Crack is back and a new scourge is on its way

From wptv.com (St. Lucie County, FL):

If you want an instant assessment of the hottest trends in illegal drugs today, just ask corrections officials at the St. Lucie County jail. They see the latest results every day.

Trevor Morganti is the classification manager at the jail. He confirmed a trend I'd noticed in recent news reports.

Crack is back and cases involving crystal methamphetamine are on the rise, Morganti said. He sits in on first court appearances by jail inmates and tracks what offenses they're being charged with.

In addition to meth cases, Morganti is also seeing new variants of synthetic marijuana and expects to see many more of those in the future.

Some law enforcement officials credit the rise of the new drugs and the re-emergence of old "favorites" as evidence that crackdowns on prescription drug abuse are having an effect.

Posted: 10/1/2012 8:45:00 AM

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Turning to Drugs to Stop Addiction

From Drug Discovery & Development:

Could a once-a-month alcoholism shot keep some of the highest-risk heroin addicts from relapse? A drug that wakes up narcoleptics treat cocaine addiction? An old antidepressant fight methamphetamine?

This is the next frontier in substance abuse: Better understanding of how addiction overlaps with other brain diseases is sparking a hunt to see if a treatment for one might also help another.

We're not talking about attempts just to temporarily block an addict's high. Today's goal is to change the underlying brain circuitry that leaves substance abusers prone to relapse.

It's "a different way of looking at mental illnesses, including substance abuse disorders," says National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow, who on Monday urged researchers at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting to get more creative in the quest for brain-changing therapies for addiction.

Rather than a problem in a single brain region, scientists increasingly believe that psychiatric diseases are a result of dysfunctioning circuits spread over multiple regions, leaving them unable to properly communicate and work together. That disrupts, for example, the balance between impulsivity and self-control that plays a crucial role in addiction.

These networks of circuits overlap, explaining why so many mental disorders share common symptoms, such as mood problems. It's also a reason that addictions - to nicotine, alcohol or various types of legal or illegal drugs - often go hand-in-hand with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.

So NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, is calling for more research into treatments that could target circuits involved with cognitive control, better decision-making and resistance to impulses. Under way:

-Manufacturer Alkermes Inc. recently asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve its once-a-month naltrexone shot - already sold to treat alcoholism - to help people kick addiction to heroin and related drugs known as opioids.

-Studies at several hospitals around the country suggest modafinil, used to fend off the sudden sleep attacks of narcolepsy, also can help cocaine users abstain.

-An old antidepressant, bupropion, that's already used for smoking cessation now is being tested for methamphetamine addiction, based on early-stage research suggesting it somehow blunts the high.

Medication isn't the only option. Biofeedback teaches people with high blood pressure to control their heart rate. O'Brien's colleagues at Penn are preparing to test if putting addicts into MRI machines for real-time brain scans could do something similar, teaching them how to control their impulses to take drugs.

Science student's cocaine project leads to forensics breakthrough

From The Telegraph (UK):

Sonica Devi, 22, a final year student at Derby University, developed a new method of forensic analysis to help police find tiny traces of drugs.

She put her method, which makes detection of the drug possible even at a million millionth of a gram, to the test on samples taken from telephone boxes across Derby.

The university said she used an ultra sensitive Gas Chromatographic technique which allowed her to find cocaine at picogram levels - one million millionth of a gram - from forensic swabs.

Gas Chromatography linked to a mass spectrometer (GCMS) is an established technique for separating complex mixtures of compounds and detecting them down to very low amounts.

A picogram is one thousand times smaller than a nanogram and a thousand thousandth times smaller than a microgram (a millionth of a gram).

The study, entitled ''Real world detection of cocaine at the picogram (one trillionth of a gram) level in an urban environment'' is now being presented at a number of forensic science conferences across the UK.

Posted: 5/5/2010 4:04:00 PM

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Maine Drug Cops Say Bad Cocaine Reaching State

From wbztv.com (Portland, Maine):

Maine drug police say that some of the illegal drug cocaine that is reaching the state has been contaminated with a drug used to treat parasites in farm animals.

