The Drug Policy Digest

Monday, March 31, 2003
The "Agony and the Ecstasy" of OxyContin"
REASON Magazine on how the OxyContin crackdown hurts patients in pain

The current issue (April 2003) of REASON Magazine features an article by Melinda Ammann discussing the problems encountered by chronic pain patients who require frequent narcotic prescriptions in order to live a productive life. It is an unfortunate bit of "blowback" from the War on Drugs that patients who are in legitimate need of OxyContin or similar medications are forced to suffer in agony -- or, at a minimum, go to great efforts to obtain life-saving medicine. And "life-saving" is not an exageration. One need only read the REASON article or ponder the Oregon "Death With Dignity Act" to realize that suffering pain can drive some people to end their lives.

OxyContin is the current focus of some drug-warriors who ascribe a special threat to potent (but legal and effective) prescription pain relievers. Addressing OxyContin, a drug that pain sufferers and physicians alike as an excellent painkiller, the article states that: recent years [OxyContin] has been portrayed as a seductive, deadly menace. The news media have advertised its "heroin-like high," generating interest among drug users and alarm among politicians. U.S. Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.), who held hearings on the subject in August 2001, asserted that "OxyContin is to prescription drug pain relievers what jet fuel is to unleaded gasoline." That year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) slapped a "black box warning" onto OxyContin declaring that it has "an abuse potential similar to morphine." The DEA has identified OxyContin as "a major drug of concern," putting it alongside Ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

Read Melinda Ammann's piece here.

Monday, March 17, 2003
DEA "Pipe Dreams" Raid Revives Cheech & Chong Comedy Revue
"We're like the Rolling Stones..." Says Tommy Chong"

In a case of life imitating art, imitating life and (again) imitating (or inspiring) art, Tommy Chong, half of the once popular stoner comedy duo "Cheech & Chong," had his glass pipe business raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Although Chong was not arrested in the raid (part of the DEA's "Operation Pipe Dreams" targeting drug paraphernalia sellers), the episode is said to be worth a good 20 minutes of material for Chong's recently revived standup comedy act.

Cheech & Chong, whose 1978 film "Up In Smoke" was somewhat of a cult classic among the toker set, have reunited and are planning another film project. Chong has recently completed an autobiography which will be published by HarperCollins. He and Cheech Marin had not communicated for 20 years, but credit Chong's daughter, actress Rae Dawn Chong, for getting them back together.

Contacted by Rocky Mountain News' writer Erika Gonzalez for this story, Chong observed "We're like the Rolling Stones, there are so many generations who still know who we are."

Read Erika Gonzalez's story at this site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
The Hatch (and Son) - Ephedra Connection

Those of us who were amused by the cameo of Utah Republican Senator Orrin G. Hatch in the film Traffic, were less amused by this past week's story in the Los Angeles Times identifying Senator Hatch as the person in Washington possibly most responsible for protecting the ephedra industry from regulatory control.

I have commented previously on the current debate surrounding the legal sales of products containing the drug ephedrine hydrochloride (HCl) -- also called "ephedra" -- a stimulant used as a weight loss aid and performance enhancing drug. Despite the apparantly widespread use of ephedra/esphedrine preparations for these purposes (a reported $1 Billion a year business) a study for the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) done by RAND, the effectiveness for of this drug (and the common ephedrine/caffeine combinations) for any of these purposes is, at best, marginal. The good news may be that its reported toxicity may also be overstated.

Those interested in the particulars of this coomprehensive and definitive study of just what is actually known about ephedra/ephedrine "dietary supplements" can read the complete story here.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
RAND Study Addresses Safety Concerns About Ephedra and Ephedrine Use

A review by RAND researchers of health studies involving products containing the herb ephedra or the drug ephedrine raises concern about the safety of the products, which are used by millions of American seeking to promote weight loss or enhance athletic performance. A press release by RAND's Drug Policy Research Center states that the available evidence is sufficient to conclude that these products are related to a two- or three-fold increase in medication side effects such as nausea, vomiting, jitteriness, and palpitations, according to a new RAND Health study released today. Furthermore, the evidence suggests a link between these products and catastrophic events such as sudden death, heart attack or stroke.

The RAND study concludes that more analyses of existing data are unlikely to settle the issue and that new data are needed.

The RAND study was requested and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to examine the safety and effectiveness of products containing ephedra and synthetic ephedrine (a stimulant found in ephedra). Ephedra is an herbal supplement promoted for weight loss and athletic performance, while ephedrine is found in over-the-counter drugs used to treat stuffy nose and asthma.

Although many of the ephedra supplements and ephedrine products are taken for boosting athletic performance, researchers found no evidence that ephedra—and scant evidence that ephedrine—enhances physical performance. They found no evidence that any of the products improve long-term physical performance among athletes or the general public. Read the RAND press release here.