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10/23/14 8:30am

After $7.6 Billion, U.S. Drug War In Afghanistan A Stunning Failure

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The drug war in Afghanistan has proven to be a massive failure, as Afghan farmers produced record numbers of opium crops last year despite the U.S. spending $7.6 billion to fight them.

A new report released this week by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction shows that Afghan farmers produced a record 209,000 hectares of opium poppies last year, up from 193,000 hectares in 2007. Much of the rise in this production has to do with areas once declared “poppy-free” by the U.N. now producing mass amounts of it. Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan was once given this title by the U.N. in 2008, but their opium poppy production increased fourfold between 2012-13.

"The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,” concluded the report. "Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."

Although the State Department called the findings “disappointing,” they were unwilling to accept responsibility for the new figures. Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense, wrote to the inspector general, blamed the failure to stamp out opium poppy production on a lack of support from the Afghan government. He said that "poverty, corruption, the terrorism nexus to the narcotics trade, and access to alternative livelihood opportunities that provide an equal or greater profit than poppy cultivation are all contributors to the Afghan drug problem."

Afghanistan is responsible for 90% of the world’s opium, while also struggling with their own drug abuse problems. Between 2005 and 2009, the number of Afghans using heroin and other opiates doubled to 1.6 million. With less than 28,000 beds in treatment centers throughout the country, desperate families have turned to extreme measures. At the 300-year-old Mia Ali Baba shrine in Jalalabad, patients are chained with other inmates in a small cell for up to 40 days at a time and without any form of real medical treatment.

In addition to living in squalid conditions without windows and no access to showers, talking is forbidden and men may only go outside, use a proper toilet, or pray if the staff deems that their health has improved.

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By McCarton Ackerman

headlines

10/23/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Oct. 23, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

electronic cigarettes

10/22/14 7:30pm

Federal Regulation On E-Cigs Could Save Thousands of Lives, Expert Claims

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Electronic cigarettes have enormous potential in the nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) market, according to one expert, who said the devices could be a life saver.

The one major hindrance that is preventing the devices from wider use is that they are not regulated, Dr. Nathan Cobb, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at Georgetown University School of Medicine, told LiveScience.

Cobb said e-cigarettes have the potential to bring about the demise of traditional smoking and save thousands of lives, but while there is virtually no federal oversight of the business, the so-called “black-market nicotine therapy” will remain an outlier among conventional NRTs such as nicotine gum and the patch.

Fortunately for people who agree with Cobb, the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of establishing a set of federal regulations on electronic cigarettes. In April, the agency proposed a new set of rules that would require e-cigarette producers to register with the FDA and disclose their products’ ingredients, manufacturing processes, and scientific data.

Under the proposed rules, companies that wish to advertise that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes must provide the FDA with scientific evidence supporting their claim.  The minimum age to purchase the devices would be 18, which is a rule already enforced in more than half of states.

The FDA is in the process of making final changes to the rules after a 75-day public comment period. The rules mark the first time the agency would extend its regulatory authority to e-cigarettes. In the absence of federal regulations, many states have passed their own laws banning the devices from public places, regulating their sale, and taxing them.

Though the long-term effects of inhaling nicotine vapor are unclear, and some devices that are subjected to high temperatures produce a handful of carcinogens found in cigarettes, many researchers agree that e-cigarettes will turn out to be much safer than conventional cigarettes.

However, Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, maintains that e-cigarettes are not as effective in smoking cessation as they have been marketed to be.

“This commentary assumes that e-cigarettes, as currently in the marketplace, will help people quit smoking and ignores the consistent evidence from population-based studies that smokers who use e-cigarettes are about one-third less likely to quit smoking,” said Glantz.

Still, the device’s popularity is undeniable, as it has grown into a multi-billion dollar business. “If all other methods have failed for an individual, it’s a disservice not to offer this other alternative,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, regarding whether state quitting programs should offer e-cigarettes to smokers who want to quit.

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By Victoria Kim

unintended consequences

10/22/14 5:30pm

Can Parkinson’s Drugs Cause Addictive Behavior?

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A study published on the online journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that certain drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease may cause a host of impulse control behavior issues, from compulsive gambling to an obsessive interest in pornography and sex.

