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The year in synthetic drugs


This is the year of the knockoff. A witch’s brew of new synthetic drugs, most of them stimulants, peddled as either bath salts or “spice” concoctions, has offered users new forms of Russian Roulette, and has irrevocably changed the face of international drug dealing. 2012 was also the year hysteria took over. Myths began to accumulate, and everywhere you looked, somebody was supposedly doing something psychotic due to the new synthetics.

By 2012, amphetamine-type stimulants, including synthetic bath salt derivatives, had become more popular worldwide than either cocaine or heroin, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This international eclipsing of the plant-based “hard drugs” of the past represents a major paradigm shift in the landscape of the illegal drug trade. The stunning market growth of synthetic stimulants is not hard to understand. Bath salt drug products soared in popularity throughout 2012 due largely to the belief among users that the drugs were: 1) quasi-legal, 2) non-addictive, 3) relatively safe, and 4) invisible to drug tests.

By the end of the year, it had become clear that none of these things was still true.

To begin with, bath salts—just like Spice and other cannabis spinoffs—are no longer legal. And many of the drugs found in bath salts appear to be addictive. Some carry known health hazards. And, although it was the desire to finesse drug testing that gave a major push to this new class of recreational chemicals, major bath salt ingredients can now be detected in routine urinalysis. Researchers have teased out the main culprits in both categories of synthetics—for synthetic marijuana, it’s the JWH family of research chemicals. For stimulants, it’s the cathinones, compounds like mephedrone and MDPV, members of a family of psychoactive alkaloids that includes khat, the chewable form of speed popular in East Africa.

There are new drug tests out there that can detect many of the major ingredients in both bath salts and spice-style cannabis products. And that marks a major change that law enforcement hopes will cripple growth in this fast-moving industry.

“Increasingly, and especially in the U.S. military, testing firms are including these compounds in their methodology,” says Dr. Kroll. More drug test kit manufacturers are sure to ramp up production in the near future, but it is a costly effort. “Folks probably aren’t aware of how hard it is to develop methods to detect all of these compounds,” adds Kroll.

Posted: 12/27/2012 8:54:00 AM

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Injected bath salts linked to dangerous bacterial infections in Maine

From The Bangor Daily News:

Maine health officials are investigating a cluster of serious bacterial illnesses among users of synthetic bath salts.

Four patients with a history of injecting the drug were sickened by the Group A streptococcal bacterium over the last several weeks, according to a health alert issued by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The common germ is responsible for strep throat and skin problems in its milder form but can also lead to life-threatening infections including the much-feared flesh-eating bacteria.

Two of the cases resulted in streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which causes a rapid drop in blood pressure and can lead to organ failure. All of the patients were hospitalized, one required treatment in intensive care, and one developed necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that’s known as flesh-eating bacteria in its rare and most dangerous form.

The bacteria likely cropped up among bath salts users not through the sharing of needles but because injecting drugs gives it a way to enter the body, Sears said. For that reason, health officials are also concerned that the infection could strike users who inject drugs of any kind, he said.

Maine CDC has advised physicians and other health providers to be on the lookout for the infections among intravenous drug users, but the public should also be aware, Sears said.

Posted: 12/12/2012 11:53:00 AM

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Common diabetes drug could fight ovarian cancer

From FOX News:

The commonly prescribed diabetes drug metformin could potentially double as an effective form of ovarian cancer treatment, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that ovarian cancer patients – who also had diabetes – lived longer than other ovarian cancer patients when they were taking metformin. According to the scientists, they had been researching the link between metformin and its potential anti-cancer properties for many years.

Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, a Mayo Clinic gynecologic oncology fellow, and his colleagues examined 239 ovarian cancer patients, 61 of whom were taking metformin. Compared with the other 178 patients, those taking metformin had a much higher survival rate – with 67 percent of the metformin-taking patients surviving after five years, versus 47 percent of those who were not taking the medication.

When taking into consideration other factors – such as the patients’ body mass indexes or the severity of their cancer – those who were taking metformin were four times more likely to survive than those who did not take the medication.

While the results of the study are promising, Kumar and Shridhar caution that the drug would not be a cure for ovarian cancer. Instead, it could potentially be used in combination with already existing ovarian cancer treatments – to provide patients with the best overall therapy.

The study was published online in the journal Cancer.

Posted: 12/3/2012 12:56:00 PM

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