Got unused prescription drugs in your medicine cabinet? This weekend you can take them to one of over 5,200 collection sites throughout the US as part of the third bi-annual National Takeback Initiative prescription drug drop-off, sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA is setting up drop-off sites in every state, from 10am-2pm Saturday, October 29, at police stations, hospitals, churches and their own offices. They've previously collected more than 309 tons of pills in these “takeback” events. “There’s no questions asked—you just drop them off,” said Chris Platz, parish manager of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City, which has been a drop-off site since the initiative began in September 2010. Platz told The Fix the church has been contacted by people who don’t know how to dispose of powerful drugs left over from medical procedures: "I've had calls from people—they have OxyContin, they've had surgery and they've got like 97 pills left," he said. "I don't know what the street value of those things is but I think it's pretty exorbitant." According to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center, OxyContin sells for between 50 cents and $1 per milligram on the street, with prices varying regionally. This comes from 2000, apparently the most recent year for which they have data, but anecdotal evidence agrees that a 20 mg pill, say, retails at roughly $20. So that bottle of 97 tablets could well bring in over $2,000. This temptation is part of the reason the DEA is so keen to get people to dispose of their unused medications. The other part is that prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing sector of addiction today. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2009, and many of these are kids who pilfer drugs from the family bathroom. So what happens to these huge piles of unwanted pills? "The DEA gets rid of them. They’re destroyed somehow—burned, flushed, something,” said Platz. Det. Domenick Vassallo, the contact person for the drop-off at NYPD’s 20th Precinct, agreed: "They flush 'em, I guess." Not so. Instead, "We take them to a waste energy facility," Special Agent Erin Mulvey from the DEA’s New York City office told The Fix. "They’re burned into energy for the tri-state area. All the states are disposing of them in this way. It's an eco-friendly, win-win situation."
- How Wachovia Laundered Millions for Mexican Cartels [Democracy Now]
- Video: Bernard and Ruth Madoff Attempted Suicide with Ambien, Klonopin [CBS News]
- Jackson was Dependent on Addictive Painkiller Demerol, Says Trial Expert [Reuters]
- Alcohol Linked to Better Survival After Heart Attack [Reuters]
- Physician Used Craiglist to Trade Prescription Drugs for Sex, Feds Allege [Chicago Tribune]
- Online Guru Behind Follow Friday Movement on Startups, Internet Fame and Getting Sober [Mashable]
- Heroin Addicts Pass Out in Moving Car with 4-Year-Old Daughter in the Back [Riverfront Times]
- Woman Accused of Trafficking 30 Pounds of Cocaine in Cake Mix Boxes [CNN]
A routine drug-related arrest at New York's Occupy Wall Street encampment is drawing outsized scrutiny in light of recent controversies involving alleged drug use at Zuccotti Park. Yesterday, the NYPD's generally sluggish twitter account fired off a tweet claiming that “Police seek 3 who threatened to kill a protestor for filing complaint vs drug dealer in Zuccotti Pk,” attaching a "wanted poster" of the three suspects, and adding that the threat was related to “a previous assault incident” in the park on October 22. Later they tweeted that two of the suspects involved in the incident had been arrested and charged with threatening a witness. The arrests were apparently precipitated by a woman's complaint to police last weekend that a man had assaulted her. Cops intervened, arrested the man, charged him with assault, and—after reportedly finding a bag of cocaine on him—with possession. An NYPD spokesman declined to say why they called him a "drug dealer" when they'd only charged him with possession. Another suspect was arrested soon after. Yesterday's tear-gassing of Oakland rattled occupiers and police even more, resulting in solidarity marches and tactical maneuverings to force and avoid shutdowns. The early morning atmosphere was an odd mix of paranoia and peace, with police moving en masse around the square and Occupiers following them in an "Om circle", determined to show how peaceful their protest remains.
The issue of drugs has become an increasingly loaded one, as police departments in cities from Oakland to Denver have used the issue as a pretext for shutting down their own home-grown protests. A volunteer medic acknowledged to The Fix that despite OWS's official zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy, some drug dealers are present, taking advantage of the free food and the crowd of largely young people to ply their illicit trade, with marijuana more common than heroin, cocaine or other substances. Brendan Burke, OWS's head of security, first suggested that last night's arrest of the suspect on the "wanted poster" didn't take place at the encampment, but admitted today that it "probably" had. He claimed that he knew of no other drug-related arrests, while the police have refused to comment on our repeated requests for the number of such arrests since OWS began in mid-September. "I talked to a Community Affairs [police] officer about a kid who was smoking something that was not legal,” he told The Fix, but stressed, "We don't bounce anyone out of the park—at least I don’t—but this is not mommy and daddy's campground; this is the street. I encourage anyone with any information about an actual crime to go to a police officer about it." Even OWS occupiers in recovery were reluctant to get specific. One told The Fix that he found all drug use "undesirable" and that he left the park early yesterday because he was bothered by pot smoke. He then added, "Today I am ecstatic," before refusing further comment. Was this a cryptic reference to today's shutdown of OWS's free-food service (with rations of PB &J sandwiches a minimal alternative), which several protesters explained was a three-day experiment in trying to rid the encampment of freeloaders, a category that includes a range of troublemakers not limited to dealers and some street people who are drunk, on drugs or otherwise-impaired and consistently and pointlessly disruptive.
