Monday, July 23, 2012

From the Ulster Prevention Council Blog: Anabolic Steriods

The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 0.5% of 8th graders, 1.0% of 10th graders, and 1.5% of 12th graders had abused anabolic steroids at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. While the numbers are relatively small compared to other substances of abuse, it is important to know about these dangerous substances and the potential consequences of using them.
Steroids are prescription drugs that are legally prescribed to treat a variety of medical conditions that cause loss of lean muscle mass, such as cancer and AIDS.

Most anabolic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. They are taken orally or are injected. Testosterone not only brings out male sexual traits, it also causes muscles to grow. ("Anabolic" means growing or building.) Some people, especially athletes, abuse anabolic steroids to build muscle and enhance performance. Abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some of which are irreversible. They can cause changes in the brain and body that increase risks for illness and they may affect moods.

Our body’s testosterone production is controlled by a group of nerve cells at the base of the brain, called the hypothalamus. It also helps control appetite, blood pressure, moods, and reproductive ability. Anabolic steroids can change the messages the hypothalamus sends to the body. This can disrupt normal hormone function.

Anabolic steroids are bad for the heart—they can increase fat deposits in blood vessels, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. They may also damage the liver. Major effects of steroid abuse can include jaundice, fluid retention and high blood pressure; Also, males risk shrinking of the testicles, lowered sperm count, baldness, breast development, and infertility. Females risk growth of facial hair, menstrual changes, male-pattern baldness, and deepened voice. Teens risk accelerated puberty changes and severe acne. Steroids can halt bone growth— which means that a teenage steroid user may not grow to his/her full adult height.  All users, but particularly those who inject the drug, risk infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Scientists are still learning about how anabolic steroids affect the brain, and in turn, behavior. Research has shown that anabolic steroids may trigger aggressive behavior in some people. Some outbursts can be so severe they have become known in the media as “roid rages.” And when a steroid abuser stops using the drugs, they can become depressed, even suicidal. Researchers think that some of the changes in behavior may be caused by hormonal changes that are caused by steroids, but there is still a lot that is not known.

Doctors never prescribe anabolic steroids for building muscle in young, healthy people. But doctors sometimes prescribe anabolic steroids to treat some types of anemia or disorders in men that prevent the normal production of testosterone.

Doctors sometimes prescribe steroids to reduce swelling. These aren’t anabolic steroids. They’re corticosteroids. Since corticosteroids don’t build muscles the way that anabolic steroids do, people don’t abuse them.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

From the Ulster Prevention Council Blog: Seniors and Illicit Drug Abuse

Last week I talked about seniors and alcohol. Today I’d like to talk about seniors and illicit drug abuse. I’m again using information from www.nihseniorhealth,gov:

Although use of illicit (illegal) drugs is relatively uncommon among adults over age 65, there has recently been an increase in the percentage of people 50 and older abusing illicit drugs. In fact, the number of current illicit drug users aged 50-59 nearly tripled between 2002 and 2009, from 900,000 to more than 2.5 million. More older adults are also seeking treatment for substance abuse and having increased hospitalizations and visits to emergency rooms (up 60 percent in 55-64 year-olds from 2004 to 2009) because of illicit drug use.

These patterns and trends partially reflect the aging of the baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964). This could be for two reasons: (1) there were more people born in that generation and therefore there are now more people in that age group than before; and (2) baby boomers were more likely than previous generations to use illicit drugs in their youth, which is a risk factor for later use.
While it is relatively rare for adults over 65 to have ever used illicit drugs, baby boomers (adults in their 50s and early 60s) are more likely to have tried them. Greater lifetime exposure could lead to higher rates of abuse as baby boomers age. The most common drugs of abuse include the following
  1. marijuana
  2. illegal opioids, such as heroin
  3. illegal stimulants, such as cocaine
  4. hallucinogens, such as LSD
Marijuana, made from the cannabis plant, is the most abused illicit drug among people 50 and older. It is used for its relaxing properties but can have several negative effects, including slowed thinking and reaction time, impaired memory and balance. It can also lead to paranoia and anxiety.

Although under federal law, marijuana is illegal to use under any circumstance, in some states doctors are allowed to prescribe it for medical use. However, most health experts do not recommend smoking marijuana to treat disease, particularly given potential negative effects on the lungs and respiratory system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two medications chemically similar to marijuana to treat wasting disease (extreme weight loss) in people with AIDS and to lessen symptoms associated with cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting.

Opioids are powerful drugs that at first cause feelings of euphoria, then periods of drowsiness. They can also slow breathing. Some opioids are legal and prescribed by a doctor. Others, like heroin, are illegal. All types of opioids can be addictive and can lead to death if too much is taken (overdose).
Stimulants like cocaine make people feel more alert and energetic. But they can also cause elevated heart rate and blood pressure, paranoia, panic attacks, aggression, and other problems. They are very addictive and can lead to death if too much is taken (overdose). Some stimulants are legally prescribed by a doctor to treat health conditions. Other kinds -- including cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamines -- are illegal.

Hallucinogens and dissociative drugs can greatly distort perceptions of reality, including making a person see, hear, and feel things that are not really there. Physical effects may include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, sleeplessness, sweating, dizziness, and loss of appetite. Flashbacks and mood disturbances can also occur. This group of drugs includes LSD, peyote, psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"), and phencyclidine (PCP).

Age-related changes to our brains and bodies as well as typical diseases of aging could result in greater health consequences for older adults, even with lower levels of drug use. Illicit drugs affect older people differently than younger people because aging changes how the body and brain handle these substances. As people get older, the body goes through a number of changes and cannot break down and eliminate a drug as easily as it once did. As a result, the drug may remain in the body longer than it would in a younger person. Even a small amount can have a strong effect.

Abuse of illicit drugs can make an older person’s overall health worse. For example, cocaine can cause heart problems even in young abusers. The effects on older people, who may already have heart disease, could be even more severe. In addition, people who abuse illicit drugs may be exposed to diseases they otherwise wouldn’t risk (such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, a liver disease). This is because drugs compromise judgment and can lead to harmful behaviors. Older adults who take illicit drugs also have a higher risk of accidents, falls, and injuries.

Cheryl DePaolo
Director, Ulster Prevention Council