Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol is Like Playing Russian Roulette
Alcohol and Vicodin can be a deadly combination. There are a handful of prescription drugs that people regularly take with alcohol. Vicodin and alcohol mixing is common, as is Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Adderal, and many, many others. People often take these medicines and have no idea how harmful it truly is, and that it could even lead to sudden death. Here we’re going to focus primarily on Vicodin and the dangers of mixing it with alcohol.
Most people don’t know exactly why and how combining drugs can become toxic in a person’s body even in small doses. As far as alcohol and Vicodin go, this is what happens.
The Effects of Alcohol and Vicodin on Your Body
Separately, painkillers and alcohol have very different effects. They are different chemicals that have different purposes when introduced into the body. When combined, the chemicals can interact and cause a toxic combination that overwhelms a person’s system before your body can eliminate the toxins. Think of it as your body working on overtime and it just can’t keep up.
Excessive hydrocodone in Vicodin can cause memory loss, confusion, and breathing issues, many of the same things that excessive alcohol causes. Besides acute medical emergencies like cardiac and breathing problems, combining the two drugs can have an enormously negative impact on a person’s liver.
Mixing Drugs Is Not About How Much But How Your Body Tolerates It
Taking alcohol and Vicodin together can suppress the system so much so that a person’s breathing can stop completely. The FDA advises that people who are prescribed Vicodin should not drink any alcohol at all. Every person has a different body chemistry and will have a different reaction to any foreign substance that they put in their body.
You can have two people who weigh the same and have a similar body composure. One will be able to tolerate the mixture, and the second person might slip into a coma and die from the same amount. It’s a game of Russian Roulette that no one should ever play because it just isn’t worth it.
If you have consumed alcohol and Vicodin, some warning signs of overdose include:
Slow or weak pulse
Lack of coordination and control
Falling out of consciousness
If anyone you know exhibits these kind of symptoms after ingesting a substance, get medical help for them immediately.
It is always better to err on the side of caution when combining drugs and alcohol. If you aren’t sure, don’t do it. And by all means, if there is a warning label against drinking alcohol, stay away! Drug combinations cause so many useless deaths per year. A little vigilance could save a lot of lives.
Opioid abuse has become an all-American epidemic, unique to our country and widespread enough to be called a public health outbreak. Abuse covers all ages, races, classes, and genders, however, the most typical victim is a non-Hispanic Caucasian male in his mid-30s.
In emergency rooms, nurses are not surprised when new overdose patients are rolled in on stretchers. Overdose is becoming so widely common that many doctors no longer need to run lab tests to determine which drug caused it. Observations such as dilated pupils mean cocaine, amphetamines, and hallucinogens. Constricted pupils almost always point to an opiate.
Opiate abuse also causes the characteristic “nodding out”, scratching, cold and clammy skin. In the wrong amounts, overdose is always just a few breaths away – and when that breath begins to sound like a rattle – the person is officially in the midst of an overdose that all too frequently leads to death.
The thought of a loved one – anyone – dying like this is terrifying, and reality is that every 19 minutes, one person in this country dies of opioid overdose. Hydrocodone, OxyContin, and Percocet are three examples of this medication, the only one known to man that is routinely prescribed and kills patients so frequently.
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How Did The Opioid Epidemic Get So Bad?
The United States is embarrassingly leading the charge in opioid abuse. 75% of the world’s opioid prescription drugs are prescribed here, and it is the number one cause of preventable death. We can’t point our fingers in one direction to place blame, however, certain pharmaceutical companies and doctors certainly had a heavy hand in leading to these statistics.
The FDA was misled for years about the true nature of opioid dependence so that big pharmaceutical companies could sell more drugs and make more money. Doctors often turn a blind eye to the reality of these drugs, accepting lame scientific data and continue writing out prescriptions, ignoring the obvious red flags.
Some staggering facts include:
259 million opioid prescriptions are written yearly – enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills
91% of people who survived an overdose are able to get a new prescription, often from the same doctor
80% of heroin users started off using pain pills
As many as 4.2 million Americans have reported using heroin at least once
94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were more expensive and difficult to obtain.
Heroin overdose deaths in women have tripled in the past few years.
Putting an End to Prescription Abuse
The opioid industry has gotten so huge that it will take a long time to shift practices and make a positive change. As policy makers start to learn about the epidemic – and it can’t be ignored for much longer – they will begin to modify regulations. Small changes can already be seen, pills coming with safeguards to make them more difficult to abuse, the Centers for Disease Control recommending doctors not to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, monitoring of controlled substances, but much of the responsibility lies with each doctor.
