Tag: substance abuse

People With Substance Use Disorder at Higher Risk for COVID

Source: Unsplash CC0

A recent study showed that people with substance use disorders (SUDs) face higher risks for developing COVID and for experiencing serious problems associated with the infection. The study, published in World Psychiatry, examined these risks in fully vaccinated individuals with SUDs.

The study included 579 372 people in the US, of whom 30 183 had a diagnosis of SUD and 549 189 without such a diagnosis) who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and August 2021 and had not contracted COVID before their vaccinations.

The risk for breakthrough COVID infection in vaccinated people with SUDs ranged from 6.8% for tobacco use disorder to 7.8% for cannabis use disorder, all significantly higher than the 3.6% in the vaccinated non-SUD population. After controlling for demographics (age, gender, ethnicity) and vaccine types (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson), patients with SUDs – with the exception of those with tobacco use disorder – still had higher risks for breakthrough COVID-19 compared with matched individuals without SUDs, with the highest risks for those with cocaine use disorder and cannabis use disorder. 

The higher risk for people with SUDs was found to be largely due to their higher prevalence of comorbidities and adverse socioeconomic determinants of health (such as problems related to education, employment, and housing). However, those with cannabis use disorder, who were younger and had less comorbidities, still had a higher risk for breakthrough infection even matching for these. This could indicate that other variables, such as behavioural factors or adverse effects of cannabis on pulmonary and immune function, could explain some of their higher risk for breakthrough infection.

“In our study, the overall risk of COVID infection among vaccinated SUD patients was low, highlighting the effectiveness and the need for full vaccination in this population,” the authors wrote. “However, our findings document that this group remains a vulnerable one even after vaccination, confirming the importance for vaccinated patients with SUD to continue to take protective preventive measures against the infection.”

Source: Wiley

Stemming the Flow of the ‘Spice’ Drug

The ‘spice’ drug, which has dangerous side effects, is becoming more popular around the world, partly due to the difficulty in detecting its presence.

Spice is the street name for one type of synthetic cannabinoids (SC), which a heterogeneous group of compounds developed to probe the endogenous cannabinoid system or as potential therapeutics. Clandestine laboratories subsequently used published data to develop SC variations marketed as abusable ‘designer drugs’. In the early 2000’s, SC became popular as ‘legal highs’, partly due to their ability to escape detection by standard cannabinoid screening tests. While they provide a similar ‘high’ to cannabis, they are seen as safer but in fact they have serious and potentially fatal side effects.

In 2019, the team developed a prototype of their spice-detecting device and found it could detect the drug from saliva and street material in under five minutes. The current test involves lab analysis of urine, with results after three to seven days.

Dr Chris Pudney from the University’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, and creator of the new technology, said faster testing is essential if users are to receive treatment and harm-reduction interventions.

“There is no way of knowing if spice has been taken if someone presents with psychosis or intoxication symptoms that could also be due to other reasons,” said Dr Pudney. “So we see the detection technology as a way to inform care in case of overdose.”

The test’s obvious advantages have resulted in great interest, resulting in a grant which the Bath research team will use to create a simple field-usable testing solution.

Dr Pudney said: “Spice is endemic in homeless communities and prisons. It’s highly potent, addictive and poses severe health risks to users including psychosis, stroke, epileptic seizures and can kill. We want to deliver a detection system both to raise the prospect of rapid treatment and to stem the flow of drugs in these communities.”

There are also recent reports of children ‘mistaking’ spice for cannabis, resulting in numerous hospital admissions.

“Drug testing and checking, which is increasing in many countries around the world and in the UK, has been shown to have an impact on drug-taking behaviour and to potentially reduce risk,” said Dr Jenny Scott from the University’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology and who is also involved in the research.

“Spice use is a particular issue in homeless communities. In the future, we hope our technology can be used to offer drug testing to spice users and to tailor harm-reduction information to these vulnerable people. The machines could be used in drugs services, homeless hostels and further down the line, in pharmacies.”

The new spice-testing technology will be based on a cloud-hosted data analytics platform.

“We hope to combine this technology with a deeper understanding of the communities that use spice so that we can deploy the spice-detecting technology in the most effective way possible to benefit the most vulnerable in society,” said Dr Pudney. “Our ultimate aim is to save both money and lives.”

