Drug Deaths Hit All-Time High in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic of drug abuse and drug-related overdose deaths

Pennsylvania is one of the hardest hit states when it comes to drug use. The opioid epidemic that we see all across the nation is especially rampant in this north-eastern state, and that means that more and more people are dying drug-related deaths. Despite the attempts of Pennsylvania law enforcement and public officials to reduce the epidemic, the number of drug overdose deaths in the state has risen significantly in the last years.

In fact, more than 4,600 Pennsylvania residents died of drug overdoses in 2016, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA will release its report, “Analysis of Drug-Related Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania, 2016,” by the end of June. However, they have released some key findings and they are staggering. The total number of deaths due to a drug overdose, 4,642, itself is a 37% increase over the total for 2015 and equates to over a dozen overdose fatalities each day.

Officials from the DEA have expressed concern about the state of drug abuse in Pennsylvania. Gary Tuggle, DEA special agent for the Philadelphia field division said, “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic of drug abuse and drug-related overdose deaths that impacts every corner of the state and all of its residents. The collection, analysis, and dissemination of this data contribute to a robust information sharing environment amongst the fields of law enforcement, public health, treatment, and public policy, all of whom are working together to address the drug crisis in Pennsylvania.”

Opioid drugs, prescription and illicit, were responsible for 85% of the overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. Taking over as the number one killer is fentanyl and fentanyl-containing substances, with over half of the overdose deaths being attributed to the drug. Last year’s number one, heroin, is second in the 2016 report findings with approximately 45% of drug-related deaths resulting from its use. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, and 30-50 times stronger than heroin. It is often mixed with heroin or other substances, sometimes without the users’ knowledge, often causing a fatal outcome.  

Other key findings in the DEA report show that those with the highest risks of dying from an opioid-related overdose are in the 25 to 34 years old age bracket, with a 970% increase in their chances of heroin-related death. The second most at risk group is the 15 to 24 age bracket, with a 380% increase in their chances of a fentanyl-related overdose death.

The key findings that have been released provide a preview of the full DEA report that will follow in a few weeks. The full report will provide a breakdown of drug overdose deaths by county. Data that has been released shows that there is a significant increase in fentanyl use in Allegheny County, home of metropolitan Pittsburg. The drug was found in as many as two-thirds of the drug overdose fatality cases in and around Pittsburg, and in about half of the drug deaths in Philadelphia.

The data for the DEA report was gathered from district attorneys and coroners across the state, and the final report is being completed along with the School of Pharmacy at the University of Pittsburg. It’s estimated that there were over 60,000 drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2016.

In addition to Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties, Lehigh and Northampton Counties have also seen a dramatic surge in drug overdose deaths. The 2015 DEA report showed a statewide increase in drug overdose deaths of 23% over the previous year. In Lehigh County, the 2015 overdose death rate was the 15th highest rate among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, with 32 deaths per 100,000 residents.

However, in the 2016 report, Lehigh County’s numbers were significantly higher. In fact, the drug overdose deaths for Lehigh and Northampton Counties in 2016 are nearly equal to the deaths reported for the previous two years combined.

Northampton County reported 58 drug overdose deaths involving heroin or other opiate drugs. That is an increase of one death per week in the county and just one death short of the county’s total for 2014 and 2015 combined.

In Lehigh County, there were 38 opiate-related deaths and 73 deaths that were related to a combination of substances in 2016, making the total for the year 111 deaths. That is close to the 2015 and 2014 combined total of 116 drug-related deaths in the county.

Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf stated that the new data “reinforce that Pennsylvania and the federal government must fight even harder to combat the damage done to our families and communities by heroin and opioids and the disease of addiction.”

“We must continue to put resources into treatment and tools for law enforcement, health professionals and families on the front lines, while also expanding education and prevention programs and ending the stigma of addiction,” Wolf said.

The Governor has called for funding to continue for the 45 outpatient treatment programs statewide, county-level efforts, and dedicated funding for naloxone (an opioid drug overdose antidote). Governor Wolf has also discouraged reducing funding for Medicaid, which he says has assisted in substance abuse treatment across the state.

Serenity Fights For You and With You

At Serenity at Summit, we pride ourselves in going above and beyond what other drug and alcohol detox facilities will do to ensure you leave our facilities a whole and new individual.

We equip you with the steps you will need to remain clean in more time than not demanding and stressful world.

Through our hands-on inpatient and outpatient treatment programs monitored by caring professionals who produce a work ethic unparallel to ensure that each person who walks through our doors will leave free from addiction for a lifetime. Call our behavioral health professionals today at 844-326-4514 to speak to substance abuse expert about your treatment options.

Investigation Reveals Drug Use By Navy SEALs Says NJ Addiction Treatment Center

A CBS News report says the Navy’s Special Ops, including the SEALs, has a broad drug problem, reports Serenity at Summit, a NJ addiction treatment center.

The rate of illegal drug use among SEALs has climbed so high, the SEALs stopped all training in December 2016 to order a safety stand-down to address the issue.

One SEAL commander saw five SEALs kicked off teams over a three-month period due to illegal drug use.

Elite Units Not Subject to Routine Drug Testing

Although SEALs are supposed to be randomly drug tested just like service members in regular units, they are often exempted from testing due to the nature of their jobs. When a mission takes them far away from their home base, it’s often impractical for military officials to administer a drug test.

When the Navy issued its safety stand-down in December 2016, it required all SEALs to submit to a urinalysis. Some SEALs told CBS News that they hadn’t been tested in years. One whistleblower claimed that fellow SEALs had tested positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana, and ecstasy.

tFor its part, the Navy disputes the CBS report, claiming that while the drug use rate among SEALs is higher than the average rate within the entire Navy, the drug use problem among the SEALs is not widespread.

A spokesperson for the Naval Special Warfare Command said that the Navy conducted surprise drug tests on all 6,364 Naval Special Warfare units after Thanksgiving and received just seven positive drug tests.

The Navy also claims that it analyzed 71,436 uranalysis samples conducted between August 2014 and February 2017 and receive 186 positive samples — a 0.2 percent occurrence rate. The Navy says the majority of the positive samples contained marijuana and cocaine.

Contact Summit Behavioral Health Today

Whether you’re a military veteran or currently serving in the armed forces, you don’t have to suffer with a drug or alcohol problem in silence. Help is available. By getting the treatment you need today, you can stop the cycle of substance abuse and relapse. Summit Behavioral Health has treatment programs for alcoholism, drug abuse, prescription drug addiction, and co-occurring disorders.

Summit Behavioral Health has both inpatient and outpatient programs that help people overcome both prescription and illegal drug addiction, as well as alcohol abuse disorders. Our programs are personalized and medically supervised. Give us a call today at 1-844-643-3869 to speak to a substance abuse professional about your treatment goals and options.

Teen Drug Use – Marijuana, Alcohol, Prescription Drug Facts!

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, recently published the results of its 2016 survey on teen drug use.

The survey is important, as it gives researchers and behavioral health experts insights into drug use trends among teens and young people. Here are some noteworthy stats from the survey, which includes data from 45,473 students in both public and private schools across the U.S.

  • Marijuana use — 68.9% of high school students said they don’t view marijuana use as harmful, however, 68.5% said they disapprove of regular marijuana smoking.

Related Blog Post:

Drug Rehab Center Asks Is Marijuana Use Really Drug Abuse?

  • Alcohol use among high school students declined in 2016, however, a third of high school seniors report drinking alcohol.

Related Blog Post:


Why Underage Drinking Is So Bad

  • Prescription and over-the-counter drug use — One positive stat to come out of the survey concerns drug use among teens. Misuse of prescription drugs among high school seniors has dropped steadily over the past five years, and drug use is at its lowest across all grades. Among students in grade 12, misuse of Vicodin has decreased from 7.5% in 2012 to 2.9% in 2016.

Related Blog Post:

Is Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Leading To Heroin Addiction?

Illicit drug use other than marijuana among students in grades 8, 10, and 12 has reached historic lows. Among eighth graders, illegal drug use has dropped to 5.4%. For students in grade 10, illicit drug use fell to 9.8%, and for twelfth grade students the illegal drug rate decreased to 14.3%. Alcohol use and binge drinking also declined across all grades surveyed.

On the other hand, the survey found that students’ perceived risk of harm also declined, which means that teens don’t view drugs and alcohol as being as dangerous as they used to.

Contact Serenity at Summit Today

Although the most recent numbers behind teen alcohol and drug use are encouraging, there are still students using these substances. The proliferation of social media has made it easier than ever before for young people to be negatively influenced. If you suspect your child has been using drugs or alcohol, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Early intervention is key to helping a young person recover from a substance abuse disorder.

Serenity at Summit teen addiction offers residential and outpatient programs, as well as medical detox, to help teens and young adults overcome prescription and illegal drug and alcohol addiction. Give us a call today at 844-432-0416 to speak to a substance abuse professional about a treatment plan designed to help your son or daughter achieve long-term sobriety.

An Overview Of The Rat Park Addiction Study

In 1978, Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander conducted an experiment that would revolutionize the way we understand drug addictions. With funding from Simon Fraser University, Alexander and his colleagues built a large colony to house rats, with more than 200 times the floor space of a standard lab rat cage. This “Rat Park” experiment culminated in the leading breakthrough of the time: the underlying connection between a person’s environment and addiction.

Pitfalls With Previous Rat-Based Studies On Drug Addiction

The Rat Park Experiment aimed to prove that psychology – a person’s mental, emotional, and psychosocial states – was the greatest cause of addiction, not the drug itself. Prior to Alexander’s experiment, addiction studies using lab rats did not alter the rat’s environment. Scientists placed rats in tiny, isolated cages and starved them for hours on end. The “Skinner Boxes” the rats lived in 24/7 allowed no room for movement and no interaction with other rats.

Using the Skinner Boxes, scientists hooked rats up to various drugs using intravenous needles implanted in their jugular veins. The rats could choose to inject themselves with the drug by pushing a lever in the cage. Scientists studied drug addiction this way, using heroin, amphetamine, morphine, and cocaine. Typically, the rats would press the lever often enough to consume large doses of the drugs. The studies thus concluded that the drugs were irresistibly addicting by their specific properties.

However, rats by nature are social, industrious creatures that thrive on contact and communication with other rats. Putting a rat in solitary confinement does the same thing as to a human, it drives them insane. If prisoners in solitary confinement had the option to take mind-numbing narcotics, they likely would. The Skinner Box studies also made it incredibly easy for rats to take the drugs, and it offered no alternatives. The need for a different type of study was clear, and Alexander and his colleagues stepped up to the plate.

Details Of The Rat Park Study

Pitfalls With Previous Rat-Based Studies On Drug AddictionThe goal of Alexander’s Experiment was to prove that drugs do not cause addiction, but that a person’s living condition does. He wanted to refute other studies that connected opiate addiction in laboratory rats to addictive properties within the drug itself. Alexander constructed Rat Park with wheels and balls for play, plenty of food and mating space, and 16-20 rats of both sexes mingling with one another. He tested a variety of theories using different experiments with Rat Park to show that the rat’s environment played the largest part in whether a rat became addicted to opiates or not.

