Barack Obama meets today with Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto; they're expected to finally discuss the drug war after a long silence from the White House on the subject. Peña Nieto is among a growing number of Latin American leaders—including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina—who want a new approach to the raging Latin American drug war. He believes that the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington finally provides an opportunity to address the issue with the US President. "It opens a space for a rethinking of our [drug-war] policy. It opens a debate about the course the drug war should be taking," said Peña Nieto. "It doesn't mean the Mexican government is necessarily going to change what it's doing now...but I am in favor of a hemispheric debate on the effectiveness of the drug-war route we've been on."
While Perez Molina has proposed legalization of all drugs in Guatemala and Uruguay is moving toward legalizing marijuana (and selling it under a state-managed monopoly), Peña Nieto currently shares Obama's stance of opposing legalization. But if marijuana legalization spreads further in the US, Mexico may be forced to adopt similar measures. "It creates certain distortions and incongruences, since [state legalization] is in conflict with the federal government there," said Peña Nieto. "That will impact how Mexico and other countries in the hemisphere respond." The president-elect will take office on Saturday, replacing Felipe Calderon, whose militant drug war tactics have been criticized for intensifying the violence; since he took office 6 years ago, an estimated 60,000 Mexicans have died, and the conflict is seen as being at a stalemate.
History is rife with child actors and teen idol musicians who fell into drug and alcohol abuse in their adult years, but newly legal Justin Bieber insists that he will be an exception to the rule. During a recent sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, the popster explained that he uses exercise and a self-imposed weekly day off to ward off potentially destructive impulses. "[Some people are waiting for me to] mess up because a lot of teen stars do. They make that mistake of getting into drugs or alcohol," he says. "Just remembering what's important [curbs any self-destructive tendencies]. I have to remember to take time for myself to talk to people about what I'm going through, about what's in my head." Not that the "Never Say Never" singer has been entirely immune to the pressures of stardom: he admits that he's "nuts" and suffers from insomnia and periodic depression. "You just feel sometimes you need someone to be there with you," he says. "Some days you have pain in your heart because maybe you haven’t dealt with that. Some days you’re depressed and you don’t know why because you haven’t dealt with it." The singer has encountered addiction in his personal life. His mother, Patti Mallette, divulged earlier this year that she suffered from alcohol and drug addiction as a teen after enduring childhood sexual abuse. She even attempted suicide before getting clean at the age of 17, when she found out she was pregnant with Bieber.
- College Launches Research Institute Devoted to Pot [Associated Press]
- 1 in 4 in US Start Drinking Before Turning 21 [Newsday]
- Ice Cream, White Bread, Doughnuts Among Most Addictive Foods [mLive]
- Times Square Drug Raid Yields $5 Million Worth of Cocaine [Metro NY]
- Marijuana Growers Using Solar Power [FuelFix]
- Driver of Dangling Truck Had .5% Blood-Alcohol Level [KOIN Local 6]
- Wendy Williams Says Her Husband Helped Free Her of Cocaine Addiction [EurWeb]
Would you allow a seven-year-old to use medical marijuana? That’s the crux of an interesting—if mildly alarmist—report over at the Oregonian, detailing the ongoing cancer treatment of Mykayla Comstock. She's been a medical marijuana patient ever since she was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia last spring. Currently undergoing chemotherapy, she is one of 52 children registered for MMJ treatment in Oregon—a state which rejected full legalization earlier this month but has permitted medical use since 1998. According to Mykayla's mother, Erin Purchase, pot has been vital in helping her daughter manage the pain, nausea, vomiting, depression and sleep problems that come with her treatment. The controversy—such as it is—originally stemmed from Mykayla’s father, who was apparently so “disturbed” to learn that his daughter was a medical marijuana patient that he contacted child welfare officials, police and Mykayla’s oncologist in an effort to put a stop to it.
He and Mykala’s mother are separated; he claims that during an August visit with his daughter she was “stoned out of her mind,” wanting to do nothing but “lay on the bed and play video games" (which frankly doesn’t sound all that unusual for a kid, and also sounds a lot better than “laying in bed all day being violently ill”). However, Oregon law requires no monitoring of a child's medical marijuana use by a pediatrician—it instead instead invests authority in parents to decide the dosage, frequency and manner of a child's MMJ consumption. "It helps me eat and sleep," Mykayla says of her medicine, which she takes in pill form. "The chemotherapy makes you feel like you want to stay up all night long."
