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Many teens resist allure of smartphone ‘catnip’ — but some still struggle

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The seemingly irresistible draw of social media scrolls on smartphones can be hard to withstand. But some teens are finding ways to strike a balance.

National studies following teens in the U.S. and Europe have found slight associations between spending five hours or more online and poorer adolescent well-being.

Researchers are divided over whether smartphones are harming adolescent brains — but both doctors and teens themselves worry about overuse.

Jean Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State University wanted to understand why there’s been a spike in depression rates since 2012, as teens got less sleep and the popularity of electronic devices took off.

The author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, Twenge set out to explore generational differences by crunching through survey data from large, nationally representative samples of teens in the U.S. 

A 2011 photo of Jean Twenge, San Diego State University psychology professor and author of the book iGen. Twenge wanted to understand why there has been a spike in depression rates among U.S. teens since 2012. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

U.S. teens now routinely clock up to six hours a day on social media, texting and other online activities, she found.

“For teens in particular, it’s catnip,” Twenge said. 

If teens spend less time face-to-face, which is known to be protective and soothing, Twenge said that alone could be an explanation for the association between overuse and worse mental health.

Claims that smartphone overuse is linked to depression or decreased well-being are strong ones to make, cautioned psychologist Amy Orben. She completed her PhD on the effects of social media. 

“There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect,” Orben said. 

Late-night scroller

Smartphones also have their upsides and many Canadians say the technology enriches their lives.  

Jessica Fazio, 24, sees benefits from connecting through social media as well as what she calls the flip side of always having a phone in your pocket. “If someone messages me and I’m with other humans, I don’t need to answer them back right away.”

The Windsor, Ont., resident uses Instagram and Facebook in her advocacy work with Jack.org, a national network of young people who aim to change the way people think about mental health.

It’s important to take breaks from social media, said mental health advocate Jessica Fazio. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

When she speaks to high school students, Fazio cautions how social scrolls don’t reflect “the whole deal.” 

“We’re really comparing ourselves to others and we’re working out our self-image,” said Fazio, who calls herself “a late-night scroller.”

Dopamine-driven likes

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, said Andy Przybylski, an associate professor at the Oxford Internet Institute and Orben’s colleague.

Przybylski said society hasn’t yet truly grappled with how the invention of the light bulb changed how we sleep and procreate beyond the sun’s cycle, and now we need to cope with notifications from smartphone apps.

“If you’re worried about dangers of smartphones, the first thing you should be worried about is distracted driving,” Przybylski said. Distracted driving is considered the only established risk. 

Przybylski points to other areas of concern that came to the fore in 2018, such as how our locations and those of our children are tracked, and how apps, depending on the platform, can access microphones and cameras.

There is a small negative effect of overusing technology and screens on teen well-being, but actually eating breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep has a three times more positive effect than screens has a negative effect.– Amy Orben

Hypothetically, why might adolescents be more vulnerable to problematic smartphone use? There’s a lot of factors at play, said Jason Chein, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

His experiments explore how teens take more risks when they’re with their peers compared with when they’re alone.

Chein said adolescence is a developmental stage when hormones are kicking in and the brain is thought to become more sensitive to rewards such as social media “likes,” as dopamine processing of rewards starts to reconfigure.

About two-thirds of adolescents say they use social media to cope when life is stressful, a U.K. researcher says. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Researchers turn to brain scans to fill in the gaps. The studies are preliminary and it’s hard to tell what they mean on their own, Chein said. First, scientists need a more robust understanding of the adolescent brain and how individual differences from genetics, parenting and substance use collectively shape teen behaviours. 

Worsens mental health symptoms?

When some teens do find their overuse of a phone interferes with their relationship with their parents, friends, sleep or studies, Dr. Carolyn Boulos talks to them about turning over the phone to avoid the distraction.

In her youth psychiatry practice at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Boulos said she’s seeing more young people communicating through photos alone on Snapchat and Instagram. Her concern is that their verbal communication and problem solving skills don’t get as much practice. In her view, it can add up to more arguments, particularly if no one is truly listening.

“It’s not necessarily that [smartphone overuse] causes depression or causes anxiety, but it can feed into making symptoms worse,” Boulos said. For instance, young people may be more self-conscious about their appearance or fall victim to cyberbullying.

It’s equally true, Boulos said, that teens who stutter may find it easier to communicate through social media or texts.

‘People use it to seek distraction’

Other teens navigate skillfully through our world of screens.

“Endless scrolling” can be an issue for some classmates, said Jack Spencer, 18.

Some teens say overcoming boredom is a common reason they turn to their smartphones. (Drew Angerer/Getty)

“People use it to seek distraction,” the Richmond Hill, Ont., student said. “It’s like messing with a cup holder in the car when you’re a kid.”

On the sidelines of the State of Mind Festival in Toronto this spring, some high school students said boredom was a common reason for swiping. Their strategies included:

  • Patrick Arcilla, 15:  “I set a time limit and then stop and read a book.”
  • Nowreen Taslima, 17: Quit social media sites. “It was a platform to advertise yourself,” she said of Instagram and Snapchat.
  • David Stevens, 15: Just listen to music before bed without checking the screen.

Fazio believes educating teens and children about mental health, including social media’s effects, will help.

“We can step back and we can take a break. It’s really important.”

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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