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needle exchange

12/03/12 3:44pm

NY Medicaid Officials Consider Needle Exchange

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Supplies at a NYC needle exchange.
Photo via

New York state officials are searching for ways to save money in the Medicaid program, and a controversial suggestion to fund syringe exchange programs has provoked debate among lawmakers. A team appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo claims that the addition of more preventative services for drug users will save money, along with restructuring how services are billed; however, the practice of needle exchanges is illegal in the US, and has been long a subject of controversy (despite having proven effective in reducing rates of disease in places like British Columbia). “It’s almost like a subset, it’s part of the prevention process,” says Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the New York Department of Health. “It’s cheaper to prevent illnesses (among the groups affected by health disparities). If we can help prevent disease that comes from use of the same needle, it definitely would promote better health, and could save costs in the long run.” Despite the fact that many agencies—including the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention—back needle exchanges as an effective health measure, many lawmakers remain opposed. “The answer is not to coddle drug addicts,” says assemblyman-elect and conservative talk show host Bill Nojay. “It’s something that must be done through law enforcement. We need severe consequences to show that society does not tolerate this kind of behavior.” Nojay argues that Medicaid should offer fewer services, instead of adding more.

However, even if officials were able to gather enough support for a needle exchange, Medicaid would be banned from financing the program under current federal law. Barack Obama lifted the federal ban on these types of programs in 2009, only to have Congress reinstate it soon after; however, many advocates are hopeful that the law could soon be repealed. Sean Barry, spokesman for the AIDS advocacy group Voices of Community Activists and Leaders New York, says that disease by needle injection is a growing issue in the US. The rise of prescription drug abuse has led to an increase in use of injectable drugs—since opiate addicts often begin injecting heroin if they can't access prescription drugs. “The abstinence approach does not work for many individuals,” says Steven Price, senior director of community health initiatives with AIDS Care Rochester. “So the next best step is to empower individuals to reduce the harm associated with their substance use and keep them engaged in care, which has long been the position of AIDS Care.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

celebrity rehab

12/03/12 2:31pm

Sober Jay Strikes Back

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Sober Jay shows his softer side. Photo via

Actor Jason Mewes is most well-known for playing "Jay" alongside Kevin Smith's "Silent Bob;" the ornery, drug-using fictional duo developed a cult following as the stars in most of Smith's popular films, such as Mallrats, Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. His on-screen character may have been aggressive and foul-mouthed, but Hewes has been revealing a more introspective side during a recent international comedy tour with Smith—Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under. The actor, now 890 days clean, has opened up to audiences in cities across the globe about his struggles with addiction—often sourcing his experiences for laughs. "I talk about stuff like my couch being set on fire during Christmas because we had no heat or electric and we needed candles to see in the dark," he says. "I can laugh about it now but I was definitely at a point where I was technically weeks away from being homeless." Getting honest on stage has helped him maintain his sobriety, he says: "It reminds me of where I do not want to be again." And as an unexpected benefit of breaking the silence, the actor has been able to reach out to others who are struggling with addiction. Many fans have contacted him on Twitter or Facebook to share how his honesty has helped them get clean. "That has been sort of the best part of this whole thing," he says, "Knowing that even one or two people stay sober because I am sitting up there telling my stuff and talking to Kevin—that has just been an amazing feeling."

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By May Wilkerson

drug smuggling

12/03/12 1:28pm

Indonesian Women Preyed on by Drug Traffickers

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The kind of pellets that drug mules often have
to swallow. Photo via

As the Jakarta Globe reports, an increasing number of Indonesian women—as elsewhere in the world—are lured into the dangerous role of drug mule by men. Indonesia is seen by international drug cartels as a profitable new market, with an illicit drug trade now worth over $4 billion a year and between 3.8 million and 4.2 million drug users, according to the country's National Narcotics Agency (BNN). So it's no wonder that smugglers are using all means, including desperate women, to import drugs. These women, often widows with children to feed, are frequently wooed by foreign men, who then take them to their own countries. The women are then sent back to visit Indonesia, and are either forced or tricked into carrying drugs. Several recent arrests of widows are worrying Indonesian authorities, NGOs and activists. 

