Archive for the ‘Substance Abuse’ Category

The Pharmaceutical Mess in North America. Is it All About Profits? Or is There Someone Else to Blame?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

The drug problem in North America is at it’s breaking point. Illegal drugs like heroin are devastating communities, towns and cities across the US and Canada. This article, however, is not about dangerous street drugs. It’s about the rampant over-prescribing practices in North America and not just for the drugs you may be thinking of like prescription painkillers. Yes, painkiller abuse is a hot button issue right now because of the vast number of people taking them every day for both legitimate and improper reasons. But the truth is there are other substances out there, legal ones, that are lining the pockets of pharmaceutical CEO’s. Obviously the industry is out to make money, both in Canada and the US. The problem is is that there are simply too many people using drugs like antidepressants, sedatives, tranquilizers and, of course, painkillers. In the US right now there are 30 million people taking antidepressants. Last year 250 million prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were issued. Is it possible that that many people actually need to take the drugs? There’s no way. It would be logical to assume that many of those prescriptions are going to people who fully intend to misuse them in order to get high, just as many people will abuse their Ativan prescriptions in order to relax and mellow out, similar to a person who smoke’s pot “just to relax”. There is no doubt in many people’s minds that the pharmaceutical companies are making money off of people who are addicted to certain medications, and it seems that there isn’t reform or legislation coming anytime soon.

I came across a list of 21 facts regarding the American pharmaceutical disaster. It seemed like a good idea to share them, and some of them or just downright scary.

#1 According to the New York Times, more than 30 million Americans are currently taking antidepressants.

#2 The rate of antidepressant use among middle aged women is far higher than for the population as a whole.  At this point, one out of every four women in their 40s and 50s is taking an antidepressant medication.

#3 Americans account for about five percent of the global population, but we buy more than 50 percent of the pharmaceutical drugs.

#4 Americans also consume a whopping 80 percent of all prescription painkillers.

#5 It is hard to believe, but doctors in the United States write 259 million prescriptions for painkillers each year.  Prescription painkillers are some of the most addictive legal drugs, and our doctors areserving as enablers for millions up0n millions of Americans that find themselves hooked on drugs that they cannot kick.

#6 Overall, pharmaceutical drug use in America is at an all-time high.  According to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and 20 percent of all Americans are on at least five prescription drugs.

#7 According to the CDC, approximately 9 out of every 10 Americans that are at least 60 years old say that they have taken at least one prescription drug within the last month.

#8 In 2010, the average teen in the United States was taking 1.2 central nervous system drugs.  Those are the kinds of drugs which treat conditions such as ADHD and depression.

#9 A very disturbing Government Accountability Office report found that approximately one-third of all foster children in the United States are on at least one psychiatric drug.

#10 An astounding 95 percent of the “experimental medicines” that the pharmaceutical industry produces are found not to be safe and are never approved.  Of the remaining 5 percent that are approved, we often do not find out that they are deadly to us until decades later.

#11 One study discovered that mothers that took antidepressants during pregnancy were four times more likely to have a baby that developed an autism spectrum disorder.

#12 It has been estimated that prescription drugs kill approximately 200,000 people in the United States every single year.

#13 An American dies from an unintentional prescription drug overdose every 19 minutes.  According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, accidental prescription drug overdose is “the leading cause of acutepreventable death for Americans”.


#14 In the United States today, prescription painkillers kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.

#15 According to the CDC, approximately three quarters of a million people a year are rushed to emergency rooms in the United States because of adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs.

#16 The number of prescription drug overdose deaths in the United States is five times higher than it was back in 1980.

#17 A survey conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that more than 15 percent of all U.S. high school seniors abuse prescription drugs.

#18 More than 26 million women over the age of 25 say that they are “using prescription medications for unintended uses“.

#19 If all of these antidepressants are helping, then why are more Americans killing themselves?  The suicide rate for Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 increased by nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010.  The number of Americans that die by suicide is now greater than the number of Americans that die as a result of car accidents every year.

