The Scopolamine Patch Nightmare!

Scopolamine, also known as hyoscine and sold as Scopderm Patches, is a powerful drug known in the pharmaceutical world as a tropane alkaloid drug and is classified as an anticholinergic that affects the parasympathetic nervous system. In normal speak, that means (among other things) that the drug dries up secretions and prevents intestinal cramping.

MH900399267Therefore, the drug has many legitimate uses in modern society. In very small doses, the drug is quite effective in treating and preventing motion sickness and is often used as a trans-dermal patch for people traveling the high seas on those beautiful cruise ships. In a more clinical setting, scopolamine is used to prevent postoperative nausea and vomiting and to dry up respiratory mucus.

More recently, however, this drug has become an effective tool used by Colombian drug gangs to incapacitate victims and to relieve them of their valuables, their virtue and even their organs while the victim is under the drug’s influence. Last week’s blog highlighted this practice and its growing threat to become a new drug of choice in these unusual criminal acts.

Today, however, I’d like to discuss and warn travelers of the dangers of using aMH900213135 Scopolamine patch in combination with other drugs and alcohol. Scopolamine is a CNS depressant and can cause confusion, hallucinations, delusions, rambling speech and paranoid behavior. When used in conjunction with other central nervous system depressants (such as tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleeping pills), the dangerous side effects can be exacerbated to a point that a person begins to act irrationally and becomes self-destructive.

Travelers using the scopolamine patch are usually on vacation, and more alcohol than usual is consumed during this time. It would not be unusual for a person to have several drinks before, with and after dinner while wearing a motion sickness patch. A usual side effect would be an enhanced alcoholic effect and even an amnesiac effect.

A person using a scopolamine patch in addition to certain drugs and alcohol RF246527might have no memory of what happened while under the influence. A traveler on a fashionable cruise ship might be embarrassed to learn the next morning that he or she was dancing on the tables the night before and being the life of the party.

I remember a particularly interesting traveler on a cruise I took several years ago. There was a woman that my wife and I played bridge with during the afternoons while at sea. She was very refined and even a bit reserved at the bridge table. In the evenings when my wife and I would go to the night club for some dancing, however, we would see this woman saunter into the club and head straight for the dance floor. Although all alone on the dance floor, she would gyrate her mature hips to the music and cozy up to a pole at one side of the floor and sway in some interesting and suggestive ways.

My wife made a few “Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde” comments about the woman, but I noticed that she was wearing a seasickness patch and had probably enjoyed several glasses of wine with dinner. I’m convinced that she was having a scopolamine-alcohol drug interaction and that the next morning she had no idea that she was the center of attention in the nightclub the night before.

Every afternoon she would return to the bridge table in her usual calm, composed, refined demeanor; but each night, she turned into a woman possessed by music and swaying hips.

So, I leave you with a few words of caution and advice. While preventing motionMB900437803 sickness, also prevent unwanted side effects from occurring by cutting down on alcohol, sleep medications and mood altering drugs. Discuss these possible drug interactions with your doctor before traveling.

Or, you could simply stand by the philosophy that whatever happens on the high seas stays on the high seas!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Blog Writers, Blogging, Botanicals That Cure MRSA, Devil's Breath, Drug Misadventures, Drugs and Amnesia, Drugs For Murder Plots, Interesting Murder Weapons, James J. Murray Blog, Killing Off Characters in Your Novel, Methods of Murder, Motion Sickness Drug Patch, Motion Sickness Drugs, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, Murder With Drugs, New Blog, New Methods To Kill Characters in Your Novel, Prescription Drug Safety, Prescription For Murder Blog, Scopderm Patches, Scopolamine Adverse Effects, Scopolamine Drug Interactions, Scopolamine Patches, Sea Sickness Drug Adverse Effects, Sea Sickness Drug Interactions, Sea Sickness Drugs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

DEVIL’S BREATH – A Dramatic Drug Threat!

Alternately known as the most dangerous drug in the world and the scariest drugMH900448711 in the world, Devil’s Breath is a powerful drug being dealt with on the streets of Colombia, and now in major European cities.

