Friday, December 28, 2007

Bankrupt Tobacco Firm Floats Whiskey-Flavored Cigs

Whiskey-flavored cigarettes and cigarette papers dosed with vanilla to disguise the stink of the smoke are among the "new technology" being marketed now in Quebec by JTI MacDonald, a Japan-based cigarette company that is in bankruptcy proceedings.

Public health advocates are up in arms. Read more here. Thanks, Michael W., for the item.

Friday, December 21, 2007

If liquor doesn't get you, nicotine will

Last week's New Yorker had a bio of Malcolm Lowry, a lauded writer whose alcoholism claimed him at age 47; see my blog note, "Alcoholocaust," below. This week's mag covers iconic short story writer Raymond Carver (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love), also an alcoholic, but one who got sober in 1977, and stayed that way. But he kept smoking. He once said that he was only "a cigarette with a body attached to it." Lung cancer claimed him at age 50.

The mag's Lowry story took the author down a notch or two by suggesting that his wife was actually responsible for much of the greatness in Under the Volcano. The mag continues on its debunking tear by demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that the savage blue pencil of Carver's editor Gordon Lish was responsible for creating the terse, minimalist style that made Carver famous.

Score: New Yorker 2, theory that alcohol helps the creative juices flow, 0.

Oh, and don't miss the cartoon on p. 68. A bar patron drinking coffee to a neighbor with a cocktail: "Been there, drunk that." I'd copy it here but I worry about overstretching the boundaries of the "fair use" doctrine.

Let them drink Grand Marnier!

A proposal out of Tacoma to "treat" chronic street alcoholics by banning the sale of cheap wine caught the fancy of S.F. Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius last week. The scheme is simple: in a defined "alcohol impact zone," stores are banned from stocking Thunderbird, Boone's Farm, Royal Gate, Takaa, and similar cheap rotgut.

If the homeless alkies want to buy Cabernet Sauvignon or Grey Goose, that's ok.

Public health authorities in Tacoma laud the idea, citing reduced emergency room admissions and other medical costs. That's not surprising. The same thing happened nationwide during Prohibition.

The logic by which Nevius calls this simple class-based Prohibition scheme "treatment" escapes me. It's just one more aspect of the ubiquitous economic bias that Prof. Merrill Singer describes so vividly in his recent book, "Drugging the Poor," reviewed here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Back from Iraq with a monkey on their back

Jon Marshall's News Gems website writes:

"ABC News' investigative team, led by Brian Ross, worked with six graduate journalism students to discover whether troops returning home after serving in Iraq are facing the same battles with drug addiction as soldiers did when they came back from Vietnam. For their series, "Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs," the students traveled across the country from Fort Carson in Colorado to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to examine the accuracy of the Army's assurances that drug abuse among ex-combatants isn't growing. Their findings:

Many of this country's bravest men and women who volunteered to defend America in a time of war have come home wounded -- physically and mentally -- and are turning to illicit drugs as they adjust to normal life, according to soldiers, health experts and advocates." Source.

The five programs are available online here.

Afghan farmers see through "drug war"

Recent U.S. initiatives to eradicate poppy fields in selected areas of Afghanistan, on the Colombian model, have met with growing resistance by Afghan farmers, according to a briefing paper by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (link):
"The view that the government is willing to deepen the poverty of some of its rural population for the sake of a ban on opium poppy cultivation further alienates the rural population. The belief of many farmers that those enforcing the ban and eradicating their crop are themselves actively involved in the opium trade makes matters worse; so does the perception of widespread bribery and the sense that eradication targets the vulnerable and ignores the crops of those in positions of power and influence."
Afghan farmers are seeing that the eradication efforts are aimed mainly at growers or dealers who are competitors to the growers and dealers connected with the Afghan government and its sponsors. A secondary aim of eradication may be to reduce the over-all supply in order to maintain prices. The Afghan farmers are seeing firsthand what the "war on drugs" is all about and they're not buying into it. The study's authors caution that Afghan farmers will continue to grow the poppy until they're presented with a reasonable alternative -- and none is in sight.

Girl, 8, asks cops for help with drunken mom

"Help me. My mother is drunk, and she crashed her car," said an 8-year old Tampa FL girl to troopers last week who were checking on a car wreck.

With the girl inside, the mother had sideswiped two other vehicles before hitting a parked car head-on and coming to a stop. The girl got out of the wreck, unhurt, and approached the first officer on the scene.

"Ever time she drinks she gets like this," said the girl. The mother was booked for drunk driving, child abuse, and related charges. Source.

Sponsors rat on pigeon

Two Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors took the witness stand in federal court in Des Moines IA recently to denounce their former sponsee, Thomas Vasquez, as "a pathological liar" lacking "the capacity to be honest." Source.

Vasquez probably deserved the slams. He was a paid government informer trying to build a case of extortion against incumbent Democratic state senator Matt McCoy. A Bushie federal prosecutor brought the transparently political case. The jury threw it out after less than two hours of deliberation, including lunch.

But ... should AA sponsors be testifying as character witnesses against their former sponsee? Isn't that against some rule?

War of the drugged

From the Guardian (U.K.):

The army today admitted that cocaine was becoming the "drug of choice" for British service personnel.

Colonel John Donnelly, who has responsibility for army discipline, said a significant increase in drug taking by soldiers could be linked to stress induced by the demands of combat operations.

More on this topic.

Whine tasting

It had to come to this.

The California Republican Party issued two press releases attacking the California Democratic Party for spending campaign money on a wine tasting fundraiser.

The Democrats shot back, pointing out that the Republicans spent four times as much on wine for their events, plus sending untallied bottles of a rare vintage to major donors. Source.

Dual diagnoses have same root?

Substance abuse and mental illness very commonly go together. One hypothesis to explain the correlation is to see the patient using alcohol/drugs to medicate the mental disorder. Another view sees the mental disorders as the symptoms of excessive drug/alcohol ingestion. Now comes Dr. Andrew Chambers and his researchers at the U of Indiana Medical school with a study that suggests both theories are wrong. Based on experiments with adult rats, Chambers found that both substance abuse and mental disorders probably stem from a malfunction in the amygdala, a small region within the brain that plays a role in numerous processes, including the memory of emotionally charged events. Read details. Read blogger Jason Schwartz's piece on the same issue, here.

Don't wait till kids are in middle school

A study of underage drinking finds a big jump in alcohol use in children between the fifth and sixth grades, and suggests that waiting to deal with an alcohol issue in the home until the child is in middle school is too late. Source.

The researchers urge parents to "talk to their kids about alcohol" when the kids are ten or eleven, or earlier. But talking alone isn't going to cut it, if the parents themselves are setting bad models of alcohol use in the home. The research really suggests that if one or both of the parents have an alcohol problem, the time to deal with it (at the latest) is when the kid is still in primary school.

Marijuana smoke nastier than cigs

Dec. 14, 2007 -- New research from Canada shows that some toxins may be more abundant in marijuana cigarettes than tobacco cigarettes.

The researchers burned 30 marijuana cigarettes and 30 tobacco cigarettes on a machine in their lab, measuring levels of chemicals in the smoke.

Ammonia levels were up to 20 times higher in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke. Levels of hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen-related chemicals were three to five times higher in marijuana smoke than in tobacco smoke. Read more.

99 per cent wouldn't use drugs if legal

A recent poll of 1000 U.S. adults asked if they would use "hard" drugs such as cocaine or heroin if they were sold legally. More than 99 per cent said they would not. Source.

The numbers undercut the argument of "war on drugs" supporters that drug prohibition is a necessary dam against widespread drug use.

Quite the contrary, says David Borden, CEO of StopTheDrugWar.org. For example, rates of marijuana use in the Netherlands, where it's sold legally in "coffee shops," are only about half those in nearby France, where marijuana use is an arrestable offense.

Evolution at work

A drunk man in Thailand stopped to urinate and poked his member through a crack in a fence.

On the other side of the fence, a vigilant puppy spotted this invading one-eyed albino rat, and promptly sank its teeth into it.

Doctors at the hospital said the member "should still be useful" to the man in the future. Source.

