E-liquids could be lethal to small children, harmful to others

electronic cigaretteA new consumer alert is being issued related to the popular electronic cigarettes. The liquids used in e-cigarettes may be harmful to an adult’s health and deadly to a child. E-cigarettes have been touted as tools to help people stop smoking, but a recent New York Times report is warning adults about e-liquids. 

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel. The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form — extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry. These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child. But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

Reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring. Since 2011, there appears to have been one death in the United States, a suicide by an adult who injected nicotine. But less serious cases have led to a surge in calls to poison control centers. Nationwide, the number of cases linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012, and the number is on pace to double this year, according to information from the National Poison Data System. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number.

Examples come from across the country. Last month, a 2-year-old girl in Oklahoma City drank a small bottle of a parent’s nicotine liquid, started vomiting and was rushed to an emergency room.

That case and age group is considered typical. Of the 74 e-cigarette and nicotine poisoning cases called into Minnesota poison control in 2013, 29 involved children age 2 and under. In Oklahoma, all but two of the 25 cases in the first two months of this year involved children age 4 and under

In terms of the immediate poison risk, e-liquids are far more dangerous than tobacco, because the liquid is absorbed more quickly, even in diluted concentrations.

“This is one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins we have,” Mr. Cantrell said of nicotine. But e-liquids are now available almost everywhere. “It is sold all over the place. It is ubiquitous in society.”

The surge in poisonings reflects not only the growth of e-cigarettes but also a shift in technology. Initially, many e-cigarettes were disposable devices that looked like conventional cigarettes. Increasingly, however, they are larger, reusable gadgets that can be refilled with liquid, generally a combination of nicotine, flavorings and solvents. In Kentucky, where about 40 percent of cases involved adults, one woman was admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems after her e-cigarette broke in her bed, spilling the e-liquid, which was then absorbed through her skin.

The increased use of liquid nicotine has, in effect, created a new kind of recreational drug category, and a controversial one. For advocates of e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine represents the fuel of a technology that might prompt people to quit smoking, and there is anecdotal evidence that is happening. But there are no long-term studies about whether e-cigarettes will be better than nicotine gum or patches at helping people quit. Nor are there studies about the long-term effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine.

Unlike nicotine gums and patches, e-cigarettes and their ingredients are not regulated. The Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to regulate e-cigarettes but has not disclosed how it will approach the issue. Many e-cigarette companies hope there will be limited regulation.

The nicotine levels in e-liquids varies. Most range between 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent, concentrations that can cause sickness, but rarely death, in children. But higher concentrations, like 10 percent or even 7.2 percent, are widely available on the Internet. A lethal dose at such levels would take “less than a tablespoon,” according to Dr. Cantrell, from the poison control system in California. “Not just a kid. One tablespoon could kill an adult,” he said.

 

 

The Overdose Drug Works: Demand and Prices Rising

naloxone nasal sprayThe number of calls to the fire department for suspected drug overdoses are increasingly common in Revere, Mass. So common in fact, the department responded to 16 overdose calls in 6 days in February. 

And Revere isn’t alone with those kinds of numbers. Across the country there has been a spike in opioid overdoses. We have seen article after article, story after story of it. In several states the government agencies and health clinics are working to provide an anti-overdose drug, Naloxone, to as many people as possible. But even as use of the drug is rising so is its cost. Supply and demand. 

Revere is one of the five Massachusetts communities participating in a state pilot program where emergency responders administer the nasal spray which we have talked about before. The nasal spray form of the drug Narcan, that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. There have been more than 2,500 reported opioid overdose reversals in Mass since the program began seven years ago. 

“It’s just incredible, it’s like magic,” says Michael Viviano, Revere’s deputy fire chief. “There’s somebody who’s on the ground who’s literally dead. They have no pulse. Sometimes they’re blue, sometimes they’re black. And you administer this stuff and sometimes, in a minute or two or three, they’re actually up and talking to you.”

BUT, even with Narcan overdose deaths are still happening. Exact numbers haven’t been found out yet, but Mass State Police recently released figures that showed around 185 deaths from heroin overdoses in the past four months. And that is probably  much lower than the actual number of overdose deaths because it doesn’t include prescription drug overdoses, or overdose numbers from Boston, Worcester, and Springfield where heroin is a huge problem.

The Cost of Narcan

Narcan is handed out for free at scheduled trainings to use the drug. And the cost of the drug has increased. Pharmaceutical company, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Narcan in the dosage that’s used as a nasal spray. Seven years ago, Mass could get the spray at 22 dollars a kit. Now it is 42 dollars a kit. 

And many people to seem the think that the reason the price has doubled is because, well, the pharmaceutical company knows what they have. A life saving toolkit that is figuratively priceless. 

