Category Archives: Substance Abuse

Apr 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 16

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Study: More ‘Masculine’ and ‘Feminine’ Youth at Higher Risk for Cancer-risk Behaviors
The most “feminine” girls and the most “masculine” boys are also the most likely to engage in behaviors that pose cancer risks, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) analyzed data on 9,354 adolescents in the ongoing Growing Up Today Study, finding that cancer-risk behaviors such as tobacco use, indoor tanning and physical inactivity were significantly more common in adolescents who more closely adhered to the traditional societal norms of masculinity and femininity. "Our findings indicate that socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity heavily influence teens' behaviors and put them at increased risk for cancer,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. “Though there is nothing inherently masculine about chewing tobacco, or inherently feminine about using a tanning booth, these industries have convinced some teens that these behaviors are a way to express their masculinity or femininity." Read more on cancer.

Study: Casual Marijuana Use Can Cause Dangerous Changes in Youths’ Brains
Casual marijuana use in young people can lead to potentially harmful changes in the brain, according to a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers from Northwestern University's medical school, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School determined that casual marijuana smoking—defined as one to seven joints per week—could lead to changes to the nucleus accumbens and the nucleus amygdale, which help regulate emotion and motivation. "What we're seeing is changes in people who are 18 to 25 in core brain regions that you never, ever want to fool around with," said co-senior study author Hans Beiter, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, according to Reuters, adding, "Our hypothesis from this early work is that these changes may be an early sign of what later becomes amotivation, where people aren't focused on their goals.” Read more on substance abuse.

CDC: ‘Herd Immunity’ Helped Reduce H1N1 Flu Strain’s Impact This Season
While the H1N1 influenza strain was the predominant strain in the United States this past flu season, prior widespread exposure and its inclusion in the current flu vaccine meant it did not have nearly the impact it did in 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Michael Jhung, MD, a medical officer in the CDC’s influenza division, an overall “herd immunity” helped stop this season from turning into the worldwide pandemic seen in 2009. "This year, not only do we have a vaccine that works well, but millions of people have already been exposed to the H1N1 virus," he said, according to HealthDay. The flu strain also hit differently this season, peaking earlier, although once again younger adults were affected more than the elderly. Read more on the flu.

Apr 14 2014
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Upcoming Webinar: Public Health Perspectives in Regulating Non-Medical Marijuana

file Alexander Wagenaar, PhD

 On Thursday, April 17, from 1-2 p.m. (ET), the Network for Public Health Law, Public Health Law Research and the American Society of Law Medicine and Ethics (ASLME) will be holding a free webinar around public health perspectives on regulating non-medical marijuana in states where it has been made legal or decriminalized. Whatever course a state may take, public health’s expertise and experience in public policy means it should be a major voice in the discussion surrounding legislation from the very start. The issue is a critical one now as Colorado and Washington State have legalized the commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana for non-medical use and a number of other states are considering similar legislation.

“Policy-makers, advocates and others are grappling with how to process licenses, develop regulations and manage production in an industry that is still largely illegal both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Alexander Wagenaar, PhD, Professor in the Institute for Child Health Policy at the University of Florida who will be the moderator for the webinar.

The webinar’s aim is to provide an overview of issues related to non-medical marijuana regulation through, among other things, the lessons learned from decades of alcohol and tobacco regulation and through insights from Washington State’s recent implementation of a marijuana law with participant Laura Hitchcock, JD, Policy, Research & Development Specialist in the public health department of Seattle & King County in Washington State. Additional speakers include Beau Kilmer, PhD, Co-Director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and Amanda Reiman, PhD, the Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance of California.

>>Register for the webinar Regulating Non-Medical Marijuana: Lessons Learned and Paths Forward.

Ahead of the webinar, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wagenaar about who in public health will find the webinar important, as well as public health’s role both before and after a jurisdiction considers legalizing non-medical marijuana.

NewPublicHealth: Who is the webinar primarily geared toward?

