Saturday, December 30, 2006

Doctors say: Raise alcohol prices

Scotland: A committee of eminent physicians has recommended increasing the price of alcoholic beverages to cut down on alcohol-related assaults and injuries (photo).

Committee chair Dr Bruce Ritson said alcohol-related hospital admissions had increased dramatically in recent years.

"Study after study has shown the link between the cost and availability of alcohol and excessive alcohol consumption," he said. "It is no coincidence that the price of alcohol has reduced significantly in recent years and that alcohol-related assaults are now at an alarming level.

"Clearly, we recognise that alcohol misuse is a complex problem and will require to be tackled in a number of ways. "But by tackling the issue of price we believe we could start to make a significant impact on Scotland's alcohol-related health problems." More.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Judge slammed for "AA or jail" choice

Monterey, CA: A report by a disciplinary panel of three judges found that Monterey County Superior Court Judge Jose Angel Velasquez (photo) of the Salinas division engaged in judicial misconduct when he offered defendants a "Hobson-like" choice between Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or jail that did not include the right to plead guilty and go to trial. The panel concluded that Velasquez acted in "good faith" out of a desire to encourage defendants to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and avoid a criminal conviction on their record, but that he acted outside the laws and ethics of his position.

The panel found six instances of this violation. They were among more than 20 cases of judicial misconduct by the judge, the panel found. Details.

Cincinnati: Parents of heroin victims march for awareness

Cincinnati: Family members who have lost loved ones to drug addiction took to downtown streets Wednesday as part of a new awareness campaign.

Carol Wagner of Northern Kentucky lost her son to a heroin overdose in May of 2005, and organized the march.

This year she had a billboard reading "Drugs killed my boy." placed in Over The Rhine and other drug hot spots.

Her goal is to educate others about addiction in hopes of saving others.

The group marched through the streets of downtown not far from areas where drug dealers are known to do their business.

Charlotte Wethington said, "My son Casey died of a heroin overdose. Heroin he purchased on Republic street here in Cincinnati."

Casey was 23 years old. His mom took to the streets with a sign asking for treatment to become a top priority.

More from WCPO.com. One of the parents has started a foundation.

Meth use increases stroke risk

Use of methamphetamine increases the risk of damage to major arteries leading to the brain, and of stroke, according to a report in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Details.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Spain sees drastic cut in nicotine use

Madrid: The National Committee for the Prevention of Tobacco Addiction has described the Government’s anti-smoking legislation as the ‘the best advance in public health in Spain in the last two decades’.

They say that nicotine levels in the workplace have fallen 83% since the introduction of the legislation on January 1 this year.

There are an estimated half million fewer smokers now than a year ago. 210 million less cigarette packets have been sold this year, compared to last. More.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

DEA covering up Afghan heroin tide


The Bush administration's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is trying to cover up the surge in high-purity, low-priced Afghan heroin coming into the U.S., reports the Los Angeles Times today.

Despite an internal DEA memo, leaked to the Times, reporting the arrival of the Afghan supply, a DEA spokesman denied that there was an increase in Afghan heroin arriving in the U.S.

But drug enforcement authorities and heroin addicts in many parts of the country know better. The Times says:
Supplies of highly potent Afghan heroin in the United States are growing so fast that the pure white powder is rapidly overtaking lower-quality Mexican heroin, prompting fears of increased addiction and overdoses. ...
"The rise of heroin from Afghanistan is our biggest rising threat in the fight against narcotics," said Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. "We are seeing more seizures and more overdoses." ...
The Department of Homeland Security also has found evidence of increasing Afghan heroin in this country. The agency reported skyrocketing numbers of seizures of heroin arriving at U.S. airports and seaports from India, not a significant heroin-producing country but a major transshipment point for Afghan drugs. ...

In the meantime, although they may not recognize the product as coming from Afghanistan, addicts across the country are increasingly coming into contact with more powerful heroin.

"There is a different kind of heroin now," said Eric Wade, a 32-year-old recovering addict in Portland, Ore. "It is very, very strong, and it is cheaper than the other stuff. Not everybody has access to it, but I've seen more people overdose … on that stuff."
The Afghan heroin "is so pure that they can snort it or smoke it," said one police official. "So, no needles or track marks." The article also provides background information on the history of the Afghan opium crop. For additional coverage in this blog, select the "Afghanistan" label.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The dear departed

Tanzania: Seven men were arrested near the border here on charges of attempting to smuggle cocaine hidden in a dead body. When their VW bus was stopped by authorities, they put on a great show of grief for Kombo Silili, 35, whose wrapped body they said they were taking to his home town for burial.

But authorities, acting on a tip, weren't sympathetic. They took Silili's body to Mbeya hospital, where pathologists found 59 balloons of cocaine in his intestine. Police say they believe Silili was a courier hired to transport the drugs from Zambia, but that one of the balloons ruptured and the drug killed him. His associates then tried to complete the deal by taking Silili's body across the border. Source.

Industry spent $4.7 Billion for alcohol ads on TV alone

From 2001 to 2005, alcohol companies spent $4.7 billion -- with a B -- to place 1.4 million advertisements for alcoholic beverages on television, reports the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (website). Analysis of those advertisements shows that:
Everyone is seeing more alcohol ads on television. In the wake of a 32% increase in spending on televised alcohol ads and a 34% increase in the number of alcohol ads on television from 2001 to 2005, youth (ages 12 to 20) exposure to those ads increased by 41%, young adult (ages 21 to 34) exposure increased by 39%, and adult (age 21+) exposure increased by 48%.
Much of the growth of alcohol advertising on television is due to the rapid expansion of distilled spirits advertising on cable. Distilled spirits ads and spending on cable in 2005 were more than 23 times what they were in 2001. Spending grew from $5 million to $122 million, and the number of ads increased from 1,973 to 46,854.
Youth overexposure to alcohol advertising was most likely to occur on cable television: in 2001 60% of overexposure was on cable, while in 2005 93% of overexposure was on cable, a percentage far out of proportion to the 43% of alcohol advertising dollars spent on cable in 2005.
On three cable networks—Comedy Central, VH1 and BET—youth were consistently overexposed to alcohol advertising every year from 2001 to 2005. Full Report.

Australia study confirms cannabis, psychosis links

Use of marijuana can activate a pre-existing family disposition to schizophrenia and can cause schizophrenia symptoms even in people without that disposition, a study by the Mental Health Council of Australia has found. Details.

Spain tops U.S. in cocaine use

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Spain overtook the U.S. as the country with the highest proportion of cocaine users as the Iberian nation's economic growth made the drug more affordable.

Three percent of Spaniards aged between 15 and 64 had cocaine over the past year, the government said in a report last week. That beats the U.S. for the first time and is the highest among countries that have reliable statistics, said Thomas Pietschmann, an analyst at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.

Cocaine, once a vice of the rich, is now affordable for more people in Spain. The country's economy, which grew at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the third quarter, is set to expand faster than the euro area for a 12th year in 2006. Spain is also Europe's main entry for the drug because of ties with cocaine-producing former colonies such as Colombia. More.