A good question

A new policy in New Jersey allows cops to ask drinking drivers who served them their last drink. Source.

Some bar owners are upset because existing law already makes barkeepers liable for serving patients who are drunk.

Cops answer that the question helps them spot bars that ignore the law.

Surprising finding about youth drinking (NOT)

A study of 11,000 persons in London found that teens who drank to excess (4 drinks or more per session, once a week or more often) were twice as likely to snag a criminal conviction by age 30. They were also much more likely to become alcoholics, to use hard drugs, and to become homeless. Source.

The study is being used as fodder for an Australian provincial government campaign to crack down on youth drinking. A worthy cause, no doubt, but did the study control for factors such as family income, education, and environment?

College profs modeling alcoholism for students?

College students' drinking excesses continue to make news. A prof at R.Y.S. (wherever that may be) points out in his or her blog that the students may just be copying their profs.
"Can we acknowledge that there is a huge amount of alcoholism in academia? Not the cute Dudley Moore kind, but the kind that makes us less sharp and ends our lives early? I'd imagine every one of us knows a colleague who needs a mid-morning 'refresher' or who always smells slightly of drink. I remember seeing my supervisor trying to be inconspicuous checking all the (empty) wine bottles at a reception, hoping there was a glass left in one of them, and finally making a glass by combining all the remnants red and white wine that were left. I remember drinking with him at a local bar until well past midnight (having started at four). And is there any function in academia that doesn't involve alcohol?"
Read the whole thing. Good point. A college administration trying to cope with its students' alcohol excesses needs also to look in the mirror. It'll be hard to get a handle on student conduct if the faculty's drinking is out of control.

CIA up to its old tricks?

A tantalizing hint that the CIA is up to its old tricks (flying drugs from conflict zones) surfaced in the crash landing of a Gulfstream II business jet in Mexico Sept. 24.

The Florida-based craft carried somewhere between three and six tons of powder cocaine, and either no heroin or up to one ton of heroin, depending on which estimates one believes.

The flight originated in Colombia and was destined for Florida with a stopover in Cancun.

Blogger FrostFireZoo.com reports that the serial number of the craft matches those of a plane used by the CIA on at least three occasions in the rendition of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo to other countries to be tortured.

A Mexican journal accused Mexican and U.S. political authorities of hypocrisy for waging a so-called "war on drugs" on the one hand, and being heavily invested in the lucrative drug trade, on the other.

Foxfire.com observes that the amount of drugs said to be on the plane diminished with every official Mexican press release on the incident, and speculates that the subtracted amounts disappeared back into the market.

The photos of the crash scene, above, originated with Mexican press sources. For a video with commentary on EVTV, click.

P.S. Aug. 26 '08: Someone has removed the photos of the crash scene from this blog, and from the original source website as well. However, a video containing the same or similar still photos is still available online here: http://www.evtv1.com/player.aspx?itemnum=10106 -- See them before they're gone.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Alcoholocaust

If you have illusions about the role of alcohol in creativity, read "Day of the Dead" by D.T. Max on p. 76 of the Dec. 17th issue of the New Yorker. It's a thumbnail bio of Malcom Lowry, author of "Under the Volcano" (1947), hailed as one of the top twelve English novels of all time; he was considered the heir of James Joyce. He died ten years afterward, after passing out from massive quantities of alcohol and barbiturates. He was 47.

The chronicle of his marriage and collaboration with Margerie Bonner is a tortuous, gruesome story of love, hate, help, hurt, rescue and revenge. Bonner, who edited and rewrote Lowry's texts daily, almost certainly contributed the discipline and warmth that raised "Under the Volcano" above the rambling, two-dimensional symbolism that was Lowry's best unassisted effort. He was consumed with rage at everything and everyone; his violent tirades drove all their friends away.

She tried for years to get him to cut down or stop his drinking, but ended up matching him bottle for bottle, and when he finally found a doctor who got him to take a break (using aversion therapy), she refused to stop, and dragged him down again.

Much of the article deals with the theory that she murdered him, for which many women acquaintances and critics applauded her. It's a thin case. British local authorities, who conducted the inquest, pinpointed asphyxiation by aspiration of vomit as the cause of death. That's not murder. But it hardly matters. Lowry was bent on death by alcohol sooner or later. During one of his few lucid moments, he described his own life as an "alcoholocaust."

If a movie is ever made of this marriage, it should be on a double bill with "Pollock," and made required viewing for young artists considering careers in alcoholism and addiction: don't go there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cartoon of the week

From the Nov. 12 New Yorker (which consistently, over time, has published the best addiction cartoons, to my knowledge):

Well said

Sometimes fiction writers (but aren't we all?) say it better than authors of solemn research monographs. In the Fiction section of the current New Yorker, writer Alice Mattison describes a character, Jerry, who, at dinner with his ex-wife and his daughter, shook his head when they suggested a glass of wine:
"... he so enjoyed being exactly as he was that he didn't want even the mild alteration in mood brought on by a glass of Chardonnay."
Well said! "So enjoyed being exactly as he was"!

On this topic, see also Katharine Hepburn, and (much more obliquely) Stereo Sue, or the Quale of Sobriety, both below. Thank you, writer Alice Mattison, for this brilliant little gem, one of several in her story.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Triggers in your ear

Recovering people trying to minimize environmental cues about drinking and drugging should consider staying away from rap music and country music. Rock music, once believed the major gateway to drug abuse, is relatively safe.

Researchers who looked at the bestselling songs in several genres from 2005 found that 37 percent of top country songs featured references to drugs or alcohol, compared to just 14 percent of rock songs. Rap was worst with 77 percent. Source.

A short list of songs about drinking/drugging and NOT drinking/drugging is here, and a long collection of the same is here.

Researchers didn't, but should, look at classical music also. Item No. 1 for my mute-button list is Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde -- an operetta that celebrates being drunk and depressed. Oh, and what about that line in Beethoven's Ninth about being "drunk with fire"? LOL.

Choice Philosophy Gets a Boost

A new publication by William L. White and Ernest Kurtz gives a boost to the principle that persons in recovery deserve a choice (a LifeRing motto, see the top of the start page of www.unhooked.com). Read about it in the LifeRing Convenor blog, here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mile wide and an inch deep

Someone said Baptism in the South is a mile wide and an inch deep. Here's an example:

The cleaned-up version:

JOHNSON CITY – A Bristol Virginia Baptist preacher arrested in Johnson City in July pleaded guilty Thursday to driving under the influence.

Tommy Tester, 58, of 17425 Hobbs Road, Bristol, Va., was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days, suspended to 24 hours in jail, 16 hours of which he has already served. He will also have to spend 24 hours picking up litter.

Tester, the minister of Gospel Baptist Church, also entered a “best interest” plea to a charge of indecent exposure and was sentenced to five months and 29 days, suspended to probation.

Police said Tester, who was wearing a skirt, pulled up in his vehicle to Belmont Carwash, got out and urinated in a wash bay in view of children. Source.

The unexpurgated version here. -- Thanks, Kelly C., for the tip


Gender-specific response even in rats

As if to illustrate again what Women for Sobriety founder Jean Kirkpatrick preached decades ago about people, a recent study found different responses to alcohol in female v. male rats. A group of rats selectively bred to be heavy drinkers were exposed to changes in their lights-on v. lights-off schedule, like employees who work rotating shifts, to test the effect of this stress on their drinking. The male rats subjected to the shifting schedule decreased their alcohol intake; the female rats slightly increased theirs. Details.

