Monday, November 8, 2010

Massachusetts Tax Repeal taps Drug, Alcohol Abuse Funds

Boston Herald

When Massachusetts voters decided to eliminate the sales tax on alcohol, they also eliminated a main source of funding for the state’s drug and alcohol abuse programs.

Now lawmakers and advocates are scrambling to shore up money for the programs in the face of an ongoing budget crunch.

Lawmakers last year voted to apply the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax rate to liquor sold in stores to bring in an extra $110 million annually to help pay for substance abuse treatment Massachusetts.

Liquor store owners and other opponents of the tax dumped more than $3.7 million into an advertising campaign to persuade voters to repeal the levy.

Supporters of the tax say that it was designed to help shield critically needed detox beds and other detox programs from the ups and downs of the budget cycle.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Programs to fight Drug Abuse in Jeopardy


Parental involvement and education programs dealing with student alcohol and drug use are keys to prevention, school officials say.

But at a time when binge drinking and prescription drug use is on the rise among Sumner County teens, programs aimed at fighting the problem could fall by the wayside, unless the Board of Education comes up with additional dollars in next year’s budget.

Safe Schools, Healthy Students, the school system’s anti-drug and violence prevention program, is completely funded by federal grants, and this year those dollars are funding more programs to combat obesity and bullying.

In jeopardy are programs like Students Taking A Right Stand, which has six full-time counselors working with parents to resolve issues at home and help students combat issues that might interfere with their academic achievements, such as family problems or drug and alcohol addictions.

Money will also run out this year for the school system’s three prevention coordinators – about $120,000 – who work with middle- and high-school students teaching alcohol education and making responsible decisions.

So far, at least one school board member says he is receptive to continue funding for alcohol and drug education, but that could change at budget time in June.

“My feeling is that if we can include athletic trainers in our budget, we can certainly include money for (prevention coordinators) whose work, in my opinion, is just as important as athletic trainers are,” said White House member Ted Wise.

Safe Schools, Healthy Students works year-round to reduce risk factors for young people by teaching drug and alcohol education beginning in kindergarten.

A survey recently completed by the Sumner County Anti Drug Coalition showed six percent of Sumner 12th-graders and 12 percent of 10th-graders reported having used prescription drugs without a doctor’s orders within 30 days in order to get high.

According to the survey, 17 percent of high school seniors surveyed reported binge drinking at least one or two times in the two-week period surveyed; another 7 percent of seniors reported binge drinking three to nine times; and 3 percent reported 10 or more occasions of binge drinking in the same two-week period

“If you can keep your kids from not using to the age of 21, it allows their brain to develop,” said Pat Conner, Sumner County Schools’ Safe Schools, Healthy Students coordinator. “If you can keep them from using until the age of 25, it greatly reduces their chances of becoming dependent.”

Conner says alcohol and drug use is not just a school problem – it's a community problem that’s brought into the schools.

“We do have a lot of students in our school system who are struggling emotionally,” she said. “Times are very difficult – families are stressed economically and some students have been displaced.”

Since August, the school system has seen 122 cases of child abuse, Conner said.

“That’s a serious sign of dysfunction in the community,” she said.

Organized in 2006 by former Criminal Court Clerk Judge Jane Wheatcraft, the coalition's goal is to crack down on the problem by asking everyone in the community to become involved and address the problem.

The coalition regularly teams with local law enforcement to hold events such as prescription drug drop-off nights throughout the county and regular compliance checks with area businesses to make sure they don’t sell alcohol to anyone underage.

Because the rate of illegal prescription drug use is rapidly increasing, the coalition wants the community to get the message to lock up their prescription drugs, and if they’re expired, get rid of them.
Teen years crucial for brain development

Parents who strictly monitor their teens' behavior while also modeling good behaviors are the most influential forces in preventing children from using drugs and alcohol.

But education and health officials say it’s also important for parents to understand how alcohol and drug use affects brain development in adolescents.

For many years it was thought that by the time children reached their teen years, brain development was complete, said Dr. Mary Romano, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

“The old belief was that a teenager is a mini-adult, but studies have shown that the adolescent’s brain continues to grow and change dramatically into the early 20s,” Romano said, pointing to a recent studies published the National Institute of Mental Health showing the frontal lobes of the brain, responsible for reasoning and problem-solving, develop last.

Further brain research reveals alcohol, tobacco and drug use during adolescence can interrupt this process, stunting the development of the brain and leading to lifelong problems, inability to cope, learning and memory problems, impulsiveness, problem-solving and planning skills, impulsiveness, anger management problems and immaturity.

The earlier teens drink, smoke or use drugs, the more likely they are to become addicts, Romano said.

“It’s the same theory as why you shouldn’t expose a fetus to drugs or alcohol in the womb,” Romano said.

“The brain is actively changing and growing rapidly in the teen years, and research has shown [drugs and alcohol] definitely have very negative effects in that development phase and sets them up for lifelong addiction.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crackdown on Boozing Problem

The Star UK

A community assembly in Sheffield is cracking down on alcohol misuse in its area as part of a national awareness week about the dangers of drinking.

The council's South East Community Assembly is using this week's Alcohol Awareness Week to tackle the issue, a huge cause of anti-social behaviour and health problems in the city.

Members will be carrying out checks on pubs and off-licences to make sure they are not selling to underage drinkers, conducting patrols to tackle young people boozing and carrying out education work with parents and youngsters in schools.

They will also look into introducing a designated public place order to give police additional powers to tackle street drinking in Woodhouse.

Assembly chairman Coun David Barker said: "We have come a long way in getting local people involved with combating alcohol abuse in their community. But there is still work to do in this area, and we hope this week will raise more awareness of what people can do if they need support."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Canada: Many School Suspensions linked to Alcohol, Drug Use

Times Colonist

There have been 54 suspensions handed out to students in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district so far this year, with 24 due to drug and/or alcohol offences in the district's high schools. The other major offences causing suspensions so far this year also include fighting (12) and assaults (five).

Superintendent Mike Munro said that while it's "not uncommon" for students to experiment with drugs and alcohol, they can be suspended for three to 10 days for a first offence, along with the possibility that the students and their families be referred to local social agencies for assistance or drug addiction treatment.

He said after three drug/alcohol offences within an 18-month period, students can be suspended for up to 20 days and are automatically referred to the district's disciplinary committee that deals with more serious incidents and committee members determine the next steps. After four offences, Munro said the district then has to determine if the student has medical issues and requires some sort of intervention. Students in this category are often referred to appropriate social agencies and their academic programs usually continue outside of regular school instruction.

However, Munro said for students who take alcohol and/or drugs to school with the purpose of selling, the penalties are much more severe.

"These students are trying to make money off the weaknesses of others and we take a very dim view of this," Munro said.

"Students under 16 who participate in these activities can be suspended for a full calendar year, with the matter also referred to the discipline committee, while those over 16 can be expelled. The police are often involved in these cases and charges can be brought forward, as has been the case in many instances over the years."

Munro said statistics around which of the district's high schools have the most drug/alcohol suspensions are not available, but in his experience they are typically spread out equally between all of them.

"There are other options and programs available to us rather than kicking these kids out of school or suspending them for long periods of time," he said. "The current policy has been in place for 15 years and it's now under review."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brain's Pleasure Chemical May Explain Men's Higher Alcoholism Rate

Bloomberg / BusinessWeek

Drinking-related dopamine release is greater in males, study finds

Differences in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine may help explain why men are up to twice as likely as women to develop alcoholism, a new study says.

Dopamine, which plays a number of roles in the brain, provides a feeling of pleasure when it's released by experiences such as having sex or taking drugs.

The study included male and female college-age volunteers who underwent brain scans after consuming an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. After consuming similar amounts of alcohol, men showed greater dopamine release than women. The increased release occurred in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation, according to the researchers, from Columbia and Yale universities.

