Vaping is Destroying Lungs, Cause Still Under Investigation

Most people know that tobacco and nicotine kill, but many minors don’t the warning, especially when it comes to vaping. After all, when a person smokes cigarettes, it usually takes several years to affect the lungs.

Vaping, however, has been causing the rapid deterioration of lungs and the FDA still isn’t positive how and why this has happened.

Vaping is a Crisis Among Young

Vaping has rapidly become an addiction that is prevalent among youth. Described as an “epidemic” by former FDA chief Scoot Gottlieb, the amount of young people who vape electronic cigarettes has risen dramatically in the past few years.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

“More than 44,000 students took part in the 2018 annual survey of drug, alcohol, and cigarette use in 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. About 37% of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017. Vaping of each substance that was asked about increased. This includes nicotine, flavored liquids, marijuana, and hash oil.”

Over 400 Vapers Have Now Been Hospitalized

Hospitalizations with serious lung conditions have emerged over these final months of summer in the US, fueling speculation of a contaminants reaching the “pods” that are used in electronic cigarettes. While many of these illnesses were from people who vape nicotine, officials have only found an adulterant in marijuana cigarettes. While the name of the manufacturer has been withheld so far, the FDA and NIH are urging marijuana as well as nicotine vapers to cease using these products.

People who vape have been so ill that some require machines to breathe, while others are in need of lung transplants. Five people have died.

The federal branches of the government are investigating the lung diseases, and so far they have only found traces of a fat from vitamin E, which may be causing lipid pneumonia. However, other patients who vape have suffered from more than penuemonia, and there are fears that changes in the lungs are permanent; doctors can’t find the exact mechanism for each patient, and a few have lost lung function completely.

Quitting Vaping

If you or somebody you love is addicted to vaping, it’s time to take action. A treatment program, individual counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy are all options to consider. If you can’t stop vaping marijuana on your own, you may have a substance use disorder. Help is available for all of these things. Please call the phone number at the top of this page for referrals and more information on getting help.

JUUL CEO Apologizes to Parents of Vaping Teens

JUUL Lans CEO Kevin Burns will apologize to parents of teens addicted to nicotine, but seems to dismiss responsibility.

Image with the word "Sorry"

In a documentary on CNBC, set to air tonight,  Juul Labs CEO Kevin Burns speaks about the recent teen vaping epidemic.  A new documentary, “Vaporized: America’s E-cigarette Addiction,” will air tonight.

When Carlos Quintanilla, the reporter for the movie, toured one of Juul’s manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin with Burns. While there, the CEO was asked what he would say to a parent with a child who was addicted to Juul.

“First of all, I’d tell them that I’m sorry that their child’s using the product,” said Burns. “It’s not intended for them. I hope there was nothing that we did that made it appealing to them. As a parent of a 16-year-old, I’m sorry for them, and I have empathy for them, in terms of what the challenges they’re going through.”

In 2017, the number of teens who had vaped grew to two million. Activists againse vaping say that the numbers are growing higher, with hundreds of thousands of teens that vape on a daily basis.

Is Vaping Addictive?

Tobacco industry proponents have often argued that vaping helps adult smokers quit drugs. However, JUUL stands out as a testament to another harsh reality: the company’s vapes are highly addictive, with more nicotine content than any other vape manufacturer.

According to the Truth Initiative, vaping is skyrocketing among young people:

“Over the past year,  surveys found that 56 percent of youth and young adults who ever used JUUL or an e-cigarette reported that they were younger than 18 when they first tried the device and nearly half — 47 percent — said that they tried it because their friends used it.”

And what’s worse is that JUUL, marketed to young people with an assortment of fruity and sweet flavors, contains a highly addictive amount of tobacco. One pod equals the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.  The Truth Initiative also reports an escalating trend of teen tobacco use, pointing to the fact JUUL’s e-cigarette market share tripled in just over a year, from 24 to 75 percent. JUUL is known as the brand most favored by young adults and teens.

More Action Needed on Teen Vaping

The FDA has called the amount of teens that use nicotine vape products an “epidemic”, but government intervention has been slow. Until recently, few companies selling these vape products asked for identification to verify buyers were 18. And most teens bought their vaping products directly from websites.

