Category Archives: Substance Abuse

Nov 19 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: November 19

Smoking During Pregnancy Harms Reading Comprehension in Kids
Children whose mothers smoke more than one pack of cigarettes daily during pregnancy perform 21 percent lower on reading comprehension tests than the kids of non-smokers, according to a new study in The Journal of Pediatrics. "It's not a little difference—it's a big difference in accuracy and comprehension at a critical time when children are being assessed, and are getting a sense of what it means to be successful," said Jeffrey Gruen, MD, of Yale University to Reuters. Other health studies have linked tobacco use during pregnancy to lower IQs and poor academic performance. Read more on tobacco.

Study: Teens Turning to Steroids to Build Muscle, Meet Body Ideals
Approximately 5 percent of teenagers have use steroids in an attempt to build muscle, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Steroid use can lead to a range of side effects, from the minor all the way up to heart attacks and liver disease. Researchers also found that about 11 percent were using other physique-enhancing substances such as creatine or DHEA, all of which raises concerns not just about physical health, but also mental and emotional health. "We specifically asked whether they were doing those things to increase muscle mass or tone," said Marla Eisenberg, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. "If a kid is often exercising for that reason, it might point to body-image concerns." Read more on substance abuse.

Study: Younger, Less Mature Kids Being Misdiagnosed with ADHD
A new study in the journal Pediatrics indicates that some children may be medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when in fact they are simply younger—so less mature—than their classmates. Researchers found that kids who were in the youngest third of their classes were far more likely than those in the oldest third to be diagnosed with ADHD. "Educators and health-care providers should take children's ages in relation to their [classmates] into account when evaluating academic performance and other criteria for ADHD diagnosis," said Helga Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "Parents can use these findings to help inform their decisions about school readiness for children born close to cutoff dates for school entry." The number of ADHD cases has been increasing over the past several years, with many in the health community wondering whether it is being over-diagnosed. Read more on mental health.

Oct 29 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: October 29

News from APHA: Veterans More Likely Than Civilians to Seek Treatment for Heavy Drinking
A new study released today at the 140th meeting of the American Public Health Association meeting in San Francisco found that male military veterans with a history of heavy alcohol use are more likely to seek treatment and, later, report better overall health and less depression than their civilian counterparts. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Read more on military health.

Hurricane Sandy: Experts Urge Safe Food Handling
As the East Coast prepares for Hurricane Sandy, experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture offer critical tips for keeping food safe during a power outage, such as freezing containers of water to keep food cool and knowing how long refrigerators and freezers will stay cool enough to preserve food, even after the power goes out. Read more on preparedness for Sandy and other emergencies.

Study: Quitting Smoking Before Age 40 Avoids 90% of Excess Mortality
A new study published in The Lancet finds that although the hazards of smoking at any age are high, the benefits of quitting are also enormous. While smokers in the United Kingdom lose at least 10 years of life, quitting before age 40 years avoids more than 90 percent of those excess lost years of life. Stopping before age 30 years avoids more than 97% of the excess mortality. Read more tobacco news.

Oct 23 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: October 23

Medical-Legal Partnerships Identify, Help At-risk Communities
Sometimes medical problems have legal solutions. A new study in the journal Pediatrics used pattern recognition, in conjunction with medical and legal expertise, to identify children and communities in need of legal assistance to address inadequate housing and other issues that negatively impact health. By addressing social and environmental factors, medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) can improve both individual and public health, while also identifying additional areas where people did not realize they could be helped legally. “The government has enacted laws and regulations to address the negative health impact of hunger, insufficient income, unsafe housing, and disability,” wrote Barry Zuckerman, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center, in a commentary. “When families do not receive the benefits or protections of these laws, health is undermined. The consequences can be treated medically, but their upstream causes are social and are more effectively addressed by using legal strategies.” Read more on medical-legal partnerships.

Substance Abuse Up Significantly Since 2001
The number of substance abuse diagnoses climbed approximately 70 percent from 2001 to 2009, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Study lead author Joseph W. Frank, MD, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, identified a number of possible explanations for the increase, including a rise in prescription drug use and increasingly effective treatments, such as methadone and talk therapy. "This finding is consistent with trends in substance use disorder-related utilization at the nation's community health centers and emergency departments and, sadly, use of its morgues," according to the study. Nearly 15,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on substance abuse.

