Tag Archives: addiction

Methamphetamine and Pregnancy

In Hawaii, at least 50 percent of methamphetamine abusers and addicts are women. It’s believed that the drug’s side effects, which include reduced hunger and weight loss, helps explain why so many women abuse the drug.

Most women who use methamphetamine are in their child-bearing years, which can result in meth-affected pregnancies. Using methamphetamine during pregnancy poses a significant risk to the mother and fetus.

Some of the risks to the infant include premature or early delivery of the infant as well as deformities such as club foot and limb abnormalities. Pre-natal meth exposure causes babies to be born with low birth weight, and it can cause the infant to have a stroke or bleeding in the brain.

Babies exposed to meth may also suffer neurological problems such as intolerance to light and touch, tremors, muscle coordination problems, and sleep and irritability problems. There is also an increased risk for these babies to be born with HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

The developmental risks of infants exposed to meth include learning disabilities and growth and development delays. These babies also have higher rates of attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactive disorders. They also have higher rates for rage disorder and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome in infants—and even in children up to 7 years old.

Seeking treatment for drug addiction during a woman’s reproductive years can reduce the potential for harm to both the mother and child.

Russia Calls for Joint Action from US and NATO to Eradicate Heroin in Afghanistan

Russia’s counter-narcotics chief criticized U.S. and NATO anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, calling them inadequate and asking for joint action against the Afghan heroin flooding into the former Soviet Union.

In an interview with the Associated Press Wednesday, Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s drug control agency, said he recently urged the Obama administration’s drug czar to begin a program of spraying herbicide from the air to eradicate Afghanistan’s fields of opium poppies.

“I hope that our open-minded dialogue will encourage the U.S. to take more adequate measures,” Ivanov said.

Russian-U.S. counter-drug efforts are considered a key area of cooperation as both countries try to improve relations following years of tensions.

The problem of drug abuse is of vital concern for Russia, where cheap Afghan heroin has helped fuel a surge in addiction rates and injection drug use has been a key factor in the spread of the virus that causes AIDS.

Authorities say that there are between 2 million and 2.5 million addicts in Russia, and that about 30,000 die each year of drug overdoses.

Afghanistan provides more than 90 percent of the heroin consumed in the world, and most of it flows through ex-Soviet Central Asia and Russia.

Ivanov voiced concern that the administration of President Barack Obama has abandoned the Bush-era policy of large-scale eradication of opium crops in Afghanistan.

Some U.S. officials have called the tactic ineffective in curbing cultivation and claimed that it boosted support for the Taliban. Instead, the Obama administration has focused on targeting drug labs and encouraging farmers to raise alternative crops.

Ivanov, a former KGB officer who served in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there in the 1980s, told the Associated Press that growing wheat and other legal crops isn’t practical in the midst of the escalating conflict.

“As long as the situation remains tense and the confrontation continues, no one will engage in agriculture,” he said. “They won’t be able to cultivate grain even if they want to.”

He insisted that the aerial spraying of herbicides is the only efficient way to stem the drug trade, and pointed out that the U.S. has used the tactic against the illicit coca crop—the source of cocaine—in Colombia.

Efforts to chop down and bulldoze poppy fields on the ground in Afghanistan have brought few results, he said. He also said the Western decision to leave the fight against drugs to the Afghan government was a mistake because local authorities lack the clout to accomplish the goal.

Ivanov said he met with Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, and State Department officials during a September visit to Washington, and both sides agreed to continue discussions on aerial spraying.

A recent U.N. report found that the amount of land planted with opium poppies in Afghanistan dropped 36 percent between 2007 and 2008. But the same report said the amount of opium produced fell by only 10 percent, due to improved growing techniques.

While Moscow is leery of the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Russia is counting on those troops to stem the flow of Muslim militants and Afghan heroin into the former Soviet Union.

Earlier this year, the Kremlin allowed the shipment of supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan across the Russian territory, a route that could become an increasingly important alternative to Pakistan, where supply convoys are sometimes attacked.

