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5/21/13 5:00am

Morning Roundup: May 21, 2013


Bon Jovi recalls his lowest moment. Photo via

By Victoria Kim

needle exchange

5/20/13 5:20pm

Syringe Vending Machines on the Cards in Australia


A syringe vending machine in Sidney.
Photo via

In response to a surge in heroin use in Melbourne, Australia, researchers from the Burnet Institute are proposing a radical new approach: syringe vending machines. The dispensaries, which are already being piloted in Sydney, would operate like drink vending machines by charging a nominal fee for syringes and providing access to clean, safe equipment 24/7. According to a report released today, drug use in North Richmond, an area of Melbourne, is "widespread, frequent and highly visible," with drug users flocking from other parts of the city to openly buy and sell drugs—mostly heroin. Many addicts say they inject in public, out of desperation and fear of withdrawal; discarded syringes often end up littering parks, streets, and even residential driveways. To address the situation and curb the spread of disease, public health experts have proposed 24-hour access to sterile injection equipment and greater collaboration between police and local services to encourage service use. “Effective public health responses require whole-of-community, holistic strategies that balance the requirements of health with those of law enforcement to reduce harm to individuals and the community,” says Professor Paul Dietze, one of the authors of the report. "We have tried different measures and the problem persists, so it's time to change our approach." He says that poor access to clean needles after hours and on weekends puts drug users at risk because they are forced to share equipment and re-use needles from syringe disposal bins.

In the US, there has been a ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs since 1988, though it was briefly overturned by Obama in 2009. Many states have needle exchange programs, which are funded at state and local levels, and the laws vary widely. But needle exchange programs have been proven to work—saving $3 to $6 million in medical care and other expenses for every dollar spent, getting participants into treatment, and helping increase employment rates. Harm reduction advocates want to expand access to syringes in the US because they view addiction as a public health issue, not only a legal one. Depending on the success of Melbourne's new approach, the US may want to consider expanding their vending machine options.

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By Sarah Beller

drug cartels

5/20/13 4:40pm

Drug Cartels Thrive at US-Mexico Border


Humans crossing Photo via

The current system of immigration enforcement and deportation has led to a constant flow of displaced people on both sides of the Mexico-US border, and drug cartels are increasingly taking advantage of this vulnerable population, sourcing them for money and unpaid labor. With immigration rising, and deportations at an all-time high, dorm-style shelters are filling up on both sides of the border. And these shelters have become recruitment zones for cartels looking for drug mules, gunmen or lookouts to help with hauling drugs in to the US. In some areas, the cartels control who crosses the border and profit from each immigrant by taxing human smugglers. "This vicious circle favors organized crime because the migrant is going to pay [for safe passage]," says the Rev. Francisco Gallardo, who oversees immigrant-assistance efforts for the Matamoros Catholic diocese. There have been record numbers of deportations in recent years and already this year, tens of thousands have reportedly landed in Tamaulipas, the Mexican state that borders a swath of Texas. In March alone, the Border Patrol made more than 16,000 immigrant arrests in the Rio Grande Valley sector, a 67% increase from the same month last year, according to the agency. The Mexican government confirmed that reported murders in Tamaulipas increased more than 250% in the past four years. Threats from organized crime leaders have even led some shelters to hire multiple state and federal police officers to reside there. However, some believe that the solution to all this is not increased security, but rather regional development that will provide financially viable alternatives. Rep. Filemon Vela, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, says: "The incentive for people to cross over illegally from Mexico will never subside until these individuals feel safe and until they are able to feed themselves and their families."

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By McCarton Ackerman

sports doping

5/20/13 3:31pm

Olympics Relax Regulation of Pot


Does pot enhance performance? Photo via

Good news for marijuana-loving Olympians: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has loosened its regulations of cannabis use in Olympic sports, prohibiting athletes from using the drug only in the days or hours leading up to a competition. At a recent meeting, WADA moved the threshold for a positive test for pot from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml, which means athletes who use pot weeks or months before an event will be unlikely to test positive. "We wanted to focus on the athletes that abuse the substance in competition," says Julie Masse, WADA's director of communications. "This should exclude cases where marijuana is not used in competition." The new threshold will affect over 600 sports organizations around the world, including the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, and national professional leagues, which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code. Under the former threshold, an athlete who used marijuana a month before competition was likely to be detected, as well as those who were exposed to second-hand pot smoke weeks before an event. And testing positive can get an athlete banned from the competition for up to two years.

