The infamous Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar was killed nearly two decades ago, but his face is now plastered across Mexico—via a popular designer T-shirt line. Escobar's Medellín cartel—which once controlled 80% of the world's cocaine market—is held responsible for thousands of deaths. His 39-year-old son, Sebastian Marroquin, who changed his name from Juan Pablo Escobar Henao after his father's death in 1993, is now marketing high-end tees displaying his father's face and some provocative messages. "What's your future looking like? / Nice pace, but wrong way" reads one, emblazoned with Escobar's driver's license. Despite some fairly extortionate prices, they're selling fast. "We're not trying to make an apology for drug trafficking, to glamorize it in the way that the media does," claims Marroquin. The shirts are apparently meant instead to "provoke reflection." But they're accused of cashing in on violence, and of fueling fascination with cartel culture. They're available from stores in Sinaloa and Jalisco states, both of which are plagued by drug violence. They're also being sold in Austria, Guatemala and the US—but not Colombia, out of respect for Escobar's victims. Marroquin brushes off the criticism, saying he's not the first to make money from his father, and that books and TV shows have already done the same: "Those who set out to criticize me are the same who have profited from the story, life and name of Pablo Escobar."
Another day, another lawsuit against Four Loko. This time, they’re being sued by a New Jersey man who says drinking two and a half cans of the formerly-caffeinated "energy" beer gave him a heart arrhythmia. Each can contains 12% alcohol—the equivalent of three cans of regular beer—and a recent study found that even moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the risk for arrhythmia for people with diabetes or heart disease. Phusion Projects, the Chicago-based makers of Four Loko, will be keeping their lawyers busy: they're also facing a suit over the death of a 15-year-old boy in Illinois, plus another from an Ohio man who claims the beverage caused him to run out into traffic, where he was hit by a car. Chris Hunter, one of Phusion’s founders, told The Fix in an interview last year that his drink isn't to blame for the tragedies that are often associated with it: “We drank our product, we know it’s like any other alcohol. If you consume something responsibly you’re fine, if you don’t you’re not fine, and I don’t care if that’s Bud Light, Smirnoff vodka or Four Loko.”
Cracking Addiction, tonight's TLC special, spotlights the work of Debbie and Brandon Knauss—a mother-and-son intervention team. They first hit screens in 2003, when Brandon was the subject of the first ever TV intervention, on the Dr. Phil Show. Addicted to drugs including Vicodin and heroin, Brandon struggled, relapsed and at one point spent six months in jail. Debbie was desperate to help her son, and frustrated by professional advice including one therapist's assurance that Brandon could detox "safely" on his own—even though he was then taking between 20 and 40 Vicodin a day—and one psychiatrist's dismissive remark that "He's just a normal kid who wants to party and have a good time." After watching an episode of the Dr. Phil Show, and approving of Dr. Phil McGraw's "no-nonsense approach," she wrote in and received the help she'd hoped for. Brandon, now 30, has nearly seven years drug-free.
Debbie set up the family business, VIP (Vital Intervention Professionals), in 2008. She's a licensed chemical dependency counselor and psychiatric nurse, and also trained as an intervention professional. But she dislikes what she sees as some interventionists' tendency to remove uncooperative addicts' support, or even get them kicked out of their homes, she says. She contrasts this with her flexible, "whatever-it-takes" attitude. She started taking Brandon along to interventions because she "felt that there would be a better chance of saving that person's life if Brandon could communicate with them as a young person who has been there." And soon, "I could see Brandon's God-given talent." She believes that their partnership, of one male and one female, one qualified professional and one recovering addict, is ideally balanced. "We do our best work together because of our strong family bond. I'll know what Brandon is thinking about a situation—we don't even have to talk about it."
Brandon tells The Fix that "I have a lot of experience that they don't teach in school about what these kids are doing." Most of the clients he and his mother work with are in their teens and early 20s—the age at which he experienced his problems—which helps him to relate. He says that the drugs they most often receive calls about are heroin, opiate painkillers and meth: "We usually get called for all the most difficult cases!" He "couldn't imagine a better partner" than his mother, but admits that working with her has its difficulties: "It can be really hard to hear her talk about her personal memories, reliving all the pain I put my family through." However, "seeing the happiness on her face after we've helped someone is the most rewarding thing."
