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23rd October 2017

In eastern Lebanon, vineyards are an alternative cultivation to cannabis

Sitting among the vines in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Michel Emad, a retired soldier, remembers the not-so-distant time when he cultivated cannabis before replacing it with red and white grapes used in wine production.

Emad, a father of two in his 50s says “there was no alternative cultivation that is suitable with the nature of our land (…) And you need to adapt to the market.”

After completing his military service, Emad started in the year 2000 to cultivate cannabis. Like other 220 farmers, he has joined now the “Coteaux Heliopolis cooperative” and is growing grapes in the northern Bekaa Valley’s Deir al-Ahmar region.

Northern Bekaa areas are notorious for their cannabis production, although it is illegal. Lebanese cannabis is known for its “good quality” and during the civil war (1975-1990), it expanded into a flourishing multi-million dollar industry.

The law punishes anyone who traffics in marijuana, with the understanding that many kingpins of these prohibited agriculture live in the Bekaa areas and repeatedly ask for its legislation.

With hashish you always feel threatened by the authorities, you can’t sleep at night for the constant risk of being jailed or seeing the state destroy your crops,” he said,

On the other side of the road running along his vineyard, the tall stems of cannabis fields are still visible. Emad spent growing cannabis between 2000 and 2003, like many other villagers in Lebanon’s Bekaa who see it as their only means of survival.

The security forces regularly raid the cannabis farms in the area and Emad’s fields were wiped out twice before he eventually decided to join the cooperative.

 “Growing grapes is more lucrative and leaves you with a clean conscience,” Emad said, explaining that this year’s nine-ton harvest earned him $10,000, twice his former income from cannabis.

The Coteaux Heliopolis cooperative was launched in 1999 and now covers around 250 hectares of vineyard in Deir al-Ahmar. The first harvest in 2003 and the resulting windfall sparked a wave of interest among cannabis farmers in the area.

We have provided evidence that people don’t want to grow hashish. They are obliged to because it is their only source of income but they don’t actually want to live in fear and in violation of the law,” said Shawki al-Fakhri, who heads the cooperative.

If you give them an alternative, a lucrative and legal crop to farm, people will take it in a heartbeat,” adds al-Fakhri.

The cooperative supports new farmers by facilitating loan applications and guarantees from banks, as well as helping them reclaim lands and secure seedlings.

The cooperative has created its own winery and made a modest start with 100,000 bottles in 2017, only a fraction of the eight million bottles Lebanon produces each year.

I really believe our white is a little gem, its freshness is remarkable, since we have no highways nearby, no cars and no pollution.” Charbel said proudly.

Coteaux Heliopolis chose its name as a homage to the nearby City of the Sun – Heliopolis was the former name of Baalbek where the Roman wine god Bacchus was worshipped.

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22nd October 2017

Marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of prescription opioid misuse and use disorders

New research suggests that marijuana users may be more likely than nonusers to misuse prescription opioids and develop prescription opioid use disorder. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and Columbia University.

The investigators analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which interviewed more than 43,000 American adults in 2001-2002, and followed up with more than 34,000 of them in 2004-2005. The analysis indicated that respondents who reported past-year marijuana use in their initial interview had 2.2 times higher odds than nonusers of meeting DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for prescription opioid use disorder by the follow-up. They also had 2.6 times greater odds of initiating prescription opioid misuse, defined as using a drug without a prescription, in higher doses, for longer periods, or for other reasons than prescribed.

A number of recent papers suggest that marijuana may reduce prescription opioid addiction and overdoses by providing an alternate or complementary pain relief option. That suggestion is partly based on comparisons of aggregate data from states that legalized marijuana for medical use vs. those that didn’t. In contrast, the current study focuses on individual marijuana users vs. nonusers and their trajectories with regard to opioid misuse and disorders. These findings are in-line with previous research demonstrating that people who use marijuana are more likely than non-users to use other drugs and develop problems with drug use.

