Category Archives: Substance use

Jan 21 2014

Recommended Reading: How Can Communities Educate Teens About Drug Abuse?


Many teens are unaware of how drug abuse can negatively affect their lives. The Fourth Annual National Drug Facts Week, which runs Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, is an initiative of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that aims to change that. The week-long health observance arms communities with the materials and tools they need to debunk myths and educate teens about drug abuse.

Featured in a piece on Reclaiming Futures’ website, NIDA Public Affairs Officer Brian Marquis highlights the science-based information NIDA has provided to teachers, counselors, social workers and community members, as well as the teen-focused events that community leaders are hosting across the country to communicate with young adults about the dangers of drug abuse. Reclaiming Futures, a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, helps young people in trouble with drugs, alcohol and crime by reinventing the way police, courts, detention facilities, treatment providers and communities work together to meet this urgent need. 

“Using ideas and resources provided by NIDA, there is a way for everyone to learn the facts and help shatter myths about drug abuse during National Drug Facts Week and beyond,” Marquis wrote in his post.

Spurred by new recommendations from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America, NIDA is encouraging communities to use its resources to improve the nation’s health by investing in children.

Learn more about National Drug Facts Week events across the country.

Jan 7 2014

VitalSigns: Health Professionals Fall Short on Alcohol Consumption and Binge Drinking Counseling

The January 2014 VitalSigns report, a monthly report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on leading health indicators, looks at the failure of too many health care professionals to counsel patients on the risks of consuming too much alcohol and binge drinking. According to a recent survey cited in the new report, only one in six adults reports counseling by a health care professional during routine visits, and that number drops to one in four for binge drinkers, despite the fact that studies show that counseling could save lives and reduce health care costs.

Research by the CDC finds that having physicians ask  patients about alcohol consumption and brief counseling could reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on an occasion by 25 percent.  At least 38 million adults drink too much and most are not alcoholics, according to the CDC.  Drinking too much includes binge drinking, high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under age 21. And it causes about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year, costing the economy about $224 billion.

file Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011; Volume 41

Significantly, alcohol screening and brief alcohol counseling are now covered by many health insurance plans without a copay as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

A review of studies by CDC researchers found that brief (6-15 minutes) intervention sessions were effective in significantly reducing weekly alcohol consumption. A patient survey conducted following brief counseling sessions found that patients reported:

  • 3.6 fewer drinks per week for adults
  • Binge level drinking was reported by 12 percent fewer participants
  • Increased adherence to recommended drinking limits was achieved by 11 percent more participants.

“Drinking too much alcohol has many more health risks than most people realize,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Alcohol screening and brief counseling can help people set realistic goals for themselves and achieve those goals. Health care workers can provide this service to more patients and involve communities to help people avoid dangerous levels of drinking.”

In a briefing for reporters today, Frieden said that for every one alcoholic in the United States there are about six people who drink too much, and many don’t realize that their drinking is excessive.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults who drink only do so in moderation, which is defined as up to one drink a day for women and two for men.

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse recommends that health professionals discuss alcohol use with all patients and has a screening tool to help determine how much patients drink, assess problems associated with drinking and refer patients for specialized treatment if needed.

>>Bonus Links:

Jul 2 2013

Preventing Drug Overdoses: A Look at Data, Laws and Policies


While men are more likely to die of a prescription painkiller overdose, since 1999 the percentage increase in deaths has been greater among women than among men, according to the Vital Signs monthly health indicator report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The increase in deaths between 1999 and 2010 has been 400 percent in women compared to 265 percent in men, according to the new report. The overdoses killed nearly 48,000 women during that time period.

“Prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women…” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Stopping this epidemic in women – and men – is everyone’s business. Doctors need to be cautious about prescribing and patients about using these drugs.”

Key findings include:

  • About 42 women die every day from a drug overdose.
  • Since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes.
  • Drug overdose suicide deaths accounted for 34 percent of all suicides among women compared with 8 percent among men in 2010.
  • More than 940,000 women were seen in emergency departments for drug misuse or abuse in 2010. 

