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Cardiac arrest–related deaths have risen precipitously during the pandemic — and the reason may have to do with a mystery of coronavirus, an increase in drug overdoses, or both.
Indeed, those are two main theories explicating the rise in cardiac arrests, both compelling. First, because SARS-CoV-2 infects blood vessels, at least some of the cardiac arrest deaths may be from coronavirus infection. A second, equally sinister suspicion is that a percentage of the cardiac arrests over the past twelve months could have been "occult" opioid overdoses — a medical term that means that the drug-related cause of cardiac arrest was not recorded nor discernible. Even before the pandemic, researchers suspected opioid overdoses were being "disguised" as cardiac arrests. Earlier this month, researchers published a paper in the journal Resuscitation that found 10 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests from February 2011 through December 2017 in San Francisco were actually occult opioid overdoses. The paper adds on to ongoing evidence that opioid overdoses are being masqueraded as cardiac arrests is prevalent across the country.
Indeed, since the pandemic, opioid overdoses have increased along with cardiac arrests. That's led some to wonder whether opioid overdoses are being reported as cardiac arrests.
"The way to think of it is that paramedics will arrive on scene, they called for cardiac arrests and will start resuscitating the patient, using protocols that are directed at resuscitating the heart," said Dr. Robert Rodriguez, who is the author of the study and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, in an interview. "So what we have shown is a certain percentage of those patients that they assume that they're assuming are cardiac arrests turned out to be narcotic overdoses."
At the beginning of the pandemic, one-third of the country's "excess deaths" were not directly due to COVID-19, according to an analysis in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Public health experts define excess deaths as the difference between the actual number of deaths in a specific time period and the expected numbers based on historic trends. Specifically, comparing data from January 1 to June 2, 2020, with the same timeframe from 2019, showed that deaths by ischemic heart disease increased across the country after the onset of the pandemic.
Certainly, the pandemic has been a stressful time and is affecting everyday health in a myriad of ways—especially those in low-income and marginalized communities. As Bob Hennelly reported for Salon in April, EMS workers noted that before the pandemic they would see one or two cardiac arrest calls per shift. In the beginning of the pandemic, they were attending to as many as thirteen cardiac arrest calls per shift. At the time, they suspected it was COVID-19 related. But could those deaths be related to something else — perhaps a concurrent crisis of opioid overdoses during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 81,000 deaths between June 2019 and May 2020 were linked to drug overdoses — an 18 percent jump compared to the previous 12-month period. But when first responders attend to what is initially believed to be a cardiac arrest, the protocol doesn't include administering Naloxone, which can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. Rarely do people die immediately over an opioid overdose, as it often takes hours.
Rodriguez said if EMS responds to 350,000 adult cardiac arrests cases in the United States a year then, assuming 10 percent of those are opioid overdoses, 35,000 lives could be saved by administering Naloxone. That's an optimistic estimate; Rodriguez's more conservative numbers suggests 1,750 lives would be saved if the Naloxone doesn't work on everyone.
THC microdosing reduces chronic pain in world-first clinical trial
A clinical trial found single small THC doses did reduce acute sensations of pain compared to placebo
New research published in the European Journal of Pain is offering some of the first clinical trial insights into the efficacy of microdosing THC to treat chronic pain. The results of the small trial suggest minute doses of THC may confer clinically apparent reductions in pain sensation without inducing psychoactive side effects.
A microdose is generally known as a subtherapeutic dose of a drug, and the term has more recently become synonymous with tiny, regular dosing of psychedelics such as LSD. The practice has been anecdotally popular, however, little research has been conducted to rigorously test how useful these imperceptible doses of psychedelic drugs actually can be.
So, an Israeli pharma-tech company named Syqe Medical set out to try to answer the THC microdose question, and solve the problem of imprecise cannabis dosing. The Syqe Inhaler is a first-of-its-kind product that reportedly enables precise dosing of low-levels of THC.