In the experiment, the social rats had the choice to drink fluids from one of two dispensers. One had plain tap water, and the other had a morphine solution. The scientists ran a variety of experiments to test the rats’ willingness to consume the morphine solution compared to rats in solitary confinement. They found that:

  • The caged rats ingested much larger doses of the morphine solution – about 19 times more than Rat Park rats in one of the experiments.
  • The Rat Park rats consistently resisted the morphine water, preferring plain water.
  • Even rats in cages that were fed nothing but morphine water for 57 days chose plain water when moved to Rat Park, voluntarily going through withdrawal.
  • No matter what they tried, Alexander and his team produced nothing that resembled addiction in rats that were housed in Rat Park.

Based on the study, the team concluded that drugs themselves do not cause addictions. Rather, a person’s environment feeds an addiction. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, hopelessness, and lack of control based on unsatisfactory living conditions make a person dependent on substances. Under normal living conditions, people can resist drug and alcohol addiction.

Psychology And Drug Addictions

At its time of publication, the Rat Park Experiment argued what was not a popular theory. Scientists had for years “proved” that substances themselves caused an addiction, an idea that anti-drug campaigns and companies took and ran with. Many experts refuted the Rat Park theory, even after subsequent studies came to the same conclusions. Simon Fraser University shut down the experiment, and for a while, it was more or less forgotten.

Today, psychologists and substance abuse experts acknowledge the fact that drug and alcohol addiction involves transmitters within the brain. Certain chemicals latch on to different receptors in the brain, altering the way users think and feel. The user becomes addicted to the high he or she experiences while on the substance, and soon has to use it all the time to cope with other feelings. The more neuroscience discovers about addictions and the brain, the more physicians can find solutions to treat addictions.

What scientists today realize is that addiction is as mental as it is physical. Humans do not have to be physically isolated, like the rats in the Skinner Boxes, to become addicted to substances. Emotional isolation is enough to produce the same affects. Humans cope with their feelings of dislocation with drugs and alcohol, finding an “escape” or a way to smother the pain. A human’s cage may be invisible, but it is no less there.

How Rat Park Affects Treatments Today

Details Of The Rat Park StudyModern rehabilitation and detoxification centers advocate the need for mind, body, and spirit healing to recover from an addiction. Rat Park provided scientists with a significant jumping-off point for research into the affects of addiction on the brain and how a person’s mental and emotional state feeds an addiction. Today, addiction and treatment experts widely recognize the main conclusion of the Rat Park studies: addiction is largely psychological.

Alexander, et al.’s Rat Park Experiment and similar studies contribute greatly to our current understanding of addiction and recovery. These experiments lead top treatment experts to advocate the need for a comprehensive recovery experience that addresses the mental and emotional needs of recovering addicts, not just their physical needs.

For your best chance at beating an addiction, you need an environmental change. A holistic approach to detox addresses a person’s mental, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, as well as his or her medical/physical needs during substance withdrawal and recovery.

For more on holistic therapy and treatment, click the link below.

Holistic Blog Posts

What Neuroscience Says About Addiction

Drug addiction research has made impressive strides in the last few decades, thanks to enhanced issue awareness and new tools and technologies. Neuroscientists have pinpointed the initial molecular sites for virtually every major drug, including heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. We now understand the elements within the brain that contribute to addictions, such as the chemical messenger systems and the areas in charge of emotion and motivation. As research progresses, scientific evidence confirms the fact that addiction truly is a neurological disorder.

Chemical Substances And The Brain

As drug addiction continues to take an enormous toll nationwide, both in the number of human lives and economic losses, scientists increase their efforts to fully understand how drugs and alcohol affect the brain. In scientific terms, drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder. Drug-taking behaviors exist based on genetics and societal-environmental conditions: some people are more prone to addiction than others. Psychologists study how individual characteristics affect drug abuse, such as anxiety and depression.

Neuroscientists focus on the relationship between brain function and behavior. When it comes to researching drug and alcohol’s affects on the brain, neuroscientists investigate the characterization of dopamine nerve cells and the brain’s natural reward system. They study the role of dopamine in learning and incentive-based motivation and how this encourages an addiction. Investigators at Cambridge collaborate with researchers at the Clinical School to discover that dysregulation of dopamine in the brain is responsible for behavioral changes such as compulsive gambling.

Current research at Cambridge focuses on the connection between drug addiction and habit-learning that the dorsal striatum (a structure of the brain) controls. Researchers predict that drug cravings stem from memory cues that the brain associates with the substance. By looking at the neural basis for these memories, neuroscientists hope to disrupt them and break the cycle of drug addiction and relapse. Understanding how substance abuse affects the brain reaffirms that addiction is in fact a neurological disorder and should therefore be treated with a neuroscientific approach to healing.

Neurotransmitters And Substance Abuse

Neurotransmitters And Substance Abuse When physicians recognize addictions as neurological disorders, they can better understand what types of treatments will be most effective to treat addiction. Neurons in the brain are responsible for human behaviors such as physical movement, thoughts, and sensations. They’re also responsible for addiction behaviors. The brain’s anatomy and chemistry produces behaviors. When something changes within the brain, it changes behaviors.

Brain structures affect behavior, and personal experiences affect brain structure. Thus, a severe trauma results in the physical loss of brain cells in the hippocampus, or the brain’s memory-retrieving and memory-forming center. This in turn leads to depression, which then can make the sufferer turn to substances for relief. With an estimated 300 neurotransmitters in the human brain and scientific data for only 50 of them, there’s still much that neuroscientists don’t understand. However, it’s globally recognized that there are parts of the brain involved in addiction.

How Neuroscience Aids In Addiction Recovery

A neuroscientific approach to addiction recovery can target the brain’s pleasure centers and potentially mimic a drug’s affect on the brain without introducing chemical substances. This approach is much safer and more effective than expecting an addict to quit “cold turkey,” as it moves him or her more easily through withdrawal and detoxification. Recovery is a time to retrain the brain, conditioning it to function without the substances it has grown accustomed to from addiction.

Once physicians grasp that addiction is a neurological disorder, they can better treat the problem with medications that allow the brain to reestablish its natural equilibrium. Some addicts may need long-term medications to counteract a genetic tendency toward substance abuse, or to help the brain compensate for the lack of substances introduced in the system. The main goal of neuroscience and addiction is to break the stigma that addiction is a “moral deficiency” and instead spread awareness of its true identity as a neurological condition.

Neuroscientific addiction recovery involves psychological intervention therapy to change behaviors and mindsets. This includes early onset therapies and interventions. Early detection followed by fast and efficient interventions can significantly improve a person’s chance of avoiding long-term neurological, emotional, and behavioral changes associated with substance abuse. Repeated drug use continuously alters the functions of neurotransmitters in the brain, making it more and more difficult to regain balance the longer an addict uses.

Treatment efforts must be long term, such as an addict joining a group or taking non-addictive medications until the brain readjusts to life without a substance addiction. The more neuroscience progresses, the better our chances are of treating addictions effectively.

Stay up-to-date with all news surrounding drugs and alcohol addiction

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Rehab Fraud: Treatment Centers Found Cycling Addicts Through Programs For Profit

With the growing problem of opioid addiction across the United States, there are many individuals who are struggling with addiction and in need of treatment. While most rehab programs that provide professional treatment are legitimate and focused on delivering quality care, there are sadly some that are profiting off addicts and their insurance policies.

It’s an unfortunate reality that a few treatment providers in areas with high numbers of addicts, such as Florida and California, are more focused on generating profits than supporting long-term recovery.

Private Insurance Companies Are Feeding The Fire

Fraudulent claims for addicts escalated tremendously after the passing of the 2008 Parity Act and the launch of Obamacare, which enables nearly every U.S. citizen to have access to recovery programs. Less-than-legitimate treatment centers began using “marketers” who act like headhunters to find addicts and bring them into their facilities. Supposedly, these marketers can make $500 per person they bring in.

With each new addict that enters detox treatment, the treatment facility gets paid through insurance. Payment continues through detox, rehab and outpatient treatment. In other words, there’s plenty of financial incentive in keeping patients in these programs and unfortunately even relapsing. In a story from the online source BuzzFeed News, some of these marketers reportedly give “recruits” money for drugs so they test positive on urine tests when checking into treatment. Others even provide incentives, including drugs, to keep them relapsing over and over again.

Cracking Down On Rehab Fraud

Unfortunately, there are currently few resources to track marketers or the facilities who are using them to increase profits from insurance claims. Even if there were more of an effort to identify marketers, prosecutors would have a difficult time in court because the victim is also a co-conspirator.

In some cases, addicts are being implicated by getting kickbacks in exchange for insurance information. Some treatment facilities are offering addicts perks like cellphones, gift cards and free rent if they agree to sign themselves into a treatment program. This is a violation of anti-brokering law. Some of these facilities charge insurance companies hundreds of dollars per day, per patient.

Some marketers are generating big incomes brokering these deals. A few are making enough to open their own treatment facilities where they can profit even more. And, the cycle continues to perpetuate.

Stuck with bills generated by these scams, some insurance companies are pulling out of state health exchanges. Nationally recognized insurer Cigna is one such company that recently chose to pull out of the Florida health care exchange, largely because of this growing problem. It’s likely that others will follow suit if a solution isn’t found.

Validating A Treatment Facility

If you’re looking for a treatment center, it’s wise to research the validity and quality of the treatment facilities you’re considering. Not all are created equal. Here are a few things to check out:

  • Program Accreditation and Licensing: Make sure the program is accredited by the state it is located in. The professional staff should also be licensed, well-trained addiction specialists and treatment professionals.
  • Success Rate: Legitimate treatment facilities will have some statistics on their success rates, ideally provided by a third-party agency.
  • Types of Services to Prevent Relapse: A qualified treatment center should have an aftercare program or at least valid referrals to other recovery services and support groups in the community.

Choose The Right Program

Do you have questions on how to choose the right treatment program for yourself or a loved one? Call to speak to an addiction specialist now. We pride ourselves on being above the curve and doing everything the right way. Our clients come first, and it shows with our success rate and stories.

Curious about the benchmarks you need to look for in a drug and alcohol rehab center?

5 Things To Look For In A Rehab

Has Charitable Giving Become A Profitable Form Of Investing For Pharmaceutical Companies?

Charitable Giving Pharmaceutical Companies - Summit Behavioral HealthMartin Shkreli, the notorious ex-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, made waves last summer when he purchased the rights to Daraprim and raised its price more than 5,000 percent. Physicians use the drug to treat toxoplasmosis, a life-threatening condition that affects those with weakened immune systems (due to HIV/AIDS, etc.).

Days after Shkreli’s purchase, he contacted Patient Services Inc., a charity committed to making medical care more affordable. Shkreli wanted to create a fund for – you guessed it – patients who suffer from toxoplasmosis.

Patient Services Inc., or PSI, jumped at the opportunity, suggesting an initial donation of $22 million, including $1.6 million of its operational costs. Shkreli countered with an offer of $1 million and $80,000 of the company’s costs. This was a paltry offer, considering that Daraprim now costs $60,000 to $90,000 for six-week treatment in light of Shkreli’s price hike.

