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drug War

5/24/12 11:45am

Cartels Fight for Press Attention

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The gangs "seek new extremes" to grab media
attention. Photo via

It's a new type of paparazzi battle, and the images are far from red carpet material. In Mexico's struggle between the more established drug-smuggling Sinaloa cartel and the younger, paramilitary Zetas, more innocent victims are being killed in increasingly gruesome ways, often involving mutilation. To make matters worse, these dismembered bodies are dumped in public locations, and presented to the world through internet photos and videos posted on YouTube, all in the name of intimidation and propaganda. Earlier this month, 49 decapitated bodies were discovered alongside a highway in Nuevo Leon; a leader of the Zetas cartel, Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, has since been taken into custody for the murders. Other recent incidents include two criminal groups and their allies depositing 14 headless bodies in front of city hall in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, and hanging nine people, four of them women, from a bridge in the same city. “What was once viewed as extreme is now normal," says Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank. "So these gangs must find new extremes. And the only real limit is their imagination, and you do not want to know what is the limit of psychopaths.”  Martin Barron, an expert on security at the National Institute of Criminal Science, says that since most of those murdered are innocent victims, not cartel members, the killings are simply a tactic to show force. "[The cartels' actions] tell the world, the government, their opponents, that ‘I am alive! You have not defeated me. I still am here.’ They show muscle,” he says. “Now why have things gone so far? Why cut off the heads, hands and feet? Previously, these organizations settled matters with a bullet in the head. Not anymore. Now there is a psychopathology at work. Some of these people obviously enjoy this, and they are teaching their surrogates, teenagers, to enjoy it."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Recovery events

5/24/12 10:45am

Stars Speak to Honor Women's Recovery

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Judy Collins, sober 30 years, spoke of her
son's suicide after a relapse. Photo via

US Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack and singer Judy Collins spoke about their own fights against addiction at Father Martin's Ashley's fifth annual Women in Recovery luncheon on Tuesday. Collins, who has been sober for 24 years, shared with the crowd how she copes with her daily struggle, saying "This disease breaks your hearts, but in recovery you have to live on life's terms. There are always going to be things you want to change in the world, but the only thing you can change is yourself." Collins has worked for years in recovery advocacy and and suicide prevention—a subject she is all too familiar with since her son, also an addict, took his own life after a relapse in 1992. "An alcohol survivor and a suicide survivor," she told a rapt audience, "they do the same thing to you. They ruin your life and they break your heart, and you have to learn to live with both." Congresswoman Mack was honored at the luncheon for her work in fighting prescription drug abuse and described herself to the crowd as a daughter, widow, and mother of addicts. Actress Lynda Carter and other supporters were present to help raise money for treatment programs for women. Peter Musser—the supervisor of the women’s program at Father Martin's Ashley treatment facility—has stated that addiction is different for women. "If [a woman] has addiction in her family history, it is more likely that the self-medication will become a full-blown addiction,” he said. “She may be drinking in secret. She may still be able to maintain. But it is insidious."

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

5/24/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: May 24, 2012

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Dreadful? Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

addiction and genetics

5/23/12 5:21pm

DNA Predicts Smoking Behavior (to a Point)

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Blame DNA? Photo via

One specific gene marker can help predict how much a person will smoke, a new meta-analysis finds. Researchers from 50 medical institutions nationwide analyzed the genetic material of over 32,000 smokers and non-smokers of African ancestry, to see if certain genes were linked to smoking activity. (Past research linking genetics and smoking behavior has focused primarily on populations of European descent, leaving a need for more research among other ethnic groups.) Data gathered included the age at which people began smoking, how many cigarettes they smoked per day, and how successful they were at quitting. The study found that a variant in a nicotine receptor gene is linked to smoking about one extra cigarette per day. This genetic marker is on the same gene—though in a different spot—as that implicated in smoking behavior among people of European ancestry. African Americans, on average, start smoking later and smoke fewer cigarettes per day, yet are less likely to successfully quit than people of European descent, and face a higher risk of smoking-related lung cancer than most other US populations. Sean David—MD, DPhil, a clinical associate professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the lead researcher of the study—hopes these findings will pave the way for improved treatments to help smokers quit, and for expanded preventative measures against lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. He says the finding that this gene plays a role in “different ancestral groups” adds to the evidence of its significance, and “suggests it as a target for drug discovery and development.”

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By Sarah Beller

Celebrity Exhaustion

5/23/12 4:28pm

Ray J's Hospital Stay for "Exhaustion" Ends

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Why do celebrities get so exhausted?
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Going to the hospital for being really, really tired is catching. Celebrities like Rihanna have long used the "exhaustion" card to justify their emergency room visits, and now singer/reality star Ray J can be added to the list. The 31-year-old was released from a Las Vegas hospital earlier this morning, after being admitted on Monday for "exhaustion and jet lag" following the Billboard Music Awards. A friend entered Ray J's hotel room the morning after the show, found him "extremely disoriented" and unable to get out of bed, and called paramedics. But Ray J's rep said that the singer truly was exhausted after a 32-hour flight from China—where he performed a concert—and a four-hour drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas the next day to attend the awards show. The rep said that doctors gave Ray J the all-clear after he underwent a variety of tests “to make sure that he did not have a blood clot in his lungs, which is potentially a deadly condition that can occur following a long haul plane flight." Ray J dated Whitney Houston on-and-off for several years after her 2007 divorce from Bobby Brown and has reportedly been struggling to cope with the death of the music legend. But the Houston family hasn't taken kindly to the singer, feeling he was a bad influence on her. Houston's sister-in-law even reportedly threatened to call security after finding out she would be sitting next to him at the awards show.

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By McCarton Ackerman

welfare and addiction

5/23/12 3:22pm

UK Addicts Must Get Treatment or Lose Benefits

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Jobless addicts in the UK face tougher choices.
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British law is controversially set to demand that addicts receiving public assistance submit to treatment, or risk losing their unemployment benefits. Under a tougher new regime, reflecting the coalition government's austerity policy during the ongoing Euro crisis, those claiming Britain's relatively-generous unemployment pay will have to sign a contract agreeing to look for work while receiving public help. And local unemployment staff will be able report suspected addicts—if they refuse the addiction treatment offered, they'll lose their benefits. The reforms are due to take effect in October 2013. But many addiction organizations strongly oppose the plan, saying it discriminates against addicts. "In no other area of health would we see such an approach being taken," argues Niamh Eastwood, chief executive of the charity Release. "But again and again successive governments seek to stigmatize further those with addiction, who are often vulnerable and marginalized individuals." Others fear that the reform will make people hesitate to seek help, or that the loss of public support will cause addicts to spiral deeper into dependency. A group of charity bosses agrees that referrals to treatment can benefit addicts who may not otherwise have that lifeline, but that taking away their financial stability can be counterproductive. "Incentives are only part of the story," says Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern. "The real answer is to make sure that high quality treatment services are fully funded and available all over the country." 

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