Category Archives: Substance Abuse

May 30 2013

Faces of Public Health: Peggy Conlon, Ad Council

file Peggy Conlon, Ad Council

“We know PSA campaigns can make a big impact; that they can improve people’s lives.”

The Advertising (Ad) Council has just launched a new version of its digital distribution platform, PSA Central, which is geared toward PSA directors and media outlets, but is also valuable for anyone who wants to share the messages including educators and public health practitioners. The site offers easy access to video, print, radio, online, mobile and outdoor media public service advertisements that range from bullying prevention to food safety education.

Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) may actually date back to the civil war when newspapers offered free advertising space to the U.S. government to advertise bonds whose revenues were used to pay for the war effort. These days, PSAs are much more likely to be public safety messages such as a United Kingdom video PSA, downloaded over 2 million times on YouTube, reminding people just why they should buckle up in a car. And more importantly, these efforts are being measured and tracked to show impact on health behavior change and health outcomes, such as the Ad Council’s drunk driving prevention campaign that has encouraged 70 percent of Americans to take action to stop a friend from driving drunk.

Ad Council's iconic Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk campaign

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council, about the public health messages PSAs can convey and how new media has expanded their reach.

NewPublicHealth: How have PSAs evolved over the years?

Peggy Conlon: PSAs have evolved quite a bit. The Ad Council is 71 years old and back in the earliest days PSAs were seen in newspapers and heard over the radio. Since then they have been showcased on just about all media platforms. In the 90s we were introduced to the Internet and everything changed forever. The Internet added another new dimension to our ability, in a very tangible and personal way, to engage communities around social issues.

NPH: What are some of the most effective and iconic campaigns in public service advertising?

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May 20 2013

Public Health News Roundup: May 20

CDC Issues First Comprehensive Report on Children’s Mental Health in the United States
As many as one in five American children under the age of 17 has a diagnosable mental disorder according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report is the first expansive report on children's mental health ever done by the U.S. government and looked at six conditions:

  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • behavioral or conduct disorders
  • mood and anxiety disorders
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • substance abuse
  • Tourette syndrome

The most common disorder for children age 3 through 17 is ADHD (7 percent) followed by behavioral or conduct problems (3.5 percent), anxiety (3 percent), depression (2 percent), and  autism spectrum disorders (1 percent).

Five percent of teens reported abusing or being dependent on illegal drugs, 4 percent abused alcohol and 3 percent reported smoking cigarettes regularly. Boys were more likely than girls to have the disorders. Read more on mental health.

New PSAs Help Parents Talk to Younger Kids about the Dangers of Underage Drinking
“Talk. They Hear You,”
is a new national public service announcement (PSA) campaign from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to empower parents to talk to children as young as nine about the dangers of underage drinking. SAMHSA research shows that more than a quarter of American youth engage in underage drinking, and  though there has been progress in reducing the extent of underage drinking in recent years, particularly among those aged 17 and younger, the rates of underage drinking are still unacceptably high, according to SAMHSA. A report from late last year shows that 26.6 percent of 12-20 year-olds report drinking in the month before they were surveyed and 8.7 percent of them purchased their own alcohol the last time they drank, despite the fact that all fifty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws prohibiting the purchase and use of alcoholic beverages by anyone under age 21.  

“Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death,” said said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde.

The goal of the new PSA is to help parents start a conversation about alcohol before their children become teenagers. Read more on addiction.

Advocacy Groups Petition FDA to Ban Menthol Flavored Cigarettes
In response to a Citizen Petition by close to twenty health and tobacco control advocacy groups, the Food and Drug Administration has opened a docket for public comment on banning menthol in cigarettes. In 2009, according to the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, the lead group on the petition, Congress banned all flavors in cigarettes except menthol, and directed the FDA to decide whether continued sale of menthol cigarettes is “appropriate for public health." According to the petition, menthol cigarettes are the source of addiction for nearly half of all teen smokers. Read more on tobacco.

Mar 18 2013

Public Health News Roundup: March 18

Harvard Study: Public Supports Policy Interventions to Reduce Disease Burden
A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that the public greatly supports government action with the goals of changing lifestyle choices that can lead to obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. However, the survey found that people are less likely to support actions that seem intrusive or coercive. The survey was published in Health Affairs. In a second poll from the Harvard School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers found a large gap between parents’ perceptions of their children’s weight and expert definitions. According to the parents, 15 percent of children are a little or very overweight; national data suggest more than twice as many, or 32 percent of all children, are overweight or obese. Read more on obesity.

