About Addiction: babies, bath salts, and prescriptions

Another week has come and so has another group of research and addiction news stories! This week we’re covering a multitude of subjects from prescription drug abuse to bath salts to ecstasy. It is important to stay current on news regarding addiction and recovery and A3 is here to help you do just that!

Increase in addicted babies- Recently, a statewide Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns Task Force in Florida discovered that the number of babies born addicted to prescription drugs such as opiates has increased six-fold since 2004. This increase is representative of the nation as a whole, with addicted newborns quickly becoming a major problem. In 2011 in Florida alone, over 2000 babies were born with drug withdrawal syndrome, narcotic exposure or both. At St. Joseph’s hospital in the Tampa area, almost fourteen percent of the newborns were born with withdrawal symptoms.

Kentucky cracks down on prescription drug abuse- This past week Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear passed emergency regulations to fight drug abuse in the state. While the regulations are a bit controversial, they are only temporary until the state’s medical community can agree on and finalize permanent regulations. Besides increasing the regulations on clinics for administering prescription drugs, the legislation also requires doctors to use the statewide prescription drug-tracking database known as KASPER to prevent “doctor-shopping” by addicts trying to get ahold of more drugs than prescribed to them. This is similar to the New York version known as I-STOP, which was passed in the past couple of weeks in that state’s attempt to crack down on drug abuse.

“Zombie” Bath Salts as addictive as cocaine? Bath salts have become a hot topic in the media following so-called “zombie attacks” by users of the relatively new and unknown drugs. However, a recent study by Dr. C.J. Malanga has discovered the addictive side of the drugs. The study used mice to focus on the strength of pleasure seeking under the influence of certain drugs. They first learned to receive brief stimulation as a reward for spinning a wheel and had their desire to spin the wheel for this reward compared to when the reward was each drug. The study revealed that bath salts, which are different variations of the compound called cathinone, an alkaloid that comes from the khat plant, have addictive properties similar to that of cocaine.

Simple label change the key to stopping opioid addiction? With opiod addiction on the rise across the nation, many different ways of counteracting it are being discussed. One way involves changing the labels on prescription opioids, such as OxyContin, morphine or Vicodin, as part of an effort to curb prescription drug abuse. Wednesday, thirty-seven health care workers signed and submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration to do just this. However, this is becoming a discussion point for addiction specialists. While many agree with the motivation behind the petition, it is questionable whether it goes too far. Some specialists are worried that by removing “moderate” pain from the label and limiting the maximum dosage and  time period on the medication can be harmful to those who are in pain and truly need the medication.

Ecstasy and your brain- A recent study led by Daniel Wagner, a psychologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, has shown that use of the popular club drug Ecstasy may lead to memory problems. It is the first study to use people who hadn’t used the drug regularly before the beginning of the study. The debate over the effects of Ecstasy, or MDMA, has been heated over the years, fueled by the difficulty in pinpointing its effects on the brain. The study led by Wagner only shows impairments in memory, but it is significant in just a one-year period. The leaders of the study also plan a two-year follow up to determine more long-term effects.

Nicotine addiction in the brain: Teens vs. heavy smokers- A new study by UCSF’s Mark Rubinstein, MD includes findings pointing towards a lower threshold for nicotine addiction in teenagers than is currently commonly believed. Most programs that are meant to help smokers quit require that the patient smokes at least ten cigarettes per day, and anything below five brings into question if the person is even truly an addict. However, this study uses fMRI, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, to map out how the brain reacts to different images either related or neutral to smoking. It is known that when a person is addicted to a drug, their brain “lights up” in a way that resembles the drug use itself. When comparing how the brain of teenagers who smoke less than five cigarettes a day reacts to these images with that of adults who are heavy smokers, the data revealed that there is an immense amount of similarity. It seems that some early smoking can lead to addiction the same way heavy smoking does later in life. As a result, Rubinstein is already suggesting that we should try to get teenagers to postpone their initiation and experimentation with smoking.




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