtually every industry throughout the U.S.

 

America’s opioid crisis is very real and it is happening on a much closer level than most people realize. If you or someone you are close is struggling with a painkiller dependency, reach out and get the help that’s needed.

 

Stem Cell Therapy Sought Out As Potential Alcoholism ‘Cure’

It’s easy to get skeptical when you see the words “alcoholism” and “cure” in the same sentence. But scientists are continuing to pursue new ways to curb people’s drinking habits and are now putting a lot of faith in stem cell therapy research. According to new data coming out of Chile, these types of treatments have shown some very positive effects in laboratory rats and may soon be applied to humans.

 

Led by Dr. Yedy Israel, the Chilean team of researchers started their experiments by feeding rodents the equivalent of one bottle of vodka a day. Naturally, addictive tendencies began to weigh in on the animals and eventually they began preferring alcohol to water. The liquor diet continued for a total of 17 weeks, then dropped off entirely; forcing the rats to go cold turkey.

 

At this point, things began to get interesting. Dr. Israel’s team removed all alcohol from the rats for a total of two weeks. Then they were injected with mesenchymal stem cells and re-introduced to the vodka samples, now for just 60 minutes a day. It was at this point, as the researchers put it, that “miraculous behaviors” began occurring.

 

‘Typically, the animals would engage in binge-like drinking during this short period, consuming the human equivalent of about eight standard drinks,” Dr. Israel told The Daily Mail.  “Animals that had received the small-sized mesenchymal stem cells treatment consumed much less, levels comparable to that of a social drinker.”

 

Their research showed that the injected rats always preferred water to vodka and dropped their alcoholic urges by up to 90 percent. Further studies showed that each treatment was effective for up to four weeks without any visible sign of a relapse.

 

Dr. Israel believed there was a scientific explanation for this that had to do with neurons in the brain. In binge drinkers, they argued, molecules called reactive oxygen species emerge and directly damage certain cranial functions (also causing inflammation). They believe that the brain adapts to this behavior by building proteins, which leads one to seek out alcohol to maintain the “toxic environment.”

 

“Brain inflammation and oxidative stress are known to self-perpetuate each other,” Dr. Israel concluded. “Creating conditions which promote alcoholism and a long-lasting relapse risk.”

 

All signs point to stem cells as a way to alleviate that risk. But, this report was quick to point out that no human testing has been performed yet. Let’s hope that’s on the horizon and, if this is an effective treatment, it gets implemented sooner than later.

 

Non-Opioid Painkillers May Be Coming Soon

America’s addiction crisis got some positive news this week after federal officials revealed that they are working to get non-opioid painkillers onto the market in the very near future. As we all know, these prescribed drugs have been wreaking havoc and leading to tens of thousands of overdoses across the country. Now though, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins explained that true progress was being made.

 

“We are learning a tremendous amount about what the neurobiology of pain is all about,” Collins told USA Today. “So many people are dying, there is clearly an urgency to improving the tools that we have to help them.”

 

As the USA article explains, there is a real science behind this approach. One of the big keys of the concept would be creating prescription drugs that do not have to be used as frequently to treat pain. Some researchers believe that there can be painkillers developed that only need to be taken monthly (a lot less frequently than common opioid treatments like OxyContin).

 

But in the current state of things, finding that perfect reliever is proving to be a big challenge. For ongoing sufferers, over-the-counter meds like Aspiring simply don’t solve the issue. And it is important to note that nearly 100 million U.S. adults claim to be living with chronic pain.

 

Huffington Post writer Janna Wagner (who herself suffers from chronic pain) explained in her recent article how the existing alternate treatments have done little good.

 

“Few good treatment options exist for chronic pain patients ― believe me, I’ve tried my share,” Wagner explained. “Knee braces. Canes. Anti-inflammatories. Steroids. Acupuncture. Infusions and shots in my knees. (Yes, in my knees.) Once a skeptic of alternative therapies, I even went vegan, slopped on some arnica and capsaicin cream, digested turmeric and completed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Twice. Many of these alternative treatments are prohibitively costly and not covered by insurance, limiting services for the uninsured or those who are on a fixed or limited income.”

 

 

Our sincere hope is that the feds take that non-opioid discussion seriously. This crisis continues to worsen as the decade goes on and there still doesn’t seem to be any clear cut solutions in sight. Approaching it from a scientific perspective could offer some very positive benefits. Let’s just hope they have the resources and the will to carry that promise out.

 

‘Forbes’ Explores Addiction And Gender

This March, Forbes Magazine offered a different twist to the stories emerging about Women’s History Month. Their focus was on addiction and how it can just as easily happen to a woman as it can to a man. More interestingly, the famed outlet delved into some of the unique characteristics each gender experiences when battling a dependency.

 

Stats gathered by magazine researchers and U.S. physicians showed that men are indeed more likely to develop an addiction. But, their data showed that women find it harder to quit a dependency and are more vulnerable to relapses.

 

Dr. Lipi Roy authored the telling piece, which shared some little known facts about women and opioid crisis. For starters, according to The American Journal of Public Health females are more likely to be prescribed painkillers than males. The usage behaviors were rather interesting as well. Apparently women tend to misuse opioids because of emotional issues, while men do it because of legal, work or behavioral problems.

 

The alcohol stats Dr. Roy chronicled were alarming as well. Her research showed that drinking kills more women in the U.S. than painkiller overdoses. Habits can also happen much faster for the female gender, due to smaller frames and different biological structures. Not only that, alcoholism can increase the risk of breast cancer by 5 to 9 percent.

 

Pregnancy and addiction (a sad subject we touched upon last week) was covered as well, illustrating the extremely high birth complication risks and the rise in postpartum depression. Forbes went on illustrate how an addiction often leads to unplanned pregnancies (80 percent of all of them, to be exact) and the increase in sexually transmitted diseases.

 

Dr. Roy went on to defend women across the U.S. who find themselves dependent on substances (and rightly so).

 

“Let’s first make sure we’re on the same page as far as the definition of addiction,” she wrote. “This is a chronic medical disease, a relapsing and remitting disease of the brain, that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the individual using and to those around him or her. It is NOT a sign of moral weakness or failure.”

 

Dr. Roy concluded her piece with a call to action to study more of the gender differences among addicted Americans. One of her parting notes was that up until the 1990’s, most substance abuse research focused solely on men. That isn’t the case today; but as the data clearly illustrates, there are many more biological and scientific gender statistics worthy of exploration.