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Cocaine and Alcohol: A Deadly Combination

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Cocaine and alcohol: here’s why they’re such a deadly combination

By Vinood Patel for The Conversation

When anyone under the age of 40 is admitted to a hospital emergency department complaining of chest pain, the doctor is likely to ask if the patient has taken cocaine. Cocaine use is a risk factor for heart attacks, but that risk is magnified when combined with alcohol.

According to EU data, around 2.3m young adults (aged 15-34) in Europe used cocaine in the last year. And cocaine use in the UK has been increasing rapidly, with Bristol and London leading the way.

Londoners consume twice the amount of any other European city – roughly 23kg of the class A drug every day. This works out at more than half a million doses of cocaine, with an estimated street value of £2.75m.

What makes this data more striking is that while the cost of a gram of cocaine has historically remained the same, the purity has increased dramatically, from 20% in 2009 to 50% in 2016, with some reports of super-strength (100%) cocaine being sold.

How cocaine works

Cocaine has many effects on the body but has several target organs: the brain, heart and liver. Cocaine affects the brain by increasing the amount of a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which causes a person to feel euphoric, have more energy and feel more confident.

Cocaine stimulates the reward center of the brain within seconds to minutes. But the effects are short-lived, lasting between five and 30 minutes, which partly depends on how it is taken. Injecting or smoking cocaine results in a shorter-lasting high (five to ten minutes) than snorting (15 to 30 minutes).

The short-lasting effects cause a user to repeat taking cocaine for the rewarding stimulus, which can result in a person eventually becoming addicted. The consequences of long-term use include an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and depression.

Dangerous by-product

Many people who take cocaine drink alcohol at the same time. This is in part because of the opposing physiological effects of each drug. Cocaine can increase anxiety, whereas alcohol acts as a depressant, which relieves anxiety.

The combination can also enhance the euphoric effect, fuelling the brain’s reward system. Despite this, an unknown consequence to many regular or even recreational users is that combining alcohol with cocaine is cardiotoxic.

The liver is the major organ where cocaine is metabolized (broken down). But when cocaine is taken with alcohol, the liver produces a new byproduct called cocaethylene. It is thought that about 20% of the cocaine that is consumed is turned into this new chemical. Cocaethylene also remains in the blood circulation three to five times longer than cocaine.

Cocaethylene has considerably greater potency than cocaine, increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, which can lead to increased risk of stroke, arrhythmia and heart attack. Some studies suggest a 20-fold increased risk of a heart attack when cocaine and alcohol are used together.

Alcohol’s toxic products can also directly affect the heart, lowering blood pressure and causing an increase in heart rate. Our group has shown that binge drinking can increase the risk of a heart attack.

As cocaethylene blocks the reabsorption of dopamine in the brain, it produces higher euphoric effects for both cocaine and alcohol, which can create a vicious cycle of taking more of each drug. A person is also more likely to engage in risky and violent behavior.

Both alcohol and cocaine alone can cause inflammation (hepatitis) to the liver, however, when taken together where cocaethylene is produced, studies have reported greater liver injury.

As cocaine is more readily available in many cities across the world, it is important for users to be fully aware of the short- and long-term health risks of using cocaine and alcohol because the consequences can be fatal.

Vinood Patel is a Reader in Clinical Biochemistry, University of Westminster, and does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Health

County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family

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LOS ANGELES – 300 iPads have been donated to Los Angeles County hospitals to facilitate patient-family communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift is through a partnership with the Annenberg Foundation, Brilliant Corners, and the Los Angeles County Center for Strategic Partnerships.

“The engagement of loved ones during hospitalization has been shown to improve clinical outcomes,” said DHS Director, Dr. Christina Ghaly. “Clinical staff identified a role for virtual visiting through technology in order to facilitate this family involvement. The generous donations by the Annenberg Foundation and MobileDemand will help support this critical element of our patients’ care.” 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, patient visitation by family and loved ones is limited at facilities in order to prevent exposure and the spread of disease. While there are some exceptions, such as the birth of a child or death of a patient, visitation is not permitted for the vast majority of patients and not allowed at all for COVID-19 patients. 

The donation provides 300 iPads to ensure patients and their families are able to connect, despite restrictions in access to the hospital. A second donation, by MobileDemand, provides rugged, protective healthcare iPad cases to protect against damage and loss. The rugged case also has an adjustable easel attached, providing effortless viewing for patients who are too weak to hold a tablet. Additionally, it frees health care staff from having to hold the device for patients.

“This is a wonderful example of how philanthropic organizations, nonprofits, government, and businesses can collaborate and meet an immediate need in our community,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation. “Being able to offer an opportunity for comfort and connection to those suffering and to alleviate some of the stress from our frontline caregivers is of utmost importance.”

