Brain scans of teenagers could help predict problem drinking later in life, according to a new study. Using MRI scans, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, examined the brains of 40 teens before they started drinking, and then again three years later—when about half of the participants had started drinking alcohol. The subjects who displayed less activity in the areas of the brain used for higher-order decision-making (called "working memory") were more likely to become heavy drinkers over the next three years. "It suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability," says lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, adding that teens with a less active working memory might have more trouble weighing risks—which could lend itself to a proclivity towards substance abuse. The study also revealed the impact of drinking on the teens' brain development. After three years, the brains of participants who had begun drinking heavily (four or more drinks for females and five or more for males) had to work harder harder than before to complete the same tasks. "That's the opposite of what you'd expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older," says Squeglia, suggesting that heavy drinking may negatively impact developing brains during an especially crucial time in a person's life. "You're learning to drive, you're getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development," Squeglia says.
“Make no mistake about it: We are At War now—with somebody—and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives,” Hunter S. Thompson famously said in the aftermath of 9/11. He could easily have been talking about the War on Drugs, a relatively recent target of which is Rx pill abuse. Amid the charge to crack down on people taking addictive prescription pills without permission, people who are neither addicts nor dealers risk becoming collateral damage. Over at the Reason blog they've uncovered the Kafka-esque story of “James.” He was pulled over by police in Florida—ground zero for the pill epidemic—back in 2006. Both a full-time graduate student at the University of North Florida and a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, James hardly fit the “menace to society” stereotype. A random traffic stop led to a search, after an officer claimed he could “smell marijuana” (there was none in the car). That search revealed a single OxyContin pill, which led to James's arrest for possession of an illicit narcotic—he says the pill was given to him at a concert he'd just attended and that he'd never used the drug before.
His arrest sparked a two-year nightmare. His lawyer advised him to plead no-contest, saying he would likely get probation and then have his record expunged, but "After being assured that the penalty would be light," James tells Reason, "it turned into a bigger ordeal than I could ever imagine." As soon as James pleaded no-contest, the judge started “piling on the penalties.” Despite not being an addict, he was made to attend two NA meetings a week for a year, plus 15 weekend-long, state-run drug classes (which he had to pay for). On top of this, a year-long curfew stopped him from attending school, and he had to report his arrest to his employer—and was therefore fired. Finding another job was hard, and James ended up working as a short-order cook. That’s the nutshell version; the full story is more extraordinary still.
As “James” puts it: "I could really see how someone could get caught 'in the system' and have a stigma attached to them, and, for people with, say, a high school diploma, why they would just resort to drug dealing, or worse, because the government prevented their ability to find a job due to this…It's sad that the government creates this group of 'drug offenders' who are not harming anyone, be it pot smokers or pill poppers, and then indirectly prevents them from getting jobs. Once you get something like this on your record, it is either start your own business or become under-employed."
As part of a two-week operation to fight drug crime, Brazil is deploying 9,000 troops to secure its borders with Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay. According to the Defense Ministry, the operation, which began on Monday, is intended to block an influx of drugs and arms into the country. "This mobilization along the border is a matter of self-defense," says David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. "Brazil is invaded by drugs and clandestine arms shipments from the neighboring countries, mostly from Bolivia and Paraguay." Bolivia is the world's third biggest producer of cocaine—and officials estimate that 92% of that produce heads to Brazil. In the past two years, more than two tons of drugs and 59 weapons have been seized in four similar operations. However, in order for such operations to be effective against the overwhelming tide of illegal imports, they would have to employ at least 50,000 troops, Fleischer estimates, "but the country does not have the resources for that."
Country superstar Randy Travis has been arrested for driving drunk—his second drunkenness bust this year—after crashing his car in Texas late last night. Officers reportedly found Travis cut, bruised and for some reason completely in the nude. He'd reportedly gotten into a fight with his girlfriend earlier. Sources tell TMZ that the "No Holdin' Back" singer refused to take a breathalyzer test, so cops ultimately drew blood to test his BAC. They also charged him with "retaliation and obstruction"—a felony—for verbally threatening a police officer during the bust. The six-time Grammy-winner was last arrested just six months ago, also in Texas, when he was cuffed for public drunkenness outside of a baptist church after "an evening of celebrating the Super Bowl." At the time of that arrest, officers described Travis as "cooperative but smelling of booze"—but it doesn't sound like he was so obliging last night. After February's drunken incident, Travis stated: "I'm committed to being responsible and accountable, and apologize for my actions." It remains to be seen whether he'll top that this time around.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking a stand against synthetic drugs: the state Department of Health has made it a crime to possess synthetic drugs such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana, and it's also now illegal for stores to carry them under any name. “We’re talking about poison," says Cuomo. "This is poison that is being distributed and sold.” Individuals can be charged with possession of an illicit substance and face fines up to $500 and up to 15 days in jail, while stores attempting to sell them face up to $2,000 per violation. "It will give us some teeth to go in and take the product off the shelf and issue at least appearance tickets,” says Joseph D’Amico, superintendent of State Police. “And it gives the Department of Health the opportunity to follow up with these locations with civil proceedings.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued 16 head shops last month for mislabeling substances such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts in an alleged attempt to evade federal and state laws. Bath salt-related emergency room visits in upstate New York have soared from 39 last year to 191 so far in 2012, with 120 coming in June and July. According to the state Poison Control Center, there were 20 calls concerning synthetic marijuana poisonings in 2010, compared to 291 in 2011 and 321 through the first six months of this year.
- African Alcohol Binge Raises Pressure For Crackdown [Reuters]
- Mom is the New Face of Marijuana Legalization [ABC]
- More Kids Taking Antipsychotics for ADHD [US News]
- Facebook’s First Real-Money Online Gambling App Launches [Slate]
- Alcohol-Infused Panini Make Sandwich History [Huffington Post]
- Garrett Reid's Death Highlights the Difficulty of Dealing with Addiction [Philadelphia Daily News]
- Teen Mom Star May Still Abuse Drugs and Alcohol [Examiner]