Medical Community Needs Better Understanding of Power of AA

The medical-community-needs-better-understanding-of-power-of-alcoholics-anonymous.Many doctors, even those who specialize in addiction treatment, do not have a good understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its benefits for people struggling to give up drinking, says Marc Galanter, M.D., Founding Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at NYU Langone Medical Center.

“Doctors don’t necessarily know about the 12 Steps and how going to AA can be useful to patients,” says Dr. Galanter, a former president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. “They need to know how valuable it can be for people to go to meetings and meet people who have achieved abstinence, and learn how the program helped them.”

Of the more than 3,400 addiction treatment programs in the United States, many use the AA model, but half don’t have any relationship with a physician, Dr. Galanter notes. “It’s essential to bridge the gap between the medical and rehab communities,” he says.

Although it began in the 1930s, AA still has an important place in addiction treatment today, in an era when people tend to look to medications as the answer to solving everything, Dr. Galanter says.

“I can tell them as their doctor that they need to stop drinking, but if they go to AA meetings and meet other people with the same problem, it can mean more to them in terms of recovery,” says Dr. Galanter, author of What is Alcoholics Anonymous? A Path from Addiction to Recovery (Oxford).

Last year, Dr. Galanter published a study that looked at the effect of prayer on the brains of 20 long-term AA members, as measured by MRI. The twelfth step in AA involves “spiritual awakening,” an important part of the AA experience that can be interpreted in different ways. For many people spiritual awakening is related to prayer and meditation, which helps them stay sober, Dr. Galanter explains. “We wanted to see if there is a physiologic basis for prayer and meditation having a role in keeping people sober,” he said.

The participants were placed in an MRI scanner and then shown either pictures of alcoholic drinks or people drinking. The pictures were presented twice: first after asking the participant to read neutral material from a newspaper, and again after the participant recited an AA prayer promoting abstinence from alcohol.

Dr. Galanter found members who recited an AA prayer after viewing drinking-related images reported less craving for alcohol after praying than after reading a newspaper. The reduced cravings in people who prayed corresponded to increased activity in brain regions responsible for attention and emotion.

He said the findings suggest that AA has a physiologic effect on the brain, and doesn’t just lead to a general change in attitude about drinking. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that AA isn’t just a sort of club. It actually changes how people think and how their brains work,” Dr. Galanter said.

Alcohol Dependence Linked to Insufficient Enzyme ?

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, whichever you prefer, is a condition characterized by a physical and/or mental addiction to alcohol. Persons with this addiction continue to drink frequently, despite the negative effects associated with their behavior, health, and life outcomes.

Expert insight has pointed to impaired function in alcoholics in the the brain’s frontal lobes. This impairment is thought to lead to a decrease in impulse control when it comes to drinking. However, the exact molecular mechanism has remained somewhat of a mystery.

Recently,however, a study reviewed in the Molecular Psychiatry journal revealed that a specific enzyme is lacking in the brain of alcohol-dependent rats. The study was led by professor Markus Heilig of Linkoping University (Sweden). The enzyme in question is PRDM2, a member of the histone/protein methyltransferase family.

Past studies on the enzyme have mostly focused on its relationship to cancer. However, in this study researchers found additional functions in the brain. PRDM2 regulates the expression of genes necessary to transmit data between neurons.

Heilig’s team of researchers took a close look at alcohol-dependent rats and discovered that a history of alcoholism consistently affected the producton of PRDM2. This decrease ultimately disrupts impulse control.

In additional experiments, the researchers intentionally suppressed PRDM2 expression in non-alcohol-dependent rats, and discovered that their impulse control was disrupted as well, thus resulted in a signficant uptick in alcohol consumption.


“PRDM2 controls the expression of several genes that are necessary for effective signalling between nerve cells. When too little enzyme is produced, no effective signals are sent from the cells that are supposed to stop the impulse.”

He continues to add:

“We see how a single molecular manipulation gives rise to important characteristics of an addictive illness. Now that we’re beginning to understand what’s happening, we hope we’ll also be able to intervene. Over the long term, we want to contribute to developing effective medicines, but over the short term the important thing, perhaps, is to do away with the stigma of alcoholism.”