Recovery of Cognitive Abilities

A study of sober alcoholics in their sixties or later, who had been abstinent for an average of about 15 years, found no cognitive impairment or other brain functioning defect. Details in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, November '07. -- Thanks, Deena B., for the tip.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Rays of hope from Recovery Summit

A Recovery Summit under the auspices of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) convened with little fanfare in the winter of 2005, and its report has now been released. Among the "Guiding Principles":
  • There are many pathways to recovery. Individuals are unique with specific needs, strengths, goals, health attitudes, behaviors and expectations for recovery. Pathways to recovery are highly personal, and generally involve a redefinition of identity in the face of crisis or a process of progressive change. Furthermore, pathways are often social, grounded in cultural beliefs or traditions and involve informal community resources, which provide support for sobriety. The pathway to recovery may include one or more episodes of psychosocial and/or pharmacological treatment. For some, recovery involves neither treatment nor involvement with mutual aid groups. Recovery is a process of change that permits an individual to make healthy choices and improve the quality of his or her life.
  • Recovery is self-directed and empowering. While the pathway to recovery may involve one or more periods of time when activities are directed or guided to a substantial degree by others, recovery is fundamentally a self-directed process. The person in recovery is the “agent of recovery” and has the authority to exercise choices and make decisions based on his or her recovery goals that have an impact on the process. The process of recovery leads individuals toward the highest level of autonomy of which they are capable. Through self-empowerment, individuals become optimistic about life goals.
  • Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change and transformation. Individuals must accept that a problem exists and be willing to take steps to address it; these steps usually involve seeking help for a substance use disorder. The process of change can involve physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of the person’s life.
  • Recovery is holistic. Recovery is a process through which one gradually achieves greater balance of mind, body and spirit in relation to other aspects of one’s life, including family, work and community.
  • Recovery has cultural dimensions. Each person’s recovery process is unique and impacted by cultural beliefs and traditions. A person’s cultural experience often shapes the recovery path that is right for him or her.
  • Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness. Recovery is not a linear process. It is based on continual growth and improved functioning. It may involve relapse and other setbacks, which are a natural part of the continuum but not inevitable outcomes. Wellness is the result of improved care and balance of mind, body and spirit. It is a product of the recovery process.
  • Recovery emerges from hope and gratitude. Individuals in or seeking recovery often gain hope from those who share their search for or experience of recovery. They see that people can and do overcome the obstacles that confront them and they cultivate gratitude for the opportunities that each day of recovery offers.
  • Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition. Recovery is a holistic healing process in which one develops a positive and meaningful sense of identity.
  • Recovery involves addressing discrimination and transcending shame and stigma. Recovery is a process by which people confront and strive to overcome stigma.
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies. A common denominator in the recovery process is the presence and involvement of people who contribute hope and support and suggest strategies and resources for change. Peers, as well as family members and other allies, form vital support networks for people in recovery. Providing service to others and experiencing mutual healing help create a community of support among those in recovery.
  • Recovery involves (re)joining and (re)building a life in the community. Recovery involves a process of building or rebuilding what a person has lost or never had due to his or her condition and its consequences. Recovery involves creating a life within the limitation imposed by that condition. Recovery is building or rebuilding healthy family, social and personal relationships. Those in recovery often achieve improvements in the quality of their life, such as obtaining education, employment and housing. They also increasingly become involved in constructive roles in the community through helping others, productive acts and other contributions.
  • Recovery is a reality. It can, will, and does happen.
That's a far better synopsis than one could have expected. Particularly laudable is the recognition, at the top of the list, that "there are many pathways to recovery." Equally enlightened is the acknowledgment that recovery is, at bottom, self-directed and empowering. LifeRing has been making those fundamental points as loud and clear as we are able. It's heartening to hear a gathering of recovery mavens at the national level articulate the same liberating concepts. Even though author William L. White wasn't listed as an author in the report's preface, it sounds a lot like White's New Recovery Movement advocacy. -- Thanks Don Phillips for the tip.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why some alcoholics find it hard to quit smoking

Joe P. from New Jersey said in an email to unhooked.com:

"The reason most Alcoholics find it so hard (to quit smoking) is because they get NO support from AA members, they tell them not to worry, just don't drink. That way of AA (Majority members, mostly Nicotine Addicts, even though there are a lot of others who say the same thing) is the way of Death!"
Joe should know, he is a long time member of AA who supports Nicotine Anonymous.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Another Court Rules that AA/NA are Religious

A recent court case ruled that a parolee can sue a parole officer for damages if the parole officer requires the parolee to attend 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous when this violates the parolee's religious or non-religious beliefs.

The case is titled Inouye v. Kemna, issued Sept. 7, 2007. The full text of the opinion is here. The court that issued the decision is the Ninth Circuit of the United States Courts of Appeal. The court's ruling is the law in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Ricky Inouye was imprisoned in Hawaii after conviction on drug charges, and served his time. As a Buddhist, he objected to participating in 12-step treatment programs because of their religious nature. After his release, he sued his parole officer, Nanamori, for giving him the "choice" of AA/NA meetings or prison.

When that case came to trial in the federal court in Hawaii, Nanamori argued that he, a parole officer, could not have known whether AA/NA are "religious" because the law on that issue was foggy at the time he ordered Inouye to participate (2001). If the issue was unclear, Nanamori was immune from suit. Nanamori won on that issue in the lower federal court in Hawaii. Inouye (or rather his son Zenn, Ricky having meanwhile died) appealed to the Ninth Circuit.


The Ninth Circuit's opinion makes short work of the claim that the law was fuzzy on the religious nature of AA/NA. The court points to virtually identical cases decided before 2001 by the federal courts of appeal for the Seventh Circuit (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin) and the Second Circuit (New York, Connecticut, Vermont), in addition to a string of similar cases in lower federal courts and in state courts, all with the same result. The "unanimous conclusion" of these courts was that coercing a person into AA/NA or into AA/NA based treatment programs was unconstitutional because of their religious nature. Because the law on this issue was "uncommonly well settled," Nanamori cannot claim immunity.


Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit sent the case back to the lower federal court in Hawaii to decide how much, if anything, Nanamori has to pay Inouye's estate in monetary damages.


The court's ruling means that criminal justice officers -- or, arguably, any agents of the state, local, or federal government within the bounds of the Ninth Circuit -- can be sued for damages if they ignore a client's religious or anti-religious objections and coerce the person to attend 12-step meetings or 12-step based treatment programs.


What should prisoners, parolees, and criminal justice officers do in response to this ruling?


(1) Prisoners and parolees who have problems with the religious content of 12-step programs should stand up for their beliefs and make their objections heard, loud, clear, early, and on paper. In this case, Ricky Inouye won in part because he wrote letters and filed suit promptly after he was coerced into 12-step programs. He held to his position consistently, and enlisted legal help as soon as possible. Prisoners and parolees need to make it clear both in words and deeds that they earnestly want to remain clean and sober, that they are willing to participate in alcohol and other drug treatment programs and to attend support groups, but that the religious content in the 12-step programs violates their constitutionally protected beliefs and interferes with their recovery. Prisoners and parolees can match these words with actions by demanding referral to non-religious (secular) treatment options, if they exist, and by taking the initiative to organize secular support groups, such as LifeRing, on their own.


(2) Officials in the criminal justice system (and other government officials with coercive powers over addiction offenders) need to offer their clients a choice between religious and secular treatment programs and support groups. The "choice" between AA/NA or prison offends the constitution, and officers who insist on it need to check their professional liability insurance. Government officials can help themselves as well as their clients by sending the message to treatment programs that the programs must embody a secular track along with the 12-step track, or risk losing referrals. Officials need to inform themselves and their clients about the availability of secular support group alternatives, such as LifeRing. Where clients take the initiative to organize such support groups, officials need to be cooperative and provide a level playing field when it comes to rooms, publicity, literature, referrals, and other resources. In an appropriate case, officials may take the lead in initiating secular support groups themselves.


The Ninth Circuit decision ruffles some feathers because it contradicts the belief of many AA/NA members that the 12-step approach is "spiritual not religious." Of course, these words can have many meanings. But as far as the First Amendment of the US Constitution is concerned, the 12-step approach is clearly religious, and the Ninth Circuit only joins a "march of unanimity" of other courts who have come to the same conclusion.


