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cleaning up the meth

1/06/14 7:30pm

The Big Business Of Cleaning Up Tennessee’s Meth Homes

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Tennessee has the nation’s worst meth addiction problem, but it’s somewhat morbidly turned into big business for companies that clean up meth homes. State officials say there are tens of thousands of meth labs throughout Tennessee, resulting in a surge of cleanup contractors that deal with properties when a bad batch explodes or police shut it down after a raid. Depending on the size of the home and the amount of contamination, it can cost up to $25,000 to restore a former meth home back to normal. 

Making the homes safe requires hiring a certified contractor to remove and replace all the contaminated materials that could include walls, carpeting, and air conditioning vents. Industrial hygienists also must test how much meth is in the home initially, as well as whether it needs more cleaning or is ready to be lived in after the repair. The latter step is particularly crucial because exposure to meth can cause respiratory problems.

However, most home insurance policies don’t cover meth cleanup and homeowners are often unwilling to shell out the money themselves, so they don’t get cleaned for years and leave residents exposed to harmful chemicals. Even if a cleanup contractor is hired, it’s not necessarily a guarantee they will do their job properly. "We are aware that contractors may run the entire scope, from very good to terrible, and we are evaluating," said Dan Hawkins, head of the state's meth remediation office in Knoxville. He also confirmed that the state may start training people to oversee and evaluate cleanups.

The most egregious case of cleanup mismanagement last year went to hygienist Douglas McCasland, who allegedly contracted with homeowners to clean their properties, then illegally certifying the homes were safe to live in when they hadn’t been properly cleaned. He has pleaded not guilty to the federal fraud charges against him and awaits trial in June.

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By McCarton Ackerman

rich gettiing richer

1/06/14 5:30pm

HSBC Settlement Proves Drug War is a Joke

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In today’s “drug war” climate, drug defendants regularly receive long and harsh prison sentences for minor crimes. For international banking giant HSBC, however, the punishment for engaging in serious and far-reaching drug-related crime is tantamount to a slap on the wrist.

In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi details how HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars of cartel- and terrorist-related drug money and violating many international banking laws. But instead of receiving an appropriate punishment, the bank settled with the justice department for $1.9 billion, or about five weeks’ worth of income for the bank. 

While people like Sandra Avery are serving life sentences for crimes involving less than two ounces of crack, HSBC executives who were involved in laundering drug money from Mexican drug cartels and terrorist organizations are having their bonuses partially deferred. The justification for the light punishment? Any criminal indictment which would send these executives to jail might destabilize the financial system.

The bank’s drug money laundering procedures were so obvious that they must not have been concerned with the law. In addition to dealing with “Saudi Arabian terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and rogue regimes in North Korea and Cuba,” transgressions for which they had to “apologize” to a senate subcommittee, they also allowed drug dealers to use custom designed boxes that fit the bank teller windows perfectly in order to move as much money as possible as quickly as possible into HSBC. As Taibbi points out, Tony Montana’s minions moving dufflebags full of cash in Miami was less obvious than the HSBC transactions.

If this really were a fair playing field, Taibbi writes, then all of HSBC’s illegally gained money would be taken and all of the people involved would be thrown in jail. That is exactly what happens to a regular guy who is found with too much money. If police find a substantial sum of money in your car, they can seize it with the justification that you were probably on your way to buy drugs with it. They offer you a choice: forfeit the money or face money laundering and drug charges. It’s big business for the justice department. In 2010, government accounts received almost $1.8 billion in forfeiture money.

We’ve known for a long time that the drug war is ineffective at best, and very harmful at worst. The HSBC case is just the latest example in a “war” that seems designed to help the rich get richer while imposing increasingly cruel punishments on the poor and disenfranchised.