And that isn’t the worst of it.

Finding A Loophole

Prescription Drug Price Hikes Paying For It - Summit Behavioral HealthPSI is a copay charity, one of seven large ones in the U.S. health care system. It exists to offer payment assistance to the 40 million Americans who qualify for Medicare, helping them to a smaller copay and smaller up-front costs. Even with the help of copay charities, Medicare recipients were still paying around $3,000 for their Daraprim prescriptions.

American taxpayers shoulder the difference. This is where the controversy of “charitable giving” comes into play. By donating a paltry $1 million to a copay charity, Shkreli was able to collect millions more from Medicare, thanks to his own drug price hike. “Big pharma” benefits, while taxpayers and patients suffer.

The Great Charitable Giving Illusion

Many pharmaceutical companies give the illusion that they participate in charity copay for altruistic reasons. Congress recently released an internal case study of Turing Pharmaceuticals, suggesting that its patient payment programs should be “repeatedly referenced” to promote public relations. Experts explain that giving millions to these copay charities makes pharmaceutical companies look altruistic, when the opposite is actually true.

The real intent of these donations is often to deflect criticism when they hike drug prices, leaving the health care system to pick up the broken pieces.

A History Of Deceit

1.1 Billion Donated To Copay Charities - Summit Behavioral HealthDaraprim may be the most high-profile example of this charitable funding phenomenon, but it’s certainly not the first. Retrophin, another drug company run by the now-infamous Shkreli, hiked the price on Thiola, a drug intended to treat recurring kidney stones, nearly 2,000 percent. At the same time, his company gave a donation to PSI for kidney stone patient copays.

In 2010, the drug company Valeant Pharmaceuticals International bought the rights to drugs used to treat Wilson’s disease, which makes copper accumulate in the body. A successive number of price hikes over a three-year period rose the drug’s value 2,600 percent. Meanwhile, the company donated to PSI to improve its public image.

An examination of pharmaceutical-related donations provides a better look at just how much drug prices have increased in recent years. The seven major copay charities received contributions of $1.1 billion in 2014, a two-fold increase from 2010’s tally.

Experts say for that for every $1 billion in contributions, copay charities get several billions back from Medicaid and other insurers. According to Joel Hay, professor of pharmaceutical economics at University of Southern California, these companies reap the financial benefits for their supposed “charity.” Hay has served as an expert witness in several lawsuits against insurance companies attesting to that fact.

Are Copay Charities Complicit In These Acts?

Some wonder what role copay charities like PSI play in encouraging donations from pharmaceutical companies. PSI started as a passion project by Dana Kuhn, a hemophiliac who contracted HIV in the 1980s after a blood transfusion. Kuhn later became an advocate for those with hemophilia after he saw firsthand the devastating effect that medical treatment costs had on families. In 1989, he founded PSI, and didn’t collect a salary from it for the first seven years.

Congress allowed PSI to grow in scale when legislators passed Part D of Medicare expansion in 2003, allowing coverage of prescription drugs. Drug companies can give direct help to those with private insurance, but they cannot do the same for those on Medicare, because it would be giving the government “kickbacks.”

Drug makers can, however, give money to independent charities, provided the companies don’t directly influence their funding allocation. Under Medicare expansion, PSI’s revenue grew to $128 million in 2015. Kuhn is now the highest-paid copay charity executive, posting a salary of $576,000 in 2015.

Finances Don’t Lie

PAN, the nation’s largest copay charity, received contributions of $800 million last year, 95 percent of which came from the pharmaceutical industry, with five companies donating more than $70 million each. These numbers are easy to corroborate by looking at each company’s tax filings, which are public record.

Kuhn becomes defensive with the media when reporters ask about his salary and the donations his charity accepts from the pharmaceutical industry, particularly from Turing. He maintains that he only aims to help patients, drawing a comparison to giving lifejackets out to those aboard the Titanic. Anybody suggesting that he’s complicit in big pharma’s deceit is simply being cruel, he says.

Do Patients Care About The Money Trail?

The patients themselves can corroborate Kuhn’s position. Steve Ashbrook, a retired optician living in Cincinnati, says he would be dead without help from companies like PSI. In 2009, he began suffering from a rare and slow-growing form of leukemia. His doctor prescribed Gleevec, which initially cost $6,000 a month.

Before Ashbrook qualified for Medicare, Gleevec’s manufacturer, Novartis, gave him free medicine, a PR stunt known in the industry as a “compassionate product.” Once Ashbrook became a Medicare recipient, he turned to PSI for help. The charity paid his out-of-pocket costs, and Medicare paid for the rest.

To patients like Ashbrook, where the money comes from makes no difference. Some can survive because of copay charity help. Yet, the question remains: How can drug companies get away with egregious price increases?

‘Putting A Squeeze’ On Medicare

Gleevec Price Per Pill 255 - Summit Behavioral HealthExperts estimate that it costs $200 to produce a year’s worth of Gleevec. When it first hit the markets in 2001, its manufacturer priced it at $30,000 per year. Today, a year’s worth of Gleevec costs $120,000.

As the price increases, so does the tax burden on American citizens. In 2014, Medicare paid $996 million for Gleevec alone. Much of this is attributable to price increases, which rose from $139 to $255 per 400 mg pill between 2010 and 2014.

While the American public is shouldering the tax burden for these price increases, drug companies are reaping the benefits. Last year, Pfizer posted a profit margin of a whopping 42 percent, as drug prices rise at an annual average of 10 percent. Numbers such as these prompted a team of 100 oncologists to write an impassioned letter to the journal Blood, calling the actions “profiteering.”

Distancing Themselves From Drug Pricing

Charities Influence On Prescription Drug Prices - Summit Behavioral HealthCopay charities are at a loss, trying to distance themselves from the strategies that pharmaceutical companies employ. Many of them say they’re simply trying to help patients within a system that offers little sympathy. Daniel Klein, CEO of PAN, explains that charitable organizations don’t have any influence over drug prices. They simply exist to help patients cover them, he says.

Yet, these charities must exercise caution to ensure they’re not violating anti-kickback rules established by the U.S. government. If a charity supports one drug over another and both treat the same disease, executives could face $25,000 in fines and five years in prison per violation. Civil fines can be up to an additional $50,000 per violation.

Are Government Agencies Powerless To Stop The Manipulation?

The federal government has enacted regulations to ensure that these charities operate independently by requiring them to disclose details about their operations. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), they’re also required to disclose their tax filings.

However, pharmaceutical companies can also use the FOIA to sponsor funds that support their own drugs. Between 2013 and 2014, PAN had funds for 51 diseases, 41 of which we funded by a single drug company donor. Though this is not actually illegal, it illustrates how much power drug companies have over these charitable organizations.

Patient advocates maintain the government isn’t doing enough to oversee drug companies and the copay charities to which they funnel donations. The Chronic Disease Fund (CDF), which now goes by the name Good Days, is one of the seven major charity copay organizations that have come under scrutiny. In 2013, an investigative piece by Barron’s suggests the charity was creating disease funds with the express intent of helping Questcor Pharmaceuticals, one of its biggest donors. While CDF has 37 different channels for patient aid, eight point to a single drug by Questcor, called Acthar.

The Inspector General’s Office: More Harm Than Help?

Inspector General Office Monitoring Drug Prices - Summit Behavioral HealthWhile Acthar does treat a range of maladies, from infantile spasms to lupus, there are alternative therapies available, making this a violation of federal regulations. In response, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would allocate more resources to scrutinizing disease funds. It’s now the job of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to oversee these organizations in regards to Medicare spending.

Former employees of these copay charities suggest the OIG isn’t doing a thorough job. Caring Voice Coalition received $131 million in contributions last year, and a former executive implied that patients who needed donor drugs got help more quickly than those who didn’t need those particular medications. Yet, the OIG gave a “favorable” advisory opinion to the organization that same year.

Responding To The Backlash

The OIG and state prosecutors are attempting to step up oversight in response to national criticism. Gilead Sciences, Biogen and Jazz Pharmaceuticals were subpoenaed to disclose their funding of charity copay operations. U.S. attorneys for New York and Massachusetts also subpoenaed Valeant for information about its contributions.

Massachusetts is attempting to fight against the drug companies by banning the use of copay coupons available to those with private insurance. These coupons, once found all over pharmacy counters and in magazines, are no longer allowed if there’s a generic treatment available.

The Poor Fall Through The Cracks

100 Million Prescriptions Copay Coupons - Summit Behavioral HealthCopay coupons, as well as copay assistance, are not available for the uninsured. Insurance companies claim they use copays to encourage patients to use less-expensive drugs, so when these are subsidized, employers and insurers bear the burden of the drug price. This, in turn, is reflected in the premiums consumers pay.

Those in the field estimate that consumers fill around 100 million prescriptions per year using copay coupons, although most of these are available in generic forms at a lower cost. An article in The New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly two-thirds of copay coupons used in 2010 were for brand-name medications that had generic counterparts. To combat these coupons, which serve to increase the market share of name-brand drugs, federal and state officials need to address the issue at a structural level.

Looking To The Future

In the meantime, it seems that Shkreli is paying penance for at least some of his crimes, as he was arrested for securities fraud in 2015. In an December 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, he eschewed any sense of shame, embracing his role as a robber baron.

Regulations intending to protect Americans from pharmaceutical companies have turned into grist for the profit mill. Federal and state regulators must address the issue from the top down. According to Reuters, the U.S. House of Representatives is attempting to do just that. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will continue its investigation into surging drug prices through 2016. This move is a reflection of the bipartisan appeal to control pharmaceutical prices, especially as the Medicare recipient pool grows larger thanks to the Baby Boomer generation.

Tighter regulations and increased oversight of pharmaceutical companies and copay charities will be a valuable investment. Put it this way: The amount the government spends on oversight would likely be substantially less than what taxpayers pay for Medicare prescriptions.

Could Meth-Related Memories Be Erased?

It would be ground-breaking if drug-associated memories could be erased from the minds of recovering addicts. It’s an unfortunate reality that many individuals who are recovering from drug addiction continue to struggle with memories which can temp them to relapse for months and even years after rehab treatment.

The Possibility Of Meth-Associated Memory Removal

The possibility of memory removal may be in our near future. Researchers at Scripps Institute are currently working to learn more about how a particular protein, called actin, can help remove unwanted memories. This protein, which supports the connection between brain neurons, enables the brain to make new memories. During the process, it stabilizes and secures memories. Interestingly, actin doesn’t stabilize in meth-associated memories.

It is unknown why meth-related memories are more fragile than other types of memories. Some researchers believe that it could be related to levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the reward and pleasure centers in the brain.

While new research into actin opens up a wealth of opportunity in terms of developing potential treatments for addicts battling memories that can lead to relapse, there is still the challenge of developing a way to target it because the protein is essential for body functions. Simply inhibiting actin would have dangerous consequences, such as inhibiting heart function and cell development.

In a new study from the Scripps research team, a molecule, called nonmuscle myosin IIB (myosin) is being looked at for its potential in helping erase drug-associated memories. The molecule helps actin form memories, but doesn’t affect other biological functions. The team created a drug called Blebbistatin (Blebb) to disrupt myosin in meth-addicted mice. With a single dose of Blebb, meth-associated memories were erased for 30 days in meth-addicted mice.