Doctors need to discuss options and the realities of addiction with their patients and be more vigilant in what and how they are prescribing medications. Expectations must be set, and follow up is necessary. Knowing more about a patient’s history is key – for example, if a patient has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, they should never be prescribed addictive drugs. Opioids should always be considered an end-of-the-line resource instead of the first thing handed out.
Those of us in recovery are tired of hearing about friends and loved ones overdosing. We are sick of the same familiar and sad story. It isn’t too late to make a change, but in order for the severity of this to end, doctors need to step up and tighten up their prescription policies.
In this day and age it is extremely commonplace for doctors to jot down and hand out prescription medication – often without many questions or knowledge of the patient’s history of drug abuse. Xanax, Vicodin, Valium – you name it – these drugs can be readily available at your closest Family Practice Physician. Say the right things, and you can walk out with a script to your drug of choice. Sounds insanely ridiculous and easy? Well, it is, and this is why you need to be completely upfront about your history of drug and/or alcohol abuse whenever you see a new doctor if you want to stay sober.
Don’t Accidentally Create a Drug Dealer Out of Your Physician
According to one statistic, over 52 million people in the U.S. Alone have used prescription pills non-medically. Where do they get these pills? Doctors, often more than one, or friends and family. Pills are so easy to obtain for a plethora of reasons: some doctors tend to over prescribe, it is a societal norm for people in America to “put a bandaid on” disorders with pills instead of treating the root cause, and unfortunately many doctors and patients alike are unaware of the dangers lurking in those sleek orange pill bottles.
Drug Addiction is a Slippery Slope
In recovery, we learn that we must maintain an all-or-nothing attitude. Once substances are introduced back into our lives it is an incredibly fast, slippery slope, and even the most innocent of gestures can bring us right back into full-fledged addiction before we can even recognize what is happening.
Being upfront with doctors about our medical history is incredibly important. Alternatives are available for nearly every drug out there – pain relief, anxiety, muscle relaxers – whatever your ailment, modern medicine likely has a non-narcotic fix for it. Go into your doctor’s appointment with a plan and allow yourself to be an open book about your history. Your doctor will be happy about your honesty and it will save you any temptation of mood-altering substances.
Think you can handle prescription pills? Don’t be so sure, and to err on the cautious side, don’t even think about trying it out. Even if pills weren’t your drug of choice, as addicts we don’t have a healthy sense of moderation. As they teach in rehab, play the whole tape through. This means, when you think about picking up a drink or substance, no matter how innocent it may seem, think about all of the events that happened leading up to you coming to treatment. You undoubtedly started drinking or dabbling with drugs in an innocent way – say for a little weekend or social fun – and had no idea how much it was going to destroy your life and ultimately take control.
Stop a Relapse Before it Starts
Going to your next doctor appointment or procedure with this knowledge can help save you months or years of battling a relapse, or it may even save your life. You have spent so much time and money rebuilding your life back to normal, so why even risk putting it back on the line when there are alternatives out there. Don’t be shy about discussing your addiction with your doctor – they are professionals who have seen and heard it all – they too will be happy for your upfront honesty and commitment to maintaining a completely sober lifestyle.
Think about that for one second – scientists in a lab had been able to artificially produce opioids. We’re not talking about scrapping opium poppies, taking the raw opium back to a lab, and producing painkillers.
No, we’re talking about a team in a lab, probably dressed in HAZMAT suits, cooking up completely synthetic opioids.
That’s a terrifying prospect when you really consider it.
We weren’t sure how to feel about it here at Lighthouse. After all, who knew if it was true and, more importantly, who knew the positive and negative impacts this discovery might have on our culture at large.
Then we read this excellent article. In it, author David DiSalvo explores some of those positive and negative impacts.
It’s interesting stuff. Read on for a breakdown of his ideas and our own spin on whether 100% artificial opioids are a blessing or a curse.
Benefits of Synthetically Produced Opioids
Before getting into any doomsday prophecies, it’s important to look at some of the very real benefits that synthetically produced opioids may offer. DiSalvo makes this very clear in his article and I couldn’t agree more.
Artificially made opioids can lead to a whole host of positive effects, including things like:
Increased production of painkillers both inside and outside of the US
Unique additions to any given chemical which can potentially produce less addictive drugs
Painkillers would most likely become cheaper to produce which would enable them to be distributed to those who need them most, rather than those with good insurance
DiSalvo touches on these in his article. I’d like to add one of my own.
If creating opioids of all shapes and sizes starts to take place solely in labs, there’s a good chance this’ll lead to a decrease in “opium farms.” This, in turn, could lead to a decrease in the illegal production of morphine, heroin, and other potent chemicals.