The basic thrust of this line of cases is that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of and from religion extends over the whole of the United States, including the ever-expanding areas enclosed by prison walls. Since such a large proportion of prisoners are there because of drug and/or alcohol abuse, this recent ruling serves as an important refresher. Jails and prisons, notoriously in California, are overcrowded and in deplorable condition. The Ninth Circuit's decision says that the freedom of religious belief or disbelief must not go down the drain along with so many other elements of civilized penal treatment.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

[On Spring Break]

Sometimes life overwhelms blogging. These past few weeks my days and nights have been so filled with work, love, and remodeling -- not necessarily in that order -- that there hasn't been time to keep up with the blog. I haven't even had time to watch the 14-part HBO addiction marathon. I'll be back when things settle down. -- Marty N.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Canada prof surprised by 12-step religious content

Prof. Larry Moran in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto (photo) wrote in his blog that he read the articles about Alcoholics Anonymous in the March issue of Readers Digest (Canada) and then read the text of the twelve steps, and was "surprised at how religious AA must be. They must think that most alcoholics are Christians." This led to a lively exchange of comments, which see.

Reviews Pan Bill W bio-drama

March 6, 2007, N.Y. Post:
Who would have guessed a drama about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous would be the laugh riot of the year? But that's the unfortunate result of "Bill W. and Dr. Bob," the well-intentioned but haplessly executed effort written by novelist Stephen Bergman and clinical psychologist Janet Surrey that opened last night.

What should have been a powerful and inspirational story plays instead like a drunken road-show version of "The Producers."
Read full review

Broadway World.Com's reviewer writes:
A program note for Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey's Bill W. and Dr. Bob advises us that performance of the work does not imply affiliation with nor approval or endorsement from Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Smart move, A.A.

Doing for alcoholism what Reefer Madness did for drug abuse (or at least what its New World Stages neighbor Sealed For Freshness does for Tupperware), Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a frightfully melodramatic bio-drama which uses the same kind of character-probing sensitivity one might find in a driver ed movie to tell the story of two men who, in dealing with their own demons, developed the treatment techniques that would birth Alcoholics Anonymous.

... The authors turn their heroes and everyone around them into cardboard cutouts ... while I can't imagine anyone feeling inspired or enriched by this misdirected corn, I know a few more evenings like this could have me swearing off theatre for a while.
Source.

Belgium ups the ante with cig warnings

Cigarette packs sold in Belgium will soon have vivid pictures of the harm that smoking does, along with text warnings.

The pictures are not for the faint-hearted. One shows a man with a swollen-red tumour protruding from his neck. "Smoking can lead to a slow and painful death," reads the advice underneath. Another shows a smoker in a prison cell clutching bars made of cigarettes. The moral of the story? "Smoking is addictive. Don't start." Other pictures the Belgian government plans to rotate over the next three years show toothless gums, blackened lungs and open-heart surgery.

Canada already uses pictorial warnings along with text. Other European countries are expected to follow suit.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou, introducing the new policy, said: "Pictorial warnings are a cost effective public health measure, which not only serve as a prominent source of health information, but are also likely to reduce tobacco use in the population." More.

Drug problem in Afghanistan getting worse, UN says

NEW YORK: Despite efforts by the Afghan government and the international community, the drug control situation in the country is worsening, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in its annual report.

The production of illicit opium poppy in Afghanistan reached a record 6,100 tons in 2006, up almost 50 percent from the previous year, the report said.

Due to a rising level of Afghan opiate trafficking, the Vienna-based UN drug control watchdog added, the neighbouring countries are now faced with a wide range of problems, "such as organized crime, corruption and relatively high illicit demand for opiates."

Moreover, the drug abuse by injection is increasingly becoming one of the main factors behind the widely spread of HIV/AIDS in some areas of the region. Source.

Prisoners take hostage for nicotine

JOHNSON CITY, Tennessee -- Two inmates housed in a smoke-free prison took a guard hostage and then released him and returned to their cells when given cigarettes.

Billy Grubb, 32, and Bradley Johnson, 25, attacked the guard Monday night, said Howard Carlton, warden of the Northeast Correctional Complex. Both are in prison for murder.

Prisons across the state are instituting no-smoking policies after the Legislature passed a law banning smoking in state buildings. -- Source

Monday, March 12, 2007

Anonymity is only for the anonymous

Once again Alcoholics Anonymous has lent its name to the publicity thirst of another bratty celebrity. This time it's Britney Spears, whose publicist let the world know that she was given a pass from her upscale Malibu treatment program to attend an AA meeting. E.g. Source. Millions of 7-year old girls will now make a mental note to become alcoholics and get their names in the paper by going into rehab and to AA. It's great promotion for AA and for the celebs. But it reinforces the two-class system in AA. If you're in the celebrity class, your AA membership glitters like a glass pebble in a brightly lit goldfish bowl. If you're not a "name," you're in the dark. Anonymity is only for the anonymous. What would Bill W. say?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bhutan: South Asia's alcoholism capital

Bhutan has the highest per capital alcohol consumption of any country in South Asia, says a World Health Organization report, and alcoholism is becoming one of the leading causes of death there. Source.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

State Dept drug report plays politics

The U.S. State Department report on the worldwide illegal drugs trade issued March 1 reads like a political propaganda bulletin more than a real research report. Regimes that have Bush administration support, such as Colombia and Afghanistan, get patted on the head for their alleged drug control efforts, while heads of state that give Bush hell (as in Venezuela, Bolivia, and others) get blasted for alleged complicity in the dirty business.

The facts remain -- and the report admits -- that Colombia produces 90 per cent of the world supply of cocaine, and Afghanistan supplies more than 90 per cent of the heroin, and both are close allies of the Bush administration. Neither Colombia nor Afghanistan could achieve anything remotely near this kind of market domination without at least the active benevolence of their respective governments.

The report, which runs to 9 megabytes in PDF online (Vol. 1 here and Vol. 2 here), shows its political bias most transparently in the summary on Afghanistan. While admitting that Afghan opium production increased 25 per cent last year, the report claims that heroin stemming from Afghan opium is distributed almost exclusively in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Asia. It claims that most of the heroin sold in the U.S. comes from poppies grown in Colombia and Mexico, which together account for only four per cent of the world supply.

The State Department strains credulity when it asks us to believe that the huge U.S. heroin demand is fed by this relative trickle of supply. The report says in one passing sentence that "Heroin produced from Afghan opium also finds its way to the United States" (Vol. 1, p. 19) but makes no effort to quantify this grudging admission.

The presence of Afghan heroin in the United States is a political landmine for the Bush administration. The bumper crops of opium recorded in Afghanistan since the invasion are unmistakably the administration's baby. To protect the administration, the State Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy all repeat the fairy tale that Afghan heroin in the U.S. is insignificant. But local police and treatment staff in many parts of the U.S. know better. Search this blog under "Afghanistan" for a selection of local news stories, many of them from the heartland, about heroin addiction and overdose deaths due to the high-potency white powder heroin made in Afghanistan under the protection of American troops by a regime propped up with American taxpayer dollars.

WHAT war on drugs?" As Gandhi reportedly said about Western civilization, "I think it would be a good idea."

Friday, March 09, 2007

New drug turns meth to almond extract

A newly discovered drug with the catchy name YX1-40H10 can convert methamphetamine to benzaldehyde, a common food additive with an almond flavor, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California claim. If it passes a series of safety and efficacy tests, the new compound could be administered to people who have taken methamphetamine to neutralize the drug in the body. Source.

Research: impulsive rats quicker to do cocaine

Rats who rank high in impulsivity -- the abstract doesn't make clear how that was measured -- are more likely to self-administer intravenous cocaine than their less impulsive peers, a group of scientists at Cambridge University has found. The study, led by Jeffrey W. Dalley, is significant because it found that the impulsive rats had a substandard set of dopamine receptors before being exposed to cocaine, thus supporting the hypothesis that dopamine receptor deficiency is a precondition, rather than a result, of chronic stimulant consumption. The study appears in the March 2 issue of Science. Abstract.

While the study sheds light on stimulant use, this model will not transfer so easily to other drug use profiles, particularly opiates and depressants such as alcohol.

IndyCar racer busted for DUI

IndyCar Series driver A.J. Foyt is facing charges for driving under the influence of alcohol in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

The 22-year-old, who lives in Huntersville, N.C., was arrested on December 10 after running a stop light. He was released after posting a $1,000 bond, and will have to appear in court on April 9 to answer to the DUI charges. Source.