This new finding is exciting in the field of addiction medicine, and reveals a promising new approach to treating alcohol dependence.

Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin). CDC analyzed recent multiple cause-of-death mortality data to examine current trends and characteristics of drug overdose deaths, including the types of opioids associated with drug overdose deaths. During 2014, a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, representing a 1-year increase of 6.5%, from 13.8 per 100,000 persons in 2013 to 14.7 per 100,000 persons in 2014. The rate of drug overdose deaths increased significantly for both sexes, persons aged 25–44 years and ≥55 years, non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, and in the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Southern regions of the United States. Rates of opioid overdose deaths also increased significantly, from 7.9 per 100,000 in 2013 to 9.0 per 100,000 in 2014, a 14% increase. Historically, CDC has programmatically characterized all opioid pain reliever deaths (natural and semisynthetic opioids, methadone, and other synthetic opioids) as “prescription” opioid overdoses (1). Between 2013 and 2014, the age-adjusted rate of death involving methadone remained unchanged; however, the age-adjusted rate of death involving natural and semisynthetic opioid pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids, other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl) increased 9%, 26%, and 80%, respectively. The sharp increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids, other than methadone, in 2014 coincided with law enforcement reports of increased availability of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid; however, illicitly manufactured fentanyl cannot be distinguished from prescription fentanyl in death certificate data. These findings indicate that the opioid overdose epidemic is worsening. There is a need for continued action to prevent opioid abuse, dependence, and death, improve treatment capacity for opioid use disorders, and reduce the supply of illicit opioids, particularly heroin and illicit fentanyl.

During 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. Since 2000, the age-adjusted drug overdose death rate has more than doubled, from 6.2 per 100,000 persons in 2000 to 14.7 per 100,000 in 2014 (Figure 1). The overall number and rate of drug overdose deaths increased significantly from 2013 to 2014, with an additional 3,073 deaths occurring in 2014 (Table), resulting in a 6.5% increase in the age-adjusted rate. From 2013 to 2014, statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates were seen for both males and females, persons aged 25–34 years, 35–44 years, 55–64 years, and ≥65 years; non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks; and residents in the Northeast, Midwest and South Census Regions (Table). In 2014, the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were West Virginia (35.5 deaths per 100,000), New Mexico (27.3), New Hampshire (26.2), Kentucky (24.7) and Ohio (24.6).† States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

In 2014, 61% (28,647, data not shown) of drug overdose deaths involved some type of opioid, including heroin. The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids increased significantly from 2000 to 2014, increasing 14% from 2013 (7.9 per 100,000) to 2014 (9.0) (Figure 1). From 2013 to 2014, the largest increase in the rate of drug overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids, other than methadone (e.g., fentanyl and tramadol), which nearly doubled from 1.0 per 100,000 to 1.8 per 100,000 (Figure 2). Heroin overdose death rates increased by 26% from 2013 to 2014 and have more than tripled since 2010, from 1.0 per 100,000 in 2010 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2014 (Figure 2). In 2014, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids (e.g., morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone), 3.8 per 100,000, was the highest among opioid overdose deaths, and increased 9% from 3.5 per 100,000 in 2013. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving methadone, a synthetic opioid classified separately from other synthetic opioids, was similar in 2013 and 2014.

More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million persons in the United States have died from drug overdoses. In 2014, there were approximately one and a half times more drug overdose deaths in the United States than deaths from motor vehicle crashes Opioids, primarily prescription pain relievers and heroin, are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. In 2014, opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths, or 61% of all drug overdose deaths; the rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000. The 2014 data demonstrate that the United States’ opioid overdose epidemic includes two distinct but interrelated trends: a 15-year increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.

Drug overdose deaths involving heroin continued to climb sharply, with heroin overdoses more than tripling in 4 years. This increase mirrors large increases in heroin use across the country and has been shown to be closely tied to opioid pain reliever misuse and dependence. Past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and use, specifically among persons who report past-year dependence or abuse. The increased availability of heroin, combined with its relatively low price (compared with diverted prescription opioids) and high purity appear to be major drivers of the upward trend in heroin use and overdose.