There are a few ifs in that scenario. Still, it makes logical sense that increasing production of opioids in labs will lead to decreased production in the Middle East.
Okay, those are the positives. Now let’s look at some of the potentially disastrous side effects of mass-producing artificial opioids in a lab.
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Drawbacks of Synthetically Produced Opioids
The first thing DiSalvo makes clear is the connection between synthetically creating narcotics and the other synthetic drug explosion in recent years.
He writes, “Right now more than 160,000 labs in China are pumping out synthetic drugs for buyers across the globe” (Forbes).
Call them bath salts, flakka, gravel, or any of their other ridiculous names. The point is the same – when creating drugs in a lab, there’s the potential that someone can, and most likely will, start creating those same drugs for a different purpose.
America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. That much is old news. Do we really need another source of painkillers for our population to consume? Do we really need to outsource that production (as it were) to illicit labs in foreign countries?
Of course those are worst-case scenarios. Still, they’re worth considering. After all, look what happened to Tramadol in Egypt.
There’s another angle that DiSalvo doesn’t touch on that bears examining. I’m talking about the simple idea of supply and demand.
There’s likely always going to be a demand for painkillers and other opioids. If the supply increases – as artificial production is refined, it’s going to cost less and less to produce these pills – and demand remains steady, then the price of black-market opioids is going to drop.
On one hand this is a good thing. After all, it takes money out of the pockets of drug dealers. On the other hand, though, this is horrible. Incredibly addictive and powerful chemicals could become available for pennies on the dollar.
That’s a scary thought!
That’s a good question reader! So what? Why does any of this matter? A small group of scientists were able to create thebaine and hydrocodone from yeast. That’s a far cry from any scenarios mentioned above, good or bad!
This stuff matters because it gives us the opportunity to be prepared! Remember when OxyContin first emerged in the late ‘90s? No one saw it coming and it started the painkiller epidemic – it fundamentally changed America.
We have the opportunity to avoid that if, and most likely when, synthetically produced opioids start to cause trouble.
Pain Pills and Heroin: What’s the Real Difference?
When I think about the difference between pain pills and heroin, I immediately ask myself “what difference?”
I’ve been addicted to heroin and more pain pills than I can count. My addiction started with Percocet and moved to OxyContin. Along the way, I wanted to know more about Vicodin vs. Percocet. The only difference between these two was the strength and the absence of fillers like Tylenol.
As my disease progressed, the money I made from the pills I sold (to support the larger amount of pills I took) wasn’t enough. Naturally, I turned to something thought of as much darker. I turned to heroin.
Pills aren’t nearly as stigmatized as heroin is. Even within addict circles, heroin is often seen as a big “no-no.” Because of this stigma, I kept my addiction hidden for a long time.
After I went to treatment and learned about addiction as a disease, I realized there wasn’t any difference between the pills I began my addiction with, or the heroin I ended it with. I liked heroin because it produced exactly the same high as pain pills, but was much cheaper.
What’s the difference between Oxycodone and OxyContin? It’s a question I hear often and for good reason – plenty of confusion surrounds the subject. Heroin and prescription pain pills affect the same neuroreceptors and create the same physical dependence. Withdrawal from both pain pills and heroin is exactly the same. Opioid withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, pain, muscle cramps and spasms, hot and cold sweats, and diarrhea.
Both pain pills and heroin are semi-synthetic drugs derived from the opium poppy. That means at the end of the day there’s little difference between Vicodin vs Percocet. Both are central nervous system depressants and analgesics (pain-blockers). Both are highly addictive. Both produce tolerance and dependence in users.
To put it another way, there’s no difference between a pain pill addiction and a heroin addiction. One isn’t worse than the other. In fact, they’re both pretty devastating addictions. Many wonder, “Is Vicodin stronger than Percocet?” Medical professionals can point to the opioids within, but those struggling with addiction have their own reasons for asking.
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Pain Pills and Heroin: What’s On the Rise?
Over the past ten years, the amount of people addicted to prescription pain pills has increased substantially. In fact, 79.5% of individuals who report using heroin in the past year had previously abused prescription pain pills.
This statistic makes me wonder if, like me, those users made the switch to heroin after their pain pill habit became too expensive. Many will similarly want to know what is the difference between hydrocodone and oxycodone? As we’ve established, very little given the minimal missing links to active opioids and heroin.
Do you know someone suffering from a pain pill addiction? What about a heroin addiction? Both are progressive and deadly diseases, therefore successful treatment must be just as progressive and specialized. Fortunately, Lighthouse Recovery Institute takes this idea to heart.
We offer Gender-Specific Addiction Treatment, so our patients can focus on what’s important while in treatment and begin living healthy and successful lives.