Electro-acupuncture device lauded for drug treatment

A little black box with a 9-volt battery that feeds current to acupuncture needles behind the ear is being hailed by some as the next thing to a miracle cure for addiction to heroin and other drugs. Known as Net, the device is slated to get an official clinical test in the U.K., where a string of celebrities credits Net treatment with complete recoveries in as little as a week. Read details in The Herald (Glasgow).

Baby gets cocaine, drugs in breast milk

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A lawyer has been accused of breast-feeding her month-old son while using cocaine and two prescription drugs, which showed up in the baby's system.

Marcie Swaze Koch, 36, was arrested Thursday after her newborn tested positive for cocaine after he was taken to a hospital with reported fever, seizures and difficulty breathing, an arrest warrant said. A pediatric emergency room nurse contacted the sheriff's deputies with the drug test results.

Koch admitted to snorting cocaine last weekend, Monday and Tuesday, the warrant says. She also told investigators that she takes Oxycontin, an opiate used as a painkiller, three times a day, and Xanax, or benzodiazepine, which is a sedative. Along with cocaine, barbiturates, opiates and benzodiazepine were found in the baby's system, the warrant says. Details from KATC.com.

FBI didn't watch Tucson recruiters after hours

Authorities don't know whether the military recruiters who worked Tucson area high schools (photo) while running a cocaine network ever gave drugs to students, because the FBI didn't keep them under surveillance during their off-duty hours, the FBI admits.

The recruiters were allowed to stay on the job for months or even years after the FBI discovered their illicit activities. School administrators, teachers and parents were kept in the dark.

One of the recruiters, Darius Perry, admitted to using his military uniform to get past border guards and checkpoints while importing cocaine from Mexico. The FBI first discovered his illegal trafficking in 2001, but took no action against him for three years. During that time, Perry worked out of a recruiting office that covered 19 Tucson area high schools. Perry took honorable retirement from the military this past May. Details from the Arizona Daily Star. Earlier story here.

Why not addict prisons?

"We're not doing anybody any good by locking them up and turning them loose and locking them up again," says S. Dakota state congressman Bill Napoli of drunken drivers. "We need to look at a new way to handle alcohol and drug cases, and a prison dedicated solely to that type of offender is worth considering."

Napoli proposes two stand-alone prisons for repeat drunken drivers and inmates with drug problems. The current system, he says, isn't keeping drugs and alcohol from continuing to fill prisons and jails.

"I'd like to see us looking five years down the road at treatment prisons. I'm not saying don't punish these guys. I'm saying punish them and treat them and give them a chance. If that means more money, let's talk about that," he said.

Tim Reisch, the secretary of the state Department of Corrections, said his agency already offers treatment throughout the adult system and in the parole system, too.

A stand-alone addiction prison would duplicate services and present major security issues, he said. Read more of this story in the Sioux City (IA) Journal.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

India: Alcoholism worse than tsunami

This cartoon is from the Hindu Business Line by columnist Swati.

Serving alcohol? You could be sued.

If you own a home and serve alcohol to guests, and a drinking guest drives and hurts someone, you could be sued in 35 states. Either don't serve alcohol, or put your guests up overnight, or buy extra liability insurance, advises this commentator in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

UK: 24 young people a day treated for alcoholism

UK: MORE than 20 children and teenagers are being treated in hospital every day for alcohol-related illnesses, including mental disorders, poisoning and liver disease, according to newly released official data.

The figures, labelled “staggering” by one of Britain’s most senior doctors, show that in the year 2005-6, during which Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced 24-hour drinking, the number of under-18s seeking treatment for alcohol-related health problems leapt by 13% to 8,894, an average of 24 a day.

The research, released in parliament by Caroline Flint, the health minister, shows that the number treated has gone up by 33% since Blair came to power in 1997.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “This is a staggering rise and it is only the tip of the iceberg.

“The younger they drink, the more likely they are to have alcohol-related problems later in life. It is now commonplace to see men and women in their twenties with end-stage alcoholic liver damage.”

The disease figures released by Flint do not include those people treated for injuries sustained in incidents such as drunken fights or drink-driving. Source.

More women in jail, their children in foster homes

Between 1977 and 2001, figures from the Women's Prison Association show a 592 percent increase in the number of women jailed, from 12,279 to 85,031. According to the WPA, the growth "corresponds directly to the mandatory minimum sentencing laws in effect since the early 1970s. Since more women are convicted for nonviolent, drug-related crimes than for any other, these sentencing policies have had a particularly profound effect on women."

Though men still far outnumber women in arrests for drug-related crimes, women now represent the fastest-growing prison population nationwide for drug offenses. In 1996, the number of female state and federal inmates in jail for drug crimes grew at nearly double the rate of males. In New York State, whose Rockefeller Drug Laws are among the harshest sentencing laws in the country, nearly half of all women in prisons are serving time for drug-related offenses.

Seventy percent of women in jails and 65 percent of women in state prisons are mothers of minor children, according to the National Institute of Corrections. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of children in the foster care system are the offspring of incarcerated parents. Details.

Teen use of illegal drugs declining

The 2006 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders indicates that their past-month use of illicit drugs has dropped 23.2 percent since 2001 (from 19.4 percent in 2001 to 14.9 percent in 2006). By contrast, abuse of prescription opioids remains at unacceptably high levels. The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The survey showed that past-month marijuana use for all three grades combined declined significantly from 2005 to 2006. Further, since 2001, past-month use of marijuana for all three grades combined decreased by almost 25 percent (from 16.6 percent in 2001 to 12.5 percent in 2006). There was also good news about teen smoking as well as alcohol consumption. Cigarette smoking is at an all-time low for all three grades, and past-month alcohol use continued to trend downward. Details.

Teens petition to reclassify sugar drinks as "spirits"

The California teen group "Friday Night Live" [website] has petitioned the state California Board of Equalization to classify alcoholic drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Bacardi Silver as "spirits" instead of as "beer." These high-sugar drinks are targeted at teens and packaged to resemble soda pop or juice drinks, they say.

If the Board agrees, the price of the drinks would go up significantly. In California, "beer" is taxed at 20 cents per gallon, and "spirits" at $3.30 per gallon. The Board is expected to take several months to make a decision. Details.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Frat culture takes another life

Dallas: Jacob Stiles, 20, who was found dead inside his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at Southern Methodist University earlier this month, died of a lethal combination of alcohol and drugs, medical examiners said today, following an autopsy. Source.

Stiles had been a lifeguard and swim team member at White Eagle Country Club in Naperville and varsity swimmer at Neuqua Valley High School, his alma mater. Source. At SMU, Stiles won the title of Mr. University (photo) in a fund-raising pageant held by the Pi Beta Phi sorority earlier this year. Source.

Man strangles grandmother for drug money

Daytona Beach, FL: A 20-year old man with an addiction to crack cocaine strangled and killed Linda Hummer, his 59-year old grandmother, to obtain drug money, police say.

The man's family says they tried to get him into treatment, but they could not afford to pay the fees at the private centers. But a counselor at the Serenity House center said that the man, Christopher Culp, probably would have qualified for outpatient treatment there. Culp had been attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Culp was about to begin an intake assessment at Serenity House when he said he had to go get a soda. He never returned.