For the Vital Signs report, CDC analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System (1999-2010) and the Drug Abuse Warning Network public use file (2004-2010).

According to the CDC, studies have shown that women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men and may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).

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May 3 2012

Public Health News Roundup: May 3

Teenage Marijuana Use Rises Significantly

A new survey by the MetLife Foundation and the Partnership at finds that marijuana use is becoming a more acceptable behavior among teens and heavy marijuana use is now at very high levels.

Nearly half of teens (47 percent) have ever used marijuana – a 21 percent increase since 2008, and two out of every five teens (39 percent) have tried marijuana in the past year, up from 31 percent in 2008. Past-month use has increased 42 percent from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011. Heavy monthly use (20 or more times) rose from 5 percent in 2008 to 9 percent in 2011. The survey also found that teen boys are more frequent users of marijuana than teen girls.

Read more on illicit drug use.

Study: Even Minimal Weight Loss May Reduce Cancer Risk in Women

Postmenopausal women who were overweight or obese and lost at least 5 percent of their body weight had a significant reduction in markers of inflammation, according to a study published in Cancer Research.

The study authors say both obesity and inflammation have been shown to be related to several types of cancer, and that the study shows that if you reduce weight, you can reduce inflammation as well.

Read more on cancer prevention.

CDC Update on Salmonella Linked to Tuna

A salmonella outbreak linked to a frozen yellow fin tuna product has now sickened 258 people in 24 states and the District of Columbia, according to an update released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. At least 32 people have been hospitalized but no deaths have been reported.

The CDC says it is now including two types of salmonella in the outbreak strains--Salmonella Bareilly (247 cases) and Salmonella Nchanga (11 cases).

On April 16, nearly 59,000 pounds of tuna product linked to the outbreak -- labeled Nakaochi Scrape AA or AAA -- were recalled by Moon Marine USA Corp. of Cupertino, Calif. The product, which is scraped off fish bones, was sold to grocery stores and restaurants to make dishes such as sushi, sashimi and ceviche.

Read more on food-borne illness.

Apr 26 2012

Public Health News Roundup: April 26

Health Hazard Warning Labels Help Keep Ex-Smokers Away From Cigarettes

Warnings on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking may keep ex-smokers from starting to smoke again, according to a study in the journal Tobacco Control. The findings are based on results of a survey taken among 2,000 former smokers in Canada, Australia, Britain and the US.

Read more on tobacco.

New, Occasional Prescription Drug Abusers Often Get Their Drugs from Friends, Family

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has released an analysis of data from the 2009 and 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health that finds that the majority of new or occasional nonmedical users of pain relievers got the drug from family or friends for free or took them without asking. In contrast, frequent or chronic users (those who used pain relievers non-medically once a week or more on average in the past year) were more likely to obtain the drug from doctors or by buying them themselves.

Read a recent NewPublicHealth interview with the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy R. Gil Kerlikowske about the National Prevention Strategy.

To help Americans dispose of any unneeded medications in their homes, the Drug Enforcement Administration will host its fourth National Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28th, at over 5,000 collection sites across the United States.

Read more on prescription drug abuse.

In Recent Years Poverty Rates Have Increased Among Oldest Americans

A new report from the Employment Benefit Research Institute finds that between 2005–2009, the rate of poverty among American seniors rose as they aged. Almost 15 percent of those older than age 85 were in poverty in 2009, compared with approximately 10.5 percent of those older than 65, Additionally, in 2009, 6 percent of those age 85 older were new entrants in poverty.

Read more on poverty.

See more public health news roundups.

Apr 24 2012

National Prevention Strategy Series: Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

director_ kerlikowske R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy is about to celebrate its first anniversary. The Strategy offers a comprehensive plan aimed at increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. A cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy is that it recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care, but also from the conditions we face where we live, learn work and play such as clean water and air, safe worksites and healthy foods. The strategy was developed by the National Prevention Council, which is composed of 17 federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and others.