By the end of the grant period, the group aims to start a not-for-profit social enterprise to bring their technology to the mainstream. The group plans to roll out the full range of activities needed to deliver the technology, including portable device design, analytical software development, chemical fingerprint libraries and the associated community pharmacy practice advice to deploy the technology effectively.

“We believe the scope and potential of our research is truly unique and presents the best chance for tackling spice use in the UK and more widely,” said Dr Chris Pudney.

Source: News-Medical.Net

Keto Diet Eases Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Study Finds

A team of researchers in the US and Denmark has found that if people suffering from alcohol withdrawal go on a ketogenic (keto) diet  the severity of their symptoms will be reduced.

Alcoholics who stop drinking experience withdrawal symptoms of varying severity.  Since the alcohol withdrawal symptoms are so unpleasant, many people seek assistance, such as checking into rehab. In this new effort, the researchers have found a new tool to help with withdrawal symptoms and which could possibly reduce the rate of recidivism.

The research was motivated by two observations. The first being that prior studies have shown that in long term alcohol dependency, people’s bodies begin to use alcohol-metabolised acetate for energy, and less glucose. The lack of acetate is associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The second is that on a keto diet, the body has more ketone bodies to metabolise for use as an energy source. Taken together, it suggested that people on keto diets could substitute the acetate as an energy source and minimise withdrawal symptoms. 

A ketogenic diet is high-fat, moderate-protein and very-low-carbohydrate. The ratio of these macronutrients are approximately 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein and 5% to 10% carbohydrates. In a 2000 kcal per day diet, carbohydrates amount up to 20 to 50 g per day.

To test the theory, the study recruited 46 participants newly hospitalised alcoholics, half went on the keto diet and the other half went in a control group. The researchers measured ketone and acetate levels in the volunteers once a week, and also looked for inflammation markers that are common in people in rehab and assessed the amount of medication the participants needed to ease their symptoms. 
Taken together, the data suggested that the keto diet reduced withdrawal symptoms in the volunteers. When the researchers conducted a similar experiment with test rats, they observed that the rats on the diet drank less alcohol than control rats. 

The researchers said that their results are encouraging, but note that additional research is necessary, particularly with outpatient volunteers.

Source: Medical Xpress

Journal information: Corinde E. Wiers et al. Ketogenic diet reduces alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans and alcohol intake in rodents, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf6780

Alcoholic Liver Disease Is ‘Astronomical’ in Young Women

Image by ds_30 from Pixabay

Rates of alcoholic liver disease are skyrocketing in young women, doctors in the US have warned. Much of it has to do with added pressures on women in the pandemic.

Alcoholic liver disease — including milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan’s health system, said Dr Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there. Severe liver disease and cirrhosis can see survival rates as low as 10%.

The route by which liver disease develops varies according to the individual, although obesity, genetics and underlying health conditions play a role. Moderate consumption of alcohol, a glass or two of wine daily, is unlikely to contribute to it.

However, Dr Mellinger says that along with her colleagues, she has seen alcohol consumption edging upward, to a bottle of wine per day which results in increased risk of serious liver disease.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, no data on overall increases in serious alcoholic liver disease has yet been compiled by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, Dr Mellinger said, “in my conversations with my colleagues at other institutions, everybody is saying the same thing: ‘Yep, it’s astronomical. It’s just gone off the charts.’ “

The age demographic is also changing. “We’re seeing kids in their late 20s and early 30s with a disease that we previously thought was kind of exclusive to middle age,” she said.

The pressures of the COVID pandemic are partly to blame, and in many cases the extra burden is falling on women – who are already more susceptible to alcohol because they have a smaller water volume to distribute alcohol into and their bodies do less ‘first pass’ metabolism of alcohol in the stomach. Popular culture and advertising also encourages women to drink.

Psychological factors such as eating disorders and trauma from sexual abuse also fuel the disease.

“Whether this is early life sexual trauma or they are in a recent or ongoing abusive relationship, we see this link very, very closely,” said psychiatrist Dr Scott Winder, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan who treats liver disease patients. “Just the sheer amount of trauma is really, really tragic.”

The lack of overlap between the various fields in this complex relationship results in what he calls a “tragic gap”.

“The cultures of hepatology and the cultures of psychology and psychiatry are very disparate; we see patients very differently,” so physicians aren’t coordinating care, even when they should, he said.

Advanced liver disease may leave no other recourse than a liver transplant.
“Unfortunately, transplantation is finite,” said Dr Haripriya Maddur, a hepatologist at Northwestern University. “There aren’t enough organs to go around. What it unfortunately means is that many of these young people may not survive, and die very young — in their 20s and 30s. It’s horrific.”