#20 Antidepressant use has been linked to mass shootings in America over and over and over again, and yet the mainstream media is eerily quiet about this. Is it because they don’t want to threaten one of their greatest sources of advertising revenue?

#21 The amount of money that the pharmaceutical industry is raking in is astronomical.  It has been reported that Americans spent more than 280 billion dollars on prescription drugs during 2013.

These facts that were presented are American ones, but there is no doubt that a number of these also apply to the Canadian pharmaceutical business and in previous articles we’ve discussed the growing problem of prescription medications in Canada. Something needs to be done. Why are doctors issuing so many of these prescriptions when they must know that they are harming their patients? Of course it can’t just be the doctors’ faults, especially when North American physicians are now teaming up with a wide variety of government departments as well as community advocates and so on to help prevent drug abuse, but there must be someone to lay the blame on. But it’s also possible that everyone involved in the giant mess of pharmaceuticals and legal medications share the blame, from patient to doctor to the pharmaceutical industry itself. One thing is for sure though, the drug companies do help save millions of lives, but they aren’t a charity, and they are in business to make money, even if it means people get addicted to their product.



Some Symptoms and Problems an Alcoholic May Encounter During Their Lives

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Alcohol’s destructive influence affects millions across North America and around the world. It is as serious as any other drug addiction, but sometimes is overlooked because of the fact that it is legal to most people. It can destroy families, cause serious health problems and can have a huge impact on the finances and other aspects of well-being that some once held most dear. It’s effects are different on everyone. Many college and university students “binge drink” which means consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, while others have a large number of drinks per day, well over the recommended limits that health agencies across the world have made standard for men and women. Not to mention the enormous numbers of drunk driving incidents that can have the license of the drunk driver be taken away, as well as the potential that a drunk driver may hurt or kill themselves as well as pedestrians and other drivers they hurt while being under the influence. Alcoholics are also at higher risk of hurting themselves physically by falling down, bumping into furniture around the house and can often expect frequent visits to emergency rooms due to serious physical harm while intoxicated. Luckily there exist programs like 12-Steps, AA and rehabilitation facilities put in place to help alcoholics get healthy and sober, but then another problem with alcohol arises: The fact that many alcoholics don’t believe their drinking is that serious, or that it has any effect on those around them. The truth is is that alcohol effects just about everyone around the alcoholic, as well as the addict themselves. It has the power to utterly break a family as well as relationships with spouses and children. For the purposes of this article, however, we should look at a list of health related symptoms an alcoholic can expect as well as a few other points that many alcoholics will face in their lifetime due to their addiction:

  • An increased risk of serious cancers, including mouth, throat, breast, rectum or colon cancer.
  • An increased risk of liver disease, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.
  • An increased risk of heart disease, which can include hypertension and stroke.
  • Malnutrition as a result of being satiated by “empty calories” rather than vitamin and mineral-nutrient foods – especially given that alcohol and mixed drinks in particular can contain a surprisingly high number of calories.
  • Insomnia, which paradoxically some people try to address by consuming alcohol, but only serve to make the problem worse. Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health conditions, including obesity.
  • Increased risk pancreatitis – particularly for individuals who drink heavily for five years or longer.
  • Uncontrollable tremors (a.k.a. “the shakes”) that can make even the simplest, daily task extremely difficult, dangerous or even impossible (e.g. driving).
  • Increased risk of brain damage, as alcohol kills vitally important white and grey brain cells.
  • Various dental problems that can be dangerous as well as painful, including gum disease, tooth decay and abscesses.
  • Severe anxiety, as alcohol inhibits the central nervous system and over time weakens the brain’s ability to cope with stress.
  • Depression, as contrary to what many people believe, alcohol lowers the brain’s serotonin and norepinephrine levels rather than increases them (i.e. alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant).
  • Erectile dysfunction, which can be painful and dangerous, plus can lead to diminished self-esteem and relationship problems.
  • Unemployment and inability to sustain employment.
  • Unmanageable debt, as alcohol bills coupled with employment problems start to add up.
  • Marital and relationship difficulties, as most alcoholics – including so-called “high functioning alcoholics” – are prone to lies and deceit to continue their addiction.
  • Homelessness – according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 40% of homeless people are alcohol dependent.

