There’s a lot of drug-related news about fake marijuana, Xanax and even heroin. I want to talk to my teenagers about the dangers of all these fake drugs. Can you give me a basic understanding of this strange new world?
Kathy G., Dunedin, Fla.
Yes we can, and we know that overdoses of counterfeit heroin and other drugs have hit your area hard, costing many young lives. Here’s what we know:
Syncanns, or synthetic cannabinoids
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They’re souped-up versions of the active ingredient in marijuana — THC. These extra-strong mixtures often are sprayed on dried plant material so they can be smoked, or are sold as liquids for use in e-cigarettes and other devices. They’re called Spice and K2, and they raise blood pressure, reduce the blood supply to your heart (killing some users) and cause kidney damage, seizures and psychotic symptoms.
Still, these products are marketed in retail outlets and online as inexpensive, “natural” highs. They’re far from it!
Phony brand-name drugs
There are lethal imitations of brand-name drugs, such as Xanax (used to treat anxiety disorders). It’s marketed as “Super Pill,” and contains the prescription medication plus fentanyl, making the pill 50 times more potent than usual. It has caused many deaths; eight, at last count, in your county (Pinellas), Kathy.
Heroin often is laced with a sedative — acetyl fentanyl. This mixture is 15 times more potent than heroin alone! Recently, carfentanil (an elephant tranquilizer 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which makes it 15,000 times more potent than heroin!) is being sold as heroin.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says that in any form — whether it’s powder, blotter paper, tablets or spray — carfentanil and related substances are potentially lethal in small amounts. Any contact, even accidental, requires an immediate 911 call.
Fortunately, parents can help their children avoid drug and alcohol abuse by talking to them about the dangers of recreational drugs; having family meals together regularly; and listening to their kids, not just lecturing them. So share this column with your teens and let them know just how much you care about them.
I keep hearing that fruit flies help researchers understand human genetics because they have very simple DNA. But lately I heard that studying fruit flies can help improve my type II diabetes treatments. Really?
Fred W., Wilmington, Del.
Yep. Those tiny, short-lived creatures are super-great mini-examples of how genes work in humans. They don’t provide everything, but they do serve as a model for human genetics and type II diabetes.
As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” And researchers have discovered that the fructose (fruit sugar) in a banana can mess with genes that control fruit flies’ insulin receptors and trigger the insects’ version of type II diabetes.
Just recently, a group of scientists at Michigan State University had the flies, Drosophila melanogaster, overindulge in bananas and were able to observe how the insects’ insulin-receptor genes were turned off when exposed to a fructose overload, creating insulin resistance. Since insulin resistance is one hallmark of type II diabetes and is responsible for chronically elevated glucose levels, that insight could bear fruit for human treatments.
But let’s back up. One reason scientists use fruit flies to study human biology is that 75 percent of the genes that cause disease in people are found in the fruit fly!
Also, fruit fly populations are inexpensive to maintain and have a short lifespan (seven to 12 days), which means scientists can answer many questions about lifelong biological processes quickly and efficiently.
That’s why MSU researchers are excited to discover how fruit flies develop insulin resistance. The next step is to find a way to regulate the flies’ gene expression in order to prevent or reverse insulin resistance. The big question: If the scientists are able to prevent insulin resistance in Drosophila, will the technique work in humans? Stay tuned for the buzz.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To submit questions, write to Drs. Oz and Roizen, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019-5238, or visit sharecare.com. Their column appears Monday.