The loss of a pretty face in Mexico has grabbed press attention, providing one more stark reminder of the ugliness of the nation's ongoing drug war. Maria Susana Flores Gamez, a Mexican beauty queen who had even represented her country abroad, was killed this weekend during a confrontation between soldiers and a group of drug traffickers in an armored vehicle. The 22-year-old had allegedly been traveling with the traffickers, who initiated the skirmish, resulting in the death of Gamez, her boyfriend, two soldiers and one more civilian. The group she was involved with are thought to be linked with Orso Iván Gastélum (aka El Cholo Iván or El Cholo Vago) a notorious leader of the Sinaloa cartel—one of the two most powerful organized crime gangs in the country. In a beauty pageant this past February, Gamez was voted the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa (a state in Northwestern Mexico that has been ravaged by cartel violence). In 2009, she was named Model of the Year, and in May, she represented Mexico at the Miss Oriental Tourism International pageant, held in China. The drug war in Mexico has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives in the past six years.
Participants who successfully graduate from the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), having completed Phase III of the institution-based component, are sometimes released to a residential reentry center or halfway house. If they stay in prison, they continue to participate in assigned MTC (modified therapeutic community) activities—such as community meetings and service groups—and engage in follow-up treatment as directed. "Once a month, psychology staff puts you on the callout and gets everyone that is RDAP-complete but that hasn't left [prison] yet together for a meeting," one RDAP graduate tells The Fix. "We turn in our Aftercare books for review and have a group discussion on a treatment-related topic. Sometimes we watch a video or movie; recently we watched videos on gambling and the history of narcotics. Then we discuss the video and how those things apply to our treatment. We talk about the things we are doing to maintain our recovery."
Ideally, RDAP graduates should act as mentors and leaders on the MTC unit. But that doesn't always happen, as they tend to get burnt out on the program. Our RDAP graduate isn't so sure about the value of the Aftercare component of the program. "I've been over there to psychology four times for aftercare since I graduated, and each time we spent one to two hours as a group in some sort of treatment-related activity," he tells us. "I would like more treatment to help with my recovery and eventual transition to the world, but what they offer is a lot simpler than you would think. The RDAP follow-up book is divided up into months. When we get together we are supposed to have the pages done, about four pages a month. The Aftercare specialist checks them... but mostly, it's just a glance. Most of it is refreshing your memory on stuff you learned in the program like attitude checks, RSAs [rational self analysis], thinking errors, spoke checks and maintaining a safety net. It's good stuff... but some of us need more treatment before we go home so that we don't relapse and come back to prison."
Scientists have made new strides into understanding the neurological impact of drugs on an individual's capacity to make decisions informed from past experiences. The orbitofrontal cortex of the brain has long been known to be responsible for the brain's decision-making, but new research reveals that while the area is responsible for decisions on the spur of the moment, it is not responsible for decisions based on habit or prior experience. This distinction—recently discovered by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the journal Science——may help explain the neurological patterns responsible for substance abuse and addiction. “Drug addiction is marked by severe deficits in judgment and bad decision-making on the part of the addict,” says lead author Joshua Jones, Ph.D. “We believe that drugs, particularly cocaine, affect the orbitofrontal cortex. They coerce the system and hijack decision-making.” The damage to the brain region caused by drugs can have long-lasting effects that prevent people from using the consequences of past decisions to influence present ones. “Our research showed that damage to the orbitofrontal cortex may decrease a person’s ability to use prior experience to make good decisions on the fly,” says Jones. “The person isn’t able to consider the whole continuum of the decision—the mind’s map of how choices play out further down the road. Instead, the person is going to regress to habitual behavior, gravitating toward the choice that provides the most value in its immediate reward.”
However, since this study was conducted on a rat, researchers say further study will be needed to assess addiction and neurological decision-making patterns in humans. Nonetheless, experts believe the current results could lead to promising developments in the field of addiction treatment. “Our goal here at the School of Medicine is to make groundbreaking discoveries in the laboratory that can be translated into new treatments and new hope for patients and their families,” says Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “We are hopeful that research tells us more about the basic mechanisms in the brain and will translate to new techniques in neurobiology and in treating devastating conditions such as drug addiction.”
Sober for 11 years, a certified drug counselor, employed at a Californian treatment center... Sherri Wilkins was doing everything right in her ongoing fight against addiction. Outwardly at least. Inside things must not have been going so well: on Saturday night the 51-year-old hit a pedestrian with her car in LA and drove two miles with the man embedded in her windshield. Other drivers eventually managed to persuade Wilkins to stop. Thirty-one year old Phillip Moreno was pronounced dead at a local hospital and Wilkins was carted off to jail with a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit. "Mind-boggling" is how police Sgt. Robert Watt describes the incident. "I've never seen this," he tells the LA Times. "It shows you how impaired she must have been." Wilkins later said she kept driving after hitting Moreno only because she panicked. Though this wasn't her first run in with the law, Wilkins had put drugs and crime behind her in recent years. "If I were to rank someone for risk of relapse, she would be pretty low on the list," says David Lisonbee, her boss at Twin Tower Treatment.
Barack Obama meets today with Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto; they're expected to finally discuss the drug war after a long silence from the White House on the subject. Peña Nieto is among a growing number of Latin American leaders—including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina—who want a new approach to the raging Latin American drug war. He believes that the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington finally provides an opportunity to address the issue with the US President. "It opens a space for a rethinking of our [drug-war] policy. It opens a debate about the course the drug war should be taking," said Peña Nieto. "It doesn't mean the Mexican government is necessarily going to change what it's doing now...but I am in favor of a hemispheric debate on the effectiveness of the drug-war route we've been on."
While Perez Molina has proposed legalization of all drugs in Guatemala and Uruguay is moving toward legalizing marijuana (and selling it under a state-managed monopoly), Peña Nieto currently shares Obama's stance of opposing legalization. But if marijuana legalization spreads further in the US, Mexico may be forced to adopt similar measures. "It creates certain distortions and incongruences, since [state legalization] is in conflict with the federal government there," said Peña Nieto. "That will impact how Mexico and other countries in the hemisphere respond." The president-elect will take office on Saturday, replacing Felipe Calderon, whose militant drug war tactics have been criticized for intensifying the violence; since he took office 6 years ago, an estimated 60,000 Mexicans have died, and the conflict is seen as being at a stalemate.
History is rife with child actors and teen idol musicians who fell into drug and alcohol abuse in their adult years, but newly legal Justin Bieber insists that he will be an exception to the rule. During a recent sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, the popster explained that he uses exercise and a self-imposed weekly day off to ward off potentially destructive impulses. "[Some people are waiting for me to] mess up because a lot of teen stars do. They make that mistake of getting into drugs or alcohol," he says. "Just remembering what's important [curbs any self-destructive tendencies]. I have to remember to take time for myself to talk to people about what I'm going through, about what's in my head." Not that the "Never Say Never" singer has been entirely immune to the pressures of stardom: he admits that he's "nuts" and suffers from insomnia and periodic depression. "You just feel sometimes you need someone to be there with you," he says. "Some days you have pain in your heart because maybe you haven’t dealt with that. Some days you’re depressed and you don’t know why because you haven’t dealt with it." The singer has encountered addiction in his personal life. His mother, Patti Mallette, divulged earlier this year that she suffered from alcohol and drug addiction as a teen after enduring childhood sexual abuse. She even attempted suicide before getting clean at the age of 17, when she found out she was pregnant with Bieber.