The modern views of addiction

Drugs and addiction are now viewed a lot differently than they used to be. The idea of substance abuse and its consequences used to only be mentioned behind closed doors. Today, discussing the topics of the legalization of marijuana and admission to an addiction treatment center is becoming the norm in society, the Economic Voice stated.

The legalization of marijuana

The controversy surrounding marijuana legalization is immense. Some believe the drug is harmless, while others feel that it has great consequences and may lead to other forms of substance abuse. Yet fighting drug sales only worsens problems and can increase sales along the border with Mexico.

Drug use is also prevalent in many U.S. prisons and internationally. Charging criminals with drug use is only making matters worse. People battling addiction who are imprisoned cannot seek rehabilitation treatment or be educated on the dangers of substance abuse.

Some states have pushed for the legalization of marijuana, such as Colorado. Yet the federal government is still against it, making for a very interesting battle.

The views on people facing addiction

Drug addiction views have also changed in today’s world. There are still many stigmas against addiction. However, thanks to a plethora of studies on addiction, the concept is now becoming more accepted as a disease. The American Society of Addiction Medicine released its thoughts on addiction, stating it is a neurological disorder, The Fix reported. The statement has caused a lot of controversy, with some claiming the organization is making excuses for those facing addiction.

Many are beginning to view substance abuse and addiction as less of a criminal issue and more of a societal issue. This means people are turning the focus away from imprisonment and toward addiction treatment centers.

The concept of addiction treatment centers

Addiction treatment centers are becoming prevalent throughout the Western regions and in other parts of the world. According to a report from the Treatment Episode Data Set, 23.5 million people were admitted to a treatment facility in 2007. One of the main reasons for the acceptance of these facilities is the elimination of myths that surround addiction and rehabilitation treatment. Some of the most common myths are that people cannot seek treatment until they have reached “rock bottom” or that people who admit to a drug addiction are immoral and powerless.

For now, this is how addiction is most commonly viewed. Only future research and statistics can allow society to open up their eyes and change their views.

Study examines differences between marijuana and alcohol use in teens

A new study compared the risks associated with teen alcohol use and teen marijuana use. With the controversial concept of marijuana legalization looming overhead, many are discussing exactly how dangerous the substance is. In January, President Obama stated that he believed marijuana was not more harmful than alcohol. More people are beginning to view marijuana in a positive light, yet there is little knowledge of the harm of the drug.

A rise in marijuana use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stated that marijuana use has spiked in the past few years, despite fewer teens using in the 1990s. Daily use has also increased among adolescents, from 5 percent in the mid-2000s to 6.5 percent in 2013. The perception of the drug has also changed. With the introduction of medical marijuana, fewer young people disapprove of the drug and more are viewing it as a “safe drug.”

So, researchers from New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research decided to investigate. Their findings were published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The study authors examined data from a national sample of high school seniors who had participated in a Monitoring the Future study. Monitoring the Future, or MTF, is an ongoing annual study of the values, attitudes and behaviors of American secondary school students. The students were asked about the psychosocial effects of various substances. The researchers examined data from 7,437 students who noted using marijuana or alcohol between 2007 and 2011. Marijuana and alcohol are the most common substances for adolescents to use. The study noted that approximately two-thirds of teens have used alcohol and about half have used marijuana in their lifetime. However, this is the first study to compare the two substances side by side.

The risks of unsafe driving

The study revealed that teens reported unsafe driving while under the influence of alcohol, especially in those who drank often.

“Compared to non-drinkers, frequent drinkers were over 13 times more likely to report that their alcohol use has led to unsafe driving,” said Joseph Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Marijuana users, compared to non-users, were three times more likely to report unsafe driving as a direct result of use.”

Alcohol also carried greater risk of compromising relationships and causing feelings of regret, especially among females. Males also stated feeling less emotionally stable and unable to think clearly. Conversely, marijuana users did not report any poor outcomes with use. Overall, females reported more poor outcomes than males.

The researchers noted that the more often adolescents used, the greater risk for poor outcomes. However, the relationship between alcohol and regret was much stronger than the relationship between marijuana use and regret.

Despite the lack of poor outcomes, marijuana users are viewed more negatively by authoritative figures. Marijuana users are more often seen as “bad” most likely because the substance is still illegal. The study revealed that marijuana users are 23 times more likely to get in trouble with the police.

“As a controlled substance, mere possession of marijuana may increase the risk of significant legal consequences compared to an age-restricted legal substance such as alcohol, so this was not unexpected,” said Palamar. “Smoking marijuana also tends to leave a strong odor, which can easily draw attention to authorities.”

