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8/22/14 7:30pm

Serial Fraudster Blames Return to Jail on Gambling Addiction


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"I don't enjoy what I do, but I do it because I have a gambling problem," said Shaun Nixon, a 34-year-old notorious serial scammer currently serving his fourth sentence for ticket fraud since 2007.

Nixon has reportedly ripped off hundreds, maybe thousands of people using his notorious Craigslist ticket scams. In a long con he’s been using for over a decade, Nixon would post hot items like concert tickets to sites. Unknowing buyers would then send money for in-demand items such as a One Direction concert or Toronto Leafs tickets, and never hear from Nixon again.

Nixon and his arsenal of aliases like Shaun Michael, Adam Carson, and Ryan Robertson became so infamous for his crimes that an entire consumer watchdog website, Shaun Nixon Scam, was launched featuring complaints from spurned concertgoers and sport fans who fell victim to his schemes.

“I was shocked—I didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to do that,” Nixon said of the rush he got after successfully conning his first victim. “I got carried away...It spiraled from there."

Nixon said in a recent interview from the Maplehurst Correctional Complex that the reason he continues using the con is the “desperation” caused by his gambling addiction, which dates back to his first visit to Casino Rama in 2004. He said that he was pursuing help for the addiction so that he can end his cycle of re-offending. He also claimed that he is being transferred to another institution in order to receive counseling, though a spokesperson for the province’s Ministry of Corrections would not confirm Nixon’s transfer.

Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, professor of psychiatry at McGill University and a gambling expert, said many people who are addicted to gambling do “whatever it takes” in order to get the funds to keep gambling.

“Obviously this individual is creative, but not creative enough not to get caught, in order to keep fueling his need to go back to the casino,” Derevensky said.

“This isn’t the way I want to be,” Nixon said. He was sentenced to two-years in prison on July 3, after pleading guilty to multiple charges, including defrauding the public and breach of probation. Peel police alleged that Nixon’s scam transactions ranged from $500 to $2,000. Nixon has also served time for the scheme in 2007, 2011, and 2012.

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By Desiree Bowie

veterans on drugs

8/22/14 5:30pm

Vets Fight Against Prescription Drugs and Prescribing Doctors



Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting a new battle on the homefront against prescription drug addiction, as many VA doctors seem all-too-willing to prescribe away their pain and struggles.

On average, servicemen and women are prescribed narcotic painkillers three times more often than their civilian counterparts. Given the trauma experienced overseas, this figure does not seem all that surprising. Despite the chronic pain and the nightmare of PTSD, many veterans are choosing to stop taking the pills against the medical advice of their doctors.

After serving in the Air Force for 15 years, Nancy Bryant found herself plagued by a storm of prescription medications: Cymbalta, Maxalt, Trazodone, Tizanidine, Dicyclomine, Hydrocodone, and more. During a bout with the stomach flu at the beginning of the year, Bryant couldn’t keep any food or medications down. She was shocked to realize how different she felt when the drugs began clearing her system.

After feeling a sense of freedom from prescription drugs, Bryant decided to quit on her own. As she told NPR in a recent story, “I just scrape my name off all the pill bottles and throw them all away…After a few days of that—those medications clearing my system—I just realized, wow, I felt like a totally different person," she said.

Many civilian doctors are not surprised when veterans make such choices on their own after being subject to the VA overprescribing and misprescribing drugs. Dr. Richard Friedman, director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College commented on this dangerous approach by the VA.

"They're using psych drugs off label—way, way, way off label," he said. "Obviously, they are not using them to treat the major disorders for which these drugs are designed…They were in a different situation, where they had unprecedented levels of stress in a group of otherwise healthy people…I think they resorted to psychopharmacology as a means to keep people in active duty."