The Potential Of Blebb As An Addiction Treatment

Researchers are only in the early stages of determining if Blebb could be beneficial in treating meth addiction in humans. There is hope that when combined with other addiction treatments, such as therapy and 12-step programs, it could help reduce or even completely eliminate the chance of relapse for meth users by taking away the power of an individual’s triggers. There may also be the potential of using the drug to treat addiction to other drugs or even help individuals overcome painful memories of trauma.

Don’t Wait To Get Help

While there are many promising advances in addiction treatment that may be available in the future, it’s important to know that addiction is a progressive disease. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, don’t wait for new treatment options or for the problem to go away on its own.

Each day, addiction strengthens, and treatment becomes more difficult. The best option is to choose an individualized addiction treatment program that addresses both the specific addiction and the underlying causes. Many people who have struggled for years from addiction go on to live fulfilling, healthy lives in recovery. The first step is asking for help. Don’t wait another day, call now to speak with an addiction specialist. Your journey of recovery can begin today!

Find out how successful the 45 year war on drugs has really been below.

The War On Drugs

The War On Drugs – How Successful Has It Truly Been?

The War On Drugs How Successful Is It ReallyThe United States has a long complicated history of fighting drug and alcohol abuse. The first anti-opium laws were passed back in the 1870s and were directed at stopping usage by Chinese immigrants. Anti-cocaine laws were implemented in the early 1900s, and laws to stop marijuana use date back to the 1910s. Of course, there was a national constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.   

The Early Years

In the 1960s, drug use increased significantly as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, political dissent and social upheaval. This led to President Nixon declaring a “war on drugs” in 1971. As part of his push to stop drug use, he increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies and pushed through measures such as no-knock warrants and mandatory sentences for drug possession. He also placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed. Interestingly, this commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. However, Nixon ignored the commission’s recommendations.

During the mid-1970s, eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession, and President Jimmy Carter lobbied for marijuana decriminalization at the federal level. In October 1977, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. However, as the 1970s came to an end the political tide had dramatically shifted.

The Drug War In The 1980s And 1990s

With Ronald Reagan as President, incarcerations for drug use dramatically increased due to the expansion of the drug war.

In fact, the number of people in jail for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to more than 400,000 in 1997.

Much of the concern over drug use was spawned by the media showing individuals addicted to the smokeable form of cocaine called “crack.” This led to President Reagan’s wife Nancy launching a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign with the slogan, “Just Say No.”

The DARE drug education program was also launched nationwide despite a lack of evidence of its effectiveness. Harsh drug policies stopped syringe access programs, which most likely contributed to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.

When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he began advocating treatment instead of incarceration. However, he quickly reverted to the drug war strategies of his Republican predecessors and actually escalated the drug war.

Moving Toward Sensible Drug Policies

At the start of the new millennium, President Bush allocated even more money to the drug war despite the fact that illicit drug use remained constant throughout the entire war on drugs and overdose fatalities were rising rapidly. President Bush also escalated the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of the Bush presidency, there were approximately 40,000 SWAT raids on Americans each year.

A Shift In Drug Policy Reform

Largely because of the lack of evidence that the war on drugs had been successful, President Barack Obama has advocated reforms, including ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs and supporting state medical marijuana laws. Yet, he has yet to shift drug control funding to a health-based approach. Public opinion is also shifting towards reforms that reduce criminalization of drug use and increase the focus on treatment and recovery.

What’s Next?

With increasing research into the causes of drug use and addiction, it’s likely that there will continue to be more reforms in drug policy, including greater availability of evidence-based treatment programs that can help individuals overcome addiction and break the cycle of this disease that is sadly often passed down generation to generation.

Do You Or A Loved One Have A Drug Addiction?

Unfortunately, many individuals are still arrested and incarcerated because of drug use. Don’t take chances. If you are struggling with addiction, help is available. Call now to learn about treatment options.

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Newsworthy Posts

New CDC Recommendations On Opioid Prescriptions Send Stern Message To Physicians Nationwide

The leading public health agency in the United States is urging doctors to stop prescribing opioids for patients suffering from chronic pain, noting that the risks of taking such drugs far outweigh the benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published updated guidelines for distributing these powerful, highly addictive drugs. Vicodin and OxyContin are two prescriptions included in the guidelines. These measures come as a result of the nation’s prescription painkiller epidemic, which the CDC says poses a compelling threat to the health of the country.

The new guidelines do, however, provide exceptions for patients receiving cancer therapy or other forms of end-of-life care. When physicians deem these drugs necessary in other situations, the CDC recommends they be in the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a statement that public health officials know of no other medications used for nonfatal conditions that contribute to more deaths. The guidelines’ aims, according to Frieden, are to decrease the rate of preventable deaths from opioids and to solidify the drugs’ status as dangerous medications that should be used sparingly.

Why The CDC?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the largest health agency in the United States. As one of the largest operating arms of the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC works to protect America from health and safety threats, both foreign and domestic. Its principal aim is to protect health security in the United States: whether those threats come from human error, are chronic or acute, preventable or curable. In this case, opioid addiction is preventable, and the CDC is working to address the growing number of deaths and injuries related to opioid use that increase with each passing year.

As part of its duties, the CDC compiles a report of causes of morbidity (conditions that decrease quality of life) and mortality (death). Its job is then to address the biggest problems that cause disability and death for Americans. Opioid addition is already at epidemic proportions in the U.S., so much so that the CDC has intervened in an effort to slow the tide of preventable deaths stemming from opioid overdose.

The State Of Opioid Addiction In The U.S.

40 Americans Die Each Day Opioid Overdose - Summit Behavioral HealthAccording to a report released by the CDC, more people died of drug-related overdoses in 2014 than any other year ever recorded. More than 60% of these deaths involved an opioid or opiate (a naturally occurring form of the drug). Since 1999, deaths from overdoses involving an opiate have quadrupled.

Between 2000 and 2014, roughly 500,000 people died from overall drug overdoses, while an average of 78 Americans die each day as a result of an opioid or opiate overdose. Of these, about 40 involve prescription opioids. In 2013, nearly 2 million people abused or admitted to being dependent on prescription opioids.

The CDC has identified these legally written prescriptions as a driving factor in this marked increase in mortality. The number of prescription-only opioids sold in the United States has quadrupled, as have deaths from drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone.

Yet, there has been no change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Officials at the CDC have traced these numbers back to physicians’ behavior of writing prescriptions. The CDC maintains that controlling the number of opioid prescriptions can drastically reduce the amount of abuse of the medications.

The Unfortunate Connection Between Opioids And Heroin

One of the main problems with opioid use is its link to illegal and dangerous drugs. Since prescription opioids are highly addictive, users will often turn to similar drugs, such as heroin, when their supply runs out. Indeed, there are an estimated 467,000 Americans currently addicted to heroin, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a department of the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

The NIH also reports that the number of prescriptions written for painkillers has skyrocketed in the past two decades, from an estimated 76 million in 1991 to more than 207 million in 2013. The United States is the leading consumer of these drugs by a large margin, accounting for nearly 100 percent of the market for hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, etc.) and 80 percent of oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin, etc.) sales.

Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

Prescription opioids affect the same brain systems as heroin and morphine do, meaning they are highly addictive drugs. When these drugs are crushed, snorted or injected, it increases their euphoric effect, but these methods also increase the likelihood of overdose.

Opioids work by attaching to proteins on nerve cells, which reduce the perception of pain. We all produce endogenous opioids naturally in our bodies; endorphins are an oft-cited example. Repeated use of synthetic opioids inhibits the production of endogenous opioids, which creates symptoms associated with withdrawal when one ceases use of prescription opioids. In order to stave off feelings of withdrawal, prescription drug abusers will often turn to similar drugs, such as heroin.

The number of past-year heroin abusers has risen steadily. In 2005, there were an estimated 380,000 heroin abusers, which jumped to 670,000 in 2012. Heroin poses a unique threat because there’s no way to guarantee the drug’s purity. Once exclusively an urban problem, heroin is affecting large and small communities alike.

Transition to intravenous drugs like heroin also leads to an increased risk for HIV and hepatitis C. In an effort to curb the heroin and opioid epidemics, the CDC’s new recommendations address opioids that are prescribed for chronic pain, intended to help those who are most vulnerable to becoming addicted.

What Are The New Recommendations On Opioid Prescriptions?

Will Doctors Follow CDC Guidelines On Opioid Prescriptions - Summit Behavioral HealthThe CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain are primarily directed to primary care physicians (PCPs) who prescribe almost half of all opiates. These guidelines provide recommendations for prescribing opioids for patients aged 18 or older. The document focuses on the use of opioids to address chronic pain, which is defined as pain lasting longer than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing. The guidelines also provide exceptions for palliative care and active cancer treatments.

According to the document, about 20 percent of patients with non-cancer pain symptoms receive an opioid prescription from their primary care physician. Given the time constraints of PCPs, prevention and appropriate treatment of chronic pain pose challenges.

The CDC now recommends that primary care providers take the following steps to minimize patient exposure to opioid drugs:

  • Use alternative therapies. Nonpharmacological intervention, such as cognitive therapy and exercise, can be used as initial treatments for chronic pain. Doctors may also recommend non-opioid therapies like nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs.
  • When opioids are warranted, prescribe the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time. Start with immediate-release versions. Don’t turn to prolonged-release versions unless absolutely necessary.
  • Follow up with the patient routinely to assess their reaction to current therapy. If the benefits do not outweigh the risks, discontinue the therapy. Optimize your treatment plans to facilitate the winding down of opioid use when indicated.

How Are These Guidelines Different Than Before?

The new CDC guidelines place a lower threshold for exercising caution in prescribing opioids. Higher doses of opioids exponentially increase the risks of overdose and death. These guidelines establish that even relatively low doses – 20 to 50 MME (morphine milligram equivalents) – can increase risk.

Older guidelines also focused most of their safety precautions on so-called high-risk patients, but now the CDC recognizes that opioids pose a threat to all patients. Current screening tools and questionnaires cannot accurately rule out risk of abuse. Therefore, the new guidelines focus not only on reducing the risk across all patient populations, but they also encourage PCPs to use new technologies like state-funded drug-monitoring programs instead.

When the risks outweigh the benefits, the new guidelines also provide more-specific instructions for tapering and discontinuing opioid use.

When Might A PCP Prescribe An Opioid For Chronic Pain?

Prescription Opioid Risks Outweigh Benefits - Summit Behavioral HealthThe CDC’s new guidelines are just that: They’re not actual rules. Physicians are not required to follow them, but the CDC hopes that these guidelines will begin to change prescribing behavior across the country.

Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, applauds the initiative. He called the move the first real attempt by the federal government to communicate that treating common ailments with hard drugs like opioids is inappropriate, even dangerous. Current prescribing behavior, he noted, was contributing to a public health crisis.

