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painkiller scheme

10/02/12 12:01pm

Doc Blames Split Personalities for Rx Fraud

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Dr. Williamson was well-respected in her field.
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A doctor involved in a $300,000 prescription painkiller scheme is trying to get out of an 11-year prison sentence by claiming that "Nala"—one of over a dozen of her multiple personalities—was responsible for the crime. Diana Williamson was once lauded for opening an AIDS hospital and her treatment work in the field, but the government claims she defrauded Medicaid out of about $300,000 and then wrote phony prescriptions for around 11,000 painkiller pills, mostly oxycodone, that were bought with Medicaid benefits and sold on the street. Williamson pleaded guilty, but her lawyer argues that a prison sentence would be equivalent to a death sentence due to her several medical issues that prisons aren't equipped to treat. The defense also claims that Williamson wasn't aware she was carrying out crimes committed by her “mischievous, irresponsible, reckless and, as we have just discovered, criminal" alter ego. Williamson wrote to the judge that Nala “committed these crimes without telling Diana or the other parts of me about them.” US District Judge Loretta Preska delayed sentencing so it can be determined if prison authorities will be able to treat Williamson's illnesses, but remains skeptical about the multiple personality argument: “I guess I’m having trouble understanding that with the defendant’s remarkable medical career, having founded an AIDS hospital, it doesn’t seem to have impaired her ability to function as a medical professional,” she says. Williamson argued in court, “Perhaps it sounds incredible that a part of me could be doing something that the rest of me would not know about, but everything about dissociative disorder is difficult to fathom for those who do not have it."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Alcohol risks

10/02/12 10:59am

Booze May Boost Arrhythmia Risk

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Quit playing games with your heart.
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Consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the risk for arrhythmia for those with diabetes or heart disease, according to a new study. The study—published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal—pulled from data of over 30,000 adults in 40 countries (median age 66) from two large research trials studying congestive heart failure and controlling high blood pressure, and followed these subjects for four and a half years. When the researchers compared the data of moderate and heavy drinkers to those who lightly drink, they found higher rates of atrial fibrillation among those who drink more. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia, and those who suffer from it are at a higher risk of experiencing a stroke. Dr. David Juurlink, an internal medicine specialist in Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, cautions that this study is limiting in that it only identified associations and does not prove that drinking is the cause of higher rates of atrial fibrillation. However, he agrees moderating booze is safer for those with heart problems. “It's hard to make sweeping pronouncements from a single study, but there is a compelling commonsense argument for moderation, and this study supports that,” he says. “If someone who drinks heavily needs one more reason to cut back, this is it. But as we all know there are plenty of other reasons to moderate one's alcohol intake.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

10/02/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 2, 2012

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Not officially endorsed Photo via

By Bryan Le

Medical marijuana

10/01/12 5:12pm

Connecticut Welcomes Medical Pot Today

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You can possess it, as long as you don't buy it...
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As of today, patients in Connecticut with certain debilitating conditions can apply for a license to legally possess and use medical marijuana. The law limits this to a list of specific conditions, including cancer; glaucoma; positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Parkinson's disease; multiple sclerosis; and damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity. Other conditions covered include epilepsy, cachexia (also called wasting syndrome), Crohn's disease and PTSD. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection website carries instructions on how to apply. A doctor's recommendation is key—and interestingly the doctor must determine that “in the physician’s medical opinion, the potential benefits of the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks to the patient.” The relative health risks of far more easily obtainable meds are debatable, to say the least: there has never been a death caused directly by marijuana toxicity, while over-the-counter acetaminophen, for example, claims 500 lives per year and hospitalizes thousands.

After you get the go-ahead from the doc, you have little more to do than provide proof of Connecticut residency, ID, and a passport photograph to get started. Although there’s still no way to legally buy marijuana or marijuana seeds in Connecticut—an issue that the state hopes to resolve by 2013. According to Erik Williams, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Connecticut, "There's a large amount of people who are thrilled to use medical marijuana instead of hardcore prescriptions that leave them acting like zombies. My hope is that this would be done in such a way that it is the absolute model for the nation." Connecticut is the 17th state to permit MMJ to some degree. In the race to become No. 18, the Arkansas Supreme Court—despite the best efforts of a conservative bloc calling itself the “Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values”—has upheld a proposed ballot measure on medical pot that could make the Natural State the first in the South to join in. While the state-by-state push to change our marijuana laws gathers momentum—and gains popularity with voters—neither presidential candidate seems interested in capitalizing. 

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By Tony O'Neill

phantom menace

10/01/12 4:23pm

Fan Spots Princess Leia's "Coke Nail"

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That nail could scoop a hump of coke in less
than 12 parsecs. Photo via

Carrie Fisher makes no secret of former drug problems that led her to a near-fatal overdose—but a sharp-eyed fan's screen grab has brought the Star Wars actress's druggy past back into the spotlight. The screen grab shows Fisher as Princess Leia, resting her hand on Han Solo's shoulder and sporting a very noticeable "coke nail." (That's a fingernail grown longer than the others to allow fiends to scoop drugs quickly, instead of all that tiresome racking up of lines.) Fisher previously admitted to indulging frequently during filming: "We did cocaine on the set of Empire [the second film of the original trilogy], in the ice planet. I didn't even like coke that much, it was just a case of getting on whatever train I needed to take to get high," she says. "Slowly, I realized I was doing a bit more drugs than other people and losing my choice in the matter." She has also spoken about her battle with manic depression and her use of electroconvulsive therapy treatments (ECT), which she credits with managing her condition. These days, she plays the voice of Angela on Family Guy and has appeared on shows such as Weeds, 30 Rock and Entourage. Most recently, she was the butt of a punchline during the Comedy Central Roast of Roseanne Barr: "You've cut more lines than a crippled kid at Disneyland," comedian Amy Schumer told Fisher.

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By McCarton Ackerman

secondhand smoke

10/01/12 3:39pm

Secondhand Smoke Kills 42,000 Americans a Year

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Killer breath Photo via

New figures provide stark evidence of how the decision to smoke doesn't affect the smoker alone. Secondhand smoke kills 42,000 non-smokers in the US each year, including 900 babies, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco. That's 600,000 years of total life lost—an average of 14.2 years knocked off the life of each non-smoker who died early as a result of someone else's habit. Smoking also hurts economically (besides impoverishing poorer individuals who spend up to 25% of their income on smokes): all these premature deaths from secondhand smoke add up to $6.6 billion in lost productivity. And as if all this news weren't bad enough, the researchers say it's even worse than it seems: their figures are likely an underestimate, due to inherent problems in using statistical estimates of populations. In any case, the numbers are far too high, despite the efforts of health authorities. "It is true that smoking is banned in many public places and workplaces," says Wendy Max, a professor of health economics at UCSF. "However... people are still being exposed more than we realized. Much of this may be at home, but not all. Studies show that even small amounts of secondhand smoke exposure may have a negative impact on health, particularly for people who are vulnerable for various reasons." Will this convince the one in four smokers who told Gallup that secondhand smoke is “not too harmful or not harmful at all”?

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By Bryan Le

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