It’s a strong hallucinogenic and an amnesiac. It’s highly addictive and can be deadly. Most importantly, it will only be a matter of time before this drug is making its presence known on the streets of the United States.

Devil’s Breath is usually made into a powder and it comes from the borrachero tree, a article-2143584-130FB037000005DC-752_634x514common tree in Colombia, which blooms with deceptively beautiful white and yellow flowers. The drug is said to be so powerful that within minutes of administration, people turn into zombie-like creatures. The victims remain coherent but become child-like and have no free will.

Colombian drug gangs are using this drug, and the interesting side effects, as an innovative and lucrative new business, and stories of victims of these drug gangs are becoming urban legends.

People have been raped, robbed, forced to empty bank accounts, and even coerced into giving up an organ while under the drug’s influence. The drug is odorless and tasteless and is especially easy to administer either by inhalation or ingestion. In large doses, the drug can lead to death.

An often-used method of administration is that the drug is blown into the face of a passer-by on the street. Within minutes, the victim is under the drug’s influence and loses all42-15655456 capacity for rational thinking. The victim is turned into a complete mental zombie and the memory process of the brain is blocked.

While under the influence, the victim is easily controlled by suggestions and verbal commands to perform unspeakable acts. People have even been known to help robbers steal valuables from the victim’s own home or hotel room.

After the drug wears off, victims have no recollection of what happened, what they did under the influence, and cannot even identify the people responsible for administering the drug in the first place.

Interestingly, in ancient times, the drug was administered to the mistresses of dead Colombian leaders. The women were given the drug, told to enter their master’s grave, and they were simply buried alive and forgotten.

As with many botanical substances that are used for illicit purposes, this chemical also has beneficial uses. In fact, the chemical is marketed in the United States under the name scopolamine and hyoscine. Cruise ship travelers might even use this product in the form of a scopolamine patch for seasickness.

I’ve used this drug in an interesting way to subdue characters in my novel Almost Dead. Almost Dead eBook CoverIn fact, two of the characters who were presumed dead woke up the next morning and returned home—one from the morgue and another from a funeral home. Here’s the Amazon link if interested. It’s gotten mostly five-star reviews. Almost Dead: Available in eBook and paperback.

Next week’s blog will provide some interesting insights into the legitimate use of scopolamine and highlight some of its more entertaining side effects. But, until then, don’t let anyone blow into your face on the streets of Colombia.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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The Narcissus Plant – Pretty But Deadly!

I’ve blogged before about some deceptively attractive plants that can be lethal when ingested, and I have one more to add to the list.

NarcissusParts of the beautiful, flowering narcissus plant can be quite poisonous and deadly!

Narcissus is a popular ornamental plant for personal gardens, community parks and as cut flowers in the spring and early summer. But, it can be as toxic as it is beautiful and is on the list of the top ten most poisonous plants in the world.

The Tulipa/Narcissus plant species, with up to 60 different varieties, originally came1024px-Narcissus_white from Holland. This plant is commonly known by its three most popular varieties: the narcissus, the jonquil and the daffodil. All species of the narcissus plant family, however, contain a common deadly element–the poison lycorine.

Lycorine is a toxic crystalline alkaloid that is highly poisonous, and can be fatal if enough of the plant is ingested. Lycorine is found mostly in the bulbs of the narcissus plant family, but it is also present in the leaves.

This alkaloid inhibits protein synthesis. Depending on the amount consumed, the poison can produce intense gastrointestinal irritation, drooling, loss of appetite, headaches, low blood pressure, central nervous system depression, convulsions and cardiac abnormalities. If someone is given a large enough dose, death could result.

The Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants by Lewis S. Nelson et al describes the symptoms of narcissus poisoning well and warns that children under six are especially vulnerable.

An interesting side note is that florists who handle the plant’s leaves often thdevelop a stubborn dermatitis. The condition is called “daffodil itch” and the symptoms include dryness, skin cracking and fissures, scaling and extreme redness of the skin. There is also an accompanying thickening of the skin beneath the nails from exposure to the plant’s sap.