CDC Director Tom Frieden maintains that opioids should to be prescribed for an average of only three days, particularly in instances of acute pain. Taking the drugs longer than seven days is rarely necessary. Making patients aware of this is a necessary aspect of curbing opioid abuse, Kolodny says, adding that knowing about opioids’ addictive properties will encourage patients to keep these and other highly addictive drugs from piling up in their medicine cabinets.

According to the new guidelines, doctors should reassess the patient’s opioid use every three months to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks. If physicians suspect abuse, they should use evidence-based methods, like buprenorphine or methadone administration, to fight opioid addiction.

Patients should also take steps to remain advocates for their own care, according to Deborah Dowell, senior medical adviser for the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the CDC.

Dowell said patients should ask:

  • Is it necessary?
  • What are the risks?
  • How long should I expect to take this?
  • What alternative therapies are available?

Addressing The Issue’s Complexity

Like most issues confronting health professionals today, there’s no clear-cut answer for when the risks supersede the benefits. This is the principal problem facing physicians – balancing an opioid’s relief of suffering with its capacity to effect mortality negatively. Typical reasons for prescribing opioids for chronic pain might be for conditions like herniated discs or even when patients report chronic pain with no immediately apparent underlying cause.

In these cases, doctors may prescribe opioids in an attempt to provide relief to an ailing patient. Some medical professionals disagree with the new recommendations, saying they may result in certain types of patients suffering needlessly.

Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, saw the CDC’s move as disregarding pain management for cancer survivors, who experience pain that affects their daily quality of life. He noted that the pain associated with cancer can last a lifetime, not just during the active treatment phase.

A Gray Area Of The Issue Regarding Addiction

While the guidelines give exceptions to those in active cancer treatment and those receiving palliative or end-of-life care, they don’t provide explicit instructions for those who have completed treatment and who continue to feel the effects of aggressive therapies. In these cases, physicians should talk about alternative therapies and consider prescribing opioids on a case-by-case basis, the document says.

The Response From Physicians

Americas Opioid Epidemic - Summit Behavioral HealthThe CDC is facing some backlash from physicians themselves, who take exception to its characterization of opioid abuse as a doctor-driven epidemic. A scathing article on Medscape turned the buck back on regulating agencies. Some physicians insist that the current opioid epidemic was created by the government itself, which puts extreme pressure on doctors to deliver patient satisfaction. When patient satisfaction, delivered via survey, directly effects physician compensation, doctors feel the pressure to prescribe opioids for pain.

Other physicians are concerned about the fallout from such measures. One expressed concern about an increase in heroin-related deaths in the absence of addiction care infrastructure, while others speculated that patient suicides from untreated chronic pain might increase.

The Future Of Opioid Prescriptions In America

How these guidelines will ultimately affect prescribing behavior in the United States remains to be seen. Some physicians, validated by the guidelines, may take steps to reduce opioid prescriptions in their practice further, while others will continue to do business as usual.

Physicians are not beholden to these new guidelines, which are simply meant to inform primary care practice. While some physicians might balk at what they see as unnecessary regulatory intervention, others will take the recommendations to heart.

Learn about opiate/opioid addiction treatment at Summit Behavioral Health:

Opiate Treatment

3 Tips To Remain Sober On The Fourth Of July

Top Tips To Remain Sober On 4th Of JulyConsider a holiday consisting of picnics, parades and partying, fueled by alcohol and topped off with extravagant displays of small explosives and fireworks. The Fourth of July is one of the most popular, yet potentially dangerous holidays celebrated in America.

Each year, emergency rooms are filled with fireworks injuries and other mishaps due to excessive partying on America’s birthday. Alcohol impairs judgment. Fireworks, once lit, are extremely unforgiving. Mixing the two is a recipe for disaster, as emergency room staff will tell you.

The Fourth of July can also be exceptionally challenging for individuals in recovery. The all day nature of the celebration means the party starts early in the day and can go on into the night. It’s hard enough to stay sober on normal weekend days, but being in close proximity to family, friends, food and alcohol for hours on end on a special holiday can put a lot of pressure on individuals in recovery, especially those who are newly sober.

Also, many addicts and alcoholics have memories from previous years where drugs and alcohol were the center of attention at their celebration. This holiday in particular definitely requires a few proactive strategies for staying both safe and sober.

3 Tips To Remain Sober On The Fourth Of July

1. Avoid Triggers And Temptation – Stay Away From Trouble

Of course, this is good advice for any day of the week, but especially on the Fourth of July. You need to plan out your day in advance and go to any length to maintain your sobriety.

Focus on freedom – your freedom from the tyranny of addiction – and make it your independence day from drugs and alcohol.

Learn to listen to your own inner early warning system. If you are aware that certain “old” neighborhood friends, family members or relatives are going to be at a particular picnic or party, and you know they like to drink or they might trigger you or pressure you to drink, give yourself permission to skip that event. Just stay away. Don’t worry about what they might say. Be committed to your program. Sometimes the best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid trouble before it happens. Many families have complicated social dynamics where drinking or getting drunk is the standard operating procedure for gatherings and holidays.

Remember, you’re trying to break free from these destructive family cycles. Just because your relatives are getting together to go through their yearly ritual of burning hamburgers, getting drunk and shooting off fireworks doesn’t mean you have to participate.

2. Go To A Meeting

A great way to kick off your Independence Day holiday is to go to a meeting. You’ll find plenty of people, just like you, who are focused on staying sober. You’ll probably even hear a few holiday horror stories that will serve as great reminders to just stay away from potential problems on this day, along with plenty of encouragement and inspiration to stick to your program and stay on track.

3. Hang Out With Sober Friends

One of the benefits of being active in 12-step meetings is developing a new set of friends who are also committed to recovery. These are the perfect people to surround yourself with on this holiday, along with those existing friends and family who also support your recovery.

Are you someone who enjoys throwing parties or organizing get-togethers? Why not invite these positive people to join you on a morning hike or to watch a parade to celebrate your collective independence from addiction? Or, host a party that’s focused on the culinary favorites of the holiday. Celebrate the summer delights of fresh fruit, corn on the cob and grilling outdoors. Offer refreshing lemonade to wash it all down. Everything tastes better when not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

When you really think about it, the Fourth of July is the perfect holiday for those in recovery. It’s about celebrating freedom. When you’re in recovery, you’re freer than you’ve ever been before, and that’s far more valuable than partying or getting drunk will ever be.

If you have recently achieved sobriety or have been enjoying a sober lifestyle for years, the following are fun outdoor activities to do this summer.

Top 4 Sober Outdoor Summer Activities

Prince’s Opioid Demise & Famous Musicians’ Stories Who Have OD’d: Feat. Expert Insight

In April, the world was shocked to hear of Prince’s death. Many have been left wondering how someone who seemingly had it all could succumb to an opioid addiction. In the case of Prince, the specific drug was fentanyl, a painkiller that is approximately 80 times more potent than morphine and according to CNN Health, can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Sadly, Prince is not the only tragic story of a musician overdosing on drugs or alcohol. Some of the greatest musicians, as well as actors and other artists, have suffered similar fates. It’s not completely understood why those who are highly creative are prone to drug and alcohol abuse. Often, there is a complex set of circumstances that led to the problem.

In the case of Prince, he suffered from hip pain for decades which led to his use of painkillers. It still hasn’t been completely determined what role his personal physician had in the development of the addiction, but clearly there was not ample supervision of his condition. Prince also suffered personal loss in the form of divorce and the passing of his newborn baby in the late 1990s. It is unknown whether Prince may have also had co-existing disorders such as anxiety or depression which often go hand-in-hand with addiction. However, he certainly did not get the help he needed for his lethal addiction to opioid painkillers.

The Stories Of Musicians Who Suffered Overdoses

The list of musicians who have lost their lives because of addiction is long. Certainly some names on the list quickly come to mind. Michael Jackson died in 2009 from an overdose of benzodiazepine and propofol. Like Prince, Jackson also endured years of chronic pain from injury and had taken painkillers for an extended period of time.

Nearly 40 years earlier, the world of music was rocked by the untimely overdose death of Elvis Presley. With an extended history of medical problems and abusing barbiturates and Demerol, Elvis suffered a slow, steady demise in the 1970s that ultimately resulted in him dying in 1977. The autopsy and follow-up lab reports showed that 14 different drugs were found in Elvis’ system at the time of death. His doctor was charged and later exonerated of criminal liability in the singer’s death despite the fact that he was prescribed more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics in the months leading up to his death. The doctor was only suspended for three months, but was eventually found guilty of over-prescribing in a later case and had his license revoked.

The 27 Club

There is an eerie fact that a number of top musicians have died at the age of 27. This is referred to as the “27 club,” and many of the individuals in the “club” have tragic stories of drug or alcohol abuse. Between 1969 and 1971, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all passed at the age of 27 with drugs or alcohol being a primary factor in their deaths. Two and a half decades later, Kurt Cobain, the lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of Nirvana, joined the club. In 2011, singer Amy Winehouse also died at 27, increasing media attention of the 27 club.

While the 27 Club is certainly an unusual coincidence, it also draws attention to the fact that drugs and alcohol can quickly take the lives of individuals who are in the prime of their lives.

Overdose Across All Walks Of Life

In 2014, there were nearly 19,000 deaths involving prescription opioids in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Deaths involving synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, increased 79 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Why the sudden increase? Illicit opioid formulations are hitting the streets in much greater numbers. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seen a tremendous surge in fentanyl seizures. Often, these drugs are laced with heroin or vice versa, making for an even more powerful high. They are also more dangerous, leading to a growing number of overdose deaths, including that of Prince.

An Expert Weighs In On The Connection Between Celebrities And Overdose

Maria Ulmer-Chief Clinical Officer
Maria Ulmer MA, LMFT, CAADC, Chief Clinical Officer

It can be difficult to understand why such talented individuals like Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse would spiral out-of-control because of drugs or alcohol. To help provide some insight into the cycle of addiction and how it can happen to celebrities and others, our very own Chief Clinical Officer, Maria Ulmer, was asked to provide us some answers to common questions about addiction.

Q: Why are celebrities at a heightened risk of addiction and overdose? 

A: Unfortunately, celebrities are often prone to the tragedy of drug overdose or death as a result of drug induced complications (accident while intoxicated or [when] mixing several substances) – which often is unintentional. 

Many factors relate to the frequent occurrences amongst celebrities: 

Stress – Those in the limelight often face extreme stress and pressure as they try to manage the demands of the celebrity lifestyle.  Being in the public eye can take a toll on a person’s self-esteem which can lead to negative outcomes.  Many have a difficult time dealing with this lifestyle and the expectations of conforming to a certain stereotype or label.  This often leads to unhealthy addictive coping patterns such as using alcohol, drugs, food, shopping or sex as a means to escape or numb the stress. 

Accessibility – Celebrities can easily access alcohol and drugs whether during parties or special events or having social resources available to them.  They can also financially afford the costly habit of substance use and the ongoing supply to feed the habit.


Q: What type of treatments do you think that someone with that status should turn to for their ailments when struggling?

