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hiv prevention

6/13/13 11:52am

HIV Pill Cuts Infections Among IV Drug Users

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Previous studies show PrEP also reduces
risk of HIV transmission Photo via

The results of a new study show that a daily antiretroviral pill used to treat HIV infection is also effective at preventing the infection in drug-injecting addicts. The study, which involved 2,400 drug users in Thailand, showed that taking tenofovir pills—a therapy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP—reduced infections by 49%. Addicts who took the pills regularly were 74% less likely to become infected. Previous studies have shown that this therapy also reduces the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child and in men of all sexual orientations. “This is an exciting day,” says Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “This culminates a decade of PrEP research.” To ensure that the findings were as accurate as possible, study participants were given modest stipends to stay in the trial and were administered their pills under the eye of a nurse. Those who came in only monthly were paid to keep drug-use diaries. Despite the promising findings, Dr. Julio Montaner, a University of British Columbia AIDS researcher who works with a large addict population in Vancouver, expressed concern that the therapy would now compete with limited government health budgets for tactics that are already proven as effective—such as methadone and safe-injection sites. However, Dr. Mermin insists that “we’ve moved beyond competition between prevention and treatment. Even this is not for everybody.” Mitchell Warren, executive director for AVAC, an organization that lobbies for AIDS prevention, says the next step is to embark on studies to determine how to best motivate drug users to take these medications.

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By McCarton Ackerman

opiate epidemic

6/13/13 11:11am

Washington Sees Heroin Spike After Painkiller Crackdown

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It can start with a prescription pill. Photo via

Rising heroin use in Washington may be due to the state's recent crackdown on prescription painkillers, according to researchers at University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. Washington was one of the first states to impose strict regulations on the prescription of commonly-abused opiates like oxycodone, requiring patients to see pain-management specialists and requiring random drug tests to ensure the painkillers are not abused. Since the restrictions were put in place, researchers say they have seen a decrease in abuse of prescription drugs, but a rise in heroin abuse. "We were either progressive or regressive with that aggressive effort to reign in opiate prescribing before a lot of the country," says researcher Caleb Banta-Green who previously served as senior science adviser at the Office of National Drug Control Policy." It shows if you enact these laws, you get some of the intended effects—high school sophomores have significantly decreased the rate at which they're abusing prescription opiates, but people are also diverted to heroin." In the state, the number of drug tests from criminal suspects sent to the state crime lab that have tested positive for heroin jumped 167%—from 842 cases in 2007 to 2,251 in 2012.

However, researchers are still optimistic that the stricter opiate laws will eventually be beneficial, since first-time drug users are more likely to become addicted to prescription painkillers and "graduate" to heroin, rather than to start off abusing heroin. "We know that people go from prescriptions to heroin," says Banta-Green, "If they're not getting initially exposed, that's a good thing." States such as Oregon, Florida, and New York have also seen an increase in heroin use since toughening prescription painkiller laws. Many reports in recent years suggest heroin use is rising across the US, and increasingly moving beyond urban areas in to small towns and suburbs.

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

6/13/13 5:00am

Morning Roundup: June 13, 2013

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Hoffman steps out, with perrier, at an NYC
awards show. Photo via

By Bryan Le

dabbing

6/12/13 5:40pm

Is "Dabbing" the Crack of Pot?

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Will BHO incite more anti-pot paranoia?
Photo via

Butane hash oil (BHO)—also known as dabs, honey oil, wax, oil, shatter, or budder—is a potent marijuana concentrate that can exceed 80% THC content. Growing in popularity in recent years, BHO is hailed by some as “the future of cannabis” while others fear it could harm the image of the legalization movement. "It is very, very potent," Nick, 21, a Physics and Applied Math double-major and avid pot smoker from New York, tells The Fix. "It's like the first time you smoked. Every single time."

BHO is produced by one of two methods: “open” or “closed." The open method involves packing a stainless steel tube with marijuana and "blasting" the tube with butane (an extraction solvent). The resulting extract—a thick, yellow-orange oil—trickles out onto a pan. This method can be dangerous: FEMA reports increasing incidents of explosions across the US caused by clumsy hash oil production attempts. The closed system, a safer method, uses a machine called a butane oil extractor—which is also used to perform oil extraction from botanical herbs like lavender and mint to produce aromatics, infusions, and tinctures. Consuming BHO is known as "dabbing," and usually involves the user touching the concentrate onto a heated surface (like a nail) and inhaling its vapors. Some dabbing paraphernalia resembles traditional meth or crack pipes, which Nick says could "freak out a lot of parents once dabbing gets huge."