Christopher Montagna of the Maine Health & Environmental testing lab says the drug levamisole first started showing up in Maine in 2008, but now it shows up in 30 percent to 50 percent of tested samples.

Sgt. Kevin Cashman of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency tells the Portland Press Herald it's "very, very dangerous."

The drug is used to increase the volume of cocaine.

Some scientific studies believe it might give cocaine users a more intense high. Experts say it has killed at least three people in the U.S. and Canada and sickened more than 100 others.

Posted: 2/25/2010 9:25:00 AM

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Vaccine for cocaine habit? May be coming soon

From msnbc.com:

A simple shot could be the latest tool in curbing cocaine abusers' habits, says new research. The vaccine-like shot not only kept them from getting high but also helped them fight their addiction, showed the first successful rigorous study of this approach to treating illicit drug use.

The shots didn't work perfectly, but the researchers say their limited success is promising enough to suggest the intriguing vaccine approach could be widely used to treat addiction within several years.

"It is such an important study. It clearly demonstrates ... that it is possible to generate vaccine that could interfere with cocaine actions in the brain," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study.

The results come just days after that government agency announced plans for the first late-stage study of an experimental nicotine vaccine designed to help people quit smoking. The NicVAX vaccine has been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration, and the research will be paid for with federal stimulus money.

The cocaine and nicotine vaccines both use the same approach, stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that attach to molecules of the drugs and block them from reaching the brain.

In the new study, cocaine-fighting antibodies helped prevent users from getting a euphoric high and led nearly 40 percent of them to substantially cut back or stop cocaine use at least temporarily.

With more than 2 million cocaine abusers nationwide and no federally approved treatment, the results "are good enough — better than having nothing," said lead author Dr. Thomas Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He developed the vaccine used in the study.

The study appears in October's Archives of General Psychiatry, released Monday.

Posted: 10/6/2009 12:18:00 PM

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Billy Mays autopsy: cocaine, heart disease, or death by drug cocktail

From the examiner.com:

Billy Mays was found dead in his home on June 28, 2009, a little more than one week after the Tampa, Florida pitchman had his fiftieth birthday. After returning to Tampa on a flight the night before, Billy Mays told his wife, Deborah that he wasn’t feeling well and went to bed. She found him unresponsive the next morning. Though the sudden death of Billy Mays was shocking, no one would have imagined the autopsy controversy and details that were soon to follow.

The first autopsy was expected to be performed the following day, on June 29, 2009. Though Billy Mays had been scheduled for hip surgery the following day, many wondered if a head injury suffered from a rough landing at TIA could have resulted in his death. It wasn’t long, however, that it was announced that Billy Mays died from hypertensive heart disease. In fact, the very next day, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner went public with their findings that it wasn’t a bump on the head or head injury that caused Billy Mays’ death, but rather an undiagnosed case of hypertensive heart disease. At the time of the statement, it was announced that the final cause of death would not be made public until the full autopsy had been completed.

Dr. Vernard Adams announced the first results of hypertensive heart disease. During this conference, Dr. Adams states that Billy Mays had no history of previous drug abuse. He also mentions Billy Mays’ prescriptions for tramadol and hydrocodone, however standard toxicology testing would be performed and that the results would be returned within 8-10 weeks. It wasn’t until those toxicology reports came in that controversy ensued.

The toxicology report showed that Billy Mays had a ‘drug cocktail’ in his blood. In addition the hydrocodone and tramadol, Billy Mays also had cocaine, oxycodone, alprazolam and diazepam. It was also revealed that it was not just cocaine, but rather cocaine metabolites found in Billy Mays’ system, signifying that the cocaine had broke down in his system. Billy Mays’ wife, however, discredits the autopsy, it’s findings, or the allegations that Billy Mays’ used cocaine, as well as had a drug cocktail in his system before he died.

The autopsy showed that cause of death was heart disease and that cocaine use was a contributing factor, but now new claims from a forensic pathologist, Cyril Wecht challenges those findings. According to doctor Cyril Wecht, it was the drug cocktail that killed Billy Mays.