This list of problems does not affect every alcoholic. It does, however, point to a number of things that an alcoholic could expect to encounter if their drinking continues. It is vital that if a loved one is addicted to alcohol you do your best to get them the professional help they need to save their life. If you, as an alcoholic realize you may be in over your head with your alcoholism, seek the treatment you need and take the steps towards sobriety and healthy living.

The Patch for Patch Program in Ontario May Help Curb the Misuse of Fentanyl

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

With OxyContin now much harder to obtain, addicts and dealers alike are turning their attention to Fentanyl patches. Fentanyl is used, most commonly, to treat pain in cancer patients, but as it is 100 times stronger than Morphine, it should come as no surprise that it is now being used by addicts on the street to deliver a very powerful high. The problem is something to the effect of knocking down one thing while another pops up. It is great to hear that the government is finally doing something about the rampant misuse of OxyContin, by introducing a tamper resistant form of the drug that will prevent people from crushing and melting the pills, but now that Oxy has become harder to get for people buying it illegally without a prescription, it would seem that the far more dangerous Fentanyl is what addicts are turning to. Fentanyl usually comes in the form of a patch that is applied to the skin and delivers regular doses of the drug to treat severe pain over the course of three days. But the drug is often misused and the patches are applied without a prescription, are melted down to be injected or altered in some other form so that the addict can gain access to it’s pleasurable effects as quickly and efficiently as possible, with no regard to the immense danger they are putting themselves in. The Fentanyl problem isn’t new, and there have been calls Canada wide to try and deal with the problem, but now that people are struggling to get their illegal OxyContin, the Fentanyl problem has gone into overdrive and many authorities in communities across the country are scratching their heads in search of a solution.

Luckily, in Durham Ontario, authorities have started a program that makes a lot of sense. It’s called the patch for patch program which would see patients being prescribed Fentanyl patches return their used patches to the pharmacy at which they normally receive their prescriptions. While this may not be the ultimate solution to the problem, especially when it comes to people simply selling their patches to other people, it will most likely put a serious dent in the plans of those people who after using their prescribed patches sell what is left on the street in order to make a bit of money on the side. In some cases, authorities believe that the used Fentanyl patches are bringing legitimate users at least $40 a pop which can add up quickly if they use the patches every few days. For reference, a new, unused patch sells for about $400 on the street.

Lovell Drugs, which has six stores in Durham Region, was involved in the process of creating the Patch for Patch program and is already using it in its stores. “We got involved because we have the store in the Glazier Medical Centre so were working with the Pinewood Centre,” said pharmacist and Lovell Drugs general manager Rita Winn, referring to the Pinewood Centre for Addictions located in Oshawa. “Most patients, when we explain it’s a public safety issue, they say no problem,” she said. “The people that are going to have a problem are people that are diverting them … some of these people, it can pay their rents so it’s very tempting.”



The Access Issue: California’s Addicted Doctors

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Doctors are a vital part in dealing with addiction. They have the expertise and knowledge to deal with a variety of addiction issues and they help thousands of addicts as part of the overall treatment process. It may come as a shock, however, to learn that in California there have been 46 doctors who have been reprimanded as a result of their own substance abuse issues. According to the California Medical Board this is a record high for doctors abusing certain substances in the last year, but the board reminds everyone that this figure is no doubt simply a fraction of the number of doctors who are currently abusing any given substance at this time. The scariest part of these revelations are that doctors who are facing disciplinary action can continue to practice while enforcement actions begin to take place, without their patients having any idea as to what’s going on. This issue has become very serious as California voters can now vote on the issue, known as Proposition 46, which if implemented would result in doctors being forced to submit themselves to random drug testing in order to catch substance-abuse before the patients of said doctors are harmed.

