The Venezuelan state of Apure is one of the busiest hubs for cocaine trafficked out of Colombia, which it borders. Security forces claim to be making progress there, seizing cocaine and dismantling airstrips in their fight against organized crime. "We are hitting drug trafficking hard all the time,” says Ramón Carrizalez, the governor of Apure. "Very few countries are carrying out a policy like ours." But local residents paint a different picture, saying that the area is inundated with low-flying planes, and is actually ruled by the FARC revolutionary guerrilla organization, which oversees drug shipments. The guerrillas reportedly intimidate local residents, collecting protection money from local businesses, ranchers and fishing camps along stretches of the Venezuela/Colombia border. “We all knew what was going on," says one citizen, referring to traffickers' control of the state's airstrips, "but no one said anything. What were we going to do about it? The one that should be doing something is the government. They should be constantly patrolling the area.” Luis Lippa, a former governor of Apure, agrees. “Our airspace has been taken over,” he says. “Our national territory has been reduced.”
Although the US has collaborated with governments in Mexico, Honduras and Colombia to crack down on drug trafficking, an antagonistic relationship with leftist President Hugo Chavez has hampered such efforts in Venezuela. Back in September, President Obama designated the country as failing to meet its obligation to crack down on organized drug crime, citing a federal report that says Venezuela is "one of the preferred trafficking routes out of South America" and has a "generally permissive and corrupt environment." In 2010, an estimated 24% of the cocaine shipped out of South America—over 200 tons—passed through Venezuela, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
- Tom Cruise: Russell Brand Should Try Scientology for Addiction [The Daily Mail]
Just because Scientology may have lost Katie Holmes to her separation from husband Tom Cruise doesn’t mean they’re stopping with celeb recruitment. Their latest target, some say? Russell Brand, Cruise’s Rock of Ages co-star, who has notoriously struggled with addiction. Cruise thinks Scientology might be just the ticket to help Brand kick his habits. “Tom thinks Russell’s battle with alcohol and drug addiction is a way to reach out to the vulnerable,” an insider reports.
- Has Katherine Jackson Been Drugged? [GossipCop]
Rumors have been flying about the whereabouts of Katherine Jackson, the Jackson family matriarch. Although there's little certainty as to what's really going on, some are claiming that she was drugged by her children—after she called the Calabasas home in the middle of the night and asked that her security team be replaced with that of her daughter, Janet Jackson. She apparently sounded intoxicated, but Katherine—a devout Jehovah’s Witness—doesn’t drink. Is the Jackson clan up to its old tricks?
- Frances Bean Cobain Offers Advice to Demi Moore’s Daughters [Winnipeg Free Press]
At this point, Frances Bean Cobain could probably teach a master class in ACOA/codependency issues, so it’s heartening to hear that she’s putting her hard-won experience to good use helping out Demi Moore’s daughters: Scout, Rumer, and Tallulah Willis. Reportedly, the girls all went to school together, and Cobain is advising Moore’s daughters to give their mom “tough love.” Admittedly, that strategy doesn’t seem to have worked so well for Francis Bean's own mom, Courtney Love.
Big Brother celeb Willie Hantz was arrested this week under suspicion of DUI in Louisiana after he attempted to flee the scene of a fight, then refused to take a breathalyzer or blood test. But apparently, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. "I wasn't driving,” Hantz tweeted after the incident, “I was sitting in the driver's seat with the car running. I know stupid." Who are we to disagree?
As is par for the course for Jersey Shore stars, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is embroiled in yet another lawsuit over failing to uphold his end of an endorsement deal. The twist? The company in question, Performance Brands, is also claiming that Sorrentino’s prescription drug addiction—for which he sought treatment earlier this year—puts him in violation of his contract. Perhaps it's for the best: we would have been wary of a Sitch-endorsed fat-burning cream anyway.
New Mexico is the state with the highest fatal drug overdose rate in the country, at 27 deaths per 100,000 population. If you live there, and you’re addicted to painkillers or heroin and want to get clean, you might have heard of "Mystery Man"—an Albuquerque guy who raises money selling guns and crack to buy out patients’ legitimate prescriptions for Suboxone. He then turns around and sells the pills on the street for five bucks a pop to addicts who either can’t get in with Suboxone doctors or are looking to tide themselves over until their next full agonist fix. An addiction-treatment Robin Hood? He thinks so. “People don’t overdose no more,” he says. “They’re just mellow. If you take it, you won’t be stealing, you won’t be robbing, and you won’t be prostituting.” But there are those who disagree. “Mystery Man [is] not a doctor,” says special agent Keith Brown, who’s in charge of the DEA’s New Mexico force. “He doesn’t know anything about how the medicine should be used, the dosing of it, any side effects. I think it’s dangerous for all involved.”
Charles O'Keeffe, the former president and CEO of Reckitt Benckiser—the corporation that developed Suboxone in partnership with the federal government—told NPR “there’s not much money to be made” treating addiction with pharmaceuticals. But Reckitt’s pharma earnings shot up more than sixfold between 2004 and 2009—largely due to Suboxone sales. “Buprenorphine is now the 41st most prescribed drug in the US. Five years ago, it was 196th. It’s a money machine,” Dr. Steven Scanlan, medical director of Palm Beach Outpatient Detox, which has a specialty in detoxing addicts from opioids, tells The Fix. Suboxone (also known as buprenorphine, or “bupe”) is becoming known as “prison heroin,” and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research published a warning this spring predicting a wave of Suboxone misuse.
Even short-term use of the “rave” drug ecstasy may cause memory problems, suggests a new study published in the journal Addiction. Aiming to catch people just as they started using ecstasy regularly, researchers initially examined 149 subjects who had used the drug a maximum of five times, and then examined 109 of them who returned one year later. Of the returning subjects, 43 hadn't used ecstasy during the intervening year, while 23 others had taken more than 10 ecstasy pills—at an estimated average of 33.6 pills over the year. The two groups performed similarly in most of the tests they were set, except for one, which involved remembering which type of border had framed an image, both immediately after viewing and one hour later. The continuing ecstasy-users scored less well at this.
“By measuring the cognitive function of people with no history of ecstasy use and, one year later, identifying those who had used ecstasy at least ten times and pre-measuring their performance, we have been able to start isolating the precise cognitive effects of this drug," says lead author Dr. Daniel Wagner, of the University of Cologne in Germany. But Jerrold Meyer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, notes "I'm reasonably convinced by their data, but obviously, as with any study, there are always unanswered questions." Ecstasy has been deemed dangerous by health and law enforcement officials, although experts such as the British professor David Nutt—who famously declared, "Horse-riding is considerably more dangerous than taking ecstasy”—have bucked the trend. “To have a comprehensive answer, you need to study a drug from many different domains,” says Wagner. At the moment, he believes, “It’s hard to say that it’s a harmful drug.”
- Greece's Latest Crisis: Rising HIV Cases [NPR]
- Does Horse Racing Have a Better Drug Policy Than the Olympics? [Forbes]
- Teenagers in England Are Shunning Drink and Drugs for a Cleaner Lifestyle [BBC]
- Muse's Chris Wolstenholme on Alcohol Battle: 'I Had to Stop or Die' [NME]
- Has "Real Housewife" Kim Richards Relapsed? [Radar Online]
- Jenna Jameson Pleads Not Guilty to DUI [ABC]