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election 2014

10/21/14 1:00pm

California Docs Face Mandatory Drug Testing If Prop 46 Passes

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This November election, California voters will be faced with a proposition that would require doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests.

If Proposition 46 passes, California would be the first state to require drug testing of doctors. This idea has polled well with voters, some of whom thought it was already law. The proposition would give the Medical Board of California one year to establish a system under which California doctors are tested both randomly and within 12 hours after an unexpected patient death or serious injury at the hospital.

Prop 46 would also make it mandatory for doctors to consult a statewide database, where doctors can see how many times a patient has been prescribed serious narcotics like Vicodin or Oxycontin, before prescribing painkillers. This proposal aims to decrease “doctor shopping,” where an individual who may be addicted to painkillers or who is looking to get drugs to sell sees multiple doctors in search of prescription drugs.

Another proposal in the proposition would raise the cap on pain and suffering awards in California from $250,000 to $1.1 million, providing an annual adjustment for inflation in the future. Economic damages for medical expenses or lost wages are not capped. Currently, a 1975 law called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) limits non-economic damages to $250,000. MICRA was passed with the intention of keeping medical liability insurance costs low.

The battle over Proposition 46 has become heated as November approaches. Its opponents—which include insurance companies, doctors, and pharmacists—have amassed $57 million to fund their campaign, while the proposition’s supporters have raised just $6.5 million.

Those who are opposed to the proposition say the doctor drug-testing provision, a popular idea that has general voter support, is nothing more than a political gimmick to disguise the true intent behind the proposition—to raise the cap on non-economic damages.

“The only reason that was added to the proposition is because it polled well with voters,” Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association told NPR. “They’re just hiding the fact that they’re trying to increase the cap on non-economic damages so that the payouts to trial attorneys can increase."

Thorp said the drug testing provision is “too heavy handed” and “too inappropriate,” adding that hospitals already have systems in place to suspend doctors who are intoxicated at work.

Lifting the cap on non-economic damages would “encourage additional lawsuits in the system,” according to Thorp. He argued that more lawsuits will cause malpractice insurance premiums to rise, and those costs could drive doctors out of California and make it difficult to recruit doctors to the state.

But for the families of victims of medical negligence, such as Carmen and Bob Pack, who lost their two children a decade ago when a woman addicted to prescription drugs blacked out while driving, veered off the road and struck them head-on, Prop 46 symbolizes their aspiration to prevent other families from suffering similar tragedies.

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By Victoria Kim

overstep

10/21/14 10:30am

Facebook Slams DEA Over Creating Fake Profiles

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The Drug Enforcement Administration is apparently not following Facebook’s Terms of Use policy. The social media site slammed the DEA for creating a fake online profile under the name of a convicted drug dealer in the hopes of obtaining incriminating information from her friends.

Facebook's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, sent a formal letter last week to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and ordered the agency to follow the same rules as civilian users when it comes to being truthful about identity. The social media site cited that users “will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."

The letter came in response to Sondra Arquiett’s $250,000 lawsuit against the DEA for reportedly creating a profile under her name, using photos stored on her cell phone and even posting bogus status updates on the page about missing her boyfriend. Arquiett was originally arrested in July 2010 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine base. She was sentenced to time served and given a period of home confinement, but the fake profile was reportedly created in between her arrest and guilty plea.

The monetary damages Arquiett is requesting are due to “fear and emotional distress” she suffered as a result since DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen interacted with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.” The Justice Department has never denied that the DEA created a fake Facebook profile, but initially said it was justified because Arquiett "implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in...ongoing criminal investigations."

It’s a sentiment with which most privacy experts disagree. "If I'm cooperating with law enforcement, and law enforcement says, 'Can I search your phone?'…my expectation is that they will search the phone for evidence of a crime, not that they will take things off my phone and use it in another context,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. “It’s [laughable].”

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon confirmed in a statement two weeks ago that the incident is under review.

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By McCarton Ackerman

sober celebs

10/21/14 8:30am

Steven Tyler Addresses Maui Drug Court Graduates

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Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler gave one of his intimate performances last week by speaking to a group of 11 Drug Court graduates in Maui, encouraging them to stay sober and continue forward in their recovery.

Tyler, who now lives in Maui when he’s not on tour, spoke at the 49th Maui/Moloka'i Drug Court program graduation. The program launched in August 2000 and celebrated its 500th graduate at this particular ceremony.