Blood Pressure Improving for U.S. Adults with Hypertension
More and more U.S. adults with hypertension have their blood pressure under control, according to new research in the journal Circulation. About 47 percent of patients said their blood pressure was under control in 2010, up from 29 percent in 2001. Study authors cited an increasing use in multiple drugs as a reason for the improvement, as well as lower medication costs and greater awareness. The study also identified at-risk groups prone to higher blood pressure, including older Americans, blacks, people with chronic kidney issues and people with diabetes. The study also found that only 34 percent of Mexican-Americans had their blood pressure under control and recommend further research into the reasons. Read more on heart health.

3-D Mammogram Could Improve Cancer Diagnoses
A new type of 3-D mammogram produces sharper images than traditional CT scans that will allow physicians to identify and treat cancer earlier, according to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Approximately 210,000 U.S. women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and almost 41,000 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new technique combines X-ray imaging and equally sloped tomography to produce an image. It also uses a lower radiation dose than current CT scans. However, researchers noted that the technology to use the technique in a clinical setting does not yet exist. Read more on cancer.

Aug 29 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: August 29

Post-storm Food Precautions from the USDA
As residents of four states hunker down to face Hurricane Isaac, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urges anyone in the storm’s path to take precautions when using and preparing food after a severe storm. According to the USDA, power outages and flooding from weather emergencies compromise the safety of stored food. While people still have power, it is a good idea to access and download A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes. USDA also has dedicated Twitter accounts with updated information on food preparation during and after the current severe weather: @FL_FSISAlert for Florida, @MS_FSISAlert for Mississippi and @LA_FSISAlert for Louisiana. USDA also has a “virtual representative”—Karen—available 24/7 online  and on smartphones. Consumers can also find a live representative at the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline by calling 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Operators speak English and Spanish. Read regular updates from the National Hurricane Center.

Marijuana Use by Teens Impacts Intelligence Later On
Regular marijuana use by teens who continue the drug use into their adulthood can lead to an average drop in IQ of eight points, according to a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at more than 1,000 New Zealanders born in 1972 or 1973 who were tested at the ages of 13 and again at 38. The average IQ is 100, or the 50th percentile; an IQ of 92 would drop someone to the 29th percentile. “As an adolescent, your brain hasn’t fully developed. It’s undergoing some critical developmental changes,” said study author Madeline Meier, a postdoctoral research associate in psychology and neurology at Duke University, according to HealthDay. “This research suggests that because of that you are vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on your brain. If you start using as an adolescent and you keep using it, you are going to lose some of your mental abilities.” Read more on substance abuse.

Legionnaires’ Deaths and Illnesses Linked to Chicago Hotel
An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in an outbreak linked to a Chicago Marriott hotel has led to two people dying and six others falling ill, according to Reuters. Officials with the national hotel chain have contacted 80 percent of the approximately 8,500 people who stayed at the hotel from July 16 to August 16. Kathleen Ritger, MD, Medical Director over Communicable Disease at the Chicago Department of Public Health, has said there is “no ongoing health threat” at the location. Legionnaires’—a type of pneumonia—starts with high fever, chills and a cough and can lead to death in between 5 percent and 30 percent of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on infectious diseases.

Aug 20 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: August 20

Salmonella Deaths Linked to Cantaloupes
Two deaths and approximately 150 cases of salmonella have been linked to cantaloupe in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota. Health officials are encouraging consumers to immediately discard any melons purchased from those three states, according to Reuters. Salmonella can cause severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. It is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Read more on food safety.

Teens Who Expect Early Deaths More Likely to Take Dangerous Risks
Teens who predict they have a 50 percent or less chance of living to the age of 35 were more likely than they peers to engage in risk-taking behavior, according to a new study published in the August 1 issue of PLOS ONE. The study compared data collected on 19,000 adolescents in 1994-95 to data collected on the same group approximately 14 years later. Researchers also found the teens were more likely to attempt suicide and abuse alcohol and drugs. “The new research extends previous work by the same group that found expectations of premature death can predict future socioeconomic status” and demonstrates the value in early screening to help predict—and stop—later harmful behaviors, according to a news release. Read more on substance abuse.

