TIME Addiction

Heroin-Related Deaths Have Quadrupled in America

New federal data reports bad news for America's heroin problem

Correction appended, March 5

Heroin-related deaths nearly tripled in the U.S. within just three years and quadrupled in 13, according to new federal data.

The new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows that from 2000 to 2013, drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin increased fourfold, from 0.7 deaths per 100,000 people to 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate was about four times higher among men than among women in 2013.

Heroin-related drug-poisoning deaths have increased in all age groups, races and ethnic groups, the data show. Every region in the U.S. also experienced an increase, and the Midwest experienced the biggest jump.

One reason for the spike is America’s growing painkiller problem. The NCHS released another report last month showing that significantly more people over age 20 are using opioids. The number of people who used a painkiller stronger than morphine increased from 17% to 37% from the early 2000s to about a decade later.

CDC/NCHS, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality.

People who are hooked on painkillers may make the switch to heroin since it’s cheaper and doesn’t need a prescription, according to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer of the Phoenix House, a national nonprofit drug and alcohol-rehabilitation organization. Both drugs come from the opium poppy and therefore offer a similar high. “We are seeing heroin deaths sky rocketing because we have an epidemic of people addicted to opioids. There are new markets like suburbs where heroin didn’t used to exist,” says Kolodny. (He was not involved in the research.)

MORE Why You Don’t Know About the Heroin Vaccine

Prior data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that painkillers are a growing problem. In 2014, the CDC reported that physicians wrote 259 million painkiller prescription in a single year — the equivalent of a bottle of pills per American — and almost 50 Americans die every day from a prescription-painkiller overdose. The agency recommends that states run prescription-drug prescribing databases to track overprescribing and consider policies that reduce risky prescribing practices.

As states and the White House struggle to tackle opioid addiction, some experts are skeptical about whether such efforts are enough to solve the problem. “We are dealing with the worst drug epidemic in our history,” says Kolodny. “There’s no evidence it’s plateauing.”

Read next: Ohio Steps Up Fight Against Heroin Deaths

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Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the timeline of the U.S. heroin-related death rate.

TIME Addiction

It’s Really Easy for Teens to Buy E-Cigs Online

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Most popular e-cigarette sites fail to verify the age of their clients, finds a new study

Young people under age 18 can buy e-cigarettes online, even in states where it’s illegal, a new study shows.

North Carolina researchers asked 11 teens between ages 14 to 17 who didn’t smoke to try to buy e-cigarettes online from 98 of the most popular Internet vendors. The sale of e-cigarettes to minors in North Carolina is illegal—but of the 98 orders, only five were rejected based on a failed age verification. Eighteen orders failed for problems unrelated to age, like website issues. Overall, the minors made 75 successful orders.

The teens were also asked to answer the door when deliveries were made. None of the companies attempted to confirm age at delivery, and 95% of the time, the orders were just left at the teens’ doors.

The findings are concerning for any state trying to regulate youth access, the authors say. Currently, there’s no federal law forbidding the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, despite the fact that they contain nicotine, which is addictive. In 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed that e-cigarettes fall under their regular tobacco regulation jurisdiction, but the proposal is still not a codified law. “It may be several years before federal regulations are implemented,” the study authors write.

Some states have stepped in and banned the sale to minors within their borders. So far 41 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands forbid such transactions, or have pending legislation to do so.

But as the new study suggests, young people can easily get e-cigarettes online if they want them. “Without strictly enforced federal regulations, online e-cigarette vendors have little motivation to decrease profits by spending the time and money it takes to properly verify customers’ age and reject underage buyers,” says study author Rebecca S. Williams, public health researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

None of the vendors complied with North Carolina’s e-cigarette age-verification law. The majority of U.S. carriers, including USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL, ban the delivery of cigarettes, only allowing the delivery of tobacco products from a licensed dealer or distributor to another licensed dealer or distributor. If these rules were extended to e-cigarettes, the study authors argue it would essentially shut down a major loophole in access.

