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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Four Loko: a caffeinated high-alcohol content beverage—is it safe or should it be regulated or banned?

More and more people are consuming alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, which seems to mask some of alcohol’s intoxicating subject effects.

A recent incident at Central Washington University in Washington State involving the caffeinated alcoholic beverage Four Loko was associated with 9 hospitalizations, and received widespread national press coverage including reports in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Business Week, and National Public Radio.

That incident followed on a similar one in September at Ramapo College in New Jersey in which a number of students were hospitalized after drinking Four Loko.  Ramapo’s President Peter Mercer instituted a campus ban of Four Loko and similar drinks.  Central Washington University followed with its own ban soon after.

Four Loko is available in a 23.5-ounce can that contains 12% alcohol content (roughly five 12-oz beers’ worth of alcohol) with an unspecified amount of caffeine added.  Four Loko has been referred to as “blackout in a can” or “liquid cocaine”.

One of the main problems with these beverages is that they reduce some of the symptoms of alcohol intoxication while impairing motor coordination, so people may feel less impaired than they are, which can increase their risk for experiencing injuries, sexual assaults, and for developing problems with alcohol.

For example, a web-based survey study in over 4,000 college students from 10 North Carolina universities reported that consumption of alcohol mixed with energy drinks was associated with increase negative consequences including future heavy drinking and higher rates of being injured and of requiring medical treatment.

A recent study reported that several measures of cognitive performance were reduced in subjects who consumed a caffeine-containing beverage including 6% alcohol, which had about one-third the amount of alcohol in Four Loko.

In November 2009, the Food and Drug Administration, which maintains a list of manufacturers of such beverages and their products sent letters to these manufacturers requesting that they document safety of their products within 30 days.  The FDA has not yet issued a report on findings resulting from this inquiry.

There is an increasing push to have these beverages regulated if not banned altogether including calls for a statewide ban by the Washington State Attorney General and, even before the recent incidents noted above, calls for FDA action by several United States Senators including Charles Schumer (D) of New York.

Clearly, these types of beverages have the potential to cause harm and more research in this area is needed to determine whether they should be regulated or banned.

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Substance use in movies and documentaries

Most everyone likes films and substance use long has been a central theme in films and documentaries, from the 1930s to the present.

A comprehensive website created by Dr. Russell Curtis from the Department of Sociology at the University of Houston catalogues films portraying substance use as a central theme from 1935 – 2003.   While the site has a disclaimer: “IMPORTANT:  this is for research; not for quotation or general distribution”, it really is worth viewing if you are interested in this film genre.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have sponsored research reports on Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music, Substance Use in Popular Prime Time Television, and Substance Use in Popular Music Videos.

There also are a number of websites simply listing, describing, and/or ranking films and documentaries with substance use themes, including (shown in no particular order):

Chasing the Frog, Epinions, Listverse, Associated Content, Wikipedia, Bukisa, and Oddfilms.

CPDD has recognized the importance of films and documentaries in communicating the causes, consequences, and effects of substance abuse.

In 2007, producers of the HBO documentary series “ADDICTION” (Nevins, Hoffman, Froemke), won the CPDD/NIDA Media Award.  “ADDICTION” includes several excellent films that can be streamed online.

In 2008, CPDD started including a movie or “Film Night” as part of its annual meeting program.  The film “The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) was shown.  It portrays life among heroin addicts living in “Needle Park” New York City.  It won Best Actress award (Winn) at the Cannes Film Festival.  Also shown was “Days of Wine and Roses” (1962), the story of an alcoholic who falls in love with a young woman he encourages to join him in his addiction.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Song (Mancini and Mercer).

In 2009, “Fighting the Dragon with Luck” (an independent documentary film on heroin addiction treatment in Australia, 2008) was shown along with “Clean and Sober” (1988), the story of a realtor’s life turned upside down by cocaine.

In 2010, two films were shown including “Narcotic Farm” (based on the book by the same name published by the 2009 CPDD/NIDA Media Award Winner Dr. Nancy Campbell), which is a documentary on the history of drugs, policy, and research, along with “Lost Weekend” (a story about a struggle with alcoholism).  Lost Weekend won 4 Oscars (Best Leading Actor (Milland), Best Director (Wilder), Best Picture, and Best Screenplay, in 1946.

It is my understanding that plans are in the works to continue having a Film Night at the CPDD annual meeting—any suggestions?

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.