Some people such as Jessica Duena, a teacher who was diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis at 34, and was hospitalised several times following the death of her boyfriend from heroin, have managed to turn the disease around and are encouraging others to do the same. 

She wrote about her long-held secret in the Louisville Courier-Journal: “I’m Jessica, I’m the 2019 Kentucky State Teacher of the Year, I’m an alcoholic and I’ve been suffering in silence for years.”

She received hundreds of responses, mostly women like herself who were in similar circumstances.

“What I’ve noticed is quite a few of the women, typically, they were either educators, they were moms or they happened to be nurses or attorneys,” Duenas said. They poured their hearts out about the crushing and constant stress of kids, work and home life.

They also complained of the pressures outside the home. “Imagine being a teacher who gets evaluated on how your students do, given the situation today,” Duenas says. “I mean, that makes me want to drink for them, you know — like that’s a terrible pressure to be under.”

Duenas has started writing about the stories of such people who reach out to her on her website, www.bottomlesstosober.com.

Source: NPR

Misuse of Psychiatric Meds Common in Teens

A study into the use and misuse of psychoacttive drugs by US teens has found that about a fifth report misusing their prescribed medications.

Israel Agaku, PhD, of Harvard School of Dental Medicine in Boston, and colleagues used data from a survey of adolescents aged 12-17 prescribed opioids, stimulants, tranquilizers, or sedatives, and found that 20.9% reported using them not as prescribed or directed. There has been considerable concern in recent years over whether adolescents in the United States were being overprescribed psychiatric medication, although a 2018 study concluded that they are not. However, as with adults, the prospect of misuse, possibly leading to substance use disorders is a concern.
Of these youths, 3.4% reported having substance misuse disorders, and this proportion increased to nearly half when youths were taking two or more prescribed medications.

Some 25% of 12-17 year olds reported receiving a psychiatric prescription in the past year. The most common psychoactive prescription in the past year was opioids in 19% of all youth, followed by stimulants (7.2%), tranquilisers (4.3%), and sedatives (2.2%). Tranquilisers were the most commonly misused (40.1%), with substance use disorder in 7%. Stimulants were misused by 24.2%, 3% having a substance use disorder.
Among adults aged 18-25, 41% had been prescribed and had used psychoactive medication, with a third saying they had used opioids in the past year, Similarly to the 12-17 age group, stimulants and tranquilisers were most likely to be misused. 

“The largely overlapping population profiles for medical use versus misuse indicates the high abuse liability of these prescription substances,” the researchers noted. “Having serious psychological distress was consistently associated with misuse of every assessed psychoactive prescription medication.”

The researchers suggested that an open-minded, collaborative approach by healthcare providers was the best approach to dealing with the situation.

“Rather than asking only about cigarette smoking, pediatric practitioners should screen for different commonly used substances, including ‘social use.’ Specifically asking youth and young adults if they have used certain substances, including occasional use, is important as those who use such substances infrequently or only occasionally may not self-identify as users if asked in generic terms,” the researchers explained.

Source: MedPage Today

Journal information: Agaku I, et al “Medical use and misuse of psychoactive prescription medications among US youth and young adults” Fam Med Com Health 2021; DOI: 10.1136/ fmch-2020-000374.

Opioid Deaths Drop when Cannabis Stores are Near

A new US study suggests that opioid-related mortality rates fall in counties where there are legal cannabis stores.

Cannabis was first legalised for medical use in the US in 1996; recreational legalisation began in 2012 with a number of states following suit. Previous research on the effect of legal access to cannabis on opioid overdose mortality had produced conflicting results, with a 2014 study showing a slow increase in deaths, but a subsequent study showing that it reversed over time.

Data on opioid mortality for adults 21 and over was drawn from 2014-2018 CDC data, and a website called Weedmaps for cannabis dispensary details in the 23 states plus the District of Columbia where cannabis dispensaries were allowed to operate as of 2017.

The number of cannabis dispensaries in a county was negatively related to log-transformed age-adjusted opioid mortality rate (β -0.17, 95% CI -0.23 to -0.11). An increase in the number of storefront dispensaries from one to two was linked to a 17% reduction in death rates of all opioid types, and an increase from two to three stores was associated with a further 8.5% drop in mortality.