Their findings were published in the Oct. 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"In men, increased dopamine release also had a stronger association with subjective positive effects of alcohol intoxication," Dr. Nina Urban, a study co-author, said in a news release from the journal's publisher. "This may contribute to the initial reinforcing properties of alcohol and the risk for habit formation."

The study also found that repeated heavy drinking episodes resulted in a decline in alcohol-induced dopamine release. This may be a factor in developing tolerance or becoming an alcoholic, the researchers said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Benefit of Alcohol: A Glass Half-Full

The Washington Post

People often justify their evening nightcap by pointing to alcohol's ability to protect the heart. But alcohol harms far more people than it helps. That's especially true for men, since they tend to drink more than women and are more likely to binge-drink.

The health benefits of alcohol come from moderate drinking, and most of the risks come from excessive consumption. So you may be tempted to say, "Alcohol may be bad for the population overall, but it's okay for me." While that may be generally true, there are exceptions.

Even moderate drinking can contribute to certain cancers, for example, so the risks may outweigh the benefits for people at high risk of those malignancies. And moderate drinking can cause more harm that good if it leads to excessive consumption.

The benefits

Moderate, regular drinking - generally no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men - raises HDL (good) cholesterol and cuts the risk of death from heart disease by about 25 percent. It may also help prevent Type 2 diabetes and ischemic strokes, the kind caused by blood clots.

The risks

Each drink may increase the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, liver, mouth and throat, and, in women, the breast. Alcohol can also contribute to birth defects, depression and hemorrhagic strokes, the kind caused by bleeding in the brain. Heavy drinking can harm the liver and heart as well as increase the risk of accidents, addiction and violence. So can binge drinking, which is defined as more than three drinks in any one day for women and more than four for men.

The balance

The benefits of moderate drinking appear to be highest among people at increased risk of heart disease, notably men about 40 or older and women about 50 or older. In younger people, the increased risk of accidents, cancer and violence may erase that benefit.

The bottom line

No one should start drinking because of alcohol's possible health benefits. Those with a known drinking problem or certain medical conditions, and those who take medications that interact with alcohol should avoid alcohol or restrict their intake. But current drinkers don't need to stop, if they truly have it under control.

To see if you do, ask yourself these questions:

l Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

l Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

l Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

l Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that if you answer "yes" to two or more of these questions, you most likely have a problem and should talk with a physician or consider a treatment program such as alcoholics anonymous.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Americans Drinking More Alcohol

Bloomberg / BusinessWeek

Among women, whites more likely than Hispanics, blacks to down 5 or more drinks a day, study finds

Alcohol consumption is on the rise in the United States due to a number of factors, including social, economic and ethnic influences and pressures, a new study has found.

Researchers analyzed national alcohol consumption patterns among people who took part in the 1991-1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey and the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Each survey included about 43,000 people.

Drinkers were defined as people who had consumed at least 12 drinks that contained at least 0.6 ounces of any kind of alcohol within the past year. The number of whites, Hispanics and blacks who reported drinking increased between 1992 and 2002.

Among women, whites were more likely than Hispanics or blacks to consume five or more drinks a day or drink to intoxication, said the UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers.

The study also found an increase in drinking five or more drinks per day among heavier drinkers, which suggests a potential polarization of drinking practices.

Males younger than 60 who did not have a college degree were likely to consume more drinks per month, and being unmarried or unemployed were risk factors for males getting intoxicated more than once a month, according to the report published online and in the October print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The findings suggest "that a variety of public-health policies such as restrictions on alcohol advertising, regulating high-alcohol-content beverages, increasing taxes on alcohol, as well as treatment and brief interventions may be needed to reduce alcohol-related problems," lead author Dr. Raul Caetano, dean of the UT Southwestern School of Health Professions, said in a medical center news release.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Northern Ireland to End Happy Hour?

BBC News
Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has said he wants to end happy hours and all-you-can-drink promotions in licensed premises.

Members of the public are to be asked their views on whether alcohol promotions should be banned.

An eight week consultation on the draft proposals begin on Monday.

In July, an independent report said excessive drinking was costing the public purse in Northern Ireland almost £700m a year.

Mr Attwood said:"My latest figure for the cost of alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland - health, social, legal, policing costs is close to £700m a year and in those circumstances, I think this is a proportionate, reasonable and necessary step to take.

"I think that when it comes to drink, people have to realise drinking in moderation is the principle and that there is responsibility upon government and myself as minister that where it becomes irresponsible, where it goes beyond what people would normally do, then that has to be outlawed.

"We have to do a lot more in bringing to the attention of parents, children and teachers and everybody else with any influence, the consequences and dangers of alcohol abuse."

Mr Attwood said a number of practices deemed "irresponsible alcohol sales" had been outlined in the consultation document.
'below cost'

He said these included happy hours, all-you-can-drink promotions, two drinks for the price of one, and people sitting in a "dentist's chair with a drink gun firing alcohol into their mouths".

Colin Neill, who is chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, the trade body which represents more than 70% of the licensed trade in Northern Ireland, said the proposals did not go far enough.

"Unfortunately I think the big problem is that the majority of this bill and the promotions they talk about are now uncommon, yet they still do happen and have to be stopped," he said.

"The biggest challenge is going to be that with 70% of alcohol drunk at home, although the bill says they are going to tackle on and off sales it still falls short of tackling the selling of alcohol below cost."

Mr Attwood said he had wanted to go further with the proposals but would not be able to "in the lifetime of this Assembly".

He said he hoped the next social development minister would "go further" and deal with the issue of licensees selling "below cost".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No Level of Alcohol is Safe during Pregnancy

North Jersey

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a wide range of physical and mental birth defects.

The term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) is used to describe the many problems associated with exposure to alcohol before birth.

Each year in the United States, up to 40,000 babies are born with FASDs .

Although many women are aware that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects, even light drinking may harm the fetus.

The fact is that no level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women do not drink any alcohol — including beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor — throughout their pregnancy and while nursing.

In addition, women who may be pregnant, or those who are attempting to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol.

When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes through the placenta to her fetus. In the fetus's immature body, alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in an adult's body.

Thus, the alcohol level of the baby's blood can be higher and remain elevated longer than that of the mother's blood, sometimes causing the baby to suffer lifelong damage.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause mild or severe FASDs. These can include mental retardation; learning, emotional and behavioral problems; and defects involving the heart, face and other organs.

The most severe of these effects is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a combination of physical and mental birth defects.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the entirely preventable cause of mental retardation and the risk for miscarriage and premature birth and stillbirth.

These babies are abnormally small at birth and usually do not catch up on growth as they get older.

They have characteristic facial features, including small eyes, a thin upper lip and smooth skin in place of the normal groove between the nose and upper lip. Their organs, especially the heart, may not form properly.

Many also have a small brain that is abnormally formed. Most have some degree of mental disability.

Many have poor coordination, a short attention span, and emotional and behavioral problems.

The effects of FAS and other FASDs last a lifetime.

Even if not mentally retarded, adolescents and adults with FAS and other FASDs are at risk for psychological and behavioral problems. They often find it difficult to keep a job and live independently.

The CDC estimates that about three times the number of babies born with FAS are born with some, but not all, of the features of FAS.

These FASDs are referred to as alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs) and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARNDs).

ARBD describes physical birth defects that can occur in many organ systems, including the heart, liver, kidneys, eyes, ears and bones.

The term ARND describes learning and behavioral problems associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol, which can include learning disabilities; poor attention span; memory and problem solving; speech and language delays; hyperactivity; psychological disorders and poor school performance. They do not have the characteristic facial features associated with FAS.

In general, ARBDs are more likely to result from drinking alcohol during the first trimester, when organs are forming rapidly.

Drinking at any stage of pregnancy can affect the brain, resulting in ARNDs, and can also affect growth.