The intake counselor told the press, "People are very ambivalent sometimes about seeking help." Details.

Question: Isn't Serenity House violating a patient's confidentiality here? Or does a person have to "sign on the dotted line" before confidentiality attaches?

UK: Binge drinking among women doubles

UK: The number of girls and young women drinking to excess has risen dramatically in a decade, National Health Service (NHS) statistics released yesterday confirm.

The figures chart the rise of the "ladette" culture, which emerged in the 1990s. In 1993 only nine per cent of women aged 16 to 24 drank more than 21 units of alcohol a week, according to the Health Survey for England trend tables from the NHS Information Centre. By 2002, this had leapt to 21 per cent.

Prof Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the college's alcohol committee, said: "This situation will become worse rather than better unless we find ways of reversing the 'ladette' culture." Source.

Study: Meth not harder to treat than other 'drugs'

The belief that addiction to methamphetamine is harder to treat took a blow from a study of treatment outcomes among more than 12,000 patients in Washington state. All 'hard' drug users (meth, cocaine, opiates) had, on the average, less successful treatment outcomes than users of alcohol and/or marijuana, but there were no statistically significant differences in successful recoveries between methamphetamine users and users of the other 'hard' drugs. Conclude the authors: patients addicted to meth can respond to treatment as positively as those addicted to cocaine and other hard drugs. Thanks, Jason Schwartz, for this item. Original article.

For an anecdotal confirmation of this message, see this story out of Tulsa, OK.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tax liquor to pay for treatment: Oregon governor

SALEM OR- With hard liquor growing in popularity, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Tuesday that it makes sense to tap booze sales to pay for treatment and prevention programs.

Kulongoski told the audience at a ceremony for those providing alcohol and drug treatment services that his proposal calls for 2 percent of gross liquor sales to go to treatment and prevention - enough to put an additional $17 million into such services and add the ability to help 2,600 more people get help with their addictions.

Kulongoski said the increase was "only a drop in the bucket ... but I believe those dollars will go a long way to getting us back on track."

That increase, along with $4 million from the state general fund, would bring the total spending for treatment and prevention to $127 million, Kulongoski spokesman Jake Weigler said.

The governor said his proposal linked treatment to the growing number of people, and particularly underage drinkers, who use hard liquor. More details.

Second-hand smoke gives cats cancer

A study by researchers at Tufts Veterinary School’s Foster Hospital showed that cats living in homes where humans smoked at least a packet of cigarettes a day had more than three times the risk of developing lymphoma than cats in nonsmoking houses. Cats living with one household smoker had almost twice the risk, while cats living with two or more smokers in a household had nearly four times the risk of developing lymphoma cancer. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and picked up on the "Why Does My Pet...?" blog.

Crack cocaine: So easy to get, she thought it must be legal

Palatka, FL: A 50-year-old North Carolina woman complained to police that the crack cocaine she had just purchased wasn't very good.

Police arrested Eloise D. Reaves (photo) after she approached the Putnam County sheriff's deputy at a convenience store Friday, complaining to him that a man had sold her "bad crack" that contained wax and cocaine.

Reaves reportedly pulled an alleged crack rock out of her mouth and placed it on the deputy's car for inspection.

Reaves was informed by the police that she could be arrested if the crack tested positive for cocaine.

The woman was charged with possession of cocaine and bonded out for $1,504. Source.

Limbaugh blasts Trump for giving Miss USA a second chance

Radio bloviator Rush Limbaugh blasted media mogul Donald Trump today for giving Miss USA, the underage Tara Conner, a chance to redeem herself following an incident in which she was publicly intoxicated and smooching with another woman.

In Limbaugh's entire commentary on the incident, he somehow never touched on the fact that Limbaugh himself was caught out with an opiate addiction in 2003, and that he is currently serving out the last ten months of a court-supervised treatment regimen in settlement of a charge of doctor-shopping. Source.

When it comes to second chances, Limbaugh wants to hog them all for himself. Oink, oink!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why the "why" of addiction may not matter

Knowledge of the psychological "why" behind a behavior such as addiction may be neither possible nor useful, suggests psychiatrist Sally Satel in a thought-provoking essay in today's N.Y. Times.

Memories of childhood are notoriously unreliable, Satel points out, and one's effort to construct a chain of causation from a childhood event, such as the death of a parent, to a present behavior such as addiction, is likely to be a patchwork of guesses, speculation, and invention.

Moreover, she says, even a plausible story of psychological causation rarely changes current behavior. Satel has known many patients who continued in their addiction despite having an "aha" moment about the psychological origins.

In some patients, the quest for "why" serves to delay the hard work of making changes in current habits, relationships, and patterns of behavior, Satel says. The priority should be on changing current behaviors now, and figuring out the "why" afterward, she says.

Satel's argument dovetails with the poor results that psychoanalytical therapies (therapies focused on "why") show in addiction treatment, as reported in the Hester-Miller handbook. Her forward-looking approach recalls the principles of Solution Focused Therapy. Satel doesn't reveal any awareness, however, that addiction has physiological roots stemming from the impact of addictive substances on the brain.

A nice bit of psycho-chatter that mostly agrees with Satel, is here, by Laura Young. I like Young's title, "The path is made by walking." It's from Antonio Machado:
Caminante, no hay camino /se hace camino al andar.
Traveler, there is no path / the path is made by walking.
I quote the same poem in "How Was Your Week?" to illuminate the idea that each person makes their own path to recovery.

U.S. alcohol industry sales, profits up

Sales of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. have risen by an inflation-adjusted 14 per cent over the past ten years, and alcohol industry profits are up even higher -- 21 per cent in the past four years alone. Most of the profits growth has come in high-priced hard liquors that sell for $25 per bottle or more. Details in this New York Times story.


Maine: Rural doctors need to support buprenorphine

A recent act of Congress allows a physician to treat up to 100 patients with buprenorphine, a medication for opiate addiction that avoids many of the disadvantages of methadone. But many general practitioners in rural Maine, where thousands of heroin addicts live, are not stepping up to the plate to administer buprenorphine treatment. This column in the Bangor Daily News asks why. The column might resonate with many other regions that have similar issues.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Marijuana called top U.S. cash crop

A new study by marijuana policy researcher Jon Gettman estimates that U.S. domestic marijuana production, at a value of $35.8 billion, exceeds the combined value of corn ($23.3 billion) and wheat ($7.5 billion). Source.

Students defeat trademark for "Cocaine" drink

A group of law students at Cleveland State University's College of Law shot down an application by a Las Vegas company to register "Cocaine" as a federal trademark for a soft drink. Enrolled in Prof. Michael Davis' intellectual property class, the students filed an opposition to the application on the ground that the proposed mark was 'immoral and scandalous,' a statutory ground for refusal. After initially approving the application, the Trademark Office reversed itself and issued a denial, subject to appeal.
According to Irina Vinogradsky and Angela Simmons, they and the three other students were partly motivated by personal feelings against the name “Cocaine.” “It’s not just academic to everyone in the group,” said Ms. Vinogradsky, adding that the students shared a “very strong feeling that it’s immoral.”
Read details in the New York Times. The students also claimed that the label was deceptive. The maker claims that the drink contains 280 mg of caffeine plus a confidential ingredient that supposedly provides a lasting "energy buzz." Source.

