As it does every year at this time, the Sundance Film Festival has just revealed its slate of films for their upcoming 30th annual event in Park City, UT.
Among the many entries that will make their debuts are three movies that deal with addiction issues. The most high-profile film is Low Down from director Jeff Preiss, a heart-wrenching drama based on the memoir of the same name by Amy Jo Albany. Both the book and film detail her troubled childhood being raised by her father, Joe Albany, a bebop pianist who played with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, but who struggled with heroin addiction and routine incarceration. The film stars John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, and Peter Dinklage, and will be slated for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
The festival also includes two harrowing documentaries about web addiction. Love Child, directed by Valerie Veatch, focuses on a young South Korean couple who allowed their infant daughter to starve to death while they raised a virtual child online. The film covers the 2010 trial and sentencing, while exposing the dark underbelly of gaming addiction. The other film is Web Junkie, a documentary from Israel that investigates a rehabilitation center in China – the first country to label Internet addiction a clinical disorder – where three teenagers are deprogrammed to kick their online habit. Both films will be shown in the World Cinema Documentary Competition.
This isn’t normally part of a value meal: A Wendy’s employee in Lovejoy, GA was fired and arrested for possession of marijuana after putting a joint in a customer’s cheeseburger.
Amy Seiber was canned last month when a customer called paramedics after finding a half-smoked blunt in her cheeseburger. Seiber admitted the blunt was hers when questioned by police, claiming she was toking on the job and “misplaced” her joint inside of the customer’s burger. “Obviously the employee broke the rules and did not follow proper food handling steps. We are deeply sorry that this incident occurred,” said a representative for Wendy’s. The customer revealed that she experienced symptoms similar to food poisoning after eating the burger and needed to be hospitalized; the spokesperson confirmed that they are working out a resolution with the customer that includes paying for her medical bills.
Of course, this isn’t the only time that drugs have made their way into a restaurant. Last month, the manager of Smokin’ Hog BBQ in Greenfield, IN, was arrested for his role in a drug operation that involved his restaurant as a drop-off point for drug packages. Hancock County Sheriff Michael Shepherd confirmed that seven arrests have been made and that the drug transactions took place “during business hours [while] customers were inside."
And just recently, Kashif Mohammed Siddiqui, the owner of Jubille Joe’s Restaurant in Hoover, AL, was arrested on drug trafficking charges that took place within the restaurant. Siddiqui also faces firearm and money laundering charges. If convicted, he could serve up to 45 years in prison.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is teaming up with the Kenyan government to build the first drug testing center within the country. Athletics Kenya President Isaiah Kiplagat confirmed that construction will begin next month and “the center will serve Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the central Africa region. This will reduce the cost and time it takes to get results whenever we take our samples to Germany or South Africa.” The relatively remote location of Kenya has made it extremely costly to get blood samples to accredited labs within the required 36 hours of collection.
The drug testing center is also critical for Kenyan sports because positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs are on the rise within the country. David Okeyo, secretary general of Athletics Kenya, acknowledged that 13 Kenyans were found guilty of doping between January 2012 and January 2013; seven of the banned athletes tested positive for norandrosterone, linked to the steroid nandrolone. After testing positive for a steroid in June 2012, half-marathoner Mathew Kisorio alleged that systematic doping was pervasive in Kenya and even aided by foreign doctors.
A German TV documentary that aired before the 2012 London Olympics also reiterated these accusations, accusing Kenyan training camps of being rampant with doping, both among local athletes and foreign runners who took part in the high-altitude sessions. Okeyo denied that there was a culture of doping among Kenyan runners, but confirmed that a commission had been established to address the rise in doping cases.
According to the National Institutes of Health, pathological gambling is “being unable to resist impulses to gamble, which can lead to severe personal or social consequences.” Symptoms of pathological gambling are similar to those of other addictions and include anxiety, depression, financial and social problems, and relapse. Without treatment, the prognosis for gambling addicts is bleak.
