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narco-states

11/02/12 3:44pm

Guinea-Bissau's Cocaine Coup

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So that's why Guinea-Bissau's military took
over. Photo via

The military of the small West African nation of Guinea-Bissau toppled the government in April, in a coup d'etat that at the time—coming as it did just two weeks before a presidential election—left many scratching their heads. But now, according to a story in the New York Times, the real reason for the coup has become apparent: to eliminate any roadblocks to military-sanctioned drug trafficking in the country. A senior DEA official tells the newspaper, "They are probably the worst narco-state that's out there on the continent. They are a major problem." In the half-year since the April "cocaine coup," more small planes than ever have been making the 1,600-mile journey from Latin America to deserted locales—including islands, fields and estuaries—in Guinea-Bissau, which is about the size of Belgium. There, under direction of the army, experts say, the planes unload their minimum ton-and-a-half of blow for shipment north to Europe. "People at the highest levels of the military are involved in the facilitation [of trafficking]," says the DEA official. "In other African countries government officials are part of the problem. In Guinea-Bissau, it is the government itself that is the problem."

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By Hunter R. Slaton

Celebrity Rehab

11/02/12 2:46pm

Did Michael Lohan Intervene on "Octomom"?

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Lohan and the woman he "helped" Photo via

Call it the battle of the 15-minuters: Michael Lohan says that he helped get "OctomomNadya Suleman into rehab this week—but Octomom herself says she went it alone. "I chose to seek treatment after consulting with my manager regarding my recent use of Xanax, which was prescribed by my physician for panic attacks," Suleman stated. "There were no other people involved with me entering treatment other than my manager and myself. There was no intervention that took place." But Lohan is sticking to his story, declaring that he worked with Suleman's manager to help get Octomom into treatment.

So what's left to say about Lohan's latest headline? "It's really sad that there are people out there who say they're in recovery when they're so obviously not and are just trying to get their names in the newspaper," Howard Samuels, owner of The Hills treatment center, tells The Fix. Samuels was recently confronted by Michael Lohan while discussing his attempted intervention on his own daughter, Lindsay Lohan, on the TV show Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell. Samuels pointed out that Michael was the last person who should be doing an intervention on his daughter—since he'd been arrested several times in the previous year-and-a-half and police records showed that he'd been under the influence of alcohol and drugs on at least one of those occasions. Michael Lohan then called into the show and confronted Samuels on the air, claiming that he was eight years sober and worked as an interventionist. "People like this give recovery a bad name," says Samuels. "They embarrass themselves and the people out there who are truly trying to help people. Even if Michael wasn't under the influence when he was arrested, as he claims, being arrested for domestic violence isn't recovery. If he could recognize that, then he could work on his issues and become a healthier person."

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By Anna David

War on Drugs

11/02/12 1:24pm

"Rachel's Law" Protects Police Informants

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Rachel Hoffman became a CI after she was
arrested for drug possession. Photo via

Earlier this fall, the New Yorker profiled Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida who was arrested for minor drug possession and then coerced by cops into becoming a confidential informant in a sting operation. She was killed by dealers in May 2008. Since then, her parents have been fighting to alert the public to law enforcement's widespread use of confidential informants (CIs) in order to rack up drug arrests. By some counts, up to 80% of all drug-related arrests in the US involve CIs that were recruited after committing non-violent, usually drug-related offenses. Typically, Rachel Hoffman had been arrested for possession of pot and ecstasy pills. Less typically, she was white: young people of color from lower-income communities are more often pressured into becoming informants. 

Rachel’s parents, Irv Hoffman and Margie Weiss, and their lawyer Lance Block successfully lobbied to pass “Rachel’s Law” in Florida—the first bill in the US that deals comprehensively with confidential informants. It requires officers to undergo special training on informants, and to take into account a new recruit’s age and emotional state, as well the level of risk involved in a given operation. But following pressure from law enforcement agencies in Florida, crucial parts of the bill were removed. So Weiss and Hoffman are now working to strengthen Rachel's Law—including a proposed amendment to prevent under-18s from being used as CIs. “I’ve heard about so many kids caught with an ounce of pot, or pot and some pills, and then asked to do dangerous undercover operations," Hoffman tells The Fix. "We do not mind people assisting law enforcement, but we do not want kids out there in dangerous drug deals…They have no idea what their rights are. Police coerce them—they say things like, ‘If you don’t do this for us you’re going to jail, and we’re going to tell your parents.’” 

