The top alcohol- and drug-related stories of 2011 included efforts to address and prevent a growing list of problems. This year's news include the rise and fall of fake bath salt drugs; a battle to curtail the growing prescription drug epidemic; a new way to crack down on drunken drivers; progress on stemming hepatitis C; and the tragic story of a talented singer who lost her battle with alcoholism.
One of the biggest drug abuse issues of the year involved an increase in emergency room visits by young people using products sold as "bath salts," which are basically fake cocaine. After several states began to ban the sale of the products, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned the chemicals
used to make fake cocaine nationwide.
When the latest government study indicated a huge 20% increase in the number of Americans 12 and older who said they smoke marijuana, the question arose as to whether this reflected an actual increase in smokers or did it reflect whether changing attitudes caused more people to admit they smoke weed. Regardless, illegal drug use in general is increasing.
In one of the most controversial moves of the year, Florida became the first state to initiate drug screening for all adults applying for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Applicants will have to pay to take the drug screening tests and will be reimbursed if they qualify for the program.
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British singer Amy Winehouse's long battle with substance abuse came to an end when she was found dead in her London home. Family members speculated that she died as a result of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, but her autopsy revealed that she had a fatal blood-alcohol level at the time of her death.
Law enforcement officials across the nation found a new tool in the crackdown on drunken drivers. By having judges on call during "no refusal" campaigns, officers can quickly get warrants to take blood samples from drivers who refuse to submit to breathalyzer tests.
Injection-drug users still make up about 46% of all newly diagnosed cases of acute hepatitis C, but new cases of the virus have declined by 90% between 1994 and 2006, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clean blood supply and safe needle-exchange programs were credited with the dramatic drop.
A federal judge ruled that employers have the right to fire employees who test positive for marijuana even if they live in a state where medical marijuana is legal and they have a prescription to use the drug for a legitimate medical purpose.
A new Florida law established a prescription drug-monitoring database system to fight the state's huge oxycodone sales problem. The system will be funded by local law enforcement agencies using forfeiture funds. Pharmaceutical companies are specifically forbidden to fund the monitoring system.
The growth in prescription drugs abuse, ruled this year as an epidemic, prompted the National Association of Chain Drug Stores to join the effort to fight the problem. The association supported steps by Congress to reduce prescription drug abuse, misuse, diversion and fraud.
A safety campaign aimed at reducing harm among young Los Angeles ravers who use the drug ecstasy drew fire from critics, who claimed it was sending the wrong message. The Department of Public Health's flyers were designed to minimize potential harm, but critics said the message should be there is no safe way to use the drug.