More deaths from flu than opioids in 2017

In 2017, the US saw about 50,000 deaths from opioid overdoses. As we’ve noted previously, that’s nearly as many US service men and women who were killed in the entire Vietnam war. But it still falls well short of the 80,000 who died from the flu in the US last year. According to WebMD, that’s more than double what’s expected in a bad flu season. As you may recall from the news last year, there was a poor fit between the active flu strains and the vaccines people were getting. Experts are expecting a milder year in 2018 and are urging people to get vaccinated. I will if you will.

US opioid scripts take a dive

A new study by IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science found that 12% fewer units of prescription opioids were dispensed in 2017 than in 2016. That’s the largest single-year decline since the drug peaked in 2011. On top of that, the largest declines were seen in the US states hit hardest by the scourge (New England region, West Virginia, Pennsylvania). Authors of the study attribute the decline to changing clinical guidelines, new legislation, altered reimbursement practices and broader public awareness of the addictive and destructive nature of the drug. That’s great news, of course, but overdoses from their follow-on illicit ancestors are still running rampant. Speaking of… here’s the Wikipedia page for fentanyl.  Nasty stuff. Just ask Michael Jackson, Prince, Tom Petty…

Kratom crap-shoot

Kratom’s back in the news and—big surprise—not in a positive light. While there’s no research to support what people claim it does, proponents of the plant say it can help with opioid addiction, relieve pain and increase energy. But this isn’t actually an article to debunk another junk medicine, because that’s not the reason the FDA’s mad about it (this time.) The agency has used their mandatory recall power for the first time to warn consumers about kratom products made by Triangle Pharmanaturals, which are apparently rife with salmonella. Multiple cases of infection have been traced back to consuming kratom in the past couple years, and apparently the FDA’s finally had enough. Figures that a company hawking a dubious product can’t even make it properly.

Naloxone for the people

The US Surgeon General has issued a nationwide advisory calling for more people to get training and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone. The life-saving drug can be administered by shot or nasal spray, and blocks the brain’s response to opioids while allowing the patient to breathe again. So yeah, America’s doctor is saying this drug can save lives in a bad epidemic, what’s the big deal? Well one of the big points of the announcement is to loosen up restrictions for prescribing the drug to family and friends of opioid abusers. It also argues for wider application of ‘Good Samaritan’ laws, so that someone doesn’t worry about getting arrested for calling 911 when observing an overdose. You know what they say, no good deed…

Marijuana Mythbusting

This week, two studies in Addiction took aim at some arguments medical marijuana supporters and detractors use when fighting for and against that “dank chronic” (dope list of marijuana slang here.) Medical marijuana supporters argue that opioid abusers would substitute marijuana for pain relief, leading to fewer opioid overdoses. While studies do identify a correlation between a decline in overdose deaths and the passage of medical marijuana legislation, the first study determined that the evidence doesn’t support the laws causing the drop. On the flip side, detractors warn that one of the evils of passing this legislation is more adolescents picking up a pot habit. While that could be bad, the second study couldn’t identify that trend actually occurring in legal weed states.

Revenge for the Opium Wars?

In the 1800s, the Chinese Qing dynasty found itself on the defending end of two wars designed to open closed Chinese ports to foreign trade, and essentially get the Chinese people addicted to opium. Fast forward to 2018, and one of the aggressors in those wars—the US—finds its own population dangerously addicted to opium. Well, opium derivatives at least. A US Senate investigation reported last Wednesday that Chinese e-commerce sellers are a huge supplier for carfentanil, which is: 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, mainly used as an elephant tranquillizer, and considered for use as a chemical weapon. And it’s coming right through US ports via the US Postal Service, who haven’t fully implemented suspicious package detection systems. So that’s fun!