Because there currently is no way to predict which babies will be damaged by alcohol, the safest course is not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy and to avoid heavy drinking during childbearing years — because about 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned.

All women who are considering becoming pregnant should stop drinking alcohol.

Heavy drinkers should avoid pregnancy until they believe they can abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy.

Frankly, if a woman can't stay away from alcohol once she knows she is pregnant, she may well have a drinking problem which must be addressed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is He an Alcoholic?

Daily Mirror

HE says it's under control. YOU know it's not. But a new book reveals how a little love can help him beat the bottle

Your partner staggers home worse for wear after a night out with colleagues several times a week ... but, then, socialising with co-workers and clients is vital to most people’s careers, isn’t it?

He always manages to upset friends, family and you when he’s tipsy ... and you hate the way he never seems to know when to stop when there’s alcohol around. But he’s not got a drink problem, has he?

If you’ve found yourself asking questions like this — and perhaps taken refuge in these same evasive, self-deceiving replies — you’re not alone.

The knock-on effect of the economic ­crisis has been a dramatic increase in drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, according to a recent NHS report, one in three men and one in six women can be classified as ‘hazardous’ drinkers.

Recent statistics suggest that in the UK, one in 13 people could be diagnosed as alcoholic with the knock-on effect that 3.7 million people are affected by parental alcoholism and one million by their ­partner’s alcoholism.

In a new book, Bottled Up, counsellor Lou Lewis (who lived with an alcoholic husband for 20 years, until his death from cancer in 2007) and her partner and co-author Dr John McMahon (himself a recovering alcoholic who gave up drinking in 1984 after a serious health scare) explain how you can pinpoint when a partner, friend or family member’s drinking is becoming a serious problem . . . and how you can tackle it.

Lewis and McMahon say there’s a very simple test to see if you need help. If you’re reading this, hoping the person you’re concerned about doesn’t catch you; if you’ve ever typed ‘Is my partner/friend an alcoholic’ into a search engine; if you can’t trust the person you care about to turn up to anything on time and sober, it’s likely alcohol is starting to take a hold.

For convenience, we’ll stick with calling the person you might be concerned about ‘he’ — but ‘he’ could be anyone. Women are catching men up in the alcohol dependency stakes.

You may be worried that you’re over-reacting. As ‘he’ no doubt keeps pointing out, there are times when he can drink and not get drunk. But you’re always on tenterhooks waiting for the next time he’s had one too many.

According to standard textbooks, someone can be categorised as an alcohol abuser if, in the past 12 months, one or more of the following has occurred:

    * His recurrent alcohol use has resulted in failure to fulfil major obligations at work, school or home.
    * The person has been drunk in physically hazardous situations, such as driving.
    * There’s been alcohol-related trouble with the law.
    * He’s continued his alcohol use despite recurrent social or personal problems (for example, physical fights).

His problem with alcohol is likely to be spiralling into alcohol dependence if three or more of the following criteria have been met in the past 12 months:

    * There’s a need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
    * The person drinking experiences ­withdrawal symptoms.
    * Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
    * There are unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
    * A great deal of time is spent in obtaining alcohol, using alcohol or recovering from its effects.
    * Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
    * Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the alcohol (for example, drinking despite having a stomach ulcer that has been made worse by alcohol).

So if the person you care about does fit these criteria, what can you do?

Well, remember the last conversation you had about the issue. It probably started because he was drunk again and you had suggested that he might have a problem.

He immediately became hurt and defensive, and denied any problem. He stormed off to nurse his wounded pride and you were left frustrated.

Lewis and McMahon devised their ­Bottled Up approach as a result of years of experience on both sides of alcohol abuse. It suggests that a gentle, positive attitude is always going to work better than bullying or browbeating.

You may feel like shouting, crying, pleading, pouring the booze down the sink — even threatening to walk out. But if you want your circumstances to change for the better (and Lewis and McMahon insist they can), it is time to learn some new behaviours and go against all your instincts.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back to School a Good Time to Talk with Teens about Drugs, Alcohol

Newark Advocate

Young people can worry tremendously about how they are perceived, especially by new people or in new situations. Typically, the start of a school year means your children will face plenty of both, making the back-to-school season prime time for negative peer pressure. Too often, that negative peer pressure might result in use of alcohol and drugs as a means to "fit in." It is also an unfortunate reality that our children are exposed to and are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age.

Every community faces these issues. How we chose to deal with them can have a significant impact on our individual lives and on our community as a whole.

So what does that mean for you and your family? First and foremost, you can educate yourself on the most commonly used drugs by kids -- including over-the-counter drugs and prescription medication you might have in your house. Take the time to talk with your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and to let them know you don't want them using drugs or alcohol. When parents and kids take the time to talk to each other, you will find out more about what's going on in their lives.

Communicating with other parents, grandparents, neighbors and school officials will also help create a network of people who share your values and goals. It also will reinforce to your kids this is a serious issue and more than just your family is involved.

Research shows kids who are not regularly monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs and alcohol. We all need to be involved.

The Community Mental Health and Recovery Board works each day to help support and promote resources to keep our children drug and alcohol free. Two recent examples of this support include a communitywide effort to reduce access to and abuse of prescription drugs by our youth and CMHRB's steadfast support and direct involvement in the "Our Futures" initiative.

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs misused by teens today is a serious problem. Medications include pain killers, cold medicines with dextromethorphan (DXM), among others. Kids are accessing these drugs in the comfort of their home; it can be as easy as opening a cupboard, drawer or medicine cabinet. The good news is there are steps you can take to help protect your kids from prescription drug abuse. Logon to www.Communty for links to videos and tips in keeping your medications safe from others.

The "Our Futures" initiative in Licking County is a coalition of stakeholders with diverse backgrounds have the common belief our community's youth are our future. Key community sectors involved are working together to implement research tested strategies for Licking County and its youth. The community can access additional information, including recent survey results at and evidenced-based strategies at www.

Finally, each September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month -- a time to recognize the efforts of treatment providers, promote the benefits of treatment and encourage individuals with substance abuse disorders to seek treatment and recovery. This year's theme is "Join the Voices for Recovery: Now More Than Ever!"

As the architect and supporter of community prevention and treatment services, CMHRB and its provider agencies work to assure community resources are available to help children and adults in Licking and Knox Counties.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Booze Tax Hikes May Reduce Alcohol-Related Problems

Bloomberg / BusinessWeek

Boosting taxes on alcohol leads to lower rates of alcohol-related disease, injury, death and crime, researchers say.

University of Florida investigators analyzed 50 published papers that estimated the health and social effects of alcohol taxes or prices. The study authors concluded that higher alcohol taxes have a greater impact than drinking prevention programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

The results of the meta-analysis suggest that doubling the average state tax on alcohol would result, on average, in a 35 percent reduction in alcohol-related deaths, an 11 percent reduction in traffic crash deaths, a 6 percent reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, a 2 percent reduction in violence and a 1.4 percent reduction in crime.

The study findings were released online Sept. 23 in advance of publication in the November print issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The findings "clearly show increasing the price of alcohol will result in significant reductions in many of the undesirable outcomes associated with drinking," lead author Alexander C. Wagenaar, a professor of health outcomes and policy at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Simply adjusting decades-old tax rates to account for inflation could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in law enforcement and health care costs," Wagenaar added.

In a previous study, the same team of researchers found that a 10 percent increase in alcohol price leads to a 5 percent reduction in alcohol consumption.

"Taken together, these two studies establish beyond any reasonable doubt that, as the price of alcohol goes up, alcohol consumption and the rates of adverse outcomes related to consumption go down," Wagenaar said.

"The strength of these findings suggests that tax increases may be the most effective way we have to prevent excessive drinking -- and also have drinkers pay more of their fair share for the damages caused and costs incurred," he concluded.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to public health.