New Recovery blog reader Taylor M., who contributed this item, writes:
It will be interesting to see how the IRL handles this- especially given how backwards they are about tobacco and how much alcohol sponsorship is worth to the racing industry in general. It is interesting to note that drinking alcohol at all is generally considered a no-no in pro racing, most drivers only drink on the podium. There are some notable exceptions (Kimi Raikkonen ) but mostly it's frowned upon even if alcohol sponsorship isn't.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Brief skills training is effective to curb college drinking

A study in Swedish colleges, where over-use of alcohol is widespread, showed that a Brief Skills Training Program was effective in reducing alcohol consumption over a two-year period.

Students were randomly assigned to a brief skills training program (BSTP) with interactive lectures and discussions, a twelve-step–influenced (TSI) program with didactic lectures by therapists trained in the 12-step approach, and a control group. More than three quarters of the students were rated "high risk" on an alcohol consumption score.

At follow-up two years later, the high-risk students who had received the BSTP program showed significantly better outcomes than high-risk students who had undergone TSI. The TSI students did no better than the control group.

The study results are in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Abstract.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

UK: "Restricted" report urges Rx heroin

The government should consider providing free heroin to hard-core addicts through the National Health Service as a way to reduce crime, says a top-level report by the UK Home Office.

Marked "restricted" because of its controversial recommendations, the document was leaked to The Independent.

There is mounting evidence that trying to restrict the supply of drugs is impossible, says the document. Even if partially successful, supply restriction merely drives up the price of drugs and drives addicts to commit more crimes.

The report comes in a setting where cheap and potent Afghan heroin in unprecedented volume has been flooding into the UK from all ports of entry.

"There is a strong argument that prohibition has caused or created many of the problems associated with the use or misuse of drugs. One option for the future would be to regulate drugs differently, through either over-the-counter sales, licensed sales or doctor's prescription." Source.

For a historical review of similar policy recommendations, see the Transform Drug Policy web site.

Methadone abuse a growing killer

When given in small, controlled doses, methadone is a well-documented treatment for heroin addiction. But taken in larger doses, without adequate medical supervision, and in combination with other drugs, methadone can be a drug of abuse, addiction, and death.

A federal government study found that nationwide methadone-related deaths climbed to more than 3,800 in 2004 from about 780 in 1999. Among all narcotic-related deaths in 2004, only cocaine killed more people in the United States than methadone. More from the Baltimore Sun.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Canada Readers Digest publishes "12 Steps to Nowhere"

The Canada edition of Readers Digest has published an abbreviated version of award-winning journalist J. Timothy Hunt's article "Twelve Steps to Nowhere," which originally appeared in Toronto's Saturday Night magazine (offprint here). The piece is the author's personal story of recovery from severe alcoholism -- a recovery in which the author thoroughly investigated but strongly rejected the 12-step approach. Although some 60 per cent of successful recoveries from alcoholism occur outside of and without AA (Source), few and far between are the published personal narratives of non-AA recoveries. Readers Digest's publication of Hunt's compelling autobiographical essay hopefully signals a more evenhanded attitude toward all recovery pathways (at least north of the border). Read the piece in Readers Digest.

Drug dealers high on Bush pardon list

"George W. Bush Likes Those Drug Dealers When It Comes To Pardons," says the Eye on Washington blog. Citing a complete listing of pardons in Wikipedia, the blog says that 14 of 113 Bush presidential pardons were for convicted dealers of marijuana, hashish, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs. Source.

Monkeys demonstrate nicotine reward

Squirrel monkeys in cages will press a lever up to 600 times to get a shot of nicotine, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have found. The study demonstrates that nicotine has the same rewarding effect in nonhuman primates as other drugs of addiction. Source.

Moderation group said to be booze industry front

The organization DrinkWise Australia, which was established to promote responsible drinking, claims to be independent, despite receiving millions of dollars from the alcohol industry whose representatives make up half its 12-member board.

The organisation received $5 million in Federal Government funding last year to raise awareness of alcohol misuse and "change the drinking culture in Australia". However, DrinkWise's credibility is now being questioned following the resignation of the chairman of its research advisory committee and accusations it is a front for the alcohol industry. More.

Nicotine, cocaine, heroin lead to similar brain damage

A study of the brain tissue of deceased former smokers has found chemical alterations similar to the brain damage that cocaine and opiates cause in laboratory rats, according to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Abstract. Discussion.

U.S. docs more likely to warn minorities about drinking

American doctors are twice as likely to warn African-American and Hispanic patients about drinking and drug use than white patients, a study by Harvard professor Kenneth Mukamal, M.D. (photo) has found.

"Yet blacks are less likely to be binge drinkers than whites," he said.

"It would be naive to disregard the possibility of racial bias or stereotype toward blacks and Hispanics in medical settings and assume that the difference in who gets counseling about alcohol use is coincidental," said one commentator.

Doctors should be asking about alcohol use, but should be asking about it across the board, Mukamal said. Details.

Ban all booze ads, top UK doc says

London: A leading doctor says all advertising of alcohol must be banned in a bid to curb Britain's growing drink problem.

The comments by the head of the Royal College of Physicians come as latest data show alcohol-related deaths in the UK have doubled in the past 15 years.

Professor Ian Gilmore said the measure was necessary to protect children who were influenced by sporting heroes wearing branded clothing. -- More

Colombia: Minister resigns over drug gang scandal

The foreign minister of Colombia resigned Monday as the government of President Álvaro Uribe, the Bush administration's closest ally in South America, struggled with a scandal that has disclosed ties between paramilitary cocaine-trafficking squads and some of Mr. Uribe's most prominent political supporters.

The scandal (which surprised nobody) comes at a time when the U.S. Congress is considering extension of the so-called "free trade" agreement with the Colombian government. Blogger Jonathan Tasini (Huffington Post) writes that "free trade" has meant flooding Colombia with cheap imported grains from highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness corporations. This drives local farmers out of business and forces them to switch to growing coca for the well-connected drug gangs. Source.

Alcoholics have trouble reading facial expressions

Alcoholics are poor at reading facial expressions that signal emotions, and this deficit predicts relapse, researchers in Belgium have found.

The researchers presented alcoholics in a treatment program and a matched control group with a series of photographs showing emotional facial expressions (EFE) and asked them to identify the emotion displayed and its degree of intensity. Alcoholics consistently lagged on this test. Moreover, individuals who were at the bottom of the scale in this skill were very liable to drop out of treatment and relapse.

Skill at recognizing emotional expressions did not improve after only three months of abstinence, the researchers found.

Marie-Line Foisy, a researcher at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and corresponding author for the study, said, "It may be that alcoholics with more severe difficulties in recognizing EFE also have more difficulties in dealing with the conventional detoxification process," said Foisy. "They may also benefit from specific training programs aimed at improving EFE recognition, or more general interpersonal skills." Source.

Comment: This research suggests that alcoholics may benefit from a support environment that provides peer feedback, a key element in improving recognition of other people's feelings and in raising one's interpersonal skills. Meetings that incorporate feedback ("crosstalk") appear to have a distinct clinical advantage along this dimension.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hotel chain goes smoke-free

SILVER SPRING, MD.—Choice Hotels International has announced that its 433 Comfort Suites hotels in the United States will go 100 percent nonsmoking as of May 1. The 433 properties represent 34,000 rooms. According to Kimberly Shells, Senior Director, Brand Strategy for Choice, the decision to go smoke free was driven by research.

“We conducted research among guests and franchisees,” Shells says. “The vast majority of them supported it. It really is for our guests. We found that the vast majority of guests prefer a smoke-free environment.”

Ten percent of U.S. Comfort Suites hotels already are 100 percent nonsmoking. The other properties will transition to that status by the end of April.

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity to increase guest satisfaction,” Shells says. “It is an opportunity to differentiate ourselves and attract new guests to the brand.” Source.

The move follows similar decisions by Westin and Marriott. Source.

Denver pot advocate shot and killed in his home

CBS4) DENVER A Denver man well-known in Colorado's medical marijuana community was shot and killed Saturday night after his house was broken into.