Debbie says that being filmed while working "doesn't affect us at all. We forget that the cameras are there." And the clients? "Actually, they welcome it, because they've seen Brandon on TV—his intervention, his relapses—and they've seen how it worked." Brandon describes going on TV again as "an out-of-body, surreal experience" and a dream: "I feel so blessed to be able to help people in the way that I do."
"I want Cracking Addiction to reveal to families that this is a family disease, that this is a real disease and that you can recover," says Debbie. She feels that drug education in the US often isn't good enough: "When kids are just taught that 'drugs are bad,' then when they experience them for the first time, they're like 'whoa!' when they get that dopamine rush." Much of the information given to young people, she says, is "on a similar level to what they're told about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny." And she has words of caution for her colleagues in the addiction field: "In this industry, we're very quick to jump in and to judge when people go about recovery in different ways. Recovery is as unique as the individual in question."
TLC's Cracking Addiction airs Wednesday, October 3 at 9 pm Eastern. Preview clip:
Abusive vandalism or just incompetent gift-giving? A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Shimla, India was garlanded last night with whisky bottles in a boozy departure from the more traditional flowers, leaving locals "shocked." The incident occurred on Gandhi's birthday, October 2, which is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Non-Violence. Although the "miscreants" accountable are as yet unidentified, cops believe "some drunk men" are most likely to blame, and the "shameful" incident has "outraged the religious feelings of citizens." It's the first time that bottles of alcohol have been left on the statue, which is usually guarded by night watchmen. "I was informed that a cop was deployed by the statue on night duty, but he was missing," says the deputy commissioner. "It might have taken miscreants 10-15 minutes to tie the bottles with statue." The incident has been called "abuse," but the bottles may have been the drunks' idea of a birthday gift, and a way to thank Gandhi for leading India to independence. If so, the gesture was ill-informed; in his lifetime, the spiritual leader made a vow under Hindu precepts of abstinence to avoid alcohol, as well as meat and promiscuity.
Life away from the cameras has apparently been difficult for Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and sources report that since taping the final season of Jersey Shore, he has recently fallen off the wagon. A witness claims to have seen him at West Hollywood's London hotel last week, "downing so many cocktails, he could barely stand." A rep for the reality star denies the report and claims that he has not been drinking. Since leaving rehab last March, where he was treated for addictions to alcohol and prescription meds, The Sitch has not been seen drinking during any episodes of the current Jersey Shore season, or during his recent stint on the UK version of Celebrity Big Brother. However, he's admitted that he hasn't found the sober lifestyle easy—which might be magnified by his continuing habit of frequenting boozy nightspots, where he's had to deal with taunts about his attempt at sobriety.
You'd think most people would applaud drug addicts entering treatment, but residents of a Lawrenceville, GA neighborhood say they're all for it as long as it doesn't happen in their back yard. The residential rehab in question, known as Purple Inc., opened last February and treats young men with drug and alcohol addictions. Nearby homeowners are now taking action after finding out the center applied for a permit to continue operating as a residential facility, claiming it's a threat to their neighborhood and property values. "I felt blindsided in exactly what type of facility it was," says resident Ruthie Cansiz. "I think if any person falls out of this sort of rehab program and causes a problem for one child, one person, one house, that is enough." Linda Chambers, another resident, says that while she doesn't object to the facility itself, she thinks the location is ill-advised: "Across from a subdivision with a bunch of children and across from a high school, that didn't seem like an appropriate location."
The facility houses 25 men and has been operating in Gwinnett County for 10 years without incident, according to Brett Bagley, director of Purple Inc. He recently held an open house and invited the community to attend to learn more, but only one person showed up. "The people who are here are not dangerous people," says Bagley. "These are the guys who are here because they want to get better. They're being drug tested. They're here with clinicians actively participating in changing their lives." The county planning commission is expected to make a recommendation this week on whether the center can continue as a residential facility. It's hardly the first time neighborhoods have objected to rehabs; there have been rumblings against facilities from Malibu to the Hamptons this year, while residents of the New Jersey suburb of Alpine last month tried to tried to halt plans for a proposed residential rehab there.