- Mexican President Says Army to Stay in Drug Fight [ABC News]
- Drugs and Politics Stoke Ireland Gang War [International Herald Tribune]
- Smoking May Worsen a Hangover [BBC]
- Majority of Americans Support Legalizing Marijuana [Chicago Tribune]
- How to Sell Marijuana Legally, in Four Inconvenient Steps [NPR]
- Actor Scott Evans Caught in Undercover Drug Deal [Huffington Post]
Transgender people are at a much higher risk for substance abuse and addiction, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. But ignorance and incompetencies in health care and addiction treatment may prevent them from receiving adequate care. An estimated 30% of transgender people abuse substances, compared to just around 9% of the general population, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study. “The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principal driver of these higher rates of substance use, as transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges," says the report. Transgender people face disproportionate levels of stress, due to social prejudice and discriminatory laws, say advocates. This can result in increased anxiety, depression and isolation, leading many to self-medicate with illegal or prescription drugs, or alcohol. Also, many trans people find a safe space in the bar or club scene, again increasing exposure to alcohol and drugs.
Those who do seek treatment are often directed towards inadequate or ineffective services. Medical professionals are often uneducated in trans people's specific needs, and most in-patient drug rehab centers are segregated by gender—making them an unsafe, alienating space for this population. Even rehabs that market themselves as "trans-friendly" often refuse to provide crucial hormone therapy, misguidedly considering it an "elective drug." The mental health and medical fields have much to do to improve this situation—but certain changes are underway. The term "gender identity disorder" will soon be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; advocates say that pathologizing trans identity like this contributes to stigmas and subsequent inadequacies in services. Plans to replace the term with "gender dysphoria" (emotional distress over one's gender) were approved this past Saturday. This could usher in more comprehensive and organized care for trans people, according to Jack Drescher, a member of the American Psychiatric Association and an advocate for trans rights. “We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories," he says. "We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.”
Flat economy or no, alcohol sales in bars and restaurants are climbing. According to Technomic’s 2012 BarTAB (Trends in Adult Beverage) report, on-premises sales of spirits, wine and beer rose 4.9% in 2011, reaching $93.7 billion—and projections suggest that the trend will continue. “Rising consumer confidence in the economy—although it’s not back to pre-recession levels and is at risk due to the pending fiscal cliff—is bringing them back into restaurants and allowing them to order a glass of wine or beer or a cocktail,” Donna Hood Crecca, senior director at Technomic, tells The Fix. “That, coupled with the dining trend of exploration of flavorful adult beverages and learning about various expressions of spirits, styles of beer and the world of wine will contribute to the sales growth.” Beer is by far the most popular choice for bar and restaurant drinkers, according to the report—it accounts for over 80% of all drinks sold. Booze options also impact where consumers eat: one third of people say that alcohol selection and drinks programs influence their decision to visit an establishment.
So will this increase in on-premises sales see a corresponding rise in DUIs? Crecca thinks not: “Spending was up, but overall adult beverage volume decreased—so the trend is towards people spending more per drink, not necessarily drinking more per occasion,” she tells us. “They’re buying higher-end spirits and wine, craft beer and other premium beverages. These types of drinks pair well with food and are often consumed with food.” She believes that it's ultimately up to individual establishments to create a safe environment: “The risk of DUIs really comes from irresponsible service and consumption practices,” she says. “We see restaurant operators investing in training and other initiatives to prevent the overconsumption that can lead to driving offenses.”
Just in time for the holiday season, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s fashion line will offer a limited-edition handbag, made of black patent Nile crocodile skin and covered with prescription pill appliqués—for a whopping $55,000. The bag, which was designed with the help of artist Damien Hirst, is stirring up controversy for more than just its price tag. Mary-Kate herself has spent several stints in rehab for her own eating disorder (and rumored cocaine addiction). But don’t worry; a portion of the proceeds will go to UNICEF. If you’ve got the cash to spare, you'd better be prepared to fight off other Olsen fans for the bag—only 12 of them will be made available on December 12.
John Travolta believes that Scientology can produce miracles; the rehab community largely disagrees. The actor is now being dragged into the controversy over several wrongful death lawsuits against Narconon Arrowhead—a rehab facility 90 miles south of Tulsa, Oklahoma that is "associated" with the Church of Scientology. Four patient deaths—including three since October 2011—have occurred there in recent years. Travolta and his wife recently have thrown a $2,500-a-head fundraising event for the facility. "Compared to other rehabs, we're the best," declared the star. A representative for the Church of Scientology didn't deny a connection with Narconon, but said that the Church doesn't control or manage the facility, and that Travolta's fundraising efforts were in no way related to the deaths: “There was nothing that the Church of Scientology did, or failed to do, which caused or contributed to the fatalities at Narconon Arrowhead.” The families of the deceased are unconvinced: “If I could talk directly to John Travolta, I would tell him the program he is supporting is responsible for killing my daughter,” says Connie Werninck, whose daughter Kaysie died at Narconon Arrowhead in 2009. Travolta's faith remains strong, though; he recently declared that performing Scientology "assists" helped heal the injuries of a car crash victim. Now he might have to hope the religion has an "assist" for warding off sex scandals: Doug Gotterba, Travolta's pilot from 1981-1987, claims that the pair had a six-year affair. He's now filing a lawsuit stating that the actor's reps threatened him when he went public. Travolta's attorney describes Gotterba's suit as "ridiculous."
Generic versions of OxyContin are set for release in Canada next month, and the White House has issued a warning to US border control and law enforcement to prepare for a possible surge of pain pills crossing the Northern Border. In November, Canada approved a non-abuse-resistant generic formulation of the addictive opioid-based pain medication, which health experts believe will be in high demand from addicts in the US—contributing to the painkiller epidemic sweeping both countries. "The potential exists for diversion into the United States because the old formulations, which are easier to abuse, are unavailable in the United States," says the warning. "This alert seeks to raise awareness of this change with law enforcement along the Northern Border so law enforcement and border officials can work jointly to prevent diversion." In the US, painkiller overdoses are responsible for more deaths than heroin, cocaine and all other illegal drugs combined, with the annual death toll reaching 15,000 in 2009. And many fear an influx of non-abuse-resistant Oxy could increase the already staggering numbers. "We've got a big problem coming up here," said April Rovero, president of the National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse. "It's horrifying to think of what's going to befall us when these drugs hit the market."
In the US, the FDA has repeatedly postponed the approval of generic OxyContin due to protests by advocates and politicians concerned about rising rates of painkiller abuse. However, many doctors argue that only a marginal percentage of patients abuse Oxy, so the benefits of releasing more affordable generic versions would outweigh the risks. In November, nine public health organizations sent a letter to the FDA asking it to approve only an "abuse proof" time-released formulation of the painkiller. Copies of another pain pill that is often abused—Opana—may also become more widely available in 2013 unless the FDA intervenes. A spokesman for the FDA says the agency "understands how important it is to give guidance and appropriate support regarding the development of abuse-deterrent formulations of opioids and also recognizes the important role that generic drugs play in our health-care system."