Call Lighthouse today at 1-844-I-CAN-CHANGE or 1-(561)-381-0015 to learn more about the importance of gender-specific substance abuse treatment.
Lighthouse Recovery Institute: Guiding You to a Brighter Tomorrow
I recently stumbled across a heart wrenching Sport’s Illustratedarticle that detailed the downward spiral many young athletes take into addiction. The article itself touched briefly on statistics about athletes and addiction, as well as how drug cartels are targeting athletes, but more compelling were the stories of numerous student athletes derailed by painkiller and heroin abuse.
Those “profiled” include Roman Montana, Patrick Trevor, Amber Masters, and others. These were some incredibly talented athletes with the potential to go pro.
Roman was a promising baseball, basketball, and MMA star from Albuquerque, NM. He became addicted to painkillers after being injured in 2008. He died from a heroin overdose in 2012.
Patrick was a star New Jersey high school lacrosse player. After his thumb was shattered in 2009, he became dependent on painkillers. After moving on to heroin, he got sober in 2012.
Amber was a star California soccer player. After following a similar trajectory as Roman and Patrick, she became hooked on heroin. Her addiction grew to the point that she began selling heroin and introduced her younger brother to the drug. He died of an overdose in 2012.
Today, Amber is clean and sober. Her brother’s death was a wake up call that she needed to turn her life around. She did, but not everyone is so lucky.
Roman Montana’s overdose death in 2012 was just one of a growing number of student athlete deaths. In fact, since 2011, at least eight athletes in the Albuquerque area have died of a heroin or prescription painkiller overdose.
There’s clearly something very wrong here. What’s going on? Why are so many athletes turning into addicts? Perhaps it has something to do with Mexican cartels and how they’re targeting student athletes.
One of the most surprising elements of the Sport’s Illustrated article was their suggestion that sophisticated Mexican cartels are actively pursuing young athletes.
Jack Riley, the DEA’s Chief of Operations, recognized this pattern around ten years ago. He noticed cartels began “marketing” heroin to those with a high likelihood of abusing prescription drugs.
No specific population is more susceptible to receiving prescriptions for powerful opioids, and abusing those prescriptions, than athletes. In fact, a seven-month Sport’s Illustrated investigation uncovered rampant prescription opioid and heroin abuse in almost all sports.
This investigation concluded that opioid overdoses have occurred across the country in sports like baseball, basketball, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and wrestling.
Of these overdoses, almost all involving heroin can be traced back to cartel manufactured drugs. Riley himself has seen this firsthand. When asked about the influence of Mexican made heroin, he stated,
“’[The cartels] have developed a strategy, with the help of street gangs, to put heroin in every walk of life. They recognize how vulnerable young athletes are’” (Sport’s Illustrated).
Statistics on Athletes and Addiction
Having examined how heroin is “marketed” to student athletes, what about it’s impact on their lives? We looked at some specific and heartbreaking examples above, but what about national trends?
Things aren’t looking good. According to research from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey, around 11% of senior level high school athletes have used painkillers for nonmedical purposes.
With that many students abusing painkillers, and heroin being aggressively pushed on them by criminal enterprises, it’s no wonder there have been so many overdoses.
Equally alarming is research from Philip Todd Veliz, a scientist from the University of Michigan. He conducted a 2013 study on over 1,400 young athletes. His findings?
Well, he concluded that adolescent males playing sports are two times more likely to be prescribed painkillers and four times more likely to misuse/abuse them than males of the same age who don’t play sports.
Two times more likely to be prescribed painkillers and four times more likely to abuse them? That sounds alarming at best and downright terrifying at worst. Playing sports, something that’s universally touted and pushed on our children, can cause them to be much more likely to abuse drugs? That isn’t right.
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Why are So Many Athletes Turning Into Addicts?
There are more forces at work than drug dealers targeting student athletes. Perhaps another reason so many athletes are turning into addicts has to do with what I’ve dubbed the “culture of play.”
This is the idea that, no matter what, athletes need to be on the field, court, or rink. It doesn’t matter if they’re injured. It doesn’t matter if they’re sick. It doesn’t matter if they’re unable to play in whatever way. They’ll simply take a pill and get back to the game.
This culture of play could be one of the reasons so many athletes are turning to opioid pain pills to get them through injuries. And the line between use, misuse, abuse, and addiction is incredibly thin.
There’s also the idea that doctors simply aren’t informed about the drugs they’re dispensing to young athletes or, if they are, they aren’t properly communicating the potential risks to families. Although this is hard to believe – it’s 2015 and the opioid epidemic is in full swing – it seems to have occurred in at least a few of the cases examined in Sport’s Illustrated.