"I'm nervous here because I'm telling you all my truth. I am also a drug addict and alcoholic and fighting it every day,” he told the Drug Court graduates. "If you stop going to AA meetings, you're going to wind up using again," he said. "They're all over the island and they're all over the world. I express my joy all because of AA." Tyler also listened to the graduates’ stories after speaking and said they moved him “beyond belief, deeper than any song, deeper than any sunset."

Tyler, who has notoriously struggled with drug addiction over the last several decades, stayed sober from 1988 until 2004, when he was prescribed pain medication after having foot surgery. After relapsing into painkiller use, he eventually entered rehab again and will be sober for five years this December.

“He was a challenging patient. Very giving, very warm, very affectionate, very loud,” said Dr. Harry Haroutunian of the Betty Ford Clinic, who treated Tyler and is a former patient himself. “Sometimes he had difficulty staying inside the lines and we had to pull him back in. [But] he really dedicated himself to his recovery.”

The rocker was introduced to a Drug Court in California in 2011 and was so impressed with the program that he shot a commercial for them. In addition to periodically speaking at the Drug Court in Maui, Tyler maintains his sobriety by going to meetings wherever he is in the world.

"On tour wherever I am—Istanbul or Beirut or New York City—I just look it up, find out where the closest meeting to the hotel is. I walk in and say, 'I'm home,’" he explained. “It keeps me honest because I know how to lie to myself easily. But I’m getting better.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

headlines

10/21/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Oct. 21, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

edibles

10/20/14 7:30pm

Colorado Officials Now Want to Ban Edibles

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Concerned about the allure of edibles to children, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has piggybacked on an attempt by lawmakers to reign in sales of the products by retailers, saying that they "are naturally attractive to children" and therefore violate the "requirement to prevent the marketing of marijuana products to children."

The recommendations came prior to a third and potentially final working group meeting today intended to draw up rules and regulations that would require all pot-laced foods and drinks to have clear, identifiable packaging in order to avoid children accidentally eating the product.

"Prohibit the production of retail edible marijuana products other than a simple lozenge/hard candy or tinctures that are plainly labeled using universal symbol(s) and that users can add to their products at home," officials wrote in their recommendation. "Hard candy/lozenges would be manufactured in single 10 mg doses/lozenges and tinctures would be produced and labeled with dosing instructions, such as two drops equals 10 mg."

But Mason Tvert, communications director for the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, said that a ban on edibles was not in line with what Colorado voters wanted in 2012 and could be a slippery slope toward further restrictions.

"Colorado voters chose to end marijuana prohibition because they wanted to see marijuana controlled," Tvert said. "Banning edible products is the quickest way to lose all control over them."

"The goal should be to develop effective regulations and educate consumers, not remove all regulations and keep consumers in the dark," he said.

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By Shawn Dwyer

drugs overseas

10/20/14 5:30pm

United Nations Says Illegal Meth Manufacturing Is Spreading

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According to the United Nations Office On Drug And Crime (UNODC), the illegal manufacturing of methamphetamine is proliferating to different parts of the globe, particularly Africa and the Middle East.

Traditionally concentrated in either North America, primarily Mexico and the United States, or East and South-East Asia in countries like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the cheap manufacturing of crystal meth has spread like wildfire worldwide.

The latest UNODC's Global SMART Update study shows that methamphetamine manufacturing has recently spread to other countries such as Guatemala, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Reported on by the UNODC at the end of September, the latest update also reveals that some countries in Africa and the Middle East have recently emerged as important regions for methamphetamine supply.

In comparison to methamphetamine production in Europe that remains at low levels, the manufacturing in the developing countries is expanding rapidly thanks to a combination of fewer government regulations, and minimal criminal monitoring and police intervention. Moreover, the easy access to profitability despite the dangers of meth lab explosions and toxic waste byproducts makes the lure of methamphetamine manufacturing too great to inhibit.

Although manufacturing methodology varies throughout the world, most regions continue to rely on the use of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine as precursors to methamphetamine production. The UNODC views the threat of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, ecstasy-type substances, and new psychoactive substances (NPS) as a significant worldwide drug problem. After marijuana, amphetamine-type stimulants are the second most widely used drugs in the world, easily exceeding the use of both cocaine and heroin combined.

As a response, the UNODC launched in 2008 the Global SMART Program. Although the SMART Program did improve the capacity of countries in East and South-East Asia and, more recently, Latin America to generate and manage information on illicit synthetic drugs, including reporting and ongoing monitoring, the program has had little to no impact in Africa and the Middle East. Given problems presented by socioeconomic difficulties, religious extremism, and an overall lack of infrastructure, it is questionable whether the institution of the SMART Program in these new drug territories will be effective in the future.

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By John Lavitt

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