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Club Drugs

12/03/12 5:13pm

Heroin's Rival "M-Smack" Sweeps UK

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Mephedrone powder is often dissolved in
water and injected. Photo via

With nicknames like “meow-meow” and “M-smack,” the club drug mephedrone may sound harmless—and even cute—but its sudden resurgence in popularity in the UK has many health experts concerned. According to a new study by the charity organization DrugScope, the rates of marijuana, heroin, speed and cocaine use are all decreasing, but mephedrone use is on the rise. A few years ago, the stimulant (then known as “meow-meow”) was a cheap alternative to cocaine and ecstasy, and was easily available online, making it popular among young people. It gained some attention in the US as one half of the compound "Bath Salts"—which was initially blamed for the infamous face-eating zombie incident. After being classified as a class B drug back in 2010, meow-meow disappeared for a while; it has since resurfaced as a powder, under the moniker “M-smack,” that is mixed with water and injected. The drug is reportedly so addictive that some users inject up to 40 times a day. "It has become really prolific in the past 12 months; we have young people from 13-years-old taking it," says Lucy Hulin, a substance misuse worker in Gloucester. She adds that the drug service in Gloucester has dealt with over 50 new cases of problematic mephedrone use in just nine months.

The drug's rapid resurgence on the scene has many experts worried about a potential epidemic. "It happened very quickly and we didn't see it coming," says Mike Brown, a case manager at drug charity Inroads. "Virtually all our heroin and speed injectors suddenly began injecting mephedrone instead. It's a close community, so habits spread quickly.” Like other popular synthetic drugs—such as Smiles and Annihilation—the effects and origins of Mephedrone are largely unknown, making it particularly hazardous due to its unpredictability. "The health risks associated with excessive use of club drugs are underestimated by many people," says Dr. Owen Bowden-Jones, founder of the Club Drug Clinic. "Little is known about the potential problems of the newer drugs."

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By Chrisanne Grise

god squad

12/03/12 4:29pm

Can You Be Sentenced to Church for Drunk Driving?

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Can a judge make you go? Photo via

A year ago, two buzzed Oklahoma teens lost control of their pickup truck, drove off the road and smashed into a tree, ejecting and killing the passenger. The driver, Tyler Alred, confessed to drinking earlier in the evening, and blew a 0.07 on the breathalyzer, above the legal limit for a minor. In August, Alred pled guilty to first-degree manslaughter, and was sentenced to four years to life, with parole. But a judge named Mike Norman changed Alred's sentence to 10 years deferred—meaning no jail time—provided he graduates from high school, passes regular drug and alcohol tests, performs community service … and goes to church every Sunday for a decade. If that seems constitutionally dicey—well, the Oklahoma ACLU and the US Supreme Court agree.

The SCOTUS has said "it is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise.” And the ACLU is filing a formal complaint today with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints. According to ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel, forcing a person to choose between prison and Sunday school is "not really a voluntary choice." Which brings up a further question: Could a judge mandating attendance at a 12-step program also conflict with the First Amendment's freedom-of-religion clause? AA and NA programs may not be associated with any specific faith, but they are explicitly spiritual programs, prescribing reliance upon a "higher power" or "a god of one's own understanding" to get sober.

The Oklahoma ACLU is fine with it. Legal Director Brady Henderson told The Fix, "While we cannot be said to endorse programs such as AA over any other addiction support or treatment program, we do definitely see an important distinction between them and an order to attend church." Henderson noted that whereas church has an "overt and plain" religious purpose, AA and other 12-step programs are primarily concerned with treating addiction, with any spiritual content in a supporting role. "We never believe someone should be ordered by a court to adopt a particular faith," said Henderson. And, "AA, at least in examples we have seen, does a good job of being open to people of almost any faith or humanistic philosophy. In other words, though it does contain references to spiritual things, it remains non-sectarian." 

