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southeast asia

11/29/13 11:00am

Southeast Asia's Biggest Little Drug Problem


Who wouldn't want to chew this?
Photo via Shutterstock

Betel quids, or "nuts," are relatively unknown in the United States, but they just happen to be the fourth-most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world behind tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

More than 600 million people chew betel nuts, otherwise known as small parcels of areca nuts, wrapped in a betel leaf and coated with slaked lime. Most of the parcels that are sold throughout southeast Asia contain tobacco, but spices can be added in as well. And while the betel nuts are used as an energy boost among cab drivers and other professions, they also cause severe health issues like reddish-black stained teeth from the dyes, or even oral cancer. "Having one is okay, but the danger increases when you start having the second one. When you reach a certain point, people will get cancer," said Professor Ying-chin Ko, vice president of Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan. However, the low cost of the betel nut parcels makes them appealing to consumers – a pack of three in Myanmar costs 100 Burmese kyat, or roughly 10 cents American.

Despite the dangers, chewing betel nuts dates back to the Bronze Age, and the practice has long been an important part of cultural and even religious rituals in some parts of Asia. In Taiwan, scantily clad betel nut vendors  have even become something of a tourist attraction in certain parts. Women are drawn to selling the parcels because they can make up to $1,900 per month, roughly twice the amount of a recent college graduate's starting salary. The trend of sexy betel nut vendors began in the 1990s, but is so pervasive now that the girls are often forced to dress provocatively if they want to have any chance of selling their product. "In Taiwan, if you want to sell betel nut, you have to take off some clothes," said a taxi driver named Hsu. “If you wear too much, you won’t make any money.” Unfortunately, some of the women have to deal with the hazards of the job. "There are a lot of perverts. They'll try to touch your breasts, or stroke you. Usually we take care of it ourselves. I've slapped customers before," said an anonymous vendor.

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By McCarton Ackerman


11/29/13 10:00am

Greece Opens First Drug Consumption Center


Outbreak in HIV largest among drug users
Photo via Shutterstock

Greece has joined an ongoing trend worldwide by setting up its first legal drug consumption center in the city of Athens. Greece’s Organization Against Drugs, known as OKANA, set up the center last month, which allows users to inject their own drugs they bring themselves while under medical supervision. More than 200 addicts have visited the facility since it opened shop last month.

Sakis Papaconstantinou, the head of OKANA, said that “demand is increasing day after day and we believe that very soon we may need more facilities in other parts of the city.” But the 200 addicts who have accessed the center represent less than one percent of the estimated 25,000 drug users in Athens who are homeless and without access to healthcare services. In addition, OKANA statistics show that the number of HIV-infected drug users peaked at the height of the economic crisis last year, while fatal drug overdoses have also increased from previous years.

The drug issue throughout Greece has been exacerbated by the country’s ongoing recession, which has seen unemployment skyrocket to 27 percent. In exchange for funds that are helping Greece stay afloat, the country has agreed to reduce health spending as part of austerity measures prescribed by international lenders.

Meanwhile, more than 90 drug consumption rooms have been set up throughout the world since 1986 and eight nations currently help facilitate them: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Norway, Canada, and Australia.

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By McCarton Ackerman


11/29/13 8:00am

Japan Plans Internet Fasting Camps for Web-Addicted Youths


Unhappy camper.
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In order to save its over half a million web-addicted youths in Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Education is putting together government-sponsored Internet fasting camps.

“We estimate this affects around 518,000 children at middle and high schools across Japan,” said Akifumi Sekine, a representative at the ministry. “But that figure is rising and there could be far more cases, because we don't know about them all.” That number, according to a Nihon University study, means about 8.1% of Japanese school children admit to being addicted to the Internet. At these proposed camps, the Japanese government hopes to see kids playing outside and speaking to one another face to face so that they achieve "limbic resonance" - a feel-good rush in the brain that comes from interacting with others. “Verbal and non-verbal communication releases specific neuro-chemicals,” Hilarie Cash, co-CEO of internet addiction rehab reSTART, explained. “It's not a reaction that occurs when you're online. A lack of it can even hinder developing social skills.”

But some feel the camps only address symptoms, not problems. "Why are these young people turning to the internet? Why do they feel more comfortable talking to strangers on the Internet, instead of their classmates or family?" said Kaz Aoyama, a Japanese student. "I feel like there are more important issues to tackle for these middle and high schoolers, like bullying at school and on the web. Taking away the Internet won't put an end to it."

Japan is not the only country struggling to understand online addiction; Internet addiction boot camps have also sprung up in China and South Korea. 

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By Bryan Le


11/29/13 6:00am

Morning Roundup: November 29, 2013


Police smelled something fishy... Photo via

By Bryan Le


11/28/13 10:00am

Florida Couple Accidentally Smuggles 11 lbs of Pot


The stench of gange should've tipped them off
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Transporting illegal drugs is a logistical nightmare for traffickers. But for one Florida couple, carrying 11 pounds of marijuana 900 miles across state lines proved to be rather easy…if only because it was an accident.

“This could have been really bad,” said Monroe County Sheriff Sgt. Al Ramirez. “These people were traveling all over with this stuff in their truck. If they had been pulled over with it, they could have wound up in jail and their truck may have been seized.” It all began when their vacation home housekeeper called about a mysterious package arriving on their doorstep. The Key Largo couple had the housekeeper send it back, but the package arrived on their doorstep once again. During a series of checkup visits to their rental properties, the couple noticed the package was still there, and they simply decided to throw the box into their truck and contend with the matter later. Once back home in Florida, they finally opened the package and were shocked to find bags of marijuana inside. They called the sheriff’s department about their discovery, which was duly confiscated and will subsequently be destroyed.

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By Bryan Le

teen smoking

11/27/13 5:00pm

Utah on Track to Raising Smoking Age to 21


Hey, buddy, got ID for that?
Photo via Shutterstock

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. If the state legislature has its way, Utah could soon raise its minimum smoking age from 19 to 21 years old in hopes of cutting down on underage smoking in the state.

Lawmakers recently voted 14 to 5 in favor of advancing the measure through committee, setting up a possible vote in the legislature next year. Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, one of the five voting against the measure, claimed such a ban would restrict personal liberty. "We have a responsibility to protect first and foremost the liberties of our citizens, not to protect them from harm that they may cause to themselves," said Greene. Despite opposition, there was overwhelming support for the bill, including from anti-smoking groups and local health departments who testified before the committee. "Ninety percent of legal adults that purchase tobacco for underage smokers are under age 21," said David Patton, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.  Also according to health officials, most kid smokers under 18 in the state get their supply of smokes from people who are just above the current legal limit of 19. The law's proposers reason that underage smokers will have a harder time finding a 21-year-old friend willing to buy them cigarettes than a 19-year-old one. And in a state where the average resident tries his or her first cigarette at a little over 12 years old, blocking this means of obtaining smokes is critical.

Nationally, two-thirds of American smokers began smoking at age 18 or younger, according to the American Lung Association, so such policies could very well reduce the amount of future smokers over all. The town of Needham, MA raised their minimum smoking age to 21 in 2005 and saw high-school smoking rates drop by 50 percent since. Similar measures to the one moving through Utah are being considered in Hawaii, Texas, Colorado, and New Jersey.

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By Bryan Le


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