Ken Gorman, an outspoken advocate for legalizing marijuana, grew pot in his home on the 1,000 block of South Decatur Street, and allowed reporters to film the plants.

Denver police said they are investigating the shooting, but were releasing few details Sunday afternoon. Family members told CBS4 Gorman was the victim in the crime. More.

Take alcoholic parents' kids away, Scot says

ALCOHOLIC parents should have their kids taken from them in the same way as heroin addicts, one of Scotland's top addiction experts has claimed.

Professor Neil McKeganey, a former government adviser, has accused social services of double standards when dealing with heroin and alcohol addiction.

The respected academic has said children of parents who refuse to give up drink are suffering neglect as serious as those of drug addicts.

McKeganey, director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, has warned the Scottish moralistic attitude to drugs means well-meaning social workers are failing thousands of Scots youngsters.

Social workers are often reluctant to remove children from the homes of alcoholics while the use of illegal drugs such as heroin is seen as far more serious. More.

Wyoming: More than half of arrests due to alcohol

Casper, WY: When the Wyoming Sheriffs and Chiefs Association surveyed jails in 2005, the results were astonishing: alcohol played a role in about 55 percent of arrests for all crimes, and people brought in for driving under the influence were more intoxicated than suspected.

But, reporting from detention centers was spotty enough to prompt a new round of data collection, with researchers hoping for a more solid picture of alcohol’s role.

The new findings presented to the Governor’s Substance Abuse and Violent Crime Advisory Board, showed that alcohol is a factor in 62 percent of all arrests. And, when alcohol is involved, people arrested for crimes ranging from domestic violence and underage drinking to assaults and warrants were far worse than legally intoxicated, with an average blood alcohol content of 0.159, nearly twice the legal limit of .08.

The new data was collected in every county during a six-month period in 2006 through survey forms completed by law enforcement officers in detention centers, said Ernie Johnson, a management consultant to the sheriffs and chiefs association and the study organizer.

“It really opened our eyes,” Johnson said, adding that the data clearly indicates alcohol is Wyoming’s top substance abuse issue. More.

Kids turn tables on parents

Hartford, CT: Every spring, when prom and graduation season arrives, parents and teachers warn teens about the dangers of using drugs or drinking alcohol. This spring, a group of civic-minded teens at Haddam-Killingworth High School is turning the tables on the adults.

The Youth In Action group is creating a 30-second television ad that urges parents to stop allowing children to hold drinking parties in their homes. The "Where do you draw the line?" ad will run on the local cable-access channel this spring.

"House parties are a big thing around here," senior Shalyn Carey said. "Where are the kids getting the alcohol? From their parents. Parents play just as big a role in their kids' partying as the kids do. We're saying, `Be a friend to your kid, but be a parent, as well.'" More.

Epidemic of child alcoholism in Britain

London: Children as young as 12 are being diagnosed as alcoholics amid growing concerns about binge-drinking in Britain, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals today.

Record numbers of pre-teens and teenagers now require hospital treatment for drink-related disorders, the exclusive nationwide survey shows.

The findings prove there is a hidden epidemic of child alcoholism, resulting in thousands of youngsters being treated in hospital each year for alcohol poisoning, liver disease and drink-related psychiatric illnesses.

Doctors warn that conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver are now starting to appear in people who are still in their teens, prompting calls for special detoxification clinics to be set up around the country for teenage drinkers.

Dr Claire Casey, head of a new youth detox unit at the private Priory Group, said: "We have children presenting with all the adult symptoms of alcoholism. Some are so addicted that it is actually dangerous to get them to stop drinking straight away.''

New figures reveal that Britain's teenagers are drinking twice as much as they did a decade ago, with half of all 13-year-olds consuming more than 10 units a week. The amount being consumed by 11- to 13-year-olds has gone up almost threefold in the same period, with doctors citing the cultural shift towards 24-hour drinking.

They are also worried that the drinks industry is deliberately targeting the young, promoting alcopops - heavily sweetened, attractively packaged alcoholic drinks - and offering alcohol at historically low prices. Source.

Drunk dad lets boy, 11, drive car

Florence County, SC: A local man has been arrested on charges he allowed his 11-year-old son to drive the family car while the father was drunk in the passenger seat, sheriff’s Capt. Todd Tucker said.

The boy’s 9- and 4-year-old siblings were also in the car Friday morning, Tucker said. A deputy dropping his child off at Coward Elementary School said he saw the 11-year-old boy driving the car. The boy’s father, Joddy Deam Morris, was drunk in the vehicle, Tucker said. Source.

Girl sets drunk woman on fire

Saskatchewan, Canada: A 12-year old girl, part of a group of kids of similar age, set fire to a woman who had passed out drunk outside a bar. The victim required several weeks of treatment in a burn unit. The girl was found guilty of aggravated assault. At sentencing, she expressed regret. Source

New Mexico tries talking urinals

RIO RANCHO, New Mexico (AP) - New Mexico is hoping to keep drunks off the road by lecturing them at the last place they usually stop before getting behind the wheel: the urinal.

The state recently paid US$21 each for about 500 talking urinal-deodorizer cakes and put them in men's rooms in bars and restaurants. When a man steps up, the motion-sensitive plastic device says, in a woman's voice that is flirty, then stern: "Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks? Think you had one too many? Then it's time to call a cab or call a sobre friend for a ride home."

The recorded message ends: "Remember, your future is in your hand."

The talking urinal is the latest effort to fight drunken driving in New Mexico, which has long had one of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the United States. (Men account for 78 per cent of all drunk-driving-related convictions in the state.)

Scalia daughter arrested on DUI charge

WHEATON, Illinois (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's daughter was arrested this week and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and child endangerment, officials said Wednesday.

Ann S. Banaszewski (mug shot photo) 45, of Wheaton, was arrested Monday evening while driving away from a fast-food restaurant in the suburb 20 miles west of Chicago, police said.

Three children were inside Banaszewski's van when someone called police to report a suspected intoxicated driver, said Deputy Chief Tom Meloni. More.

Scalia, who has nine children, is a leader of the neoconservative wing on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Director: Restore treatment budget cuts

The Central Texas Treatment Center has gone from 60 to over a hundred beds. It's at its capacity right now, and there's a waiting list.

Several years ago, the state cut funding to drug treatment. Now directors say the state needs that back.

"If you want your folks working and paying taxes and raising their families, then by all means, they need to come to treatment," said Kay Baker, Director, Central Texas Treatment Center. "If you want them in prison watching TV, wasting taxpayer dollars, then don't send them to treatment." More.

Fed brief backs "sober houses"

Boca Raton, FL: Federal prosecutors here filed a brief opposing a city zoning rule that would bar "sober houses" from residential neighborhoods.

Filed on behalf of the owner of two large "sober house" apartment buildings, the brief says the facilities are housing for the disabled and therefore clearly exempt from the city's zoning jurisdiction.

Opponents argue that the facilities provide treatment and are commercial in nature, and therefore should be confined to commercial districts.

Read details here. Another angle on sober houses, here.

A likely story

Baton Rouge LA: After backing her car into a government vehicle in the Attorney General's parking lot, Assistant Attorney General Debbie Baer told police that she was driving a fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member who had begun drinking again and left a strong odor of alcohol in her car.

The Louisiana Attorney General's Office says Mrs. Baer has been placed on administrative leave while they investigate the matter.

Afghan war and suburban heroin deaths: Putting it all together

At least one blogger has begun to put the pieces together: Young suburban white kids in the Midwest dying of powder heroin overdoses and suburban Midwest Republican politicians -- more or less the parents of these same kids -- rabidly supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:
It seems almost scary, but is it possible that the wealthy in this country have in effect sold their children to the Afghanistan drug lords through their greed, blind patriotism and hatred?
See more reflections along this line in Crawford's Take.

Great success in war on drugs: Teens turning to Rx drugs instead

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a report Feb. 15 citing great successes in the war to reduce teen use of illicit drugs ... but an alarming upswing in teen use of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin to get high. Details.

Congratulations Drug Czar John P. Walters on this great achievement in national drug policy.