A: It is critical for individuals struggling with stress to find healthy coping strategies: develop a positive support system,  practice self-care through healthy diet and exercise, practice mediation and mindfulness exercises, maintain regular sleep (8-10hrs/night), find fun activities that allow you to decompress, and maintaining a consistent daily routine that keeps in balance work and home life.  Often medical issues, mental health conditions, (and/or) substance use issues develop when individuals struggle to keep balance in day-to-day living with the demands of the stressful expectations of the celebrity spotlight.


Q: If a celebrity/high profile individual approached you, what kind of accommodations or unique programs would you be able to offer?

A: We offer several different levels of care to accommodate a variety of addictive disorders at varying symptoms of severity – detox, residential, partial care, intensive outpatient, outpatient treatment.  We specialize in treating the individual within an integrative approach – mind, body, spirit – personalized treatment options provided by a multidisciplinary team of licensed professionals. 


Q: Where do you see the opioid epidemic going? / What direction regarding doctors prescribing, new laws and treatment opportunities and the turn to heroin?

A: Access to prescribed pain meds and heroin has led to this fatal epidemic in our communities.  Federal and local initiatives are actively being pursued to address this public health problem.  Prescribing laws and regulations are beginning to be enforced and closely monitored to prevent over prescribing.  The use and over the counter access of Narcan is saving lives every day.  Treatment providers are faced with a chronic disease of opioid dependence that is not easily combated with typical treatment approaches.  It is vital that new and innovative strategies be employed to stop this epidemic: medication assisted treatment options (Vivitrol, Suboxone, Methadone), Extensive and Long Term Residential TX, involvement of the family, use of holistic/alternative modalities (recovery yoga, massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, brainspotting), and an integrative approach of medical-clinical-holistic.

Share this candid article with your loved ones and colleagues. You never know who may be struggling in silence.

Don’t Wait Another Day To Get Help

Prince’s story is especially tragic because he was likely searching for help. Unfortunately, it was too late. If you are struggling with addiction, don’t take a “wait and see” attitude about your problem. Recovery is possible, and it starts by asking for help.

Call Summit Behavioral Health to speak with an addiction specialist. We will help you take that first step to hope and healing.

More Newsworthy Posts

Unleashing The Stranglehold: Combatting Opioid Addiction In The U.S.

When the HIV crisis was at its peak, we were a nation swept into its grip. Eventually, preventative education was established, and research was funded to help eradicate this disease and stop the growing number of deaths that it caused.

It’s 2016, and while HIV is still part of our lives, research has created drugs for easing its symptoms, and education has drastically decreased its occurrence.  But now there’s an epidemic with similar statistics for growth and an alarming fatality rate, and it’s not even talked about as a national issue, despite death rates that have spiked in almost every single state in the U.S.

Overdoses In The U.S. – By The Numbers

Opioid Overdose Deaths Stat-Summit Behavioral Health

Though not a contractible disease, the CDC is calling opioid addiction an epidemic, and the numbers are startling. In 2014, death from opioid overdoses reached a national peak – 47,055 – about 125 Americans a day. That’s too many deaths, to be sure, but perhaps even more alarming is the rate at which these deaths are occurring. In 2003, nine people died for every 100,000. In 2014, that number is 15.  That’s more fatalities down to overdoses than car accidents.

Despite the statistical similarities between the AIDs epidemic and this current one, one huge difference is where the epidemics have been concentrated. HIV is a disease most often diagnosed in large urban areas, whereas deaths from addiction are happening in towns big and small. In fact, rural areas – places that lack finances and resources to deal with such an epidemic – are starting to lead in the number of fatalities from overdoses.

Opioids And Heroin – Why These Numbers Matter

Death from an overdose is tragic regardless of the drug, but what seems to be driving this explosion in mortality rates is opioids. An opioid is a synthetic drug that acts like an opiate, the most infamous opiate being heroin. Of the 47,500 deaths that occurred in 2014 due to overdosing, 61% involved opioids. Across the many types of deadly drugs, this one kind was the culprit for over half the fatalities in the most deadly year of our history with drugs.

According to The CDC, most people who develop opioid addictions start by having opioids legally prescribed to them. Some have criticized the pharmaceutical industry and medical communities for being too liberal in their production and prescription of opioid painkillers. But the medical community are often in a difficult situation when it comes to managing the pain of their patients.

Consider our most recent loss, Prince. According to his closest friends, he was constantly in pain. In a post written this month in RawStory, the reporter suggests Prince didn’t die from an overdose of drugs but from the chronic pain that the drugs dulled. When we consider the difficult and injurious lives of many of the hardest hit populations – like Appalachia – opioid addiction isn’t such a surprise. Opioids are prescribed as an answer to those in constant pain.

How We Got Where We Are

What happens when an injury should have healed or a doctor is no longer comfortable prescribing the drug? What happens when access to the drug dries up? By this time, many of the people who were legally prescribed drugs such as Oxycodone (commonly seen as OxyContin) and Hydrocodone (commonly seen as Vicodin) have already become addicted. Getting those drugs on the black market is difficult and expensive. Unfortunately, people are desperate enough to find a cheaper alternative – heroin.

In a move to help the situation, legislation did more harm than good by cracking down on prescription drug abuse, which seem to have directly led to a huge surge in heroin production and sales. While illegally obtained prescription opioid painkillers are exorbitantly expensive, heroin remains widely available and much more affordable, creating a heroin crisis in many states throughout the country.

Stigma Of Addiction Has Prevented People From Seeking Help

Opioid Addiction Statistic-Summit Behavioral HealthIn the 90s, when the HIV crisis was at its peak, we as a nation were talking about it, desperate to stop the horrific deaths and curtail the rate at which they were occurring. Unless it’s in a highlight reel of a politician’s stop, deaths from opioid overdose aren’t getting the national attention they need for us to instigate change.

One reason for this is the same that makes it a political talking point – it’s regional. It’s much easier for a large city to come together to fight an epidemic and allay the fears of stigmatization, but that’s much harder to do when the epidemic rearing its head is often in isolated communities. Banding together becomes much more challenging, and it’s much more difficult to find a supportive community in places where addiction and constant pain are often stigmatized.

Look again at the untimely death of Prince. He needed relief from pain, and that condition alone is often stigmatized, especially in rural areas where tough working conditions mean you suffer through pain when you have to, and if you can’t, it suggests something is wrong with your character. This is likely even more an issue for men; admitting chronic pain can challenge their identity as a family’s provider, which, in turn, is a threat to their masculinity. To maintain their standing and continue with their livelihood, prescription opioids offer some relief to their suffering.

However, once opioid addiction is added to that mix of conflicting needs, it’s a recipe for overdosing and increased death rates. People don’t find the help they need and die as a result.

The Communities Hit The Hardest

New Jersey and Pennsylvania:

In New Jersey and Pennsylvania (two of the states in which Summit Behavioral Health is located), heroin is the most commonly cited drug for primary drug treatment admissions, followed by marijuana and then “other opiates.” Considering three out of four new heroin users in the U.S. are former abusers of prescription opioids, it’s easy to see the correlation. As far as overall drug abuse, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania commonly see more drug-induced deaths than motor vehicle fatalities each year.

Opioid Stat Quote-Summit's Michael Karl COOIn Pennsylvania, the rate of drug-induced deaths is higher than the national average, with a particularly large increase between 2013 and 2014.

In fact, the state ranked ninth in the country for its drug overdose rate, according to a 2015 report. Opioids accounted for nearly a third of all of the state’s heroin overdose deaths in 2014.

New Jersey’s overall drug-induced death rate is usually below the national average, but its heroin-overdose death rate has skyrocketed in recent years, surpassing most other states. In 2014, 781 heroin overdose deaths were recorded in the state, up from 741 the year prior.

Summit Behavioral Health’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Karl was quoted by NJ.com as saying that heroin and opioids account for roughly 80 percent of all drug treatment admissions in New Jersey, mostly affecting people younger than 30 years old.

West Virginia:

People are much less likely to seek help if it threatens their identity or their standing in a small town, and when you look at where these fatalities are occurring, it’s easy to see that is part of the issue. West Virginia, for instance – and the surrounding Appalachian states – have been hit particularly hard by this epidemic. In fact, West Virginia has the highest rate of deaths from overdosing in the country as of 2014. But consider their major industry: coal mining. The injuries among people who work in coal mines is extremely high, and people who work in this field don’t have the financial resources to take time off from work because of pain.

And here you can see the cycle: prescription opioid use becomes addiction. When the opioids are no longer obtainable legally, people look for relief from withdrawal symptoms and pain from a cheaper alternative, heroin. Unlike opioids, there’s no instruction for use on a vial or bag of heroin, there’s no quality control or FDA approval. In addition to overdoses from prescription drugs, people looking for relief often die as a result of not knowing the power of the drug they are taking.

New Hampshire:

Appalachia isn’t the only area hard hit. Death from overdosing has increased rapidly in New Hampshire. In fact, according to predictions being made by the American Medical Report (AMR) this state is already on the cusp of surpassing the rest of the country in opioid fatalities. There were 295 deaths from opioids in 2015, but that number could be as high as 357 once all the cases suspected of being due to overdosing have been confirmed.

During the early media frenzy over the primaries when New Hampshire leads the nation in choosing nominees, the state’s opioid issue got some attention, but now that the two prospective nominees are almost a sure thing, the media spotlight has moved onto violent political rallies and analysis of electoral maps.

New Mexico:

Opioid fatalities in New Mexico haven’t been much in the spotlight, but that’s partially because – at least for the 24 hour news cycles – this is an old story. New Mexico stands out as a state where heroin use is passed down through generations of families. Except for three years and until 2013, the state held the unenviable distinction of being the state with most deaths from heroin in the nation. In its final year at the top, New Mexico’s death toll was at 440 for drug related overdoses according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Despite no longer being in first place for fatal overdoses, the deaths from them rose 146% from 2001 to 2014. The number of prescription opioids on the market increased by 236% during the same stretch of years. Such numbers are hard to ignore, but somehow it hasn’t reached the level of crisis necessary for national attention.

An Answer To A National Crisis

What happens next is difficult to pinpoint. Predictions suggest the years to come will only see more increases in fatalities. For the HIV epidemic, the crisis hit a turning point when we were able to begin a national discussion, and that’s the next step here as well. Destigmatizing addiction and instances of chronic pain will mean more people can freely seek help without feeling labeled or shunned.

With proper care, opioid and heroin addiction can be overcome. Opioid addiction treatment must be approached holistically, however. Every person’s path to addiction is as distinctive as their path to recovery. Public support, education programs, and awareness initiatives are all avenues to combat the heroin and opioid crisis in the United States, but until it becomes a discussion on the national stage, these avenues will be much harder to come by.

Keep the discussion going by sharing this article with friends, family and colleagues. Change starts with awareness and discussion. Change starts with you.

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Decriminalizing Addicts Who Are In Jail For Crimes Related To Mental Illness

Many people are surprised to find out that approximately 2 million people, who suffer from mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are incarcerated. In prison, they are unlikely to obtain the care they need for their mental illness, which often co-occurs with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Because of this nationwide problem, politicians, mental health experts, and leaders in government and law enforcement are making new efforts to find solutions that focus on treatment, instead of sentencing and jail time.