Seventeen states now use Narcan, and many officials are urging the federal government to step in so the drug can be even more widely distributed at a reasonable cost. 

Celebrate St.Patrick’s Day Sober

iStock_000012348714SmallBelieve it or not St. Patrick’s Day was a dry holiday up until about 40 years ago. So if you are celebrating your St. Patrick’s Day sober than just think of yourself as vintage, original and classic. On that note, also find some fun and inspiring ways to enjoy St. Patty’s without the booze. They say St. Patrick’s Day falls right behind Thanksgiving and umm, I think it’s New Years in drinking. So finding ways to celebrate might be tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some great ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Sober. 

Find a Parade

Most major cities (and more than a few small towns) will have some sort of St. Patrick’s Day parade complete with leprechauns, four-leaf clovers, festive music and every other stereotypical “Irish” tradition associated with this fun holiday. Search on the Internet and head out early with the family to find a good spot to sit and soak in the activities.

Watch Great Movies

The weather in the middle of March tends to be cool, which makes the idea of staying in for a night on the couch even more inviting.  Of course, there are those awful guilty-pleasure Leprechaun movies but you can also check out some great Irish films including Leap YearOnceFinian’s RainbowWaking Ned Divine orAngela’s Ashes.

Play Dress Up

St. Patrick’s Day is known for being a bit silly and over-the-top. Find some giant hats, oversized sunglasses, fake pots of gold, flashing jewelry, press-on tattoos and more to celebrate the occasion (don’t forget something that says “kiss me, I’m Irish!”). Feel free to decorate your home, office or car too!

Make “Green” Food

Food coloring is a great way to take some everyday items and make them more festive. Serve green eggs and ham for breakfast, bake green cupcakes for your workplace or go with more traditional foods such as cream of potato soup (green coloring is optional!), Irish soda bread, stew, corned beef or shepherd’s pie.

Twist and Shout

Above all, remember that you can have a lot of fun singing and dancing your cares away while staying sober. Organize a night out with friends or have everyone over for an evening of fun, then let yourself get lost in the music and good times. If your friends insist on going on, go with them and be the designated driver.

It might seem like you have to chug a pint of green beer to truly experience the bliss of St. Patrick’s Day but there are many ways to celebrate and have a great time.  Have a safe and happy holiday and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you!

How Bad is Heroin Use in the United States? The Facts

heroin useWe have been hearing about heroin all over the United States, but never in one nice big number. Everything reads based on city or state. What we want to take a look at is how bad the heroin use really is across the board. And we are going to.

Here are the numbers on heroin use in the US. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: In 2012 about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin the past year. Which if I know anything about heroin, means they are probably addicted, or at least the majority are. There are very few individuals who only use heroin once. 

This number, 669,000 is rising and has been since 2009. The “trend” appears to be driven by young adults, aged 18-25. There has been the biggest increase in use among those in this age group. Along with that the number of people using heroin for the first time is appallingly high. 156,000 people started using heroin in 2012 and probably still are. That number is double the number of people in 2006 who tried it for the first time. 

And while these numbers are rising steadily, the numbers are actually declining for those aged 12-17. In the past year, heroin use among the Nations 8th, 10th and, 12th graders is at its lowest levels in the history of the survey. Less than 1% of those surveyed in all grades had tried heroin in 2013. Which has been a steady decline since 2005. 

So what about addiction? Well, the number of people meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition criteria for dependence or abuse of heroin doubled from 214,000 in 2002, to 467,000 in 2012. Data on what these numbers look like now and where these numbers reach hasn’t been released yet. 

The impact of heroin use is huge. It is identified as being one of the biggest drug issues across several local regions from coast to coast. The rising harm associated with heroin use at the community level was presented in a report produced by the NIDA Community Epidemiology Work Group. The CEWG is comprised of researchers in areas across the United states and selected foreign countries that provide community level surveillance of drug abuse and its consequences or emerging trends. And heroin is taking the cake right now. 

Heroin use is no longer found only urban areas. Heroin use in the US has spread into suburban and rural communities near Chicago and St. Louis. Heroin use is also on the rise among young adults in the areas. Individuals in the young adult age range, 18-25, are seeking treatment for heroin addiction or heroin abuse more now too. The numbers increased from about 11% in 2008 to 26% in the first half of 2012

I am not sure what the numbers look like for 2013 quite yet but they are probably worse than what you just read. 

 

Massachusetts crime lab tech who faked drug tests

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior Court in Brockton, Massachusetts

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior Court in Brockton, Massachusetts January 30, 2013.
CREDIT: REUTERS/JESSICA RINALDI

A former Massachusetts state crime-lab chemist who admitted to faking drug test results was the sole “bad actor” at the facility, but lax management allowed her to carry on for nine years, an official review released on Tuesday concluded.