The study authors concluded that marijuana and alcohol have individualized and adverse effects. Many variables such as sex and gender influence the outcomes. They believe that public health education may be a good way to prevent high risks. They hope that their findings will encourage further research on the two substances and the policies that surround them.

Research reveals NYC teens who abuse prescriptions at risk for overdose

A study from New York University researchers revealed that New York City teens who abuse prescription drugs nonmedically are at a high risk of overdosing. The study authors, from New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, investigated overdose knowledge and teens’ experiences for the first time to try and figure out how prescription drug abuse correlates to overdoses. The findings were published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The study included 46 participants between the ages of 18 and 32, who all lived in the city and used the drugs nonmedically in the past month. The researchers conducted a series of extensive interviews with participants to hear about overdose experiences and learn about the participants’ knowledge on using safely and overdose prevention. The study authors also asked about naloxone, a drug that can help reverse a heroin or opioid overdose.

A lack of knowledge

The researchers discovered that despite the considerable amount of overdoses the teens had, very few knew about proper overdose prevention methods or how to access naloxone. When asked about an overdose, many participants claimed that a cold shower or slapping the person could help. Many of the teens noted using an incorrect overdose scene in “Pulp Fiction” as a reference for how to reverse an overdose.

Troubled, the researchers chose to investigate local organizations that discuss prevention methods and teach about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. They realized that many of the members of these organizations were part of a completely different subpopulation than the participants. Participants made clear distinctions between heroin and prescription drug use, noting the stigma associated with heroin. The participants claimed they wanted to disassociate from “junkies,” who they felt were the only people using these organizations. They also all did not inject the drug, so the participants were off the radar of many of these prevention and awareness organizations.

Finding a solution

The researchers concluded that much more education and awareness on prescription drug use and overdose is needed for these teens in NYC and across the country. They believe more organizations need to be founded other than those already available. They hope that more resources may be able to target users that are currently flying under the radar. They also noted that many of the participants were either high school or college educated, so they believe more programs should be implemented at these institutions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 15 percent of high school seniors reported using prescription drugs nonmedically in 2013. The drug of choice was mainly Adderall, but 5.3 percent reported regularly using pain relievers such as Vicodin.

Ohio senator pushing bill for more addiction treatment centers

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is making a valiant effort in the war against opioid addiction. He is currently pushing a bill, called The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act, to try and expand the amount of addiction treatment centers and programs in Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reported. Currently, the numbers are dismal.

A packed house

Dr. Mark Piacentini knows all about this. His medical practice is packed with patients desperate for addiction treatment. Yet he still receives numerous calls a day from more awaiting patients, who he does not have room for. Piacentini told the publication that his waiting list has expanded to 200 to 300 people at times.

Brown’s bill would give health care providers a little more freedom in how many patients they can treat and prescribe to daily. Currently, physicians can only treat 30 patients a day who battle addiction. His bill would bump that number up to 100. Nurse practitioners could also treat patients.

Though the Buckeye State has won a few small battles in the war against heroin and opioid addiction, it is far from over. In 2012, there were a record-breaking 1,914 overdose deaths in the state. As the death toll rises, the number of treatment centers does not. The Ohio Department of Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program reported in 2012 that the rate of drug overdoses in Ohio is rising faster than the national average. The amount of overdoses also exceeded the amount of motor vehicle deaths in the state beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2012.

In a conference on Sept. 2, Brown stated that it is easier for residents to get heroin than it is for them to get treatment. Brown spoke at the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board in Franklin County. Brown’s bill is sponsored by five other democrats.

The benefits of proper treatment

Clearly, treatment works for those who face heroin and prescription pill addiction. Ohio resident Eric Carrico owes everything to treatment.

Before going to an addiction treatment center, Carrico was living on the streets, desperately searching for drugs and eating out of dumpsters, he told the newspaper. Like so many others, Carrico’s addiction began with prescription pills and segued into heroin when his prescription ran out. Thanks to a treatment center in Columbus, Carrico has now been sober for the past two years, has an 8-month-old son and an apartment.

Ohio will hopefully put this law into effect soon. Another bill, Bill 314, requires parents or guardians to sign a consent form before their children are prescribed opioids. Lawmakers believe this bill holds parents accountable for their children’s health. The consent form is called “Start Talking,” and has parents consent a full 48 hours before the painkillers or other opioids are prescribed.

Study finds marijuana may be addictive

What once was touted as a drug that was immune to addiction now may not be. With the legalization of marijuana underway in two states already, more people are beginning to discuss their growing concerns for the substance and whether it is addictive.