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21st October 2017

Study highlights unmet treatment needs among adults with mental health and substance use disorders

Despite current treatment guidelines, fewer than 10 percent of adults with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders receive treatment for both disorders, and more than 50 percent do not receive treatment for either disorder.

The findings highlight a large gap between the prevalence of co-occurring disorders and treatment rates among U.S. adults and the need to identify effective approaches to increasing treatment for those with these conditions.

An analysis of data from U.S. adults with both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder indicates that only 9.1 percent of those adults received both types of care over the past year, and 52.5 percent received neither mental health care nor substance use treatment.

The study, based on data collected from the 2008-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, reports that 3.3 percent of the adult U.S. population, or some 7.7 million individuals, suffers from both a mental health and substance use disorder.

Those adults with co-occurring disorders who did receive both types of treatment tend to have more serious psychiatric problems and accompanying physical ailments and were more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system compared to individuals who did not receive both types of care. The primary reasons for not seeking care were inability to afford treatment, lack of knowledge about where to get care, and a low perceived need among those with both disorders.

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19th October 2017

City to honor 67 New Yorkers who saved 255 lives with anti-overdose drug naloxone

The city will honor New York heroes who saved lives by administering naloxone. The first ever Lifesaver Awards Ceremony, held by the Department of Health Thursday, will honor 67 people who saved a collective 255 lives with the overdose-reversing drug — including Reilly Glasgow, who has saved more than 40 people.

“I don’t even count anymore,” Glasgow said.

He works at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center of the Alliance for Positive Change — where he’s known for quickly drawing his naloxone whenever someone dozing off doesn’t quickly respond to a shake of the shoulder.

With the drug, saving a life is a “simple task,” he noted, even though some people are critical of the drug being offered for free to addicts.

“They need it. Life is precious. We are unjudgmental here. We are unbiased. Everybody gets treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

Like any job, Glasgow said those who work in harm reduction and frequently use naloxone to help people can get a bit burned out — but putting a positive spin on it with the award he’ll receive is refreshing.

The honorees aren’t all people working in harm reduction.

Chris Voci, 54, saved two lives in one night using naloxone he received while receiving outpatient substance abuse treatment at Coney Island Hospital. While he was there for an alcohol addiction, the policy is to give naloxone to everyone in treatment - and his came in handy when he encountered his roommate’s girlfriend passed out in the bathroom with heroin nearby.

“I had the Narcan kit,” he said,. “She passed out, I followed the instructions and I was able to get her successfully stabilized,” until paramedics arrived.

A few hours later, Voci’s roommate came home — and used the rest of the heroin the girlfriend had left behind.

 “If I didn’t have the Narcan, they would have died,” he said. “I can’t put a value on that.”

As an alcoholic, Voci said he didn’t know much about heroin — but after his experience he’s learned a lot about the epidemic. And he’s grateful his recovery program provides naloxone to everyone, regardless of what substance they are addicted to.

“First of all, it should be in every first aid kit. Second of all, don’t be afraid to apply it — because it’s one of those things where if you apply it, you can do no harm,” he said.

Dr. Hillary Kunins, DOH’s Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Use Prevention, Care and Treatment, said the city doesn’t often take time to celebrate the wins in its fight against opioid overdoses.

The Health Department has given out more than 45,000 naloxone kits so far this year. The drug can be found over the counter in many pharmacies for free with insurance or at a low cost, and can also be obtained at training sessions held by DOH or other groups.

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18th October 2017

The disadvantages of learning through social media communication and providing protection against drug addiction

There are several advantages to social media communication, but its disadvantages are constantly multiplying, suggesting an imminent danger, especially in regards to education, which is a fundamental basis for the protection of young people and their awareness against the dangers that surround them.

The following are some of its major disadvantages:

A lack of direct interaction between teachers and learners, where instruction is mainly focused on a cognitive aspect that is programmed through social networks or e-learning.