Although the Pentagon has claimed to have instituted safeguards to prevent overprescribing and off-label usage of pharmaceutical drugs, a study by the Institute of Medicine concluded that the VA and the Pentagon has done a poor job tracking what happens when they treat PTSD with drugs. As the head of the Opioid Safety Initiative at the VA, Gavin West said, "We've undertaken a psychopharmacologic safety initiative, where we're looking across the board at more safe and more effective use of medications."

Given the conflicting information, freedom to decide their pharmaceutical fate should be in the hands of the veterans. Until the VA stops trying to prescribe away the traumatic consequences of the recent wars, servicemen and women need to be supported in their efforts to find their own path to long-term recovery and happiness.

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By John Lavitt

research study

8/22/14 3:30pm

Study: Teen Pot Smokers May End Up on Disability as Adults



Men who smoked marijuana at 18, and especially heavy users, are more likely to require disability pensions by the time they reach their late 50s. That’s the finding of a recent study in Sweden, which looked at data culled from nearly 50,000 men born between 1949 and 1951 who also completed compulsory military service in 1969 and 1971.

Information on the subject’s drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, as well as their social background, educational experience and general health—including any psychological issues—was analyzed and used to group the study subjects by their frequency of marijuana at the age of 18. This information was compared against data compiled from the Swedish national social insurance agency and labor market statistics to see how many members of the study group had been receiving disability pensions through the year 2008.

The study research showed that men who had used marijuana more than 50 times before the age of 13—about 1.5% of the men included in the study—were 30% more likely to require disability pensions between the ages of 40 and 59. Those who used pot less frequently were also seen to have a greater chance of needing disability by middle age.

When researchers adjusted the data for other factors, including additional substance use by the age of 18, as well as any health or socioeconomic issues, the results for the heaviest of pot smokers remained essentially the same. The study’s authors concluded that “adolescent cannabis use may lead to a series of negative life events such as illness and associated disability pensions,” said study leader Anna-Karin Danielsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The study authors acknowledge that their data does not conclusively prove that pot use in teen years contributed directly to disability use, nor does it indicate how much marijuana the test subjects used after they entered the military. It is also unclear whether pot use in adolescence contributed to stronger substance abuse, or if it was an indicator of psychological or social issues that would later contribute to the need for disability.

Marijuana use in Sweden is significantly lower than in many other countries, due in part to social stigma regarding the drug, as well as stiff fines for use and possession. Less than 10% of adults in Sweden have used cannabis in their lifetime, compared to 51.6% of U.S. adults have tried it during their lifetime.

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By Paul Gaita

alcohol & islam

8/22/14 1:00pm

Iran Opens First State-Run Rehab For Alcoholism


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In a surprising move, the Islamic Republic of Iran has opened the first state-run rehab specifically designed to treat alcoholism.

The announcement of the opening was made by the Iranian Student’s News Agency at the end of July, despite the fact that alcohol has been banned since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and drinking it is punishable by death.

The director-general of the Health Ministry's Mental Health Department, Abbas Ali Nasehi, said the problem of alcohol abuse is now a priority for the ministry. According to the report by ISNA, the new center was inaugurated at Tehran University's Medical School. Dr. Mohammad Reza Sargolzaiee said that the decision to open a center for alcohol treatment was made "following an increase in alcohol use among Iranians."

Although this is the first state-run alcohol rehab, it is not the first alcohol rehab to open in the country. In September 2013, a permit was issued for the establishment of Iran's first private alcohol rehabilitation center in Tehran. Still, in the private sector, there are very few resources available for alcoholics in need. Unlike Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous has a small presence inside Iran.

Alireza, an anonymous Iranian member of Alcoholics Anonymous, described the challenge when a serious alcoholic needs to detox. “If you are lucky and are friends with a caring doctor, he can come to your home and attend to you," Alireza said. "Otherwise you have to go through the whole three weeks by yourself and without any help. There are many camps and clinics for drug detox, but there are none for quitting alcohol.”