In a case that shook the foundations of the state’s criminal justice system, chemist Annie Dookhan last year acknowledged faking tests on evidence in drug cases involving some 40,000 people from 2002 to 2011.

More than 300 people convicted of drug violations have been released from prison as a result.

A review by the state’s Inspector General found that there had been warning signs throughout Dookhan’s tenure at the Boston lab, which is now closed. In her first two years on the job, she tested more than 8,000 samples a year, more than double her next-most productive colleague.

Her high output was the result of “dry-labbing,” using only visual inspections rather than chemical tests to confirm that cocaine or other illegal narcotics seized by police were what investigators said they were.

Four of Dookhan’s colleagues at the lab raised concerns about her methods and one went so far as to keep track of her use of reagents and microscope slides because of his suspicions, the report found.

“One significant red flag that Dookhan’s supervisors ignored was her spectacular productivity, particularly after … (a 2009) U.S. Supreme Court case that required forensic drug chemists to testify in court about their test results, when the productivity of all other Drug Lab chemists precipitously declined,” the report found.

The report concluded that a lax management environment at the lab allowed Dookhan to make her own rules, but also noted that inadequate funding made it a struggle for the facility to keep up with the number of samples it was asked to test.

It found that Dookhan was no more likely than her colleagues who used scientific tests to label samples as containing illegal narcotics, striking down the idea that she had been trying to help prosecutors.

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/04/us-usa-crimelab-massachusetts-idUSBREA231XL20140304

There Were Signs That Heroin Would Become A Problem Again

heroinFrom the beginning, the U.S. government’s decade-long crackdown on abuse of prescription drugs has run an unsettling risk: that arresting doctors and shuttering “pill mills” would inadvertently fuel a new epidemic of heroin use. Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force question suspects during a raid on fake health clinics illegally dispensing medical prescriptions for OxyContin and other drugs in 2012.

State and federal officials have pressed their campaign against prescription-drug abuse with urgency, trying to contain a scourge that kills more than 16,000 people each year. The crackdown has helped reduce the illegal use of some medications and raised awareness of their dangers.

But at the same time that some pain medications have become less available on the street and pricier, many users have switched to cheaper heroin, since prescription pills and heroin are in the same class of drugs and provide a comparable euphoric high.

As we all know the heroin problem has been gaining speed. After Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from heroin and other drugs, the experts are saying that the government’s actions have contributed to the growing heroin problem. The war on drugs, the experts say, is a conflict where targeting one illicit substance an be an unintentional boom into another. And if the war on drugs understood addiction they would of probably seen this coming. When you take a substance away from an addict, they don’t stop using, they just switch substances. They will always find a way to get high. 

“Absolutely, much of the heroin use you’re seeing now is due in large part to making prescription opioids a lot less accessible,” said Theodore Cicero, a psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He co-authored a 2012 study, cited in the New England Journal of Medicine, that found that a reformulation of OxyContin to make it harder to abuse caused heroin use to nearly double.

Although policymakers “did the best they could at the time” in fighting prescription drugs, Cicero said, “there were signs years ago that this was going to happen, and there was just a lot of inaction.” He said the government could have acted sooner to mitigate heroin’s toll, such as by promoting the use of medicines to fight overdoses and ease withdrawal symptoms.

This doesn’t mean that targeting prescription drugs was necessarily a bad thing but the unawareness and shock of what is going on now, is unwarranted. Everyone should of seen it coming. 

In fact, the government kind of did. The government itself predicted that targeting prescription drugs could give heroin use an unintended lift.The Justice Department’s drug intelligence arm in 2002 highlighted the potential consequences: “As initiatives taken to curb the abuse of OxyContin are successfully implemented, abusers of OxyContin . . . also may begin to use heroin, especially if it is readily available, pure, and relatively inexpensive.”

But yet, those projections didn’t take factor in the discussions by top drug policy officials even after numerous government reports and congressional testimony indicated that the shift in heroin was happening, according to current and formal officials. 

So heroin use began its rise at around the end of the Bush administration has surged in the Obama years. 

Between 2007 and 2012, heroin use rose 79 percent nationwide, according to federal data. Within the same period, the data show, 81 percent of first-time heroin users had previously abused prescription drugs.

The Heroin Network: Is Your Town the Addict, The Dealer or The Middle Man?

heroinVermont police have reported that there has been an increase of heroin into the state. But where is the heroin coming from? 

Police say the drugs are probably from urban areas such as New York, Philly, Lowell and Holyoke, Mass., Albany, and even Chicago and Detroit. Why? Because a bag of heroin that sells for 5 dollars in a big  city can snag as much as 30 dollars in the streets of Rutland. 

Dec. 8th, 2012 a suspected dealer led authorities straight to his source. Using a warrant, Burlington police and federal drug enforcement agents traced the movements of Videsh Raghoonanan by tracking his cellphoine in real time. For six hours they watched the signal travel from Burlington down interstates 89, 91, and 95 to New York City.

