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December 30, 2004 - Hernando Today (FL)

Teaching The Facts Of Drugs And Booze

Henry N. Blansfield, MD, member of the Drug Policy Alliance, the Advisory Board of the National Association of Methadone Advocates (NAMA) and retired member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

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There has been a steady increase in drug and alcohol use among our young people nationwide. Fatalities arise from binge drinking followed by alcoholic coma and respiratory failure not to mention motor vehicle accidents because of driving while impaired. Drug use, including oxycontin and snorted heroin, is also up.

There is a desperate need for society to focus on rational preventive measures that can reduce these morbid consequences. The most powerful antidote to using such chemicals is knowing what their risks are.

The deaths of novice binge drinkers can be reduced if those individuals know that consumption of alcohol by someone, without tolerance to it, will produce nausea and vomiting, alcoholic coma, shallow respiration, lack of oxygen to the brain, the heart and, finally, death. Fatal alcoholic coma can be misinterpreted simply as deep sleep by companions, thus delaying emergency treatment.

For those frequently consuming alcohol or drugs, such as Seconal, Phenobarbital, Zanax, Valium, or Ativan, the major risk is dependence that can occur as quickly as thirty to ninety days. Using these chemicals may result in impaired motor ability which cause accidents while driving. But stopping their use may result in withdrawal. For those habitually using alcohol, the symptoms may include anxiety, tremor, sweating, nausea and vomiting, seizures and craving. Seizures can occur in those withdrawing from some drugs as long as four to six weeks after stopping them.

Stimulant drugs include nicotine, cocaine and amphetamines. Ecstasy is currently the most popular "Rave" drug of the amphetamine class. Deaths occur due to an increase in body temperature, hypertension and swelling of the brain. Long term effects include depression, memory loss, anxiety and inability to concentrate. Deaths from cocaine use are usually secondary to heart attacks or strokes. Mental illness in the form of feelings of suspicion and hostility towards others, mental depression and persistent drug craving are not uncommon. Nicotine and tobacco tar absorbed by the lungs from tobacco smoking are responsible for over 400,000 deaths a year. The common causes of early mortality stem from heart disease plus oral, throat and lung cancer.

Opioid drugs include illicit heroin, and commonly prescribed pain-killers like Percocet, Percodan, Vicodin and Oxy-Contin. Oxy-Contin has recently been noted for its illegal use, theft from pharmacies, unwarranted prescription and adulteration enabling it to be injected. Continued enjoyment requires increasing dose amounts to obtain the same effect. Withdrawal can be a devastating experience. Relapse following abstinence treatment for heroin use is 85 to 90 percent due to persistent craving. Methadone or Suboxone are effective in normalizing the lives of reforming addicts. Methadone is dispensed in licensed clinics. Suboxone is available in certified doctors' offices.

Clearly our young people must be provided with a pragmatic, structured, realistic, nonjudgmental educational approach to these issues. This should be a regular and mandatory component of the science curriculum in grades 6 through 12. Passing examinations should be required. In this way, our young people would have to make an informed decision -- well aware of potential adverse consequences -- whether or not to use drugs/alcohol/tobacco when the opportunity arises. This part of the science curriculum can be standardized and those teaching it prepared by using instructional modules made available on the Internet by Duke University and the Drug Policy Alliance at The Boards of Education in our school systems are urged to consider this approach.

In short, it is better to "KNOW" than to "JUST SAY NO!"

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