Alexander Wagenaar: There are lots of different audiences that are interested in this, including the public health research community such as academics, scientists, health department and agency staff who are looking at the issue or will be looking at it in the future.

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Feb 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 24

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Under Tobacco Control Act Authority, FDA Orders Stop to Sale, Distribution of Four Tobacco Products
For the first time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used its authority under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to order a stop to the continued sale and distribution of four tobacco products. The FDA ruled that Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone, and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone were not “substantially equivalent” to products commercially available as of Feb. 15, 2007. The FDA determined that Jash International did not identify a product by which to assess substantial equivalence, as well as other required information. “Companies have an obligation to comply with the law—in this case, by providing evidence to support an SE application,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, in a release. “Because the company failed to meet the requirement of the Tobacco Control Act, the FDA’s decision means that, regardless of when the products were manufactured, these four products can no longer be legally imported or sold or distributed through interstate commerce in the United States.” Read more on tobacco.

NGA Releases Report on Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic
As part of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) 2014 Winter Meeting, NGA Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley have released a report, Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse: Lessons Learned from an NGA Policy Academy, detailing their year-long look on how to reduce the growing epidemic; prescription drug abuse is the United States’ fastest growing drug problem and the second most-common type of drug abuse for youth ages 12-17. Among the findings:

  • Leadership matters
  • Prescribing behavior needs to change
  • Disposal options should be convenient and cost-effective
  • Prescription drug monitoring programs are underused
  • Public education is critical
  • Treatment is essential
  • Data, metrics and evaluation must drive policy and practice

“The abuse of prescription drugs continues to be seen in communities across the nation,” said Hickenlooper. “This initiative helped states develop effective strategies to help decrease the number of individuals who are misusing or abusing prescription drugs and the resulting number of people who are harmed or die.” Read more on prescription drugs.

HHS Issues Proposals for Next Edition of EHR Technology Certification Criteria
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has issued proposals for the next edition of the electronic health record (EHR) technology certification criteria. “The proposed 2015 Edition EHR certification criteria reflect ONC’s commitment to incrementally improving interoperability and efficiently responding to stakeholder feedback,” said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator for health IT. “We will continue to focus on setting policy and adopting standards that make it possible for health care providers to safely and securely exchange electronic health information and for patients to become an integral part of their care team.” Compliance with the 2015 Edition would be voluntary (if EHR developers are in compliance with the 2014 Edition, they would not need to recertify) and the final rule will be issued later this summer. Read more on technology.

Jan 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 29

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NIDA Releases Resources on Identifying, Treating Teen Drug Abuse
As part of the annual National Drug Facts Week, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has released a collection of resources to help parents, health care providers and substance abuse treatment specialists identify teens at risk and help those struggling with drug abuse. The new resources include:

  • Thirteen principles to consider in treating adolescent substance use disorders
  • Frequently asked questions about adolescent drug use
  • Settings in which adolescent drug abuse treatment most often occurs
  • Evidence-based approaches to treating adolescent substance use disorders
  • The role of the family and medical professionals in identifying teen substance use and supporting treatment and recovery.

“Because critical brain circuits are still developing during the teen years, this age group is particularly susceptible to drug abuse and addiction,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. “These new resources are based on recent research that has greatly advanced our understanding of the unique treatment needs of the adolescent.” Currently only 10 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 17 who need substance abuse treatment receive it, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  Read more on substance abuse.

Study: Public Transit Drivers Distracted an Estimated 39 Percent of their Time on the Road
Public transit bus drivers spend an estimated 39 percent of their time on the road distracted, according to a new study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention. Researchers in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham observed and recorded distraction behaviors for three months, then compared them by route characteristics. Interactions with other passengers are the most common source of distraction. Drivers younger than 30 or older than 50, on city streets or highways, or who were driving more than 20 passengers were the most likely to be distracted. Researchers concluded that more needs to be done to educate drivers on the hazards of distracted driving and ways to avoid distractions. Read more on transportation.