Take, for example, Patrick’s story. He received a prescription for Roxicodone almost right after his injury. Although his doctor knew a bit about the drug, he even joked that Trevor “got the good stuff,” he did nothing to warn Trevor or his family.
This type of uninformed and negligent prescribing is how we ended up with a countrywide painkiller epidemic to begin with. It’s disheartening to see that, many years later, some doctors still haven’t learned their lesson.
This is where many are left scratching their head, wondering, “huh? There’s a solution?” The good news is that yes, there is hope for the recent tide of adolescent athlete-addicts. The bad news is that it isn’t a quick fix.
The solution to athletes turning into addicts is as complicated as the problem itself. That is – there are doctors overprescribing opioids, while drug cartels and dealers are targeting those receiving prescriptions. The answer is for doctors to cut down on prescribing opioids and for addiction treatment to be readily accessible to those who need it.
The first part, eliminating the over the top prescribing attitude of doctors, is already being implemented. Things like prescription monitoring services are cracking down on “pill mills” and other sources of powerful opioids across the country.
Increasing access to treatment, on the other hand, is a bit harder to implement. Some major steps, like mental health and substance abuse insurance parity, have been made in the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go.
Until then, there are going to be drug dealers targeting those who are at risk for heroin abuse. Young athletes, old athletes, and everyone between will continue to get hooked and overdose. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.
The morning of May 20th started just like any other for unscrupulous doctors in Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. They woke up on their piles of blood money, got into their insanely expensive cars, and drove to work at “clinics” and “offices.”
Once at work, they sat back on their alligator skin chairs, drank coffee from solid gold mugs, and dreamt up new ways to overprescribe opioids. Then the DEA came a-knocking.
Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic and over the top, but it’s closer to reality than many realize. Since the early 2000’s many doctors have been prescribing opioids and benzo’s for one reason and one reason only – to make money.
They’re handing out pills like candy and getting paid… while also ruining lives and causing a nationwide painkiller epidemic. Over time, thanks to stricter regulations and prescription monitoring services, the painkiller epidemic morphed to the heroin epidemic.
Well, the DEA has finally had enough. On May 20th, over 1,000 agents raided offices and pharmacies across Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This raid was the culmination of a fifteen month long campaign called “Operation Pilluted.”
Pilluted is the single biggest pharmaceutical operation the DEA has ever conducted and, so far, has resulted in close to 300 arrests.
It’s also had vigorous backing and support from the states involved. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a former dermatologist, had the following to say,
“When they [doctors] choose to overprescribe narcotics to patients, and they know that these patients may be or are abusing them, then they change from being a physician to really being a drug dealer” (NBC News).
The largest prescription painkiller bust in DEA history was juts conducted…now what? Well, before looking to the future, let’s look at what exactly this operation entailed.
Operation Pilluted was the umbrella name of the DEA’s recent efforts to dismantle the supply and illegal distribution of opioids and benzodiazepines. For those who are unaware, opioids are drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, etc.), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine, and Fentanyl. Benzo’s are drugs like alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
The DEA was only interested in those supplying the pills. They chose to focus their efforts on doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals. They didn’t target those addicted to these drugs and, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t arrest any users for possession.
Overall, forty-eight people were arrested on May 20th alone. Twenty-two were from Louisiana, nine from Alabama, nine from Arkansas, and eight from Mississippi.
The crooked doctors and pharmacies that survived “P Day” without jail time weren’t left completely alone. Over thirty-five medical practitioners were forced to give up their DEA registration numbers, which means they can no longer prescribe controlled medication.
Despite the large number of arrestees coming from Louisiana, Arkansas has historically been the epicenter of painkiller abuse. In fact, since 2014, over half of all DEA prescription drug arrests have occurred in Arkansas.
Christopher Thyer, a Federal Prosecutor from Arkansas, stated that 146 million hydrocodone pills are distributed in his state each year. He went on to state that this is enough hydrocodone to give forty-two pills to each man, woman, and child in Arkansas (NBC News).
That’s simply unacceptable. What makes matters even worse is how some of these “doctors” operate. DEA agents confiscated four loaded guns and a money counter from one Arkansas doctor’s office. Among those arrested was one man who, according to agents, was tasked with recruiting homeless individuals to file unneeded prescriptions.
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The Future of Painkiller Abuse in America
It’s safe to say Operation Pilluted shook up the landscape of painkiller abuse. The DEA picked a smart tactic – focus on the supply and arrest only those involved in prescribing and distributing opioids and benzo’s.
Still, the question lingers, what now? Will this end the painkiller epidemic? What about the heroin epidemic? What about more and more young people overdosing? How can we stop all that?