Drinking alcohol is illegal for Muslims under Iran's strict Islamic teachings. In 2012, two unidentified repeat offenders were sentenced to death for consuming alcohol. Hassan Shariati, the judiciary chief of northeastern Khorasan-e Razavi Province, explained at the time, "We will not show mercy in alcoholic beverage offenses and we will sentence the offenders to the harshest letter of the law.” Despite such threats, there remains open violation of the no-drinking law across the country.

In February 2013, Iran's national police chief Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam claimed there were about 200,000 people in Iran dependent on alcohol. This number, however, was considered to be more of an estimated guess than a reliable fact.

Dr. Reza Afshari, president of the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Toxicology, executed a yearlong study that ended in March of 2013. Afshari’s final report estimated that more than one million Iranians are regular drinkers that defy the alcohol ban. A surprising fact revealed in the study was that 30% of the drinkers in Iran are women.

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By John Lavitt


8/22/14 10:30am

Australia's Top Junior Tennis Player Banned For Ecstasy Use


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Australia’s top-ranked junior tennis player won’t be headed to the US Open next week. Bradley Mousley was slapped with a one-year ban by a Tennis Australia tribunal over taking an ecstasy tablet during an 18th birthday party.

Mousley, currently the No. 17 ranked junior in the world, tested positive for two substances found in ecstasy during a tournament last March in Melbourne and later admitted his drug use to the tribunal. He will not be eligible to compete in tournaments until May 30 of next year. The tribunal concluded that Mousley had no intention of using ecstasy to enhance his tennis and only took the tablet because he wanted to dance at the party, but showed “significant indifference” to their anti-doping code.

The initial proposed ban was supposed to be for two years and Mousley’s father and coach, Craig, said that Tennis Australia was “relentless” in pursuing this. Their lawyer confirmed that they will appeal for a reduced ban of around three months.

“It is a long way back from there, [but] we feel it was a small victory that he was only given one year,” said Craig. “As an 18-year-old he is a very young man who has made a decision which he regrets, not just how it has affected him but everyone around him.’’

This isn’t the first time that a player has received a ban over taking drugs that aren’t performance-enhancing. Spanish doubles player Nuria Llagostera Vives received a two-year ban after last year’s US Open when she tested positive for methamphetamine, which was effectively career-ending for the 34-year-old. Canadian Simon Larose also retired in 2005 after testing positive for cocaine.

American Wayne Odesnik, who received a one-year suspension in 2010 after being caught trying to smuggle Human Growth Hormone into Australia, received a wild card into this year’s US Open.

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By McCarton Ackerman


8/22/14 8:30am

Uber Begins Trial Run for Delivering Drug Store Products



The taxi app known as Uber has created an empire worth $18 billion transporting people from one location to another, but it could soon be doing the same thing with drug store medicines.

The company is making its first trial runs of a new feature known as the “Uber Corner Store,” which will offer on-demand deliveries of drug store medicines and other products. The service is currently limited to specific neighborhoods throughout Washington, D.C., but the plan is to quickly expand it in the coming months.

Users access the service on their app by clicking on the “Corner Store” option and requesting a driver, after which they receive a text message with a list of available items for purchase. The driver will confirm the order and deliver it, while the user’s Uber account is billed. The drug store delivery is an extension of Uber’s experiments with delivering other items like flowers and Christmas trees, as well as the courier service they began operating in Manhattan earlier this year.

“We're in the business of delivering cars in five minutes. And once you can deliver cars in five minutes, there's a lot of things you can deliver in five minutes," said Uber founder Travis Kalanick last December.

But while the cars that Uber provides are certainly comfortable, they’re not the BMW’s and Land Rovers that were part of a major New York City drug bust by police last month. The “text-to-toke” operation, which went under the names of “Handsome Carl” or “Basic Landscaping,” used luxury cars to deliver about $10,000 per day in marijuana and club drugs like ecstasy.

Six dealers and the ring leader, Brooklyn-based Nunzio Gentille, were arrested and charged with possession with intent to sell a controlled substance and conspiracy to distribute.

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By McCarton Ackerman


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