While certainly pushing all the right buttons, Mykayla’s story failed to get the think-of-the-children! crowd as excited you might expect. Perhaps, now that most Americans believe pot should be legal, it’s getting a little harder for journalists to rustle up those “reefer madness” quotes. The voice of dissent in the Oregonian's article is provided by Dr. Sharon Levy, who authored a resolution for the American Academy of Pediatrics opposing the use of marijuana in children. Her position is that since “marijuana isn’t a medicine,” it shouldn’t be used to treat childhood illnesses. To judge by the comments sections of the various news outlets covering this story, the general public sees it differently. “It seems like there would be some developmental risks with administering such doses to a child,” says one typical post. “On the other hand, the leukemia, chemotherapy, and associated toxins plus opiate based pain relief drugs likely are many times worse for the child. As other posters have pointed out, this whole thing seems like an overstated hype story meant to undermine all the good medical marijuana has done.” Erin Purchase says that medical marijuana has helped her daughter to fight past the chemotherapy and return to a sense of normalcy: "She's like she was before. She's a normal kid."
Pete Doherty, frontman of The Libertines—who is at least as famous for his drug addictions and turbulent past relationship with Kate Moss—has been talking about a secret affair he had with Amy Winehouse. “This is difficult for me to admit, but, yes, it’s true. Amy and I were lovers,” he says. “I loved her then and, well, I still do today. But towards the end, as only lovers can, she became quite mean and cruel to me. She didn’t suffer fools…and believe me, she had a mean right hook." Doherty—who went through a highly public relationship with Moss that "ended nastily" in 2007—hasn't spoken about his affair with Winehouse before. But he’s making up for lost time: “She came back to my hotel after the Libertines reunion warm-up gig at the Forum in Kentish Town [London] in August 2010, but she had two huge bouncers with her,” he says. “I told her she would have to leave them outside in the corridor, but she looked at me despairingly and said, ‘I can’t!’ Amy couldn’t step outside her front door without a mob of about 30 blokes thrusting cameras at her. If you then include crack in the equation, it becomes a real killer—especially as Amy didn’t do things by halves. Smoking crack leaves you tense and paranoid and if you’re already in that environment, it would drive anyone to the brink of madness.” Doherty also discusses Winehouse's other health problems: “She had such a big heart but she was physically small and increasingly frail and I never once saw her eat anything solid, just milkshakes.” Doherty has apparently written a song about Winehouse for his new album.
A Washington Post investigation published yesterday suggests that Big Pharma's growing influence over research on new medications leads to the FDA approving dangerous drugs. According to journalist Peter Whoriskey, controversies in the past decade over highly profitable “blockbuster” drugs like Vioxx, Avandia and Celebrex have prompted investigations into whether the drug industry’s company-funded research deliberately misleads the public and the government about risks.
Avandia, a drug developed by GlaxoSmithKline to treat diabetes, for example, was approved after researchers published an article in 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which Whoriskey calls "arguably the most prestigious medical journal in the world." GlaxoSmithKline became the subject of a Senate investigation when the article was found to have masked the dangers of the drug, using tactics such as publishing incomplete trial data or not publishing overly negative trials. Avandia was estimated by the FDA to have been associated with 83,000 heart attacks and deaths before it was pulled. The Washington Post reviewed all the articles on original studies of new drugs that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine over a year-long period ending this August. Of the 73 articles, 60 were found to be funded by a pharmaceutical company, 50 were co-written by drug company employees and 37 had a lead author, typically an academic, who'd previously accepted compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees.
But do we know whether financial incentives lead to bias? In an analysis by Justin Bekelman, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, the odds of coming to a favorable conclusion were found to be 3.6 times greater in research sponsored by the industry than in research sponsored by the government or nonprofit groups. And the drug industry now funds a larger share of research than ever. “It used to be that drug companies would hand their new drug over to an academic center to have it tested, and then they sat back and waited,” says Marcia Angell, who worked at NEJM for over 20 years and retired as editor-in-chief in 2000. “Now they’re intimately involved in every step along the way, and they treat academic researchers more like hired hands.”
So what can be done to protect us from drug companies who only have eyes for profits, not patient welfare? Whoriskey suggests an increased need for transparency about industry-sponsored drug trials. Such transparency wouldn't eliminate all of the drug companies' tricks—like designing research that gives only positive views of their products, or hiring researchers they know to be partial to a drug. But it would allow independent researchers to analyze the data from trials and draw their own conclusions. “If you have the privilege of selling a drug, in return should come the responsibility to share everything you know about the drug,” says Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale and a leading advocate of data access. “This is not about doing gotcha with industry. It’s about how to restore trust.”