The drink's inventor, James Kirby, 42, says, “We had little money for marketing and advertising, so we chose a way to get as much as we could for free." The strategy worked; the notoriety and controversy surrounding the name got priceless headlines, including the New York Times story.

The Food and Drug Administration hasn't been heard from yet. You can't legally label iced tea "Whiskey." And the Coca-Cola Company hasn't weighed in yet, either; Kirby's new bright red beverage containers bear a remarkable resemblance to Coke, whose original formula actually contained what Kirby's drink only pretends to.

For one trademark lawyer's commentary, see this blog.

Afghan heroin tsunami hits Boston area

The impact of the record 2006 opium crop in Afghanistan is beginning to be felt in parts of the U.S., and it's not just in the inner cities. Among other communities reporting lower prices, greater potency and wider availability is this letter from the Boston suburbs by Joanne Peterson, founder of a support group for parents whose children are addicted to opiates. Peterson says:
It used to be that it started with OxyContin. Now it starts with 70-80% pure heroin, which can be snorted and is so easy to obtain that it is being experimented by kids that you would be shocked to see using this stuff.

In the past 8 weeks there have been 9 deaths so far of young souls from the suburbs ...

We are in a panic because more and more young people who were brought up well, taught right from wrong, went to church, CCD, participated in sports, dance classes, graduated high school, etc., are dying a sad and slow death. Some have had to be plucked from college to go to detox (if a bed can be found) and many have died. Their parents and siblings are absolutely desperate to try and save them but the treatment access is close to impossible to deal with. Insurance refuses to pay for enough treatment. And private treatment is so expensive your normal, every-day, middle-class family has to second mortgage their home or sell off assets to afford it.

The south shore is taking a big hit right now, the death toll is climbing and we are begging the public to get involved and help us get this drug out of Massachusetts, We need to demand it at this point. Like we all say, heroin is not grown in the USA. Where is it coming from? Who is responsible for allowing it in?
Read the complete letter here. Ms. Peterson's group, Learn to Cope, is also on the web, here. More on this story from the South Boston Enterprise, here.

Meth measure defangs cold medicines

Major medication manufacturers have reformulated their over-the-counter cold medicines to eliminate pseudoephedrine, a chemical used illegally to manufacture methamphetamine. But the substitute ingredient, phenylephrine, isn't nearly as effective, critics say.

In a peer-reviewed letter to the editor published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, two University of Florida researchers concluded that there is “virtually no evidence to show that phenylephrine oral nasal decongestants at the FDA-sanctioned dose of 10mg are effective.”

U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (D.-Ca) has twice called upon the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch an investigation into the use of phenylephrine in these drugs. The latest call came after release of a new study by Schering-Plough:

According to the drug firm, phenylephrine was "not significantly different from placebo in decreasing nasal congestion" while pseudoephedrine was "significantly more effective," in a clinical trial involving 38 people.

“Medical studies indicate that phenylephrine may be no more effective than placebo in alleviating nasal congestion, raising questions regarding FDA's conclusion that the drug is safe and effective for over-the-counter use,” said a statement on Waxman's website.

Despite Waxman's calls, the FDA has so far declined to undertake a review. Source.

Youth demands alcohol, stabs man who refuses

PETALUMA, Calif. A Santa Rosa 16-year-old is in custody for allegedly stabbing one man to death and injuring another yesterday after demanding alcohol.

Police say the teenager stabbed 23-year-old Salvador Cucci Junior in the leg outside a Petaluma bar when Cucci refused to buy him liquor.

Several bystanders chased the youth to a nearby restaurant.

Witnesses say 31-year-old Nathaniel Reifers was stabbed to death as the fight continued.

The boy accused in the stabbings suffered head injuries and deep cuts. He remains in the hospital in fair condition. -- Source

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Army's high school recruiters sold cocaine

U.S. Army and Marine Corps military recruiters working with high school students in Tucson were dealing cocaine while in uniform, according to the Arizona Daily Star newspaper. Source.

More than 60 people were involved in the operation, which was revealed last year when the FBI announced a number of arrests and showed films of the uniformed men counting money next to bricks of cocaine. Ten of the arrested were recruiters working in Tucson. Among other activities, they are charged with transporting cocaine across the border from Mexico.

Some of the recruiters were allowed to keep visiting high schools for three years after their activity was discovered, the FBI admitted, purportedly in order to try to discover their confederates. Although the FBI's charges do not claim that the men sold or gave the drug to high school students, a number of local educators and parents were upset.
"It's ludicrous to me that the FBI would leave these people in place and allow them onto our high school campuses," said Judy Burns, a member of the Tucson school board.
"I don't like the thought of someone involved with drugs having access to my child, and I don't know anything about it and the school doesn't know anything about it," said Kathy Janssen, who has a 15-year-old son at Tucson High Magnet School, the city's largest high school.
Hard to believe, given the military's well-publicized problems meeting its recruitment quotas for Iraq, that some of those drugs didn't enter into the enlistment bargain with high school students.
Charges against the drug running ring are currently pending. More details on this sordid tale -- which involves bribery, sex with prostitutes, and much more -- are here and here.

Afghan drug lords our allies, U.S official says

The reason the U.S. military has not taken steps against the Afghan drug lords is that "these are the guys who helped us liberate this place in 2001," according to an unnamed U.S. official quoted by Ann Jones in today's San Francisco Chronicle. Jones, a women's rights and education worker who just returned after four years in Afghanistan, says that at least half of the Afghan legislative assembly is composed of people with a probable drug trade connection.

Jones confirms earlier accounts that the CIA introduced poppy growing in Afghanistan to finance the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, and provided legal cover for the heroin-refining, shipping, and marketing operation. The Taliban takeover virtually killed this business, but when the fundamentalist Muslim regime was driven out by the U.S. -led invasion in 2001, the drug lords came back.

Jones estimates that the small percentage of revenue from the drug trade that remains in Afghanistan makes up more than 60 per cent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, and is more than twice as much as the amount of reconstruction aid promised by the United States -- "most of which never reached the country anyway." Read details.

Meth mouth: the video

A dental video showing several examples of meth mouth, the deterioration of teeth and gums caused by prolonged methamphetamine use, is here. (RealPlayer, audio required)

Boy, 12, refuses to ride with drunk mom

Phoenix: A 12-year old boy refused to get in the car with his drunk mom. When she tried to force him into the car, he put up a struggle. A passer-by called police. The boy's successful resistance was reported on CNN. See the video.

-- Thanks, Robin!

Mexico under Calderon becoming a narco-state?

Incoming Mexican President Felipe Calderon is so weak his swearing-in ceremony was a quick huddle under a hail of jeers. Calderon's first effort to "do something" about the growing power of illegal drug cartels in Mexico left many observers similarly unimpressed.