Is Facebook Biased Against Older People?
Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health reviewed publicly available Facebook pages and found that many sites created by younger people often included negative age stereotypes. Some even suggested (possibly in jest) that older people should be killed. One Facebook group description, for example, stated that anyone “over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.”

“Facebook has the potential to create new connections between the generations,” says Becca Levy, the lead author of the study. “Instead, it may have created new obstacles.” The study was published in The Gerontologist. Read more on aging.

Drug Use and Mental Health Issues Linked to Dropping Out of College
Marijuana and other illegal drug use, as well as mental health problems, are associated with an increased likelihood of dropping out of college, according to research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The research was part of the College Life Study, a longitudinal prospective study of health-risk behaviors among 1,253 college students between 17-19 years old, who were interviewed annually for four years, beginning with their first year of college. The study was published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Read more on substance abuse.

Feb 12 2013

Public Health News Roundup: February 12

Certain Alcohol Brands Dominate Underage Drinking
A small number of alcohol brands in particular are most popular with underage drinkers, according to a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. About 27.9 percent of underage youth reporting they’d had Bud Light in the past 30 days, making it the most used. Smirnoff Malt Beverages and Budweiser were second and third. “Importantly, this report paves the way for subsequent studies to explore the association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and drinking behavior in young people,” said study author David Jernigan, PhD, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read more on alcohol.

Report: Informational Tools Help Men Make Better Prostate Health Decisions
Decision-making aids help men make better—and more informed—decisions about prostate screenings, according to a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers found the aids help the men weigh different possible outcomes, such as catching extra cancers, possibly reducing their risk of death or avoiding unpleasant side effects. As many as one in four family physicians regular perform prostate screenings without first getting a patient’s permission, according to Reuters. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against prostate-specific antigen tests for men who are not at high-risk. Read more on cancer.

Study: Kids Treated for ADHD Still Show Serious Symptoms
As many as 90 percent of kids who are treated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) still show serious symptoms after six years, indicating the chronic condition requires advancements in long-term behavioral and pharmacological treatments, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The study did not look into issues such as whether medications were ineffective or not taken as prescribed. "Our study was not designed to answer these questions, but whatever the reason may be, it is worrisome that children with ADHD, even when treated with medication, continue to experience symptoms, and what we need to find out is why that is and how we can do better," said lead investigator Mark Riddle, MD, a pediatric psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. ADHD causes difficulty in concentration, restlessness, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. Read more on mental health.

Feb 11 2013

Public Health News Roundup: February 11

More Moms Are Breastfeeding
Across all groups, the percentage of mothers who start and continue breastfeeding is rising, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 2000 to 2008, the number of mothers who started breastfeeding increased more than 4 percentage points from 70.3 percent to 74.6 percent. And the number of mothers still breastfeeding at six months jumped nearly 10 percentage points, from 35 percent to nearly 45 percent.

The CDC also reports that gaps in breastfeeding rates between African American and white mothers have narrowed from 24 percentage points in 2000 to 16 percentage points in 2008. To help increase breastfeeding rates among African American mothers The CDC is funding Best-Fed Beginnings, which provides support to 89 hospitals, many serving minority and low-income populations, to improve hospital practices that support breastfeeding mothers. CDC has also recently awarded funds to six state health departments—Indiana, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Washington—to develop community breastfeeding support systems in communities of color.

Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Nutrition Information for Fast Food Should Add Energy Expenditure Needed to Burn off the Calories
A study by researchers at the University Of North Carolina School of Public Health finds it would be useful to have nutritional labeling that describes real-time energy expenditure required to burn calories in fast foods. The study was published in the journal Appetite.

The researchers randomly assigned one of four types of menus to 800 study participants including 1) no nutritional information, 2) calorie information, 3) calorie information and minutes to walk to burn those calories, and 4) calorie information and miles to walk to burn those calories.

