New drugs fuel wave of violence and death

From the StarTribune:

Designer drugs can be purchased easily online, leading users to believe they are safer than street drugs. But the chemicals can be unpredictable - and disastrous.

Past midnight, Kat Green arrived home from her police shift exhausted. Then her smartphone started ringing with urgent messages. Mass drug overdose. Party at a ranch house outside of town. On the way, more information trickled in: At least a half-dozen young adults sick, some near death.

Packaged and sold as innocuous products such as "herbal incense" and "bath salts," the drugs are touted by users as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine and other controlled substances that can bring stiff penalties and jail time in even small amounts.

Altogether, poison control centers have received more than 6,600 calls about designer synthetics this year, 10 times more than the first half of 2010. Synthetic drugs have been linked or suspected in more than 20 deaths nationally in the past year, while emergency rooms are treating more patients who have overdosed on sometimes tiny amounts of designer synthetics.

Merchants are introducing new products online, too. When the DEA temporarily banned five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana early this year, retailers started promoting new mixtures they claimed were not covered by any bans.

The market is too lucrative to disappear. Herbal incense, sometimes called synthetic marijuana, accounted for nearly $5 billion in sales last year, according to an estimate from the Retail Compliance Association, a national retailers group that formed to challenge herbal incense bans.

The new drugs lack regulatory oversight and quality control. Users often rely on each others' Internet postings to find out how much they should take and what they could experience.

Many of the substances are so new to the market that they have little track record. What may give one user a euphoric high could permanently injure someone else. Erratic labeling means buyers sometimes wind up with vastly different chemicals than the ones they ordered.

More than a week before the deadly party, college student Cody Weddle visited a little-known chemical website and placed an order, court documents allege. He and others had researched 2C-E, an investigator said. Internet posts describe it as a sensory-enhancing psychedelic similar to LSD. A user nicknamed "Easy Rider" told Web readers about her "joyful night" on 2C-E, which made her feel "very warm and happy" and "more in control of myself than the drunk people around me."

Around midnight, less than an hour after swallowing the drugged water, some at the party started wondering what was wrong with their batch. Instead of feeling great, many felt nauseated.

Stacy Jewell lay sick in a bedroom. Others threw up on the lawn and in the living room. Everyone dripped with sweat.

At age 22, Stacy Jewell -- who in recent years had tried to talk others out of doing drugs -- died after a drug overdose.

After a week of waiting, Oklahoma law dictated Andrew Akerman's life support be turned off.

Preliminary tests later revealed that the powder delivered to rural Oklahoma wasn't 2C-E at all, but a drug called Bromo-DragonFLY -- a chemical that some websites warn is even more dangerous.

The man accused of placing the Internet order sits in jail charged with murder -- a charge that has drawn mixed feelings in town. Some residents think it is too harsh, that Weddle didn't intend to hurt anyone and those at the party freely chose to take the drug. Authorities continue to investigate others who were at the party.

Two antidepressants ineffective for dementia

From msnbc.com:

Two antidepressants that are commonly given to Alzheimer's disease patients appear not only to be ineffective but may give side effects such as nausea and drowsiness, a study in Britain has found.

In a paper published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, researchers urged doctors to think twice before prescribing these drugs to Alzheimer's patients with depression.

The two drugs used in the study were sertraline, marketed by Pfizer under the brand name Zoloft, and mirtazapine, known as Remeron in the United States.

They urged clinicians and investigators to reframe the way they treat Alzheimer's patients with depression and to reconsider routine prescription of antidepressants.

Posted: 7/19/2011 3:05:00 PM

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New FDA Watch List Has Drug Making Fifth Straight Appearance

From Medscape Today:

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published its latest quarterly list of drugs to monitor after having identified potential signs of serious risks or new safety information, and dronedarone (Multaq, Sanofi-Aventis), appears on it for the fifth straight time.

The new watch list covers the first 3 months of 2011. During this span, the FDA detected potential signs of renal impairment and failure for dronedarone, approved in July 2009 to reduce the risk for cardiovascular hospitalization in patients with paroxysmal or persistent atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. The 4 watch lists covering 2010 reported different potential signals of risk, 3 of which preceded related label changes for the drug this year.

The FDA compiles these quarterly lists based on data collected through its Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS). The FDA cautions that a drug's appearance on the list does not mean that the agency has determined that the drug actually poses the health risk reported through AERS. However, it will study these drugs to determine whether there is a causal link. If a link is established, the agency then would consider regulatory action, such as revising the drug's label, requiring a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy, or gathering more data to better characterize the risk.

In the meantime, physicians should not stop prescribing these drugs, nor should patients stop taking them, according to the FDA.

Posted: 7/19/2011 9:38:00 AM

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An Alarming New Stimulant, Legal in Many States

From The New York Times:

Dr. Jeffrey J. Narmi could not believe what he was seeing this spring in the emergency room at Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Pa.: people arriving so agitated, violent and psychotic that a small army of medical workers was needed to hold them down.

They had taken new stimulant drugs that people are calling “bath salts,” and sometimes even large doses of sedatives failed to quiet them.

“There were some who were admitted overnight for treatment and subsequently admitted to the psych floor upstairs,” Dr. Narmi said. “These people were completely disconnected from reality and in a very bad place.”

Similar reports are emerging from hospitals around the country, as doctors scramble to figure out the best treatment for people high on bath salts. The drugs started turning up regularly in the United States last year and have proliferated in recent months, alarming doctors, who say they have unusually dangerous and long-lasting effects.

Though they come in powder and crystal form like traditional bath salts — hence their name — they differ in one crucial way: they are used as recreational drugs. People typically snort, inject or smoke them.

Poison control centers around the country received 3,470 calls about bath salts from January through June, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, up from 303 in all of 2010.

At least 28 states have banned bath salts, which are typically sold for $25 to $50 per 50-milligram packet at convenience stores and head shops under names like Aura, Ivory Wave, Loco-Motion and Vanilla Sky. Most of the bans are in the South and the Midwest, where the drugs have grown quickly in popularity. But states like Maine, New Jersey and New York have also outlawed them after seeing evidence that their use was spreading.

Posted: 7/18/2011 11:23:00 AM

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A new illicit, and deadly, drug makes the rounds

From the Los Angeles Times:

A new, dangerous illicit drug may be gaining in popularity in several countries, according to a report issued Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

The drug, phenazepam, is a benzodiazepine used for the treatment of epilepsy. It is no longer prescribed in the United States and several other countries. But it's available in some Eastern European nations and may be distributed via the Internet.

Doctors in Scotland reported nine cases of overdose deaths in which phenazepam was found in blood samples. Two deaths have been linked to the drug in the United States within the last year.

Posted: 7/8/2011 10:13:00 AM

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