The prevalence of marijuana

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that marijuana is the most used drug in the nation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that in 2012, 2.4 million people 12 years old and older tried marijuana for the first time. Of that number, 1.4 million tried marijuana before they were 18 years old.

Researchers already fear the effects of the drug on people’s driving skills, since it can cause slower reaction times. On Sept. 2, a study on teens and marijuana revealed that 40 percent of those in an outpatient program dealt with withdrawal symptoms. Prior to the findings, no study had correlated marijuana with addictive consequences. However, withdrawal symptoms are a clear indicator of an addiction problem. Now some are wondering if the addiction-proof drug is addiction-proof at all. The findings were published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

The ignorance about addiction

Lead researcher John Kelly, who works in the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Addiction Medicine, noted that many are mistaken about addiction and marijuana.

“There’s a lot of misperception out there that marijuana is not addictive,” Kelly said. “But it produces both a physical and psychological dependence in a similar way to that of other drugs, along with its own characteristic withdrawal symptoms.” Aside from the withdrawal symptoms, another indicator of the drug’s addictive nature is the fact that people psychologically crave more of the substance every time they use it.

The study examined 127 young adults between the ages of 14 and 19 who were being treated at an addiction outpatient facility. The researchers surveyed the adolescents and discovered that 90 percent stated marijuana was their drug of choice. Each participant was assessed and surveyed at three months, six months and a year later on how the drug was affecting him or her. The survey data revealed 84 percent indicated signs of cannabis dependence and 40 percent showed withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms included depression, anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Of the participants with withdrawal symptoms, those who did not think they had a problem had the most trouble quitting.

Looking forward

Though this is not the first study of its kind, it is the first study to use participants that are moderately dependent on marijuana, as they were in an outpatient facility. The researchers hope their findings will lead to future research on marijuana and its possible addictive effects. Kelly warns that the public should consider all aspects of the drug before bringing it fully to the market.

“Do the benefits outweigh the costs?” he asked. “We need the clinical side saying, ‘This is not a benign substance. It’s not cornflakes.’ The neurocognitive impacts, especially with teens, have been shown to have lifelong implications.”

Researcher finds new way to fight cocaine addiction

A researcher from the University of Pittsburgh believes she may have uncovered the solution to cocaine relapse. Yaoying Ma, a research associate and assistant professor of neuroscience at the university’s School of Arts and Sciences, stated that triggering an internal anti-addiction response in the body may help prevent relapse. Her findings were published in the journal Neuron.

Studying synapses

The study is the first of its kind to suggest that the brain has a natural circuitry that can resist a cocaine relapse through synapses that remodel the brain.

Ma’s most recent study is a follow-up to earlier research completed in the fall of 2013. Those findings were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Ma and her colleagues used rats to investigate how cocaine and its withdrawal symptoms affect the brain. They studied the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain that is associated with reward, motivation, addiction and emotion. They focused on synapses, the ends of nerve cells that send signals in the brain.

The study authors noticed that when rats ingest cocaine, new synapses are created that only send out a few signals and function partially. Once the rats stopped using cocaine, the synapses fully developed and functioned normally. After they have matured, the synapses send signals that cause the rats to crave the drug.

A natural reaction

Ma’s newest research suggests that there is more to these synapses than previously thought. When these synapses are created from cocaine use, they continually fire during cocaine withdrawals, causing a change in the brain’s topography. Ma discovered that the more the brain remodels, the less craving there is. Since the creation of these synapses and the brain remodeling occur on their own, Ma believes the body may have its own way to fight addiction.

However, the natural response to cocaine use could be tweaked to benefit people even more. Ma hopes her findings and the research of others will help create a way to manipulate the synapses to help reduce the risk of cocaine relapses. She noted that her research is far from over and she and her team are continually testing ways to alter the relapse response.

Despite the rise of heroin and prescription drugs, cocaine remains a popular drug among Americans. stated that behind marijuana, cocaine is the second most used drug in America. Twenty-five percent of adults between the ages of 26 and 34 have tried cocaine at least once in their lifetime. However, the drug is most popular among people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Mass flow of heroin rolls into Chicago and its suburbs

Like it is in so many other major cities, heroin is becoming a serious problem in Chicago, NBC News reported. Locals in the Windy City have even nicknamed a highway known for drug trafficking and sales as “Heroin Highway.”