New study confirms dopamine depletion

A researcher at the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has found a change in the brain that occurs after drug use and that may contribute to drug addiction.

The finding, reported in the January issue of Biological Psychiatry, demonstrates that repeated exposure to different types of drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, nicotine, amphetamine and alcohol, lead to a persistent or long-term reduction in the electrical activity of dopamine neurons in the brain.

Dopamine neurons are the origin of the reward pathway responsible for the "feel good" experience that is such a strong component of drug use and abuse.

"A persistent reduction in dopamine neuron electrical activity after repeated exposure to different types of drugs appears to be the result of excessive excitation of dopamine neurons," according to Roh-Yu Shen (photo), a neuroscientist and the lead investigator on the study. "This represents a new and potentially critical neural mechanism for addiction and provides a working model that suggests how the reward pathway function is altered and how these changes can be responsible for triggering intense craving and compulsive drug-seeking." Source.

Annapolis: New rules decimate drinking

Donny Bailey, manager of a bar and restaurant popular with students at the Naval Academy in Annapolis says "Drinking has declined so much, it's scary. They can't drink 20 shots like they used to. Ever since the rape last year, it's gone down. They just get in too much trouble."

Following a series of sexual crimes linked with alcohol last fall, the Academy adopted new rules that prohibit all underage drinking. Students over 21 are limited to one drink per hour and three drinks on any given evening, not to exceed 0.08 blood-alcohol content, the legal standard for drunken driving in Maryland and many other states.

Those who fail random breath tests are counseled the first time, but those caught twice, or with higher than a 0.15 blood-alcohol content, can be disciplined with restriction to the dorm, 5 a.m. marches and even expulsion. Academy authorities said that enforcement has been strict and effective.

In a recent memo, the student drug and alcohol coordinator warned of infractions and urged students to take the policy to heart. Source.

Parental ATOD use leads to behavior problems in children

Children whose parents used alcohol, tobacco or other drugs including cocaine while pregnant or in their infancy exhibit greater behavior problems through age 7 than other children, a study published in the February issue of Pediatrics has found.
"Our findings highlight not only a need for continued prevention and treatment programs that are directed toward illegal drug use but also a call for increased effort toward prevention of tobacco and alcohol use, which is a more prevalent problem and has as great an impact on childhood behavior problems as prenatal cocaine exposure," the study's authors write.
Source.

Two more go smoke-free

The Merritt-Peralta Institute (MPI), the oldest adult residential addiction treatment facility on the West Coast, went smoke-free in January, its clinical coordinator Terry Arnold announced.

The MPI program is located in the Alta Bates-Summit-Providence Hospital complex in midtown Oakland, CA. The smoking ban ends a long-standing anomaly where the only location in the block-long complex that permitted patients to smoke was the addiction treatment center.

Meanwhile the Kaiser hospital complex in Vallejo CA declared a smoke-free policy covering the entire campus, including parking lots and sidewalks. The "smokers' huts" that previously enabled smokers were dismantled. Source.

Afghanistan: Whole villages addicted

Elizabeth Bayer, formerly of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan, reports:
"There are villages in the north of Afghanistan where the entire population is addicted to opium. Mothers in carpet weaving districts take opium to ease muscle aches earned from spending long days at the loom, and give it to their children to keep them quiet."

Says Bayer: "There is no education, no awareness of the harm that opium causes. People here have been traumatized. If they can find something to relieve the pain, they will take it." From Time magazine 2/14/07.

South Carolina bill would require treatment for all DUI offenses

Durham, S.C.: Convicted drunken drivers would have to participate in alcohol treatment programs — even if they didn’t want their driver’s licenses reinstated — under a bill introduced Tuesday that would rewrite the state’s DUI laws.

The mandated treatment is needed because many convicted offenders choose to drive on suspended licenses rather than pay to go through treatment programs to get their licenses back, supporters say.

Such drivers conservatively total in the thousands annually, said Lee Dutton, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. Source.

No mention so far in the coverage of this controversial bill whether the mandated treatment will be secular, or include a secular option, as required by federal appellate decisions.

Friday, February 23, 2007

NET for heroin gets boost in Scotland

Jack McConnell, Scotland's First Minister, has called for a radical shake-up in Scotland's drug rehabilitation policy after witnessing a controversial new heroin addiction treatment in action.

He said that Scotland must seek to abandon the methadone programme and look instead for new, drug-free methods of kicking heroin.

His comments came after he visited a trial of neuro-electric therapy (Net, promo photo from website), a drug-free addiction treatment, invented by a Scottish neurosurgeon, Dr Meg Patterson.

At the trial, Mr McConnell met six female heroin users who are undergoing a seven-day course of Net. The treatment involves a weak electric current being applied to the brain.

Laura, 28, a mother of two, has been a heroin user for seven years, but has failed to quit using methadone. She told the First Minister she had been "amazed" by how quickly her cravings for heroin had disappeared while undergoing Net.

Afterwards the First Minister spoke of his desire to see Net given a full clinical trial, with a view to making it available on the NHS.

He said, "I'm very keen that we find a way of progressing to a proper research proposal so that Net can be tested in the conditions that will meet the standards of the National Health Service.

"If this is successful, then this treatment could operate on a scale that can make a huge difference to people's lives." Source.

New "Science of Addiction" booklet by NIDA

The "Science of Addiction" booklet published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on Feb. 13 breaks new ground. It's the first government publication that tries to summarize current scientific knowledge about addiction and addiction treatment in a format accessible to the literate lay person.

The 36-page booklet can be downloaded as a web file here or as a PDF file here. Free paper copies can be ordered online. It should be quite useful to persons trying to get a grip on their own experience with addictive substances, to persons in relationships where addiction is an issue, and to educators, people in the media, and treatment professionals.

Mom sues frat, college over boy's alcohol death

Boulder, CO: The mother of Gordy Bailey (photo), a Colorado University freshman who died of alcohol poisoning at a fraternity initiation in 2004, is suing the fraternity and the university for negligence and reckless misconduct.

A superior court judge has ruled that the lawsuit can go ahead and has set a March 2008 trial date. Source.

A coroner revealed that after Bailey had passed out, his fraternity brothers marked up his arms, legs and trunk with racial and sexual slurs, said the young man's father, Lynn Gordon Bailey.

"This reinforces the nearly unbearable pain of the whole thing," Bailey said. "Was he dying while they were writing that?"

When it became apparent that the 18-year-old was not breathing, and police were going to be called in to investigate, someone tried to wipe off the slurs that were written on his face with a felt-tip marker, police said. Source.

Bailey's death has similarities to the fate of Phanta "Jack" Phoumarrath at the University of Texas, Austin. Link.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

People underestimate power of addictive cravings

People systematically underestimate the power of cravings for addictive drugs, says a new study sponsored by the Carnegie-Mellon Institute. The study measured what people addicted to heroin would give for a dose of the medication buprenorphine, a heroin blocker, when their cravings were highest v. when they had just received the drug and their cravings were at their lowest.

People play around with addictive drugs because they don't believe that they will become hooked, says Professor George Loewenstein, lead author of the study. Similarly, people without personal experience of addiction have no clue to the compelling force of the addict's craving, once addiction is established. Source.

Even low levels of second-hand smoke cause heart risk

Even low-level indirect exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with a significant rise in heart disease risk in new research conducted by researchers from the U.K.'s University of Nottingham.

The study is the first to directly measure secondhand smoke exposure through levels of a nicotine byproduct in the blood. Previous studies have relied on participants' recall of exposure.

Compared with people in the study with no detectable exposures to nicotine, those with low- and high exposure levels also had significantly higher levels of two important markers of heart disease risk.

"These findings suggest that secondhand smoke exposure has a clinically important effect on susceptibility to heart disease, even at relatively low levels of exposure, and they highlight the importance of minimizing the public's exposure to secondhand smoke," researcher Andrea Venn, PhD, stated. Source.

Catch-22 for mandated treatment in UK

Britain's drugs problem should be treated predominantly as a medical rather than a criminal issue, says a major upcoming report by a group of law enforcement and medical authorities.

