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Latest News Around the Web

Experts Urge Recognition Of Addiction As A Disease.

The Los Angeles Times (9/23, Roan) reported that healthcare experts and scientists “are pushing for broad recognition of addiction as a disease and more medical approaches to therapy,” rather than a reliance on self-help programs and “medication-free” treatments. The government also “has announced the creation of new resources to help guide patients, families and doctors toward science-based addiction treatment.” Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and President Obama’s top advisor on drug policy, has sought to reframe addiction, noting it “is not a moral failing on the part of the individual. It’s a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated.” At the National Institute on Drug Abuse, chief Nora Volkow, MD, said there is more emphasis on vaccines for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and nicotine, that will block the brain’s response to those drugs. The Times provides much more detail on developments in the field.

Related Links:

— “Treatment for addicts is starting to change, “Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2012.

Concern Expressed About Military Suicide Rates, VA Claims Backlog.

In the first of a series of reports called “The Last Battle”, the Fayetteville (NC) Observer (9/23, Barnes) noted, “The rising suicide rate and the increasing number of service members and veterans dealing with post-combat stress or substance abuse show that the military’s mental health programs are not getting the job done.” Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, has a claims backlog that in part stems from the many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are filing for VA benefits. In order to help decrease the backlog, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “met in May to reaffirm their commitment to a fully operational health records system that would allow the VA and DOD to share medical records of soldiers and veterans electronically.” Some lawmakers, however, feel that project is not coming along quickly enough.

In a related story, the Fayetteville (NC) Observer (9/24, Ramsey) says VA “has promised to eliminate its entire backlog — more than 820,000 claims nationwide — by 2015.” The agency “has hired more than 3,000 claims processors and bought a $300 million computer system. But the wait times in North Carolina — and in the other areas across the country that process the most claims — are getting worse.” Patrick Bellon, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, thinks VA should change its claims system so that follows the IRS model, in that VA would grant claims and then do audits of the claims granted. As it is now, says Bellon, vets are waiting for money from VA and “while they’re waiting for the money, their financial situations are deteriorating.”

Panetta Says VA And DoD Are Devoting More Funding To PTSD Research. As part of its “The Last Battle” series of reports, theFayetteville (NC) Observer (9/23) interviewed Panetta, who said, “We just had another $100 million in joint funding by DoD and VA to try to develop some consortia to look at diagnosis and treatment” of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in service members and veterans. Panetta added, “We’ve really been pushing on trying to open up access to quality mental and behavioral health care, trying to expand access, so we’ve got some 9,000 new psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers and nurses.” The Observer, however, took note of VA’s “huge” claims backlog. In response, Panetta said preventing suicides by service members and veterans requires a “fundamental and deep commitment on the part of everybody to address this issue.”

VA Mental Healthcare System Urged To Partner With Private Sector. In a Wall Street Journal (9/24, Subscription Publication) op-ed, attorney Robert M. Morgenthau criticizes the care that 63-year-old Vietnam veteran Peter Wielunski got from Veterans Affairs before committing suicide in May. Morgenthau praises VA for trying to improve its mental healthcare system by increasing the system’s budget and by hiring more mental healthcare employees. He argues, however, that VA can only properly care for suicidal veterans by partnering with private-sector hospitals and universities.

Related Links:

— “The Last Battle: Is the Army doing enough to help soldiers suffering from mental health problems?, “Greg Barnes, Fayobserver, September 23, 2012.

NFL Allows Players To Choose Helmets Despite Concussion Risk.

On its front page, the New York Times (9/21, A1, Borden, Subscription Publication) reports that despite the National Football League’s rules and restrictions on uniforms and accessories, the league leaves it up to players to decide what kind of helmet to wear. “Even as head injuries have become a major concern, the NFL has neither mandated nor officially recommended the helmet models that have tested as the top performers in protecting against collisions believed to be linked to concussions.” Players choose helmets based on comfort, habit, or appearance. “As a consequence, despite lawsuits related to head injuries and the sport’s ever-increasing speed and violence, some players are using helmets that appear to place them at greater risk.”

Related Links:

— “Despite Risks, N.F.L. Leaves Helmet Choices in Players’ Hands, “Sam Borden, The New York Times, September 20, 2012.

Report: Patients With Alzheimer’s, Caregivers Say Illness Leaves Them Feeling Isolated.

Bloomberg News (9/21, Ostrow) reports, “Patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, and their caregivers say the illness leaves them feeling isolated and apart from family, friends and life’s typical connections,” according to the World Alzheimer Report 2010 (pdf), released yesterday by Alzheimer’s Disease International, an organization based in London, UK. “About a quarter of people with dementia hide or conceal their diagnosis because of the stigma surrounding the disease and 40 percent say they are excluded from everyday life,” the report found. Currently, approximately “36 million people worldwide are living with dementia and the numbers will more than triple to 115 million by 2050, according to the report.”

Loneliness May Put Seniors At Risk For Health Problems. The Houston Chronicle (9/21, Morgan) reports, “According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 30 percent of senior citizens live alone, the majority being women. Loneliness” may increase the risk for certain health problems in seniors. For some seniors, “Meals on Wheels delivers nutrition and socialization, said Janice Sparks, manager of the Aging and Disability Resource Center in Houston, a branch of the Harris County Area Agency on Aging.” And, “keeping in mind eating is often a social activity, the agency also offers a ‘congregate nutrition program,’ which is a network of congregate and home-delivered meal providers throughout Harris County.”

Related Links:

— “Alzheimer’s Leaves Patients, Caregivers Feeling Isolated, “Nicole Ostrow, Bloomberg, September 20, 2012.

Food-Addiction Theory Gains Second Look.

The New York Times (9/21, Parker-Pope) “Well” blog notes that although previously rejected, the “notion that food can be addictive” is beginning to gain ground among experts. This spring, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “said that for some, obesity is ‘an addiction like smoking'”; and National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, “gave a lecture…making the case that food and drug addictions have much in common.” Additionally, researchers at Princeton University and the University of Florida “have found that sugar-binging rats show signs of opiate-like withdrawal when their sugar is taken away”; and scientists in Italy and California “reported that the digestive systems of rats on a fatty liquid diet began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced by marijuana use.”

Related Links:

— “Craving an Ice-Cream Fix,”Tara Parker Pope, The New York Times, September 20, 2012.

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