Recently, however, scientists in British Columbia have found a way to decrease behaviors associated with problem gambling, at least in rats. Using a “rat casino” which featured a slot machine-like device with levers and flashing lights, rats gambled for sugar pellets. The rats soon displayed behavior consistent with problem gambling in humans, such as treating “near misses” as wins.
The dopamine D4 receptor has been shown to play a role in other behavioral disorders, although it has never been used for treatment. The scientists found that by using a medication that blocked the dopamine D4 receptor to treat the rats, they were able to reduce the behaviors consistent with pathological gambling, in particular the reward behavior that occurs with “near misses.”
Paul Cocker, the lead author of the study and a PhD student in the University of British Columbia’s department of psychology, was hopeful about the results. “More work is needed, but these findings offer new hope for the treatment of gambling addiction, which is a growing public health concern," he said. "This study sheds important new light on the brain processes involved with gambling and gambling addictions.”
Three to five percent of the general population are gambling addicts, but that figure is much higher in states that allow legal gambling. With the growing popularity of gambling online, that number is expected to rise even higher, especially with younger populations. In New Jersey, where online gambling just became legal, there are an estimated 350,000 gambling addicts. According to Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling, "The evidence is overwhelming that internet gambling – of all forms of gambling – is the most addictive.”
It’s a college student’s dream come true: Doing a minimum amount of work and getting paid with beer, food, and cigarettes. But instead of rowdy college kids, Amsterdam is rounding up the city’s chronic alcoholics and employing them in an effort to help beautify the city.
Spurred by complaints that homeless drunks were causing a nuisance in public parks, the Rainbow Foundation started the largely government-run program - funded by state subsidies and some private donations - that tries to keep Amsterdam’s homeless out of trouble by putting them back to work. “The aim is to keep them occupied, to get them doing something so they no longer cause trouble at the park,” said Gerrie Holterman, chief executive of Rainbow. Equipped with trash bags and orange vests, the homeless start work at 9:00am by receiving two cans of beer right off the bat and work till 3:30pm, all the while receiving more cans periodically throughout the day. They also get free lunch, tobacco, and an extra 10 Euros.
Of course, not everyone in Amsterdam is happy about the program. Conservative members of city council have derided Rainbow’s efforts as a waste of government spending and an appeasement toward the so-called “culture of tolerance.” But supporters of the program dismissed such opposition as nothing more than political pandering, while stating that there aren’t very many other options. Hans Wijnands, director of the Rainbow Foundation, wished that he could simply tell alcoholics to stop drinking, but “it doesn’t work,” he said. “It would be beautiful if they all stopped drinking, but that is not our main goal,” Wijnands explained. “You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death.”
A Utah state representative is pushing forward a new legislative measure that would grant criminal immunity to anyone who calls police to report a drug overdose. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D) believes that the numerous drug overdose deaths in the state in recent years could have been prevented if people weren't afraid of the potential consequences of calling the police. The law has already been endorsed by a state criminal justice committee and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors, who helped draft the legislation.
“Young people don’t always make the best decision, but they don’t deserve to die,” said Spackman Moss. “This time we really have some traction. I am just thrilled so far because this can really save lives.” The proposed law is a shift from her previous proposal to address overdose deaths, which would make it a crime for failing to report them. However, the plan was rejected by substance abuse professionals who felt it would actually cause more deaths.
One of the main catalysts for the proposed law is the 2005 death of Utah teen Amelia Sorch, whose body was dumped in the foothills by friends after she overdosed. The two friends with her said they didn’t call police because they feared arrest; they were ultimately convicted of negligent homicide and desecration of a human body. Utah is also currently facing its worse overdose death crisis, with the state health department recently reporting a seven-year high with 502 overdose deaths in total from prescription and illegal drugs.
But even if people who call police to report overdoses get immunity from simple charges of drug possession or use, Paul Boyden of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors said they could still face other possible charges such as drug dealing. However, their cooperation would help them get lighter sentences. The law will be reviewed by the full Utah Legislature next month.