As the Strategy is rolled out, NewPublicHealth will be speaking with Cabinet Secretaries, Agency directors and their designees to the Prevention Council about the initiatives being introduced to work with all Americans toward the goal of long and healthy lives.

This week, NewPublicHealth spoke with R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy about their focus on prevention, shortly after the Office released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy. Listen to the short podcast, and read the full interview below.

>>Follow the full National Prevention Strategy series on

NewPublicHealth:What is the scope of the problem of drug abuse in the United States and who does it affect?

Gil Kerlikowske: Well, we know that it affects everyone. I’ve spent three years in this job and traveled all over the country, actually all over the world. I cannot find anyone who has not been impacted by drugs. A family member, a friend, a spouse, a co-worker, a neighbor. So the scope is significant and the cost is significant; $193 billion is the most recent estimate and that was from a Department of Justice report.

NPH: Thinking about the scope of that problem, why is prevention such a critical goal for the ONDCP?

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Apr 16 2012

Office of National Drug Control Policy: Preventing Drug Use in Our Communities

Jack Stein Jack Stein, Office of National Drug Control Policy

A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Jack B. Stein

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy is about to celebrate its first anniversary. The Strategy offers a comprehensive plan aimed at increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. A cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy is that it recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care, but also from the conditions we face where we live, learn work and play such as clean water and air, safe worksites and healthy foods. The strategy was developed by the National Prevention Council, which is composed of 17 federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and others.

The Strategy outlines four strategic directions that, together, are fundamental to improving the nation’s health:

  • Building Healthy and Safe Community Environments
  • Expanding Quality Preventive Services in Both Clinical and Community Settings
  • Empowering People to Make Healthy Choices
  • Eliminating Health Disparities

As the Strategy is rolled out, NewPublicHealth will be speaking with Cabinet Secretaries, Agency directors and their designees to the Prevention Council about the initiatives being introduced to work with all Americans toward the goal of long and healthy lives.

This week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Jack B. Stein, PhD, Chief of the Prevention Branch in the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Office of Demand Reduction.

NewPublicHealth: What is the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) role in implementing the National Prevention Strategy?

Jack Stein: Our agency is one of the 17 principal agencies on the National Prevention Council, and so we’ve had the opportunity to help shape the development of the National Prevention Strategy and participate in its implementation. We were particularly excited that there is a specific priority area in the strategy that focuses on substance abuse prevention and that the recommendations parallel those contained in the President’s National Drug Control Strategy. In fact, we highlighted prevention in the 2011 update of our Strategy. I think this was a great way to shine a spotlight on the important role prevention plays in creating safer and healthier communities.

NPH: What specific initiatives does ONDCP support in the National Prevention Strategy?

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Mar 15 2012

NIDA's Cathrine Sasek: Drug Abuse Information in Plain Language

file Cathrine Sasek, National Institute on Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently launched an easy-to-read website on drug abuse designed for adults with a low reading literacy level (eighth grade or below). The site provides plain language information on drug abuse prevention and treatment and has a simple design with large text size, videos and other features that make it easy to read and use.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Cathrine Sasek, PhD, Science Education Coordinator of the National Institute on Drug Abuse about the new site.

NewPublicHealth: Why is it so important to create materials specifically for low literacy populations?

Cathrine Sasek: We know that drug abuse and drug addiction span all segments of the population, yet the information that’s available on the science of addiction, which includes information on treatment and prevention, is not geared for people with low literacy. So this means that there is a segment of the population that doesn’t have good access to really good scientific information on the problem of drug abuse.