The signal eventually stopped at 1am near Ozone Park, Queens, a middle class neighborhood best known for its horse racing track. 16 hours later the cellphone started moving north again, tracing the same route back-until it arrived in Burlington shortly before midnight. 

When Raghoonanan exited the highway onto Shelburne Road police we already waiting in a surveillance car. He drove to an apartment on South Union Street, where authorities say the dealer had set up shop. AS they got out of the vehicle, Raghoonanan and a companion were taken into custody and searched. 

According to court records, the cops found a 30 gram bag of cocaine concealed in Raghoonanan’s buttocks and 90 bags of heroin in the pants pocket of his accomplice. 

Raghoonanan was identified by a customer who cooperated with federal authorities in the hope of reducing his own sentence on drug charges. And Raghoonanan, in turn, allegedly identified his supplier as a NYC man known as “Black.”

U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin has prosecuted dozens of individuals for heroin trafficking in the past 18 months, mostly using secretive grand jury proceedings. His office is building complex cases — many of which rely on confidential informants with ties to suspected drug suppliers.

Brooklyn has emerged as an epicenter of Vermont-bound heroin, and one neighborhood in particular appears to be a source point. In February, federal prosecutors in New York unsealed an indictment charging six defendants in a drug ring from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn with trafficking narcotics. One of them was arrested in Vermont. Court records accused the suspects of making daily runs with large quantities of narcotics to upstate New York and Vermont.

In March, state police stopped a Cadillac on I-89 in Williamstown that was allegedly returning from Brooklyn with 2600 bags of heroin in the trunk. Authorities have also seized large quantities of heroin in recent months from out-of-state passengers traveling on the Megabus and in taxicabs.

“There are supply networks familiar with Vermont down there,” Coffin acknowledges. But heroin is arriving from Chicago, Boston and other big cities, too.

heroinIn fact, some of the most potent — and deadly — heroin in Vermont appears to have originated in the Windy City. Beginning in the fall of 2011, the Burlington police narcotics unit began investigating a group of individuals from Chicago allegedly trafficking heroin in Chittenden County. The heroin — known as “Chi town” or “Chi town dope” — was blamed for several overdoses, including at least one that resulted in death.

Turns out, Chi town dope also had ties to drug suppliers in Lowell, Mass. On April 10, law enforcement officers in Lowell staked out the home of a person suspected of trafficking the potent heroin to Vermont. Police allegedly watched Chandara “Po” Sam leave his apartment and drive away in a gray Honda, and then trailed him to the Vermont border, where Vermont police took over the surveillance.

According to police, investigators followed Sam to a McDonald’s in White River Junction, where they had prearranged a controlled buy with an undercover informant who allegedly gave Sam $5000 for a large package of heroin. Police arrested Sam after the handoff. When the cops back in Lowell executed a search warrant on the building where Sam had been spotted, they allegedly found 30 grams of heroin, digital scales, more than $40,000 in cash and a handgun.

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling says Chi town is just one of several heroin varieties available on the streets. Each batch comes with its own “stamp” on the packaging, the chief explains, and different groups bring in different supplies.

So far, gangs don’t appear to be battling for turf in Vermont, according to Birmingham, the drug task force commander, who notes that there’s no sign of organized gangs such as Bloods or Crips. But he admits he can’t be sure because “people don’t wear gang numbers.” Sometimes, he notes, people will pretend they’re in a gang to build their “intimidation factor.”

“People will come into a smaller community in Vermont and want to portray themselves as tough,” Birmingham says.

Schirling has a different view on gangs. He says Burlington police have arrested suspects that have affiliations with inner-city gangs. Asked to elaborate, the chief says, “Can’t talk about that.”

At least one alleged trafficker appeared to be worried about a rival’s heroin cutting into his market. Burlington police arrested Michael Vasquez, aka “Macho,” last fall for allegedly selling heroin to an undercover police informant, and he is alleged to be the head of an organization that trafficked two ounces per week from New York into the Burlington area.

In his affidavit of probable cause, Burlington Detective Sgt. Matthew Sullivan wrote that when he asked Vasquez about a competing distribution group infringing on his franchise, Vasquez replied, “Maybe they’re making it hard for me to eat or me to make money if I was selling drugs or maybe like you said they getting in the way or whatever…”

Baker of Rutland cautions that it’s simplistic to blame the heroin surge solely on outsiders. One of the biggest busts in his area implicated a Vermonter. On April 24, federal prosecutors charged Alan H. Willis II of Tinmouth with heroin trafficking, alleging he had been purchasing and selling 1200 bags a week since last June — or as much as 38,400 bags of heroin over the past 10 months.

