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Of Note

September 1, 2006
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New Findings Confirm Concerns About Early Use

Data reported in the July 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show a stark difference in later-life outcomes between the group of people who begin using alcohol before age 14 and the group who do not begin drinking until age 21 or older. Ralph W. Hingson, ScD, MPH, and colleagues at the Boston University School of Public Health found that 47% of those who began drinking before age 14 became alcohol-dependent at some point in their life, while only 9% of those who began drinking after turning 21 ever developed an alcohol dependence. The Boston University study examined results from face-to-face interviews with 43,000 adults as part of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions in 2001 and 2002.

The analysis also found that individuals who started drinking before age 14 were more likely to experience episodes of dependence of a year or more in duration, and to exhibit at least six dependence symptoms. The researchers say reliance on subject self-reports of age of first use poses a limitation to the findings. They add that future longitudinal studies could help determine whether interventions to delay age of onset could reduce the incidence of alcohol dependence in adulthood.

Washington Recovery Program Stresses Community Service

The Gray Wolf Ranch addiction treatment program for adolescent and young-adult males in Washington State has built strong ties to the surrounding community by emphasizing service projects for its clients. The Port Townsend and Jefferson County Leader newspaper in July reported that residents in the 12-Step focused program serve individuals and businesses in the community through jobs such as painting, landscaping, and moving furniture. Some residents have received paying jobs that allow them to build a savings account that they can access when they complete treatment.

“The nature of addiction is to be self-centered, and the antidote is to reach out and focus on other people's needs,” said Woody Bernas, Gray Wolf Ranch's program director. “Volunteering in the community is one way to make a contribution.” Groups that have benefited from volunteer efforts by Gray Wolf Ranch residents include Habitat for Humanity and the Port Townsend Aero Museum.

SAMHSA Report Shows Extent of Prescription Drug Misuse

The number of people initiating nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers is outpacing the number initiating use of marijuana or cocaine, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Looking at data from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the report, “Nonmedical Users of Pain Relievers: Character-istics of Recent Initiates,” indicated that 2.4 million persons ages 12 and older began nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers in the 12 months prior to the survey. That compared to 2.1 million people initiating use of marijuana and 1 million people initiating use of cocaine in the same period.

Women accounted for about 55% of new users of prescription pain medication during the study period. The drugs Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet accounted for the greatest share of the medication used, with many respondents citing use of more than one type of pain medication. The report also found that only about one-quarter of users of pain medication for nonmedical purposes had not used other illicit drugs prior to using pain medication. About two in three users were past marijuana users.

Leaders Differ on Extent of Methamphetamine Threat

The discussion of methamphetamine's prevalence and the extent to which it poses a threat around the nation continues to be characterized by significant differences of opinion. Documents released in recent months by a county government association and a nonprofit group advocating alternatives to incarceration for drug offenders paint a somewhat conflicting picture of methamphetamine's influence. A National Association of Counties survey of 500 sheriffs in 44 states appears to bolster the argument that methamphetamine has become a national concern. Nearly half of respondents cited meth as the primary problem they face in their community, with more than 40% attributing an increase in domestic abuse and other violent crimes to the drug's presence.

Conversely, a report from The Sentencing Project stated that while a significant number of arrestees in Western cities such as Phoenix and San Diego are testing positive for methamphetamine, the national percentage of arrestees testing positive is only 5%. In addition, while overstating the extent of the meth problem, some policy leaders have misled the public by claiming that methamphetamine addiction is nearly impossible to treat, contends Sentencing Project policy analyst Ryan King.

Genetic Factor Could Contribute to Naltrexone Response

A study published in the August 2006 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research points to a specific gene in theorizing why response to the antialcohol medication naltrexone varies from person to person. Researchers at the Providence VA Medical Center and the Medical University of South Carolina examined the OPRM1 gene, and found that people with a specific variant of that gene actually seemed to have a stronger urge to use alcohol when taking naltrexone. “These findings challenge the notion that [naltrexone] works by reducing craving and suggest that there may be another mechanism of action for [naltrexone],” said John McGeary, a research psychologist at the Providence VA Medical Center.