Getting proposed rules like the FDA’s passed takes time, but when it comes to the safety of children, the researchers argue there needs to be more urgency. Prior data has shown that from 2011 to 2013, the number of young Americans who used e-cigarettes but not conventional cigarettes more than tripled, from 79,000 to over 263,000. The study authors conclude that the ease with which teens can get e-cigarettes online—in a state that forbids the practice—stresses the need for more regulation, and fast.

TIME Addiction

America’s Pain Killer Problem is Growing, Federal Data Shows

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New data shows America's use of opioids hasn't declined

New federal data released Wednesday reveals the state of America’s pain killer use.

According to the numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the percentage of adults age 20 and over using prescription pain killers remains significantly higher than in the past, with people also taking stronger painkillers than before. Between 2011–2012, nearly 7% of adults reported using a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days, compared to 5% in 2003-2006.

MORE: The Problem With Treating Pain in America

The report also shows that when comparing data from 1999–2002 with 2011–2012, the number of prescription pain killer users who took a medication stronger than morphine increased from 17.0% to 37%. Given the growth of pain killer addiction and related deaths, high usage makes many public health experts uneasy. Prior data from the CDC has also shown that nearly 50 Americans die from an overdose of prescription painkillers every day.

In 2014, the CDC found that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain killers in a single year, which is enough for every U.S. adult to have a bottle of pills.

The new data shows that women are more likely than men to be using prescription pain killers. Non-Hispanic white adults were more likely to use opioid analgesics than Hispanic adults. There was no difference between non-Hispanic white adults and non-Hispanic black adults.

MORE: Why You’ve Never Heard of the Vaccine For Heroin Addiction

As TIME has recently reported, the growing opioid addiction problem is seeding a heroin problem. Since both drugs come from the opioid poppy, they offer similar highs, but heroin, while illegal, is cheaper and doesn’t require a prescription. As states across the nation face opioid issues, the CDC will continue to recommend states step up to the task of keeping an eye on prescribing practices. Some strategies recommended by the CDC are implementing state-run databases that track prescriptions in order to determine any over-prescribing problems as well as introducing policies that discourage risky prescribing among pain clinics.

TIME Drugs

11 Wesleyan Students Hospitalized After ‘Molly’ Use

Q - Dance Ecstasy Pills
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One student is in critical condition

Eleven students at Wesleyan University were hospitalized after experiencing bad reactions to the party drug “Molly”, Bloomberg reports.

The school announced that one of the eleven students is in critical condition. On Sunday, seven of the students were transported to the hospital and four students took themselves.

Molly, also known as MDMA, is a psychoactive drug that has effects that can last around 3 to 6 hours. The controlled substance increases neurotransmitter activity in the brain, and in some cases, it can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The drug has also been found to cause long-lasting confusion, depression, and sleep abnormalities.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse writes: “Ecstasy tablets and even capsules of supposedly pure “Molly” sometimes actually contain other drugs instead or in addition. These substances are harmful alone and may be particularly dangerous mixed with MDMA. Users who intentionally or unknowingly combine such a mixture with additional substances such as marijuana and alcohol may be putting themselves at even higher risk for adverse health effects.”

The school has not released any further information about the conditions of the students.

[Bloomberg]

Read next: How Colleges Are Dealing With Legal Pot

 

TIME Research

Why Smoking Pot Brings On the ‘Munchies’

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Marijuana can shake up the chemicals in your brain

Wherever marijuana is smoked, the consumption of snacks usually follows — and a new study suggests that’s because pot causes changes in brain circuitry that make you hungry.

Pot heads and scientists alike have long known that marijuana can make a person crave food, a phenomena known colloquially as the munchies. But the evidence is still cloudy when it comes to why this happens. So a team of Yale researchers set off to figure it out.

In a new study published in the journal Nature, the researchers discovered that cannabinoids from marijuana actually interfere with signaling in the brain that causes the body to feel hungry when it should be feeling full. To do so, they looked at the brains of high mice.

