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.
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.
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 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.