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, Distilled Spirits Council Vice President Lisa Hawkins said: "Numerous studies, including research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, show that alcohol abusers are the least sensitive to tax increases. It is the moderate responsible consumer who cuts back the most when prices rise.

"According to scientific studies, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with the lowest all-cause mortality compared to non-drinkers. It makes no sense to penalize moderate drinkers to pay for the abuse of a few, particularly when raising taxes will not reduce problems associated with abuse. For example, according to government statistics, there is no relationship between alcohol excise tax rates and alcohol-related traffic fatalities," she said.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

SF Lawmakers Pass Alcohol Services Fee

Associated Press

San Francisco lawmakers on Tuesday approved a fee on alcohol distribution to help the city recover the cost of dealing with problem drinkers, but the measure faces a likely mayoral veto.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7-3 to impose the fee on liquor wholesalers, brew pubs and winemakers beginning Jan. 1. It needed eight votes, however, to survive a promised veto from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier recused herself from the vote because she and her husband own a wine business.

Under the proposal, the first of its kind in California, alcohol distributors would be charged 35 cents for every gallon of beer they sell, $1 for a gallon of wine and $3.20 for a gallon of hard liquor.

The city controller estimated it would bring in about $16 million a year for ambulance rides, arrests, treatment programs and other alcohol-related services.

"This is a response and action we can take as a board to really address the needs of our neighborhoods, our communities and people who are suffering from alcoholism in our city," Supervisor John Avalos, the law's sponsor, said.

Newsom, who got his start as an entrepreneur as the owner of a high-end wine store, said the fee would pose an unnecessary burden on businesses working to recover from the nation's economic recession.

"Pursuing this likely illegal new fee in this economic environment will impact thousands of businesses, cost jobs and put San Francisco at a competitive disadvantage with every other county in California," the mayor said.

Liquor industry representatives have said they would sue to overturn the fee if it is enacted.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thousands of American Pilots Treated for Alcohol Abuse

Malaysian News

At least 292 American pilots have attempted suicide in the past three years.

Another fifteen U.S. pilots have been diagnosed with, or been treated for, schizophrenia.

The shock figures have been revealed by the Boston Herald, quoting figures from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The news follows a serious incident at Boston's Logan International Airport in May when a distraught JetBlue pilot threatened to “harm himself in spectacular fashion” an hour before takeoff.

The Herald's Jessica Heslam's review of FAA medical records for 2008, 2009 and 2010, found that 2,700 pilots have been treated for alcohol abuse, and that nearly half of these have been diagnosed as alcoholics.

A similar number, 1,377 pilots, were found to be abusing drugs, while another ninety four were diagnosed as being drug-dependent.

23 pilots have been treated or diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, while another eighty have suffered major affective disorders, including bipolar disorder, and another two have been diagnosed with paranoia.

The Boston Herald article said the FAA was unable to confirm what number, if any, of the affected pilots had been grounded.

More than half-a-million pilots are certified medically fit to fly in the United States. “The FAA is committed to making sure our nation’s commercial and general aviation pilots are medically fit to fly,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown was quoted by the Boston Herald as saying. “We have rigorous medical standards and will not issue medical certificates if the pilot has a condition that would create an unsafe situation for the pilot or passengers.”

Pilots are required to undergo medical evaluations every year. Once they turn forty they are subjected to bi-annual tests.

If a pilot is determined to be an alocholic, he or she is disqualified from flying, and must go through an “extensive” medical re-certification process and post-rehabilitation follow-up program before they are recertified to fly, according to the FAA.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Liquor Initiatives Stir up old Dispute

Seattle Times

People who think the state should get out of the liquor business could push it out with two measures on the November ballot. One initiative goes even further, killing Prohibition-era regulations meant to keep alcohol relatively expensive and hard to get.

The battle is starting to look like it did in the 1930s, with free-market advocates fighting against people who view cheap, easily available alcohol as a precursor to increased abuse and violence.

"Both initiatives would make it more convenient to buy alcohol, and I think that's why consumers are so interested. They move in from California and other states, and they're going, 'Why can't I buy a bottle of liquor after 8 p.m.?' " said Jan Gee, president and chief executive of the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents independent, family-owned grocers. Washington has been among the strictest states in limiting access to alcohol, dating back to the end of Prohibition in the 1930s.

Privatize liquor sales

The two ballot measures — Initiative 1100, backed by Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale and other big retailers, and Initiative 1105, crafted by alcohol distributors — would privatize liquor sales in Washington state.

If either passes, the state would close its stores and distribution center.

Initiative 1100 would remove price regulations, allowing retailers to receive discounts based on the quantities of liquor they sell and buy alcohol on credit from manufacturers, practices that have been banned for more than 75 years.

It also would allow retailers to buy directly from manufacturers rather than going through distributors.

Costco has worked for years to try to make alcohol sales in Washington pencil out more like selling toilet paper, trying unsuccessfully in the Legislature and the courts to change the state liquor-control system.

Initiative 1105, the distributor's initiative, would allow retailers to have volume discounts on liquor, but not wine and beer. Under this measure, retailers would still have to buy alcohol through distributors.

Under both measures, the 5,200-plus stores that sell beer or wine in Washington could apply to sell liquor, dramatically raising the number of stores selling liquor from 315 now.

If both initiatives pass, differences can be resolved in the courts or by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, said David Ammons, a spokesman in the Secretary of State's Office.

Back to Prohibition

The debate is largely economic, but it also reaches deeply into the roots of the American West, when saloons were a divisive issue, seen as public-safety threats by some and engines of economic growth by others.

"For us, 'saloon' is just an old, classy word for a bar," said Dean Gerstein, vice provost and director of research at Claremont Graduate University in California and co-editor of the book "Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition."

Before Prohibition, he said, "for a lot of people, a saloon was a place where guys went to throw away their money so they could come home and beat up their wives, a place where criminal deals were done and people got knifed, and where prostitution was as much what the house did as drinking."

Washington was among 13 states that rebelled against saloons so strongly that they banned alcohol earlier than the nationwide ban in 1920, in Washington's case, six years earlier.

After Prohibition ended in 1933, Washington became one of 18 so-called control states that tried to squelch the profit motive by putting the government in charge of liquor distribution and sales.

It remains one of the most restricted states for alcohol sales, with liquor available only at state stores, most of which close by 9 p.m. Only one-third are open Sundays.

Washington also has markups, taxes and rules that keep prices high, and it bans advertising.

"The noble intent behind things like state liquor stores is so that people are not promoting alcohol like snake oil," Gerstein said.

Idea to limit access

Indeed, it is the rare liquor-store worker who pushes the latest tequila or touts the best scotch for your dollar.

"The system was set up to limit access," right down to the way liquor-store workers are paid, said Rick Garza, deputy director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

"If I give a person the same salary whether they sell one or five bottles, you're going to have what we have, a really high 'no-sale-to-minors' compliance rate," he said.

About 95 percent of the time, minors who try to buy liquor in state stores are turned away, Garza said. At grocery stores that sell beer and wine, stings show that minors are turned away 76 percent of the time.

That will change if one of the voter initiatives passes, said Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick.

"There will be 10 times as many places to buy hard liquor, and that's going to increase the chances of children buying liquor illegally," he said. "The word's going to get around. With every minimart out there selling liquor, they're going to try it."

He does not speak for the department but personally opposes Initiatives 1100 and 1105 because of problems with underage drinking, drunken driving and alcohol-related domestic violence.

The state has a conflict of interest in selling alcohol while also overseeing alcohol laws, said Ashley Bach, spokesman for the businesses behind Initiative 1100.

Over the past 75 years, "the notion of controlling consumption has been replaced with alcohol as an unlimited source of state revenue," he said, pointing out that only 80 of the liquor board's 1,200 employees work in enforcement.

Washington residents drink alcohol responsibly, Bach said, and "should be allowed reasonable access to it."

Per-capita consumption

It is impossible to know how alcohol consumption might change if liquor were available along with wine or beer.