Improved Education on Subsidies, Medicaid Could Reduce Number of Uninsured U.S. Adults
The number of U.S. adults who are uninsured could be significantly reduced with improved education on available subsidies and Medicaid expansion, according to the new quarterly Health Reform Monitoring Survey, conducted by Urban Institute researchers with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The survey found that 39.3 percent of uninsured adults expect to have health insurance in 2014, and that four in 10 adults who expect to remain uninsured also think they will have to pay some sort of penalty. Read more on access to health care.

Jan 21 2014
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Recommended Reading: How Can Communities Educate Teens About Drug Abuse?

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Many teens are unaware of how drug abuse can negatively affect their lives. The Fourth Annual National Drug Facts Week, which runs Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, is an initiative of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that aims to change that. The week-long health observance arms communities with the materials and tools they need to debunk myths and educate teens about drug abuse.

Featured in a piece on Reclaiming Futures’ website, NIDA Public Affairs Officer Brian Marquis highlights the science-based information NIDA has provided to teachers, counselors, social workers and community members, as well as the teen-focused events that community leaders are hosting across the country to communicate with young adults about the dangers of drug abuse. Reclaiming Futures, a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, helps young people in trouble with drugs, alcohol and crime by reinventing the way police, courts, detention facilities, treatment providers and communities work together to meet this urgent need. 

“Using ideas and resources provided by NIDA, there is a way for everyone to learn the facts and help shatter myths about drug abuse during National Drug Facts Week and beyond,” Marquis wrote in his post.

Spurred by new recommendations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America, NIDA is encouraging communities to use its resources to improve the nation’s health by investing in children.

Learn more about National Drug Facts Week events across the country.

Jan 7 2014
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VitalSigns: Health Professionals Fall Short on Alcohol Consumption and Binge Drinking Counseling

The January 2014 VitalSigns report, a monthly report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on leading health indicators, looks at the failure of too many health care professionals to counsel patients on the risks of consuming too much alcohol and binge drinking. According to a recent survey cited in the new report, only one in six adults reports counseling by a health care professional during routine visits, and that number drops to one in four for binge drinkers, despite the fact that studies show that counseling could save lives and reduce health care costs.

Research by the CDC finds that having physicians ask  patients about alcohol consumption and brief counseling could reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent.  At least 38 million adults drink too much and most are not alcoholics, according to the CDC.  Drinking too much includes binge drinking, high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under age 21. And it causes about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, costing the economy about $224 billion.

file Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011; Volume 41

Significantly, alcohol screening and brief alcohol counseling are now covered by many health insurance plans without a copay as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

A review of studies by CDC researchers found that brief (6-15 minutes) intervention sessions were effective in significantly reducing weekly alcohol consumption. A patient survey conducted following brief counseling sessions found that patients reported:

  • 3.6 fewer drinks per week for adults
  • Binge level drinking was reported by 12 percent fewer participants
  • Increased adherence to recommended drinking limits was achieved by 11 percent more participants.

“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Health care workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking.”

In a briefing for reporters today, Frieden said that for every one alcoholic in the United States there are about six people who drink too much, and many don’t realize that their drinking is excessive.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults who drink only do so in moderation, which is defined as up to one drink a day for women and two for men.

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse recommends that health professionals discuss alcohol use with all patients and has a screening tool to help determine how much patients drink, assess problems associated with drinking and refer patients for specialized treatment if needed.

>>Bonus Links:

Dec 10 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 10

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Study: Strong State Laws Can Help Curb Binge Drinking
Strong state laws can help curb binge drinking, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Binge drinking, defined as more than four or five alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period, is a factor in about half of the 80,000 alcohol-related deaths each year. Researchers analyzed and graded 29 alcohol control policies across the United States, finding that those with the better policies were one-fourth as likely as those with poorest scores to have binge drinking rates in the top 25 percent of states. They also found that rates were 33 percent higher in states in the bottom quarter of grades than those in the top quarter. "Unfortunately, most states have not taken advantage of these policies to help drinkers consume responsibly, and to protect innocent citizens from the devastating secondhand effects and economic costs from excessive drinking," said study senior author Tim Naimi, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University Schools of Medicine and attending physician at Boston Medical Center. "The bottom line is that this study adds an important dimension to a large body of research demonstrating that alcohol policies matter—and matter a great deal—for reducing and preventing the fundamental building block of alcohol-related problems." Laws and policies that can help prevent binge drinking include limiting hours of sale, increasing alcohol taxes and holding those who sell alcohol legally responsible for harm inflicted by consumers who recently consumed alcohol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on alcohol.