The FDA has sent letters, cease-and-desist orders, and spoken with the media about the problems with teens vaping. However, without any strong legal action, there’s little chance they will curb this epidemic in time to halt a growing population becoming addicted to nicotine.

Florida Drug Dealers Face Murder Charges for Fentanyl

person under arrest

In Florida, drug dealers selling fentanyl can now face murder charges if they distribute drugs to a person who dies during an overdose.

Responding to the fentanyl and opioid epidemic, about a year and a half ago, voted a bill into law that makes fentanyl a murder weapon. Distributing the drugs is now treated the same as an assault with a deadly weapon such as a knife or gun. The state already applies similar laws to cocaine, heroin and other dangerous narcotics.

Indictments Already Underway

Since the bill became a law, Florida prosecutors have obtained grand jury indictments for first-degree murder charges against a half-dozen individuals accused of selling the drug illicitly. However, most overdoses are still considered accidental. The first trial for murder is scheduled in December 2019, but prosecutors expect that there will be dozens more cases in the next few months. Lawmakers hope that the new law will help grieving families feel closure.

In one such case currently underway, accused fentanyl dealer Calvin Warren Jr., 36, faces murder charges for the death of 36-year-old Thomas Matuseski, a Boynton Beach man who overdosed in January 2018. Matuseski was a recovering heroin addict who apparently relapsed. When he used the drugs he had purchased from Warren, he was not aware that the drugs also contained fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin alone, and Matuseski succumbed to overdose from the fatal concoction.

“Drug dealers have a financial incentive to spike heroin with fentanyl or its derivatives like carfentanil, as they provide a much greater high than heroin at a fraction of the price,” Aronberg said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle last year. “The end user has no way of visually identifying which batch of heroin has been laced with these synthetic opioids.”

Future Cases

Currently, there are also two additional cases of fentanyl-related homicides being charged as murder.

One of them is aimed at a woman who was more drug user than dealer. Last February, Vicki Sakers, 41, was charged in the death of her friend, Candace Moreland, 37, who died from an overdose in December 2017.

Sakers bought three pills from an unnamed heroin dealer and gave one to Moreland, who stopped breathing within hours. It is not clear whether the heroin dealer is charged with anything.

Scientists Explore Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to Fight Addiction

doctors doing brain surgery

Addiction is costly in many ways. It can cost relationships, families, jobs, and lives. The stigma of addiction can cause people not to seek help, and it seems that the stigma is international, just like the disease of addiction itself.

China has been experimenting with different solutions for addiction for years. People often go to the research doctors out of desperation. A recent article by the Associated Press detailed the desperation a man named Yan, in China, felt when over the years he became addicted to crystal meth and, eventually, heroin. His father wanted to help but was tired of watching him bounce in and out of drug rehabilitation. He gave him a choice between another trip to drug rehabilitation, or to try Deep Brain Stimulation surgery. “Of course, I chose surgery,” Yan said. “With surgery, I definitely have the chance to get my life back.”

China’s Research into DBS for Addiction

China doesn’t have the same medical laws as America, and for many years they tried an archaic and painful surgery to “cure” addiction doctors call “brain lesioning”.  Desperate families paid doctors thousands of doctors to “lesion” the brain. Similar to a lobotomy, the method destroyed small clumps of brain tissue, causing a variety of neurological ailments for patients, including mental health disorders, memory problems and sexual dysfunction. Even worse, it rarely worked.

Deep brain surgery involves an implant in the brain, which electrically stimulates specific areas. In the United States, DBS has only been approved for Parkinson’s disease. Few patients, however, can afford the $100,000 DBS surgery costs.  

In China, where medical regulations are lax, clinical trials are already underway. Dr. Sun Bomin, director of Ruijin Hospital’s functional neurosurgery department, says the need outweighs concerns about side effects or efficacy. “They are human beings. You cannot say, ‘Oh, we do not have any help, any treatment for you guys.’”

