Fentanyl can sicken first responders: Possible solution?

Dan Kallen, a detective in southern New Jersey, was searching a home with fellow officers in August 2015, when they found a bag of white powder. Kallen removed a scoop of powder for testing. When he was done, he closed the bag, and a bit of air escaped, carrying a puff of powder with it. It was enough to send Kallen and a fellow officer to the emergency room.

The drugs in the bag had been spiked with fentanyl, a synthetic drug that, like heroin, is an opioid. But it is 50 times more potent than heroin — even a tiny amount inhaled or absorbed through the skin can be extremely dangerous or deadly. Kallen described his experience in a Drug Enforcement Agency video that warns first responders of the dangers of handling unknown powders.

Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are working to address this hazard. In a paper published in Forensic Chemistry, they report that two technologies, Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS) and Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS), can detect trace amounts of fentanyl even when mixed with heroin and other substances.

Full story of Fentanyl danger to first responders at Science Daily

New Dangerous Opioid Mix Called “Gray Death” Blamed for Deaths in Three States

A new combination of opioids, known as “Gray Death,” is being blamed for deaths in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio, the Associated Press reports. The combination includes heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and a synthetic opioid called U-47700.

“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” said Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Kilcrease said people using the drug are not aware of its ingredients or their concentrations. Simply touching the powder can put a person at risk, she added.

Full story of the new opioid mixed drug at drugfree.org

Heroin use rises significantly among young whites

Heroin use and heroin use disorder have increased significantly among American adults since 2001, according to new research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The portion of Americans using heroin has climbed five-fold in the last decade, and clinically defined heroin dependence has more than tripled. Increases were greatest among males, whites, those with low income and little education, and for heroin use disorder, in younger individuals. The increase in the prevalence of heroin use disorder was more pronounced among whites ages 18-44 than among non-whites and older adults.

The study is the first to account for changes in heroin use and dependence over time in the U.S. The findings are published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study reports that heroin use increased from 2001-2002 to 2012-2013, from .33 percent to 1.60 percent, and heroin use disorder rose from 0.21 percent to .69 percent. Past-year prevalence of heroin use increased between 2001-2002 (0.03 percent) and 2012-2013 (0.21 percent). Heroin use was significantly pronounced among whites in 2012 to 2013: compared to non-whites, 1.9 percent versus and 1.1 percent, respectively. Heroin use and use disorder also increased more among the unmarried than married adults.

Full story of rising heroin use among young whites at Science Daily

Epigenetic alteration a promising new drug target for heroin use disorder

The past few years have seen an explosion of heroin abuse and deaths from opiate overdose. But little is known about the molecular underpinnings of heroin addiction. A new study in Biological Psychiatry found that heroin use is associated with excessive histone acetylation, an epigenetic process that regulates gene expression. More years of drug use correlated with higher levels of hyperacetylation. The study, led by Dr. Yasmin Hurd of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, provides the first direct evidence of opiate-related epigenetic alterations in the human brain.

To narrow in on these alterations, first author Dr. Gabor Egervari and colleagues studied postmortem human tissue — a challenging but critical endeavor for understanding the molecular organization of the human brain — from 48 heroin users and 37 controls. They focused on the striatum, a brain region implicated in drug addiction because of its central role in habit formation and goal-directed behavior.

Full story of opiate-related epigenetic alterations at Science Daily

From heroin addiction to alcohol-related problems

Around 3,000 heroin addicts currently receive opioids such as methadone, buprenorphine or morphine as part of their treatment in the Canton of Zurich. The number of these so-called substitution treatments has remained constant since their introduction in the 1990s. Long-term courses of therapy with methadone or other opioids evidently reduce the consumption of illegal drugs among patients addicted to heroin. Although the beginning of this kind of treatment also leads to a reduction in the consumption of alcohol, more patients drink alcohol more frequently today than in previous decades. This is shown in a new long-term study conducted by researchers from the University Psychiatric Hospital and the University of Zurich.

Heroin and cocaine consumption markedly reduced

The study includes data on nearly 9,000 patients with a heroin addiction who underwent substitution therapy in the Canton of Zurich between 1998 and 2014. They already consumed sustainably less heroin or cocaine — and somewhat less alcohol — from the beginning of the treatment. Moreover, the proportion of patients who consumed heroin frequently (at least five days per week) more than halved over the 17-year study period (from 14.4 to six percent), and the number of frequent cocaine consumers shrank from 8.5 to 4.9 percent. The results also demonstrate that the decrease in heroin consumption went hand in hand with an improved social situation for the patients.

Full story of heroin addiction and alcohol related problems at Science Daily