Just over half the HIV-positive participants in a recent study skipped their medications in order to drink—largely due to misconceptions about the dangers of mixing antiretroviral meds and alcohol, researchers believe. The University of Connecticut study followed 200 people taking antiretroviral drugs for HIV over the course of a year, and found that 51% halted their medication regimes while drinking, showing higher viral loads as a result. Researchers blame a widespread belief that mixing alcohol and HIV drugs is dangerous, which they say is false. Although doctors do often discourage HIV patients from boozing, this is because it can interrupt the effectiveness of the drugs, not because it's actually a "toxic" combination. In fact, it's far more dangerous to skip these meds than to drink while taking them. "The harms caused by missing their medications far outweigh the harms caused by mixing the two, if the person doesn't have liver disease" says Seth Kalichman, professor and lead author of the study. Stopping medication is dangerous for patients as it can allow the virus to surge; taking the meds inconsistently can also lead to drug resistance and prevent the pills from working at all. The study highlights a need for better education and clearer instructions from doctors. Kalichman is optimistic: "We think it may be a pretty simple fix, just educating patients."
The proportion of tobacco retailers making illegal sales to minors in the US fell last year to 8.5%, according to new research from SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). This is the lowest level since tracking of this data began in 1997, under provisions of the Synar Amendment Program. Enacted as part of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Synar requires US states and territories "to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under age 18"—and also "to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets." In 1997, 40.1% of retailers were found to sell tobacco to kids. After a sharp drop in 1998, to 25.4%, the numbers have declined steadily each year since. That's significant, because stopping kids from taking their first puff is one of the best ways of preventing adult smoking. Research has shown that, among adults who have ever been daily smokers, 88% report lighting up for the first time prior to turning 18. “The success of the Synar program is a testament to how preventing underage youth from gaining illegal access to tobacco products can have a tremendous impact,” says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. SAMHSA also provided state-by-state data for 2011, which showed that the state with the highest "retailer violation rate" is health-conscious Oregon, at 19.3%, while vice-friendly Nevada has the lowest, at just 1.1%.
In a non-method acting approach, Denzel Washington says he actually stopped drinking altogether for the full 45 days of filming his latest role as an alcoholic airline pilot. In the much-hyped Flight, which hits theaters tomorrow, the 57-year-old actor plays a pilot who is lauded for navigating a plane to safety during a storm—until it's discovered that he was actually drunk throughout the incident. The actor is no stranger to hitting the bottle. He told Essence in 1986 that he was quitting drinking for good, but now admits that he only "semi-quit" during the '80s. "We've all tied one on,” says the Oscar-winning actor. “But if I had been drinking while I was shooting, it’d be harder to stay disciplined, just to get up in the morning. You are a little more hung over, grouchier." Washington says the film was "an excellent opportunity, and a really good story. So it was something I wanted to do right." However, even practicing sobriety to enact his character's excruciating struggle with addiction didn't turn him off the sauce for good: "I haven't given it up forever."
The staunchest opponents of three marijuana legalization bills being voted on in US states next week may be Mexico's drug cartels, a new study suggests. The Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a think tank, assumes that if pot were legalized in Colorado, Oregon or Washington—the three states where such measures have made the November 6 ballot—it would be produced relatively cheaply there and smuggled to other states. It calculates hypothetical prices and assumes that US consumers would choose home-grown marijuana over Mexican if it cost less. According to this model—and estimating that Mexican cartels currently make over $6 billion a year from smuggling into the US—legalization in Oregon would see a loss of $1.839 billion for Mexican cartels, while legalization in Colorado or Washington would cost the cartels $1.425 billion and $1.327 billion respectively. Such estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. One of the study's authors, former Mexican intelligence officer Alejandro Hope, admits that the figures rely on a series of uncertain assumptions; above all, aggressive intervention by the US federal government or neighboring state authorities could stop US-grown weed moving easily and cheaply around the country. And opponents of legalization argue that the cartels could respond by using legitimate US grow operations as fronts to continue their business. Still, the prospect of squeezing the profits of some of the world's most ruthless criminal organizations should give voters additional food for thought.
Greg Merson, a 24-year-old from Washington, has plenty to celebrate. He's just won $8.53 million at the World Series of Poker in Vegas—and he's one year clean and sober after battling addictions to oxycontin, adderall, and cocaine. If that weren't the case, he says, “I could possibly not be alive right now, and that’s no exaggeration. I never want to do any of that ever, literally ever.” Merson was a straight-A student in high school, but began smoking marijuana excessively after he graduated—and started playing poker in order to fund that habit. By the second semester of his freshman year of college at Maryland, he was “a full-blown cokehead;” he went on to get hooked on Adderall and OxyContin. He ended up dropping out of school to go to rehab and get clean. It was then that he began playing poker professionally. “I knew I just had to follow my dreams," he says, admitting some friends and family members had difficulty accepting his decision at first. He now credits the game that he first played for drug money with helping to keep him clean: “I don't know where I'd be, if I'd even be alive, if I didn't have this passion.” Merson took the World Series title just before dawn yesterday, after beating eight other finalists in a 12-hour no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament.
- Smokers Miss Work More Often, Cost UK Billions [Reuters]
- Attention Deficit Disorder and Sex Addiction: What’s the Connection? [PsychCentral]
- Dutch Nix "Weed Pass" Program [Washington Post]
- Why is the Mexican Drug War Being Ignored? [CNN]
- Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Linked to Childhood Brain Development Problems [PharmPro]
- Alcohol Poisoning Killed Student; Aunt Says Energy Drinks Had Role [Seattle Times]