Although more than 6,000 soldiers and police were sent on a sweep through drug-infested Michoacan state, they failed to make a single arrest, despite having lists of cartel members with organizational charts. Read details in this L.A. Times article. One drug expert said of Calderon's operation that it wasn't a serious effort to break the drug trade; it was just an effort to stop the inter-gang killings and restore some order: "This is more like a father with a misbehaving adolescent." In other words, stop fighting each other boys, and get on with the business.

Under Vicente Fox, Calderon's predecessor and mentor, Mexico became a major plantation, factory, and staging area for illegal drugs pouring into the U.S. Both Fox and Calderon enjoy the active support of the Bush administration.

P.S. Dec. 19: Calderon's drug sweep has netted 55 suspected drug traffickers and destroyed "tons" of marijuana, says the L.A. Times in a follow-up story. According to the Times, the arrests and seizures hit the "Gulf" cartel, which has been locked in a turf war with the "Sinaloa" cartel. So, is this really an attack on the illegal drug business as a whole, or is the government lending a helping hand to one gang of drug dealers against a competitor?

Abstinence regenerates alcoholic brain

The brains of alcoholics can show measurable improvement in volume, chemical activity, and functionality after as little as seven weeks of abstinence, a new study published in the journal Brain today reveals.

Researchers from Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Italy collaborated on a study of ten men and five women alcoholics who had achieved an average of 38 days abstinence at the time of the study. Alcoholics who used psychoactive medications or who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day after they stopped drinking were excluded from the data. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and proton MR spectroscopy, laboratory tests for levels of brain chemicals that measure nerve integrity and repair, and performance tests for attention and concentration.

Brain volume increased an average of two percent, researchers found, and there were major increases in the substances that measured nerve health and regrowth. There were also improvements in performance. However, in one subject, who had the longest history of alcoholism in the study (more than 25 years), the evidence of brain recovery was not visible within the relatively short time span of the study.

The leader of the research, Dr Andreas Bartsch from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany, said:
"The core message from this study is that, for alcoholics, abstinence pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and to perform better. However, our research also provides evidence that the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing this capacity for regeneration. Therefore, alcoholics must not put off the time when they decide to seek help and stop drinking; the sooner they do it, the better."
Source.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Outstanding addiction videocast by Nora Volkow, NIDA director

Many addiction treatment programs and texts feature presentations that attempt to explain addiction with reference to brain structures and chemicals that act as neurotransmitters. I have never heard or read a presentation as able and thorough as the lecture given to physicians Dec. 13 by Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as part of a Great Teachers series, available as streaming video.

With the tantalizing title, Drug Addiction: Neurobiology of Disrupted Free Will, Volkow tackles head-on one of the central paradoxes of addiction, namely that addiction is a behavior, hence theoretically subject to our free will, and yet it is a behavior which we feel compelled to choose even when we take no pleasure in it and do not want to do it.

Volkow's video lecture runs just over one hour, and if you have any intellectual curiosity about this issue you owe it to yourself to take the time and view it in its entirety. During the first 45 minutes, Volkow reviews territory that will feel familiar to anyone who paid attention to brain research during the 1990s, namely the interplay between addiction and certain receptors for dopamine, notably the low number of D2 receptors in the brains of addicted persons-- processes that occur mainly in the limbic system of the mid-brain. The gist of this is that addicted persons have a reduced anatomical ability to take pleasure from substances that normally provide it.

Then at about minute 48, she launches into the cutting-edge new stuff: research that shows the unmistakable footprint of addiction in the so-called "higher" brain, the forebrain structures where we do our abstract reasoning. The anterior cingulate cortex has the role of interpreting the meaning of external stimuli; it is the spin doctor. In persons who are addicted, this structure is damaged; it has lost its plasticity and can no longer play its normal role of inhibiting urges coming from the limbic system. What emerges from Volkow's lecture is a much more complex, nuanced, and interesting picture of the addicted brain than could have been constructed on the basis of research done ten years ago.

Among the notable points that remained with me:
  • Central to the definition of addiction, in Volkow's view, is the fact that addicted persons both want and do not want to use the drug. Volkow is the first prominent researcher to my knowledge to grasp the fact, well known to numerous clinical workers and to addicts themselves, that addicts are internally conflicted about their addiction. The popular notion that addicts are "in denial" about their addiction (that they only want to use and do not also have a conscious contrary volition) is at best a half-truth. Volkow shows with imaging studies why the internal conflict so characteristic of addiction exists.
  • Important in overcoming addiction, Volkow says (very briefly) is reinforcement of the addict's own internal inhibitory processes. In other words, positive reinforcement of the addict's inner sober strivings (what LifeRing calls "empowerment of the sober self") is conceptualized as a physiologically grounded recovery strategy.
Although a great improvement over older models in which the frontal cortex was not considered a player, Volkow's enhanced model, based on brain imaging research, still is only a crude approximation. Volkow's model tends to reaffirm Sigmund Freud's basic metaphor of the brain as divided into a pleasure-seeking id (read: limbic system) and an inhibitory superego (= frontal lobes), where addiction can be seen as an excess of the former combined with a deficiency of the latter.

The reality is still more complex. Although current imaging technology may not show it, in addicted persons, the limbic system supplies not only a drive to use the substance, but also a paradoxical drive to get free of it -- a "gut" urge to stop using. And the forebrain is not only a voice for abstinence, but also a paradoxical channel for voices from the culture that promote use of the addictive substance, and an engine of rationalization for addictive use. Consequently, a recovery strategy based only on enhancement of cognitive forebrain functions is likely to (a) also enhance pro-addictive forebrain processes along with anti-addictive ones, and (b) likely to overlook (and perhaps counteract) powerful anti-addictive energies emerging from the limbic system. Effective recovery, in other words, must utilize and coordinate anti-addictive potentials in both the lower and the upper brain; it must be a whole-brain strategy.

Regrettably missing from Volkow's presentation is any reference to the role of the recently discovered "mirror neurons" in shaping social behaviors. It is also worth asking whether Volkow's eminence in brain imaging -- she is one of the world's leading experts in the field -- may not inhibit the search for relevant neurochemicals and processes in other areas of the body, e.g. the stomach. But she only had an hour. These cavils aside, if you want to see a great teacher at work, relaying the state of the art to a medical audience, take an hour and watch the video,
here. You will need the widely-available RealPlayer plug-in to view it on your computer, and of course your computer must be able to play sound.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wisconsin claims big drop in meth problem

Wisconsin's Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager recently announced that statistics compiled for the calendar year 2006 show a dramatic decrease in both the number of methamphetamine cases and methamphetamine laboratories in Wisconsin--a success she attributes to Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement strategies and the efforts of local law enforcement agencies.
"The Department of Justice Methamphetamine Initiative is working and the positive results are evident in the numbers provided by the State Crime Lab," Lautenschlager said. "Wisconsin has met the methamphetamine problem head on with a successful proactive strategy, and as a result has a level of methamphetamine use far lower than our neighboring states."
Wisconsin saw a reduction in meth activity of approximately 31 percent between 2005 and 2006. Source.

