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gaming addiction

12/07/12 2:31pm

Video Games are Designed to Get You Hooked

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They know how to catch you. Photo via

Video games like Farmville and Words With Friends are specifically designed to get people hooked, with the industry even hiring psychiatric professionals to help make them more addictive. And the tactic seems to be working. Recent research shows that video games can be just as addictive as drugs, alcohol or gambling. "It's the same exact clinical symptoms: preoccupation, loss of control, inability to stop," says Dr. Timothy Fong, who runs a UCLA clinic for behavioral addiction. "They keep playing the game despite harmful consequences so, in my mind, absolutely I believe it is the same disease as alcohol or drug addiction." While the stereotypical video game player is a nerdy teenager, Fong says that plenty of adults also find themselves unable to put down the controller. "The average age of our patients is about 40. We've seen housewives, doctors, lawyers," he says. One addicted gamer, DiAnn Edwards of PA, says she plays Farmville up to eight hours a day, spending up to $200 a month on the habit. "It just gets addicting," she says. "I'm 51 and what am I doing sitting here playing a Farmville game? I don't get it, but it actually drives me crazy."

Still, the American Psychological Association is unwilling to recognize video game addiction as an official diagnosis. It does however list "video game psychologist" as a "hot career" since the gaming industry is increasingly hiring psychologists as consultants; they use their expertise of the human mind to make the games more enticing, and harder to put down. Ariella Lehrer, a trained psychologist who designs games for middle aged women, says the psychology behind the games is "pure Las Vegas," using flashy graphics and sparse rewards to get players hooked within 20 minutes. "We learned this with rats in a food pedestal," she says. "If you only occasionally give a reward then you keep going. That's what Las Vegas does. The rewards don't come every time."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Jane Says

12/07/12 1:11pm

Should Parents Drug Test Their Kids?

Reader's Question: Home drug testing kits are now available in stores for parents to use with their kids. Do you think this is helpful?

[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to janevelezmitchell@thefix.com.]

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By Jane Velez-Mitchell

prescription drugs

12/07/12 12:03pm

Who Should Pay for Drug "Take-Back" Programs?

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Who is responsible for unused drugs?
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California pharmaceutical companies are teaming up in the hopes of overturning a ruling in Alameda County, California that will require them to run—and pay for—a program for consumers to turn in unused medicines for proper disposal. Drug "take-back" programs, in which unused pharmaceuticals are dropped off and collected at public locations, have gained popularity across the country. Leaving unused prescription drugs in the home is considered a health and public safety hazard, especially given the country's growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Local and government agencies have primarily been paying for take-back programs, but there is now an increasing call to make pharmaceutical companies pay for these services. "We feel the industry that profits from the sales of these products should have the financial responsibility for proper management and disposal,” said Miriam Gordon, California director of Clean Water Action, an advocacy group. Drug companies in Alameda County are now being required to submit plans for implementation by July 2013, but the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) plans to file a lawsuit today in the hopes of getting the law overturned.

James M. Spears, general counsel of PhRMA, said the ruling is a constitutional violation because local government is interfering with interstate commerce, a right usually reserved for Congress. “They are telling a company in New Jersey that you have to come in and design and implement and pay for a municipal service in California,” he said. “This program is one where the cost is shifted to companies and individuals who are not located in Alameda County and who won’t be served by it.” Legislators in seven states have introduced similar bills in recent years, while the pharmaceutical industry already pays for take-back programs in some countries like Canada. The take-back program in British Columbia, with a population of four million, costs $500,000 per year. However, Spears said disposing of drugs at take-back locations may not be the best option because it adds travel time for consumers and the collection points could become a target for thieves and addicts. He recommends tying up unused pills in a plastic bag and throwing them in the trash.

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By McCarton Ackerman

effects of marijuana

12/07/12 11:01am

Docs Warn Against Effects of Pot

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Pot can make things blurry. Photo via

Pot is now legal in Washington and Colorado, but doctors are warning people to consider the potential health consequences before toking up without abandon. "Daily use increases the risk of becoming dependent," says Roger Roffman, a professor at the University of Washington's School of Social Work. Although he supports state-regulated legalization (in effect as of yesterday), Roffman cautions users to be wary of the drug's potentially dangerous side effects, which can include increased heart rate, memory loss, addiction and impaired judgment. "It's fairly common for people who are using marijuana regularly to complain that their ability to think clearly is impaired—to remember, to organize their thoughts, to follow through with multitasking," he says. Effects of pot vary from person-to-person, and scientists are not yet able to determine which users will experience memory loss, but they believe teens may face a greater risk. "One of the main contributors to worse outcomes (of marijuana use) is the age at which you start," says Ruben Baler, a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "So we are particularly worried about young people who are using the drug." Studies have shown that chronic marijuana users score lower in academic and job performance, and overall life satisfaction. "It's difficult to understand why kids working so hard on their education would engage in an act that would lower their chance of success," says Baler. In 2010, more than 29 million Americans over the age of 12 (11.5%) reported using marijuana.

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

12/07/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: December 7, 2012

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The man of steel bends to peer pressure?
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By Bryan Le

overdose deaths

12/06/12 5:10pm

NYC Doc Charged in OD Deaths

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Li was charged in court today. Photo via

The New York City doctor who prescribed drugs to a Long Island pharmacy gunman in 2011 has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly causing the overdose deaths of two other patients. An anesthesiologist at a New Jersey hospital, Dr. Stan Xuhui Li, 58, allegedly prescribed 500 pills a day to a 21-year-old patient who was found dead in his car in 2010 of acute intoxication caused by Xanax and oxycodone. A 37-year-old patient also received 15 prescriptions from Li in the three months leading up to his death from OD in 2009, prosecutors say. "Dr. Li flouted the fundamental principle in medicine–first, do no harm," states Special Narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan. "He jeopardized lives by repeatedly prescribing dangerous controlled substances and narcotic drugs for cash, not medical need." This isn't the doc's first time in court: just a year ago, he pleaded not guilty to charges of peddling pain meds to addicts and dealers. He'd been accused of of writing over 17,000 prescriptions, mostly for opioid painkillers, during two and a half years at the Flushing clinic—where he was moonlighting weekends and reportedly seeing up to 120 patients a day. In June 2011, one of his patients, David Laffer, killed four people during a hold-up for painkillers at a Long Island pharmacy. Prosecutors said Li—who wasn't charged at the time—had provided 24 prescriptions to Laffer, who is now serving a life sentence for murder. This is the first time a New York area doctor has been charged with manslaughter in an OD case, authorities say.

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By May Wilkerson

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