West African drug cartels are gaining a more powerful role in the worldwide drug trade, according to a new UN report. Approximately $1.25 billion worth of cocaine passes through West Africa each year, on its way to Europe, and local traffickers have long worked as "couriers" for Latin American drug cartels, helping them move drugs through the region. But power is reportedly shifting in to the hands of local trafficking groups. Most of the region’s cocaine still arrives by way of Latin American cartels, but these groups’ direct involvement in the region has declined. In their place, many West African trafficking groups are now creating their own independent narcotics transport and distribution systems, pushing out Latin Americans, and producing their own methamphetamine on a massive scale. “In the end, the gross volume of drugs transiting the region is less relevant than the way West Africa interacts with it,” says a report released this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "It appears a growing share is not merely the property of Latin Americans making use of West African logistic services, but that West Africans are playing an increasingly independent role in bringing the drugs into their region.” The role of the growing drug trade in the region is likely to contribute to even deeper political and economic instability in West Africa, which is already in ongoing crisis. The UN report notes: “unless the flows of contraband are addressed, instability and lawlessness will persist, and it will remain difficult to build state capacity and the rule of law in the region.”
One in six cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be due to a mother’s drinking habits during or soon after pregnancy, a new study suggests. Researchers say these cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be caused either from alcohol exposure womb, or from being in a hazardous environment after birth. Based on data from 77,895 Australian women who gave birth between 1983 and 2005, researchers found that babies born to mothers who drank heavily were seven times more likely to die of SIDS, compared to those whose moms drank moderately or not at all. And for the mothers who reported drinking heavily the year after birth, their babies had a nine times higher risk of SIDS. "The results of this study indicate that maternal alcohol-use disorder increases the risk of SIDS and (infant deaths) through direct effects on the fetus and indirectly through environmental risk factors," write the researchers in the journal Pediatrics. Risk factors could range from general neglect, to a drunken parent falling asleep with the infant in bed, leading to accidental suffocation. About 4,500 infants die from SIDS every year in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "A child is a vulnerable creature and we really owe it to protect that child,” says David Phillips, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies alcohol-related infant deaths. “It's not a trivial thing to be a parent."
Things are looking up for California pot. According to the results of a new field poll, 54% of Californians support marijuana legalization. This is a 4% rise in support from the last time a field poll was taken, in 2010. Those polled are also overwhelmingly in favor for other marijuana initiatives: 67% oppose the crackdown by the state's US attorneys on medical marijuana businesses, and 58% said they would not mind if a medical marijuana store opens in their town or city. Opinions on how the federal government handles marijuana don't necessarily play along party lines: 68% of Democrats, 55% of Republicans and 78% of independents were opposed to the feds cracking down. "Once (alcohol) prohibition was repealed, the feds pretty much took their hands off—and I think that's the best model," says Stewart Hintz, a California republican. Support for legalizing weed was highest in the Bay Area, where 7 in 10 were in favor. And the state's 16-year-old law allowing citizens to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes continues to receive widespread support, with 70% of those surveyed in favor of MMJ. "This poll … heartens me and makes me feel validated," says Steve DeAngelo, who runs the state's largest medical marijuana dispensary. California is home to the largest medical marijuana industry in the country.
Billie Joe Armstrong is a basket case no longer. The Green Day frontman talks in his first post-rehab interview, with Rolling Stone, about checking into rehab last September for substance abuse following an on-stage meltdown at a show in Las Vegas. Recalling his lowest points, Armstrong says, "I couldn't predict where I was going to end up at the end of the night. I'd wake up in a strange house on a couch. I wouldn't remember how. It was a complete blackout." But it wasn't until his on-stage tirade at the iHeart Radio Music Festival last fall that he finally got help. The 41-year-old rocker admits that he doesn't remember most of that incident, in which he yelled "I'm not fucking Justin Bieber, you motherfuckers!" during the set and smashed his guitar. "I remember tiny things," he says. "The next morning, I woke up. I asked [my wife] Adrienne, 'How bad was it?' She said, 'It's bad.' I called my manager. He said, 'You're getting on a plane, going back to Oakland and going into rehab immediately.'" Armstrong checked into treatment just two days after the incident. He's now fully clean, and Green Day is getting ready to pick up where they left off. After having to postpone all shows at the end of 2012 due to their frontman's absence, they have announced new tour dates for this spring.
For heavy drinkers in treatment for abusing their partners, therapy targeting alcohol abuse could help improve violent behavior, according to a new study. Alcohol can impair judgement and lower inhibitions which in turn can lead to aggressive behavior, says study lead Gregory Stuart of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "One theory is that alcohol can narrow focus to negative aspects of the environment, and is linked to impulsivity," he says. But even though alcohol is a factor in many domestic disputes, arrested perpetrators are often referred by the court to "batterer" programs—which rarely address drinking. For the study, researchers recruited 252 men who had been arrested in Rhode Island for domestic violence and also reported binge drinking (five or more drinks per session at least once a month). They found that the participants who received the extra session of alcohol counseling in addition to domestic violence therapy showed greater short-term improvement in both their drinking and their violent behavior. However, after a year, the two groups demonstrated similar amounts of improvement in aggressive behavior. Stuart says the alcohol abuse therapy helped give men a "jump start" on reducing their violent behavior sooner into treatment. He hopes the study results will lead to improvements in batterer programs, by incorporating treatment for substance abuse. He says: "The goal is to gently lead them to the conclusion that potentially stopping the use of alcohol and drugs is a good idea.”