Canada: Don't follow U.S. drug strategy

Victoria BC: Canada's drug strategy should not follow the failed example of the U.S., says an editorial in today's Times-Colonist. U.S. drug strategy has emphasized punishment over treatment, resulting in a huge prison population while addiction problems only escalate, the paper points out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Displaced San: "This beer will finish us"

KAUDWANE, Botswana: A group of San people driven from their ancestral hunting grounds by the Botswana government find little to do in their resettlement camp in the Kalahari desert but drink fermented barley beer.

“I suffer here. I want to go home, where I know where to find plants to eat and eland to hunt,” said 61-year-old Letshwao Nagayame, one of the displaced village elders (Reuters photo). “Here all we do is drink — this beer, it will finish us.”

The San (often called "Bushmen") charge that they were driven off their lands in order to make way for diamond mining. Their appeal is before Botswana's high court. More. Nagayame charges that last year he was beaten and tortured for hunting on the land his people had occupied for more than 20,000 years. Source.

P.S. December 14: The Botswana Supreme Court ruled 2-1 today that the San could return to their homelands. Source.

He wanted to see Lindsay Lohan

Battle Creek, MI: A 76-year-old man who told Battle Creek police he was a local pastor was ticketed for reckless driving about 9 a.m. Sunday. Police said they stopped the man after he ran three red lights, forced another car off the road and was driving at 70 mph on Dickman Road.

The police sergeant who stopped the car said the driver told him he was a clergyman "and he was late for a meeting at Alcoholics Anonymous and had to get to church because God was waiting for him." More.

Orexin: Possible gateway to relapse prevention

Science Daily today reports further research by the Australian team that discovered the intriguing role of the brain chemical orexin in the craving for alcohol. A team led by Andrew J Lawrence of the Brain Injury and Repair Group of the University of Melbourne, Australia, published a paper in the July issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology, reporting that rats who were bred to crave alcohol lost interest in it after their orexin receptors were blocked. The alcoholic rats would not drink alcohol even when put in situations where they had been trained to drink in response to olfactory stimuli. See abstract.

The orexin system has also been implicated in overeating and addiction to other drugs. Dr. Lawrence says that the drug that blocks the orexin receptors in rats may lead to medications useful in preventing relapse in humans, but that the safety of the drug had not been examined and commercial products were not yet around the corner. Source. More.

Top Alaska transportation official busted for DUI

Andrew Niemiec, director of the Alaska Department of Transportation's (DOT) northern region, has resigned following his arrest Nov. 26. The police incident log says:
On, 11/25/06, at 2015 hours, the Alaska State Troopers contacted Andrew Niemiec, 43, of Fairbanks, while investigating a motor vehicle collision at mile 326.5 of the Parks Highway. Investigation revealed that Niemiec was driving under the influence of alcohol when he lost control of the 2002 Volvo he was driving. The vehicle struck a guardrail and went off of the roadway. Niemiec fought with Troopers on scene and was placed under arrest for Driving Under the Influence, Assault on a Police Officer x2, and Resisting Arrest. Source.
Niemic registered 0.222 on a chemical breath test, according to court records. The legal limit is 0.08. He was charged with four misdemeanors (!) and sentenced to attend a 21-day alcohol treatment program. Source. The Alaska DOT is in charge of the state's highways and ports; one of its departments is the Highway Safety Office which conducts DUI enforcement programs.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

He was looking for Lindsay Lohan

IRMO, S.C.: Two police officers were controlling traffic at a church at 7:56 p.m. Thursday when someone told them a man who was drunk was wandering around the building. The man claimed he was there for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The officers tried to help him, but he became loud and belligerent and pulled a folding knife out of his pocket. He was disarmed and taken into custody. Source.

Deer hunters in woods bag meth labs

Deer hunters this season are again finding meth labs and the garbage of abandoned meth labs in the woods of Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and other states. But at least in some areas, the number of labs is down from past years. "Due to a new law that bans sales of pseudoephedrine off the shelf, we have seen an extreme reduction in meth labs," says Rod Slings of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' law enforcement bureau. Source.

Sterilize alcoholic parents: Belarus

Alcoholic parents should be forcibly sterilized, says Viktor Kuchinsky, member of the Belarus House of Representatives. "Those born to drink will never become sober," he stressed. Source.

Although it sounds extreme, similar proposals have been raised repeatedly in the United States; see William L. White's history, Slaying the Dragon. They follow logically from the theory that the main cause of alcoholism is genetic.

Nicotine: So much for "hitting bottom"

Surgery for lung cancer is not effective as a "hit bottom" experience for many persons addicted to nicotine. A study conducted by Mark S. Walker Ph.D. of the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis found that nearly half of all patients who underwent lung surgery for early-stage cancer were smoking again within 12 months. The study appears in the December issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. Abstract, news story.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Arkansas woman sues over forced 12-step attendance

FAYETTEVILLE -- A federal lawsuit filed Thursday contends being sentenced to a 12-step program for substance abuse amounts to government-forced participation in religion.

Mindy Gayle Offutt sued Rogers District Judge Doug Schrantz in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, claiming the programs have a religious component as their central theme and require everyone to pray at the end of each meeting.
"An individual should be allowed to decide whether or not to accept a particular religion, or whether to accept any religion at all," according to the lawsuit filed by Doug Norwood, Offutt's attorney. "A government authority is prohibited by the First and Fourteenth Amendment from forcing any person to participate in any religious activity." Source.
Offut appears to be on solid constitutional ground; see the Warner, Griffin and Kerr cases and authorities discussed here.

MDs can now treat 100 with buprenorphine

Washington DC: An act passed by Congress in the closing hours of the session allows physicians to treat up to 100 opiate-dependent patients with buprenorphine, instead of only 30. Details. More about buprenorphine, the medication of choice to treat addiction to heroin.

Postscript Dec. 29: President Bush today signed the measure into law. Details.

Drug dealers can write off seized stash as business loss: India

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that a heroin dealer could claim the value of drugs seized by federal narcotics authorities as a business loss on his tax return. Source.

Roberts, Scalia, Thomas et al., do you copy?

Who profits from Afghan opium crop?

This op-ed by the eminent Indian intellectual, journalist and author MJ Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle newspapers, appears in the Dec. 11 Khaleej Times, the English language daily published in Dubai:
How does Afghan poppy reach every corner of the civilised world? On Aladdin’s flying carpet? In the secret pouches of medieval "Islamic fundamentalists" in the pay of some dreaded "Caliph"? The business and cash flows are run by men who drink gin and tonic, or bourbon and rye, or shampers [champagne] in their yachts before they write a cheque to political lobbies of their choice in flourishing democracies. This is the largest cash-flow of any business with effective supply lines, protection, managers, wholesalers, dealers, criminals and profiteers on various rungs of the ladder before it reaches the victim. Such a volume of trade cannot be hidden. It travels through land and sea, on trucks and ships. Can you name a single instance in which a supply operation has been busted by Nato, which has 37,000 troops in Afghanistan? When asked, Nato’s commanders blandly reply that destroying the drug trade is not part of their mission. Thus is the corrosive price of war, paid from the blood that flows on the battlefield to the heroin that courses through young veins.
Source.

He thought she was Lindsay Lohan

A Columbus OH man has been arrested and charged with molesting an 8-year-old girl at the New Life Christian Center last month, Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said yesterday.