Under the current system, per-capita consumption is about the same as in California, where there are 359 stores selling liquor for every million residents, compared with 48 stores per million in Washington.

That does not mean Washington consumption would remain steady if the number of stores rose, said Jim Cooper, vice president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

"If we're selling liquor until 2 a.m., to me there's a natural jump to an increase in crime, violence and automobile deaths, especially in the wee hours of the morning," Cooper said.

He also likes Washington's high prices, which studies show deter alcohol abuse.

The World Health Organization said last year that increasing alcohol prices can reduce alcohol abuse. Even heavy drinkers are sensitive to price changes, it said.

And that is one thing all sides agree on with the new initiatives: They would mean lower prices for consumers, especially on liquor.

As an example, Costco said a 1.75 liter bottle of Maker's Mark Bourbon costs $61.95 at a state liquor store in Issaquah. In Stockton, Calif., Costco charges $33.99 for the same bottle.

A bottle of Absolut Vodka at a state liquor store is $42.95. In Stockton, it's $22.99.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Decriminalize Heroin and Cocaine, says top U.K. Doctor

The Star

A debate over the decriminalization of heroin and cocaine has erupted again in Great Britain after a private statement by the one-time head of the Royal College of Physicians was leaked to a drug-reform campaign group and the media.

Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, made the statement about his feelings on the country’s drug policies in a private bulletin to the members of the college.

In it he called for a change in tactics, decriminalizing illicit drug use and treating addiction as a health problem not a criminal problem.

The two-line statement, which was leaked to Transform, a drug-reform campaign group, was private, Gilmore said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Star. But he was “happy” to defend it.

“My position is since 1971 successive governments have pursued a policy that we should be a society free of hard drugs, stop them from getting into the country and prevent growth in production and if people use them put them in prison,” said Gilmore.

“My point is that it has not succeeded and it is time to have a debate about a more pragmatic approach and treat heroin addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal problem.”

Gilmore made the statement after a recent analysis in the British Medical Journal that convinced him the country’s drug policy for Class A drugs such as heroin had failed, he said.

The editorial said the prohibition of drugs was “counterproductive,” made public-health problems worse, and stimulated organized crime and terrorism.

His call for a re-thinking of the drug laws in Great Britain comes on the heels of comments made by the chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, who said last month it was “rational” to consider “decriminalizing personal drug use.”

Gilmore believes that more money should be put into medical resources to deal with heroin addiction, for example, rather than spending money on trying to stop the production or importing of drugs.

He also made the point in his statement that in the United Kingdom there have been a number of encouraging trials with heroin addicts that resulted in those individuals returning to work because they were no longer committed to criminal behaviour to support their habit.

As a physician he has seen all too clearly the medical complications – HIV and hepatitis C – that come from heroin addiction and the use of dirty needles, he said. “I’m not suggesting anyone go down to the street corner and buy heroin.”

Rather he would like to see a regulatory framework set up to allow these drugs to be controlled by law. “It’s not a radical approach,” he said. “Many others have said it.”

Many British politicians and opposition members have expressed that view privately, Gilmore said. But there are huge pressures on government to adopt and continue a tough-on-drugs policy.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, has said in the Telegraph that the legalization of drugs “would simply create the mistaken impression that these substances are not harmful, when in fact this is far from the truth.”

But Gilmore rejects the position that his position sends a message that Class A drugs aren’t dangerous. “That’s not our intention,” he said. “Heroin ruins lives, he said. “If there was a change in the way addiction was managed, it would also have to come with an information campaign.”

In 2000 a Royal College of Physicians report, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said there were no easy answers to the problem of drug misuse in society.

At the time the report said “three-quarters of the U.K.’s expenditure on drug-related problems is devoted to enforcement and international supply reduction, but that there is little evidence that the money is well spent,” according to a statement on the Royal College of Physicians website.

The report also identified a need for more investment in research to understand the ill-effects of drugs and in-treatment programs for addiction. The authors called for a public debate on the issue.

In a statement the Royal College of Physicians said it plans to review the findings of the report with the Royal College of Psychiatrists under the leadership of its new president.

Gilmore’s statement has been praised by Transform, saying his statement was the “nail in the coffin” on current drug laws in Britain, the Telegraph said.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Witness: Doctor Kept Secret Medical Files on Smith

Associated Press

Prosecutors showed jurors their most explosive evidence against Anna Nicole Smith's doctor Thursday — journal entries in which he writes of partying with her during a gay pride parade and wonders, "Can she ruin me?"

The journals, identified by investigators who found them in Dr. Sandeep Kapoor's desk in his bedroom, also showed that Kapoor was addicted to the sleeping medication Ambien in the years just before he took over Smith's treatment.

"Hung over. Gay pride parade," begins the entry from June 13, 2005. "Rode in parade with Anna Nicole."

He wrote of crowds gathering around her limousine while six police officers were keeping back the paparazzi.

He writes of drinking expensive champagne with Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, in the limousine. "It was mesmerizing, watching the crowd wave at us, Anna and me all buffed out on the car," the entry says.

Then there was the party at a club, he wrote: "Drinks, booze, orgy. I was making out with Anna, my patient, blurring the lines. I gave her Valium and Methodone. Can she ruin me?"

Kapoor, Stern and Dr Khristine Eroshevich have pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiring to provide Smith with excessive drugs, prescribing to an addict, and prescribing to Smith under fraudulent names.

They are not charged with causing her 2007 death from a drug overdose.

On cross-examination Thursday, Kapoor's lawyer, Ellyn Garafalo, elicited testimony from California Medical Board Senior Investigator Jon Genens that the hand written journals comprised 800 pages and only the two pages cited in court mentioned Smith.

On Wednesday, Dr. Victor Kovner, who sold his practice to Kapoor, told of warning him not to socialize with celebrities.

Carmen Aguillera Marquez, a senior investigator for the California Medical Board, testified that she found the journals in four composition books in Kapoor's bedroom desk shortly after finding a file of Smith's medical records hidden under a pile of clothing in the doctor's closet.

She said she turned the materials over to Genens, the leader of the 10-member law enforcement team which entered Kapoor's home with a search warrant and with guns drawn seven months after Smith died of a drug overdose in February, 2007.

Genens testified that earlier journal entries detailed the doctor's Ambien addiction.

"I didn't sleep much last night," says an entry from May 28, 2001. "I didn't have Ambien which I am now addicted to."

Nearly a year later, he wrote, "I'm addicted to Ambien. I've got to get off it."

Genens said the last entry regarding Ambien addiction was in December 2003. Kapoor began treating Smith in April, 2004. Some of her medical charts have shown she took Ambien.

Garafalo noted that the last entry about Ambien was more than three years before Kapoor wrote a prescriptions for Ambien to Stern. Genens agreed.

Genens and Marquez said Kapoor told them he did not have any patient files at home. But when she poked her hand into a pile of neatly folded clothing on the floor of his bedroom closet, she said, she felt papers and extracted a file folder with Smith's name inside, along with one of her pseudonyms and the name of her son.

Genens testified that three different files were found — two in the home and one in Garafalo's office — detailing a single home visit made to Smith a year before she died. One of them mentioned that she had a possible opiate addiction, he said.

With the medical records displayed on a courtroom screen in Los Angeles, Genens noted that one had the notation: "benzo addicted? To avoid." The apparent reference to addiction to sedatives known as benzodiazopines was missing from the second set of files for the same day, he said.

Superior Court Judge Robert Perry warned jurors repeatedly Thursday that the investigators' testimony is being offered only against Kapoor.

In a hearing Thursday outside the jury's presence, Perry questioned the relevance of the documents and Deputy District Attorney David Barkhurst said, "Our contention is Dr. Kapoor was creating those records after the visit for some nefarious reason."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prepping Parents for Straight Talk on Drugs and Alcohol

Oak Park Journal

Talking to their teens about drugs can be difficult for some parents. Starting next month, parents in Oak Park and River Forest will receive some help to make those conversations a little easier for them and their kids.