<a href="http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/is-it-unconstitutional-for-judges-to-mandate-drunk-drivers-and-other-offenders-to-attend-12-step-pro/question-3365369/" title="Is it unconstitutional for judges to mandate drunk drivers and other offenders to attend 12-step programs?">Is it unconstitutional for judges to mandate drunk drivers and other offenders to attend 12-step programs?</a>

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By Hunter R. Slaton

needle exchange

12/03/12 3:44pm

NY Medicaid Officials Consider Needle Exchange

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Supplies at a NYC needle exchange.
Photo via

New York state officials are searching for ways to save money in the Medicaid program, and a controversial suggestion to fund syringe exchange programs has provoked debate among lawmakers. A team appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo claims that the addition of more preventative services for drug users will save money, along with restructuring how services are billed; however, the practice of needle exchanges is illegal in the US, and has been long a subject of controversy (despite having proven effective in reducing rates of disease in places like British Columbia). “It’s almost like a subset, it’s part of the prevention process,” says Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the New York Department of Health. “It’s cheaper to prevent illnesses (among the groups affected by health disparities). If we can help prevent disease that comes from use of the same needle, it definitely would promote better health, and could save costs in the long run.” Despite the fact that many agencies—including the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention—back needle exchanges as an effective health measure, many lawmakers remain opposed. “The answer is not to coddle drug addicts,” says assemblyman-elect and conservative talk show host Bill Nojay. “It’s something that must be done through law enforcement. We need severe consequences to show that society does not tolerate this kind of behavior.” Nojay argues that Medicaid should offer fewer services, instead of adding more.

However, even if officials were able to gather enough support for a needle exchange, Medicaid would be banned from financing the program under current federal law. Barack Obama lifted the federal ban on these types of programs in 2009, only to have Congress reinstate it soon after; however, many advocates are hopeful that the law could soon be repealed. Sean Barry, spokesman for the AIDS advocacy group Voices of Community Activists and Leaders New York, says that disease by needle injection is a growing issue in the US. The rise of prescription drug abuse has led to an increase in use of injectable drugs—since opiate addicts often begin injecting heroin if they can't access prescription drugs. “The abstinence approach does not work for many individuals,” says Steven Price, senior director of community health initiatives with AIDS Care Rochester. “So the next best step is to empower individuals to reduce the harm associated with their substance use and keep them engaged in care, which has long been the position of AIDS Care.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

celebrity rehab

12/03/12 2:31pm

Sober Jay Strikes Back

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Sober Jay shows his softer side. Photo via

Actor Jason Mewes is most well-known for playing "Jay" alongside Kevin Smith's "Silent Bob;" the ornery, drug-using fictional duo developed a cult following as the stars in most of Smith's popular films, such as Mallrats, Clerks and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. His on-screen character may have been aggressive and foul-mouthed, but Hewes has been revealing a more introspective side during a recent international comedy tour with Smith—Jay and Silent Bob Go Down Under. The actor, now 890 days clean, has opened up to audiences in cities across the globe about his struggles with addiction—often sourcing his experiences for laughs. "I talk about stuff like my couch being set on fire during Christmas because we had no heat or electric and we needed candles to see in the dark," he says. "I can laugh about it now but I was definitely at a point where I was technically weeks away from being homeless." Getting honest on stage has helped him maintain his sobriety, he says: "It reminds me of where I do not want to be again." And as an unexpected benefit of breaking the silence, the actor has been able to reach out to others who are struggling with addiction. Many fans have contacted him on Twitter or Facebook to share how his honesty has helped them get clean. "That has been sort of the best part of this whole thing," he says, "Knowing that even one or two people stay sober because I am sitting up there telling my stuff and talking to Kevin—that has just been an amazing feeling."