Randall B. Tharp, 23, is charged with two counts of kidnapping and single counts of abduction, attempted rape and gross sexual imposition, all felonies, Phalen said. He was arrested about 6 p.m. in Whitehall and taken to the Fairfield County jail.

Tharp was at the church along Rt. 33 just north of Lancaster on Nov. 29 while his friend attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there, Phalen said. Tharp allegedly grabbed the girl, took her into a bathroom and attacked her. The girl screamed and the man ran away, Phalen said. Source.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Born-again drug rehab in prison has to refund tax money

The Bush administration has been pouring American taxpayers' money into Christian evangelical drug programs in prisons -- and at least one federal judge is making them pay it back.

Inmates in one rehab unit in the state prison at Newton, Iowa, got better cells, better food, books, computers, live music, conjugal visits and other benefits -- provided they could convince the evangelical Christians running the program that they were buying into its religious ideology.

One Catholic inmate left the program in disgust, saying the born-again fundamentalist indoctrination was violating the faith he was brought up in.

The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the blessing of then-governor Bush — says on its Web site that it seeks “to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems” and showing inmates “how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past.” See earlier blog item.

This past June, chief federal judge Robert Pratt (photo) of the southern federal district of Iowa, held that this program was unconstitutional under the religion clause of the First Amendment, and ordered the program to pay the money back to the government -- more than $1.5 million of it.

The opinion is up on appeal, and the Bush administration is one of the challengers.

Programs like Iowa's that funnel federal tax money into undisguised religious programs in penal institutions have multiplied under the Bush administration, says an article in today's New York Times by writer Diana Henriques. Source. Henriques also wrote earlier items on church-state relations, noted in this blog here and here.

Private corporations who manage tens of thousands of prisoners, such as the Corrections Corporation of America, are running programs similar to the one in Iowa in 22 prisons, and more are planned. Even the federal Bureau of Prisons, a government agency, is planning to launch Christian evangelical drug rehabs, Henriques reports.

Henriques merits a Pulitzer for her thorough investigative reporting into this controversial issue. For one outraged blogger's reaction to the Iowa program Henriques describes, check out Off the Grid.

On the heroin highway from Afghanistan: Tajikistan

You can buy heroin anywhere anytime in Tajikistan, the former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan.

Tajikistan is a major export corridor for the record opium crop from Afghanistan. Drug trafficking is one of the few reliable sources of income in this poverty-stricken nation.

A larger proportion of Tajik addicts are young and female. AIDS cases are on the rise. There are only two treatment clinics in the country; both are small and operate with little funding. More on this bleak situation in this AP story.

Fewer heroin detox beds available

Just in time for the coming tide of cheap Afghan heroin, New York state has slashed the number of beds available for detoxing patients from opiates. Details.

Alcohol bracelet impresses judge

Troy, OH: "To my astonishment, nobody drank alcohol," Miami County Judge Mel Kemmer told county commissioners in his evaluation of ten alcohol-detection bracelets purchased as an experiment in drunk driving cases. The bracelets, sold under the commercial name SCRAM, are worn on the ankle and measure alcohol in perspiration. A miniaturized transmitter and modem relay results to a central server at the court house. Source.

A less enthusiastic review of the devices appears on the website of a drinking driver defense lawyers' group, here.

Dallas' Pearl Guards mission unfinished

Fifteen years ago, students at Pearl C. Anderson middle school in south Dallas, led by teacher Ron Price, formed the "Pearl Guards" to clean up the environment around the school, particularly liquor stores that were a magnet for drunkenness, prostitution, and other crimes. Their protests led to a city ordinance supposedly creating a 1000-foot clean zone around schools ... but loopholes and lax enforcement have left many students and school staff feeling betrayed.
More than a decade after a group of South Dallas youngsters known as the Pearl Guards fought to eliminate alcohol businesses near their middle school, little has changed: Customers exit the businesses with bottles in brown paper bags. Homeless people linger out front. Some patrons drink in the parking lots, and brawls break out.It often unfolds as youngsters make their way to and from nearby schools. "The mental pictures – they're poisoning to the mind, especially the younger kids'," said Richard Harper, who was a Pearl Guard 15 years ago.
This article in the Dallas Morning News delves into the complex web of local and statewide zoning politics and beverage industry juice that the students and their educators face in trying to surround the schools with a decent environment.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Scotland: Women becoming more violent

Edinburgh: ONE in ten people have been physically attacked by a drunk woman, according to new statistics that link the growing trend for binge drinking to increasing violence on the streets.

The poll of more than 1,000 people also revealed that more than 40 per cent of Britons have witnessed a woman who appears drunk attack someone else.

Experts blame the rise on increased availability and lower prices of alcoholic beverages.

People in Scotland today drink twice as much as during the 1950s.

Among twenty-something women, 60 per cent of the alcohol they consume is during bouts of heavy drinking.

In Scotland, double the number of women are brought into casualty wards with alcohol-related problems than in the 1970s. Meanwhile, violent crime committed by women has increased by 50 per cent in the past year. More.

CIA planted Afghan opium crop, writer says

Afghanistan was ushered into the role of world opium plantation by none other than the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, concludes writer Jerry Mazza in the Online Journal. Commercial heroin production began in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the CIA sponsored elements of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and occupation of 1979. Quoting an article by muckraking journalist Michael Ruppert and other sources, Mazza writes:
"Before 1980, Afghanistan produced 0% of the world's opium. But then the CIA moved in, and by 1986 they were producing 40% of the world's heroin supply. By 1999, they were churning out 3,200 TONS of heroin a year ­ nearly 80% of the total market supply. But then something unexpected happened.

The Taliban rose to power, and by 2000 they had destroyed nearly all of the opium fields. Production dropped from 3,000+ tons to only 185 tons, a 94% reduction! This enormous drop in revenue subsequently hurt not only the CIA's Black Budget projects, but also the free-flow of laundered money in and out of the Controller's banks."
Since the overthrow of the Taliban by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, opium production in Afghanistan has revived and risen to record levels, and a growing number of U.S. communities are feeling the impact of the resulting cheaper, higher-grade heroin. The post-9/11 role of the U.S. military, intelligence, civilian contractor and commercial interests in the illicit trade remains to be illuminated.

Arson fire in Moscow detox clinic kills 45 women

A fire in the women's wing of Drug Treatment Hospital No. 17 in southwest Moscow killed 45 patients and two staff members Dec. 9. The blaze was almost certainly arson, authorities said.

The women's wing on the second floor of the old five-story hospital building was locked and had bars on the windows like a prison. A Moscow prosecutor said that clinic authorities could have prevented the disaster by unlocking doors in a timely manner, but failed to do so. Source.

French President Jacques Chirac, on a visit to Moscow, sent his condolences to relatives of the victims. Source.

Real-time online Rx drug database studied

Sacramento, CA: An online network that would report patients' purchases of prescription drugs in real time is under discussion in the California state legislature. Advocates say the network is needed to stop patients conning multiple doctors to issue prescriptions for popular drugs of abuse such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and others. But the plan also raises privacy concerns. Such programs unjustly target chronic pain sufferers and their physicians, who end up feeling bullied by law enforcement not to treat pain, argues Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the nonprofit Pain Relief Network. A discussion of pros and cons is in RedOrbit.

