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Justin Minyard, a 34 year old Army veteran, suffered back pain from 9/11 relief efforts at the Pentagon and falling out of a chopper in Afghanistan. But instead of exploring alternatives, doctors at the Department of Veteran's Affairs prescribed him opiate painkillers for his chronic back pain and set him on the path to addiction.
Minyard vividly remembers the day when his three year old daughter brought him a Christmas present as he lay on the couch. "My eyes rolled to the back of my head. You could see only the whites of my eyes," Minyard recalled. "I was just not responding."
During that point in his life, he says there was only one question on his mind: "When is the next pill?"
When he was deployed to Iraq, he injected anti-inflammatory drugs given to him by military doctors. Upon arriving home, the Department of Veteran's affairs put him right back on the pills. "There were better options to treat my pain, and those weren't presented to me first," he said. "The priority was treating me the fastest, seemingly least expensive way, and it was the most detrimental."
Veteran Affairs' records show that other options for treating pain are limited. They only employed 115 pain specialists in the entire United States, or one specialist per 50,000 veterans.
While Minyard has been able to get a spinal cord stimulator for his pain and has stayed opiate-free for two years, he fears for vets who are still on painkillers. In 2012, the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that Veteran's Affairs doctors wrote more than 6.5 million prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine.
"That's a staggering number to me," Minyard said. "It's a pretty big pool of people that are being affected."
Researchers have discovered that the drug topiramate, previously approved for treatment of seizure disorders and migraine prevention, may also prove beneficial in curbing issues of problem drinking among alcoholics.
The drug has assumed something of a cure-all status among members of the international scientific community, who have published studies which cite its effectiveness in not only aiding drinkers who seek to permanently curb their alcohol consumption, but also in the treatment of cocaine dependence and as a weight loss tool, though with significant side effects.
The most recent study was conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. They observed a group of 138 heavy drinkers – that is to say, individuals who consumed five or more drinks on one or more occasions over the course of a 30-day period – and gave half of the study group topiramate on a daily basis for 12 weeks, while the other half received a placebo. Both groups were also given counseling to reduce drinking.
Results showed that the patients who received the topiramate had not only fewer days of heavy drinking, but also reported more days of total abstinence than the placebo group. However, additional studies revealed that the drug proved most effective among European-Americans, whose genetic makeup included a receptor for glutamate, an amino acid neurotransmitter. The study ultimately suggested that by targeting neurotransmitters and enzyme systems, future research may yield a target for future medications dedicated to reducing heavy drinking.
“This study represents an important next step in understanding and treating problem drinking,” said Dr. Henry R. Kranzler, director of Penn’s Center for Studies of Addiction and lead author on the study. “Our study is the first we are aware of in which topiramate was evaluated as an option for patients who want to limit their drinking to safe levels, rather than stop drinking altogether.”
Despite the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, Los Angeles is looking to treat vaping devices like regular old smokes, which means the city would ban them from work places, parks, beaches, and outdoor restaurant seating. But instead of citing potential threats to health, like secondhand smoke, the ban's advocates are making a social argument, stating that allowing public consumption of e-cigarettes could destigmatize or even normalize the act of smoking.
"We don't want to risk e-cigarettes undermining a half century of successful tobacco control," said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Fielding fears that allowing vaping to become popular could serve as a gateway to kids going back to regular smoking. The council will allow exceptions to the workplace ban for "vaping lounges," where users can inhale to their heart's content.
The new law has the support of the American Lung Association and Americans for Non-Smoker's Rights, but e-cigarette companies and business leaders are naturally opposed. "You should have the facts straight and the science right before you regulate e-cigarette use," said Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
E-cigarette vendors have argued that such a law would put too many restrictions on what they describe as a quit-smoking product. If purchasing or using electronic cigarettes becomes to difficult, they said, then those trying to quit smoking could turn back to cigarettes out of convenience.
Supporters of the law cite a CDC study that found candy-flavored e-cigarettes appealed to middle and high school students and other studies that found that vaping liquids may contain heavy metals and formaldehyde.
"Even if it were determined later on that the emissions from e-cigarettes aren't dangerous to a bystander in an outside environment, the existence of devices like this … in public places does threaten to renormalize the behavior of smoking," said City Attorney Mike Feuer.
The wave of heroin addiction that has gripped parts of the United States, particularly in the northeast, can be traced directly to the rise of Oxycontin and other opioid painkillers that have been prescribed since the 1990s.
A recent article in the Huffington Post drew a direct correlation between the drug’s dominance in the medical marketplace – spurred by an aggressive promotional campaign by its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, which underplayed its addictive properties – and the harrowing rise in heroin use a decade later. Oxycontin soon became a $1 billion industry based on this false information, which Purdue would later pay more than $600 million in fines for misleading medical professionals and the public at large about its powerful addictive properties.
As doctors began to reduce availability of the drug and other oxycodone-based opioids – a situation exacerbated by the drastic measures of the Drug War, where federal and local authorities cracked down on so-called pill mills – addictions to Oxycontin and other opioids exploded across America, especially in suburbs and other areas not normally associated with heavy drug use. But as pills became increasingly more difficult to obtain, even through illegal means, addicts turned to street heroin, which offered a cheaper and stronger high. A 2013 study from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, which noted that four in five individuals transitioned to heroin after abusing non-medical pain relief medication (NPRM), drove home the connection between the two drugs in the starkest of terms.
The relationship between opioids and heroin has received renewed attention in recent weeks due to the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who reportedly underwent treatment for prescription drug abuse in early 2013 before his heroin-related death on February 2, 2014. His death, however, is just one of thousands of equally tragic stories occurring all across the United States. Overdose deaths have increased for more than a decade, with more than 125,000 lives claimed by opioid overdoses during that period.
Sonny Dean, the father of infamous “Craigslist Killer” Miranda Barbour, has given his first public interview and declared that she has been addicted to heroin since the age of 14.
Barbour, 19, is currently in a Pennsylvania jail and facing the death penalty after murdering Troy LaFerrara by stabbing him 20 times with the help of her husband, Elytte. She told a local reporter earlier this month that she was responsible for dozens of other murders that began six years ago when she joined a Satanic cult. Barber claimed she “stopped counting” after 22 murders, but FBI investigators have said there is no evidence she is responsible for any other deaths.
Dean said that his daughter lives “in a fantasy world” and that while she may have been responsible for more than one murder, there is no way she is a serial killer. “Believe very little of what Miranda says. She has a long history of extreme manipulation and dishonesty," he told the Daily Item. “She is good at manipulating people. She is the most manipulative person I have ever known.”
Barbour’s father also revealed that she had been to inpatient treatment numerous times for heroin addiction, but managed to literally talk her way out of the centers on every occasion. But Dean said he refused to let Barbour out of the house unsupervised when she became addicted, which means there is no possible way she could have carried out dozens of murders. “Once all this stuff with drugs started happening, we locked our house down,” he said. “She wouldn’t have had the chance to do any of these things she said.”
Barbour also has a one-year-old son and the father of their child is currently deceased, which has raised questions over whether she also killed him as well. But while she doesn’t want the death penalty because she believes it’s “cruel and inhumane punishment,” Miranda said she believes she should spend the rest of her life in jail. “I know I will never see my husband again and I have accepted that,” she said. “I know I had a 20-year window where I would possibly get out of jail and I don’t want that to happen. If I were to be released, I would do this again.”