Separating Side Effects Could Hold Key for Safer Opioids


NIH-funded scientists may have revealed brain functions in pre-clinical research that widen the safety margin for opioid pain relief without overdose Opioid pain relievers can be extremely effective in relieving pain, but can carry a high risk of addiction and ultimately overdose when breathing is suppressed and stops. Scientists have discovered a way to separate these two effects -- pain relief and breathing -- opening a window of opportunity to make effective pain medications without the risk of respiratory failure. The research, published today in Cell, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health. Opioid medications suppress pain by binding to specific receptors (proteins) in the brain; these same receptors also produce respiratory suppression. However, the way these receptors act to regulate pain and breathing may be fundamentally different. Studies using mouse genetic models suggest that avoiding one particular signaling pathway led...

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Connect People With Support Services to Fight Opioid Epidemic: Surgeon General


Connecting people with support services such as food and housing is a key step in curbing the opioid epidemic, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said recently. “We’ve got to be more innovative in terms of helping folks understand that providing all these services will increase their chances of success and ultimately lower cost,” Adams said at an event sponsored by Faces and Voices of Recovery and Indivior. “That’s what I want Congress to know, that’s what I want policymakers to know — we’re not throwing good money after bad; we’re actually getting a return on investment by wrapping people with the support services they need to be successful in recovery.” Adams said his brother self-medicated to cope with untreated mental health issues, The Hill reports. “He ended up committing criminal activity to support his habit and is now in state prison a few miles away from here in Maryland because of his...

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OxyContin Maker Announces It Will No Longer Market Drug to Doctors


Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, said it will no longer market the drug to doctors. The announcement comes in response to lawsuits that blame the company for helping to trigger the opioid crisis, CBS News reports. The company said it has eliminated more than half its sales staff, and will no longer send sales representatives to doctors’ offices to talk about opioid medications. OxyContin is the world’s top-selling opioid painkiller. Purdue, along with pharmaceutical distributors and other companies that make opioids, are defending themselves against hundreds of state and local lawsuits that aim to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid epidemic, the article notes. The lawsuits are seeking money and changes to how the industry operates.

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Experts Say $6 Billion to Fight Opioid Addiction Isn’t Enough


The recent federal budget deal includes $6 billion in new funding to fight the opioid crisis—an amount addiction treatment experts and some lawmakers say isn’t enough, CNN reports. In a statement, New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan said while the $6 billion is welcome, far more funding is needed. “Much more needs to be done to provide substance use disorder treatment to those who desperately need it,” Shaheen said. “We still need a federal response to this epidemic that matches the national public health emergency we are facing.” Hassan added, “We will ultimately need far more funding beyond this measure over the years to come to truly address this crisis.” A spokesperson for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin told CNN that the senator wants to make sure West Virginia, which is greatly affected by the opioid crisis, gets much of the funding.

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Opioid Crisis in U.S. Has Cost More Than $1 Trillion: Report


The cost of the nation’s opioid crisis exceeded $1 trillion from 2001 to 2017, a new report concludes. The epidemic may cost an additional $500 billion by 2020. The findings come from Altarum, a nonprofit health research and consulting institute. The greatest cost of the opioid crisis comes from lost earnings and productivity losses to employers, NPR reports. Other costs come from lost tax revenue due to early deaths and substance use disorders. Emergency room visits, ambulance costs and the use of naloxone also have contributed to the increase in costs, the report notes. Opioid-related expenses are rising in part because more young people are being affected. “The average age at which opioid deaths are occurring — you’re looking at something in the late 30s or early 40s,” said Corey Rhyan, a senior research analyst with Altarum’s Center for Value and Health Care. “As a result, you’re looking at people that...

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Meth Makes a Comeback Around the Country


Meth is making a comeback around the country, say experts who note the drug is more pure, cheap and deadly than ever. Although the number of domestic meth labs has greatly decreased, agents at the U.S. border are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts of meth they did a decade ago, The New York Times reports. In the early 2000s, domestic labs made meth from the decongestant pseudoephedrine. In 2005, Congress passed the Combat Methamphetamine Act, which made it more difficult to purchase pseudoephedrine. In response, Mexican drug cartels stepped up production. There is now so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers are offering the drug on credit, the article notes. Little is being done to combat the increase in meth because it has been overshadowed by the opioid crisis, according to public health experts. There is no drug to reverse meth overdoses, or drug treatments to reduce meth cravings.

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Study Aims to Reduce Hep-C Transmission in Young Adults Who Inject Drugs


A new study aims to reduce hepatitis C (HCV) transmission among young adults who inject drugs. The study will equip participants with strategies to avoid situations and practices that put them at risk of contracting HCV. “What makes this intervention model different from others is that we are not focusing just on the moment a person injects drugs,” said study researcher Honoria Guarino, Ph.D., a principal investigator at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. and a researcher with the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at NYU Meyers College of Nursing. “We are looking at the bigger picture—what factors are putting them in situations where they are likely to inject unsafely. We want to give them planning skills to help them avoid those situations or deal with them more effectively if they come up.” The growing population of young people who inject drugs is at extremely high risk for...

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Treating Depression May Help Patients Stop Long-Term Prescription Opioid Use


Patients with long-term opioid prescriptions and depression who take antidepressants are more likely to stop using opioids, a new study concludes. “Depression can worsen pain and is common in patients who remain long-term prescription opioid users,” lead researcher Jeffrey Scherrer, PhD, of Saint Louis University said in a news release. “Our study should encourage clinicians to determine if their non-cancer pain patients are suffering from depression and aggressively treat patients’ depression to reduce opioid use.” He added, “Effective depression treatment may break the mutually reinforcing opioid-depression relationship and increase the likelihood of successful opioid cessation.” The findings will be published in British Journal of Psychiatry.

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Long-Term Marijuana Use Is Associated With Health Problems Later in Life


Attitudes and policies regarding recreational marijuana use are becoming increasingly permissive. To effectively address the implications of these developments, researchers and policy makers need to understand how much and how long people use marijuana during the lifespan, and the degree to which different use patterns are associated with long-term issues such as health status. This study found that: Marijuana users exhibited six different patterns of marijuana use from ages 18 to 50.Longer-term marijuana use (extending from age 18 into the late 20s or beyond) was associated with increased risk of self-reported health problems at age 50. To this end, Yvonne Terry-McElrath of the University of Michigan and her colleagues applied the statistical technique of latent class analysis to identify distinct patterns of marijuana use from age 18 to 50 among nearly 10,000 participants in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study. The participants had reported their past-year marijuana use when they were...

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“Deaths of Despair” Caused by Opioids, Alcohol and Suicides: Report


The incresing rate of deaths due to opioids, alcohol and suicides are part of a public health crisis described as “deaths of despair” in a new report published recently. Life expectancy in the United States has decreased for the second year in a row because of these factors, researchers wrote in BMJ. The drop was particularly steep among middle-age white Americans and people living in rural areas, USA Today reports. “Why white Americans are dying at higher rates from drugs, alcohol, and suicides is unclear, complex, and not explained by opioids alone,” the researchers wrote. They note that possibilities include the collapse of industries and the local economies they supported, the erosion of social cohesion and greater social isolation, economic hardship, and distress among white workers over losing the security their parents once enjoyed.

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