Dr. Cyril Wecht stated, “There are six brain-depressant drugs, including alcohol. As Jane (Jane Velez-Mitchell) has mentioned, Xanax and Valium, which are benzodiasapines (ph), anti-depressants, and then three narcotic-type drugs, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Travedal (ph). And then alcohol, which many people don't appreciate, which is also a brain depressant drug.

Cumulatively, even those each of those is at a sub-toxic, sub- lethal level, when acting in concert, act to depress the respiratory system, and then can lead to cardio-respiratory arrest, cardiac arrhythmia and death.

In my opinion, the release of the finding of hypertensive and arteriosclerotic-cardiovascular (ph) disease within the day or so after the autopsy was premature. You have a 50-year-old man dying suddenly. I think you should wait until the toxicology comes in.

They did not. They just released that. Subsequently, when the report came back, they seized upon cocaine, which is also present, not one of the drugs that I mentioned. Cocaine is a stimulant. I do not believe that cocaine played a role. “

Red Bull's New Cola: A Kick from Cocaine?

From TIME:

About a year ago, the makers of Red Bull, the famous caffeine-loaded energy drink, decided to come out with a soda, unsurprisingly named Red Bull Cola. The shared name implied the same big kick. But could the cola's boost — supposedly "100% natural" — come from something else? Officials in Germany worry that they've found the answer — cocaine. And now they have prohibited the soda's sale in six states across the country and may recommend a nation-wide ban.

"The [Health Institute in the state of North Rhine Westphalia] examined Red Bull Cola in an elaborate chemical process and found traces of cocaine," Bernhard Kuehnle, head of the food safety department at Germany's federal ministry for consumer protection, told the German press on Sunday. According to this analysis, the 0.13 micrograms of cocaine per can of the drink does not pose a serious health threat — you'd have to drink 12,000 L of Red Bull Cola for negative effects to be felt — but it was enough to cause concern.

Red Bull has always been upfront about the recipe for its new cola. Its website boasts colorful pictures of coca, cardamom and Kola nuts, along with other key "natural" ingredients. The company insists, however, that coca leaves are used as a flavoring agent only after removing the illegal cocaine alkaloid. "De-cocainized extract of coca leaf is used worldwide in foods as a natural flavoring," said a Red Bull spokesman in response to the German government's announcement. Though the cocaine alkaloid is one of 10 alkaloids in coca leaves and represents only 0.8% of the chemical makeup of the plant, it's removal is mandated by international antinarcotics agencies when used outside the Andean region.

In Germany, the Red Bull spokesman insisted that his company's product, along with others containing the coca-leaf extract are considered safe in Europe and the U.S. And already, some experts have come to Red Bull's defense. "There is no scientific basis for this ban on Red Bull Cola because the levels of cocaine found are so small," Fritz Soergel, the head of the Institute for Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research in the city of Nuremberg, tells TIME. "And it's not even cocaine itself. According to the tests we carried out, it's a nonactive degradation product with no effect on the body. If you start examining lots of other drinks and food so carefully, you'd find a lot of surprising things," he says.

But the problem is when it comes to coca and cocaine, it's not just a health concern, but a legal one. Since 1961, trade of coca outside the Andean region — where people have chewed or brewed coca in tea to stave off hunger and exhaustion for centuries — has been prohibited unless the cocaine alkaloid is removed. Few companies in the world have authorization to trade in the leaf and most are pharmaceutical companies that perform this decocainizing process. The most prominent is New Jersey-based Stepan Chemical Company which has been reported to supply Coca-Cola with its narcotic-free derivative.

But no one knows where Red Bull Cola's coca leaves come from or where they are processed. Red Bull did not respond to immediate requests for comment and Rauch Trading AG, the Austria-based food company that actually manufactures Red Bull Cola was quick to tell TIME that they are not allowed to speak about the product. Meanwhile, Bolivia, which has lots of coca leaves to sell, is getting a kick out of the fact Red Bull Cola admits to using coca in any form (since Coca-Cola evades the question). Ironically, the drink is not actually available yet in Bolivia. But, the locals say, this is a great opportunity to show that coca isn't harmful — with or without the cocaine alkaloid.