Last year, the APA partnered with the Council of State Governments Justice Center and National Association of Counties to launch an effort to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in jails. The focus of the effort is on assessing mental illness risk factors, treatment evaluation and service capacity. Through the partnership, the organizations are also working on developing treatment and service plans to meet patient populations in the jail system.

Although there is greater exposure of the problem and more efforts to obtain help for those with mental illness who are incarcerated, there are still big challenges that are preventing change to the existing system. These obstacles include limited staffing, budgetary challenges, inadequate training and coordination issues between the criminal justice and treatment systems. There is also the ongoing hurdle to overcome the stigma of mental illness and addiction.

Prioritizing Treatment Over Incarceration

While there are certainly challenges when it comes to getting inmates with mental illness the help they need, Congress is starting to show interest in the problem. Currently there are several bills that have been introduced to potentially reduce the number of persons with serious mental illness who are served with jail time.

Interestingly, studies have shown that there is little evidence that criminalizing addiction prevents or even lessens the problem. In fact, there is evidence that longer incarcerations lead to a greater rate of recidivism. This is potentially due to the fact that most prisoners do not receive sufficient treatment for addiction in prison. There is also the reality that stressors that happen upon release from prison can quickly trigger a relapse, particularly in those who never received treatment for their co-occurring addiction and mental illness. In other words, the “War on Drugs” has done little to deter non-violent drug offenders, and has potentially worsened their conditions.

What Can Be Done To Help Those With Addiction And Mental Illness?

While many people will debate whether or not an addict should be criminalized, few will dispute that it is beneficial to get prisoners addiction treatment while they serve their sentences. Through addiction treatment, they have a much better chance of staying sober and not returning to jail and repeating the tragic cycle of using and being arrested.

Some experts suggest that there should be separate drug courts for nonviolent offenders who were convicted of using drugs, and not selling them. Rather than simply convicting them, an offender could potentially avoid a felony by submitting to drug testing and getting help, such as joining a support group.

Do You Have A Loved One Who Is On The Fast Track To Jail Because Of Addiction?

Ignoring mental illness and addiction will not make the problem go away. Often, early treatment can prevent incarceration and establish a foundation for long-term recovery. Call now if you have a loved one who needs help.

We’re here to answer your questions regarding treatment for co-occurring disorders. Call us now.

Find Out Which Is The Greater Threat: Alcohol Or Drugs

How The Chemicals In Our Food Are Leading To Mental Health Disorders

As children, we’re all told we are what we eat. There is certainly truth to this, and eating right offers substantial benefits when it comes to overall health.  Our bodies are finely-tuned instruments and it truly matters what we put into them. But, you may not have considered that the food we eat can also greatly impact our mental health, too.

Consider that your brain is responsible for your thoughts, movements, heartbeat, breathing and senses around-the-clock, 24 hours a day. To keep it functioning optimally, it requires a steady source of nutrients. What you put in your mouth has both an immediate and long-term impact on the structure of your brain and how it functions. The brain works best when it is supported by high quality food with the optimal amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. However, an increasing amount of research is showing that an unbalanced diet, high in refined sugars, can greatly impair brain function and worsen symptoms of common mental conditions, like depression.

The Connection Between Mood And Food

According to Harvard Health Publications, only in recent years have medical experts acknowledged a clear link between what we eat and how our brains function and how we feel. Today, there is a growing focus on this connection, and the consequences of what we eat, how we feel and our behaviors.

One of the discoveries researchers have made is that there is a connection between bacteria in the gut and brain function. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, as well as balance moods and prevent pain, is largely produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, the production of serotonin is influenced by “good” bacteria in the intestinal microbiome that help us absorb nutrients and activate neural pathways that travel between the gut and the brain. When there are insufficient levels of this bacteria caused by an unbalanced diet, serotonin production decreases, and brain function suffers.

Linking Sugar And Depression

Holding Sugar Cubes-Linking Sugar And Depression

Sugar has also been shown to suppress a hormone produced in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Individuals with depression and schizophrenia commonly have critically low levels of this hormone. High-glycemic foods, such as those with high-refined grains or added sugar are also linked to higher rates of depression.

Additives And Other Ingredients That Can Negatively Affect The Brain

Sugar and high-refined grains aren’t the only two ingredients to avoid if you’re struggling with symptoms of mental illness. There are a few common ingredients typically found in processed food that are linked to decreased brain health.

A growing number of researchers are looking at the potential dangers of genetically-modified ingredients. The theory is that they negatively impact gut flora, allowing pathogens to take hold which eliminate the healthy microbes necessary for mental health.

Glysophate, which is an herbicide commonly sprayed on food crops, has been shown to cause nutritional deficiencies which are necessary for healthy brain function. This is leading to many nutritional experts to recommend organic produce, particularly for patients with a history of mental illness.  As well, additives such as artificial sweeteners and colorings can impact mood, as well as negatively affect physical health.

Self-Medicating Mental Illness With Alcohol Or Drugs

Unfortunately, many individuals who struggle with mental illness like depression, anxiety or even schizophrenia use alcohol or drugs to alleviate painful symptoms. This can lead to a devastating cycle that can be very difficult to break. It is also why balanced nutrition is such an important component of addiction treatment. When treated right, our brains have incredible healing ability. Along with eliminating drugs and alcohol, a proper diet can help “reset” the brain. Often, these changes can dramatically improve symptoms of mental illness.

Share this thought-provoking article with colleagues and friends and family. You never know who you may help change for the better.

Find Out More About The Impact Of Nutrition On Recovery

Which Is A Greater Threat To Public Health In America: Alcohol Or Drugs?

It’s a long-standing debate amongst addiction experts. Which is more dangerous – alcohol or drugs. Clearly, they have similarities. Both can lead to addiction. Both can ruin lives. Both can cause a variety of physical and mental health problems.

Alcohol – An Undeniable, Easily Accessible Threat

Yet, many consider alcohol to be more risky because of its wide availability. From the local grocery store and the neighborhood pizza place to nearly every professional sporting event and entertainment venue, there’s alcohol to be found. Alcohol ads are ubiquitous on TV. The availability of alcohol makes it both commonplace and very dangerous for those who are at risk of addiction. Sadly, according to the CDC, alcohol contributes to nearly 90,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Interestingly, approximately half of Americans do not drink at all. Of those that do, most drink less than one drink per day. However, heavy drinkers consume more than 7 drinks each week. In other words, alcohol producers and distributors are primarily marketing to those with alcohol problems, and this is perfectly acceptable by most because it is legal. Despite the very real dangers of alcohol, it is still widely distributed.  Thus, the most obvious risk of alcohol is the fact that it’s everywhere!

The Growing Danger Of Prescription Painkillers

Like with alcohol, prescription painkillers have a level of acceptance not found with street drugs. Because of this, they also pose serious threat. It’s not uncommon for individuals to be prescribed painkillers following an injury or surgery. For some, use turns into abuse. From there, addiction can happen. Because of the similarities between opioid painkillers and heroin, a growing number of those who become addicted to these prescription drugs eventually shift to heroin use. Addiction can quickly happen, causing a downward spiral that is very difficult to treat.

So, perhaps the greatest threats to public health are those substances that are easiest to acquire. Currently, this means alcohol and prescription painkillers. While there are certainly plenty of street drugs that are equally as addictive, their lesser availability means fewer people are at risk of using them in the first place.

Are You Struggling With Addiction?

Alcohol or drug addiction can happen to anyone. Hiding your problem will not make it go away. The first step in getting better is asking for help. Our customized programs at Serenity at Summit consist of both clinical and holistic treatment methods and we make sure to treat each individual with the respect and care that they both deserve and need.

Call now to speak with an addiction specialist. Help is but a phone call away.

Read another one of our industry newsworthy posts:

Scientists Discover Self-Control Not Possible With Certain Drugs?

April Is Alcohol Awareness Month – Spread The Word Now

Launched by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (NCADD) in 1987, Alcohol Awareness Month was created to help reduce the stigma surrounding alcoholism and to build awareness about the dangers of alcohol, alcoholism and recovery. This chronic, progressive disease affects more than 17 million Americans, as well as has a profound impact on their loved ones.

Spread The Word Of Alcohol Awareness

It’s important for addiction treatment centers, as well as individuals who have been affected by alcohol abuse, to start spreading the word now about the facts as well as the dangers of alcohol and the hope for recovery.

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, and it is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation.  Most alcoholics cannot simply quit cold turkey when they want to stop drinking. Rather, they are in the grip of a substance that causes powerful cravings. The majority of individuals suffering from alcoholism require support and treatment to recover from their disease. However with the right type of assistance, many alcoholics are able to stop drinking and regain healthy, more balanced lives.

In turn, we want to take the opportunity to share the necessity and value of a customized addiction treatment program.

The Benefits Of Customized Alcohol Addiction Treatment

No two alcoholics share exactly the same story. Each has a unique set of circumstances that led to their addiction. Often, there are contributing factors such as depression, anxiety or other form of mental illness. There are also an infinite number of triggers, family situations and stresses that have not only led to the addiction, but also must be addressed in addiction treatment. This is specifically why treatment must be customized to the individual.

Specific benefits of a customized addiction treatment program include:

  • Pier-Benefits Of Customized Alcohol Addiction TreatmentResources that are tailored to the individual
  • Mental health treatment
  • Holistic therapies
  • It can delve deeper into the root cause of addiction and treat these causes
  • It can be particularly beneficial for individuals with special needs
  • It is more likely to support long-term successful recovery

Unlike one-size-fits-all type treatment programs, an individualized approach includes a variety of therapy types to fit specific needs and preferences. These include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy

There are also other services to help support recovery including:

  • Detox
  • Educational programs
  • Integrative and holistic service options
  • Meditation

Do You Or A Loved One Need Help Overcoming Alcohol Addiction?

If you are searching for an alcohol treatment center in New Jersey, contact Serenity at Summit. We provide both a clinical and holistic approach and always cater to each client’s individual needs and goals.

Call us now to begin your or a loved one’s journey to healing and recovery from alcohol addiction.

Join Serenity at Summit today in sharing the dangers of alcohol as well as the hope of recovery by sharing this post with friends, family and colleagues. Remember, alcohol abuse affects us all.

What Is ”Normal” When It Comes To Drinking?

Scientists Discover Self-Control Not Possible With Certain Drugs?

One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with addiction is sorting through the myths and misinformation to discover the truth of the disease and how it affects you or your loved one. Many people reject the notion that addiction is a genuine disease and instead, choose to mistakenly believe that addicts lack self-control and are somehow to blame for their own addiction. However, a study from the University of Cambridge has recently revealed that individuals who become addicted to cocaine have little or no control over their compulsion to use.

Breaking Results Of The Study On Addicts And Self Control

Dr. David Belin, a researcher on the study explains,

“We’ve always assumed that addiction occurs through a failure of our self-control, but now we know this is not necessarily the case. We’ve found a back door in the brain linked directly to habitual behavior.”

Cocaine is considered by many addiction experts to be one of the most challenging substances to kick. Addiction can ramp up quickly and relapse rates are very high. The researchers on the study discovered that over time, drug use evolved into something uncontrollable. The lack of self-control developed as a specific part of the brain became impacted by the drug that affects habitual behavior. This previously unknown pathway in the brain links impulse with habits. This finding contradicts the theory that addiction is simply caused by a lack of self-control. Instead, there is a provable change in a portion of the brain that does not respond to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy and other treatment protocols.