The rise of heroin in Chicago

Immense heroin use is not uncommon in Chicago. The city has witnessed high rates of heroin use since 2009, when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that the rate of illicit drug-related visits was significantly higher in Chicago emergency departments than the national average. The rate of heroin-related visits in Chicago among a 100,000 population was 216.2 compared to the nation’s 69.4. Since then, those numbers have only risen. In 2012, the SAMHSA found that 669,000 people in the Chicago metropolitan area over the age of 12 had used heroin at some point that year.

So many, including the Drug Enforcement Agency in Chicago, are becoming fearful.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Jack Riley to NBC News, a veteran special agent in charge of the DEA Chicago Field Division. “I’ve seen what it does to families, communities, educational settings, healthcare. It’s enormous.”

The causes behind Chicago’s heroin problem

Riley and other members of the DEA are beginning to wonder what exactly is causing those numbers to steadily increase. Though there are a few different sources of heroin outside the U.S., most notably Colombia, Mexico and other regions of South America, Chicago mainly gets its heroin from Mexico. Mexican cartels are some of the hardest to battle, Riley noted.

“Today’s heroin is being trafficked primarily by Mexican organized crime, probably the most vicious, well-financed, criminal entities we’ve ever known,” Riley said. One of the most infamous drug cartels that the DEA faces is the Sinaloa cartel.

Most of Chicago’s heroin is transferred over in El Paso and then gets placed into the hands of local drug distributors. From there it flows through the city and into the suburbs. Riley also stated that these distributors and drug cartels know about the correlation between prescription drugs and heroin. As Americans become increasingly dependent on prescription pills, they know that making heroin more prevalent for those customers will only boost sales – and addiction. Since law enforcement agencies have turned their focus toward taking prescription pills off the streets, dealers can easily replace those holes with heroin for a quick fix.

Unlike a few years ago, drug dealers do not just sell in the city. Users used to have to drive down Highway 290, more commonly known as “Heroin Highway,” to buy their opiates. Now they only have to drive about 10 minutes from their house.

Moving forward

Riley stated that he and other local and state officials have banded together to battle these drug distributors. Many major drug distributors and gang leaders have already been pulled off the streets, yet Riley knows that the Windy City still has a long way to go.

Chicago uses tombstones to indicate heroin’s effect

Chicago counties have joined together to fight heroin addiction and overdoses by using tombstones, the Chicago Tribune reported. Residents like Audrey Albright, who lost her son to heroin addiction a few years ago, believe the tombstones are a great idea. Albright openly welcomed placing the tombstones in her yard.

The plastic foam tombstones will travel from place to place to show the effects of heroin on many areas in Chicago. There are about 100 tombstones to indicate the amount of people nationally who die each day from a heroin overdose. The displays also have three banners that sit across tombstones denouncing heroin addiction and its subsequent overdoses. Albright stated that the tombstones get a lot of attention in her yard. Many people will slow down to examine what the rather strange exhibit is for.

The rising rate of overdoses

No county in Chicago is safe from heroin overdoses, according to counties’ data from 2012. Will County reported 53 fatal overdoses. Lake County reached a record high of 33 fatal overdoses, and there were 27 in Kane County. Du Page County’s numbers almost doubled, from 23 deaths in 2007 to 43 in 2012. McHenry County also reached a record high of 16 deaths in 2012, the data stated.

The ignorance surrounding heroin use

The hosts of the tombstones believe that this is the first effective display that educates the public on the dangers of heroin. They stated that many people remain ignorant despite the vast numbers of heroin overdoses and deaths in the Chicago metropolitan and suburban areas. People often make note of heroin use and overdoses in other areas, but may not believe it happens in their town. Well, it does.

The exhibit was first used last year at a vigil for Stop Overdose Illinois, an organization that teaches people about using naloxone, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose. However, the group felt that was not enough. They decided to bring the tombstones into some of the suburbs that have been most affected by heroin abuse. The tombstones have also been placed in front of a fire station and a 5K run.

The banners display messages such as “Opiate overdose is REVERSIBLE! Naloxone saves lives!”

The group noted that though law enforcement agencies are educated on naloxone, many residents do not know about it or how to use it. Parents or family members who know how to use the drug can save a person’s life while he or she is overdosing.

Pushing limits

Others, like Marian Huhman, worry if the message goes a little too far. Huhman is an assistant communication professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She noted that though the image is powerful, it could be pushing limits. Sometimes if a display is too much, people will choose to ignore it rather than acknowledge it, she told the Tribune.

Albright noted that though drivers are slowing down in front of her yard, she is unsure of the display’s effects. She hopes that the tombstones will educate members of her community and get others to realize the dangers of heroin and find the proper methods of treatment. The tombstones have gotten good recognition in the recovery community, causing the group to contemplate making a sturdier and more durable form of them.