Posted: 6/1/2009 9:43:00 AM

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Cocaine Spurs Long-Term Change in Brain Chemistry

From HealthDay:

Many remember those fried-egg "this is your brain on drugs" public service announcements. Now, a new study offers insight into how addictive drugs such as cocaine "cook" the brain.

"The study's findings enable us to glimpse for the first time exactly how cocaine modifies the activity of genes in regions of the brain that that mediate reward," explained Nora Volkow, the director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the organization that supported the study. "These genes represent promising new targets for the development of medications to treat cocaine addiction," she said.

Scientists led by Dr. Eric Nestler, of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, used a new molecular analysis technique to watch changes in the gene activity of mice that were injected with cocaine. The changes involve a shift in proteins called histones and transcription factors, which bind to DNA and regulate how the genetic information in a DNA strand is read to make a complementary sequence of RNA. A cell uses the information in the RNA to make final protein products.

Using these genetic markers, scientists mapped the effects of drug use in a critical part of the brain's "reward circuitry."

The process showed, for the first time, that a family of genes called the sirtuins are activated by chronic cocaine use and fuel addiction-related behaviors in lab animals.

The research was published May 14 in the journal Neuron.

"This analysis provides fundamentally new information about the range of genes that are altered by cocaine in this brain region," Nestler said. "We showed that blocking the activity of the sirtuins reduced both cocaine's rewarding effects and the motivation to self-administer the drug."

In other words, scientists may someday be able to take away the desire for cocaine as well as the pleasure a person gets from using it, the researchers said.

Posted: 5/15/2009 3:38:00 PM

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'Energy' Drinks Spark Alarm

From The Washington Post:

Researchers are calling for warning labels and other steps to curb the abuse of those wildly popular high-caffeine "energy drinks."

Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University and 98 other experts sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration this week saying they had become increasingly alarmed about Red Bull and similar caffeine-laced beverages.

The researchers cited a paper Griffiths and his colleagues recently published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which noted that Americans are already spending billions on such drinks annually. Hundreds of new products are being introduced each year and sales are increasing rapidly. The advertising campaigns tend to target teens and young adults, especially young males, and, Griffiths and his colleagues say, appear to glorify illicit drug use.

In addition to other ingredients, the products contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine per can or bottle. To put that into perspective, a regular 12-ounce can of cola has about 35 milligrams of caffeine and a six-ounce cup of coffee has between about 77 and 150 milligrams.

The researchers are worried about all sorts of problems. Too much caffeine can lead to "caffeine intoxication," which can cause nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach problems and even rapid heartbeats and death in rare cases.

And that's not all. There's mounting evidence that young people who use these drinks are much more likely to go on to use prescription stimulants, raising concern they serve as a "gateway" to more serious drug abuse. There's even an energy drink additive called "Blow" which resembles cocaine powder and is sold in vials with a mirror and plastic cards, as well as another one called "Cocaine."

The researchers noted that Canada and many European countries require these drinks to carry labels warning about their high caffeine content and cautioning against mixing them with alcohol. Some ban certain products altogether.

In contrast, in the United States energy drinks are virtually unregulated. No labeling is required. They don't even have to list how much caffeine they contain, even though they may have a lot more than over-the-counter stimulants like NoDoz, which are required to carry warnings.

And from WalesOnline:

Its white powder lettering and deeply suggestive flavour titles seem designed to arouse suspicion. But it is the name of this new high-energy caffeine drink that is sending doctors, parents and anti-drug campaigners into a tailspin. Branded as the “legal alternative”, Cocaine has three-and-a-half times as much caffeine as Red Bull, and comes in three flavours – “regular”, “cut” and “free”.

American firm Redux, which is behind the drink, described the branding as “just a bit of fun”. But experts last night criticised the company as “cynical and irresponsible” and warned how it could glamorise the Class A drug.

The drink is currently only sold in the US, but is likely to be on its way to the UK.  The US version of the drink also contained wasabi and cinnamon, which numbed the throat to mimic the effect of taking cocaine for drinkers.