Sun said he has served as a consultant for two Chinese companies that make deep brain stimulators — SceneRay Corp. and Beijing PINS Medical Co. He has tried to turn Ruijin into a center of DBS research, not just for addiction, but also Tourette syndrome, depression and anorexia.

China’s studies don’t come to any definitive conclusions. One trial had a patient that died from a heroin overdose just a few months after surgery. Another study in January by doctors at a military hospital in Xi’an found five out of eight heroin users stayed off drugs for two years after DBS surgery.

Yan, it turns out, is more of a Guinea pig than a patient. There are risks of a brain hemorrhage, changes to his personality, seizures, or an infection. There is also scant evidence that DBS will cure or treat his addiction.

DBS in the USA

The scientific community has concerns about any clinical trials done in China, outside of labs with ethical guidelines and rigor in place.

“It would be fantastic if there were something where we could flip a switch, but it’s probably fanciful at this stage,” Adrian Carter, who heads the neuroscience and society group at Monash University in Melbourne, told the Associated Press “There’s a lot of risks that go with promoting that idea.”

Few clinical trials have explored DBS outside of Parkinson’s research. U.S. clinical trials on DBS for depression were nixed due to a lack of evidence for benefits. (It is incredibly hard for scientists to ethically justify cutting into somebody’s skull without any scientific evidence it will help.) SceneRay, another Chinese company exploring DBS for addiction, was turned down for clinical research trials by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

However, the FDA has allowed a small, separate trial of DBS for opioid use disorder. Led by Dr. Ali Rezai, at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, it will launch in June.

Purdue Pharma is Exploring Bankruptcy

courtroom bankruptsy

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, is exploring the idea of bankruptcy to protect itself from over a thousand lawsuits filed across the country blaming them, in part, for the opioid addiction crisis that has claimed thousands of lives in states across the US.

The manufacturer of Oxycontin, as well as the Sackler family that controls the majority of the company, say they are under duress due to the massive litigation they face by counties, cities, and states. They have been repeatedly accused of misleading doctors through marketing and sales pressures, without mentioning the risks of addiction or downplaying those risks entirely.

The bankruptcy type that Purdue is considering is Chapter 11, which would stop the lawsuits from moving forward as Purdue settles the trials under the direction of a bankruptcy judge. Purdue hired law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for restructuring advice last August, making litigants nervous about the possibility of an insolvency claim to shut down the lawsuits.

A thousand lawsuits have been consolidated through a federal court in Ohio, where Purdue has held preliminary discussions to resolve the litigation, but nothing has come of these discussions. The breadth of the of the lawsuits has often been compared to the tobacco lawsuits in the 1990s, which dragged on for years and eventually resulted in a 246 billion dollar settlement, the largest in US history.

When asked by Yahoo News to comment, Purdue issued the following statement:

“As a privately-held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy,” Purdue said in a statement.

“We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable. We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers and other business partners.”

Prescription opioids such as Oxycontin and fentanyl, as well as heroin, caused about involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Hundreds of states, counties, and cities have launched lawsuits due to the public health crisis.



Border Patrol Nabs Largest Fentanyl Bust Ever

US Border Patrol

Last week, the federal government announced one of the largest fentanyl drug busts ever, containing 254 pounds of the synthetic drug.

The bust occurred at the Nogales, Arizona border onboard a truck that hid the pills under cucumbers. Alongside the powerful opioid, there was also 354 pounds of methamphetamine. Both drugs have been on the rise in America the past few years, with fentanyl deaths outpacing other opioid deaths rapidly. At its current pace, according to US Customs and Border Control, the opioid epidemic kills ninety people a day.

The fentanyl in the seizure is valued $3.5 million and is twice the size of a haul discovered in a truck stopped by state troopers in Nebraska in 2017.

Fentanyl is quickly becoming one of the deadliest opioids in the United States, and it often comes to the US via China, passing through US Customs undetected. Last year, the opioid task force recommended that Congress fund new machines for the United States Postal Service that detect drugs. The majority of international drug traffickers send shipments of pills through mail services, but drugs like methamphetamine typically come through the US/Mexico border.