The absence of dialogue, which can negatively affect the logical intelligence of the student, because it is through dialogue and direct interaction that the student learns the art of discussion, listening, how to ask questions, respect to one another and the choice of words and terms, which is not available with teaching through social media communication.

Some online learners have difficulty expressing their opinions and ideas in writing as a large number of learners prefer to express their thoughts verbally as this is the method they have become accustomed to during the many years of their scientific and academics studies, while social media learners need to master the skills of writing to be able to express their different ideas and opinions.

In a recent study, entitled "The role of the media communication in the development of social isolation", I pointed out that electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers and video games tend to lead to isolation, lack of communication with others, weakness in learning ability and decreased knowledge acquisition. They develop suspicious relationships and links, like the habit of surfing suspicious sites. The study also called for the need to face these negative effects in order to achieve a better community development.

On the other hand, learning through the means of modern technology, including social networks, leads to a lack of motivation for learning, a feeling of boredom due to long hours sitting in front of mobile phones, computers and Internet networks. This phenomenon is accentuated when the scientific material presented does not contain audio-visual effects that attract young people and encourage them to learn. As a result, they often choose to visit suspicious or pornographic sites to break the monotony and boredom they experience.

The social communication media present information to students in a fragmented way, in a  way that the student is unable to acquire an integrated and comprehensive understanding of the educational matter.

Programmed teaching, whether through social or digital media, destroys or limits the learner's capacity for creativity and innovation, forcing him to a particular reaction contained in the program; whether good or bad, it is obligatory to apply it according to the program’s requirements.

Learning through the social communication media or e-learning does not achieve all the scientific objectives because the development of skills in scientific research and the measurement of scientific trends are difficult to achieve through programmed learning.

I conclude my article hoping that we will pay more attention to the relations of our sons and daughters and that we will monitor the sites they visit on the Internet in order to be able to protect them from social problems, including drugs.

Dr. Ayed Ali Al-Humaidan

International expert in the field of drugs and psychotropic substances

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17th October 2017

Drug overdoses killed more Americans in 2016 than Vietnam War

The Vietnam War lasted nearly 20 years and tallied 58,220 deaths. In stark contrast, about 64,070 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 alone, a spike of 21 percent over the 52,898 deaths estimated in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier this year, the CDC also revealed that drug overdoses are killing at nearly double the rate of car accident and firearm deaths.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times more powerful than morphine, is cited as a major reason in the incline of deaths. Fatalities linked to synthetic opioids more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.

Synthetic opioids alone accounted for 20,145 fatalities in 2016, significantly more than the 14,427 deaths linked to opioid pills and the 15,446 linked to heroin. Synthetic opioids killed 9,945 people in 2015, in comparison.

However, the report mentioned that the newest numbers only represent a percentage of the available death records.

Last month, the government agency also noted that about half of the spike in deaths related to heroin after 2013 were attributed to the increase in fatalities related to simultaneous use fentanyl and heroin. And this month, the CDC concluded that the opioid crisis is responsible for about 300,000 American deaths from 1999 to 2015.

According to an analysis by the Drug Enforcement Agency, heroin is largely smuggled from Mexico and fentanyl is mostly imported from manufacturers in Chinese labs. In July, the agency called fentanyl a “global threat.”Additionally, the data also exposed a jump in fatalities related to stimulants like cocaine, going from nearly 7,000 to 10,619. Deaths linked to psychostimulants like methamphetamine went up from nearly 6,000 to 7,663.

Noticeable increases in overdose deaths were recognized in various jurisdictions; New York City, Virginia and Maryland reported considerable surges in fatalities attributed to fentanyl. Wyoming, Nebraska and Washington reported declines in drug overdose deaths of up to 8 percent.

Overdose deaths related to drugs are commonly reported without detailed toxicology reports — the CDC will release final numbers at a future date.

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