Antimicrobial Products Identified in Minnesota Waterways
Chemicals found in personal care products—antimicrobial soaps, disinfectants and sanitizers—have been identified in high concentrations in bodies of freshwater in Minnesota. The study was conducted by Arizona State University researchers in conjunction with federal partners. They looked specifically for triclosan and triclocarban, two chemicals that can stay in the environment for decades. The study “shows natural degradation processes to be too slow to counter the continuous environmental release of these endocrine disrupting chemicals,” said Rolf Halden, director of Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute and professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. Read more on the environment.

Aug 10 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: August 10

CDC Recommends Against Using Popular Gonorrhea Treatment
Infectious disease experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week that the antibiotic Suprax (cefixime) no longer be used to treat gonorrhea. The CDC is discouraging use of Suprax because patients are developing resistance to the drug. As first line treatment, the CDC recommends use of the drug ceftriaxone in combination with azithromycin or doxycycline. Read more on sexual health.

Alcohol Ad Violations More Common in Magazines with High Youth Readership
As the youth readership level of a magazine goes up, so too does the likelihood that alcohol advertisements in the publication are in violation of industry standards, according to a new study. The study was conducted by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study looked at 1,261 advertisements for alcopops, beer, spirits or wine that appeared more than 2,500 times in 11 different with youth readership levels of at least 15 percent. CAMY Director and study co-author David Jernigan, PhD said the findings indicate the industry standards should be strengthened. Read more on alcohol.

SAMHSA Awards $11M to Treat Substance Abuse in Pregnant and Postpartum Women
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded up to $11 million in grants under the Service Grants Program for the Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women (PPW). There are seven total grants to be utilized over the next three years. They will go toward improving substance abuse treatment, prevention and recovery support services for pregnant women, new mothers and their minor children. “This program offers vital help and hope to women at a crucial time in their lives and in the lives of their children,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde in a release. “By including families in the supportive services that are being provided for these women, we acknowledge that people with substance use disorders are more than just their addictions.” Read more on substance abuse.

Jul 26 2012
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Rising U.S. Prescription Drug Abuse Prompts Shift in Drug Control Strategy

A recent article in the New York Times looks at a shift in thinking to combat drug abuse from efforts to prevent drugs such as heroin and cocaine from entering the U.S. illegally, to combating the rising, more significant problem in the fifty states—abuse of prescription drugs.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Jul 5 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: July 5

American Cancer Society Requests Surgeon General Report on Health Impact of Sugary Drinks

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting a report by the Surgeon General to examine how the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages impacts the health of Americans. Read more on obesity.

New SAMHSA Report: Drug-Related Emergency Room Visits Down; Teen Drug, Tobacco Use Increases in Summer

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has released two new reports on substance abuse. One finds that youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are far more likely to start using most substances during the summer than during other parts of the year. The second shows the rate of increase in drug-related emergency department visits slowed from an average annual rate of 18.2 percent in the years between 2005 and 2008, to an average annual rate of 6.1 percent in the years 2009 and 2010.

The youth and substance report also found that in June and July, an average of 5,000 youths smoke cigarettes for the first time, compared with the daily average of about 3,000 to 4,000 adolescents during the rest of the year. The same pattern holds true for first time use of cigars and smokeless tobacco among youth. Read more on substance abuse.

Recently Discharged Heart Patients Often Make Serious Mistakes with their Drugs

Many heart patients make mistakes with their medications after leaving the hospital that can lead to serious health risks, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The most vulnerable patients, according to the study, are older people, those with impaired cognitive function or low health literacy, or patients who are prescribed many, or high-risk drugs. Read more on heart health.

Methadone Linked to 30 percent of Prescription Painkiller Overdose Deaths

The prescription drug methadone accounted for 2 percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States in 2009, but was involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, according to a Vital Signs report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC researchers analyzed national data from 1999-2010, and 2009 data from 13 states. According to the researchers, methadone carries more risks than other painkillers because it tends to build up in the body and can disrupt a person’s breathing or heart rhythm. According to the report, 4 of every 10 overdose deaths from a single prescription painkiller involved methadone--twice as many as any other prescription painkiller.

The researchers say that methadone has been used safely and effectively for decades to treat drug addiction, but in recent years it has been increasingly used as a pain reliever and as methadone prescriptions for pain have increased, so have methadone-related nonmedical use and fatal overdoses. CDC researchers found that six times as many people died of methadone overdoses in 2009 compared to methadone-related deaths in 1999.

