Smoking heroin doesn't make it any safer

According to American Medical Association, the use of heroin as an injected drug, has decreased over the past few years. For those concerned about the harm that sharing needles can do to spread communicable diseases and increase the harm done to at-risk individuals, that's great news. Unfortunately, the use of shooting horse has given way to something that can be just as dangerous to drug users in an entirely different way.

In the most recent issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (paywall, of course,) researchers noted that, increasingly, heroin users are turning to heating the drug so that the resulting vapor can be inhaled. That's called chasing the dragon, ya'll and, just like actual dragons, the practice is very bad news. By inhaling heroin, you might be dodging infected injection sites, collapsed veins or disease, but you're opening the door to serious brain damage.

From Gizmodo:

Looking at more than 30 studies and case reports, which included the cases of two other patients at their hospital, the team settled on some basic observations.

For one, while there’s sparse information on how often addicts are inhaling heroin, the little data that does exist suggests it’s the fastest growing method of use, the team found. In countries such as Sri Lanka, Norway, and India, over two-thirds of heroin users admit inhaling it regularly. In the US, injection is still the most common method, but inhalation is increasing, especially in cities and areas east of the Mississippi. It’s also becoming more popular among teens.

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Homeland Security sting nets dark net drug dealers

Welp, the United States Department of Justice just finished off their first major initiative to take on drug dealers and other shifty types plying their trade on the dark net. So far as stings go, it went pretty well!

After seizing the reigns of an online money-laundering operation, Homeland Security Investigations just kept on for a year, offering to clean the currency for a number of criminal operations, swapping out their dirty cash in exchange for slightly less dirty cryptocurrency.

Homeland Security offered their fake money laundering services to users of a number of different dark net market places, including Wall Street, AlphaBay and Dream Market. Given the yen of the Feds to take down whole marketplaces in the past, the sting marks the shift to a new strategy that makes a whole lot more sense: go after the criminals that use a given market instead of the market itself. There’s no sense in shutting down a Silk Road when everyone that was pulling nefarious shit will just move their business to Silk Road 2.0 or another market. You’ve gotta go after the vendors themselves.

From The Verge:

So far, prosecutions have been launched across 19 states as a result of the operation, seizing more than $3.6 million in cash. The same raids seized large quantities of Schedule IV pharmaceuticals — including 100,000 tramadol pills and over 24 kilograms of Xanax — as is typical of trade on dark net markets. Agents also recovered more than 300 models of liquid synthetic opioids and roughly 100 grams of fentanyl.

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The Science and tragedy of "Bath Salts"

At PBS NewsHour, Jenny Marder has a truly epic report on so-called "bath salts," a term commonly used to refer to a variable cocktail of drugs linked to a number of violent episodes throughout the US. Her investigative feauture is the most extensive and authoritative I've seen on the topic, a long read full of the stuff that makes great reporting great: nitty-gritty chemistry mysteries, personal stories about the people who use the drug, and big-picture questions about why the stuff is so widely available, and why it seems to be so destructive. Don't miss the slide shows and video that accompany the beautifully laid-out feature. There's even an instructional animated gif!

Users are often hyper-agitated, hot and sweating, she said. Their heart rate is dangerously high, their blood pressure is up, and seizures are common. Often even high doses of common sedatives don't help them. Doctors instead must turn to antipsychotics or other powerful medications.

Early on, doctors began noticing something else that was strange. Compared with other drugs, bath salts didn't follow a normal dose-response pattern. With cocaine or methamphetamine, the drug entered the bloodstream, and, within hours, began to wear off. Not so for bath salts. “Some patients were in the hospital for 5 days, 10 days, 14 days,” Ryan said. “In some cases, they were under heavy sedation. As you try to taper off the sedation, the paranoia came back and the delusions."

As Ryan was scrambling to grasp the scope of the problem in Louisiana, scientists 1,000 miles away were beginning to tease out the drug's chemistry.

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Richard Branson: It’s time to end the failed war on drugs

"Just as prohibition of alcohol failed in the United States in the 1920s, the war on drugs has failed globally. Over the past 50 years, more than $1 trillion has been spent fighting this battle, and all we have to show for it is increased drug use, overflowing jails, billions of pounds and dollars of taxpayers’ money wasted, and thriving crime syndicates."—Virgin CEO Richard Branson, calling for an end to the "war on drugs." Read the rest