The daffodil variety of Tulipa/Narcissus is responsible for many accidental poisonings since the daffodil bulbs look so similar to onions and might mistakenly be substituted for onions in cooking. There is evidence in literature that consumption of one or two daffodil bulbs could prove lethal for the average adult human.

On May 1st, 2009, school children at a primary school in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk,2836068-daffodil-bulbs England became seriously ill after a single daffodil bulb was added to soup by mistake during a cooking class.

So, the next time you’re searching for an interesting method to kill off a character in your story, have another character cook up a batch of onion soup using several daffodil bulbs instead. The soup will be deliciously deadly!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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The Making of a Hero in Fiction

draw,glasses,hand,in,mouth,illustration,thinking,type,machine,writer-bc5f6977780ab1c98071f6be04bfc0c9_mThere’s nothing better than a memorable protagonist in any story, but the good guy in a murder mystery or thriller is the one who saves the day by solving the crime and bringing the perpetrator to justice.

As I develop storylines for my novels, character development is secondary ONLY to the actual crime. As devastating as it is for someone to die (even on paper or e-screen), it’s the actions of the protagonist that make the story come alive. So, after deciding what should happen to begin the story’s journey, I start thinking about how that will affect the protagonist.

The same is true if the protagonist is a sequel character. You already know the character and are familiar with his or her specific traits, so there is an advantage to creating a problem that produces conflict, emotions and a reason for that character to act. So again, the actions and reactions of the protagonist are secondary ONLY to the actual event causing the character to act.

And that’s of upmost importance when developing a protagonist. The character’s reactions to scene situations are what drive the story forward. If someone gets murdered and the police detective says, “Oh well, another day, another murder,” the readers’ reaction will also be mundane and they’ll move on to another novel. We must give the reader a sense of urgency, a reason to turn the pages and to care about what’s taking place. That reader investment occurs only when the protagonist cares to the point of obsession.

As writers, we should perceive a protagonist as a complex psychologicalMH900431819 being driven by any combination of past experiences, emotional baggage, current likes/dislikes/frustrations and future expectations. We are driven by our past experiences and future possibilities, and so are our characters—none more so than our main character, the one driving the storyline.

When we tap into the raw emotions of our protagonists—the hurts, the joys, the anger and disappointment, driving forces—that’s when we begin to reveal the real story. The trigger may be a murder, a series of them or some other great evil about to be unleashed, but the real story is how the protagonist arrives at a solution to the presented problem. Without tapping into the history of the main characters, there can be no story in the present. There should be intangible motivations directing the characters to do what they do to restore equilibrium into the world as it’s presented.

office-superhero_650Primarily, those motivations come from a mix of external and internal changes that are either happening or will happen as the story progresses. Externally, the character must achieve something and be better off at the end of the story than at the beginning. It may be a newfound romance or even a change in job, but there must be some evolution to propel our readers through those written words to the last page.

Even more importantly, we must draw in the readers’ emotions and cause them to become invested and involved in the character’s world. That happens when the protagonist undergoes an internal change: a shift of viewpoint, a realization of a source of fear or achieves some significant resolution. But that change, that paradigm shift, should not happen easily. It should affect the character to his or her very core and should cause initial resistance to change. That internal struggle gives depth to the story, and the eventual acceptance of the change makes the believable lie that fiction is . . . well, believable.

There are no rules requiring that those changes must be for the better.Why-Superhero-Movies-Need-Tragedy Tragedy happens all the time in the real world and it’s especially dramatic when it happens in a well-written novel. The protagonist MUST undergo an internal and external change for the reasons stated above, but those changes may well end in tragedy. In one of my past novels, the protagonist is dealing with a life-long struggle of achievement and acceptance, only to lose a prized possession in the end. This character is forever changed because of the loss, but it was necessary so that his life could progress in a certain way. So, even in adversity, there is progression in character development.

