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Top Alcohol and Drug Stories of 2008

Illegal and Legal Drug Use Climbs


Updated December 26, 2008

These are the top stories of interest about alcohol and drug-related issues that were covered during the year at the About.com Alcoholism / Substance Abuse site.

1. U.S. Has Highest Illegal Drug Use Rates

A World Health Organization survey of 54,000 people in 17 countries has found that the highest rates of illegal drug use is in the United States, in spite of the most punitive drug laws on the planet. Although the report stopped short of criticizing U.S. drug policy, it did concluded that current policy had no effect on reducing drug use.

2. Methadone Can Kill Even at Therapeutic Levels

Methadone, a drug used primarily for drug addiction withdrawal and chronic pain relief, can cause sudden cardiac death even when it is not overdosed, but is taken at normal therapeutic levels. This warning was issued by Oregon Health and Science University researchers after studying cases of sudden cardiac deaths in Portland, Oregon.

3. Majority of Adolescents Drink Alcohol

Beer Drinker
Almost 54 percent of all adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 20 have had an alcoholic beverage at least once in their lifetime and underage drinkers consume an estimated 11.2 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States, according to the latest statistics released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

4. FDA Panel Questions 'Safer' OxyContin Version

The manufacturers of the painkilling drug OxyContin claim they have come up with a harder-to-abuse version of the pill, but a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel wants more testing to make sure. Purdue Pharma claims that adding a coating to the tablets will make them harder to crush so that they cannot be snorted or injected.

5. Even Social Drinking Increases Risky Behavior

Brain Scan
A brain imaging study has found that after consuming alcohol, even social drinkers find it difficult to tell the difference between threatening and non-threatening social stimulus. They show decreased sensitivity in the brain regions involved in detecting threats and increased activity in the regions involved in reward.

6. Ecstasy Deaths Linked to Increased Body Temperatures

The club drug ecstasy can increase body temperature so drastically it can cause severe brain damage and death, according to research by a postgraduate pharmacology student at the University of Adelaide in Australia. The danger for ecstasy users comes when they fail to notice that their body is abnormally hot.

7. Teen Prescription Drug Abuse Continues to Increase

Pills and Bottle
Although the use of illegal drugs is on the decline among the nation's adolescents, the nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs has increased to alarming levels. In the past month, 15.4 percent of high school seniors have used prescription or over-the-counter drugs, according to the latest government statistics.

8. 21st Birthday Drinking a Serious Health Hazard

Girl at Party
It's called "21 for 21" and it has become a prevalent custom among college students -- trying to drink 21 drinks on their 21st birthday. A study of the practice has found that more than one-third of today's college students consume at least 21 drinks the day they turn the legal drinking age, which is enough to give them a dangerously high blood alcohol content level.

9. Marijuana Withdrawal as Tough as Cigarettes

Burning Cigarette
For heavy marijuana smokers -- those who smoke 25 days or more per month -- withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit smoking can be similar to those experienced by people who quit smoking cigarettes, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Marijuana smokers who quit report irritability, anger and trouble sleeping, just as tobacco smokers report when they quit.

10. New Law Targets Rogue Online Pharmacies

Various Pills
With addiction to prescription drugs continuing to rise, especially among teenagers, Congress has passed a new law that targets online pharmacies that dispense controlled substances to anyone without a valid prescription from a doctor who has actually examined the patient in person. The new law calls for prison terms for illegally distributing controlled drugs.
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