The first in an ongoing series of "parent cafes" will launch in September. The cafes are among the ideas that sprouted from the drug and alcohol abuse forums held over the summer and hosted by the Citizens' Council at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville.

The cafes are for parents to get together and talk about substance abuse issues, said Lisa Lowry, an OPRF parent and a licensed social worker. She's coordinating the parent groups. She described the cafes as a 'how-to' dialogue for parents.

Volunteers have been training in recent weeks to facilitate the groups. Lowry, a parent of two OPRF students, said the dates are still to be determined as well as venues. The first series of caf├ęs will be in a public venue, and the hope, Lowry said, is for parents to host smaller groups themselves at their homes or other places.

"This is really meant to promote better parent and teen dialogue around those issues, which are tough issues to talk about," she said. "We want to empower parents to not feel helpless."

The cafes will address related issues, such as school policies concerning drugs and alcohol. The public sessions will take place in churches, the libraries and other venues interested in hosting. Another goal, said Mimi Skapek, of the Citizens' Council, is to maintain the momentum that started with the substance abuse forum at OPRF in May.

That event drew roughly 400 people to hear speakers discuss the drug and alcohol problem among many middle school and high school aged students in the community. The Citizens' Council, an OPRF-school board approved group of parents and non-parents, launched their anti-drug effort earlier this year. The members wanted to do something about the problem after hearing from school officials at their February meeting about student drug use.

The council hosted a public roundtable discussion in June as a follow-up to the drug forum. That event drew about 100 people, all brainstorming for solutions. Ideas included closing the campus to all students during lunchtime, hiring more campus drug counselors, and finding ways for parents to communicate more effectively. Several people volunteered to join action teams following the roundtable, hoping to turn those ideas into action plans.

"This is about continuing that conversation that started after the forum," Skapek said of the parent cafes. "The parents are really leading this. They want to see this happen."

Skapek added that the cafes are just one solution the parents are working on. Lowry and two other parents are leading action teams focusing on initiatives to address the high school and middle schools. Other teams are working on solutions that include the Oak Park Township and local law enforcement.

Lowry is not a member of the council but volunteered to be an action team leader after attending the spring forums. Lowry, however, said she's been concerned about the substance abuse problem at OPRF for at least the last decade. She also is not a clinical drug counselor but works with kids dealing with such issues as attention deficit disorder. But some of those kids have had substance abuse problems, Lowry said - and most of those clients were from Oak Park and River Forest.

"I've been frustrated for a lot of years and I'm very energized that people seem more ready for a public conversation," Lowry said. "OPRF is a great school doing a lot of great things, but this one aspect just needs to be dealt with."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Suicides, Violence and Drug Abuse Mark the Strains of an Endless War

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On average, one U.S. soldier killed himself each day last month. That is the highest single-month suicide total reported by the U.S. Army since the Vietnam War ended more than 35 years ago.

It's also a symptom of a much larger problem.

The physical and emotional burden of fighting simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has fallen disproportionately on too few American families. After nine years, the strain of near-constant deployment and redeployment is obvious.

Last year, for the first time in decades, the Army's suicide rate exceeded that of similar-age civilians. Six Missouri Army National Guard soldiers have committed suicide so far this year.

As for last month's toll, the 32 Army suicides mean that about as many U.S. soldiers died by their own hands as in combat in Afghanistan.

And that's only part of the story.

The grim statistics don't count veterans who already have returned home and separated from the service. Nor do they count Marines, sailors or airmen.

In 2008, an influential RAND Corp. report estimated that at least 300,000 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress or major depression. That's roughly one in every five. People with such illnesses are at increased risk of suicide or violent behavior.

Military officials also are reporting high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Divorce rates are up. So are rates of domestic violence and crime.

All of this has occurred even as the military has made a major effort to increase counseling for returning troops and to address the psychological needs of combat veterans.

But warrior culture, military culture, does not lend itself to such things.

The ideal is, and always will be, the tough soldier who ignores physical and emotional injuries as he presses ahead with his mission.

Faced with an entrenched enemy, military commanders of the 18th century often recruited what was called a "forlorn hope" to lead the assault. Think of it as a suicide squad.

The members of the squad went in first, fighting until victory was achieved or reinforcements arrived.

When you think about it, that's a little like how the all-volunteer military works. Except that instead of sending them once into the breech, we've sent them three and four and five and six times.

Now we must be the reinforcements.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the Armed Services Committee, wants to allow service members to receive confidential counseling. That's an important step that would allow some troubled service members to talk about their problems without sacrificing their careers.

Ms. McCaskill also is supporting legislation that would allow therapists to be embedded with National Guard units so that they would be available to anyone who needs help in the combat zone.

The military and the VA are facing shortages of psychiatrists and therapists, but so are civilian health care providers. Those shortages must be addressed as part of a national physician work force development policy.

But that's going to take time; the problem for returning service men and women is acute now. All indications are that it will remain acute for the foreseeable future - long after the shooting stops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We sent those young people into harm's way. We have a moral obligation to address the physical and mental problems their service created.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Protein Regulator Shows Promise Against Addiction

US News & World Report

Little things can make a big difference in the brain. Case in point: A tiny snippet of RNA may help guard cocaine-using rats against addiction to the drug, a new study shows.

The minuscule molecular guard is a hairpin-shaped piece of RNA known as a microRNA. Raising levels of a microRNA called miR-212 in the brains of cocaine-using rats led the animals to take less of the drug than rats with normal microRNA levels, researchers report in the July 8 Nature. Similarly, blocking the microRNA’s action increased the rats’ cocaine use.

If the results hold true in people, researchers may be able to develop new therapies for treating addiction to cocaine and other drugs of abuse. “Once you get out of whack, this is something that might help bring you back,” says Yale neuroscientist Marina Picciotto, who was not involved in the study.

It’s unlikely that the research will lead to gene therapy to raise levels of microRNAs in people’s brains. But small-molecule drugs that mimic the microRNA’s action might be helpful.

Just 21 to 23 RNA units long, microRNAs are major regulatory molecules that govern part of the process by which instructions contained in DNA are transformed into proteins. The molecules generally block protein production. So it was a surprise to find levels of a protein called CREB increase with rising levels of miR-212, says Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Fla.

CREB has been found to help fight addiction by decreasing the rewarding experience of taking cocaine, sometimes to the point that rats actually develop an aversion to the drug. It took Kenny and his colleagues years to work out exactly how cocaine use boosts miR-212 production and how the microRNA, in turn, increases production of CREB protein. The process involves several steps and intermediate proteins, including a protein called Raf1 that had never before been shown to be involved in the response to drugs.

The miR-212 microRNA blocks an inhibitor of Raf1 in the striatum, a part of the brain involved in learning habits like driving a car and learning to avoid making the same mistake twice. With its inhibitor in check, Raf1 is free to stimulate CREB production, Kenny and his colleagues show in the new study.

Protecting against cocaine addiction may be a side benefit of mir-212’s normal job of regulating CREB production and other biochemical processes in the brain, Kenny says. The microRNA helps set the correct level of CREB production to keep it from getting too low, which leads to addiction and anxiety, or too high, which leads to depression.

Any therapy targeting CREB would have to strike this delicate balance as well, he says. “Obviously there could be some very profound side effects,” Kenny says.

The researchers are investigating how mir-212 is regulated and whether it is protective against other drugs, such as nicotine and alcohol addiction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pat O'Brien to Address Alcoholism and "Unfortunate Scandal" in Memoir

Seattle Post

Former Access Hollywood and The Insider anchor Pat O'Brien intends to write a tell-all detailing his struggle with alcohol addiction and his "unfortunate scandal," in which he left slurred sexually graphic voicemail messages on a woman's phone, he tells the New York Post.