The researchers observed that the neurons in the mice brains that make them feel sated, called POMCs, were activated in those who were given a chemical to mimic marijuana in the brain. At first, it didn’t make any sense. If the neuron in the brain that inhibits hunger is activated, then shouldn’t the mice be much less hungry? Not hungrier?

What the team discovered was that the cannabinoids interfere with the chemical POMCs’ release — so that when the mice were “sober,” the neurons released a satiety chemical. But when the mice were “high,” their neurons released a chemical that spurs appetite.

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said study author Tamas Horvath in a statement. “We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system.”

The new findings join the many working theories looking at why marijuana causes hunger. A study from last February, for example, suggests that the THC in marijuana activates smell receptors which causes hunger. The new results are still preliminary and require further research. For now, the jury is still out.

Read next: This Event Will Teach Businesspeople How to Buy Pot

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TIME Addiction

Plain Cigarette Packs May Deter Smokers, Studies Show

Cigarette Pack
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Largely based on findings in Australia, which removed branding from tobacco packaging two years ago

Tobacco packaging without labels or branding may keep new smokers away and prevent habitual smokers from lighting up regularly, a new series of studies finds.

According to the studies, published in the journal Addiction, there is growing evidence that plain packages of cigarettes and other tobacco products reduce smoking rates and reduce outdoor smoking. The findings are largely based on evidence noted in Australia, where the government removed labels from cigarette packages and added graphic health warnings to packs two years ago.

The studies also show that by removing the branding, young experimental smokers focus more on the health warnings on the package — though it found the impact on daily young smokers is minimal.

“Even if standardized packaging had no effect at all on current smokers and only stopped 1 in 20 young people from being lured into smoking it would save about 2,000 lives each year,” Addiction editor-in-chief Professor Robert West said in a statement.

Addiction published the series just months before the U.K. Parliament votes on standardizing tobacco product packaging, following in the footsteps of Australia. The government is already facing fierce backlash from tobacco companies in response to the law, Reuters reports.

John Oliver brought up Australia’s law in his segment on tobacco marketing on this week’s Last Week Tonight:

Read next: This Is The Easiest Way to Get Better Sleep

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TIME

Quiz: Are You Actually Addicted to Facebook?

Facebook
Dado Ruvic—Reuters

We talked to experts at the Center for Internet Addiction to offer an instant (but unofficial) diagnosis.

This quiz was adapted from the Center for Internet Addiction’s Internet Addiction Test.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why Your Coffee Addiction Isn’t So Bad for You

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Go ahead and pour yourself another cup

Knocking back a daily cup of joe (or several) delivers more than a jolt of energy. That morning brew comes with a host of health benefits, according to research. Here’s how coffee can benefit your body and your brain.

1. Coffee may decrease your risk of depression. Drinking four or more cups per day could decrease the risk of depression in women, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. The study examined the coffee habits and depression rates of 50,739 women over 10 years. Coffee drinkers had a 20 percent lower chance of developing depression later in life. Drinking two to four cups daily also appears to lower the risk of suicide by 50%, according to another Harvard study.

2. Coffee might help prevent skin cancer. Drinking four or more cups of coffee daily may lower your risk of cutaneous melanoma, the leading cause of skin-cancer death in the U.S., by 20 percent, according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers followed nearly 450,000 cancer-free participants over 10 years. Overall, those who drank more saw less cutaneous melanoma. Four daily cups of coffee can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to previous studies.

3. Smelling coffee can bust stress. When rats smelled coffee beans, genes connected with healthful antioxidants and stress-reduction were activated, according to researchers from Seoul National University in South Korea. No, you’re not a rat—even if you’re in the rat race—but the stress-busting benefits may be one reason your morning latte smells so delicious.