Similarly, federal agents arrested Addison County native Justin Billings last summer as he allegedly attempted to sell 399 bags of heroin in Hampton, N.Y. When agents later searched his residence, they allegedly seized 6073 bags of heroin, $90,000 in cash, 10 firearms, ammunition and a 2003 Ford Explorer with an electronically controlled hiding compartment.

Dispelling the urban legend that Amtrak is the conduit for Rutland’s heroin supply, Baker says he’s unaware of a single shipment that has arrived via passenger train since he took over as police chief in January 2012.

“It would be easy to blame New York City,” Baker says, “but it’s much more complicated than that.”

5 Other Drugs (Besides Zohydro) the FDA Approved that Ended Up Causing Deaths

fdaThe approval of Zohydro brings up a long list of other substances that were bad ideas by the FDA. Going against their team of experts the FDA has gone ahead and approved Zohydro. Check out what other drugs the FDA approved, that led to many deaths and then eventually were recalled. Here we go:

REZULIN

Before Rezulin was licensed in January of 1997, medical officer John L. Gueriguian, the FDA’s chief reviewer for the drug, was removed from his position. He had relayed to Rezulin’s parent company, Warner-Lambert, that more studies needed to be conducted after symptoms of liver toxicity were found in his test subjects. The company complained and the FDA dismissed him with weeks before going ahead with the approval. Three years later, four senior FDA scientists also reported misgivings, but were threatened with discharge. Before the drug was finally pulled in 2000, 155 cases of death by liver toxicity and twice as many cases of liver failure were reported to the department. At the time, 500,000 people were actively taking the drug.

FENPHEN

Marketed as a miracle pill, Redux—now more widely known by its generic name FenPhen—claimed to be the answer to everyone’s weight loss prayers during its $52 million dollar campaign in 1996. But some of the FDA’s own doctors had serious concerns. Dr. Leo Lutwack, the department’s chief medical reviewer of weight loss drugs, opposed Redux’s approval from the outset, citing serious dangers to the heart and neuropsychiatric complications, but the FDA suppressed his claims. “You’ve got conflict of interest at many, many levels,” he told Frontlineafter the fact. “I don’t know what the solution is.” A year later, around 100 cases of heart-valve disease were reported to the department, and tens of thousands died of heart-related issues before the drug was eventually withdrawn in 1997.

VIOXX

It was called the worst preventable public health disaster in FDA history. Between the time officials approved Vioxx in 1999 and withdrew it in 2004, multiple studies raised concerns about the drug’s potential for heart attack and stroke risk. The findings were categorically ignored, including those of FDA drug safety officer Dr. David Graham, who linked the drug to 27,000 heart attacks from 1999-2006. The department tried to block the publication of his findings before eventually withdrawing the drug in September of 2004. In the end, 88,000 to 139,000 people suffered heart attacks, a third of which were fatal.

AVANDIA

After Avandia was approved in 1999, it became the most widely used diabetes drug in the country. Both the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and the FDA had found that the medication put patients at risk for heart attacks, but failed to report it to consumers. FDA officer Dr. Graham estimated that Avandia had caused 205,000 heart attacks and strokesbetween 1999 and 2006, with 80,000 fatalities. In 2007, Dr. Steven Nissen, chief cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, analyzed 42 clinical trials of Avandia posted on GSK’s website. He found that the drug increased heart attack risk by 43 percent. Multiple studies were eventually brought to the FDA’s attention, but it took the department four more years to reevaluate the drug. In 2010 officials voted to issue label warnings and restrictions rather than withdraw it entirely. Prescribers rapidly dropped from 120,000 to 3,000 patients.

MERIDIA

Meridia was approved just two months after FenPhen was pulled from the market in 1997, despite the fact that the FDA’s advisory committee have voted five to four against the diet pill’s release, citing cardiovascular risks. In 2003 Public Citizen, a national consumer organization, petitioned the department to withdraw the drug citing evidence of 49 directly-related fatalities and 124 adverse reactions, which they culled from the FDA’s own database. In 2009, another petition reported 84 deaths. The department remained passive until 2010 when it ultimately compelledAbbot Labs to end all sales of the drug.

Zohydro Set to Release March 1st. Did it Happen?: A Breakdown of The Drug that ‘Will Kill People.’

zohydroFor those that don’t know about opiates, here is a quick summary.

OPIATES

Opiates are addictive prescription medications. You usually get them after having wisdom teeth removed, any kind of surgery really, or for any kind of chronic pain. They come in different forms that vary in potency and type of pain relief. There is Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid, Moprhine, Oxymorphone, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Fentanyl, Darvocet, Methadone and others.

What all of these have in common for both the recreational user and the the person who actually needs them is their potential for addiction and also their potential for overdose. The potential for overdose of course is quite a bit higher for the recreational user who will most likely crush the pills up and either snort them or take them intravenously. But the risk is still there for the person who does need them as well. As for the potential for addiction? Anyone who takes any kind of opiate for a long enough time will become physically addicted to them. This means that they will build a tolerance and also will suffer painful withdrawal when they try to stop taking the pills. 