So why is marijuana even considered a performance-enhancing drug? Richard Pound, who first headed WADA, says the US lobbied for the drug's ban in athletics, even though many researchers conclude it doesn't technically enhance athletic performance. "There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA," David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has claimed. "I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing." Many members of WADA reportedly share his reservations about pot giving players a competitive edge. College athletics, on the other hand, have gone in the reverse direction: earlier this year, the NCAA lowered the threshold for marijuana use from 15 to 5, with the aim of detecting in-competition as well as out-of-competition use.

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By Victoria Kim


5/20/13 2:22pm

New DSM Launches Amid Controversy


The New Testament. Photo via

At long last, the new DSM-5—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, aka the psychiatrist's bible—has been unleashed on the world, and so far the controversy that engulfed it pre-publication shows no sign of abating. The much-debated, fifth-edition update to 1994's DSM-IV made its debut last Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco. One of the most outspoken critics, Dr. Allen Frances, who headed up the DSM-IV revision—and who later lamented how that edition contributed to "false epidemics" of ADD, autism and childhood bipolar disorder—immediately came out with guns blazing, alleging that it exacerbates "overtreating people with everyday problems who don't need it, [while] shamefully neglecting the people with moderate to severe psychiatric problems who desperately do."

In redefining the diagnosis of addiction, the new DSM combines abuse and dependence—the former binary definition—into a single category called "substance use disorder." Individuals will continue to be diagnosed according to their symptoms, but those symptoms are now based on a spectrum from "mild" to "moderate" to "severe" substance use disorder, as Dr. Charles O'Brien, chair of DSM Substance-Related Disorders Work Group for the DSM-5, wrote for The Fix in April. In another first, a "behavioral" (i.e., non-substance) addiction—pathological gambling—was added to the list of addiction diagnoses. While many clinicians had clamored for the inclusion of other such compulsive behaviors, such as sex or Internet addiction, these disorders were put on hold pending further research. It remains to be seen whether the expanded "spectrum" definition of substance use disorder will lead, as proponents hope, to earlier, more effective and more cost-effective treatment, or, as opponents warn, to the massive overdiagnosis and overtreatment of essentially healthy people with the result that addicts most in need of care will be left out in the cold.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

celebrity recovery

5/20/13 1:11pm

Iron Man Actor Reveals Battle With Eating Disorders


Hamilton says food addiction is "not black
and white" Photo via

Ashley Hamilton, who plays the role of former military officer Jack Taggert in the current box office smash Iron Man 3, has spoken publicly for the first time about his ongoing battle with anorexia and bulimia. The son of famed actor George Hamilton also struggled with drug and alcohol addictions; but though he has been sober for over seven years, he says food addiction has been harder to beat. "I used the drugs and alcohol to control the food addiction," he tells People Magazine, "I've been free from bulimia for years but I still struggle with food, restricting or overeating. That's been the hardest for me in sobriety." The 38-year-old actor, who only sought treatment for his eating disorder within the past year, claims it's more heavily stigmatized than his other addictions—especially as a man. "It's almost like drug addiction is totally acceptable to talk about in Hollywood. But food addiction? Nobody wants to talk about that," he says, "It's really shameful as a man to have that." Hamilton, who was bullied for his weight and dubbed "Fatley" in high school, says his weight continues to fluctuate, and food remains an issue for him even after treatment. "With food it's not black and white. It's: 'Oh, my behavior around food has been better this month,'" he says, "You can't live without food. You're surrounded by food constantly and you have to eat. There are so many people in our country suffering from this. It's an emotional problem and that's been the struggle for me through sobriety." Hamilton says fellow Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr., who is also in recovery, has been a major part of his support system. "He said 'I can't do it for you, Dude,'" explains Hamilton. "I said, 'That's okay. I just need somebody to give me the opportunity to trust in me sober-wise and give me a shot of this magnitude.' I'll forever owe him for that."

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By McCarton Ackerman


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