Dabbing comes with potential health dangers, including inhalation of "dirty" butane. An editorial in the High Times claims that only butane that is "quadruple-refined or better" is suitable for ingestion. However, there are no across-the-board standards for purity. Another risk is ingesting harmful contaminants that may have been infused into the concentrate during the extraction process, like pesticides, herbicides and fungi. "It depends on who's been growing it and what they used," according to Dr. Bob Melamede, associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado, and president and CEO of Cannabis Science, Inc. "If you have contaminants on your plant, that's going to come off into the extract." Still, he believes the dangers are minimal and says "there isn’t any evidence that inhaling residual hydrocarbons like butane are dangerous—at least in small amounts.”

The pro-pot community is somewhat divided over dabbing. Dale Gieringer, PhD of NORML in California, says there has been a recent uptick in hospitalizations for cannabis overdose, which he attributes to rising use of BHO. "Things like this never happened until the popularization of hash oil in recent years," he writes in a letter to O'Shaughnessy's. "The dangers are dire enough to merit a special warning." Others, however, praise BHO's medical merits. Daniel “Big D” de Sailles, a partner at Denver dispensary Top Shelf Extracts, tells the High Times it's practically a miracle remedy. “I’m a 100% proponent of BHO, because I’ve seen it make people’s pain just evaporate," he says. "As medicine, it helps with both harm reduction—it practically cures withdrawal symptoms in people who are alcoholics or addicted to speed or pharmaceuticals— and pain management. It works every single time, and it’s easier to regulate your dosage.”

But some pro-pot activists worry that BHO could harm the herb's reputation, setting back the legalization movement at a time when public acceptance of pot is at an all-time high. “Seeing teenagers wielding blowtorches or blowing themselves up on the evening news might incite a new anti-pot paranoia that could set the legalization movement back decades," writes High TImes senior editor Bobby Black, who notes that the techniques used to produce dabs "bear an eerie resemblance to those used for harder drugs like meth and crack." Meanwhile NORML's executive director, Allen St. Pierre directly attributes BHO's popularity to marijuana’s still mainly illegal status. "Contraband product tends to become more potent under prohibition,” he tells The Fix. “This appears demonstrably true for cannabis, as the more the government commits resources and energy to ban cannabis, the more potent the herbal drug has become over the years.”

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By Victoria Kim

shady business

6/12/13 5:00pm

Snowden Calls Out CIA on Drunk Driving Ploy

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Snowden was disturbed by what he saw.
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The Swiss government has officially asked the US for clarification about an incident in which CIA operatives allegedly encouraged a Swiss banker to drink and drive as part of a recruitment ploy. The man behind this claim is NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was stationed to work undercover in Geneva, maintaining computer network security. In an interview with the Guardian, Snowden claims CIA operatives, in an attempt to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information, purposely got the banker drunk and encouraged him to drive home in his car. He says the undercover CIA agent swooped in again after the banker was arrested for drunk driving, offering to help. A bond was formed, and the banker was successfully recruited. It was during his time working undercover for the CIA in Switzerland that Snowden began to "seriously question the rightness of what he saw" and began to consider exposing the US government's secrets. "Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," he tells the Guardian. "I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good." A spokesperson for Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs tells ABC News it has noted Snowden's claims and sent a "diplomatic note" to the US Embassy in Bern asking for clarification of the matter.

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By Victoria Kim

criminal justice

6/12/13 3:31pm

$35 Million Awarded to Family of Boston Tobacco Victim

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Marie Evans, pictured with her son, got hooked
on free Newports samples at age 13 Photo via

A landmark case in Boston could pave the way for future lawsuits against Big Tobacco. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled yesterday that the family of Marie Evans, who died of lung cancer in 2002 at age 54, could keep $35 million in compensatory damages from an $81 million wrongful death suit filed against Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. Though a retrial was ordered for the $81 million in punitive damages, the amount awarded to the family makes this ruling a major milestone in lawsuits against tobacco companies. Evans said in a taped statement that she became hooked at age 13 after repeatedly getting free Newport cigarette samples at the playground near her home. At the time, Lorillard used the strategy to target young people, especially in urban communities, and marketed their brand as a "fun" cigarette for kids. As an adult, Evans smoked about 1.5 packs a day and tried to quit more than 50 times, including after a heart attack. She recorded a video which was shown to jurors in the wrongful death suit, filed after her death. "This is huge," says Mark Gottlieb, director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law. He says the results of this case could make Massachusetts "the most attractive state for tobacco litigation in the country," and that the state could soon see "hundreds and eventually thousands of cases" against tobacco companies. Lorillard spokesman Greg Perry says the company disagreed with the compensatory damages decision and is "considering options for further review."

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By McCarton Ackerman

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