4. Coffee might help fight obesity. A compound found in coffee, chlorogenic acid (CGA), could help ward off obesity-related diseases, according to researchers at the University of Georgia. In a study of mice, CGA prevented weight gain, reduced inflammation, helped maintain normal blood-sugar levels, and kept livers healthy. Gradually increasing your coffee consumption can also lead to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, according to previous research.

5. Coffee may prevent Parkinson’s disease. Men who did not drink coffee were two to three times more likely to develop the disease than men who drank four ounces to four cups per day, according to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association. Though there are treatments to slow the progression of Parkinson’s, which targets the body’s nervous system and causes tremors, there’s no cure, so prevention is key.

6. Coffee could boost your workout. Caffeine increases the number of fatty acids in the bloodstream, which raises overall endurance, because your body doesn’t have to burn carbs so fast, The New York Times reports. Weightlifters who drank caffeine before their workouts stayed energized longer than those who did not, according to another small study.

7. Coffee may help your hearing. Regularly consuming caffeine may help prevent tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ear. Women who drank one and a half cups of coffee a day were 15% more likely to develop tinnitus than those who drank four to six cups, according to a study of 65,000 women published in the American Journal of Medicine.

8. Coffee could lead to a healthier liver. Drinking both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee may lower liver enzymes associated with inflammation, according to a 28,000-person study conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Institute. Participants who drank at least three cups of coffee per day showed lower levels of the potentially harmful enzymes than those who did not drink coffee.

9. Coffee might help you live longer. Drinking two to six (or more) cups of coffee per day could lower the risk of dying by 10 percent for men and 15 percent for women, according to a study of over 200,000 men and 170,000 women (ages 50 to 71) in The New England Journal of Medicine. (The data was adjusted to discount the effects of unhealthy habits, such as smoking, since regular coffee drinkers also tended to be regular drinkers and meat-eaters.)

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

More from Real Simple:

TIME Addiction

Typical American Smokers Burn Up at Least $1 Million During Their Lifetimes

Alaska smokers will spend over $2 million

American smokers spend at least $1 million dollars on cigarette-related expenditures over their lifetimes, according to a state-by-state analysis done by the financial consultancy company WalletHub.

The most expensive state for smokers is Alaska, where the habit costs over $2 million dollars on average. For a bargain, move to South Carolina, but that still comes in at nearly $1.1 million.

“I and most people really just think of the cost of cigarettes and taxes on the packs, but if you think about the healthcare costs, which can totally be avoided, healthcare insurance premiums, and in the workplace, bias against smokers, that can … add up,” said WalletHub spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez.

The study’s “average smoker” is someone who smokes one pack a day starting from the age of 18 (legal age to buy) and ending at 69 (the average age of death for a smoker).

So, if you’re looking for another excuse to quit, perhaps take a quick peak down millionaire’s row.

TIME Research

Here’s What Alcohol Advertising Does To Kids

alcohol
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Booze ads reach kids far younger than the legal drinking age

Alcohol advertising that reaches children and young adults helps lead them to drink for the first time—or, if they’re experienced underage drinkers, to drink more, according to a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD, study author and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”

The study found that young people were only slightly less likely than their older counterparts to have seen an alcohol ad. While 26% of young adults between the ages of 21 and 23 had seen a given alcohol advertisement, 23% of 15 to 17 year olds said they’d seen the same one. Researchers also found that young people who could accurately identify alcoholic products and who said they liked the ads were more likely to try drinking or to drink more.

Based on the findings, Sargent says that alcohol manufacturers should self-regulate more to limit the number of children they reach. The tobacco industry, which has volunteered not to buy television ads or billboards, could serve as model for alcohol manufacturers, he says.

“Alcohol is responsible for deaths of people during adolescence and during young adulthood,” says Sargent. “It seems to me that the industry should be at least as restrictive as the tobacco industry.”

“The spirits industry is committed to responsible advertising directed to adults and adheres to a rigorous advertising and marketing code,” said Lisa Hawkins, vice president of Public affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council, in a statement. The Distilled Spirits Council is a trade association that represents alcoholic beverage companies.

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