A former soldier currently sentenced to life without parole for murder has been granted a new trial in his argument that he was driven to kill as a result of the anti-smoking drug Chantix.
The five member U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that the original trial judge should have told jurors that “involuntary intoxication” could be used as a defense in the case of Army Pfc. George D.B. MacDonald. Chief Judge James Baker wrote that “as a result, we are left with reasonable doubt as to whether the absence of an instruction contributed to the verdict.” He also cited “some evidence” from the FDA that Chantix could have extreme adverse effects on some patients.
MacDonald stabbed and slashed Rick Bulmer, a fellow Army recruit at Georgia’s Fort Benning, more than 50 times in May 2008. Hours after the killing, he wrote in his journal that “I snapped and didn’t like it. I was stretched and it made me crazy.” Bulmer’s mother, Wendy Smith, expressed outrage at the new trial and declared that MacDonald “knew exactly what he was doing.”
Chantix carries the strongest warnings possible from the Food and Drug Administration over its side effects, which include depression, aggression, and suicidal thoughts. Despite this, the makers of Chantix, Pfizer, reported $486 million in sales during the first nine months of last year and it has been prescribed to more than 100 million patients worldwide.
Last April, 65-year-old Tim Danielson blamed Chantix for causing him to shoot and kill his ex-wife Ming Qi in a fit of rage in June 2011. He pleaded not guilty and has since been awaiting trial.
The police department in Columbia, S.C. is receiving plenty of press after their only drug analyst resigned when it was revealed that she wasn’t following proper protocol.
Nearly 200 criminal drug cases in which her tests were crucial evidence could be affected. A department review revealed last week that Brenda Frazier hadn’t been following standardized procedures to make sure her testing results were accurate or to even determine what kind of drugs were being tested. She had done testing for 746 cases since 2011 and testified in court numerous times.
Defense lawyers in the city applauded the police department for owning up to the error, but said it could have major ramifications for their court system in the coming months. “This is serious – her job is important. Her drug tests can put people away for five, 10, 15 years,” said Columbia defense lawyer Jack Swerling. “The fact that she was involved in upwards of 1,000 cases is very significant, particularly for people who may have been convicted on the basis of faulty drug analyses. This is going to open up the door for people to challenge all her old cases, too."
Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said it was still unclear how many wrongful convictions came from Frazier not following proper protocol or if anyone was sent to prison because of her. He confirmed that neighboring labs stopped working with her last February because she was unwilling to follow accepted methodologies.
“Some time after that, I made the decision that at this time these deficiencies were insurmountable, and we need to shut down all operations and revisit what the future of our lab would be,” he said.
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At the time of his death, Robin Williams had been reportedly struggling with both severe depression and had completed several weeks of rehabilitation at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota.
But Williams’ situation was not unusual. Nearly 28% of Americans with alcohol dependence also have a major depressive disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Individuals with alcohol dependency are 3.9 times more likely to have a major depressive disorder than someone without the latter condition, and some studies have claimed that there is a genetic link between susceptibility to alcoholism and depression.
Despite this, treatment for individuals with both alcohol dependency and depression has not progressed much beyond the speculative phase. A Huffington Post feature on the subject outlined the central quandary of comorbidity with the two conditions: alcohol is a depressant, but also produces initial euphoric qualities. Scientists are unsure whether people drink to alleviate preexisting depressive feelings, or whether the depression causes them to drink. Unfortunately, the current approach for both the medical and scientific communities is to treat the conditions as separate entities and not part of an entropic cycle.
However, strides are being made to treat the combined conditions through a combination of different therapies and/or medications. Stephanie Gamble, Ph.D, an assistant psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has launched pilot studies to determine if individuals with both alcohol dependency and depression will respond to both traditional substance abuse therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. An uncontrolled study she conducted in 2013 found that the 14 test subjects—all women—showed significant improvement in their alcohol intake, depression, and interpersonal behavior over the course of a 32-week course.
Addiction psychiatrist Charles O’Brien, M.D of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, approached the situation through pharmacology. In a double blind controlled study conducted in 2010, he treated 170 participants in one of the following manners: by administering them with naltrexone (which reduces alcohol cravings), sertraline (which treats anxiety or depression), a combination of both drugs, and neither medication at all.
Of the four groups, the individuals who received both drugs had longer alcohol abstinence rates. O’Brien hopes that other research groups will follow his lead and conduct similar tests over longer periods of time. “The brain is the cause of all of this,” he noted. “Addiction is a brain disease. Depression is a brain disease. [And] not many doctors know about the brain.”
A Texas jury has acquitted a father who allegedly executed the drunk driver who killed his two young sons.
As earlier reported, David Barajas and his two children, aged 11 and 12, were pushing a truck that had run out of gas when Jose Banda, driving drunk at the time, plowed into the children back in 2012. Texas prosecutors alleged that Barajas, "in a fit of rage" over his sons, went to his home and returned to the scene of the crash with a gun and shot Banda dead.
The prosecution had faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Not only did they face the sympathy the jury felt for a father who watched his two sons killed in front of him, authorities never found the murder weapon. Little physical evidence linked Barajas to Banda's shooting death—the most compelling of which was that Banda was likely killed by a .357 caliber gun and a box of such ammunition was found in Barajas' home.
Barajas' defense claimed that at the time, Barajas was only focused on one thing: saving his sons. There was also no gunpowder residue found on Barajas as there should have been if he fired a weapon.
The jury deliberated for three hours before returning with their decision to acquit Barajas.
“What the state’s perspective is and will always be is that if you or I or anyone we know had a horrible collision and killed another human being, that you get the fair review of the criminal justice system, not a roadside execution,” Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne says. "Three sons were lost that day. The state has compassion for every single one of them, the Barajas children and the Banda son."
Barajas, despite the crimes he was accused of, says he seeks closure and prays for Banda's family.
"They lost a son, too," Barajas says.
A new study suggests that part of the reason why people experience hangovers after a night of drinking may be genetic.
Using telephone survey data of self-reported experiences with hangovers and alcohol consumption of about 4,000 middle-aged individuals from the Australian Twin Registry, the researchers searched for links between the study participants’ genetic makeups and the number of hangovers they reported experiencing in the past year.
Participants recounted the number of times they had been intoxicated in the past year in addition to their “hangover frequency” which is the number of days in the previous year they felt sick the morning after a night of drinking.
The results indicated that genetic factors account for 45% of the difference in hangover frequency in women and 40% in men. This means the individuals’ genetic makeups account for almost half of the reason why one individual has a hangover while another person doesn’t after consuming the same amount of alcohol.
The other half of the reason is likely influenced by factors unrelated to DNA such as the pace at which a person drinks, whether they eat while drinking, and their general alcohol tolerance.
The study’s findings could contribute to future research on alcohol addiction. “We have demonstrated that susceptibility to hangovers has a genetic underpinning,” said study leader Wendy Slutske, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia told Live Science. “This may be another clue to the genetics of alcoholism.”
This research requires further and more in-depth examination, as it is limited by such shortcomings as its dependence on people’s memories of their drinking and hangovers that are more than likely unreliable, Slutske noted.
She explained that the next steps will be to identify the specific genes that contribute to hangover susceptibility. And if the genes associated with alcoholism also cause hangovers, identifying these genetic factors could help prevent alcohol addiction.