VP to Announce $100M to Improve Access to Mental Health Services
Vice President Joe Biden will today announce $100 million to improve access to mental health services across the country. The plan comes a year after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and Biden will make the announcement at a meeting of the families of the victims of the tragedy and mental health advocates. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide the funding. "HHS will soon issue a $50 million funding opportunity to help Community Health Centers establish or expand behavioral health services for people living with mental illness or addiction," said a White House official, according to Reuters. "Additionally, USDA has set a goal of financing $50 million for the construction, expansion, or improvement of mental health facilities in rural areas over the next three years." Read more on mental health.

Kids Who Watch Violent Movies Also Exposed to Other Risky Behaviors
Exposing kids to violent movies can also expose them to other examples of potentially harmful behavior, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. "Parents should be aware that youth who watch PG-13 movies will be exposed to characters whose violence is linked to other more common behaviors, such as alcohol and sex, and that they should consider whether they want their children exposed to that influence," said study lead author Amy Bleakley, a policy research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. The study analyzed nearly 400 top-grossing movies released from 1985 to 2010, finding that 90 percent included at least one act of violence that involved a main character, and that a main character used tobacco, consumed alcohol or engaged in sexual behavior in 77 percent of the films. Read more on violence.

Nov 5 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 5

Study: Acetaminophen Use and Even Light Drinking Dramatically Raises Kidney Dysfunction Risk
Acetaminophen use when paired with even moderate or light drinking can increase the risk of kidney dysfunction by 123 percent, according to a new study released today at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting in Boston. Using data from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers analyzed data on more than 10,000 people who were asked questions about their alcohol consumption, use of acetaminophen and health conditions. “Pain is the most common symptom among the general public and is also most frequently self-treated with acetaminophens,” noted Harrison Ndetan, lead researcher of the study. “Where this becomes a greater concern is among young adults, who have a higher prevalence of alcohol consumption. These findings highlight a serious concern among health professionals who deal frequently with pain patients, particularly those with mild pain who are more susceptible to consuming both.” Read more on substance abuse.

Flight Attendants: Expanded Use of Electronic Devices In-flight Needs Reworked Safety Messaging for Flyers
The decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week to let passengers use electronic devices—but not make cell phone calls—during all phases of a flight has flight attendants concerned that the ruling could compromise passenger safety if flyers are distracted by the devices when the cabin crew makes its safety announcements before takeoff.

Most airlines will introduce the new rule on devices by the end of the year. To qualify they have to assure the FDA that their fleet’s airplanes can tolerate any potential radio interference from the devices. Flight attendants would like heavy devices stored under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing for added safety. In a statement released just after the FAA ruling, the  Association of Flight attendants said “AFA will work diligently alongside the FAA and industry to find creative, science-based approaches to ensure that passengers comply with the new operator policies and that their attention is not diverted from the important safety information provided by cabin crew during routine pre-flight briefings and unexpected emergencies, and that risks posed by loose items in the cabin are safely managed during the most critical portions of [a] flight.” Read more on injury prevention.

Two Questions Could Help Diagnose Strep, Reduce Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions
“Do you have a cough and have you had a fever in the last 24 hours?” These two simple questions could help people determine whether they need to see a doctor for strep throat, which could in turn limit unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. While high fevers can indicate strep, coughs do not. The study found the questions, when paired with an accounting of how common strep infections were in a particular area, where nearly as effective as lab tests at determining whether a patient actually had a strep infection. "This enables us to use the test of time," said co-study author Dr. Kenneth Mandl, a professor of bioinformatics at Harvard. "If we determine that you're low risk and most cases will not have an important complication from strep anyway, then you can be followed clinically rather than come in for a test right away, and you may improve." About 15 million people in the United States see a doctor for a sore throat each year, with 70 receiving antibiotics; estimates indicate that only 20-30 percent of children and 5-15 percent of adults actually benefit from the medications. Read more on prescription drugs.