When I develop a storyline for a murder mystery or a thriller, the murder or the evil lurking beyond reach becomes the supporting pillar for the real story of the main character’s reactions to the events and what those actions eventually cost the character.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, About Writing, Accuracy in Writing, All About Writing, Better Fiction Writing, Better Fictional Character Development, Blog Writers, Blogging, Character Development Techniques, Character Driven Writing, Creating Interesting Fiction Characters, Creating Unique and Interesting Character Flaws, Developing Better Writing Skills, Developing Effective and Compelling Fictional Heroes, Developing Writing Skills, Fictional Character Development, Growing As A Writer, James J. Murray Blog, Learning the Art of Writing, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, Protagonist Development, Protagonists, Steps to Developing Great Fictional Characters, Story Development, The Art of Storytelling, The Art of Writing, Writing Skills, Writing Techniques | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Good Kind of Salmonella

bacteria-photoThere are so many nasty bacterial entities in the world that can disrupt our everyday lives and I often write about how some bacteria evolve into the superbug, treatment resistant types. Today, however, I’d like to share an interesting piece of research that I came across recently that turns bad bacteria into the good guys.

Salmonella is one of those nasty bacteria that can contaminate food during food handling or processing, usually spread from the unwashed hands of an infected food handler. Reptiles, poultry animals and rodents are the likely carriers of Salmonella. This nasty bug is responsible for about one million cases of food poisoning a year.salmonella-bactereia

Although not usually fatal, Salmonella poisoning can cause severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping. The symptoms develop over 12 to 72 hours and can last from four miserable days to about a week. Dehydration from the diarrhea can make this bacterium a killer in geographical areas with insufficient medical facility support.

In a recent study, Duke University researchers genetically modified the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium not to attack the gastrointestinal tract, but instead to fight one of the more aggressive forms of brain cancer.

Glioblastoma brain tumors usually kill a person within about fifteen months, even with the best medical care available. Statistics show that only about ten percent of patients manage to survive five years after diagnosis.

An issue common to many brain cancers is the fact that the blood-brain barrier makes bloodbrainbarrierit difficult, if not impossible, to use drug-based treatments effectively to cross that barrier. However, these researchers have found an unlikely tool by genetically modifying Salmonella into a cancer seeking smart bomb that self-destructs inside tumors.

Once these specially modified Salmonella bacteria were injected directly into the brain, they dug deep into the tumors, rapidly multiplied and produced a duo of toxic compounds (Azurian and p53) to cause the cancer cells to destruct, killing both the tumors and the Salmonella bacteria.

Animal study tests indicate that extreme cases of glioblastoma in these lab rats produced an astonishing twenty percent survival rate, with remission rates equivalent to ten human years.

One of the reasons that I find such research so fascinating is, not onlylab-researchers because of the humanitarian efforts to eradicate lethal disease, but because of the potential to use such research in one of my thriller or murder mystery stories.

Genetically modified products of all kinds could play an interesting center stage role in murder plots if the research goes sideways (intentionally or not) and disastrous, lethal consequences ensue.

My imagination just went into overdrive! How about yours?

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Preventing the World’s Next Viral Outbreak

I read an interesting article recently about a new initiative of the Bill and Melindadisease-words-photo Gates Foundation to partner with world leaders to tackle the next big viral epidemic.

Bill Gates has said that “the world was tragically unprepared” to detect outbreaks of Ebola and Zika “quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics.” Fortunately, much work has been accomplished recently regarding the control of these two nasty viruses.

38809204-deadly-ebola-virus-epidemicA final trial of an Ebola vaccine has been rated as “highly protective” against the lethal virus in a major study in Guinea. Regarding the Zika virus, an experimental Zika vaccine using inactivated Zika has shown to be very effective in recent animal testing.

However, there are many other malicious—and even lethal—viruses around the world that are now on the medical community’s radar, viruses that potentially could evolve into the next big pandemic. Mr. Gates said, “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”

Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders commented, “For new vaccines to be a game changer, they must be developed and tested before outbreaks hit and made accessible and affordable for all communities in times of health crisis.”

With funding help from Germany, Japan and Norway, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation developed the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and has raised over $490 million of their $1 billion goal to target the following three menacing 21st Century viruses:

MERS-CoV: The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is a viral respiratory diseasemers-photo recently recognized in humans when it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since that time, it has spread to many other countries, including the United States. Symptoms include acute respiratory distress, fever, severe coughing and shortness of breath. The disease can be fatal.