Unfortunately, substance abuse in America isn’t going to be solved by operations, crackdowns, or arrests. Substance abuse in America isn’t going to go away until we address the demand portion of drug use. That is to say the problem isn’t going to get better until we increase access to drug treatment.
No one wants to grow up to be an addict. The sad fact is that many do. Men and women become addicted for a million and one reasons. One of these is doctors overprescribing painkillers. There are still a million other reasons though.
So, while I applaud the DEA for the scope of their operation, I say that we need more! We need more treatment centers, better access to treatment centers, and better clinical care.
Once those are in place, the supply will dwindle on its own. It’s that simple.
A lot of noise has been made lately about Indiana’s HIV outbreak. It’s understandable, especially with over 150 residents testing positive for the infamous virus and numbers expected to keep rising.
There’s another outbreak that’s been causing quiet waves over the last few years. It hasn’t been getting as much media coverage as HIV, though it’s deadlier and spreading faster. I’m talking about the dramatic rise in Hepatitis C infections since 2006.
A recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control notes an alarming rise in Hep C rates. This increase is centered in four Appalachian states – Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Other areas of the country have been hit and the numbers keep growing. After seeing a 150% nationwide rise in Hep C infections between 2010 and 2013, John Ward, the Director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, went on record as saying, “We have a major problem with hepatitis C” (The Wall Street Journal).
What’s going on? Why are so many IV drug users becoming infected with Hepatitis C? Are all these addicts sharing needles? Find out below.
Find the latest information about Hepatitis C in America broken down below:
The four states hit the hardest have been Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. There have been increased cases of Hep C in other parts of the country, notably in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and upstate New York.
All these areas are rural, non-urban environments where IV painkiller abuse is prevalent.
How much have infection rates grown? Well, from 2006 to 2012 they grew a whopping 364%. Of all these cases, 73% were linked directly to IV drug use.
A large percentages of these cases, almost 45%, were among white men and women under the age of thirty.
During this six year period, there was also a 12.6% rise in the admittance of IV drug users to addiction treatment centers.
All told, approximately three million Americans are thought to be infected with Hep C. Large portions of these infections are unrelated to IV drug use (baby boomers infected prior to safety regulations on blood transfusions).
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Why Are So Many People Getting Infected?
There’s been a large increase in Hepatitis C infections since the mid 2000’s. That much is fact. The question then becomes, simply, what now? Why are so many people getting infected and what can we do to stop the spread of HCV?
Well, before looking at how to prevent and treat Hep C, let’s first examine why it’s spreading so rapidly. Let’s look at why, compared to HIV and other blood borne diseases, it’s spreading like wildfire (Hep C is approximately five times as prevalent as HIV).
The answer is actually rather simple. Hep C is a more spreadable virus than HIV. It takes smaller quantities of the virus, already at minuscule levels, to infect an individual. This alone makes it more likely to spread.
Add into the equation painkillers. Generally, when injecting painkillers, individuals need to use a higher gauge syringe. This leads to larger puncture wounds and more infected blood in the syringe. This, then, leads to greater infection rates.
In fact, when a CDC team investigated this idea, they found that users who injected painkillers were five times more likely to test positive for Hepatitis C than those who injected only heroin.
Now that we have an understanding of why HCV is spreading so quickly, let’s examine what can be done to halt this spread and treat the virus itself.
In recent years there’s been an explosion of highly effective Hep C drugs. The most recent of these, Harvoni, has over a 90% success rate. It’s a twelve-week regimen of direct anti-viral medicine. Unlike Interferon, an older treatment, Harvoni carries with it almost no side effects.
So, there’s a medicine available with high “cure” rates and minimal side effects. Surely Hepatitis C shouldn’t worry anyone anymore, right? Well, there is a downside – the cost. An entire twelve-week supply of Harvoni can cost anywhere from $80,000 to upwards of $100,000.
With prices reaching sky-high levels, many insurance companies are hesitant to pay. The question then becomes how to stop the spread of Hep C altogether. After all, if people aren’t getting infected, there’s no need for expensive treatment.
Perhaps the best strategy to reduce the spread of Hepatitis C, and other blood borne disease, is education and outreach. Schools, community organizations, treatment centers, and other recovery resources should continue a dialogue about Hep C. They should educate the public on what the virus is, how it’s spread, and how to avoid contracting it.
This moves us nicely towards direct outreach. These are things like syringe exchange programs, low cost health clinics, and other harm reduction methods. Although controversial, harm reduction has been shown to greatly reduce instances of Hep C and HIV infection.