THEY ARE ADDICTIVE AND DEADLY

The addictive nature of these medications as well as their ability to be abused and cause an overdose, make them highly dangerous. In fact, they are so dangerous that many have considered their use and abuse an epidemic. The prescription drug epidemic. We are seeing more babies born to mothers who were using opiates, addicted to the drug also needing withdrawal, as well as a spike in overdoses, and also many people turning to heroin because it runs much cheaper than the costly prescription pill for those who are or who have become recreational users. 

ZOHYDRO 101

So where does Zohydro fall into all of this mess? 

Well, Zohydro may be lethal, especially for addicts and recreational users.A new painkiller that was approved only months ago and was supposed to hit pharmacy shelves March 1st. It is already stirring controversy and has been, with doctors and activists saying it will lead to abuse, addiction and deaths.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Zohydro against the recommendations of its advisory panel, saying that a stronger pain pill was needed for patients who haven’t been able to get relief from existing medications. But unlike the new tamper-resistant formulation of OxyContin, Zohydro can easily be crushed and then snorted or injected, according to one of the experts on the FDA advisory board who voted against the drug’s approval. The drug can also contain 10 times the amount of the narcotic hydrocodone as other painkillers, according to Reuters . The pill was expected to hit shelves March 1-we are not sure if it has yet. 

“In the midst of a severe drug addiction epidemic fueled by overprescribing of opioids, the very last thing the country needs is a new, dangerous, high-dose opioid,” some 40 experts wrote to the FDA in a call for Zohydro’s reevaluation.

“It’s a whopping dose of hydrocodone packed in an easy-to-crush capsule. It will kill people as soon as it’s released,” says one of those experts.

THE FDA? C’MON NOW!

Regardless, the FDA has licensed the medication for “the management of pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term treatment and for which alternative treatment options are inadequate,” a use Kolodny and company find troublesome. Why? Because as you can see from our list above there are already plenty of opiates available for around the clock treatment of pain, even in the long term. This drug is unnecessary.

And being unable to see the FDA’s logic is nothing new. The FDA really has no logic.

The FDA has ignored the recommendations of its scientists and respected medical groups repeatedly in the past few decades, and according to critics, often conveniently “forgets” scientific integrity for the sake of the industry that pays its bills. Hmmmm??

A 2011 survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that half of the FDA’s employees felt that political or business interests had a large influence on the department’s decisions.

In our next article we will talk about all the half hazard decisions the FDA made to approve certain drugs that ended up being deadly. 

A Hard Truth to GRASP: A Mother’s Story

zachZachary died on July 19th, 2013, due to a drug overdose. Not because he was a junkie or because he was an addict. Because he wasn’t just an addict. He was a son, a brother, a human being with love in his heart, and goals for the future. He died of a drug overdose because he had a disease, leaving a family behind to pick up the pieces and to figure out, what next?

Zachary isn’t around to tell his story, but the one person who probably knew him better than anyone else is, his mom. And this is her story. This is a mother’s, Louise’s, experience, strength and hope. 

“He’s probably screaming at me for doing this,” Louise says while laughing. 

“Do you really think he is screaming at you?” I asked her. “Yes,” she says kind of laughing again.

Louise, Zach’s mom, lives about 30 miles north of Boston. While she never had a problem with drugs or alcohol herself she said it does run in the family.

The genes didn’t doom Zachary to having the disease of alcoholism and addiction from the day he was born, but they definitely played a role. “People don’t believe there is a genetic basis to this disease.” she tells me. Which is surprising because the numbers back Louise up. Studies show 50-60% of the disease of addiction is due to genetic factors.

Zachary was born August 18th, 1991. “And when he was born, he didn’t look at me and say mom when I grow up I want to be a drug addict.” And none of us do. None of us plan on having this disease. We are just like every other kid out there.

And as for Zachary, he was just a kid as well. An especially bright, smart, determined one. “Of course he was my kid so I am going to tell you he was cute. He was funny, goofy funny, he always told jokes, he always made everybody laugh, he had a very sensitive side to him, and he was a great athlete.”

“He learned things so quickly. He loved hockey. He was passionate about hockey. He loved life.”

“When he put his mind to something he could do anything.”

So what went wrong? Nothing. This disease doesn’t discriminate.

Louise did more than most parents do to be aware, and also to talk to their kids about drug and alcohol use.  She even talked to Zachary and his two older siblings about their genetics and about drugs and alcohol. “As soon as they hit double digits, like 10, I did talk to them often about drugs and alcohol. Ya know, they knew their history. And I said you guys really have to be careful. If you’re going to experiment you might not be able to step away,” “You really need to ask yourself is this really what I want to do,” she told her three children. 