Robert Downey Jr. speaks out about his and his son’s cocaine addiction

Actor Robert Downey Jr. decided to open up about his long-time and extremely publicized battles with addiction in a profile with Vanity Fair magazine.

By now, many people know that Downey struggled with addiction for many years, yet fewer people know that his son may have chosen a similar fate, after being caught with cocaine in June. Downey’s son, Indio, entered rehab shortly after.

The long and winding road of addiction

Downey’s story of addiction trails through the late 1980s and 1990s, after the actor obtained fame with roles like 1992’s “Chaplin,” the Daily Mail noted. One time the star was found sleeping in his neighbor’s 11-year-old son’s bed after ingesting cocaine and alcohol. Another time he was arrested for driving drunk down Sunset Boulevard with possession of illicit drugs and a handgun. Downey was also once found passed out in an alley behind a run-down Los Angeles hotel. Many of these offenses put the actor in prison, causing him to serve sentences in the LA county jail.

Downey finally entered an addiction treatment center in LA, where he told the magazine that he finally realized he needed to get away from his former habits.

“Job one is get out of that cave. A lot of people do get out but don’t change. So the thing is to get out and recognize the significance of that aggressive denial of your fate, come through the crucible forged into a stronger metal. Or whatever,” Downey stated.

Passing the torch

Downey’s addiction habits may have developed at a young age. Downey’s father, a filmmaker in Hollywood, also battled addiction. When Downey was 8, his father offered him a marijuana joint. Now the family’s addiction gene seems to have been passed to Downey’s son, and Downey knows it.

Downey discussed his son’s addiction, noting that due to current times, it is not uncommon that his son was introduced to drugs and their dangers early on.

“… That’s typical in the Information Age; things get accelerated. You’re confronted with histories and predispositions and influences and feelings and unspoken traumas or needs that weren’t met, and all of a sudden you’re three miles into the woods,” the actor stated. “Pick a dysfunction and it’s a family problem.”

Hopefully, Downey’s son will be able to learn from his father’s lessons and not travel down the same road of destruction.

Massachusetts parents raise money for addiction to honor son

Massachusetts resident Zach Gys was always considered a good son. He got good grades, was an exemplary baseball and hockey player and was always dressed well. However, Gys twisted his ankle in his senior year while playing hockey, changing his fate, the Lowell Sun stated.

A dangerous choice

A fellow teammate offered him a Percocet to dull the pain. Though seemingly harmless, that one pill brought Gys spiraling down the road of addiction. Gys used Percocets, which then led to OxyContin. Unable to afford his addiction, Gys switched to heroin.

By the time his parents finally caught on, Gys’ addiction was too great. He passed away of a heroin overdose in July 2013. At the time, Gys was in rehab – one of many failed attempts his parents had made to try to save their son.

The rate of drug overdoses has skyrocketed in Massachusetts. Trust for America’s Health stated that the Bay State has the 32nd highest drug overdose rate in the nation. From 1999 to 2013, the rate of overdoses, which are mainly from prescription drugs, increased by nearly 50 percent.

Turning the negative into a positive

Since the Gys family could not help their son, they are trying to help others. They began the Zach’s Team Foundation, which raises money for those battling addiction. The foundation gives people scholarships so they can afford to go to an addiction treatment center.

One of the foundation’s first fundraisers was a golf tournament and a silent auction, which raked in more than $50,000 to contribute to the scholarships. The Gys scheduled the fundraiser in September because it is National Recovery Month. Zach’s parents, Louis Griffin and Mickey Gys, are hoping to give out four scholarships, each of which costs about $8,000, to fully pay for a five-week rehabilitation program.

The couple also hopes to get a website running for the foundation. One local addiction treatment center stated it would match every dollar made at the fundraiser.

The Gys believed they had warned their son about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. However, they never warned him about the dangers of prescription pills because they did not seem dangerous.

Eliminating addiction’s stigma

State Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, spoke at the fundraiser. He told the story of a good friend who began his battle with opiate addiction nine years ago. Golden noted that he hopes to erase the stigma that surrounds addiction, since people deal with it in every walk of life.

“I grew up with people saying ‘that’s them – those people,’ but that’s not the way it is today,” Golden said. “I don’t know what we were thinking, quite frankly, because those people are our friends, our family, and people we love.”

He noted that people facing addiction should not be embarrassed or ashamed.

The Gys hope that the foundation will be a success. They decided to take action after their son’s passing instead of being consumed by the situation.