Oct 22 2013
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Recommended Reading: Painkiller Addiction and America’s Veterans

CIR's "Veteran Affairs: Painkillers" Interactive CIR's "Veteran Affairs: Painkillers" Interactive

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sent Army paratrooper Jeffrey Waggoner to an Oregon hospital to recover from an addiction to painkillers. However, once there they instead gave him a steady stream of medications, eventually releasing him for a weekend with 19 prescription drugs in hand. He was found dead of an overdose three hours later.

“As a parent, you’d want to know how this happened to your child,” said his father, Greg Waggoner, according to a new report from The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). “You send your child to a hospital to get well, not to die.”

In its investigation, CIR found that, post 9/11, the VA has increasingly been treating addictions with a variety of drugs, “feeding addictions and contributing to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that is nearly double the national average.” Over the past dozen years, prescriptions for the four opiates hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine have increased by 270 percent.

Waggoner’s weekend leave medications included 12 oxycodone pills.

As part of its investigation, CIR has created a comprehensive interactive tool that shows the VA systems with the highest prescription rates and allows users to search for information by region and system. The data is culled from CIR’s own research, as well as information from the VA and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Trust for America’s Health also recently released an interactive tool on the growing public health issue of prescription drug abuse—about 6.1 million Americans use or abuse prescription drugs. The tool allows users to search state-by-state prescription drug overdose death rates and find out how each scores on 10 key steps to curb abuse.

>>Read The Center for Investigative Reporting’s “VA’s opiate overload feeds veterans’ addictions, overdose deaths

>>Read NewPublicHealth’s story, “New Report: Most States Not Implementing Enough Proven Strategies to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Oct 17 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Lori Butterfield

Lori Butterfield, writer and producer of 'Lipstick & Liquor' Lori Butterfield, writer and producer of 'Lipstick & Liquor'

Lipstick & Liquor, a recently released documentary, takes a close-up look at a secret that is killing women and harming their families. Excessive alcohol use is the third leading cause of preventable death among women between the ages of 35 and 55. Excessive drinking among women is also a contributing factor in one-third of suicides, one-fourth of accidental deaths and one-half of traffic deaths. Significantly, drinking is more likely to reach advanced stages before it is discovered.

The film, which will launch on iTunes and Amazon.com in December, shares the stories of four women and their struggles with alcoholism. The goal of the film, says Lori Butterfield, the film’s writer and producer as well as a senior vice president of creative content for Home Front Communications, is to help women everywhere shake off the stigma associated with women alcoholics, and to provide understanding and insight into the struggle to stay sober. The documentary includes expert commentary from medical researchers, addiction specialists and authors who shed light on the conditions impacting the increase in alcohol use and abuse among American women.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lori Butterfield about the film.

NPH: How did the documentary come about?

Lori Butterfield: My interest in raising awareness began with a story about a woman named Diane Schuler. In the summer of 2009, Diane made headlines after killing herself and seven other people while driving the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in Westchester County, New York. The toxicology report showed that Diane had been drinking and yet her husband and other family members came out very publicly and said, “Oh she would never do that, she was a wonderful mother, she was a perfect wife.” And I remember thinking at the time, how could someone hide their alcoholism so well that their own family had no idea? That story really stuck with me.

Then, in November of that year, I was overseeing a video project for an Ad Council campaign about “Buzzed driving” [see recent Buzzed Driving campaigns from the Ad Council]. That’s when I read a very startling statistic. It said the number of DUI arrests for women had shot up more than 30 percent in the last decade while the rate for men was actually going down. And I also read that binge drinking for women was on the rise, so something was happening, but I wasn’t quite connecting the dots.

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