A randomized, double‐blinded, and placebo‐controlled trial recruited a cohort of 27 subjects with chronic neuropathic pain. Across three separate test days each subject received one inhaled dose, containing either 500 micrograms (0.5 mg) of THC, 1,000 micrograms (1 mg) of THC, or a placebo.
By Rich Haridy Researchers report 20 micrograms of LSD delivers similar analgesic results to opioids such as oxycodone and morphine in an acute pain test
Researchers report 20 micrograms of LSD delivers similar analgesic results to opioids such as oxycodone and morphine in an acute pain test.
An incredible, first-of-its-kind trial testing the pain-killing properties of LSD microdoses has delivered the compelling suggestion that tiny, non-psychedelic doses of this infamous drug could serve as an effective analgesic.
Back in the 1960s, during the original heyday of psychedelic science, one of the more fascinating research areas for LSD was its unexpected efficacy as an analgesic. Researcher Eric Kast was one of the pioneer investigators on the topic, publishing over a dozen key papers exploring the ways pain perception is influenced by LSD.
Decades later, as the freeze on psychedelic research begins to thaw, the idea of LSD as a pain-reliever still sits on the fringes of psychedelic science. No modern clinical researcher has returned to Kast’s ideas, however, anecdotal cases have begun to emerge highlighting some people self-medicating with LSD microdoses to treat chronic pain.
This new study, led by researchers from Maastricht University with assistance from the Beckley Foundation, is the first clinical trial to revisit this topic in more than 50 years. Unlike Kast’s prior work, this new research focused on microdoses of LSD rather than larger, actively psychedelic doses. CLICK FOR COMPLETE STORY
Naloxone is a medicine that can be administered by individuals with or without medical training to help reduce opioid overdose deaths. If naloxone is administered quickly, it can counter the overdose effects, usually within minutes.
“Even during this global pandemic, we have continued to prioritize addressing the opioid crisis,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Today’s action can help further raise awareness about this potentially life-saving treatment for individuals that may be at greater risk of an overdose and those in the community most likely to observe an overdose. We will use all available tools to address this crisis, and we know efforts to increase access to naloxone have the potential to put an important medicine for combatting opioid overdose and death in the hands of those who need it most – those at increased risk of opioid overdose and their friends and family.”
The required labeling changes announced in a Drug Safety Communication recommend that health care professionals consider prescribing naloxone when they prescribe medicines to treat OUD. Additionally, the labeling changes recommend that health care professionals consider prescribing naloxone to patients being prescribed opioid pain medicines who are at increased risk of opioid overdose, including those who are also taking benzodiazepines or other medicines that depress the central nervous system; those who have a history of OUD; and those who have experienced a prior opioid overdose. A naloxone prescription should also be considered for patients prescribed opioids who have household members, including children, or other close contacts at risk for accidental ingestion or opioid overdose.
The FDA is requiring that these recommendations be added to the prescribing information for opioid pain medicines and medicines to treat OUD, including buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.
The FDA is working with other federal, state and local officials as well as health care professionals, patients and communities nationwide to help increase availability of naloxone and combat opioid overdoses. Patients should talk to their health care professional about how to obtain naloxone according to their state’s requirements or guidelines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has ongoing efforts to fight the opioid crisis and expand the use of naloxone. This includes: better targeting of overdose reversing drugs as part of a 5-Point Strategy to Combat the Opioids Crisis.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.
UPDATED March 21, 2020 // In the face of the US COVID-19 pandemic, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced at-home treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD).
The agency issued a directive to allow some patients in opioid treatment programs (OTP) to receive a 28-day supply of take-home doses of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, for treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD).
The agency also said states are now allowed to request up to 14 days of take-home medication for patients who are less stable but who can, in the judgement of OTP clinicians, safely handle this level of take-home medication.
An FAQ section on the SAMHSA website offers detailed, up-to-date guidance for providing methadone and buprenorphine treatment.