The researchers found a statistical difference in the number of calories ordered, based on menu type. An average of 1,020 calories were ordered from a menu with no nutritional information; an average of 927 calories from a menu with only calorie information; 916, from a menu with calorie information and statement of minutes one must walk to burn those calories; and 826, from a menu with calorie information and statement of number of miles to walk to burn the calories.

Read more on obesity.

New York City Reports Significant Increases in Prescription Opioid Overdoses
The rate of drug overdose from prescription opioids increased seven-fold in New York City over a 16-year period, especially among whites, according to a study by researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. The researchers say the study is one of the most comprehensive analyses of how the opioid epidemic has affected an urban area. 

The Food and Drug Administration held a hearing last week to discuss ways to limit prescription opioid misuse and recently issued draft recommendations for reformulating opioid oral pills to make it harder for people to crush them for snorting or injecting.

Read more on substance abuse.

Jan 28 2013

Public Health News Roundup: January 28

FDA Approves Three New Type 2 Diabetes Treatments
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three new drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Nesina tablets, Kazano tablets and Oseni tablets are all used to control blood sugar. Alogliptin is a new active ingredient that “helps stimulate the release of insulin after a meal, which leads to better blood sugar control,” said Mary Parks, MD, director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a release. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also released its first ever guidelines for treating type 2 diabetes in kids ages 10 to 18.  Read more on diabetes.

Study: Car Commuters Gain More Weight than People Who Use Other Transportation
People who commute to work by car gain more weight than their cohorts who use other forms of transportation, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers compared car commuters to those who took trains, buses and bikes, finding the car drivers put on an average of four pounds over four years, as compared to three pounds for the other commuters. The only people in the study who did not gain weight were those who exercised enough weekly and never drove to work. Lawrence Frank of the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said a possible explanation for the results for car drivers is “[p]eople who have longer commutes tend to purchase a lot of their food and run a lot of errands on their way to and from work,” according to Reuters. Read more on obesity.

TV Alcohol Ads May Increase Risk of Alcohol-related Problems for Kids
Watching alcohol ads on television may increase the chance of young kids having alcohol-related problems, but teaching kids about the realities of alcohol and the effects of persuasive messages in the media can help reduce the effects, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. "This study provides evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising in seventh grade and liking those alcohol advertisements on television is associated with higher levels of drinking in the eighth and ninth grades," said lead researcher Jerry Grenard, an associate professor in the School of Community and Global Health at Claremont Graduate University in California, in a release. "Examples of problems include failing to do homework, attending school drunk, passing out and getting into fights.” Researchers said the policymakers and the alcohol industry should work together to limit youth exposure. Read more on substance abuse.

Jan 11 2013

Public Health News Roundup: January 11

MLB to Test for Human Growth Hormone During the Season
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have agreed to perform in-season blood testing for human growth hormone, as well as a test to detect synthetic testosterone. The use of performance-enhancing drugs has become a significant issue in baseball over the past several years, calling into question the accomplishments of many players going back to the 1980s. Earlier this week the sport’s Hall of Fame announced no one had been elected on this year’s ballot, which included perhaps the greatest batter and the greatest pitcher of the past 40 years—both of whom are tainted by the scandal of the steroid era. Read more on substance abuse.

Flu Season Seeing Shortages of Vaccine, Tamiflu
The increasingly bad flu season is also now seeing a shortage of flu vaccine and the Tamiflu treatment for children. Many forms of the vaccine are sold out and major vaccine provider Sanofi SA said it cannot make any more vaccine for this season because its facilities are already preparing for next season, according to Reuters. "People who haven't been vaccinated and want to get the vaccine may have to look in several places for it," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this week the city of Boston declared a public health emergency due to the flu. The city has reported about 700 cases since October 1. Read more on influenza.

Prescription Painkiller Misuse Trails only Marijuana Abuse In U.S.
Prescription painkillers trail only marijuana when it comes to substance abuse in the United States, according to a new report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Approximately 22 million people have misused the drugs since 2002. "Any time you have 2 percent of the population using medications like this there is a lot to do, but we are doing a lot with a combination of putting tighter controls on who can get these drugs and public education," said Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, according to HealthDay. Painkiller abuse is also taking a growing toll on emergency departments who deal with people seeking treatment. Read more on prescription drugs.

