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7/14/14 1:00pm

Former Heroin Smuggler Co-Owns One of Afghanistan’s Biggest Oil, Gas Projects

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Ahmad Rateb Popal. Photo via

From a financial standpoint, the joint venture between Afghanistan’s Watan Group and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which seeks to tap untouched basins of oil and natural gas in northern Afghanistan, promises to be a major boon for all parties.

Their effort may potentially yield 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil and 15.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, which in turn could bring $250 million per year to the impoverished country, freeing them from dependency on American and other foreign aid, while also making both companies extremely rich top shelf players in the international energy business. But government officials from around the globe are deeply concerned about the involvement of the Watan Group and in particular, its chairman, Ahmad Rateb Popal, who oversees the company with his brother, Rashid. Both men are reported to be cousins of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai.

Popal gained notoriety in the late 1980s for a decade-long prison sentence in New York for heroin smuggling; his brother Rashid pleaded guilty to a separate heroin charge in 1996, one year before Popal’s release. The brothers returned to Afghanistan, where they formed Watan Risk Management, a private security firm, in 2005. The firm reaped millions of dollars in funds from the U.S. government until 2010, when the Taliban launched a series of attacks against NATO supply convoys protected by Watan. The company was briefly banned from security work for the U.S. over allegations that they had either paid the Taliban to keep the convoys safe or colluded with the terrorist group to underscore their importance to the project.

The ban was reversed a year later, though Watan was required to stay out of the security business for three years. Since then, the Popals have expanded Watan’s influence to telecommunications and logistics. But the oil deal, struck in December 2012, promises to elevate the group to new-found heights of wealth and influence. The venture has drawn criticism, privately from the diplomatic community and more publicly from oil industry watchdog groups. A more immediate concern to the project is a dispute between Watan and CNPC over budgeting, which has halted future drilling and exploration, though oil production and sales continue unabated.

The success of the project is of vital importance to both Afghanistan’s financial security and the international oil industry, which has necessitated the involvement of the Pentagon, which has launched its own investigation into the conflict. According to their report both sides have inflated drilling and exploration costs.

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By Paul Gaita

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7/14/14 10:30am

Rehab Clinics Say Smartphones Can Exacerbate Addictions

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Overcoming an addiction can be a difficult process as it is, but many substance abuse centers are now claiming that the relatively new phenomenon of dependency on smartphones is only making the recovery process worse.

Over 169 million Americans owned a smartphone as of last May. Not only does this technology make it easier to score drugs, but it’s also playing a major role in behavioral addictions such as gaming and pornography. “In 1988, you had to drive to an icky place for pornography and hope that nobody saw you,” said Robert Weiss, senior vice president of clinical development for Elements, a national behavioral health company. “Now you just say, ‘Siri, show me the porn.’”

The compulsive behavior of checking and using a smartphone has even led to new research supporting “nomophobia,” or the fear of being without your cellphone. A survey released last week by Bank of America showed that 47% of Americans said they couldn’t go a single day without their cell phone, while 41% of people who responded to a 2012 report from mobile security company LookOut said losing their iPhone would be “a tragedy.”

Even non-addicted teenagers are at risk since their smartphone use can also resemble drug use. Many teens who suffer from depression or anxiety use smartphones as a way of coping rather than sitting with uncomfortable emotions. “People don’t become addicted without some underlying deficit,” said Weiss. “They have a need to find something that is not in their life in another place.”

Although there is not a specific treatment plan for cellphone addiction, counselors at rehab centers across the country are now regularly working with clients to find what need their smartphones are filling. They will then attempt to fill that need through other avenues such as group therapy, writing or being in spaces away from electronics. A recovery retreat center for adult men in Fall City, Wash., called Restart Life, also specifically takes clients away from digital media for 35 to 90 days.

“The smartphone is the tool that helps exacerbate that addiction or it’s a tool they use not to deal with that addiction,” said Joel Edwards, executive director of Morningside Recovery in Newport Beach, Calif. “We’re dealing with more and more smartphones as part of the underlying issues. These technologies are driving addictions faster and with more intensity than ever before.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

zombie drugs

7/14/14 8:30am

British Man Restrained By 10 Cops After Biting Beachgoers While High On 'Cannibal'

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A disturbing new viral video shows a British man needing to be restrained by 10 cops after biting tourists while high on the drug “Cannibal.”

The 28-year-old man, whose name has not been revealed publicly, was reportedly trying to bite random bathers on a beach in Magaluf, located in the Spanish destination of Mallorca. As tourists began fleeing the scene, ten police officers restrained and handcuffed the man after he attempted to bite ambulance staff. The video shows him screaming at police in a primal manner before being secured to a stretcher and carried to an ambulance. He later admitted to authorities that he had taken a “load of drugs.”

