Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Protective Strategies for Safe Drinking May Backfire

Many college students engage in drinking alcohol, and in many ways consuming alcohol is a big part of college life. College campuses around the country make alcohol a top priority, discouraging the practice of binge drinking and driving under the influence. While such campaigns may make an impression on students, causing students to be proactive about safe consumption, it turns out that protective measures taken by students when consuming alcohol may actually backfire, Reuters reports.

Common protective strategies that students often employ include:
  • Going home with a friend.
  • Having a friend tell you when you have had too much.
  • Drinking water between drinks.
  • Refraining from drinking games.
New research suggests that such practices may not have the intended effect and may be linked with greater consumption, according to the article. Lead researcher Melissa A. Lewis of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues surveyed almost 700 undergraduate students and 131 of their friends who planned to take a trip over spring break.

The participants were surveyed before and after their trip, answering questions about:
While the students planned to drink heavily on at least one day of their trip, the students reported having an average of five-and-a-half alcoholic drinks per day, the article reports. Having a friend tell you when you have had too much and making sure you went home with a friend were linked to more alcohol consumption and greater consequences.

Lewis points out that even though protective strategies were linked with greater consumption, it does not necessarily mean that they are not helpful with regard to getting home safe. However, she believes that students should focus on both reducing the amount of drinking and the consequences that accompany heavy alcohol consumption.

“When working with college students, we need to focus on why specific strategies are being used,” said Lewis. “For example, it is important for (doctors) to know if someone indicates they are using a designated driver to reduce specific consequences (driving under the influence) but also in order to drink heavily.” 

The findings were published in Addictive Behaviors.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

HHS Funding for Opioid Epidemic

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report earlier this month which found that heroin overdose deaths quadrupled from 2002 to 2013, doubling between 2011 and 2013. If anything else, the study was a clear indication that more needs to be done in the nation’s fight to curb the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic plaguing Americans.

In response, the agency announced that $100 million will be made available by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to expand access to substance use disorder treatment services, according to an HHS news release. The funding will give state and community health centers the ability to provide greater access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder.

On top of the SAMHSA funding, the Health Resources and Services Administration will make an additional $100 million available to improve and expand substance use disorder services. Arguably, the greatest weapon the government has to counter the insidious opioid scourge plaguing Americans is substance use disorder treatment and greater access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. If administered to overdose victims in a timely manner, the drug has the power to save lives.

“For those Americans who have fallen into opioid addiction and dependency, we can make the greatest impact by helping them move into recovery,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “This funding will expand access to medication-assisted treatment and help states and community health centers continue to improve their responses to the opioid epidemic.”

Secretary Burwell has a three pronged opioid initiative to address the problem. The initiative is evidence-based and focuses on three targeted areas:
  • Opioid Prescribing Practices
  • Expanded Use of Naloxone
  • Expanded Use of MAT

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Cost of Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

In the United States there are many families that are impoverished and require government assistance. In fact, at the end of 2012 there were 109,631,000 Americans who lived in households that received welfare benefits, according to the United States Census Bureau. In the last five years, nearly two dozen states have begun drug testing welfare recipients who were believed to be using drugs, USA Today reports.

The argument being:

“If you have enough money to be able to buy drugs," says Colorado Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, "then you don't need public assistance." 

While such policies may seem to be sound and reasonable, new reports indicate that state funded drug testing mandates for welfare recipients could cost taxpayers more than they are worth, and may only serve to further stigmatize the impoverished.

The State of Arizona announced the welfare drug testing policy in 2009, and the taxpayers were led to believe that the program would save the state over $1.5 million. The reality was something quite different; of the more than 87,000 welfare recipients tested in the first three years after the program began, only one person actually tested positive and was disqualified from the program, according to the article. By 2012, the state saved exactly $560.

The program is administered by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Now five years into the program, the department reports that 26 people have lost benefits due to the drug tests, but only three of actually failed the test, The Sierra Vista Herald reported in March 2015. The total saved to date was about $3500. While these programs appear to cost more than they actually save, there are some who believe that such laws are unconstitutional.

Each year more states investigate legislating drug testing for welfare recipients. For example, recently Texas, Montana and West Virginia considered legislation, while Michigan, Maine and Mississippi passed such bills. In the State of Florida their 2011 law was deemed unconstitutional and Governor Rick Scott announced in March 2015 that the state would not appeal this 11th Circuit Court’s ruling.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Childhood Mental Health Disorders May Lead to Adulthood Issues

A new study suggests that children diagnosed with mental health disorders are more likely to experience problems in adulthood. Researchers from Duke University found that children with a mental illness were six times more likely to have trouble as young adults, compared to those without psychiatric disorders, a news release from Duke Medicine reports.

The research indicated those children that experienced mild or passing bouts of depression, anxiety and/or behavioral issues - had increased odds of facing issues as adults. Even those children that did not meet the full diagnostic criteria, according to the report.

The issues they might face include:
  • Criminal Charges
  • Addiction
  • Early Pregnancies
  • Education Problems
  • Residential Instability
  • Employment Issues
The findings come from 1,420 children ages 9 to 16, all of which were assessed up to six occasions for common psychiatric diagnoses, the article reports. The researchers were able to re-assess 1,273 of the children, now adults, between the ages of 19 to 26.

“When we went into this, it was an open question: Are these psychiatric diagnoses in childhood impairing in the moment, but something people recover from and go on?” said lead author William Copeland, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke. “We weren’t expecting to find these protracted difficulties into adulthood.”

“When it comes to key psychiatric problems -- depression, anxiety, behavior disorders -- there are successful interventions and prevention programs,” said Copeland, Ph.D. “So we do have the tools to address these, but they aren’t implemented widely. The burden is then later seen in adulthood, when these problems become costly public health and social issues.”

The findings were published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Teenage Marijuana Use On The Decline

With more and more states adopting lighter stances on marijuana, both medical and recreational, many have had concerns about the effect it would have on teenagers. Medical marijuana has been approved in 23 states and D.C., and recreational use has been legalized in four states - with more expected to follow. While marijuana is considered to be one of the more benign mind altering substances, there is significant research that suggests the drug is harmful to developing brains.

Despite more relaxed views on marijuana prohibition, new research suggests that marijuana use among young teens (ages 12-14) is on the decline, and disapproval of the drug is increasing, UT News reports. Among teens ages 15 to 17, researchers have found that marijuana use is also on the decline.

“Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents,” said lead researcher, Professor Christopher Salas-Wright. 

The study, conducted at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, focused on teenage perceptions of marijuana and use in the United States between 2002 and 2013 - based on questionnaires from about 500,000 teens and young adults. The research indicated a 25 percent decline in use among younger teens during the time period, with nearly 80 percent reporting strong disapproval of marijuana use initiation, according to the article.

“Overall, our results suggest that important changes are underway in the perception and use of marijuana among American youth,” Salas-Wright said. “While our results reflect trends among youth at the national level, we were not able to look at localized differences in particular cities or states. As such, it is possible that we may see different patterns in areas more directly influenced by changes in marijuana policy.” 

The findings were published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
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