Alcohol

Lab Notes – Spring 2018

Early Dependency Leads to Lower Achievement

cannabis

A new study has found that young adults who are dependent on marijuana and alcohol are less likely to achieve adult life goals. UConn Health scientists from the psychiatry department analyzed data from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) and found that these substance-dependent young adults go on to have lower levels of education, decreased rates of full-time employment, less marriage potential, and less social economic potential. The study, presented at the American Public Health Association 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo, also found that marijuana and alcohol dependency may have a more severe effect on young men, affecting them in all areas of measure versus women, who were less likely to obtain a college degree and had lower economic potential, but were equally likely to get married or obtain full-time employment.


Biodegradable Sensor Monitors Pressure, Disappears

hand holding tiny biodegradable sensor

A patent is pending for a biodegradable pressure sensor developed by UConn engineers that could help doctors monitor chronic lung disease, swelling of the brain, and other medical conditions, before dissolving harmlessly in a patient’s body. The small, flexible sensor is made of medically safe materials already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in surgical sutures, bone grafts, and medical implants. It is designed to replace existing implantable pressure sensors that have potentially toxic components and require an additional invasive procedure to remove, extending patients’ recovery time and increasing the risk of infection. The research was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant and funds from UConn’s Academic Plan and is featured online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


DNA Becomes Harder to Access as We Age

A comparison between the immune cells of seniors ages 65 and over and those of adults between the ages of 22 and 40 has revealed that DNA changes with age, impacting how the immune system renews itself. In the sample from the aging population, chromosomes appeared more tightly coiled, making it difficult for cells to access the DNA that might be critical in defending our bodies against diseases, including flu and some cancers. In contrast, the regions of chromosome coding for genes associated with cell death and inflammation appeared to be more open in the elderly than in the young. The study, conducted by a team from UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, appeared in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

DNA strand


Portable Microscope a Game Changer in the Field

portable microscope

UConn optical engineers have developed a portable holographic microscope that enables medical professionals to identify diseased cells and other biological specimens in the field in just minutes. The detailed holograms generated by the microscope can be used by medical workers attempting to identify malaria patients in remote areas of Africa and Asia, where the disease is endemic. It also can be used in hospitals and other clinical settings for rapid analysis of cell morphology and cell physiology associated with cancer, hepatitis, HIV, sickle cell disease, heart disease, and other illnesses. The device was recently featured in a paper published by Applied Optics.

America’s Opioid Epidemic: What Doctors Need to Know

Q&A with Dr. Surita Rao, UConn Health assistant professor of psychiatry

Q

Can you characterize the U.S. opioid epidemic?

Our country’s opioid epidemic has been going on for several years. The U.S. is the biggest global consumer of prescription opioids. In 1997, 76 million prescriptions were written, more than doubling by 2013 to 207 million. Americans consume nearly 100 percent of the world’s hydrocodone (Vicodin) and 81 percent of its oxycodone. The majority of those physically addicted or overdosing are getting opioid prescriptions from their doctors’ offices.


Q

What are the dangers of opioids?

These strong pain pills are very physically addictive and it’s often hard for patients to live without them, even after their pain subsides. The biggest dangers of opioids are overdose and death. After doctors stop prescribing them, some patients turn to the street to illegally get their pills, while some may even switch to heroin. When mixed with heroin, anxiety medications, or alcohol, opioids are even more likely to lead to overdose.


Q

What do the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for?

In March the CDC called on primary care doctors to more carefully assess each individual patient’s risk of taking an opioid and to take extreme caution when prescribing it for longer than seven days for acute pain, unless for terminal cancer or palliative care. The lowest-effective dose of non-slow-release pain pills should always be used, and patient use needs to be continuously reevaluated. Guidelines stress the critical need for increased education and communication about opioid risks including constipation, drowsiness, stopping breathing, drug and alcohol interaction, addiction, overdose, and death.


Q

What should medical providers keep top-of-mind?

For patients, physicians should always consider first NSAIDS (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen), routine exercise, physical therapy, hot and cold compresses, and possibly steroidal injections. If opioids are necessary, beware that long-term opioid use can lead to physical dependence and intense withdrawal. Patients should be slowly weaned off. Patients who have developed an addiction to opioids that goes beyond a physical dependence will need to undergo medical detox, or take agonist maintenance medication to curb their brain-receptor cravings. Psychotherapy specifically targeted for substance abuse disorders, including individual counseling and group therapy, is always needed for successful recovery from an addictive illness. Patients should be encouraged to proactively lower their daily pain risk factors, not abuse or share opioids, and seek medical attention if they start to experience withdrawal symptoms or addiction.