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drunk driving

5/14/13 5:20pm

Is the Drunk Driving Threshold Too High?

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A new standard for "too drunk to drive?"
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Being “cool to drive” after one or two drinks could soon be a thing of the past. In hopes of reducing drunk driving fatalities, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended lowering the legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit from 0.08 down to 0.05. "This is critical because impaired driving remains one of the biggest killers in the United States," says NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman. Drunk driving is responsible for about a third of all road deaths, and the safety board calculates that lowering the BAC threshold could save up to 800 lives a year. A typical 180 pound adult male will reach a 0.08 BAC by consuming four drinks over the course on an hour, but the 0.05 BAC limit can easily be reached with between two and three drinks. While the new standard may seem extreme to some, the US would be catching up with most developed nations, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Ireland and Switzerland, which ban driving above 0.05 BAC. Countries like China, Japan and Sweden have even lower thresholds. Still, not everyone is on board with the proposal, and a restaurant trade organization argued that an average woman reaches 0.05 BAC after only one drink. "This recommendation is ludicrous," says Sarah Longwell, managing director of the American Beverage Institute. "Moving from 0.08 to 0.05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior." The NTSB timed the recommendation on the anniversary of the deadliest alcohol-related highway crash in US history in 1988, when a drunk driver hit a school bus, killing 24 children and three adults and injuring 34 others.

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By Bryan Le

smoking cessation

5/14/13 4:04pm

US Funds Cigarette-Smoke Detecting Underwear

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Like this, but worn below the belt. Photo via

To help with researching Americans' tobacco use, the federal government ponied up $400,000 to manufacture smoke-detecting underwear. "Self-reported" smoking statistics are not always reliable, so the National Institute of Health (NIH) commissioned scientists at the University of Alabama to develop a way to monitor peoples' smoking habits for them. Using a bracelet and sensor on the midsection to track hand-to-mouth motion and inhalation, The Personal Automatic Cigarette Tracker (PACT) should be able to accurately measure exactly how much people are smoking. “We are trying to eliminate the need for self-report from people about how much they smoke, when they smoke, how many puffs they take from the cigarette,” says Dr. Edward Sazonov, an associate professor at the University of Alabama. “The combination of these two sensors, hopefully, will allow us to monitor cigarette smoking without asking people when and how much they smoke.” After three years in development, researchers have finalized a prototype of the underwear-smoke-detector. The device resembles a vest full of straps (as seen above), but is worn below the belt, and is able to distinguish smoking from other daily activities. It can be worn for a full day, but may be too bulky to slip covertly under one's garments. "Right now we're actually in the process of integrating this whole system just so it's in an elastic band, pretty much like a heart rate monitor,” says Sazonov. Spending this much of taxpayers' money on undies may seem extreme, but smoking already costs the country an estimated $96 billion in direct medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity—making it a health problem nearly as costly as obesity.

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By Bryan Le

risky drinking

5/14/13 2:52pm

One Question Can Help Docs Spot Risky Drinking

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One question can catch a habit. Photo via

A potentially dangerous drinking habit can be detected by doctors with just one simple question, according to the US Preventative Services Task Force. The independent panel of medical experts presented new evidence today that a quick screening during a check-up can detect problem drinking, which should then be addressed with a "brief intervention" by the doctor. According to Dr. Michael LeFevre, professor of family and community medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, "There's evidence that doctors can catch risky drinking by asking just one question: How many times in the past year have you had five or more drinks in a day (if you're a man), or four or more drinks (if you're a woman or older than 65)?" Even a single 5-15 minute counseling session with a doctor can help reduce a patient's drinking if it's in the "risky" stage, according to the panel. "Brief interventions are effective for people who are at the risky drinking stage," says LeFevre. "However, people with more serious drinking problems will likely need more help, or a referral to a specialist program." An estimated 21% of US adults have admitted to problem drinking, which is responsible for over 85,000 deaths in the US annually. The task force's updated guidelines clarify that doctors should be looking for the full range of what they call alcohol "misuse," which ranges from "risky" drinking, to alcohol abuse and dependence. A study earlier this year found that doctors routinely fail to diagnose over 70% of problem drinkers among their patients, when they rely on suspicion alone.