How to treat an Overdose with Naloxone

“Fatal Drug Overdoses Play a Role In Rise of Accidental Deaths”

“Your Kid on Heroin, It Could Happen”

The news is full of headlines on the opioid crisis, and the overdoses suffered by so many families in our country. While there is no single, clear-cut solution to the crisis, one action every family impacted by opioids can take is to get overdose prevention training and have naloxone in the home. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a drug that can reverse an overdose, and if used in time, can save your loved one’s life.

Prescription pain medicine What are Opioids?

Opioids are powerful pain relievers. They include prescription medications such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, Codeine, Morphine and Buprenorphine, and illegal opioids, like heroin and non-pharmaceutical fentanyl.

What are the Risk Factors of an Overdose?

Anyone using opioids for recreational purposes, to manage withdrawal symptoms or pain management can be at risk for an overdose. Other risk factors include:

Using or taking drugs alone
Mixing opioids with other drugs like alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax and Ativan) and prescription stimulants (e.g., cocaine and Adderall)
Having lower tolerance due to recent detox/drug treatment or incarceration, or having a recent or chronic illness
Not knowing what drugs one is consuming (e.g. using heroin cut with fentanyl)
What are the Signs of an Overdose?

Overdose results when too much of the opioid medication or illegal opioid is taken and body functions shut down. The victim’s breathing is suppressed, which prevents oxygen from getting to body tissues and organs. It is important to note that an overdose can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to occur after drug use.

The signs of an overdose are:

Face is clammy to touch and has lost color
Blue lips and fingertips
Non-responsive to his/her name or a sternum rub using knuckles. In deep sleep.
Slow or erratic breathing, or no breathing at all
Deep snoring or a gurgling sound (i.e. death rattle)
Heartbeat is slow or has stopped

What Should You Do if You Suspect an Overdose?

Call 911: If you suspect an overdose and your loved one is non-responsive, call 911. If you must leave the person alone to make the call, put the person in the recovery position, lying on the side with the bottom arm under the head and the top leg crossed over the body. This is to avoid aspiration if he or she vomits. Give the address or location and as much information as you have about the situation (i.e., unconscious, not breathing, drugs used if known, etc.)

Administer Naloxone: If the naloxone is in the form of a nasal sprayer, assemble it if necessary, tilt the head back and spray half of the atomizer/nasal sprayer into each nostril. Provide rescue breathing (one breath every 5 seconds as described below) for 2-4 minutes. If there is no response, give a second dose of naloxone.

How to administer Naloxone

If the naloxone is in the form of an auto-injector, place the black end against the middle of the person’s outer thigh, through clothing (pants, jeans, etc.) if necessary, then press firmly and hold in place for 5 seconds.Naloxone

Provide rescue breathing and if there is no response, an additional injection using another auto-injector may be needed. Give additional injections using a new auto-injector every 2 to 3 minutes, continuing to provide rescue breathing until the person can resume breathing on his or her own.

Conduct Rescue Breathing: If the person has labored breathing or is not breathing at all, it is necessary to conduct rescue breathing. Tilt the head back, pinch the nose closed and give one slow breath every 5 seconds until the person resumes breathing on their own or until the paramedics arrive. Watch to see that their chest rises and falls with each breath.

Comfort and Support: Once the person is breathing on their own, place them in the recovery position until paramedics arrive. Comfort the person as he or she may be confused, upset and dope sick when revived. Do not allow them to use drugs.

Aftermath of an Overdose: Once your loved one has been stabilized, this may be an opportunity to suggest detox and treatment. Call the Partnership’s toll-free helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE to speak with a trained and caring specialist.

Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl Linked to Rise in Overdoses

The increasing distribution of illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) across the United States, and the sharp rise in overdose deaths linked to this drug, are causing more concern about a growing threat to public health and safety.