Ivanov said that the U.S. may not see Afghan heroin as an urgent problem because little of it finds its way into the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says most heroin consumed in the U.S. comes from Mexico and South America.

Despite U.S.-Russian differences on how to solve the Afghan drug problem, Ivanov vowed to expand joint anti-narcotics efforts with Washington. “We are interested in cooperation,” Ivanov said.

Mother Hiding Heroin in Her Body Is Spared Jail

A 23-year-old Wales mother who was caught with heroin hidden inside her body avoided jail yesterday when the judge gave her a chance to change her ways. Samantha Davies faced up to four years in jail.

Prosecutor Tony Trigg said police had told Davies they were going to search her when they stopped her car last April. “She volunteered to them that she had one wrap of heroin hidden in her bra and another eight wraps in a money bag concealed inside her body,” Trigg told the court.

“When she was interviewed she said she had been supplying heroin for about five weeks because she heavily addicted and needed as much as eight bags a day for herself,” he continued. Davies said her boyfriend was buying the drugs and sharing them with her.

Of every 20 bags she made out of her share, she sold on five or six because it was the only way she could afford her next purchase. Last year she was in court for drug possession and shoplifting.

Meirion Davies, defending, said, “Her situation is a cliché. This is what happens when you become hooked on a class A drug. It destroys your life and could ultimately end it.”

He said Davies’ mother and stepfather were still standing by her and that she had promised to cut herself off from her former boyfriend. The court was told she was now living away from her former boyfriend in a place where he couldn’t find her and was doing her best to recover from her addiction.

Judge Christopher Llewellyn-Jones QC gave her a two-year community order with drug rehabilitation, adding that she has a family who loves her and a little boy who needs her. He added, “We don’t expect miracles but we will expect you to become drug free.”

Drug Czar Looks to Baltimore’s Drug Court for Inspiration

Gil Kerlikowske, America’s drug czar, is looking to Baltimore’s 15-year-old drug treatment court to help set the nation’s strategy of emphasizing treatment over incarceration. The Baltimore Sun reports that Kerlikowske met with legislators and a drug court judge to discuss the program and collaborate efforts between city, state, and federal agencies.

During a news conference, Kerlikowske noted that released prisoners “almost invariably go back to the neighborhood from whence they came,” and that without treatment, “all we’re doing is recycling people throughout the system.”

It’s been suggested that the Obama administration will focus on drugs as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement problem, and in Baltimore, drug addiction is “the most significant public health crisis” there is, according to Greg Warren, president of the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc, which sets the city’s drug strategy.

Every year, 9,000 convicts are returned to Baltimore streets, and many of them return to the drug abuse that led them to incarceration. Most of the city’s criminal activity is drug-related, with 80 percent (or four out of five people) failing their initial drug tests.

The first drug treatment court was developed in Florida in 1989 when crack cocaine addiction was labeled an epidemic. The idea behind drug courts is to lessen the burden on courts and jails by attempting to treat drug-addicted individuals before imprisoning them.

Today there are more than 1,000 drug courts across the country, according to a 2005 University of Maryland report that studied the effects of Baltimore’s drug court, which was created in 1994 in response to a city Bar Association claim that 85 percent of Baltimore crimes were drug related.

In Baltimore, participants must live in the city and be at least 18, and they can’t have committed a violent offense. They are supervised and regularly drug tested during their treatment. However, Baltimore’s intensive probation supervision and the significant participation of the Division of Parole and Probation are atypical.

Baltimore’s drug court participants are about three times more likely to be employed after the program as other convicts, and are a third as likely to use drugs during treatment, according to Representative Elijah E. Cummings, who added, “We want Baltimore to be a model.”

Cummings stressed the need for more resources and the role the federal government has in providing them, which is the main reason he wanted Kerlikowske to become familiar with Baltimore’s system. “You want the federal government to be sensitive to things that are working,” Cummings said, to ensure that “the city has a better chance at getting the resources it needs.”

Kerlikowske said he “absolutely” plans to incorporate Baltimore’s efforts into the country’s policy.

