Substance Abuse and Treatment

Heroin Use and Risk of Infectious Disease

Researchers who have studied the patterns of noninjecting heroin users have discovered that they are at high risk for becoming intravenous users in the future. Many heroin addicts who prefer snorting and smoking methods believe that they can avoid serious risks that accompany injection use. Researchers at the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) focused on the transition rates of noninjection users to injection users as well as other consequences of abusing heroin.

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Lethal Consequences of Heroin Addiction

Drs. Hser, Hoffman, Grella, and Anglin at the Drug Abuse Research Center of UCLA, conducted a study which consisted of 581 male subjects who were both heroin addicts and criminal offenders. These subjects were first recruited for the study between the years 1962 and 1964, from a substance rehabilitation program. The researchers were interested in investigating long-term physical and behavioral, negative effects of heroin dependency. In the year 1997, follow-ups were executed and the results were rather disturbing. According to the statistics, 49 percent of the original participants, 284 to be exact, were deceased. The 40 percent that were still living admitted to abusing heroin within the past 12 months, and less than 10 percent of the original participants were currently seeking methadone treatment.

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Opioid Dependent Pregnant Women:

Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes with Buprenorphine Treatment

A paper in the June issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence (63:97-103, 2001) Rolley E. Johnson at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and thirteen co-authors reported an apparent effective treatment for opioid dependent, pregnant women that seems to safeguard the health of both the mother and her child. It is estimated that in the United States there are 5,000 to 10,000 infants born to opioid dependent women each year. Prenatal methadone treatment, introduced to protect the child from the medical consequences of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), unfortunately, was found to result as well in a high incidence of NAS needing extensive treatment and hospitalization.

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Genetic Aspects of Opiate Addiction

What is known about the genetic aspects of opiate addiction?

Opiates such as heroin and dilaudid are drugs which have long been known to relieve or depress pain but increased consumption frequently result in uncontrolled drug use and addiction. These properties of opiates led to the discovery that there are specific opiate receptors in the brain and that the central nervous system itself produces substances with opiate-like activities. . . In our laboratory we studied the effects of opiates on human white cells, lymphocytes, and in particular T-lymphocytes, and have found that opiates result in a reduction in the genetic functions of these cells as a consequence of chromosome damage and deficient DNA repair capacity. What appears to be evident from our studies is that opiates directly effect the individual's immune system by altering the functions of the body's T-cell lymphocytes which results in genetic damage at the time of DNA replication.

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