According to a report published online August 25 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the number of drug products obtained by law enforcement that tested positive for fentanyl (fentanyl submissions) increased by 426% from 2013 through 2014. Deaths related to synthetic opioids (excluding methadone) increased by 79% during that period.

“An urgent, collaborative public health and law enforcement response is needed to address the increasing problem of IMF and fentanyl deaths,” said the report’s authors, led by R. Matthew Gladden, PhD, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pharmaceutical fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is approved for the management of surgical/postoperative pain, severe chronic pain, and breakthrough cancer pain. IMF, which is unlawfully produced fentanyl obtained through illicit drug markets, is commonly mixed with or sold as white powder heroin.

Starting in 2013, the production and distribution of IMF increased to unprecedented levels. In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the CDC issued nationwide alerts identifying increases in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in multiple states.

The current report documents changes in synthetic opioid–related overdose deaths among 27 states where death certificates consistently report drugs involved in overdoses. These changes were highly correlated with fentanyl submissions, but not with fentanyl prescribing, which remained relatively stable.
The report identified eight states where increases in fentanyl submissions and synthetic opioid deaths were primarily concentrated. In these “high-burden” states, the synthetic opioid crude death rate increased 174%, and the rate of reported fentanyl submissions increased by 1000%.

These high-burden states were located in the Northeast (Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire), the Midwest (Ohio), and the South (Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, and North Carolina). Increases in synthetic opioid deaths in high-burden states disproportionately involved non-Hispanic white men aged 25 to 44 years.

The strong correlation between increases in fentanyl submissions, primarily driven by IMF, increases in synthetic opioid deaths, mostly related to fentanyl, and uncorrelated stable fentanyl prescriptions rates supports the hypothesis that IMF is driving the increases in fentanyl deaths, according to the report’s authors.

“The high potency of fentanyl and the possibility of rapid death after fentanyl administration, coupled with the extremely sharp 1-year increase in fentanyl deaths in high-burden states, highlights the need to understand the factors driving this increase,” the authors write.

The authors note a number of limitations to their findings. One is that because synthetic opioid deaths include those involving drugs other than fentanyl, the absolute number of synthetic opioid deaths should be considered “a proxy” for the number of fentanyl deaths.

Also, whereas drug submissions vary over time and from region to region, the findings are restricted to 27 states, and testing for fentanyl deaths might vary across jurisdictions.

Ohio and Florida

Data on fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Ohio and Florida further suggest that the problem of IMF is rapidly expanding, according to a second report also published in the current issue of MMWR. The study highlights a sharp increase in fentanyl deaths between 2013 and 2015 in these two states that parallels an increase in fentanyl submissions.

The study was carried out by the University of Florida and the Ohio Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the CDC, and was written by Alexis B. Peterson, PhD, Epidemic Intelligence Service and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, and colleagues.

Investigators found that from 2013 to 2014, fentanyl submissions increased 494% in Florida and 1043% in Ohio. This, they note, was “concurrent” with a 115% increase in fentanyl deaths in Florida and a 526% increase in Ohio. They also saw a “sharp increase” in fentanyl submissions and fentanyl deaths in Florida from December 2014 to February 2015.
In contrast, fentanyl prescription rates (per 1000 population) for the full year (2013-2014) increased only 5% in Florida and declined 7% in Ohio.

Death Demographics

Dr Peterson and colleagues note that the demographics of fentanyl-related deaths now “mirror” those of people dying from heroin overdose. For example, in Florida, fentanyl deaths increased almost 2.5 times faster among men (163%) than women (68%), with the most rapidly increasing rate among those aged 14 to 34 years. In contrast, US death rates involving prescription opioids are highest in an older group, those aged 45 to 54 years.

Researchers also uncovered evidence that the percentage of fentanyl deaths in which the victim tested positive for other illicit substances, such as cocaine and heroin, increased significantly over the study period.

In Ohio, factors associated with fentanyl deaths included a current diagnosis of a mental health disorder and a recent release from an institution, such as jail, a rehabilitation facility, or a hospital.