Anna Nicole Smith’s Bodyguard Reveals Details About Her Drug Use

More details are surfacing regarding the role Howard K. Stern played in Anna Nicole Smith’s drug use, including an incident where Howard cooked a crushed Valium pill on a spoon and injected Anna with the drug.

According to celebrity website PerezHilton.com, Smith’s former bodyguard, Maurice Brighthaupt, testified yesterday in the case against Stern, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, and Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, and revealed a shocking story about Smith’s time in the Bahamas with Stern.

Brighthaupt unveiled an incident in which Smith began “begging” for drugs to help her deal with the loss of her son Daniel. (He also overdosed.) Brighthaupt watched Smith lie naked in an adjoining bedroom while Stern provided her what whatever drugs she wanted.

“I saw him drawing up liquid from the spoon that was being cooked. She couldn’t swallow. Anna and Howard felt if they put it in the blood system that it would get into her system quicker.”

Brighthaupt said that he saw Stern do this for Smith “four or five” times between then and the day of her death, and also saw Dr. Eroshevich deliver chloral hydrate to the Bahamas to inject Smith at least once.

Treating Alcoholism: Can Abstinence Be Replaced with a Pill?

Time magazine poses an important question this week regarding alcoholism treatment: Can a pill replace abstinence? Maia Szalavitz writes that alcoholics who take an anticraving medication called baclofen say the drug allows them to resist powerful relapse triggers such as a favorite bar, former drinking buddies, the sight of alcohol, and even having a single drink

She tells the story of Bob, 62, who battled alcohol dependency for several decades, regularly drinking at least 35 beers per week. Two years ago, after taking baclofen for two weeks, he found himself drinking soda water at a dinner party and, for the first time, not thinking about needing a drink.

“I realized I wasn’t having that nagging feeling in my head, ‘I should really get a drink,'” said Bob. “It never appeared during the dinner either so that was the eureka moment.” He continues to take baclofen and now drinks about two or three times per week, no more than a beer or two at a time.

Dr. Olivier Ameisen had a similar experience, which prompted him to write his memoir The End of My Addiction. A longtime alcoholic, Ameisen had been to rehab at least eight times and had attended nearly 5,000 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings without being able to maintain sobriety.

He began taking baclofen more than five years ago, and has since been able to abstain from drinking altogether. He occasionally drinks moderately in social situations but doesn’t have cravings or other addiction-related problems.

“I never understood how people could leave liquor in a glass,” said Ameisen. “Now you could give me a sip of champagne and I could leave it. That was impossible in my wildest dreams. And it’s effortless. Complete suppression, not reduction of cravings. I’m indifferent to it.”

But despite some anecdotal success, there is little scientific data to support the efficacy of baclofen. Previous animal studies have suggested that it does have a powerful anticraving effect, however, and two large studies are under way. But even if the apparent anti-addiction benefits of the drug—which is currently approved by the government to treat muscle spasms—are proven in human trials, it might do little to persuade most American addiction-treatment providers to use it.

For many people, successful treatment of addiction involves complete abstinence; for some, this includes abstaining from drugs that would help fight cravings. For decades, experts have debated whether drug addicts who cannot or will not quit should even be offered ongoing treatments that would reduce harm related to their drug abuse.

Baclofen might also be able to reduce cravings for nicotine, binge eating, or even heroin or cocaine, because it seems to intercept the drugs at their roots. Researchers think that by binding to the GABA-B receptors in the brain, the brain’s reward system is modulated, preventing the release of excess dopamine (the chemical that creates a sense of euphoria).

But not all research has been conclusive. A recently published multisite trial of the drug in cocaine addicts did not produce significant results, which could be due to the dose, according to Teri Franklin, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin noted that most alcoholics who have reported success with the drug tend to take at least 80 mg per day, whereas the cocaine trial used 60 mg.