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By May Wilkerson

drug smuggling

12/03/12 1:28pm

Indonesian Women Preyed on by Drug Traffickers

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The kind of pellets that drug mules often have
to swallow. Photo via

As the Jakarta Globe reports, an increasing number of Indonesian women—as elsewhere in the world—are lured into the dangerous role of drug mule by men. Indonesia is seen by international drug cartels as a profitable new market, with an illicit drug trade now worth over $4 billion a year and between 3.8 million and 4.2 million drug users, according to the country's National Narcotics Agency (BNN). So it's no wonder that smugglers are using all means, including desperate women, to import drugs. These women, often widows with children to feed, are frequently wooed by foreign men, who then take them to their own countries. The women are then sent back to visit Indonesia, and are either forced or tricked into carrying drugs. Several recent arrests of widows are worrying Indonesian authorities, NGOs and activists. 

BNN spokesperson Sr. Comr. Sumirat Dwiyanto says that these practices are becoming more common, adding that female drug mules are usually in their 30s and 40s and often the sole earner for their family: “They do it for financial reasons. There are those who can get Rp 5 million ($521) to Rp 10 million for each delivery.” Women’s rights activist Oldri Shearli Mukuan says that many of the women also face pressure from their new foreign boyfriends; they often don't know what they do when they meet them, and once they find out, it's too late. Oldri cites an example of one woman who thought her new boyfriend was in the "carpeting business." In Indonesia, drug trafficking is punishable with death by firing squad. Yet an even greater danger may be the rupturing of one of the pellets in a mule's stomach: smuggling methods include hiding drugs in luggage or clothes, concealing them on the body, or using the body itself as a container. "Body packing" involves drugs like cocaine and heroin being placed in condoms or other latex wrappings, then swallowed. A mule typically swallows up to 125 pellets, containing up to 1.25 Kg of drugs. Rupturing is sometimes caused by stomach acids, and death can rapidly follow. Mules are sometimes given tabets to reduce stomach acid, and often also take medication to inhibit bowel movements. They're later given laxatives and the pellets pass through their digestive systems.

So what can be done? Oldri says, “It is important to provide comprehensive information [on the trend]. These young women only receive limited information [about drug gangs] at school or from their surrounding communities. This is where the media plays a role in providing deeper information.” But Neng Dara Affiah, a commissioner at the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), says the real solution is for women to be given freedom to work; in some areas of Indonesia, tradition dictates that women stay at home. So when, in the case of widows and divorcees, for example, they find themselves the sole breadwinners for their families, they lack the skills to get a legitimate job. 

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By Sarah Beller

Alcohol Sales

12/03/12 12:08pm

And the Biggest Beer-Drinking State Is...

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These states mean it. Photo via

Although overall beer-drinking rates have fallen slightly in the US over the last three years, certain parts of the country can't be accused of a want of trying. The Beer Institute has produced its annual list of the 10 states where the most beer is sold per capita. Unsurprisingly, the list also matches up with states that have the most heavy and binge drinkers. Here's the rundown of 10 states to make Homer Simpson proud:

10. Delaware (34.3 gallons per person per year): The First State cracks the top 10 largely due to its lack of sales tax, which draws out-of-staters. 

9. Nebraska (34.6 gallons): Hampered, in contrast, by a high tax rate on alcohol, Nebraskan drinkers still make the list.

8. Texas (34.6 gallons): Everything's bigger in Texas—including the proportion of binge and heavy drinkers, at nearly 26%.

7. Vermont (34.7 gallons): Takes the "Most Improved" award, with total alcohol consumption up seven percent last year.

6. Wisconsin (36.2 gallons): With breweries galore and frigid temperatures, perhaps it's no surprise that a quarter of residents are binge drinkers.

5. Nevada (36.5 gallons): Beer drinking has actually fallen by more than 17% here since 2003. But Sin City remains a huge driver.

4. South Dakota (38 gallons): What is it about the North?

3. Montana (40.6 gallons): Few restrictions on sales, low taxes and another northern location help take the bronze. 

2. North Dakota (42.2 gallons): The state's recent oil boom has drawn plenty of young men looking for work. They seem to like drinking beer.

1. New Hampshire (43 gallons): Low taxes lure out-of-staters to Live free or die. Or possibly both at this rate.

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