“Drug addiction is mainly viewed as a psychiatric disorder with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy focused on restoring the ability of the prefrontal cortex to control the otherwise maladaptive drug use,” says Dr. Belin. “But, we’ve shown that the prefrontal cortex is not always aware of what is happening, suggesting these treatments may not always be effective.”

The Indicators Of Addiction

One of the primary indicators that an individual is struggling with addiction is that they will use the substance despite negative consequences. These actions show that much more is going on in the brain than just an absence of self-control. With this new research, there is promise for new treatments, including medications that can potentially help addicts overcome the devastating effects of addiction.

Help Is Available

Individualized addiction treatment with both a holistic and clinical approach is the best option if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction. Don’t wait for a problem to get worse. Call Serenity at Summit now to speak with an addiction specialist.

Help is available. We will be that help you or your loved one need.

Discover More Of Our Newsworthy Addiction Blogs

Facing Down A Giant: The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Despite years of research and advocacy, prescription drug abuse remains an epidemic in the United States. Every single day, 44 people die from prescription drug overdoses, and drug-related poisonings are now the leading cause of death due to unintentional injuries. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 15 million people over the age of 12 have abused prescription drugs in the past year, and 6.5 million people did so just in the last month.

Keep in mind, these drug statistics are specific to prescription drugs ONLY. These stats don’t even consider alcohol or illegal drugs. When you consider that these numbers are for drugs that people are obtaining legally, from a doctor, they are even more staggering!

Prescription Drug Abuse Overdose StatisticAmericans are facing down a significant problem when it comes to the misuse of prescription drugs – and unfortunately, it’s not a problem with an easy way out. 37% of Americans believe that we are actually losing ground on the problems associated with drug abuse.

To bring some clarity to the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs, it is important to consider three key questions:

  • What counts as prescription drug abuse?
  • What is the scope of the problem?
  • Where do we focus our solutions?

Here we explore the answers to these very important questions and leave the floor open to you to add your thoughts in the comments as well.

What Counts As Prescription Drug Abuse?

50% of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the last 30 days. Prescriptions are pervasive, and the majority of drugs available to us do what they’re prescribed to do and are not addictive. As such, before we outline the scope of the problem and its potential pathways, we must clarify exactly what types of drugs we’re talking about.

At the federal level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are among the agencies that track and monitor drug use in the United States. Their most recent research puts the focus on two major classifications of drugs – opioids and stimulants. The following table outlines the major labels and uses associated with these drugs:

Table 1: Primary Drugs Associated With Prescription Drug Abuse

Primary Drugs Associated With Prescription Drug Abuse

To understand what makes prescription drug abuse and misuse an epidemic, it is important to specify the types of drugs that make up the problem. We are talking about a very specific set of drugs that have specific functions and side effects that make them desirable for non-medical uses. That kind of understanding is key to outlining the scope of the problem.

What Is The Scope Of The Problem?

Prescription Drug Abuse Overdose FactIn 2011, the CDC and DHHS painted a pretty grim picture about prescription drug abuse rates in the United States. Using data from the 2010 census in combination with other tracking and monitoring data from their respective departments, these federal agencies noted a significant surge in the number of cases of prescription drug abuse and overdose between 1999 and 2011. The scope of the problem involves two primary points – exactly where we are seeing increases, as well as the causes associated with our current numbers.

When it comes to the most current data on prescription drug abuse and overdose, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is, the general rates of prescription drug abuse have stayed relatively flat since 2010, meaning we have not seen an increase in the percentage of people either abusing or overdosing on prescription medications. If we dig down deeper into that data, however, we do see some areas that raise concern.

Historically, the greatest concern has focused on opioid abuse – the painkiller category from Table 1, which includes oxycodone and morphine. Opioids are highly addictive and can sometimes lead to dependence on illegal narcotics, namely heroin. Research from 1999-2010 saw the most alarming increases in this particular class of drugs; however, those increases have slowed in the last five years. More recent data points our attention in a different direction – stimulant use among high school and college students. While the numbers for prescription painkillers have remained fairly flat, the numbers for stimulants have continued to increase, especially in the form of AD/HD drugs used for non-medical purposes.

While the numbers for both opioid and stimulant use are both cause for concern, the increases in the abuse of stimulants among high school and college students force us to realize that this issue is very complex. As such, the causes of the prescription drug epidemic are best considered across different age groups.

Prescription Drug Increase StatisticFor the general population, as well as adults 26-65, we find some common culprits for prescription drug abuse and misuse. Many studies tie the continued prevalence of abuse to both mental health issues, as well as increased access to highly addictive prescription drugs. Part of the prescription drug epidemic can be attributed simply to the growing number and availability of drugs from a variety of sources. Between 1999 and 2009, the number of prescriptions increased 39% (from 2.8 billion to 3.9 billion). Compare that to a 9% increase in the U.S. population, and we see that the number of available drugs is growing at a faster rate than the number of consumers.

From that consumer perspective, abuse is closely linked to mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, or to manage pain and sleep problems. Americans are facing a growing amount of stress and anxiety, particularly in the wake of economic recession and recovery starting in 2008. A shrinking middle class, mounting stress on old infrastructure, and persisting financial uncertainties have placed many Americans in need of support. With those increased needs for support often comes an increased dependence on prescriptions to manage the anxiety.

When we look at two different age groups, young people and the elderly, we see a slightly different picture in terms of causes. For younger populations, the dependence on prescription drugs is also related to stress and anxiety; however, the source of that stress is associated more with the pressure to succeed. Many high school and college students experience great pressure from their family members to succeed. Students are expected to participate in athletics and extra-curricular activities, internships, volunteer work, and other activities, all while maintaining a top grade point average.

For middle class and wealthier families, that pressure comes from a need to communicate a certain social standing or “good parenting.” For working class and poor families, that pressure for success is often tied to more material needs, including generating money for the family and lifting them out of poverty. Schools have seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who are using or trading drugs like Adderall® and Ritalin® in order to stay up late studying, maintain a social life, and often work their way through school.

Prescription Opioids And The Elderly FactElderly populations face a different set of challenges. Nine million Medicare-age people receive opioids every year. Many elderly face problems with prescription drug misuse as opposed to abuse. Due largely to the realities of aging, older populations can experience difficulties in reading and understanding prescriptions, remembering to take their medication, or taking the wrong dosage. At the same time, they also face some of the same mental health concerns as the general population.

These specific needs of both the elderly and younger generations point to the complexities of prescription drug abuse and misuse. As such, we must focus our solutions on both evidence-based and innovative ideas.

Where Do We Focus Our Solutions?

Federal agencies like the CDC and DHHS have spent a great deal of effort researching and developing solutions to the prescription drug epidemic. The CDC has advocated for solutions including safer and more effective pain management, improved state policies that address prescription drugs and mental health initiatives, and the development of prescription drug monitoring programs. These institutional solutions have helped create infrastructure that reduce abuse through better tracking and monitoring. At the same time, these solutions have sometimes been criticized because they rely primarily on infringing upon consumer privacy in order to control behaviors and choices.

In addition to institutional solutions, we also need to focus on some individually-oriented solutions. Much federal research focuses on the causes of prescription drug abuse; however, the public does not always think about these causes alongside the reasons people are experiencing the anxiety or stress in the first place. Future research needs to examine the intersections between the sources of stress and anxiety in conjunction with the likelihood to abuse prescription drugs. Moreover, these individual-level experiences do not exist in a vacuum. The only way for us to truly grasp the solutions to our prescription drug crisis is to also examine how economic downturns, natural disasters, job loss, and other events in our cultural history drive some people to use and abuse illicit drugs.

The U.S. Healthcare System relies on the balance of two approaches to health – prevention and treatment. Whenever possible, we focus on prevention. We try to eat better, drink more water, take our vitamins, exercise regularly, sleep for 8 hours, and visit our doctors. At the same time, the majority of our health needs require more than making sure we eat our vegetables. That’s where treatment comes in. In most cases, treatment is a fairly seamless process. We take a medication and we get better.

However, that is not always the case, and seemingly simple pain or AD/HD treatments can spin out of control. We now have more access to prescription drugs than ever before, and with that access comes a great responsibility to how these drugs are used and shared.

What’s Next In Overcoming This Epidemic?

Here at Summit Behavioral Health we are committed to making a difference. While our treatment services are intended to help individuals overcome all types of chemical and substance addictions, we can see that often times addiction starts with prescription abuse. We know that in order to help individuals and families in our community avoid and overcome addiction they must first understand the dangers in taking prescription drugs. Proper education is the first step in this fight, but we must take that step together if we are going to see some real change.

Please take a moment to share this post with anyone you feel can act as a voice to help raise awareness for this epidemic that affects us all.

New Drug Trends For The New Year

New Drug Trends For The New YearEach decade as well as each new year brings with it new drugs and new dangers. Unfortunately, the drugs of today are more dangerous than ever because of the advancement and availability of technology and chemicals. This is compounded by the fact that the Internet has made many drugs accessible in a way that has never been seen before.

Drug Trends For The New Year

Increasing Dangers From Flakka

Currently, one of the most dangerous new street drugs to be aware of, called Flakka, has emerged and wreaked havoc in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where up to 20 users per day are rushed to the overworked hospital emergency rooms. This treacherous, highly addictive substance nicknamed the “devil’s drug” can be purchased inexpensively in the U.S. online or through the mail.

Use of Flakka, a synthetic cathinone, has reached epidemic proportions in Florida because of its wide availability and inexpensive cost. Similar to bath salts, the drug is sold in the form of a white, granular crystal that can be snorted, ingested or vaporized in an e-cigarette. Once taken, users experience an excited delirium that can produce superhuman strength, psychotic behavior and extreme paranoia.

Addiction specialists are particularly concerned about this dangerous drug because of the extreme reactions that users have and because of its high rate of addiction.

Weed Candy Availability

With marijuana dispensaries in many states, the availability of candy and even marshmallows produced from marijuana is becoming an increasing problem on school campuses. Although manufacturers will state otherwise, it’s apparent that these products are geared toward children because of their packaging, flavors and consistency. This drug is also proving to be difficult to detect because it has the appearance of candy and can be concealed in a backpack or pocket.

One of the other problems with weed candy is the fact that it often contains higher concentrations of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This makes it difficult to regulate dosages and it can lead to overwhelming experiences – especially for children and teenagers.

Help For Teen Drug Abuse

With the ongoing evolution of drugs, it’s important for parents to be aware of the current trends and the signs and symptoms of drug abuse. Are you concerned that your child could be abusing drugs or alcohol? Don’t wait another day. With each passing day, an addiction can get worse and more difficult to treat.

Addiction Treatment Program For Teens

Serenity at Summit offers an individualized treatment program geared toward the unique needs of teenagers. We understand what it takes to help your teen overcome their addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Call now to speak to one of our addiction specialists.

Learn More About Our Individualized Addiction Treatment Program For Teens