However, at high doses, baclofen can cause drowsiness and muscle spasms—though Franklin suggests that these side effects can be prevented with gradual exposure. Patients must also be gradually weaned off the medication to avoid muscle problems and anxiety. In addition, it seems that baclofen must be taken indefinitely, since cravings can return once the drug is stopped.

Regardless of the potential success of baclofen, most addiction experts would continue to encourage abstinence. “There are always some patients who can [cut down] to drink small amounts, but they are the exception,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is funding several ongoing trials of baclofen.

Although Volkow thinks baclofen shows promise in helping patients quit drinking altogether, she says the idea of controlled drinking is unwise: “My advice to patients is, don’t risk it.”

Moral Reconation Therapy Helps Inmates with Drug Addiction

When Jeff Smith was 17, he was already an alcoholic and tried heroin for the first time. “It used to take me three hours to get high when I drank. I could do the heroin and be there in three minutes,” he said. When his drug addiction eventually lead him to forgery and he was sentenced to the Shelby County Correction Center in Memphis, TN in 1987, he took part in a new program called MRT, or moral reconation therapy.

At the time, the program wasn’t successful in treating Jeff’s drug problems. When he was released on parole and returned to his old habits, his parents changed their locks to keep him out of their lives. But while Jeff relapsed, the MRT program grew from a pilot program in Shelby County to one that is now used in 47 states and eight countries.

MRT was developed by Memphis psychologists Dr. Greg Little and Dr. Kenneth Robinson, and was first used in 1985 as part of the Shelby County Correction Center’s drug abuse program. Robinson says it is now the most widely used inmate rehab program in the world.

The program was refined into a formal treatment method in 1987, and involves theories from psycholgists Carl Jung, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg. Little and Robinson formed a company called Correctional Counseling, Inc., and states on their website that MRT “seeks to move clients from hedonistic (pleasure vs. pain) reasoning levels to levels where concern for social results and others becomes important.” Put simply, MRT seeks  to make inmates think about the way they make decisions. The term “reconation” comes from the archaic term “conation” and means getting offenders to re-evaluate their choices.

Robinson says most people who experiment with drugs and alcohol are like Jeff Smith, starting in adolescence. “You see those people making poor decisions,” he said. “It changes your ability to live.”

Little says that logic doesn’t apply to offenders. “The bulk of offenders, 60 to 90 percent, have diagnosable antisocial personality disorders, and most people with antisocial personality disorders abuse drugs or alcohol.”

Smith, now 53, says he was a good example of this. When he was on parole, he worked, but mainly to support his drug habit. “I made decisions to do what I wanted to do regardless of consequences. I lost several jobs because of alcohol and drugs,” he said.

After violating parole, Smith was sentenced to another 13 years in prison and was released after 6-and-a-half years. He then enrolled in the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center and entered MRT group therapy.

“I missed out on 35 years of my life with my family. I had always known the difference in right and wrong, but I didn’t always do right. MRT helps you realize those things are conscious decisions,” Smith said.

When he completed therapy, Smith became an MRT trainer. He now works as a carpenter, furniture refinisher, and antique pricer for the Salvation Army and is living with and helping care for his aging parents.

“MRT is very easy in the beginning,” said Little. “We ask them to buy into the program. Soon, they are slowly swimming upstream. We ask them to stand up and tell what they know is the absolute truth. … It’s that they are liars. We try to have them clear the air by telling us they’re liars.”

After admitting their weaknesses, inmates are then confronted with choices, which grow more and more complex. For example, they may be asked whether it’s right to steal if you can’t afford a prescription for your sick wife who might die without the medication. As they consider their answers, they have to think about the way they make decisions.

Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell says that the MRT program works, but that it doesn’t perform miracles. Standard rates for repeat offenders in the United States are 65-85 percent, and the recidivism rate in Shelby County is about 85 percent. But Little says MRT fares better nationally, with a recidivism rate of 60 percent in the short term and going down to 20 percent after 10 years.

How the Brain Responds to Nicotine

Smoking is associated with multiple health risks. Heart disease and several types of cancer are more likely to occur in individuals who smoke. In trying to understand how to help smokers quit, scientists also want to understand how smokers get started in their addiction.