Jan 10 2013

Public Health News Roundup: January 10

Boston Declares Public Health Emergency over Flu
The city of Boston has declared a public health emergency in response to the severe flu season. Approximately 700 people are believed to have contracted the flu since October 1—up dramatically from the total of 70 cases for the entirety of last flu season. The Boston Public Health Commission is offering free vaccination clinics this weekend.  “This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families, and I’m urging residents to get vaccinated if they haven’t already,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino in a release. “It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family.  If you’re sick, please stay home from work or school.” Read more on influenza.

FDA Releases Draft Guidance on Abuse-Resistant Opioids
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft guidance to help the pharmaceutical industry develop new formulations of opioid drugs that are less likely to be abused. Included in the guidance is information on studies the agencies would like to see that demonstrate that a formulation has “abuse-deterrent properties,” how those studies will be evaluated by the FDA and what labeling claims may be approved based on the results of the studies. “The FDA is extremely concerned about the inappropriate use of prescription opioids, which is a major public health challenge for our nation,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. “This draft guidance is an important part of a larger effort by FDA aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse and misuse.” According to the FDA, abuse-deterrent formulations target the known types of opioid abuse, such as crushing in order to snort or dissolving in order to inject, for the specific opioid drug substance in that formulation. The science of abuse deterrence is relatively new, and both the formulation technologies and the analytical, clinical and statistical methods for evaluating those technologies are developing quickly, according to the agency. “Our nation is in the midst of a prescription drug abuse epidemic,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. “While there are no silver bullet solutions to this public health and safety challenge, abuse-deterrent formulations of powerful prescription opioids can make a difference in addressing this epidemic.” Read a NewPublicHealth interview with director Kerlikowske.

Report Says Cost-Cutting Measures Now Could Save $2 Trillion in Health Care Costs
Implementing cost-cutting measures now could help the United States save $2 trillion on health care over the next 10 years, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund. The plan calls for using gross domestic product per capita to determine overall healthcare spending growth, which would include Medicare, Medicaid, other government programs and private insurers. Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said the proposal is an alternative to some of the possibilities being floated for the upcoming deficit talks, which could end up cutting entitlement programs. "In comparison with what some of those proposals advocate, we think that some of what we're proposing will look like an escape valve." Read more on access to health care.

Jan 9 2013

CDC Report: Binge Drinking is Under-Recognized in Women and Girls


The first Vital Signs health indicators report of 2013 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention finds that binge drinking is too often not recognized as a women’s health problem. The report found that nearly 14 million U.S. women binge drink about three times a month, and consume an average of six drinks per binge. CDC researchers determined the rate of binge drinking among U.S. women and girls by looking at the drinking behavior of approximately 278,000 U.S. women aged 18 and older for the past 30 days through data collected from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and for approximately 7,500 U.S. high school girls from the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

For women and girls, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks on one occasion. Drinking excessively, including binge drinking, causes about 23,000 deaths among women and girls in the United States each year. About 1 in 8 women and 1 in 5 high school girls report binge drinking, with the practice most common among women ages 8-34, high school girls, whites, Hispanics and women with household incomes of $75,000 or more. Half of all high school girls who drink alcohol report binge drinking.

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Jan 9 2013

Public Health News Roundup: January 9

Research Suggests Problems with Mental Health Treatment of Suicidal Teenagers
More than half of the U.S. teenagers who plan or attempt suicide have previously received mental health treatment, contradicting the belief that lack of access to the treatment is a factor in suicidal behavior, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The research connects suicidal behavior to issues such as depression, attention-deficit disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse, and demonstrates the need to increase the range of treatment for severely suicidal teenagers. Read more on mental health.

N.C. Youth Overwhelming Oppose Smoking at Home, Indoors
A large majority of North Carolina youth are opposed to smoking in the home, indoors, at work and in cars, according to a new study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease. Researchers found 80 percent of middle school students and 78 percent of high school students were against smoking, though the survey did not ask whether they thought it should be illegal. Researchers say the percentages are especially significant because tobacco plays a significant role in the state’s economy. "They're aware of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke exposure, and they understand the benefits of smoke-free policies," said study co-author Leah Ranney, associate director at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program. "It tells you how effective our campaigns were. We are a tobacco-growing state, which makes it more challenging for us to successfully promote prevention of uptake of tobacco or cessation." Read more on tobacco.