Cannibal, sold over the internet as bath salts, is known for causing extreme aggressiveness and has been causing havoc in Ibiza in recent weeks. In a separate biting incident, a British tourist high on the drug needed to be restrained by eight officers after attempting to bite a policeman. Four people in Ibiza have also been hospitalized this summer from taking Cannibal.

Detectives in Ibiza believe that the drug is mainly being sold in nightclubs after a large shipment arrived on the islands and that it is mainly being consumed around the party resort of San Antonio. Despite this, Ibiza’s chief anti-drugs officers Alberto Arean remained optimistic that the large batch of Cannibal was a one-off and “has now been consumed.”

Bath salts were blamed for the horrific 2012 attack in Florida on homeless man Ronald Poppo. He was savagely beaten and then had three-quarters of his face eaten by fellow homeless man Rudy Eugene, who was eventually shot dead by police. An autopsy later confirmed that only traces of marijuana were in Eugene’s system and that bath salts were not responsible for the attack.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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7/14/14 8:29am

Therapy Session Length: An Hour a Week is Not Enough

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Survey counseling practices and treatment centers nowadays and you will find that most clinicians conduct a one hour therapy session once per week. This actually translates to 45 to 55 minutes in the room with the therapist – and 5 to 15 minutes for note writing and breaks. Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College, wrote a New York Times piece last year in which he commented on the “arbitrariness in the idea of a one-hour therapy session” – pointing to the little available data on the question of the optimal therapeutic duration. 

Clinicians at Williamsville Wellness have experimented with session lengths of varying lengths, and we have found that many individuals with addictions and attentional issues receive greater benefit from shorter sessions that are repeated at a higher frequency than once per week. At Williamsville Wellness, patients receive four 50 minute sessions with four clinicians each day from Monday through Friday of each week they are in residential treatment (and two to three 45 minute individual therapy sessions on Saturday). We have found that patients are able to maintain their focus for the bulk of the 40-45 minutes they are speaking to the clinician. Moreover, the short break and switch to the next individual session allows patients to process what they have learned and regroup in a different setting with the next clinician.   

The patient completing 28 days of treatment at Williamsville Wellness is receiving an average of 88 individual therapy sessions! Compare that to roughly 20-26 individual sessions the average person may receive in six months of outpatient therapy. And the difference goes well beyond quantitative measures as the process of learning, insight, change, and growth occurs at an exponential rate with the synergy created by a team of clinicians working with the same patient in a compressed period of time, with each clinician taking different elements of the treatment plan. Consider the analogy of a simple carpenter building a home. It will take him years to finish the project and the outcome may be unpredictable. However, bring in a team of skilled builders – bricklayers, carpenters, electrician, plumber, roofers, painters, and a supervisor working round the clock and the home will be built in 30 days and be sturdy and reliable.

-Lyndon Aguiar, Ph.D., Clinical Director

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7/14/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: July 14, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

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7/11/14 7:30pm

Drug Treatment Worker Arrested for Driving Client to Score Drugs

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The assistant director of a drug treatment center in Connecticut has been arrested after driving a client to score drugs and supplying them with money.

Emille Jones, 30, is the assistant director of Connecticut Renaissance, which has its headquarters in the city of Bridgeport and several outpatient centers throughout the state. Jones admitted to driving 31-year-old client Ryan Smith to the deal site and supplying her with money to buy crack cocaine. Smith later told police that Jones gave her the money in exchange for sex and she felt she had to do it “in order to get better treatment for her drug addiction.”

The Bridgeport Police Department’s Tactical Narcotics Team was already conducting a surveillance on the street where the deal took place after numerous complaints over separate incidents. Jones was arrested and charged on Monday with conspiracy to possess narcotics, but has since been released after posting $5,000 bond.

Of course, this isn’t the first sketchy drug incident that Bridgeport has found itself in. Kevin Wallin, a former pastor at St. Augustine Parish, was given the unflattering nickname of “Monsignor Meth” after being arrested in 2012 and admitting to selling large quantities of the drug out of his home. His priesthood powers were indefinitely revoked and he is now facing anywhere from 11 to 14 years in prison.

Chad McCluskey, 44, was sentenced last month to five years in jail on drug conspiracy charges related to the operation. He and girlfriend Kristen Laschober supplied nearly 10 pounds of meth to the Monsignor for his business. Blaming his own drug problem, McCluskey said at the sentencing that “my addiction got so heavy that my judgment was clouded…I never set out to be a drug dealer.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

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