The epidemics of prescription opioid and heroin abuse occurring throughout the country may have much to do with the high rates of painkiller prescriptions that currently exist in many states, particularly in the South and Midwest. States with some of the worst problems with heroin use and overdose deaths, like Kentucky, also rank near the top of the list of the most-prescribing states. From local community action to state and national drug policy, different strategies to solve the drug crisis are being pursued, and now a new painkiller is ready to enter the market that may be more resistant to misuse and overdose.
In response to the surging drug epidemics seen across the country, national agencies and health experts are now developing an enhanced system for monitoring drug trends. In August 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will start funding the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), which will provide more intensive monitoring of local drug use trends and allow experts to act more quickly to address outbreaks of drug abuse before they spread to other areas. The system will also take advantage of social media platforms to provide information and education to people living in areas where addiction outbreaks are occurring.
People in recovery learn to avoid triggers in order to stay sober. That’s because triggers will “activate” the part of the brain called the reward system on which drugs and addiction exert their influence. But a new research study has found that in people with strong addictions, it’s not just the reward system, but other areas having to do with memory, attention, and emotion that become active with exposure to triggers. The University of Texas at Dallas researchers also found that dependent users of marijuana who were exposed to a particular trigger—in this case, drug paraphernalia, or a pipe—showed much more activity in the affected brain regions than casual users, according to a ScienceDaily report.
Kentucky legislators in the House and Senate are reviving proposals to improve addiction treatment coverage and toughen criminal penalties for drug traffickers, according to a report in The Courier Journal. Similar proposals grouped under Senate Bill 5 failed to pass during the 2014 General Assembly, but several lawmakers hope that an agreeable bill can be reached in 2015, if not sooner. The goal of legislating better access to treatment appears to be even more urgent now, as treatment centers across the country are finding that a federal rule is severely limiting their ability to bill Medicaid for residential care.
Addiction researchers and substance use treatment professionals already have a fairly mature understanding of how addiction appears in the brain, knowing that it causes and is reinforced by long-term problems with the regulation of dopamine in the region of the brain known as the reward system. But scientists are still trying to understand the exact mechanism of the brain disease of addiction, so that better medication therapies—even vaccines—might be developed to reverse the condition of addiction. Recently Prof. Scott Steffensen and his colleagues at Brigham Young University published studies that may make clearer just what is going on when a brain transitions to a state of addiction.
The President’s annual update on national drug strategy, announced today by Michael Botticelli, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, emphasizes support for bringing innovative online recovery tools into the mainstream of U.S. health care. This emphasis on web-based tools appears in the report’s strategy regarding the expansion of access to addiction treatment and the merging of substance use disorder treatment into general health care centers, as designated by the new health care laws and mental health parity acts.
Substance use disorders and addiction have a range of negative consequences, including problems in one’s work life. Having a hard time meeting the demands of your job, dealing with work stress, or even showing up is often a clear sign that your use of drugs or alcohol has become problematic and that you may need to seek help. But present conflicts on the job—even getting laid off as a result of your substance use—could be just the tip of the iceberg. A new research study has shown that long-term job prospects and career growth are negatively impacted by continuing problems with substance use. The challenge of finding fulfillment in work appears to be made much more difficult when you’re also suffering from an untreated substance use disorder.
Celebrities entering alcohol or drug rehab is usually the stuff of seedy Hollywood gossip, but sometimes a story comes along offering a more positive example of the importance of recovery and the necessity of good treatment programs. It was recently reported that Robin Williams entered a treatment center, but not following any kind of controversial behavior or relapse. Instead, the reason for the actor’s decision to spend a few weeks in treatment is said to be in order to recommit to his continued recovery and improve his recovery maintenance skills. Williams has not shied away from acknowledging his problems with substance dependency, and his public embrace of staying healthy through recovery programs shows that he’s not deterred by the stigma of addiction.
We know that addiction is a brain disease characterized by physical changes in the chemistry of the brain of someone who struggles with substance dependency. Medical research and opinion are clear: addiction changes the brain. That’s why one avenue of addiction treatment is the development of medications that intervene in the way addictive substances act on the brain’s normal chemical activities. But there’s still a lot to be done in the development of useful addiction medication treatments and research into the exact mechanisms of addiction. A new research study on the relationship between memory or learned behavior and addiction may provide direction for more research and treatment development, although its practical implications aren’t entirely clear yet.
Addiction is frequently called a family disease due to the unfortunate consequences it has not only for the person who is addicted, but for anyone who feels the impact of the addict’s changed behavior and health. Recent figures by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that more than 8.3 million children under the age of 18 lived with at least one parent struggling with substance dependency. The costs of addiction in one’s family range from financial woes, to problems communicating and getting along, and even sometimes to endangerment and abuse, when it’s most crucial to seek help.
A new extensive guide for people who suspect addiction in the family has recently been published online by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a national nonprofit organization.