O'Brien, who will co-write the memoir — tentatively titled I Love Your Work — with biographer Andrew Morton, will also address his 2004 divorce from his wife, Linda, which occurred a year before his voicemails leaked.

In the voicemails, O'Brien asked an unidentified woman to join him for drugs and sex. He subsequently entered drug rehab before returning to The Insider. He did another stint in rehab in March 2008 and six months later was fired from The Insider after writing e-mails to co-workers that insulted co-host Lara Spencer.

"I was not in total recovery or in alcoholics anonymous at the time. I was still messed up," O'Brien, 62, told the Post's Page Six.

O'Brien, who says he's been sober for more than 600 days, is considering a multiyear radio deal.

I Love Your Work is scheduled to hit shelves from St. Martin's Press in fall 2011.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teen Girls Becoming More Open to Drugs, Alcohol

Business Week

American teenage girls may be more receptive to using alcohol and taking drugs than in years past, a new report says.

Girls appear more inclined than ever to reach for drugs and booze to help them emotionally, according to a survey by the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug Free America. For example, the 2009 survey of high school students found 53 percent of girls agreeing with the notion that drugs "help you forget your troubles," up from 48 percent in 2008.

The survey, which examines changes in substance use and attitudes, found the use of alcohol and marijuana jumped considerably more among girls than boys between 2008-2009.

Also, fewer teen girls than a year earlier frowned on illegal drug use by their friends, and fewer considered the "party" drug ecstasy addictive, the study found.

"There's been a change in the culture," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City. He was not involved with the study.

"Women previously had more constrained roles in terms of the propriety of indulging in behaviors such as public intoxication and the like. Now with women in the workforce and becoming more liberated, they are not so constrained," he said.

According to the research, supported by the MetLife Foundation, use of alcohol by girls increased 11 percent but not significantly among boys. However, while more girls (59 percent) than boys (52 percent) drink alcohol, boys still use more illegal drugs than girls do.

Among the nearly 3,300 teens from private, public and parochial high schools included in the survey, 81 percent of girls reported seeing drugs as a way to handle school stress, versus 75 percent of boys.

"It's really another sign of a changing landscape in America," said Steve Pasierb, the Partnership's president and CEO. "Drug use has become tactical ... kids say 'I'm doing this to manage my life, to escape the pressures in school, to deal with stress.'"

The study cited previous research finding three times as many girls as boys reporting depression in 2008. Parents should be especially attentive to their daughters' moods and worries, Pasierb said.

The changes occurring now may "have a big impact on strategies and prevention efforts that will need to be taken," Galanter added.

Pasierb believes that drug use is rising, in part, because schools have fallen down on drug education as a result of budget cuts and a focus on testing.

Also, he said parents have not been keeping up with shifts in teens' attitudes.

Many parents may view things through the memories of their own youth when teens experimented with drugs, "maybe got drunk on occasion, but basically grew up and turned out okay," said Pasierb.

Today's teens who end up in drug and alcohol rehab centers are not just the slacker teens, but also the "over-programmed teens -- straight-A students who are driven," said Pasierb. This highly motivated group says, "I'm going to get into Yale, but I'm going to need a little Ritalin, and maybe get drunk once in awhile," he noted.

Drug use now stems more from a pursuit of life-management strategies rather than the rebelliousness of the past, he added.

Prescription drug abuse is also a serious problem, Pasierb said. One out of five teens admits using prescription drugs not prescribed for them, with the family medical cabinet the most likely source, he added.

According to the research, use of the drug ecstasy rose for both boys (7 to 11 percent) and girls (5 to 8 percent. Recreational use was cited by 41 percent of boys, compared to 32 percent of girls.

Marijuana use increased during the same period for boys (34 to 39 percent) and for girls (28 to 36 percent).

The percentage of girls who thought ecstasy was addictive declined from 82 to 77 percent compared with a 2 percent decline in boys (70 to 68 percent).

Only 33 percent of teen girls said they don't want to hang around drug users - a drop from 38 percent in 2008.

To head off drug abuse, Galanter said parents need to foster an "open relationship with their kids, to talk with them and find out what they're doing" because kids whose parents talk to them about drug use are more likely to resist it.

For parents reluctant to discuss the issue, the Partnership's Web site offers tools and information to help parents talk to their teens, said Pasierb.

He offered this advice to parents: "Don't write it (drug use) off as a youthful indiscretion. We know that parents can have a big impact and that the earlier the intervention, the better the results."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Galveston Beachcomber Finds $2M worth of Cocaine

Houston Chronicle

A woman out for a morning stroll on Galveston's East Beach stumbled onto a washed-up bag with 16 bricks of cocaine worth an estimated $2.1 million, police said Tuesday.

The woman, whose name was not in the police report, was walking on the beach near the Beachtown subdivision when she saw a backpack rolling in the surf about 11 a.m. on May 22, Galveston police spokesman Jeff Heyse said.

She used her cell phone to call police, who discovered a black bag containing the cocaine bricks that weighed a total of 37 pounds 2 ounces. Each brick was marked with bar codes and wrapped in a rubber sheet, a large balloon and another plastic layer, Heyse said.

“There were barnacles growing on the bag so you know it was probably in the water a long time,” he said. He said the bricks were so wrapped so well that only four of the bricks had been contaminated by seawater.

The bag contained the first large quantity of drugs washed up on Galveston beaches in at least a decade Heyse said.

No one knows how or where the drugs got in the water, but typically they are thrown overboard when law enforcement attempts to board a smuggler's vessel, he said.

Occasionally drugs wash ashore and the police keep quiet about it in hopes of finding the owner, Heyse said. “Unfortunately there was nothing in the bag that would lead them anywhere,” he said.

Although the amount found was large, it amounts to a fraction of the cocaine brought into the United States, Heyse said. Heyse recalled an entire ship loaded with cocaine being seized several years ago.

Dealers typically dilute the cocaine with baby formula or some other odorless, flavorless material, he said.

The 37 pounds would probably have been turned into 100 pounds of street product, Heyse said, or processed into highly addictive crack cocaine in home laboratories.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

David Lewis, 54, Dies

The Washington Post

Ex-convict pioneered Drug Rehab programs known nationwide

David Lewis, 54, an ex-convict turned social activist who co-founded a substance abuse treatment and prisoner rehabilitation program that gained national recognition, died June 9 of a bullet wound to the abdomen, said his mother, Cora. Mr. Lewis was shot outside a mall in San Mateo, Calif., in what police are calling a targeted attack.

Mr. Lewis started Free at Last in East Palo Alto, Calif., with a Stanford University student in 1992. The organization helps more than 4,200 people annually and has become a model of community-based treatment, said Lara Galinksy of Echoing Green, a nonprofit group that provided seed money to Free at Last.

Born Nov. 23, 1955, in San Francisco, Mr. Lewis was a high school dropout in East Palo Alto who became involved in gangs and drugs. A victim of heroin addiction at 15, he was in prison at 19 and spent most of the next 17 years behind bars.

He was serving time in San Quentin State Prison when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. He felt powerless and "vowed to never feel powerless again," Mr. Lewis told the Sacramento Observer in 2003.

Released from prison shortly after the quake, he eventually entered a California drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and joined a black men's support group, Circle of Recovery, that was featured in the 1991 Bill Moyers documentary of the same name.

Mr. Lewis co-founded Free at Last the same year that East Palo Alto recorded the highest murder rate in the nation. The program has been credited with greatly reducing area crime.

He also pioneered a program aimed at East Palo Alto residents who are returning to the community from prison. Run by the local police department, it provides life-skills training and temporary jobs with the California Department of Transportation.

More recently, Mr. Lewis had been working with Pasadena police officials to set up a similar program and had completed projects with New York correctional systems and Michigan drug rehab programs.