Eight states plus the District of Columbia allowed recreational storefronts and 15 allowed only medical dispensaries. An increase in medical dispensaries from one to two resulted in a 15% drop in mortality rate; an increase in recreational dispensaries from one to two led to an 11% drop.

Co-author Balázs Kovács, PhD, of Yale University School of Management, said: “We find this relationship holds for both medical dispensaries, which serve only patients who have a state-approved medical card or doctor’s recommendation, as well as for recreational dispensaries, which sell to adults 21 years and older.”

An accompanying editorial pointed out that the relationship was not clear, noting that were was no evidence of substitution. Additionally, individual experiences of benefits and harms could not be inferred.

Although findings are suggestive of a possible link between the increased prevalence of cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid-related mortality, they do not show causality, Kovács emphasised. “While we find a particularly strong association between the prevalence of storefront dispensaries and fentanyl-related opioid deaths, it is not clear whether cannabis use and fentanyl mortality rates are more specifically linked, or if the strength of the association is due to the rise in fentanyl use and mortality rates during the study period,” he said. 
He added that the potential harms of cannabis, including cognitive development of adolescents, schizophrenia and other medical conditions, and public safety risks, should not be ignored.
Source:MedPage TodayJournal information:  Hsu G and Kovács B “Association between county level cannabis dispensary counts and opioid related mortality rates in the United States: panel data study” BMJ 2021; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m4957.

New Study Challenges the Need for Some Post-surgical Opioids

Doctors must carefully weigh the pain relief value of opioids for patients against their potential for misuse and inducing opioid addiction even in patients with no history of substance abuse. Now, a new study challenges current practice by showing the effectiveness of an approach that takes a middle way to giving opioids.

Some 16 million people around the world suffer from opioid use disorder, which can result from opioid administration from surgery and for chronic pain. Opioids are highly addictive, with tolerance reached in days and addiction can occur within a matter of weeks, so there is every incentive to minimise exposure of patients to these effective but potentially dangerous medications.

To investigate the effectiveness of minimising opioid use, a team from Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan conducted a study with 620 patients who had surgery in hospitals across Michigan, had their anaesthetic usage tracked, and filled in surveys within one to three months following their surgeries. The patients were split equally into two groups.
The first group received pre-surgery counseling emphasising non-opioid pain treatment as their first option. Some patients in this group received small, “just in case” prescriptions, but a third of them didn’t receive any opioid prescription at all after surgery.

The patients in the other group received standard care, that is, receiving the usual amount of opioids prescribed after such operations. The prescriptions received in fact were larger than in the opioid sparing group. Most patients didn’t take all of the pills, which if left lying around could be used inappropriately.

Patients in the two groups had the same surgery: either gallbladder removal, full or partial thyroid removal or hernia repair. However, both groups reported equal levels of quality of life and satisfaction with care when followed-up. Most surprisingly, the opioid-sparing group reported less pain overall.

First author Maia Anderson, MD, a resident in the U-M Department of Surgery, said: “It’s so exciting to think about the potential for opioid sparing postoperative pathways to not only reduce the risk of opioids for our patients, but also to substantially decrease the risk of opioid diversion into our communities.”

Senior author Ryan Howard, MD, Surgical Resident, Michigan Medicine commented: “We know that opioids pose serious risks to patients after surgery. We can protect patients from those risks by reducing or eliminating opioids after surgery. But that idea always raises the concern that patients will have uncontrolled pain and feel miserable. This study suggests that’s not the case – patients who get small opioid prescriptions, or even no prescription, are just as satisfied with their recovery after surgery.”

Source: News-Medical.Net

Journal information: Anderson, M., et al. (2020) Patient-Reported Outcomes After Opioid-Sparing Surgery Compared With Standard of Care. JAMA Surgery. doi.org/10.1001/jamasurg.2020.5646.

Alcohol Linked to A High Proportion of Cancers

A new study shows that cancer is attributable to a significant proportion of cancer cases across the United States.

It is well known that alcohol is linked to cancers, but the state-level data shows for first time the impact of different levels of alcohol consumption and its cancer effects. This is also concerning for South Africa as the country has high rates of alcohol use, consuming 5 billion litres of alcohol annually, around 9 to 10 litres of pure alcohol for each individual (and likely more if sorghum beer is counted).