Proposition 46, also known as the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, would require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration’s testing of airline pilots, and testing after an adverse event in a hospital. Prop 46 would also:

  • Require physicians to report suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work by a colleague

  • Index for inflation the medical negligence damage cap set by the legislature in California in 1975

  • Mandate that physicians check the state’s prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients

The California Medical Board is pointing to some specific cases where substance-abusing doctors may be to blame for direct harm to patients. Dr. David Chao, the former San Diego Chargers team physician could be responsible for the May 2012 suicide of player Junior Seau. Dr. Chao has a long history of alcohol abuse which even resulted in two DUIs, and is the target of malpractice lawsuits from the players who were in his care. Even the DEA is investigating allegations of Dr. Chao writing prescriptions for himself. The frustrating part of Dr. Chao’s story is that he is still practicing medicine despite all of the allegations brought against him.

Yes, it is a shocking situation. People trust their doctors because of their training, knowledge and the fact that they are in fact meant to be able to help you with just about any medical problem. Doctors are required to be discrete, helpful and experts in their field as well as acting as a rock in a trusting relationship with their sick patients who need someone to totally rely on in times of injury and sickness. But the fact is is that doctors often are under a lot of stress and despite the fact they are well trained and have extensive knowledge they are simply human and can succumb to substance abuse just as easily as anyone. The only difference is is that these medical professionals hold the lives of others in their hands and if they are under the influence of an addictive or dangerous substance they could cause serious harm. The disciplinary actions against these particular California doctors make sense, but the doctors should also be given the chance to kick their bad habits and under severe scrutiny, eventually return to their practices in order to keep helping patients.



What does your sewage say about your town’s drug habits

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Understanding the amount that a certain population is using when it comes to drugs is an important statistic. It helps highlight trends, usage patterns and sheer amounts used, but how are researchers, law enforcement, governments and special interest groups going to identify just how much a community, city or state is using when it comes to drugs like cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines? In the past surveys have been sent out and could be anonymously filled out by citizens of a certain area, but are people always going to be honest on a survey? Even if it is anonymous people may deny drug use anyway out of fear of being arrested and charged with drug possession. Or they may fear that the information will be leaked in some way that will hurt them in the future. Well, it seems there is a new way to track drug use without filling out a form or survey. The author of Washington state’s recreational marijuana law has suggested that in a town called Spokane, the sewage should be tested for traces of the cannabis chemical known as THC. The idea behind the testing is to see how accurate of a picture the government can get of the usage patterns of those using marijuana in the area. It should be noted that recreational use of pot in Washington is now legal, but authorities would still like to understand and break down usage amounts to study the results.

The idea to test the sewage for THC was proposed by an American civil liberties union lawyer by the name of Alison Holcomb at a City Council’s meeting that was discussing marijuana policy. A scientist at the University of Washington said Holcomb’s idea made sense and was a good idea.

“It’s always good for a chuckle, but it does actually work,” Caleb Banta-Green, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, said Wednesday. Banta-Green has tested sewage in Oregon and Washington for the presence of illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.

Holcomb said recently that testing the sewage for THC will provide more accurate results and trends than any survey could, due to the fact that she believes the surveys are often filled out dishonestly. According to Banta-Green there is a lot to be learned from testing the sewage. For instance it could provide valuable information such as the quantities of drugs a community is consuming, along with the days of the week that they are using most heavily. According to Banta-Green the tests in Oregon revealed that meth users tend to consume drugs daily, while cocaine users tend to use the most on weekends, possibly at parties, bars and nightclubs.

Obviously there are people interested in these results. Especially policymakers, schools, law enforcement, nonprofits and local government. The results will only provide general information, but it is helpful to know usage patterns in the local community in order to address the potential problems that may arise such as growing numbers of drug use and addiction.