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By Allison McCabe

big pharma goes to saudi

1/06/14 3:30pm

Saudi Arabia Makes Unlikely Pairing With Drug Company Pfizer

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Soon to be a mecca for prescription drugs.
Photo via Shutterstock

Saudi Arabia has some of the strictest drug possession laws in the world, but it’s about to become a major player in pharmaceutical drug manufacturing. Drug company Pfizer is planning to set up factories throughout Saudi Arabia and is expecting to have an output capacity of 18 million packs per year when it starts production in 2015. Minister of Labor Engineer Adel Fakieh Al-Hakim confirmed that the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) established “Saudi Pfizer Company Limited” factory for the production of the company’s medicine at King Abdullah Economic City.

Al-Hakim justified the decision by acknowledging the growing increase of Saudis with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart illness, and obesity. However, visitors to the strict Muslim country are forbidden from bringing in any narcotics, pills or alcohol, and there are also no bars or liquor stores in the entire country. Convicted drug users are subjected to lengthy jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, or deportation, while the only punishment for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death by hanging. The U.S. State Department also advises tourists that “Saudis make no exceptions.”

However, the strict laws hardly mean that drugs and alcohol are not to be found in Saudi Arabia. The conservative country has quickly become a hotbed for amphetamines, with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reporting that 30% of all the amphetamines seized worldwide came from Saudi Arabia. Most of the amphetamines used in Saudi Arabia come in the form of Captagon tablets, a synthetic stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Disorders. Saudi authorities confiscated a staggering 70 million Captagon tablets last year and half of all rehab patients are Captagon addicts. Alcohol is also regularly consumed by Western expatriates, who often live in lavish compounds that allow them to drink booze brewed themselves in a secluded manner.

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By McCarton Ackerman

celebrities and drugs

1/06/14 1:00pm

Coroner Releases Lisa Robin Kelly's Cause of Death

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Lisa Robin Kelly Photo via

On Friday, the coroner released the cause of death for actress Lisa Robin Kelly, who died in rehab in August of 2013. According to the Los Angeles County Coroner, whose report has not yet been made public, Kelly died from “multiple drug intoxication.” The report failed to give any details other than the drugs were orally ingested and the death was ruled accidental.

Kelly, who played Laurie Forman on “That 70’s Show,” was 43 when she entered Pax House in Altadena, CA. Prior to entering treatment, Kelly had been dealing with professional and personal problems for some time. She was replaced on “That 70’s Show” in the show’s sixth season, was arrested on two different occasions for spousal abuse, and had pleaded guilty to a DUI in 2010. When Kelly appeared on Good Morning America in April of 2013, she claimed to be three months sober, although she did admit to having developed a drinking problem after going through a miscarriage.

“I had lost a baby, and as a result of that, I lost everything, and I was abusing alcohol, which I no longer do,” said Kelly. “With ‘That ’70s Show,’ I was guilty of the drinking problem and I ran. And I am not running from this. And I have paid my dues. And if I can make it through this, I can make it through anything.”

According to Kelly’s agent, Craig Wyckoff, Kelly entered rehab voluntarily “to get her life back on track.” When Wyckoff spoke to Kelly, shortly before her death, he said she “was hopeful and confident, looking forward to putting this part of her life behind her.”

The coroner will release the full autopsy report in the next few weeks, including the specific drugs found in Kelly’s system.

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By Allison McCabe

drugs in movies

1/06/14 10:30am

Movie Review: American Hustle

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There is only one singular use of cocaine in the movie American Hustle, and it doesn’t even show up until nearly 90 minutes into the movie’s 138 minutes run time. This is shocking for a number of reasons. One, American Hustle is set firmly in the 1970s, and two—everything about Hustle, from its hubris-driven greed to its hard-riding track shots to its love affair tucked between the rotating belt of a dry cleaner and an enormous amount of sequins and hair spray seems to scream “Cocaine!”

But that’s the brilliant theme of American Hustle, and the decade it strives, a little too forcefully, to depict: sometimes the strongest drugs come from within. Irving Rosenfeld, played with a cold sentimentality by Christian Bale, is not a man who needs drugs. A Long Island conman with realistic goals, Irv just wants to runs his dry cleaner fronts and make his cash on the side. Even when he meets the Bonnie to his Clyde, the con artist prodigy played by a staid Amy Adams, he refuses to give up his stable home life with his unstable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence playing a character twice her age with more talent than most actresses who actually are) and his adopted son. 