The report says that drug users are typically sent to treatment only after they have been caught for committing a crime, a time when they are frequently not ready for treatment and do not benefit from it. Meanwhile drug users who have not committed crimes but wish to have treatment for their addiction are unable to get it because the programs are full. Details.

Full Nelson: Teacher snorts coke in front of class

A retired elementary school teacher working as a substitute snorted cocaine through a pen cap in front of her 4th-grade class -- and some of the students (aged 10) recognized what she was doing and reported her. Joan M. Donatelli, 59, was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Details.

UK soldiers snorting cocaine on video

GLASGOW, Scotland (UPI) -- The British military is conducting an internal investigation over video of troops in Scotland allegedly snorting cocaine in their Glasgow barracks.

The video was taken by a soldier in the Royal Regiment of Scotland with a cell phone, and given to The Daily Record newspaper, which contacted military authorities. Source.

Afghanistan: "The poppy will eradicate us"

From a World Politics Watch article by freelancer Jason Motlagh:
As the Taliban makes headway in the south and east, the largest-ever opinion survey shows one-fifth fewer Afghans believe the country is moving in the right direction compared to the eve of 2004 elections. Contempt mounts each day against President Hamid Karzai for failing to hold members of his government accountable. According to Crisis Group, his Anti-Corruption and Bribery Office has a staff of some 140 and has been operating for over two years but has yet to obtain a conviction. U.S. Defense Department and European officials say at least half of all Western aid does not reach those who need it. Drug-related corruption is most problematic at the local-regional level, though a number of state employees told me the trail leads all the way back to Kabul, where suspiciously lavish homes interrupt otherwise drab neighborhoods. Perhaps no one has defined the situation better than the embattled president himself: "If we fail to eradicate poppy, the poppy will eradicate us."
Read the full article.

More ex-smokers than smokers in US now

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Last year marked the tipping point in the fight against tobacco addiction according to Free & Clear®, a national leader in coaching-based tobacco dependence treatment. The United States now has more former smokers than current smokers. Further, over half of Americans now live in a city or state that is smoke-free. In 2006, seven states and 116 cities, including Washington, DC, enacted local smoke-free laws, bringing the total up to 22 states and 577 municipalities.

Still, the struggle to quit remains a formidable challenge. Recent studies demonstrated nicotine levels in cigarettes actually increased over the past ten years. Even more troubling, recently published surveys indicate the decline in smoking prevalence in the United States leveled out in 2004 at 21%. While the vast majority of smokers want to quit, over 45 million adults still use tobacco in the United States despite significant adverse consequences to themselves and their family members, friends, and employers. Source.

Chinese herbs better than nicotine patches?

Darlington, UK: A patch containing Chinese herbs is more effective at helping smokers quit than the conventional nicotine patches, according to Dr Philip Cheung, former director of Durham University's Centre for Comparative Public Health. Dr. Cheung says the herbal treatment has helped six million Chinese quit, and works more quickly at less cost than the nicotine patches. Source.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Upscale treatment centers chafing at 12-step

The Betty Ford treatment center, once the very icon of celebrity rehab, is being upstaged by a slew of newer and tonier facilities, many of them dumping Ford's you-can-have-any-program-you-want-so-long-as-it's-12-step model.

So says a survey of upscale inpatient facilities in the Feb. 19 Newsweek. Ford, which at last report charges $38,000 for a 28-day stay, is now on the low margin of the upmarket segment. There are programs that charge up to $100,000 for the same stretch. They include Malibu sunsets, equine encounters, Native American talk circles, gourmet cuisine, and -- more important -- elements of cognitive behavioral therapy, Motivational Interviewing, pharmacological treatments and other modern therapeutic approaches.

Newsweek's article quotes Chris Prentiss of Passages Malibu, an upscale facility that has dumped AA altogether. Prentiss says that AA's "emphasis on helplessness in the face of addiction makes people feel stupid and ashamed." Other providers talk in more guarded terms, but the trend away from exclusive reliance on the 12-step model is remarkable. What the high-priced celebrity showcases offer today, the K-mart treatment shops will be trying to copy tomorrow. Without the hot tubs, the sunsets, or the horses.

For a listing of non-step or steps-plus treatment facilities, click here.

Half of sexual assault victims had been drinking

According to national statistics, about 50 percent of all women were under the influence of alcohol when they were victims of a sexual assault. Source.

Stores sell liquor to white teen using black ID

Carson City, NV: A 16-year-old white boy using the identification of a 31-year-old black man was served alcohol by two out of 15 businesses visited during an alcohol compliance check conducted by the Carson City Sheriff's Department recently. Source.

Australia: Alcohol kills indigenous person every 38 hours

ALCOHOL kills one indigenous Australian every 38 hours, landmark research has found.

The average age of those dying from alcohol-attributable causes - mostly suicide for men, or alcoholic liver cirrhosis for women - is about 35 years.

National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) Indigenous Australian Research team leader Dennis Gray said these were conservative estimates from a first-of-its-kind study of the problem which showed alcohol killed 1145 indigenous Australians between 2000 and 2004.

"If we are serious about addressing this disparity and reducing death rates among indigenous Australians, we need to focus on the underlying social causes of that ill health," Professor Gray said. "For instance, suicide is the most frequent alcohol-caused death among indigenous men, which reflects the despair that many indigenous people feel."

Senior Research Fellow Tanya Chikritzhs said she was shocked to discover indigenous women as young as 25 years were dying of haemorrhagic stroke due to heavy drinking. Source.

Addiction has many subtypes

"Dr. Peter Banys, head of the addiction treatment program at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said addiction needs to be considered a disease of many subtypes, similar to leukemia, each linked to a different set of genes or environmental factors. Some people may be hardwired thrill-seekers, he said, while others may fall prey because of depression or 'cognitive processing' disorders. Each subtype might respond to a different medication or counseling approach.

'You've got to be thinking about it as multiple disorders that look the same but are not,' Banys said. 'They're not genetically the same. We already know that there are at least six different chromosomal locations heavily implicated, and many more are turning up.' -- From a San Francisco Chronicle addiction story by its science writer Carl T. Hall, Feb. 11. Source.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Forced naltrexone implant for opiate addicts?

A proposal to implant persons arrested on opiate abuse charges with a timed-release naltrexone device has raised a medical ethics debate. A critical comment by R.G. Newman MD, MPH, appears in this blog.

From one narco-state to another

President Bush has nominated William Wood, the current U.S. ambassador to Colombia, to the same post in Afghanistan. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the press that the President's intent was to transfer the Colombian model to Afghanistan.

Among the numerous voices questioning the wisdom of this judgment was the New York Times, which editorialized on Feb. 6:
The limited gains Colombia has achieved in recent years have been offset by an overly generous amnesty program for right-wing paramilitary leaders and drug traffickers, which has seriously compromised the rule of law. And American aid has been disproportionately directed into military and police programs, leaving far too little to promote alternative livelihoods for Colombia’s farmers. Despite all the money spent, the amount of land planted with coca crops has risen and the net harvest has been reduced only slightly. Afghanistan’s problems will not be solved by copying these mistakes.
Source. It sounds like, apart from the language barrier, Wood will feel right at home in Colombistan.

A long, insightful piece on the Colombia/Afghanistan parallel by Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times (London) makes a similar point. In Afghanistan, he says:
Here, too, the West is intervening in a narco-economy that is destabilising a pro-western government. Here, too, quantities of aid have been dedicated to security yet have fed corruption. Here, too, intervention has boosted drug production and stacked the cards against law and order. This year’s Afghan poppy crop is predicted to be the largest on record. European demand has boosted the price paid for Afghan poppies to nine times that of wheat. At this differential a policy of crop substitution is absurd. ...
Some 40,000 Nato troops from more than 30 different countries are gathered in Kabul. Since many of them refuse to fight, the city has become a holiday camp for the world’s military elite. Outside the capital, military occupation acts as a recruiting sergeant for insurgency, leaving Nato bases constantly on the defensive. ...
Jenkins' piece, titled "America is doped up in Colombia for a bad trip in Afghanistan," observes that in Helmand province, a major poppy area, "drug lords are the only counterweight to the Taliban." Source.