Fentanyl is a drug that has been found not only in pill form but also powdered form, which could easily kill a non-opioid user exposed to it. Fentanyl is at least fifty times stronger than morphine, a highly potent narcotic. When handling drugs like these, police officers have to use gloves and sometimes have to cover their mouths and arms to decrease their risk of exposure. Most first responders in America now keep a steady supply of Narcan, an opioid antagonist, on hand to deal with accidental exposure or overdoses. The US Customs and Border Patrol even describes taking precautions for their K-9 units, who have long been at risk of overdose due to the nature of their jobs. (A drug-sniffing dog often sticks its snout near loose drug powder or pills.)

The US Border Patrol stops drug traffickers almost every day of the week. Drugs often come through regular checkpoints, and large amounts of drugs come through trucks and cars.







Cocaine-Opioid Cocktails Have Been Killing Since 2010

flaming candles

People have been dying from opioid and cocaine cocktails regularly since 2010, but there hasn’t been much reporting on it. That’s partially because the focus is on the fact that these deaths were from opioids. But calling these deaths “opioid overdoses” is problematic because, in some cases, the drug users were never aware that they were using an opioid.

According to the Washington Examiner, more than 10,100 people died from mixing the drugs in 2017. 7,241 of those deaths showed both cocaine and fentanyl in their systems. Fentanyl is a potent opioid about 50 to 200 times stronger than morphine. It’s also the deadliest opioid in the US, with the majority of deaths in 2017.

Deaths caused by opioids and cocaine have risen nearly 76 percent since 2012.

Recently, opioid test strips have emerged across the United States as a part of harm-reduction efforts. The strips, which cost $1 each and have been given out with needle exchange programs and at other places drug users frequent, can detect even a minute amount of fentanyl. Cocaine and heroin users must mix some the drug with water to create a liquid form.

The test strips are not perfect and sometimes may give a false positive. Officials worry that the strips will give drug users a sense of false security, but harm reduction proponents say that combined with other methods of harm reduction, such as t6he overdose-reversal drug Naloxone, it will save lives. People will use their drug of choice, either way, harm reduction advocates say.

Harm reduction advocates hope that these tools, combined, will give a person enough tools to stay alive so that when they want to quit getting high, they can. After all, you can’t get a dead person into addiction treatment.

It’s not clear why drug dealers are adding fentanyl to the supply of other illicit street drugs. Many of the drugs sold in the US come from chemists in China or other international supply. Sometimes the drugs are pressed in the US, but sometimes the drugs are bought already formulated.

Getting the drugs off the streets seems a monumental task. Testing for the drugs, however, will be a bit more straightforward now that the test strips have begun to circulate.

Grant Awarded to Create, Upgrade Much-Needed Sober Housing in Mass.

Image of a man's hand pointing at miniature models of ranch-style homes.

In Massachusetts, in some ways, they are catching up to the opioid epidemic and facing it head-on. This sometimes means sending addicted patients home with medication-assisted treatment, offering sober coaching programs, and even providing drop-in clinics in some cities where drug addiction therapy is scarce. Now, The Center for Community Recovery Innovations (CCRI) has awarded a total of $696,995 in grant funding to help house recovery populations that include men, women, families, veterans, the homeless and ex-offenders.

The money will go to creating and modernizing 118 affordable sober housing units in communities across Massachusetts.

The grants come from the Center for Community Recovery Innovations, Inc. (CCRI), a nonprofit subsidiary of MassHousing. The goal of the award is to help nonprofits create or preserve affordable sober housing in Massachusetts.

This is not the first grant that has been awarded to support substance-free housing. Total, CCRI has awarded more than $10 million in grants. Without these grants, there would be few options for recovery housing, which is often considered the best option for people who have completed a long-term residential program. Sober homes help formerly addicted people to transition back into the community slowly.

Total, CCRI has helped create and maintain nearly 2,200 units of substance-free housing. In Worcester, the Latin American Health Alliance was able to put a down payment on financing to acquire Casa Colon, which will create 11 units of affordable sober housing for men, an essential addition for the overlooked demographic of LatinX community members in recovery.