Through this combined approach, education and outreach, I believe we stand a real chance at halting Hepatitis C in its tracks. This can’t come soon enough. With the painkiller and heroin epidemic raging, with the increased prevalence of infectious disease, we need a solution and now! This just might be it.
In an alarming new report from researchers at the University of New Mexico, it appears that approximately 25% of all opioid painkillers are used for something other than their intended purpose.
Think about that for one second. A quarter of all the prescribed painkillers are either misused or abused. That’s a mind-bogglingly high number. There are millions of painkiller prescriptions written each year. If each prescription contains thirty pills…you do the math.
Painkiller abuse and addiction in the United States is more than a crisis and more than an epidemic. It’s become an all out war. A war that, according to these new statistics, we’re losing.
Kevin Vowels, a PhD from UNM and the lead author of the study, had the following to say about his team’s research, “On average, misuse was documented in approximately one out of four or five patients, and addiction [was found] in approximately one out of 10 or 11 patients” (Psychiatry Advisor).
The departments of Psychology and Economics at the University of New Mexico conducted this new report, with help with the Department of Neurology at the University of Washington.
The universities examined studies of prescription opioids published in the thirteen-year period between 2000 and 2013. In total, they examined thirty-eight studies from sources like PubMed, Science Direct, and Google Scholar.
What exactly did they distill from this research? Well, Vowels and his colleagues drew two major conclusions. All the following data is taken directly from Vowel’s report, published in the journal Pain.
Rates of opioid addiction occur in 8-12% of individuals receiving prescriptions. That means that, on average, one of every eleven people prescribed a narcotic painkiller will become addicted to it. This isn’t taking into account those who buy the drugs illicitly.
Rates of opioid misuse occur in 21-29% of individuals receiving prescriptions. So, out of every five people receiving prescriptions, one will misuse or abuse them. Again, this doesn’t take into account people who buy painkillers on the street.
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Is the FDA Helping?
With at least 8% of those receiving opioid prescriptions developing an addiction, and over 20% abusing the pills, it would seem high time for the FDA to step in. Well, it appears this latest study may have galvanized them into action.
The FDA released a statement on March 25th detailing a set of rules for pharmaceutical companies to adhere to while producing opioid medications. These guidelines are the culmination of several years work by the FDA. They’re policies mandatory to all narcotic producing drug companies.
These guidelines are an attempt to make all opioids “tamper-resistant,” and “abuse-proof.” Pharmaceutical companies will be required to undergo a number of rigorous tests to prove their pills really are abuse-resistant.
Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, the Deputy Director of Regulatory Programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, had the following to say about his agency’s latest effort,
“The FDA is focused on the development of opioids with abuse-deterrent formulations…to combat opioid abuse and misuse, FDA is encouraging manufacturers to develop abuse-deterrent drugs that work correctly when taken as prescribed, but are formulated in such a way that someone cannot easily modify them for the purposes of abuse” (Psychology Advisor).
The questions remains though, is the FDA helping stem the tide of painkiller abuse? Do they actually care about the safety and wellbeing of patients who’re prescribed narcotic medication? Or are they simply acting in response to this latest damning report of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction?
The answer remains to be seen. It will become clear in the coming months and years whether the FDA is serious about enforcing their guidelines. It’ll become clear whether they’re actually attempting to effect change or if they’re merely covering their butts.
For the sake of people everywhere, let’s hope they’re serious.
In a story that could come from the corrupt political drama “House of Cards,” some of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies seem to be striking backroom deals to keep marijuana illegal.
My previous statement may sound like a bit much. It may sound like the ramblings of someone who’s watched one too many YouTube conspiracy videos. It may sound like the ravings of an anti-government radical. Let me assure you that’s not the case at all.
Over the last several years, more and more information has come to light on powerful academic researchers who’re on the pharmaceutical industry’s payroll. Even more alarming is how opposed to medical marijuana these doctors and scientists are.
Now, this on its own is nothing. Some medical experts disagree that marijuana has medical benefits? So what? What is alarming, however, is when you consider their vocal anti-marijuana views in light of the funding and support they receive from opioid painkiller manufactures.
Find specific examples below and, believe me, there are lots of them.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine
Dr. Stuart Gitlow, the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), and Dr. Mark Kraus, a board member, are both on the payroll of companies heavy invested in keeping medical marijuana illegal.
Dr. Gitlow is not only on the board of directors for Project SAM, an organization devoted to keeping medical marijuana illegal, but he is also a visible and sensational critic of marijuana’s medical benefits. He once stated in USA Today, “There’s no benefit to marijuana. It’s simply that people want the freedom to be stoned. That’s all it is” (The Nation).