The Cocaine drink, due to be distributed in the UK by Netherlands-based Top Drinks, will take its place among a variety of drinks which have become popular in the UK as a quick energy boost or as an alcohol mixer.  A study found that men who combined energy drinks with alcohol felt alert and sober, even though they were actually drunk.  And since both alcohol and energy drinks dehydrate the body, when combined they can cause the body’s fluids to drop to dangerous levels.

The high caffeine content of energy drinks has worried health experts in the wake of damning reports of its negative long-term effects, particularly on young people, at who energy drinks are marketed. Cocaine has 250% more caffeine than market leader, Red Bull; the equivalent of seven cups of strong coffee. Red Bull has 80mg of caffeine in a 250ml can, whereas Cocaine has 280mg in a similarly sized can.

Posted: 10/9/2008 1:51:00 PM

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Strawberry Quick - rumor or fact?

There have been e-mails circulating on the internet regarding flavored crystal meth products being sold to children.  One such example is, "New drug in Schools...Please pass this on to your friends, neighbors, grandchildren, schools, clubs, etc.  This is a new drug known as 'strawberry quick ' and is the cause of a very scary scenario in the schools right now that we all need to be aware of. This is a type of crystal meth going around that looks like strawberry pop rocks (the candy that sizzles and 'pops' in your mouth). It also smells like strawberry and it is being handed out to kids in school yards. They are calling it strawberry meth or strawberry quick. Kids are ingesting this thinking that it is candy and being rushed off to the hospital in dire condition. It also comes in chocolate, peanut butter, cola, cherry, grape and orange. Please instruct your children not to accept candy from strangers and even not to accept candy that looks like this from a friend (who may have been given it and believed it is candy) and to take any that they may have to a teacher, principal, etc. immediately."

But just how legitimate these claims are is in question.  According to Snopes.com, it is partially true in that "Some drug dealers sell colored crystal methamphetamine that coincidentally resembles "Pop Rocks" or other forms of candy" but go on to say that the claim that "Some dealers sell crystal methamphetamine that has been flavored in order to make it more appealing to children" is False.

In recent news, the Vancouver Courier states, "Detective Jim Fisher, Vancouver Police Department Drug/Gang Section Operational Intelligence Coordinator, said the flavoured crystal meth advisory has circulated online since January 2007, but there appears to be no truth to it. The drug section has not recovered or been made aware of any methamphetamine flavoured with anything resembling Strawberry Quik.

"We've done some research on it because [the question] comes up fairly frequently for us," he said.

Although methamphetamine can have a purplish hue if it was manufactured using red phosphorus, it's a naturally occurring colour and is not added by dealers for appeal, he added.

Health Canada drug analysis labs, which test drug seizures, have confirmed they have never had any such sample submitted to them for analysis, according to Fisher.

The origin of the hoax hasn't been established, but it may be that an original warning gets misinterpreted as it's passed along. "It could have been something where people are saying, 'Hey, this is being said. It doesn't exist, but be careful,' and then it gets morphed into, 'This exists and be careful.'"

And according to the DEA, "Although flavored “hard” drugs (notably “strawberry meth”) have received extensive press in the mass media, to date very few such exhibits have been submitted to the DEA Laboratories."

However, "The DEA Western Laboratory (San Francisco, California) recently received an exhibit consisting of 13 tied, clear plastic bags containing pink, off-white, and white powders, all with a generic, sweet, fruity odor, purported strawberry, lemon, and coconut flavored cocaines. To date, the various exhibits submitted in this case are the first examples of “flavored cocaine” seen at the Western Laboratory.

Bottom line, according to the Vancouver Courier article, is "There's no harm in warning [kids about drugs]. But if they [parents] feel they need to warn them about methamphetamine, the truth is the most common way it's being distributed right now is as a portion of ecstasy. Most buyers aren't aware that the majority of pills police have seized and analyzed contain another drug besides MDMA [ecstasy], and the majority of the pills contain a significant amount of meth. Other drugs found in ecstasy pills include ketamine, cocaine and ephedrine."

Posted: 9/8/2008 2:07:00 PM

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