Read More

Jan 20 2012

NIH Resource on Drug Addiction Treatment

A key focus of this week’s Public Health Law Research Annual Meeting is the increase in drug overdoses. A recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics found that more Americans now die from drug overdoses, in particular overdoses of abused prescription drugs, than in car accidents. Treatment, say experts, is the only way to reduce the deadly trend, and both consumers and public health officials will find a new resource, Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) helpful to frame questions before choosing a treatment facility.

"Treatment options can vary considerably, and families often don't know where to begin," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "This booklet highlights the treatment components that research have shown are critical for success, to help people make an informed [treatment] choice.”

Key questions include:

  • Is the program's treatment plan backed by scientific evidence?
  • Is the program tailored to the individual needs of each patient?
  • Does the program assess and adapt treatment as the patient's needs change?
  • How long should the treatment take?
  • How do 12 step programs fit into drug addiction treatment?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2010 an estimated 22.1 million persons aged 12 years or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse in the past year (8.7 percent of the population aged 12 or older). Dr. Volkow says the goal of drug abuse treatment is to stop drug use and help people return to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community. However, keeping patients in treatment long enough to achieve that goal can be difficult, says Dr. Volkow, and finding the right treatment for an individual's specific needs is critical.

The new NIDA resource also describes available medications and evidence-based behavioral therapies, the need for comprehensive, tailored, and sustained treatment and the role of community-level support.

Hard copies of the new treatment guide can be ordered by calling 1-877-NIDA-NIH (1-877-643-2644) or by going online.

Apr 29 2011

Drug Addiction: Performances and Public Health

Can theatrical roles played on a stage inform the work of drug addiction counselors? A new program is testing the theory, with some big names taking up the challenge.

Attendance at a recent D.C. performance by award-winning actress Blythe Danner consisted mostly of a very select audience—physicians and other health professionals who were invited to see the actress as part of a continuing medical education program to hone the skills needed to help patients battling drug problems.

Danner starred in Act III of Eugene O’Neil’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” which includes a poignant monologue by a morphine-addicted mother. The evening was part of the Addiction Performance Project, created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Elisabeth Davis, M.P.H., a public health analyst at NIDA and manager of the project, says the idea came from a Harvard Medical School physician, Dr. Elizabeth Gaufberg, with whom NIDA has worked with on its medical education project. The idea was based on her experience with Outside the Wire, a social impact company that uses performances to address a variety of public health issues. Davis says the project was presented to them as an educational tool for medical students. NIDA instead seized on it as an education tool for health care professionals in the field.

“The goal, ”says Davis, is to foster “compassion, cooperation and understanding for patients living with the disease and ultimately, have more patients screened, treated or referred to substance abuse treatment.”

Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA’s director, says primary care providers in particular can play a vital role in screening for drug abuse. “Yet, for many providers, discussing drug abuse with their patients is beyond their comfort zone, "she noted. "NIDA’s Addiction Performance Project is a creative way for doctors to earn CME credit while breaking down the stigma associated with drug addiction.”

Statistics from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that only about ten percent of the 23 million people who could benefit from specialized treatment for alcohol or drug abuse actually receive it. Helping health care professionals feel more competent to address the issue with patients could have quite a significant impact: NIDA research has shown that screening and a brief intervention can result in significant reductions in alcohol and tobacco use.

A post-performance discussion aimed at giving confidence to health professional in their role helping patients with drug or alcohol addictions talked about:

  • How to better identify and treat drug?addicted patients in primary care settings
  • The role of individual biases and beliefs about people who abuse drugs and how these beliefs affect individual physician screening and treatment of patients
  • How to incorporate screening, intervention, and referral to treatment into primary care settings

The project, with a varying cast of performers, will continue through 2011 and 2012. The Society of General Internal Medicine will host a performance and discussion at its annual conference to be held in Phoenix next week. Davis says she hopes NIDA will also be able to post a performance online.

Follow the conversation about the Addiction Performance Project on Twitter at #nidaAPP.

Weigh In: What novel programs aimed at helping people addicted to drugs or alcohol have been created in your community?