“I really thought I was one of those parents that was on top of it all, I wasn’t by the way, but I thought I was.” And unfortunately it really isn’t until it’s too late that most parents realize that there is nothing they can do. 

Zachary’s disease progressed in a way that even the most careful parent probably wouldn’t have noticed. There were no signs of abnormal behavior. “He would challenge my authority at times and I would ground him,” she told me. But that was the most of it. 

“I did catch him with pot, he must have been 14 or 15, and I was concerned.”

“But I just thought it was experimenting, a right of passage.” “He wasn’t coming home high every day as far as I know. I didn’t smell it on him. If he was, I would of done something.”

And for most kids Zachary’s age, experimentation, especially with pot is normal. Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once. 

And from that point on the story becomes a little more worrisome and the tone changes. “What was Zachary’s drug of choice?” I asked. Louise responds with one word, “Percocet.” 

Percocet is an opiate. It is normally prescribed for pain and can produce euphoric effects. It is highly addictive unnamed (2)and even the most careful users can end up finding themselves suffering what is known as withdrawal after taking it for a week or two. 

At age 16 was when Zachary tried Percocet for the first time. And it isn’t an uncommon story. Zachary had sprained his ankle during hockey and one of his friends on the hockey team, described as being on a “slippery slope,” had given it to him. And this is how most kids try opiates for the first time. From a friend. 

“My son, he told me, once he took the first Percocet he couldn’t stop.” she explains. And I knew exactly what Zachary was telling his mom being a recovered addict myself. I had felt what he felt that first time as well and I told Louise this.

She kind of laughed and went, “You want to know what I told him?” “I told him to knock it off.”

“I truly didn’t understand. I’ll tell you how naive I was! I thought well, its a prescription pill, how bad can it be?” “Because its prescribed by doctors. I never understood or maybe I had never heard of the addictive nature of those pills.”

And unless your child starts taking them, most parents haven’t and by the time you notice it could be too late. Today there is more information about it but prescription opiates still fly under the radar. Every day in the United States, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription drugs without a doctor’s guidance for the first time. AND the majority of both teens and young adults obtain prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge.

And this is how it starts. Unfortunately Percocet being a prescription drug it has the illusion of being “safe” or at least more “safe” then it’s distant cousin, the street drug heroin. And Louise gets it. “There’s this false sense of it’s ok.”

Things went downhill from there. Louise began getting calls Zachary’s senior year from the headmaster at his high school, he had started acting up, and his grades began “tanking.” 

“He barely made it through high school.” “I did get him into a treatment program while he was still in high school. In Boston, once again I didn’t know what I was doing, me and my ignorance was bliss at the time.” she sighs. 

The program Zachary went to was only one night a week and he didn’t really want to go but he did. He completed the program and also managed to make it through high school. 

That summer things got much worse. “That summer I noticed a complete escalation in his drug activity. And he started stealing, the whole 9 yards. And by that time he had graduated to Oxys.” she tells me.

Oxys, the short term for the prescription drug Oxycontin or Oxycodone, are a highly potent opiate similar to Percocet. For addicts it is the next step up from Percocet. It gives you a more intense high.

At this point Zachary was in college but he never went to class due to his drug use. So Louise told her son, “Zach it’s not working, you need to do something else.” 

From that point forward Zach and his family started a long road in and out of detox and treatment centers. “I call it the roller coaster,” she explained. And here is why, “He’d go through detox, he’d go through treatment, he’d come out for awhile, he’d be ok for 30 days sometimes 60 days and then he’d relapse.” Then the cycle would start all over again.

And this is the disease of addiction. Characterized by being chronic, progressive and fatal. And always, the potential for relapse is there. And Louise didn’t quite understand why the cycle wasn’t working yet. “I thought you just need to detox. Now you’re off them, now go get a job, go back to school.”

And that kind of thinking or that kind of action does work, for short periods of time, but not for lasting sobriety.

“Then the monster would be unleashed again.” And Louise describes each treatment and detox center as Zach and herself going through cycles together. 

“6 months sober was about the longest time he had. Then that started not working out for him”

In 2013, things had hit an all time low. After Christmas 2012, Zach started using again and he was now using heroin, the disease had progressed some more. He was progressively more and more inebriated and there was an instance where Louise thought he should have overdosed but he didn’t.

He had been to treatment in Florida once before during one of the cycles, “I call them tours of duty,” she said. And Louise was ready to send him back down to Florida again for another “tour of duty” due to the extent of his using. She told him, “You got to get outta here cause you are going to die in Lowell.”

When she sent Zachary to Florida she didn’t know it was going to be the last time she saw her son. And why would she? No one sees it coming. 

“He had 60 days sober, and on day 61 he relapsed and died.” she explains. It hurt me to hear this.

