This Week's News in Substance Use: 2/2/18

Democratic Senators Want an Official Investigation into Trump’s Weak Response to The Opioid Crisis, Vox

“A group of Democratic senators, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), are asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the opioid epidemic.

“In a letter obtained exclusively by Vox, the senators asked the GAO to look into what President Donald Trump and his administration have done after declaring a public health emergency over the opioid crisis in October.

“’We are writing to request that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a review of the actions that the Trump administration has taken to “reduce the number of deaths and minimize the devastation the drug demand and opioid crisis inflicts upon American communities” since the October 26, 2017 declaration that the opioid crisis is a public health emergency,’ the senators wrote.”

Ohio AG 'Encouraged' By Prospect of Multi-State Opioid Settlement, Fox News

“As settlement talks begin for lawsuits involving the nation's opioid epidemic, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday he’s encouraged by a federal judge’s understanding of and commitment to resolving the crisis.

“U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland oversees the settlement talks for the more than 250 federal lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies and distributors over the opioid epidemic. He’s called the epidemic ‘100 percent man-made’ and that other branches of government have ‘punted’ on solving it.”

A Town of 3,200 Was Flooded with Nearly 21 Million Pain Pills as Addiction Crisis Worsened, Lawmakers Say, The Washington Post

“The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been investigating the opioid epidemic, revealed that 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills have been delivered to Williamson, W.Va., a town with a community college, a rail yard — and fewer than 3,200 residents, according to the most recent Census figures.

“That's more than 6,500 pills per person — though not all of the painkillers stayed in Williamson.

As the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported, committee leaders sent letters to two regional drug distributors, asking why the companies oversupplied this town, among others, with painkillers.”

Natural Painkiller Nasal Spray Could Replace Addictive Opioids, Trial Indicates, The Guardian

“A nasal spray that delivers a natural painkiller to the brain could transform the lives of patients by replacing the dangerous and addictive prescription opioids that have wreaked havoc in the US and claimed the lives of thousands of people.

“Scientists at University College London found they could alleviate pain in animals with a nasal spray that delivered millions of soluble nanoparticles filled with a natural opioid directly into the brain. In lab tests, the animals showed no signs of becoming tolerant to the compound’s pain-relieving effects, meaning the risk of overdose should be far lower.

“The researchers are now raising funds for the first clinical trial in humans to assess the spray’s safety. They will start with healthy volunteers who will receive the nasal spray to see if it helps them endure the pain of immersing one of their arms in ice-cold water.”

Trump Honors Police Officer Who Adopted Baby from Mom Addicted to Heroin, CNN

“Officer Ryan Holets says he simply did the right thing when he came across a pregnant woman about to shoot up heroin behind a convenience store. Instead of taking her to jail, he decided to adopt her baby.

“The Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officer was lauded on one of the biggest stages Tuesday, with President Donald Trump recognizing him during his State of the Union address and saying he and his wife, Rebecca, ‘embody the goodness of our nation.’”

DEA Launches New Crackdown On Pharmacies and Opioid Over-Prescribers, The Washington Post

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that over the next 45 days, a ‘surge’ of Drug Enforcement Administration agents and investigators will focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of opioid drugs.

“To intensify the fight against what is called ‘prescription drug diversion,’ the DEA will examine data from approximately 80 million reports it collects every year from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors, Sessions said.

“The data includes distribution and inventory figures, and analysts will look for patterns and statistical outliers that can be developed into targeting packages, or information used to identify those suspected of breaking the law, and sent to each of the DEA’s 22 field divisions, a Justice Department official said.”

The Link Between Opioid Overdoses and Amnesia Is Only Getting Stronger, The Atlantic

“Just over five years ago, a man suffering from amnesia following a suspected drug overdose appeared at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. He was 22, and had injected what he believed to be heroin. When he woke up the next morning, he was extremely confused, repeatedly asking the same questions and telling the same stories. Doctors at Lahey quickly diagnosed the man with anterograde amnesia—the inability to form new memories.

“His brain scan revealed why. ‘I thought it was an extremely strange scan—it was almost hard to believe,’ says Jed Barash, a neurologist working at Lahey at the time. In the scan, the twin, seahorse-shaped structures of the man’s hippocampi were lit up against the dark background of the rest of the brain—a clear sign of severe injury to just that one region.

“‘It was strange because that was all there was,’ Barash says.”

How Many Opioid Pills Do You Need After Surgery? The Wall Street Journal

“Mark Lockett used to routinely send his patients receiving partial mastectomies home with 30 pills of oxycodone. The South Carolina surgeon changed that approach two months ago and now typically gives such patients 10.

‘As a surgeon, I didn’t realize how many of my patients who were never on opioids continued on opioids after surgeries that I had done on them,’ says Dr. Lockett, an associate professor of surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. ‘We heavily overprescribe, not intentionally, but because we don’t want patients to hurt, and what we do hurts.’

“Many of Dr. Lockett’s fellow surgeons at his medical school have cut in half or more the amount of opioids given to patients undergoing common procedures such as knee replacements and hysterectomies.”

America's Racist Response to The Crack Epidemic Must Inform the Way We Tackle Opioids, NBC News

“The story that was told about crack — which devastated urban, black communities — was mostly a tale of gangs, fiends and predators who deserved to be punished. As a result, it was a story that led to mass incarceration and a new front in the war on drugs. In contrast, the story of opioids is mostly one of rural and suburban white Americans preyed on by evil and greedy pharmaceutical companies. This story has also led to a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies, currently before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in the Northern District of Ohio, that could award an estimated $1 trillion in damages to the state and local governments who have had to bear the tremendous financial costs of this crisis.

“The problem with this opioid story, however, is that it leaves out the significant and rapidly growing number of African Americans suffering from this modern plague. It would be a tragic legacy of the racism that has long motivated the war on drugs if the same bias that first painted black Americans as perpetrators now fails to see us as victims. And importantly, leaving black victims out of the popular narrative also risks leaving them out of the legal restitution that follows.”

Native American, Rural Women Hit Hardest by Opioid Crisis, Experts Say, The Crime Report

“Native American females and women in rural communities suffer the highest risk of deaths from opioids and other drugs, advocates and caregivers involved in mental health and trauma said Thursday.

“The risk is heightened for Native American women, who face a long history of oppression and abuse, turning to opioids as a form of pain management, and for women in rural areas, who have limited access to drug treatment programs, the experts said at a webinar organized by the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health.

“Researchers found that more than 84 percent of Alaska Native and American Indian women had experienced some form of violence in their lifetimes: 56 percent experienced sexual violence and 55 percent experienced intimate partner violence, according to a study released by the National Institute of Justice in 2016.”