While social distancing has been successful in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles County, it is anticipated that it will continue for several months. With this gift, physicians and nurses will be able to place an iPad in the room of COVID and other critically-ill patients for the duration of the admission and reduce potential exposure and use of personal protective equipment going in and out of the room. Having a stationary iPad helps relieve medical staff who would otherwise have to hold the phone for a patient or search for the person’s personal phone. It also will allow patients who do not have a personal mobile device to communicate and “visit” with their family.

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS) is the second largest municipal health system in the nation. Through its integrated system of 26 health centers and four hospitals – LAC+USC Medical Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center – and expanded network of community partner clinics, DHS annually provides direct care for 600,000 unique patients, employs over 22,000 staff, and has an annual budget of over $6 billion.

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Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is putting a strain on essential workers such as first responders and healthcare workers who are on the frontlines in the effort to care for coronavirus patients so the City of West Hollywood is setting out to recognize them in a special way on May 6.

National Nurses Day is a day of recognition to celebrate and honor the contributions that nurses have made and continue to make in our communities and throughout the nation. National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6, which marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, a week-long celebration to raise awareness of the value of nursing and educate the public on the role nurses play in meeting the healthcare needs of Americans. National Nurses Week concludes on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, or as she was more commonly known, “The Lady of the Lamp” and founder of modern nursing.

The West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is coordinating two motorcades to honor healthcare workers on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, which is nationally recognized as National Nurses Day. The processions will begin at 9:45 a.m. and at 7:15 p.m. on Santa Monica Boulevard at La Cienega Boulevard and the motorcades will head west and then travel southbound on N. San Vicente Boulevard passing multiple medical center locations in West Hollywood en route to a destination outside the emergency room entrance of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Gracie Allen Drive. First responders will briefly stop, exit their vehicles and applaud healthcare workers while wearing face coverings and practicing appropriate social distancing.

“Our nurses and healthcare workers are nothing short of heroes,” said City of West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore Lindsey P. Horvath. “The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us just how critical their work is to our everyday health and safety. This National Nurses Day means so much more to all of us — the City of West Hollywood and our LA County Sheriff’s West Hollywood Station and LA County Fire Stations; the City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Police and Fire; the City of Los Angeles and LAPD and LAFD; the California Highway Patrol, and more — and we will honor these heroes in a special way for the care that they provide, which often goes unseen and unrecognized, in carrying us through this crisis.”

“As the worldwide response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, the critical importance of nurses in our society has been brought sharply into focus,” said City of West Hollywood Councilmember John Heilman. “More often than not, when a coronavirus patient ends up in a hospital, it is the nurses at the frontlines who are responsible for their care and treatment, putting themselves at risk in the process. We can’t say ‘thank you’ strongly enough.”

The City of West Hollywood encourages residents and community members to participate during this day of celebration while still adhering to LA County Safer At Home Orders and social distancing requirements. Suggested forms of participation include amplifying posts on social media channels, making yard or window signs and banners, participating in a coordinated daily applause or shout out for nurses and healthcare workers, and donating to organizations that are addressing the emerging needs of nurses and healthcare workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) health pandemic.

According to the American Nursing Association, nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than four million registered nurses in the United States. Registered nurses comprise one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce and are the primary providers of hospital patient care, delivering most of the nation’s long-term care. In nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85 percent of the workforce. This year, with the onset of coronavirus, nurses have stepped up and shown the incredible impact they have on our healthcare system. It is more important than ever that we recognize National Nurses Day and celebrate the significance of nurses every day.

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Health

Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

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Texas & California Wet Markets Show Full Extent of Vile Conditions

(TMZ) — It’s becoming more clear by the day that wet markets are NOT just a China problem — it’s an American problem too … just take a look at these latest clips from Texas and California.

TMZ has gotten a hold of even more graphic videos of two different live animal shops in TX and CA — where people pick out the animal, have it slaughtered on the spot and then sold to them right then and there — and you see the mixed-in livestock runs the gamut.

There are pigs in pens, goats and sheep hoarded together … and, of course, as we’ve seen in New York and elsewhere — chicken and rabbits cooped up in cages — all in the same area within earshot of each other, and all getting butchered.

Ya got pigs hanging from hooks out in the open, chicken beaks, feathers and guts all over the floor and in an exposed trash can — this while customers (including kids) come in and browse the freezer for whatever cuts of meat they want. It’s downright dirty and gross.

As we’ve been told by the experts, these one-stop-shop slaughterhouses/storefronts can be breeding grounds for disease — including new viruses, like COVID-19, which supposedly got started at a wet market in China.

We already know of lawmakers in Cali and New York working to get these things shut down, but it’s pretty apparent there needs to be federal legislation rolled out to address this. Can’t call the kettle black when we’re swimming in the freakin’ pot.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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