The study is the first to demonstrate secondhand and thirdhand exposure to heroin and other opium products in Afghanistan. Bruce Goldberger, a professor of pathology and psychiatry with the UF College of Medicine and director of the William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine, will present preliminary findings of the two-year study today during the 27th annual International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Top drug law enforcement officials from 88 countries will be at the meeting.
Goldberger and Dr. Mark Gold, the Donald Dizney Eminent Scholar and chairman of the department of psychiatry, two leading experts on drug abuse, were selected by the State Department to conduct the research.
The resulting data will aid the effort to reduce demand for narcotics and prevent drug abuse in Afghanistan.
The researchers drew on their 10-year effort to develop laboratory models and protocols for measuring harmful exposure to tobacco smoke to estimate secondhand exposure to opium products through inhalation and thirdhand exposure through contact with contaminated surfaces.
“The research team has an interest in the health and welfare of the women and children of Afghanistan who are innocently exposed to opium and opium products,” Goldberger said. “We have
demonstrated that second- and thirdhand exposure to opium and opium products can result in serious health consequences, including addiction.”
Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s illegal supply of opium, the drug from which heroin is made, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. But little is known about the abuse of opium and other drugs in the Afghan population.
To learn more, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs bureau of the State Department funded the study as part of its drug abuse and trafficking prevention work with the Afghanistan Ministry of Counter Narcotics.
The researchers obtained samples of indoor air, surfaces and hair from women and children in homes where family members smoked opium and heroin.
Hair samples from the women and children were positive for opium products, as well as several synthetic opioids. In addition, opium products were present in indoor air samples and household surfaces such as floors, tables, toys and bedding with which children came into regular contact. The presence of synthetic opioid compounds suggests that the use of prescription drugs might also be a problem. Such exposure puts children at risk of abnormal development, including failure of the brain and lungs to grow properly. Such developmental delays can make it hard for children to pay attention and learn.
“There are critical periods in organ, body and brain development that can easily be hijacked by a toxic environment,” Gold said. “Our efforts are aimed at giving each child a chance to develop and grow to his or her potential.”
As has been proved for tobacco smoke, researchers suspect that adverse effects can also pop up in unexpected ways, such as in the development of bladder cancer.
Preliminary results show consistently that in more than 90 percent of study homes, indoor air, surfaces and residents’ hair contained opium and opium products.
The researchers will release more detailed results later and perform further analyses to get a clearer picture of the drug abuse problem in Afghanistan. To help address the issue, the study might expand to include culturally sensitive drug education and prevention programs.
The State Department has released a fact sheet on the study at www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/fs/140668.htm.
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