“Persons recently released from an institution are at particularly high risk for opioid overdose because of lowered opioid tolerance resulting from abstinence during residential treatment or incarceration,” they write. “Interventions such as provision of naloxone and continuation of medication-assisted treatment after release have been shown to be effective for this group.”

Increased naloxone access is “critical” given fentanyl’s potency and the possibility of its causing rapid death, they add.

Their findings, the authors say, suggest that the surge in fentanyl deaths in Florida and Ohio is closely related to increases in the local IMF supply as opposed to diverted pharmaceutical fentanyl.

“Distinguishing whether an overdose involves IMF or [pharmaceutical fentanyl] is critical for targeted interventions because overdose risk profiles differ.”

Warning System

The relationship between fentanyl deaths and fentanyl submissions suggests that law enforcement testing data on drug cases could act as an “early warning system” to identify changes in the illicit drug supply, the authors write.

Multidisciplinary strategies from public health agencies, harm reduction communities, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and treatment services for substance use disorders might have the greatest impact on public health, given the close relationship between fentanyl mortality and confiscation of IMF, they continue.

The report pertaining to Florida and Ohio also had limitations, many of them similar to those of the first report. Among those cited was the underestimation of the numbers and rates of fentanyl deaths, as not all overdose deaths were tested for fentanyl.

How Does a Heroin Overdose Kill You ?

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world, and thousands will die every year from a heroin overdose. Used for centuries for anything from a cough to pain relief, the potential for addiction and death was not fully realized until 1900. Heroin was made illegal in 1920, leaving millions of addicts desperate for opiate drugs.

Categorically, heroin is a central nervous system depressant, synthesized from the psychoactive chemicals in the opium poppy. Both opium and heroin can result in life-threatening central nervous system depression.

The Effects of Heroin: Addiction and Withdrawals
Snorted, smoked or injected, heroin reaches the brain through the bloodstream quickly. Once there, it binds to the opioid receptors, resulting in the relief of anxiety and pain. In effect, it gives the user a calm, euphoric sensation of escape from reality that can last for several hours.

Addiction occurs upon repeated use of the drug. The user’s brain has been, in essence, “hijacked” by heroin. It becomes dependent on the drug to feel good. In addition, it needs more and more of the drug to achieve the same results (tolerance).

When the user “comes down”, or stops using the drug, withdrawal symptoms occur. They are typically the opposite of what it feels like be high. Withdrawals are also a big incentive for people to keep using. Commonly, this is known as being “dope sick”.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

Depression and Anxiety
Body aches and increased pain sensitivity
Runny nose, tears
Diarrhea, stomach pain and spasms
Nausea and vomiting


While not fatal, symptoms are extremely unpleasant can can result in severe depression and suicidal feelings.

Signs of a Heroin Overdose

Overdoses may occur for several reasons. One, heroin is illicit and unregulated, so it is not often possible to know the actually purity (potency) of the drug. It is fairly unpredictable.
Also, the heroin may be laced (combined) with another drug. Fentanyl is common. Fentanyl is also a synthetic opioid, but many times more powerful than heroin. It can easily be fatal on its own accord. When mixed with heroin, the effects can multiply drastically.
Finally, multiple drug intoxication also increases the risk of overdose. For example, drinking alcohol or taking other depressants can also amplify the effects of all substances in question.
Consequently, heroin kills because it slows down the central nervous system, including respiration, to a fatal degree.

Signs and Symptoms

Awake, but unable to talk
Body is very limp
Face is very pale or clammy
Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
Breathing is slow and shallow, erratic, or stopped altogether]
Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or undetectable
Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
Loss of consciousness and unresponsive to outside stimulus

If you notice someone exhibiting these signs, you should immediately call 911. Fortunately, a heroin overdose is not instantaneous, and can be stopped if caught in time.

First responders, such as emergency medical personnel, commonly use the anti-overdose drug Narcan (naloxone) to reverse the effects of an overdose and save a life.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it blocks the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. In the case of more powerful opioids, such as fentanyl. more than one dose may be required to reverse an overdose. However, naloxone is usually a very effective antidote, and many pharmacies throughout the country have begun to allow the purchase of naloxone without a prescription.