Measures to help prevent prescription painkiller overdoses include:

  • Screening and monitoring patients for substance abuse and other mental health problems, when considering methadone as treatment.
  • Prescribing only the quantity needed based on the expected length of pain.
  • Using patient-provider agreements combined with urine drug tests for people taking methadone long term.
  • Using prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who are misusing or abusing methadone or other prescription painkillers.
  • Educating patients on how to safely use, store and dispose of prescription painkillers and how to prevent and recognize overdoses.

Read more on addiction.

Jun 29 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: June 29

Even Modest Walking Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes

A new study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, examined number of steps walked on average and diabetes risk, and found that people who walked the most were 29 percent less likely to develop diabetes than those who walked the least. This study builds on research linking even limited physical activity to lower diabetes risk, and helps to quantify the effect with number of steps taken on average. The association held when accounting for age, smoking status and other diabetes risk factors, but not BMI. Read more on diabetes.

Fewer Women Got Mammograms After New Guidelines Released

Preventive mammography rates in women in their 40s have dropped nearly 6 percent nationwide since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against routine mammograms for women in this age group, according a Mayo Clinic analysis. The study was presented at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting this week. Read more NewPublicHealth coverage from the AcademyHealth meeting.

Sixteen Percent of U.S. Population Addicted to Cigarettes, Alcohol or Drugs

Forty million Americans ages 12 and older have an addiction involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs, according to a five-year national study released this week by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The study authors say only about 1 in 10 people who need treatment for addiction involving alcohol or other drugs receive it. Read more on substance abuse.

Jun 8 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: June 8

Former NFL Players, Families File Law Suit over Brain Injuries

The Associated Press is reporting that many former players or their families have filed a master lawsuit against the National Football League, accusing the league of withholding information that linked head injuries during practice and games to permanent brain injuries. Read more on sports-related head injuries.

GAO Report on School Bullying Finds Insufficient Legal Protections for Victims

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on school bullying finds that 20-28% of youths reported being bullied in school, but that federal and some state laws provide only limited protection against bullying since they don’t identify specific groups, such as race or gender. The report recommends that federal agencies investigate legal options for victims of bullying, provide more information on state-level protections and determine whether current protections are adequate. Read more on violence.

CDC Survey Finds Some Improvements, Some Concerns in Youth Health Risk Behaviors

A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that U.S. high school students have shown significant progress over twenty years in improving many health risk behaviors particularly related to motor vehicle safety, but still engage in some dangerous practices such as cyber bullying, marijuana use and texting and emailing while driving.

Improved behaviors in the report include:

  • From 1991 to 2011, the percentage of high school students who never or rarely wore a seatbelt declined from 26 to 8.
  • From 1991 to 2011, the percentage of students who rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol during the past 30 days declined from 40 to 24.
  • The percentage of high school students who had driven a car during the past 30 days when they had been drinking alcohol decreased from 17 in 1997 to 8 in 2011.

Concerning behaviors identified in the survey include:

  • One in three high school students had texted or e-mailed while driving a car or other vehicle in the thirty days before the survey.
  • Current cigarette use did not change significantly between 2009 (19 percent) and 2011 (18 percent).
  • Marijuana use increased from 21 percent to 23 percent, although there has been an overall decrease in current marijuana use (from 27 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2011).
  • Current marijuana use among high school students was more common than current cigarette use (23 percent compared to 18 percent).

Read more on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HHS Report Finds Some Children’s Vaccines May Have Been Improperly Stored

The Department of Health and Human Service Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report "Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program: Vulnerabilities in Vaccine Management." this week that found that some vaccines stored by health care providers as part of the government’s Vaccines for Children program may have been stored at the wrong temperature, which could make them less effective. In some clinics and offices, expired and unexpired vaccines had been stored together.

In a statement responding to the report, the CDC said that most of the expired vaccines were seasonal flu shots that would not have been administered and that, “While the safety and health of our nation’s children has not been compromised by the issues identified by the OIG, the findings are important and underscore that we must do better at ensuring that all vaccines are stored properly at all times, including removing expired vaccine from units where viable vaccines are stored.” Read more on vaccines.