Irv might slough off the good clothes that come through his dry cleaners and he might deal in forged art, but he is no coke sniffing good time boy. He is a man with a conscience, one that gets challenged when he is caught by creepy Federal Agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper, who always looks like a date rapist to me. I feel bad because he seems like an awfully nice guy but seriously, he was born with a rich frat boy face. And this character doesn’t help.

For the next hour, we watch Agent DiMaso parade around his catch like he owns them, forcing them to take down other so-called bad guys in a variety of stings, but quickly Agent DiMaso starts upping the ante. Seeing Irv and Edith as perfect foils to entrap politicians, the Mob, and anyone else who might make him a name, Agent DiMaso tries to use them like bait, forcing them into a dangerous and morally complicated plan to ensnare a well-loved New Jersey mayor through a scheme to rebuild Atlantic City.

According to director O. Russell, the 70s were less about cocaine, and more about hair; disappointing to all of us who have glamorized the decade in which we were born. But with Irv’s disturbing comb-over, which opens the film, to DiMaso’s greasy bathroom perm curls, to Polito’s unnecessary pompadour, apparently Aqua Net was as big as the Medellin cartel. Which is unfortunate, particularly in Jeremy Renner’s case (as that New Jersey mayor), whose acting is so good that you wish you could remove the squirrel from his head to focus more on the man and the performance. Though Bale may be the method actor, it is Renner who brings the soul to his character’s eyes. At every hopeful look, the innocence of his smile, you know what Irv is trying so hard to be; Carmine is a good guy who only wants the best for his people.

Even without the cocaine—or even that much booze, save for Jennifer Lawrence whose pill-fueled Requiem scene set to “Live and Let Die” might just go down as one of the most exhilarating moments in film history—the message is clear that hubris makes men go mad. And by the end, even when Irv has collapsed from guilt and the cries of Carmine’s family echo through the New Jersey he was trying to save, you cannot help but wonder why you paid to watch a flashier, stickier version of everyday life.

Buried under the cinematography, overacting and perm rods is a story of what happens when caricatures become real. The sleazy Long Island con man is really just  a family man, the New Jersey politician genuinely cares for his people, the trophy wife is a broken little girl obsessed with nail polish, and the federal agent who finally gets his comeuppance is a nerdy Mama’s boy who wanted to be the star. It is only this last character who does blow in the movie; the only one who is unable to find himself.

It’s not about watching good men finding out they were good men all along. The real bad guys never even make it into the picture—they’re too busy funding them. And maybe that’s why the drugs were missing. Had everyone been doing cocaine, they never would have been able to figure out who they really were. Because in America, self-realization is the biggest hustle of all. 

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By Kristen McGuiness

rehabbing celebs

1/06/14 8:30am

Ke$ha Enters Rehab for Eating Disorder

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The 26-year-old Tik Tok singer, Ke$ha, whose real name is Kesha Rose Sebert, has checked into a rehabilitation facility to treat an undisclosed eating disorder.

While there were no details about her condition, the pop star did confirm the report in a statement to People magazine. “I’m a crusader for being yourself and loving yourself but I’ve found it hard to practice," she said. "I’ll be unavailable for the next 30 days, seeking treatment for my eating disorder…to learn to love myself again, exactly as I am.”

The singer is seeking treatment at Timberline Knolls outside Chicago, the same facility that helped Disney star Demi Lovato return to sobriety. Meanwhile, reports following the breaking news surfaced that a long-standing feud between Ke$ha and producer Dr. Luke led to her downfall. According to Perez Hilton, she sought Dr. Luke’s help with losing weight at the end of her Get Sleazy tour in 2011, but he allegedly criticized the singer for her weight by calling her a “fucking refrigerator.”

But the singer has battled weight issues throughout her life. Back in January, she told Seventeen about the struggles she endured early in her career. "I remember every person who told me I couldn't do something or that I was ugly or too fat," she said. "People in the music business were like, 'You're never going to make it.' I see them now and I'm like, 'Ha!'”

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