Weiss and Hoffman also hope to add a stipulation that substance abusers in treatment be exempt from undercover drug deals. “Some [people] who are struggling with addiction may have cognitive impairments, not understand what their rights are, not know they are entitled to a lawyer, or not have economic and social resources to protect themselves," Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants, tells The Fix. Natapoff adds that when a person in recovery is pressured into becoming an informant, they’re risking their sobriety by "being sent back into the drug milieu right when they’re trying to heal themselves.” Natapoff believes that the criminal justice system must shift towards prioritizing recovery over the gathering of information, if the ultimate goal is to reduce drug use.

But Hoffman argues that the War on Drugs isn't actually about stopping drug use, but rather about making money: "It’s an unfair, unjust system. That’s how [law enforcement officials] pay for their vans, for their prosecutors—they get money from the War on Drugs. They put zero dent in the supply. They just focus on small-town, small-time arrests.” Still, he isn't without hope, believing that people are “waking up in this country a little bit,” especially after the New Yorker brought the issue some much-needed national attention. Eventually Hoffman hopes more states and the federal government will adapt laws on CIs, to save the “thousands and thousands of Rachels out there" from the dangers that ended his daughter's life.

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By Sarah Beller

drug busts

11/02/12 12:12pm

Quebec Cops Decimate Major Drug Network

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One of the 106 arrested Photo via

Quebec police have arrested 106 suspected gang members in one of the biggest crackdowns on organized crime in the Canadian province's history. Authorities say "Operation Loquace" (loquacious) targeted a major drug ring, led by a seven-member consortium, which has overseen the distribution of massive amounts of cocaine throughout Quebec and across Canada. Several of those arrested yesterday included members of the Italian mafia and the Hells Angels—the notorious biker gang is thought to control much of Canada's drug trade. "The consortium did not hesitate to use violence to spread its market," says Jean Audette, vice-director of Quebec's police force. "Many parallel cases are being investigated in Quebec and elsewhere in the country." Police also seized $255,000 in cash, 6,000 pills, nine kilograms of cannabis, three kilograms of cocaine, 35 vehicles and 13 barrels of GBL (a solvent used to create date rape drugs) in yesterday's sting. Authorities believe the large-scale drug network, which is estimated to have netted $50 million in the past six months, has also been partnering with Mexican drug cartels to smuggle drugs in to Canada from Mexico via US ground transit. Those accused face charges including conspiracy, trafficking and working for a criminal organization.

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By May Wilkerson

addiction vaccines

11/02/12 11:01am

Early-Stage Meth Vaccine Shows Promise

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Could this kind of image be banished to the
past? Photo via

Scientists are cautiously optimistic about the progress of a new vaccine for methamphetamine addiction. Meth is both devastating and commonly used—with over 400,000 current users in the US and around 25 million worldwide. Scripps Research Institute researchers have been testing an experimental vaccine on rats and seeing promising results. The idea is to block meth intoxication, preventing such effects as a rise in body temperature and hyperactivity. “This is an early-stage study, but its results are comparable to those for other drug vaccines that have then gone to clinical trials," says senior research author Michael A. Taffe, associate professor at the institute's addiction science group. The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, began two years ago, when scientists developed a total of six potential vaccines. Each contained a chemical cognate of the meth molecule to help build an antibody to the drug. Early research showed three of the six evoked a strong initial antibody response. From there, Taffe’s research team found one—designated "MH6"—that not only created an antibody response, but also stayed in the bloodstream longer. There's a long way still to go: “These are encouraging results that we'd like to follow up with further animal tests, and, we hope, with clinical tests in humans some day,” says research associate Michelle L. Miller. Taffe adds, “Extending the duration of protection is the next big scientific challenge in this field.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

11/02/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 2, 2012

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Warning: undead drunks may appear dead.
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