Plus: A deep dive into the benefits of MAT, and more data on mental health and alcohol use from the COVID front
By William WagnerApril 5, 2021
New research shows that the opioid crisis is being exacerbated by a nearly untraceable marketplace on the dark web that is brimming with drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone. We also probe the advantages of medication-assisted treatment (MAT)—both the financial and the clinical—for opioid use disorder (OUD) and look at more data on the mental health and substance misuse implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When you think of opioids or heroin, you think of drugs being sold on the street, but I think what we found here is that it is a lot more complex and sophisticated in how they are able to obtain and distribute these products [on the dark web].”—Tiffany Champagne-Langabeer, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
From the Journal of Medical Internet Research:
The Dark Web’s Illegal Opioid Marketplace
You can add these frightening numbers to the opioid epidemic’s ledger of destruction: Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston combed the dark web and found 28,106 anonymous opioid product listings that were connected to 5,147 supplier IDs. The listings included photos, reviews and purchasing instructions.
In a news release about the study, senior author Tiffany Champagne-Langabeer, Ph.D., said, “There is a level of sophistication to this trade that I don’t think many people realize. In order to buy the product, you have to use cryptocurrency, which requires a high level of technology. When you think of opioids or heroin, you think of drugs being sold on the street, but I think what we found here is that it is a lot more complex and sophisticated in how they are able to obtain and distribute these products. People can buy at a much faster rate globally using the web.”
To gather their data, Champagne-Langabeer and her colleagues used a programming language that enabled them to “crawl” through the opioid marketplace.
From JAMA Psychiatry:
MAT’s Cost, Health Benefits for Opioid Misuse
Scientists from Stanford University, along with a team from the Veterans Health Administration, set out to measure the cost-effectiveness of various MATs for OUD, because, as they state in their study, the disease has “become a public health crisis and is a significant cause of morbidity, mortality, lost productivity, and criminal justice system cost in the U.S.” Analyzing the lifetime monetary costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) of 26 combinations, they determined that MAT as a whole has several benefits. The researchers concluded that expanding access to MAT, “especially if it included contingency management, would generate significant social cost savings and, more importantly, save numerous lives.”
From Psychiatry Research:
COVID: A Double-Edged Sword for Young People
A study out of the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom has delivered seemingly disparate results from the COVID front. The researchers analyzed self-report data from 254 university students from autumn 2019 (the baseline, before the pandemic) and April-May 2020 (when the lockdown in the United Kingdom was in effect). According to their findings, the mental health of participants deteriorated from the first period to the next, with levels of clinical depression rising from 14.9% to 34.7%. Yet alcohol use among the students diminished.
The researchers explain the decline in drinking this way: “Despite some previous evidence that alcohol consumption might have increased under lockdown, we observed a significant decrease in alcohol use between time points. This offers some reassurance [that] young people might not be using alcohol as a coping strategy in response to the COVID situation. Given the restrictions in place at the point of data collection, the reported decrease in alcohol use presumably reflects the lack of social opportunities for alcohol consumption, which is an important factor influencing alcohol use patterns amongst undergraduates.”
Photo: Sandeep Swarnkar