Guess where Dr. Gitlow derives a majority of his money? That’s right, companies that manufacture opioid painkillers. Gitlow is the Medical Director for Orexo, a company that makes a Suboxone like “opioid substitute” that’s also know for its abuse potential.
Dr. Mark Kraus, the ASAM board member mentioned above, is also on the payroll of Big Pharma. In 2012, Dr. Kraus fought the legalization of medical marijuana in Connecticut. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful, Kraus was a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana in any form. Perhaps that’s because he’s worked for the Reckitt Benckiser Group. Reckitt Benckiser is the manufacturer of the opioid Nurofen. Dr. Kraus also has tied to Pfizer, which makes narcotic analgesics with both morphine and oxycodone.
Dr. Kleber is a professor and scientist from Columbia University. He’s also a vocal opponent of medical marijuana. He’s used his academic reach to decry marijuana on CBS, NPR, and CNBC. He’s quick to warn anyone listening of the numerous abuse and addiction issues that any form of marijuana, medical or recreational, presents.
Dr. Kleber’s testimonials have been far reaching indeed. The New York State Association of Chiefs of Police used some of his writing in their opposition to medical marijuana. So did the American Psychiatric Association in their official statement against medical marijuana.
Fair enough, right? Dr. Kleber believes that marijuana presents no significant medical benefits. He’s a doctor and probably knows more about the subject than I do.
What’s interesting is when you consider some of the companies that Kleber has worked for. He’s been a consultant to numerous opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, Alkermes, and the Reckitt Benckiser Group (it seems like Reckitt Benckiser has quite a few public faces on their payroll).
Purdue Pharma is famous for introducing OxyContin to the American public. They’re also famous for launching a “misleading” marketing campaign aimed at making the public believe that OxyContin was safe and non-habit forming. Alkermes is the primary company producing a new opioid called Zohydro. Zohydro is a stronger version of the blockbuster opioid Vicodin.
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Dr. A. Eden Evins
Lest we think all the opioid advocates in academia are men, let’s take a look at Dr. A. Eden Evins. Dr. Evins is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. She’s a longtime and vocal opponent of any form of marijuana legalization. She’s also on Project SAM’s board of directors.
Dr. Evin’s has received grant and researcher support from Forum (formally EnVivo Pharmaceuticals), GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer. Additionally, Dr. Evin’s has served as a consultant for both Pfier and DLA Piper.
These painkiller manufacturers are largely responsible for the current opioid epidemic America’s found itself in.
As if all of the above information weren’t enough, there are also a number of anti-medical marijuana groups with general ties to the pharmaceutical industry and specific ties to opioid manufacturers.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids receives large donations annually from Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories (the company which developed Vicodin). Both these companies are among the organization’s primary donors.
Although the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids haven’t publicly endorsed opioid painkillers as safe, it’s naïve to think this pharmaceutical money comes with no strings attached.
The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (also known as the CADCA) = has tied to Purdue Pharma. The infamous company is one of the CADCA’s biggest donors. Another large donor is Alkermes, makers of Zohydro.
The CADCA campaigns aggressively against medical and recreational marijuana. Although it’s understandable for them to advocate against recreational marijuana, you can’t help but wonder about their stance on medical grade pot.
What about their stance on prescription drug abuse? Here’s where things get interesting. The CADCA takes a soft stance approach to painkiller abuse. They’ve called for more educational programs aimed at informing adolescents on the dangers of opioid abuse. While that’s an admirable step, it’s a far cry from their harsh condemnation of medical marijuana.
And then there’s Project SAM. Project SAM was founded in 2013 by Patrick Kennedy, of the famous family, who struggled with addiction to opioids most of his life. His response? Form an anti-marijuana organization which receives major funding and support from the pharmaceutical industry.
We’re in Need of a Rational Approach
We are! The United States is in desperate need of a rational approach to both medical marijuana and painkiller abuse prevention. That is to say, we’re in need of an unbiased and untethered view of the benefits and drawbacks of medical marijuana. We’re also in need of doctors, scientists, researchers, and academics who’re free of all corporate ties.
If by some small blessing that were to occur, if the US were to find reasonable proponents and critics of both medical marijuana and prescription drug reform, then we’d avoid situations like these.
So, what is the solution? How do we find these types of impartial opinions? Unfortunately, I’m not sure. I’m not a policymaker or a medical professional. I’m a man in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse who finds the corporate state of healthcare, be it pharmaceutical or otherwise, appalling.
I think the first step to any meaningful reform is through both politicians and medical advocates cutting ties with the business world. I realize that every project needs funding, be it a scientific project or a social services one. However, when corporate America comes to save the day, well, there’s always a price tag attached.