From data spanning 2013 to 2016, the percentage of cancer cases that are linked to alcohol ranged from a high of 6.7% in Delaware to a low of 2.9% in Utah. Following this pattern, Delaware also had the highest proportion of alcohol-related cancer deaths (4.5%) and Utah had the lowest (1.9%).
Farhad Islami, MD, PhD, and a team at the American Cancer Society, said: “This information is important for prioritising state-level cancer prevention and control efforts to reduce alcohol consumption and the burden of alcohol-related cancers.”

Alcohol use was more tightly linked to certain cancers: the proportion of oral cavity/pharyngeal cancer cases attributable to alcohol ranged from 36% in Utah to 62.5% in Delaware and was over 45% in all but five US states.

The majority of cases and deaths from the examined cancer types were found more in men, reflecting men’s higher consumption of alcohol.

Overall, alcohol was attributable to 8% of all cancer cases and 3.2% of cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society’s guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention states that it is best to abstain from alcohol entirely, and if not to limit drinks to 2 per day for men and 1 per day for women.

Source: Science Daily

Journal information: Ann Goding Sauer, Stacey A. Fedewa, Priti Bandi, Adair K. Minihan, Michal Stoklosa, Jeffrey Drope, Susan M. Gapstur, Ahmedin Jemal, Farhad Islami. Proportion of cancer cases and deaths attributable to alcohol consumption by US state, 2013-2016. Cancer Epidemiology, 2021; 71: 101893 DOI: 10.1016/j.canep.2021.101893

Withdrawal Symptoms of Discontinuing Medical Cannabis

A new study on the long terms effects of having used medical cannabis show that over half of people who used it experience withdrawal symptoms between use. And about one in ten experienced worsening alterations in sleep, mood, mental state, energy and appetite over two years.

Patients who use cannabis usually turn to it because of the failure of other pain medications, or to avoid the long-term risks of opioid use. However, the perception that it is “harmless” is incorrect, as it has cannabinoids that act on receptors in the brain, and from which the brain can experience withdrawal symptoms. This can even lead to cannabis use disorder.

Addiction psychologist Lara Coughlin, PhD, who led the analysis said, “Some people report experiencing significant benefits from medical cannabis, but our findings suggest a real need to increase awareness about the signs of withdrawal symptoms developing to decrease the potential downsides of cannabis use, especially among those who experience severe or worsening symptoms over time.”

After they had gone a significant time without cannabis, the 527 participants in the study were asked whether they had any one of 15 symptoms, ranging from irritability to nausea. Using an analytic method, they empirically grouped them into three groups ranging from mild or moderate symptoms to severe, with most of the symptoms. They then surveyed the patients again after one year and then again after two years. Those in the mild class showed the most stability in symptoms over time.

Younger participants were more likely to be in the severe group, and were more likely to have a worsening trajectory. Coughlin concluded that patients seeking cannabis use for pain need to discuss it with their health care providers, and seek psychosocial treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Source: Medical Express

Journal information: Coughlin, LN et al. Progression of cannabis withdrawal symptoms in people using medical cannabis for chronic pain. Addiction. 2021. DOI: 10.1111/add.15370

Nearly a Fifth of Cancer Patients on Opioids Misuse Them

A new report reveals that 19% of cancer patients receiving opioids are misusing them, referred to a nonmedical opioid use (NMOU) behaviour. 

Opioid addiction remains a persistent and serious problem in the United States, and is growing elsewhere in the world, with some 16 million individuals worldwide suffering from opioid misuse disorder.
The study,  led by Sriram Yennurajalingam, MD, MS, of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, included 1554 patients at a supportive care clinic for a comprehensive cancer centre. Of those engaging in NMOU behaviour, the most common (29%) was an early request for a refill, followed by self-directed dose escalation (15%), co-using illicit or non-prescribed drugs (13%), and impaired daily function due to opioids (11%).

Independent risk factors that increased the risk of NMOU behaviour included being single or divorced, as well as pain levels, opioid risk screening score, and morphine equivalent daily dose.

In their recommendations, Yennurajalingam and co-authors wrote: “Based on these findings, a universal screening, setting limits on opioid use by limiting supply, more intense follow-up with an interdisciplinary team to provide optimal use of medications for pain and symptom management, and the provision of counseling and support to patients and their family members may help prevent the development of these NMOU behaviors.”

Source: MedPage Today

Journal information: Yennurajalingam S, et al. Frequency of and factors associated with nonmedical opioid use behavior among patients with cancer receiving opioids for cancer pain, JAMA Oncol 2020; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.6789.