The OWS community, for the most part, is earnest and vigilant in its conflict resolution practices, such as telling public drug users to take it off site; given the mounting pressures from the media, the police, and the city, OWS has created a remarkably peaceable kingdom in the capital of the money culture, where doing illicit business extends from the gritty street dealing of those at the bottom of the 99% to the C-suites in the great steel-and-glass pyramids of the top-most 1%. But enough appears to be enough. A mental-health liaison to the community health committee said that there was also talk of taking all the problems in hand by instituting a new work-for-food policy, another measure to weed out people unable to make even a minimal commitment to community health. "There are adults here and there are children here," said one protester who had been in the park since day 1. "Now the adults have decided to take things in hand."
Most protesters we spoke to distanced themselves from dealers and users, claiming they aren't real "occupiers," but opportunists taking advantage of the movement. A press relations volunteer, Bill Dobbs, explained that the park is open to everyone, that the police are free to enforce the laws as they choose, and that "what matters is how people interact with the movement we're building out here."
Heartening news from Florida this week: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has struck a decisive blow in court against a law forcing everyone applying for welfare in the Sunshine State to submit to a drug test. The law was signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott this June to "help to prevent misuse of Florida tax dollars" by drug users. The idea that Scott pushed this law to eliminate fraud is galling, given his history of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid as CEO of massive hospital chain Columbia/HCA. (He was forced to resign from that position, and the federal government levied the biggest-ever fine of its kind against Scott’s company—a whopping $1.7 billion.) Florida's drug-testing was pursued even though just 2% of the welfare recipients tested positive for illegal drugs—the national average is 8%. It seems that Rick Scott’s understanding of the Fourth Amendment is about as shaky as his grasp of bookkeeping, at least according to US District Judge Mary Scriven, who slapped down the “unconstitutional” law. Florida’s own study had thoroughly “debunked the assumptions of the State, and likely many laypersons, regarding TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] applicants and drug use,” noted Judge Scriven. Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute, co-counsel with the ACLU, declared: “This should send a message to all lawmakers that the Fourth Amendment protects everyone.”
The crucial test case was that of 35-year-old US Navy veteran Louis Lebron, a single father who goes to college full-time and cares for his disabled mother. When his veteran’s benefits ran out he found himself barely scraping by on student loans and grants, so he applied to Florida’s TANF program for assistance. He qualified for food stamps and Medicaid, but was astonished to find that to process his claim he'd have to submit to a drug test—and pay for it himself. He was also told that any negative urine sample results would be shared with Florida’s Child Abuse Hotline. There's no suggestion that Lebron is a drug user, but he was outraged by the attempt to invade his privacy. He contacted ACLU, which took on his case and won. The scandalous law explicitly asserted that drug users don't have the same human rights as non-drug users, judging people's characters by the content of their urine and subjecting needy citizens to blatant constitutional violations.
Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning, determined the inquest today, recording a verdict of misadventure. While many automatically jumped to blame the singer's demise on illicit drug abuse, alcohol deaths far exceed those from any illegal drug. Winehouse's blood alcohol content was five times the British (and US) driving limit at a deadly 0.4%, according to London coroner Suzanne Greenway, who said: "The unintended consequence of such potentially fatal levels was her sudden and unexpected death." The initial autopsy was inconclusive but discovered no illegal drugs or signs of injury. And following her death, police had found three empty vodka bottles in her bedroom. She was also taking medication for alcohol withdrawal and anxiety. Winehouse had acquired the dangerous habit of regularly abstaining from alcohol completely before binging heavily. As her family told the press, she had recently stopped drinking for three weeks, and they blamed alcohol withdrawal—which is frequently fatal—for killing her. But in fact her fate was sealed as she hit the bottle again immediately prior to her death on July 23. The finding should bring an end to speculation on the causes of a death that brought heartfelt reactions from around the world and reflections for many of us. And it underlines the seriousness with which we should take alcohol abuse and its consequences, despite a prevailing culture—especially pronounced in the UK—that plays it down compared to problems with other drugs. Joe Schrank, the interventionist and Fix co-founder, points out: "Alcohol is responsible for more death and damage than all street drugs combined. From a cultural perspective, we are so steeped in alcohol that we often overlooks its power to kill: I can't tell you how many people sit in my office and say, 'We know he drinks, but thank God, no drugs.'"
- Doctor Sold Painkillers Out of Starbucks Cafes, Authorities Say [LA Times]
- Solved: Why Pot Smoking Causes Memory Loss [CBS News]
- UK Gang Jailed for $6 Billion Fish Tin Cocaine Smuggling Plot [BBC]
- Woman "Raped" as She Tried to Buy Xanax [Tulsa World]
- Blood Test Could Measure Smokers' Heart Risk [Mediplacements.com]
- 64-Year-Old Man Gave Underage Girls Meth for Sex, Say Cops [Statesman Journal]
- Vodka-Drinker "Accidentally" Shot Her Married Lover [Phoenix New Times]