Zach called his mom on day 60 telling her “Mom! I am 60 days clean!” And she gave a response of love like any mother would. She told him how proud she was of him and to keep up the good work. She was planning on coming down for his birthday next month. But she didn’t get to. “I came home Friday night from work, and the police were outside my door.” Zach had died.

“I don’t know what happened.” Louise told me. Even Zach’s sponsor, kind of a guide in a twelve step program, didn’t see it coming. And relapse, overdose, and death can happen like that with the disease of addiction. Out of the blue, all of a sudden. No one plans on dying when they relapse. No one expects it. 

I asked Louise about her feelings after his death, “Anger, guilt, shame?”

“I was everything. I was more sad than angry.” “My anger was directed at God more than anybody else. I put some anger there. I put some anger on the sober house.”

“How do you get through something like this?” I asked Louise, “What were the steps you started taking?”

Louise was honest, “I didn’t do anything for a month. I can become an isolator. I actually went into numbness, I didn’t feel.”

“I’m only coming out of it now.” Grieving is a different process for everyone. And for some this kind of numbness is necessary. And she has ups and downs. “I cried last week. Someone posted a photo of him on Facebook and I broke down.”

“I will miss him until the day I die. I will grieve him until the day I die.”

When Louise did come out of numbness though she started taking action. “I tend to be an action oriented person.” So it would only make sense that she started a chapter of the support group GRASP. GRASP is grief recovery for those who have lost someone from alcohol, and other drugs. GRASP is nationwide and we will provide a link for it. It is for anyone who has lost someone to substance abuse not only parents. GRASP provides compassionate support for anyone who needs it. Louise runs the Merrimack Valley GRASP Chapter in Massachusetts.

“I hope Zachary is proud of what I am doing.” 

“I didn’t want his death to be in vain. One way is GRASP. My other way now is if the media calls, I tell my story.”  She also is working with a group in Lowell, Mass that is trying to fight heroin addiction, to give them the parents perspective.

I asked about her goals and she said, “That maybe some of us can find peace.”

Another one of her goals has to do with the anonymity part of this disease. “If I remain anonymous people are never going to put a face on addiction. They’re not going to see the people that are hurt. They aren’t going to see the people that die.  I am sick of being anonymous. I am sick of being ashamed. I am sick of being embarrassed.”

She even used Zach’s funeral as a way to educate people by putting inserts into his funeral program about addiction.I knew they were going to talk about him and if they were going to talk about him I thought, I am going to educate them.” “The stigma has got to go away.” “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, whether you’re black, white, blue or purple.” And she is so beyond right. The disease of addiction knows no bounds

And then she coined this term, given to her by CBS—“I am making my mess my message.” 

“If I can help a parent, not experience what I have experienced, and if it is only one, that is fine.”

And of course as any parent would she still questions herself.

“Every day I get up, I judge myself.”

“I do wonder should I have done more?” 

But as every one of us with this disease knows, when we want to use, there is nothing that can stop us. Louise did everything she could do as a mother. She tried everything she knew how to do. And unfortunately it isn’t up to our parents. It is up to us. And in some instances it is up to our disease if we are using. 

Louise works to help other parents with exactly the same things she is going through, through GRASP, and even Learn 2 Cope (another organization similar to GRASP.) As she puts it, “We have to live with this.”

And in return of offering help, she receives help too. “You are not alone. There are people you can actually talk to that don’t judge you.” GRASP and Learn 2 Cope are just two of the organizations that Louise is involved with that offer that kind of understanding and support. 

unnamed (1)My last question for Louise was merely about her favorite memory of Zach. And she described a young Zachary (see picture to the right) that liked to dress up in different gear. And he came out of his room in a camo vest one day, with a little helmet. “It was the cutest thing you have ever seen in your life!!!” she tells me laughing. I can hear her smile. “He came out and said Mom! I’m an army man!” He was so proud.”

Louise also shared that she used to send Zach a special quote when he was having rough days. It happens to actually be the same one my mom sends to me. It is from the Winnie the Pooh and goes like this:

“Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

And then she shared with me the last thing Zachary said to her before he had died. Her last memory, and also her fondest. “He told me he knew what unconditional love was because I showed it to him. That’s my fondest,” the tears started. “So I know he knew that I loved him, because I used to wonder sometimes did he? And he told me he knew what uncondtional love was because I gave it to him. Which I guess is a good thing.”

It is an amazing thing. She is an amazing woman.

“And really that is all that matters in the end. Unconditonal love sticks around.” I tell her. And she finishes it for me, “Forever and ever and ever.” 

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YOU CAN GO TO THE GRASP WEBSITE HERE. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. REACH OUT.

YOU CAN FIND GRASP MEETINGS AND ALSO THE MEETINGS IN LOUISE’S CHAPTER HERE