The medications are part of a class of drugs known as dopamine receptor agonists, which reproduce the effects of the brain chemical dopamine in patients with Parkinson’s and other conditions, including restless leg syndrome and hyperprolactinemia, that eliminate the chemical’s presence in their systems.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices, Harvard, and the University of Ottawa, examined 2.7 million reports of drug reactions submitted to a Food and Drug Administration database between 2003 and 2012. They uncovered approximately more than 1,500 reports that were identified by the researchers as involving “serious” impulse control issues, with nearly half linked directly to six different dopamine receptor agonist medications like Mirapex and Requip. Of these reports, 628 involved pathological gambling, 465 reported cases of hypersexuality, and 202 concerned compulsive shopping.

The study concluded that these side effects appear to cease after patients discontinue taking these medications, and that those patients who take a combination of carbidopa and levodopa drugs did not appear to experience these issues.

Taken as a whole, the number of cases involving behavioral changes while taking Parkinson’s medications is between 10% and 14%, though study author Thomas Moore of the Institute of Safe Medication Practices considers these numbers as a “striking example of a major problem in drug safety.” He added, “It’s an astronomical rate, in terms for drug adverse event risk. And frankly, I think I’m being conservative.”

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By Paul Gaita

unconscionable

10/22/14 3:30pm

Women Should Stop Worrying About Date Rape Drugs, Says Conservative Think Tank

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A new video released by conservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute says women at bars should stop worrying about date-rate drugs and start being more concerned about drinking less alcohol.

The video, which is part of AEI’s “Factual Feminist” blog, talks about the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fraternity that was suspended last September for allegedly giving roofies to three women during a party. But AEI researcher Caroline Kitchens says there was no evidence to support the claim, and that women have grown overly paranoid of being drugged and sexually assaulted.

“Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated, often from their own volition,” Kitchens says. “Paranoia over the date-rape drug causes us to misplace our anxieties, and feminists should be concerned that women are modifying their behavior on their girls nights’ out in order to protect themselves from some vague, improbable threat. So why are we all so scared of roofies?”

In the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee incident, three women and one man were hospitalized after passing out in the fraternity house. The three women each had a red “X” on their hands, while other partygoers had a black “X.” This led to speculation of a premeditated plan to administer a date-rape drug to the women. But when police searched the premises they found no trace of Rohypnol, GHB, or any other form of date-rape drug. According to Kitchens, this lack of evidence is common in drug-related sexual assault allegations.

“Panic and questionable allegations about the date-rape drug are rampant,” Kitchens says. “Everything from lip gloss to nail polish to coasters has been invented to protect women from rapists armed with roofies. But the evidence doesn’t match the hype.”

But Kitchens isn’t alone in this viewpoint. TheFix.com earlier reported that others, like Slate columnist Emily Yoffe, have expressed a similar sentiment. Yoffee blamed college women for being sexually assaulted, saying they invited it by drinking too much alcohol.

Colby Bruno, a senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center, says alcohol, not roofies, is the most frequently used date-rate drug, but added that “saying the threat of date-rape drugs is overblown because women don’t want to take responsibility for having gotten too drunk is utterly preposterous.”

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By Brent McCluskey

international incident

10/22/14 1:00pm

Russian Investigators Blame Drunk Driver for Oil Exec’s Death

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On October 20, Christophe de Margerie, chief executive officer of Total SA, Europe’s third-largest oil company, was killed in a collision between his private jet and a snowplow on the tarmac of Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport. Now, Russian and French investigators have placed the blame on the plow driver, Vladimir Martynenko, who is accused of operating the vehicle while intoxicated.

Investigators from the Interstate Aviation Committee, which examines all Russian air accidents, have included senior airport officials among the parties responsible for the crash, which claimed not only the life of the 63-year-old Margerie but also all three members of the plane’s crew. The Committee investigators cited “criminal negligence” through failure to ensure proper airport staff coordination as one of the causes of the accident, though they will also continue to investigate Martynenko’s state at the time of the crash and possible error by air traffic controllers.

Lawyers for Martynenko deny that their client was drunk at the time of the collision due to a chronic heart condition that prevents him from consuming alcohol. “[Martynenko] is in shock,” said legal representative Alexander Karabanov. “He considers himself guiltless, as he followed all the instructions from the dispatcher.” De Margerie, who had been CEO of Total since 2007, met with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev just hours before the accident to discuss investment opportunities.

A longtime critic of Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, Margerie had been a key figure in the United Nations’ oil-for-food program in Iraq, which attempted to aid that country’s residents while under sanctions placed by the U.S. after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

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By Paul Gaita

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