Lassa (Fever): This acute viral hemorrhagic illness was first identified in 1969, but it has become more prevalent in West Africa in the 21st Century. The disease is spread by contact with infected food or contaminated household items. This disease can present as a mild virus, with 80% of those infected exhibiting little or no symptoms. In severe cases, however, the fatality rate is 15% as it viciously attacks the liver, kidneys and spleen.

Nipah: This viral disease was initially identified in 1999 during an encephalitis and respiratory illness outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore. The disease was contracted from infected pigs and bats, but it can be transmitted person-to-person. There were approximately three hundred human cases that resulted in one hundred deaths. Over one million pigs were destroyed before the disease was controlled. Symptoms of Nipah present as fever and a headache at first; but, it progresses to drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion for up to two weeks thereafter. Severe cases advance to a coma and carry a 30-40% mortality rate. Those who survive may even exhibit long-term symptoms that present as intermittent convulsions and permanent personality changes.

vaccine-chart-1200x1636Viral diseases that have killed millions of people in the past have been eradicated thanks to the research, development and deployment of vaccines to prevent the spread of diseases shown in the chart to the left. (Information Chart via CDC. Image by Leon Farrant.)

The hope is that this CEPI initiative will add some new viruses to the long list of diseases that are no longer lethal threats.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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COPPER SULFATE – The Green Chemical

copper-sulfate-flameCopper sulfate is a fascinating substance that burns with a green to aquamarine colored flame. Often it’s used in high school chemistry classes to demonstrate just such a phenomenon. It’s also considered a “green chemical” in that the US agricultural industry has used copper sulfate in pesticides since 1956. It is approved for use even in organic farming.

The copper in copper sulfate binds to proteins in bacteria, fungi and algae. It damages their cells, causing the organism’s cells to leak and die. Copper sulfate especially inhibits the growth of Esherichia coli. E. coli is an aggressive bacterium that is often the source of contamination in commercially grown produce.96599-382x255-Japanese_Farmer

Agricultural products containing copper sulfate are available in liquids, dusts and crystals. Copper sulfate can be toxic—and even lethal—if large amounts are absorbed through the skin. Accidental poisoning with this chemical has been reported occasionally among farm workers.

Workers can be exposed to the chemical as it comes into contact with skin. The dust can be breathed in, or the accidental contamination of food or drink can occur. That’s an interesting idea for the genesis of a murder mystery or thriller plot!

images-2The chemical appears as a pale green powder, but when mixed in water it turns the liquid a bright blue—a telltale sign of the presence of copper sulfate.

Although copper is an essential element and required by the body for proper health, the human body has internal mechanisms to maintain proper copper equilibrium. Excess copper is not stored in the body but excreted in solid wastes. The body cannot handle sudden large doses of the chemical, however. It overwhelms the body’s defense mechanisms, resulting in tissue damage or even death.

As with most toxic chemicals, the degree of harm is proportionate to the dose. Smaller doses of copper sulfate cause nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, shock and diarrhea. Larger doses can lead to tissue damage, destruction of blood cells and moderate to severe damage to the liver and kidneys. Lethal doses result in multi-organ failure resulting from the chemical binding to proteins in different organs.

An ingested dose of 15-20mg of copper sulfate causes mainly gastrointestinalimages-3 symptoms, but higher doses can be lethal. Acute liver failure is the primary result of severe poisoning.

Accidental poisonings occasionally happen in the agricultural industry, but fortunately they have been on the decline with better education regarding safe handling of the chemical. Copper sulfate ingestion is also rare, and mainly is limited to the Indian subcontinent. This chemical is easily found in Sri Lanka and sold over the counter in that area of the world. Burning of copper sulfate in houses and shops as good luck charms or for religious activities has been a common practice among local Buddhists and Hindus.

The colorful flames from burning the hydrated crystals are attractive to children and a source of inadvertent ingestion and poisoning. The chemical is also commonly used there in pesticides, in the leather-making industry and for making homemade glue.

For an interesting poison in your next murder mystery, copper sulfate might be the perfect chemical weapon. It’s easy to use, readily available on the Internet and particularly lethal in sufficient quantities.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

 

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