A new neuroscience research study attempted to pinpoint the specific brain activity that occurs within the first few minutes of exposure to nicotine. The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, showed that there was a connection formed between neurons within a single 15-minute exposure to nicotine, causing a long-term excitability between the neurons.

The results show that nicotine behaves similarly to cocaine in the brain, changing mechanisms during the very first contact and creating a long-lasting change in the brain.

Danyan Mao, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago Medical Center and lead author of the study. Mao explains that the change in the brain for smokers is a long-term behavioral change, but that the changes begin at the first exposure to nicotine. The researchers wanted to find out what happened in the brain at first exposure to a cigarette that then led the person to choose to have a second cigarette.

The study’s design was based on the understanding that as neurons are repeatedly activated together, they begin to form a strengthening bond. This leads to the neurons having the ability to excite one another.

Previous research has shown that nicotine can promote plasticity in a region of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Mao monitored the electrical activity of VTA dopamine neurons in slices of brain from adult rats. Each section of the rat’s brain was soaked for 15 minutes in a concentration of nicotine comparable to the exposure experienced in the brain during the smoking of a single cigarette.

After several hours, Mao conducted electrophysiology experiments to test for synaptic plasticity and identify receptors involved. Mao found that the nicotine affected a receptor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine located on the dopamine neurons. But another surprising result showed that the nicotine affected the D5 dopamine receptor, a component associated with cocaine addiction.

The results of the study show how even one cigarette can introduce changes in the brain that mimic those found in cocaine use. The first time a cigarette is used, neurons begin to make connections, encouraging the pleasurable response associated with smoking. Understanding how nicotine affects the brain, even during the first cigarette smoked, may help scientists develop strategies for helping individuals with smoking cessation.

Hong Kong School Helps Young Drug Addicts Recover

The use of psychotropic drugs has soared in Hong Kong in recent years, especially among adolescents. There were 8,306 reported psychotropic drug users in 2008 in Hong Kong—up from 6,335 in 2005.

Most users primarily abuse ketamine, an animal tranquilizer that is produced illegally in China and Hong Kong. In addition, 20 percent of Hong Kong’s secondary schools have sought help on how to manage students with drug problems.

That’s where Zheng Sheng College steps in, a small school in Hong Kong with 120 students. Principal Alman Chan, who is fighting for a bigger space for the school, believes that education is the only way to get young people back on track.

“We have so many young people involved in drugs in Hong Kong. They have to be educated … schooling gives them a chance at life, empowering them, reconnecting them with society. Schooling creates a new status, they are students, not inmates,” Chan said.

After groups of students were found dazed and unconscious at beaches and in parks, the drug problem gained more attention. Experts think the worsening drug problem in Hong Kong may be due to easily accessibility, peer pressure, and aimlessness among young students.

Kwan Wang-yuen said his schoolmates gave ketamine to him and that he did it to socialize with his friends. He had his first encounter with drugs at age 12. Now 14 and a student at Zheng Sheng, he hopes to finish school and get a job.

Ng Ka-chun was 13 when his friends introduced him to marijuana, psychotropic drugs, and ecstasy. “I remember thinking (marijuana) wasn’t any different from a cigarette and then I tried ecstasy and ketamine. It was the same logic, they were quite the same as marijuana, they seemed less serious than heroin,” said Ng, who was sent to Zheng Sheng and a rehabilitation center after he was caught stealing.

He has learned to play the piano and guitar at the school, and is adept at handling audio-visual equipment. He hopes to finish school in two years and then become a teacher.

Chan says drug addicts tend to not have a purpose in life and that narcotics serve as a buffer. “Before, people just wanted to get rich. Now, they hide in their homes, they don’t need to go out, they order a pizza and mom pays for it. They have no direction…and drugs help them define their meaning in life,” he said.

But this can change with education, he said. “The ‘student’ status by itself is social capital. It gives them so much more to work for. That is so important for young people.”