BNN spokesperson Sr. Comr. Sumirat Dwiyanto says that these practices are becoming more common, adding that female drug mules are usually in their 30s and 40s and often the sole earner for their family: “They do it for financial reasons. There are those who can get Rp 5 million ($521) to Rp 10 million for each delivery.” Women’s rights activist Oldri Shearli Mukuan says that many of the women also face pressure from their new foreign boyfriends; they often don't know what they do when they meet them, and once they find out, it's too late. Oldri cites an example of one woman who thought her new boyfriend was in the "carpeting business." In Indonesia, drug trafficking is punishable with death by firing squad. Yet an even greater danger may be the rupturing of one of the pellets in a mule's stomach: smuggling methods include hiding drugs in luggage or clothes, concealing them on the body, or using the body itself as a container. "Body packing" involves drugs like cocaine and heroin being placed in condoms or other latex wrappings, then swallowed. A mule typically swallows up to 125 pellets, containing up to 1.25 Kg of drugs. Rupturing is sometimes caused by stomach acids, and death can rapidly follow. Mules are sometimes given tabets to reduce stomach acid, and often also take medication to inhibit bowel movements. They're later given laxatives and the pellets pass through their digestive systems.

So what can be done? Oldri says, “It is important to provide comprehensive information [on the trend]. These young women only receive limited information [about drug gangs] at school or from their surrounding communities. This is where the media plays a role in providing deeper information.” But Neng Dara Affiah, a commissioner at the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), says the real solution is for women to be given freedom to work; in some areas of Indonesia, tradition dictates that women stay at home. So when, in the case of widows and divorcees, for example, they find themselves the sole breadwinners for their families, they lack the skills to get a legitimate job. 

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By Sarah Beller

Alcohol Sales

12/03/12 12:08pm

And the Biggest Beer-Drinking State Is...

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These states mean it. Photo via

Although overall beer-drinking rates have fallen slightly in the US over the last three years, certain parts of the country can't be accused of a want of trying. The Beer Institute has produced its annual list of the 10 states where the most beer is sold per capita. Unsurprisingly, the list also matches up with states that have the most heavy and binge drinkers. Here's the rundown of 10 states to make Homer Simpson proud:

10. Delaware (34.3 gallons per person per year): The First State cracks the top 10 largely due to its lack of sales tax, which draws out-of-staters. 

9. Nebraska (34.6 gallons): Hampered, in contrast, by a high tax rate on alcohol, Nebraskan drinkers still make the list.

8. Texas (34.6 gallons): Everything's bigger in Texas—including the proportion of binge and heavy drinkers, at nearly 26%.

7. Vermont (34.7 gallons): Takes the "Most Improved" award, with total alcohol consumption up seven percent last year.

6. Wisconsin (36.2 gallons): With breweries galore and frigid temperatures, perhaps it's no surprise that a quarter of residents are binge drinkers.

5. Nevada (36.5 gallons): Beer drinking has actually fallen by more than 17% here since 2003. But Sin City remains a huge driver.

4. South Dakota (38 gallons): What is it about the North?

3. Montana (40.6 gallons): Few restrictions on sales, low taxes and another northern location help take the bronze. 

2. North Dakota (42.2 gallons): The state's recent oil boom has drawn plenty of young men looking for work. They seem to like drinking beer.

1. New Hampshire (43 gallons): Low taxes lure out-of-staters to Live free or die. Or possibly both at this rate.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Celebrity Rehab

12/03/12 11:06am

Vodka Company Sues The Sitch for Hiding Drug Habit

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Was The Sitch hiding something from his employers?
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The vodka company that employed Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino as a "celebrity spokesman" is now suing him, claiming that the Jersey Shore star breached his contract by concealing a drug problem. The Sitch first filed his own lawsuit against Devotion Spirits last month, stating that he helped build its brand but has yet to receive $5 million owed in payment. Devotion is now seeking to justify the non-payment, and claims that Sorrentino was hiding a drug problem from the company, that he was seen asking investors for pot, and that he showed up late for events and refused interview requests. The suit also states that at a New Jersey promotional event in 2011, The Sitch locked himself in a bathroom and later came out "sniffing," with security guards reporting they later found "cocaine-like residue" in the bathroom. Sorrentino's management denied his drug use when approached by the vodka company. But after Devotion terminated their agreement in March 2012, the reality star did check into rehab for an addiction to prescription meds. Despite reports of a relapse earlier this year, Sorrentino has reportedly remained drug-free since entering treatment and even made amends with his castmates during the current final season of Jersey Shore.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Headlines

12/03/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: December 3, 2012

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Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself.
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By The Fix staff

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