“A safe, healthy and supportive housing environment is a critical component to substance misuse recovery,” said MassHousing Executive Director Chrystal Kornegay. “These grants help to meet the tremendous need for sober housing that is affordable and accessible to individuals who are working to overcome addiction. The projects funded through these awards will strengthen communities across the Commonwealth, by creating and modernizing affordable homes that promote successful recovery, helping individuals in need access the critical support services they need to successfully prevail over substance misuse.”


Tainted Cocaine Causing Brain Damage

brain damage

A dangerous new substance that’s used as an anti-worming agent has been found in recent cocaine samples taken by Swiss researchers, according to a report by Big Think.

Cocaine is the second-most popular drug worldwide, and it’s almost always “cut” with another drug or substance so that the drug is more profitable. In some cases, medications like fentanyl are added to cocaine to make it more addictive – but it’s also more dangerous. Usually, it’s baking soda or ammonia that’s added with the simple goal of thinning out the drug content.

Now, however, two studies from the University of Zurich (UZH) discovered that levamisole, a powerful animal anti-worming agent, has been turning up in the cocaine supply. Scientists speculate that it is being used by chemists to make the effects of cocaine last longer.

It’s also possible that it’s leaving brain damage in regular cocaine users. The long-term effects are impaired cognitive performance and the thinning out the prefrontal cortex. Levamisole is also leading to changes in blood counts and blood vessels, and in animals, it has been shown to attack the nervous system.

Two Studies Show Damage From Levamisole

A team from the Psychiatric Hospital and the Institute of Forensic Medicine identified people who had ingested the levamisole-tainted cocaine through a hair drug test. The higher levamisole levels in their body, the more they exhibited impairment of cognitive functions.

A second study had users who took the drug with levamisole in it had MRI’s to view the effects of the drug on their brain. The MRI study showed that people who ingested the cocaine with a high level of levamisole had a very clear thinning of the prefrontal cortex. This finding is significant because it’s the part of the brain responsible for executive functions.

Where is the Brain Damage?

Executive function is the part of the brain that provides self-control, working memory, and mental flexibility. Most of these functions are needed when you are problem-solving, and without them, people make poor choices.



Horizon BCBC Offers NJ Members Free Peer Recovery Counselors

A blond woman is having a videochat. A computer sits on her lap and a man is on the computer, talking to her.

In New Jersey, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield is offering their clients a new secret weapon as they begin their recovery journey. Peer recovery counselors, trained to help others who are trying to get clean, will be offered to anyone who is currently receiving treatment for a substance use disorder.

The counselors will be available 24/7 via telehealth sessions. The sessions will take place over live video chat, which is how they can be offered any time, day or night. Horizon told the media that about 1.35 million of the 3 million members they currently have would be eligible for the program. Nearly seven out of a hundred thousand people in their network end up seeking help for a substance use disorder.

Why Peer Recovery Counselors?

Allen Karp, Horizon’s executive vice president, says that peer-support programs “dramatically improves a person’s chances of achieving long-term success.” People in treatment or counseling, who have begun treatment and are considered “stable” will be eligible for extra help.  The first few months are a critical point in many peoples’ recovery journey; when they begin to feel better and wonder if they need to stay in treatment at all. A recovery support specialist, who has been through similar things, can often reassure people that staying clean and sober is worth it.

About 1.35 million of the 3 million people insured by Horizon will be eligible for the program, a spokesman said. Horizon’s commercially insured members are diagnosed with substance disorder at a rate of slightly more than seven in 1,000.

This tactic of using healthcare to try to help people in recovery isn’t new, but it’s rare. Healthcare companies, including insurers, have been limited in their support of treatment centers. After all, there are high relapse and drop out rates. Horizon BCBS is trying to change that.

New Jersey seems to be leading the charge for healthcare-facilitated drug addiction treatment. Currently, the state of New Jersey also funds “opioid recovery specialists” – people who visit patients who just experienced an overdose. In recovery themselves, they’re there to let overdose victims know that there’s a better way of life. Their purpose is to engage the patient and encourage them to get treatment.