Local: BART Board drops liquor ads

San Francisco: Trains in the San Francisco Bay Area's BART commuter system won't be carrying alcohol ads after all. The system's board of directors reversed its earlier decision to allow the ads, following widespread community protests led by the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog. BART director Gail Murray of Contra Costa County led the opposition on the board, citing the effect of alcohol ads on underage riders. Source. Earlier blog item.

Alcohol No. 1 Killer in Finland

Helsinki: Alcohol became the No. 1 weapon of mass destruction in Finland this year, following big cuts in excise taxes two years ago that made the beverage much cheaper to buy.

Alcohol caused 17 per cent of all adult male deaths, jumping ahead of heart disease for the first time ever. Among women, alcohol beat out breast cancer as leading killer. There was also a major jump in binge drinking among young people in the first six months following the tax cut. Source.

Study: Methadone substitute equally effective

Edinburgh: A study of 235 heroin addicts here found that dihydrocodeine tablets were just as effective as methadone. Dihydrocodeine is an analgesic that can be administered in tablet rather than liquid form, and costs about half as much as methadone.

Dihydrocodeine has been used for years but its effectiveness in treating heroin addiction has not previously been tested, says Dr. Roy Robertson of the University of Edinburgh, main author.

"Dihydrocodeine offers an alternative treatment for those who can't tolerate methadone, or find it hard to deal with the stigma of having to take their dose -- sometimes every day-- in a pharmacy. It is also much cheaper," he said. Source.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bolivia: Morales says yes on coca, no on cocaine

Bolivians have been chewing the coca leaf for centuries, and Bolivian president Evo Morales won election in 2005 promising to protect the traditional crop while cutting off the most lucrative use for the plant: cocaine. Since taking office, Morales has destroyed over 50 per cent more cocaine processing facilities than his predecessor, and has jump-started local industries that turn coca leaf into tea, flour, beverages, and toothpaste, among other uses. But protecting the coca farmers while cutting off the cocaine processors hasn't been easy. The U.S. presses him to do more supply eradication. Morales pushes back, demanding that the U.S. do more to reduce its apparently insatiable demand for the drug. The San Diego Tribune has an article that discusses some of the current issues. The Andean Information Network website has useful background reading.

Lebanon: Addiction treatment a casualty of war

Addiction treatment in Lebanon, never adequately understood or supported, has dropped lower on the government's list of priorities in the wake of the 34-day war with Israel, reports the Lebanon Daily Star. People arrested on drug possession charges who are able to get a slot in one of the few private clinics can get treatment; otherwise they go to prison. The Star's informative report is worth reading.

Prayer worthless, but music/imagery/touching may help

Two studies of the role of prayer in medicine are reported in the current issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch Newsletter.

In the first study, researchers looked at whether prayer on behalf of a patient could assist recovery from bypass surgery. A third of the patients were prayed for after being told that this might or might not be done; a third did not receive prayer; and a third received prayer after being told this would occur. The researchers concluded that prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from bypass.

In the second study, researchers randomly assigned patients to one of four groups before elective cardiac catheterization and angiography. One group received standard care. The others, in addition to standard care, received either prayer or music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy; or both prayer and MIT therapy. MIT therapy included instruction in meditation and deep breathing, and the application of “healing touch” hand positions by trained practitioners. The investigators found that neither prayer nor MIT therapy was beneficial in preventing subsequent heart problems.

However, patients who received MIT therapy experienced a clear decrease in anxiety and distress before the catheterization—and were less likely to die during the subsequent six months. It's clear that the prayer didn't help. But whether it was the music, imagery, or touch that might have helped remains uncertain. Source.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Study: Youth who use alone use more, get in more trouble

A nine-year RAND Corporation study finds that adolescents who drink, smoke cigarettes, or use illegal drugs while alone tend to use more of the substances and to have more serious consequences than their peers who only drank, smoked, or used while in the company of others.

However, solitary users were not as a rule socially isolated. Solitary users spent more time going to parties and dating than kids whose alcohol or drug use was always social. They just didn't share their addictive substances or disclose the extent of their use to peers.

The study followed more than 6,000 children in California and Oregon from 8th grade to age 23. It appears in the December issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. A news summary is here.

Irish sportsman urges action on sponsorships

Dominic McCaughey, secretary of the Tyrone county section of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), has called the club's national leadership on the carpet for failure to curb alcohol sponsorships. Citing an official report on the worsening alcohol and drugs problem in Ireland, which recommended that alcohol sponsorships be phased out, McCaughey called the national leaderships' progress on the issue "pedestrian."
“Faced with the ever-increasing problems associated with substance and alcohol abuse across the entire nation, the reasons or arguments put forward for inactivity by our association do not stand up to scrutiny.” Source.

Study: Early drinking, smoking lead to alcohol problems

San Diego, CA: A study of more than 40,000 Marine recruits concluded that men who had their first alcoholic drink at age 13 or under, or who were smokers, were significantly more likely to have drinking problems at age 18-20.

Sylvia Y. N. Young, M.D., M.P.H., of the Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, lead author, wrote that "After early age at first alcohol use, the factor most strongly associated with risky drinking was tobacco use." The study is published in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. A news report is here.

Bar owners, AA club unite to fight smoking ban

Toledo, OH: A raucous, smoke-choked barroom meeting found bar owners and AA members united in opposition to a smoking ban passed by the state's voters and effective today. A lawyer hired by the bar owners advised the crowd to file a lawsuit against the measure, and meanwhile to defy the law and keep puffing.

United with the bar owners in opposition to the smoking ban was a member of the local AA club. The Toledo Blade reports:
Roy A. said he was misled.

He was certain that Idle Time, 2044 Genesee, a club for Alcoholics Anonymous members, was protected from the ban, so he voted for it. (Alcoholics Anonymous requires its members to remain anonymous.)

"I voted only because I thought it wasn't going to affect us. I thought us, the bowling alleys, and the VFW, and The Eagles, were exempt," he said, adding that almost all of the club's 200 members smoke. While they do not permit smoking at AA meetings, they allow it afterward. The law would change that. He intends to support the move to challenge the law.
Source. The statement echoes the stance of an Omaha AA group reported here earlier.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Online registries of meth offenders?

The idea of forcing convicted meth lab operators to register on the Internet after release from prison, similar to existing sex offender registries, is being debated in several states, in addition to four states that already require it. This article discusses the pros and cons.

Gender differences with nicotine, alcohol

Women who smoke are more vulnerable to lung cancer than men. Women find it harder to quit smoking than men. Nicotine patches often don't work as well for women as for men, but the stop-smoking medication naltrexone is just the opposite: it appears to work better for women.

These are among the findings of a series of new studies focusing on gender differences important in medical treatment. News story. The Society for Women's Health Research has a web site dedicated to this issue. Among its findings:
Alcohol – Women produce less of the gastric enzyme that breaks down ethanol in the stomach. Therefore, after consuming the same amount of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol content than men, even allowing for size differences.