In 1994, he received the California Wellness Foundation's Peace Prize for his efforts to treat violence as a preventable health issue.

In addition to his mother, Mr. Lewis is survived by three children and three grandchildren.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Prescription Abuse Sending as Many to ER as Illegal Drugs

Associated Press

For the first time, abuse of painkillers and other medication is sending as many people to the emergency room as the use of illegal drugs.

In 2008, ERS saw an estimated 1 million visits from people abusing prescription or over-the-counter medicines — mostly painkillers and sedatives. That was about the same number of visits from those overdosing on heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs, according to a government report released Thursday.

Only five years earlier, illegal drug visits outnumbered those from legal medications by a 2-to-1 margin.

In other words, the number of ER visits from medication abuse doubled, said Peter Delany of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"It's a pretty startling jump," Delany said. He led a team that worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the report.

Painkillers and sedatives clearly drove the trend. ER visits for the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone more than doubled from 2004 to 2008. And cases from one kind of tranquilizer nearly doubled.

The estimates are based on emergency room data from more than 200 U.S. hospitals. Many of the cases may be overdoses, but some may come from mixing drugs or combining them with alcohol, Delany said.

Health officials are not sure why painkiller abuse rose so dramatically. But the number of prescriptions has been increasing, so some of those who ended up in ERs may have gotten their medicine legally.

The authors did not estimate how many of the ER patients died. A CDC report last year found that the rate of drug-related deaths roughly doubled from the late 1990s to 2006, and most of the increase was attributed to prescription opiates such as the painkillers methadone, Oxycontin and Vicodin addiction.

"The abuse of prescription drugs is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement.

The use of painkillers has grown in recent years as doctors tried to correct the traditional undertreatment of pain, and pharmaceutical companies ramped up marketing of new pain medications.

But many doctors and patients don't fully recognize the medications' dangers, said Susan Foster, a vice president at Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

"People believe they're safer because they're prescribed by doctors and approved by the FDA," she said.

The report is being published this week in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prescription Heroin Helps Addicts off Street Drugs

Prescribing heroin to addicts who can't kick their habit helps them stay off street drugs, British researchers said Friday.

So far, doctors have had little hope of treating the 10 percent or more of heroin users who don't respond to methadone, the standard anti-addiction medication. Fueled by drug cravings, those users often spiral downward into crime and diseases spread by dirty needles and unhealthy living.

Short of actually getting addicts off the drug, "heroin clinics" can at least get them off the streets.

"What we are dealing with here is a very severe group of heroin addicts, where all of the treatments have been tried and have failed," said Dr. John Strang, an addiction expert at King's College London, who led the new study.

"They are like oil tankers heading for disaster," he added. "The question we were asking was, 'Can we change the trajectory of these tankers?' And the answer was, 'Yes we can.'"

To test how prescription heroin would work for this group, Strang and his colleagues invited 127 addicts into supervised injecting clinics. The researchers then randomly chose who would get heroin, injected methadone or typical swallowed methadone.

After six months, 101 addicts had stuck with their treatment. More than two-thirds of those on heroin had no sign of street heroin in their urine at least half the time they were tested; before the study, they had been using the street drug almost every day.

In comparison, less than a third of the addicts on either type of methadone had a similar number of "clean" tests.

At this point, said Strang, several users have continued in the program for more than two years. He did not have exact numbers, but told Reuters Health that some had been able to get jobs and reconnect with their families.

"These sorts of changes are typical of what we are seeing," he said. "People are not only physically getting better, but they're getting back into society."

The researchers had to treat about two addicts for each one who get off of street drugs at least half of the time.

An estimated 3.7 million people in the US have used heroin at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Of current users, studies suggest that some 200,000 spend time in jails each year.

The most common drug treatment for heroin users is methadone, a synthetic drug related to heroin. Although methadone decreases the cravings for its chemical cousin, it doesn't produce the same high, according to experts. This could help explain why a substantial proportion of addicts in treatment backslide.

Before the new study, a handful of other reports had indicated that prescription heroin could help these people. But the scientific community wasn't completely convinced, in part because earlier urine tests weren't very sophisticated.

"What this study did is that it used a very novel urine test that can differentiate between street heroin and prescription heroin," said Thomas Kerr, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Street heroin contains papaverine, a remnant of the opium poppy that can be detected in the urine.

Now, he said, "the evidence is quite clear that there is a place for prescription heroin for the treatment of individuals who do not respond to methadone."

Only a few European countries prescribe heroin to addicts, and in the US this practice has been illegal since before World War I.

Many argue that giving addicts more of the substance they abuse makes little sense, and would be like treating an alcoholic with whiskey.

But Kerr said that analogy wasn't apt. "I would argue it's completely immoral and unethical to fail to treat those individuals and to allow them to suffer and allow the community around them to suffer," Kerr said.

Strang said he supported the UK Government's 2008 Drug Strategy, which proposes rolling out prescription heroin.

"Now that we know that it works, we have to debate whether or not we should use it," he said.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

WHO to Tackle Binge Drinking

Health ministers adopt global strategy at WHO meeting;  Recommend higher taxes and marketing regulations

Health ministers agreed on Thursday to try to curb binge drinking and other growing forms of excessive alcohol use through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations.

The global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol was adopted by consensus at the annual assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Its 10 main policy recommendations, drawn up after two years of negotiation, are not binding but serve as guidance to WHO's 193 member states.

"Alcohol contributes to accidents, mental health problems, social problems and harms third parties," said Bernt Bull, a senior advisor in Norway's health ministry. Nordic countries, many of which already have tight restrictions on alcohol sales, spearheaded the initiative at the United Nations agency.

A relatively high excise tax on alcoholic beverages and regulations limiting their availability was helping to reduce alcohol-related diseases in Norway, he said.

The WHO estimates that risks linked to alcohol cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and various cancers -- 3.8 percent of all deaths. It is the third leading risk factor for premature deaths and disabilities worldwide.

"Alcohol is usually not perceived as a killer, though it is," Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department of mental health and substance abuse, told a news briefing.

Despite growing abuse and youth drinking at an earlier age in many countries, half of WHO members do not have a national alcohol policy, according to WHO expert Vladimir Poznyak.

"The biggest changes might happen in those countries which have no alcohol control institutions or regulatory framework for alcohol consumption," he told reporters.


The Global Alcohol Producers Group noted the strategy recognised the importance of self-regulation by industry in helping to address alcohol abuse.

Its members recognised "the harmful effects of irresponsible drinking patterns" and would continue efforts to promote self-regulation of advertising as well as curbs on drink driving and illegal underage and excessive drinking, a statement said.

Britain's Diageo (DGE.L), the world's largest alcoholic drinks group, and Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world's largest brewer and maker of Budweiser, are among its members.

In a separate statement, brewing giant SABMiller (SAB.L) gave a cautious welcome to the plan, but warned:

"SABMiller is unconvinced there is sufficient evidence to support policy options such as minimum pricing and high excise taxes that may result in unintended, negative public health consequences which stem from the growth of the illicit alcohol market."

The WTO strategy document says the harmful use of alcohol has a serious effect on public health and is one of the main risk factors for poor health globally.

There is strong evidence that a low limit for blood alcohol concentration (0.02 to 0.05 percent) is effective in reducing drink-driving casualties, it says.

It underlined the importance of a legal framework for restricting the sale and serving of alcohol, a minimum age for buying drinks and "mandated health warnings" on alcohol labels.

Setting a minimum price per unit gram of alcohol has been shown to reduce consumption and alcohol-related harm, it said.

But overly tight restrictions on alcohol availability may promote the development of a parallel illicit market, it warned.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance -- a coalition of medical professionals, researchers and non-governmental organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous -- welcomed the WHO decision as historic and "long overdue".

"The strategy highlights the effectiveness of focusing on policies regarding pricing, availability and marketing of alcohol," it said in statement.