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Of Note

May 1, 2006
by root
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Simple Genetic Test Could Have Major Implications

A company on the West Coast is developing a cheek swab test that at a cost of $35 to $40 could determine whether an individual has a gene form that has been associated with substance use disorders in several studies. Ernest P. Noble, MD, PhD, a former director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) who has conducted significant research on the A1 allele of the D2 dopamine receptor gene, believes further knowledge about the A1 allele could lead to the development of dopamine agonists that would act in the same way as alcohol and other abused substances.

What might have even more potential, Dr. Noble believes, is that identification of the A1 allele early in a person's life could result in targeted and aggressive substance abuse prevention efforts for that person and others with the gene form. It is not yet known when the lab test might become available.

In a study coauthored by Dr. Noble that was published this past September in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, it was found that adolescent male children of alcoholics who had the A1 allele were significantly more likely to have tried alcohol than were children of alcoholics who did not have the A1 allele. That study involved 48 subjects, half of whom had the gene form.

Tailored Version of EAP Will Debut at Mass. University

Northeastern University in Boston will become the first test site of a university assistance program (UAP), a version of an employee assistance program made possible by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Northeastern's program, already in development, will receive its official launch in the fall.

The grant will allow the university to evaluate the prevalence of substance abuse among students and to promote prevention and intervention through innovative screening, counseling, and treatment, as well as widespread faculty and staff training in substance-related issues. The UAP not only will give self-referral opportunities to students with alcohol- or drug-related problems, but also will assist students who may be affected by someone else's substance use. In addition, students mandated by the school's Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution to complete an alcohol-related education program will have the option of using the UAP service, according to a news release from the university.

“The students affected by alcohol one way or another need our assistance in terms of intervention, counseling, treatment, and of course, prevention,” said Philomena Mantella, the grant's principal investigator and the university's senior vice- president of enrollment management and student affairs. Program organizers are currently developing an outreach campaign for the UAP.

Researchers Study Oral Health Among Alcohol-Dependent

The oral hygiene of individuals undergoing inpatient treatment for alcohol dependence will be the focus of research conducted by scientists at the Univer-sity at Buffalo's (UB) Research Institute on Addictions. According to the institute, Kurt H. Dermen, PhD, and institute director Gerard J. Connors, PhD, are seeking to encourage the use of oral health preventive and treatment services among individuals in alcohol treatment.

Dr. Dermen said in the institute's RIA Report newsletter that the researchers are “developing a motivational oral and dental-health promotion intervention in collaboration with Dr. Sebastian Ciancio, director of the Center for Dental Studies and chair of the Department of Periodontics and Endodontics in UB's School of Dental Medicine.” An award of $598,000 from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research is financing the effort.

Oral health issues such as missing teeth are considered among the observable symptoms of nutritional imbalance among individuals in addiction treatment programs. Experts advise counselors to look for these and other possible symptoms when conducting a nutritional assessment of clients (see feature article in March/April 2006 issue).

Calif. Youths Discuss Appeal, Availability of Alcopops

Discussion of the subject of underage drinking before a California State Senate committee in March focused a great deal on youths' attraction to alcopops, the bottled alcoholic beverages with packaging that resembles that of lemonade, iced tea, or soft drinks. Results of a survey of 300 middle and high school students in the state indicated that these drinks are widely available at gatherings of young people, and many youths perceive them as more desirable than beer or straight liquor.

The drinks appear to be significantly more popular among young girls than young boys, according to the survey information. According to some participants in several focus groups for the survey, conducted by the Center for Applied Research Solutions, many youths perceive alcopops to be “unmanly” drinks that are essentially for girls. Many participants added that advertisements for the drinks feature attractive people and are designed to attract young drinkers.

According to James F. Mosher, legal consultant to the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, California legislators have been considering a move to classify the drinks officially as distilled spirits, making them subject to stricter regulations. Despite the liquor content of these drinks, many states regulate them under the same classification as beer.

For Law Enforcers, Meth Is Today's Crack

Judging from a law enforcement survey conducted by the National Association of Counties (NACo), methamphetamine most certainly is the new crack. Fifty-eight percent of respondents from 500 law enforcement agencies in 45 states ranked meth as the most prominent drug problem in their jurisidictions, NACo reported in late February.