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The NIH has awarded $2.3M for a pilot project, led by Boston Children's Hospital, to develop a vaccine that would protect people with opioid use disorder against an accidental fentanyl overdose. Fentanyl is responsible for a rising number of opioid deaths, and opioid users may not be aware that their drugs are laced with fentanyl. The study will also interview participants to determine their attitudes about potentially receiving an opioid vaccine. Future work will explore the possibility of protecting against accidental overdose of opiates other than fentanyl, and whether an opioid vaccine might benefit substance users more broadly.

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Other news stories

Online Searching and Social Media to Detect Alcohol Use Risk at Population Scale (AJPM, 2019)

Due to the high morbidity and mortality rates associated with alcohol use, especially among youth, efforts have been taken to find scalable methods to monitor adolescent alcohol use, as current methods are constrained by time and labor. In the 2019 American Journal of Preventive Medicine article “Online Searching and Social Media to Detect Alcohol Use Risk at Population Scale” Dr. Elissa Weitzman and her colleagues developed a novel method for monitoring state-wide alcohol use and the effects of local policy on youth drinking culture. By looking at alcohol key-word Twitter and Google Trends, Dr. Weitzman and her colleagues found strong associations between alcohol use rates and state-wide alcohol-related searches and postings. Furthermore, the most stringent state policies on alcohol use were associated with lower posting and searching rates. These findings support the use of this novel method to monitor alcohol use on a large scale and to evaluate the impact of local policy on drinking culture. Read more here

 

Marijuana use and psychotic disorders in teens: Is there a correlation? (BCH Notes, 2018)
A strong correlation has been shown between adolescent marijuana use and development of psychotic disorders later in life. In fact, there is evidence to suggest marijuana use plays at least a partially- causal role. To understand the nature of the connection between marijuana use and acute psychosis, Dr. Elissa Weitzman and Dr. Sharon Levy conducted a study of adolescents with reported marijuana use. Of those surveyed, approximately four out of ten self-reported experiencing psychotic symptoms during or immediately after ingestion. This study has implications for the early recognition of psychotic disorder susceptibility, as psychotic symptoms may signify a predisposition to future disorder development. Read more on the story here and here.

 

Many Teens with Chronic Illnesses Use Alcohol, Pot (Medicinenet, 2015)
Contradicting previous theories on substance abuse and youth with chronic conditions, a recent study shows that alcohol and marijuana use among high school students with asthma, cystic fibrosis, type one diabetes, juvenile arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease is comparable to their peers. Approximately one-third and one-fifth of students surveyed with these conditions reported alcohol consumption or marijuana use in the past year, respectively. As alcohol can affect labs results and interact with medications, these results came as somewhat of a surprise: "We thought having a chronic illness might be protective, to some extent, given the potential for near-term serious health harm and the high value youth place on staying healthy. While it's tempting to think that these youth are somehow immune from typical adolescent risk behaviors, they are not," says Dr. Elissa Weitzman, first author of the study. Even though students’ lack of awareness of these complications might factor in to these user rates, this study highlights that students with chronic conditions are still “looking to have fun, fit in and 'escape'... Novelty seeking and experimentation—it’s what teens do”.  Read more on the story here and here.

 

Cheap Drinks and Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture (NPR, 2014)

Binge-drinking by college and university students has been shown to contribute to sexual assaults, motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and even approximately 1,800 deaths each year. However, this behavior is sometimes expected and even normalized by college drinking culture: “there is an expectation that drinking — heavy drinking — is just part of the college experience," says Dr. Sharon Levy of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Adolescent Substance Abuse Program.  

In order to better understand why young adults begin to drink heavily, Dr. Elissa Weitzman conducted a national survey of college freshmen on the conditions that contribute to college drinking culture. One of the largest contributing factors to a student’s decision to drink was the access to cheap alcohol, facilitated by specials at bars and clubs.  In another study, Dr. Weitzman determined that by restricting these promotions at bars frequented by university students, student drinking rates—and related behaviors such as missing class-- decreased. As a result, the culture of drinking might be more flexible and subject to changes in social conditions than previously thought. “Communities absolutely have the power to change the environment around them,” says Dr. Weitzman. Read more on the story here. 

 

 


Boston Children’s Meet-up Group: “Making Science” in Fiber Arts

Sometimes my best ideas come when I least expect them – including when I’m knitting or doing something with my hands and talking to colleagues and friends.If you are a knitter, crocheter or fiber arts “maker” (novice or advanced), your peers will be sitting, making, and talking science and ideasonce a month in the 333 Longwood 3rdFloor (ORL LO 365) Conference Room. We’d love to see you and your project there – let us know you’re coming so we can provide a light lunch; register by emailing us; newcomers welcome!

 

For more updates and news, follow Dr. Weitzman on Twitter