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By Victoria Kim

coming out

5/14/13 1:21pm

Christine Quinn Comes Out as Bulimic, Alcoholic

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Quinn doesn't want to hide anymore.
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NYC Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has publicly revealed her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism. Coping with her deaf mother dying of breast cancer when she was 16 led to her secretly binging and purging for 10 years, Quinn tells the New York Times. She says hiding her sexuality in her youth also contributed to her bulimia and substance use. She first came out as a lesbian to former NY senator Thomas K. Duane, who was openly gay, while she was working as his campaign manager after college. She would later reveal her eating disorder to Duane, himself a recovering alcoholic, and he urged her to seek treatment. “It was the first significant time in my life that I had asked for help, and I think up until that point in my life I associated asking for help with defeat,” she says. She entered a Florida rehabilitation center at the age of 26 in 1992. After treatment, Quinn also "cut back" on her drinking—she ultimately gave up booze three years ago, and now identifies as an alcoholic. Quinn credits her recovery—as well as her wife, Kim Catullo—with helping her put her life together. “Asking for help, going to the rehab, dealing with bulimia, cutting back on drinking, getting drinking out of my life altogether—all of that helped me put the pieces back together,” she says. “And then when I met Kim, she was the final piece.”

Quinn says she doesn't believe that her disclosure will hurt her race for mayor: “It feels like an oddly nonpolitical thing.” Her memoir, With Patience and Fortitude, which will "touch upon" her bulimia and alcoholism, comes out next month. The councilwoman emphasizes that she doesn't wish to be seen as a "victim," and hopes others can find hope in her example. “I want to be affirmatively proud of what I have made my way through,” she says. “And to do that, in the same way I had to tell my father and my family and my friends that I was gay, I need to not hide this anymore.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

sober stardom

5/14/13 12:31pm

Lana Del Rey Says Criticism Tempts Her to Relapse

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Lana del Rey has had some "hard knocks"
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Lana del Rey, who battled addiction in her teens, says she has struggled to stay sober in the face of criticism from the media and musical peers. "I feel like my work's important, but I don't always feel like I get respect for it," the pop singer told Canada's Fashion Magazine, "when I feel like people don't like this music and that the 10 years I spent making what I made was not for a good reason, that makes me want to drink again." Del Rey, who rose quickly to fame after the YouTube hit Video Games, has shared about her early descent in to alcoholism at 14, after her parents sent her to boarding school. “I would drink every day. I would drink alone," she told GQ last years, "I knew it was a problem when I liked it more than I liked doing anything else." The now-sober starlet says she relates to actress Lindsay Lohan, who has herself struggled with substance abuse and unfavorable press attention and is currently in rehab. "She's really interesting, and she's a fan of mine, and she knows I love her too," said the singer of Lohan. "We are in a similar boat." Del Rey, whose recent single Young and Beautiful is featured in The Great Gatsby, adds that she does not believe in the "school of hard knocks," though she claims, "I've had them." "All that stuff about whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger is so not true," she says, "Do you know what makes you stronger? When people treat you and your art with dignity."

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By William Georgiades

synthetic drugs

5/14/13 11:13am

Montreal Cops Seize Drug "40X Stronger Than Heroin"

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Many of the pills had "Facebook" stamps
to attract younger users. Photo via

A powerful new synthetic drug that is 40 times stronger than heroin and 80 times stronger than morphine has hit the streets of Montreal, police warn. Seven recent raids throughout the Canadian city resulted in the arrests of two dealers inside a UPS store as they attempted to ship over 12,000 pills of the narcotic known as Desmethyl Fentanyl, a derivative of the painkiller Fentanyl, which were hidden inside a microwave oven and a toaster. “The effects could be fatal,” says Dr. Danielle Auger, director of public health for the provincial Health Department. “Large quantities were seized, so we can presume that they are on the street. These drugs are made in very poor conditions with a lot of different chemicals. It is quite a gamble to take drugs like this.” One officer was taken to the hospital with heart palpitations simply from handling the potent drugs, even while wearing a mask and gloves, and three other officers developed rashes on their arms. Police seized nearly 300,000 illegal pills in the seven raids, including Fentanyl, oxycodone, ecstasy and speed. Many of these pills had been painted bright colors or stamped with popular logos—including those of Facebook and Tim Hortons (a Canadian donut company)—to make them more appealing to young people. Police also seized three machines used to manufacture the drugs, in addition to 1,500 kilograms of ingredients capable of producing at least 3 million more pills. Inspector Marc Riopel of the Montreal police says the pills were being manufactured at a rate of one per second.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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