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music and sobriety

11/15/12 5:00pm

Phish Frontman Jams Out Sober


Happy, joyous and Phree! Photo via

Psychedelic rock band Phish may have a loyal following among stoners, but lead singer Trey Anastasio ended his extended jam with drugs in 2006. "There was always drinking, pot, psychedelics. I'm sure there was a lot of self-medicating, self-discovery going on," Anastasio tells Rolling Stone. Eventually his descent into substance abuse began to take its toll and shortly before the band broke up in 2004, he was hitting bottom. "Once that line was crossed, it sucked all the life out of the music and relationships," he recalls. "I'd let everyone down, which was my worst nightmare ever." It wasn't until two years later that he finally got help, after he was busted for "erratic driving" and possession of prescription drugs, including Percocet and Xanax, that were not in his name. He was ordered to complete 14 months of limited-mobility treatment and community service duties that included scrubbing toilets, and has been in recovery ever since. "I fucking hate drugs," he says now. "I really do." Since mending things with his bandmates and reuniting with Phish in 2009, the singer and guitarist also released a solo album last month. "Trey's work ethic is unbelievable," says drummer Jon Fishman. "He's not dabbling. He's pushing himself hard." Anastasio isn't the only Phish-head to abstain from substances: a group of sober fans have formed a "Phellowship" group, offering support and information for "anyone who wishes to remain clean and sober at shows."

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By May Wilkerson

Drug treatment in prison

11/15/12 4:04pm

Drug Treatment in Prison: Moving on Out


Helpful or futile? Photo via

A prisoner who completes Phase III—the final phase—of the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) should have obtained employability skills that will assist him in re-entry to society. He's expected to be able to distinguish realistic from unrealistic expectations, and to identify strategies for coping with thoughts, emotions and situations that increase his risk for recidivism and relapse. "Phase III is about transitions. It deals with job interview skills, creating a safety net, which is a support system of people to assist you from relapsing," one prisoner tells The Fix. "You learn a lot of stuff: like how to tie a tie, how to shake hands properly, how to conduct an interview and how to maneuver through the fact that you were incarcerated." Alongside such practical skills, self-analysis remains important: "You also write a paper to evaluate yourself to see if you are institutionalized."

A Phase III participant is expected to actively apply prosocial skills and develop his own realistic plans for exiting the program, and prison. He has to demonstrate understanding of what a balanced life means, an appreciation of the value of job satisfaction, and the need to make positive life-adjustments to achieve that. His understanding should also extend to elements of physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as the difference between positive and negative relationships, and the importance of positive community involvement. But despite all these lofty and ambitious objectives, "You don't really learn anything that would be beneficial to your re-entry to the world," the prisoner tells us. "I felt it's condescending in nature." One of his complaints is that "the interviews that are conducted aren't valid for what job we might really be getting or be interested in. They have you apply for positions in mock interviews and job fairs that you wouldn't really have the ability or chance to get. Because for real, coming out of prison and being a drug addict, you are just going to have to get a shitty job to appease the halfway house and your probation officer. So to me, it's all a facade."

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By Seth Ferranti

Drug laws

11/15/12 3:01pm

Legalization Debate Turns to Other Drugs


Next up? Cuffs via Shutterstock

Legalization is in the air right now, and an unusually constructive debate was waged in Manhattan last night on whether the US should end its prohibition on all currently illegal drugs. Hosted by the Intelligence Squared foundation, to be broadcast on NPR and Channel 13, it featured what debater Nick Gillespie (editor-in-chief at, for the motion) characterized as four sometime participants in the drug war: a soldier (Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University and former federal prosecutor, also for legalization); a general (Asa Hutchinson, former DEA administrator and Congressman, against); a medic (Theodore Dalrymple, former prison doctor and psychiatrist, against); and a "conscientious objector" (Gillespie himself).

Butler kicked off with a passionate plea to end America's mass incarceration, in which he used to collaborate. Noting that "No country has ever found a way to stop people using drugs," he drew attention to the grotesque racial disparities in drug-law enforcement in a country where black people use drugs no more than white people, but are far likelier to be imprisoned for it. Doubting that Hutchinson would call the cops if he caught his own daughter using cocaine, Butler concluded that "What is good enough for our children and friends is also good enough for African Americans." Hutchinson admitted that many changes are needed in the way US drug laws are enforced, but said that this doesn't mean the drug laws themselves should disappear. Stating that a $2.5 trillion total drug-war expenditure has helped to halve illegal drug use in the last 30 years, he argued, "The idea that prohibition isn't working may appeal to the popular culture, but does not pass muster on closer examination."

Gillespie made the libertarian case for "pharmacological freedom": granting adults the right to decide what they put into their own bodies. "If we don't have the right to change our minds [by using drugs]," he asked, "then what rights do we really have that are worth a damn?" A drug user who no longer boozes ("because I'm a bad drinker: I tried and tried, but..."), he raised laughs with his sense of the ludicrous—at one point imagining "fair-trade methamphetamine." But he predicted that full legalization would change little, except to jail fewer people, give us "a couple more options" in our bathroom cabinets, and "Monday mornings would be a lot easier to face." Dalrymple responded by focusing on the harm drugs can do—noting the huge addiction and overdose toll of opioid painkillers in the US, "all created perfectly legally." Citing examples like buprenorphine use in France, he argued that making drugs legal increases their availability, and that "Supply can produce a large and disastrous demand." He conceded Butler and Gillespie's point that most people who take drugs don't become addicted, adding, "but then 99% of drunk drivers get home perfectly safely—I know, because I've done it myself."

Audience votes were recorded before and after the debate, with a swing towards legalization seeing Butler and Gillespie declared the winners. But it felt more like a beginning than an end. With marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington, America's drug-legalization debate is going to expand both in geography and scope. It will rarely remain this civil.

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By Will Godfrey

Etta James

11/15/12 2:09pm

Etta James' Son Says Addiction Ruled Her Life


The R&B icon at a concert in 2006. Photo via

Legendary singer Etta James' son Donto, now 44, has spoken about his mother's long battle with addiction before passing away last January at age 73. "Addiction was a part of her life. But the addiction is what made her," he says of the R&B icon, who once was forced to wear a diaper that said "I'm a brat" due to her unruly behavior in a drug rehab. Despite having a famous mother who recorded five major hits during the 1950's, his upbringing was far from privileged. James' addictions prevented her from working, her savings dried up quickly and Donto lived with his grandmother while she bounced in and out of rehab. “People tended to think that because my mother was Etta James, I must have had a great life with caviar and steaks every night, but it wasn’t like that,” he recalls. “We were poor and broke. We were lucky to get Spam sandwiches and Frosted Flakes for dessert...but we always had a roof over our heads." The singer eventually kicked her addiction to heroin and cocaine in the early 80's and revived her career; however, she continued to struggle with an addiction to overeating and subsequent weight issues. "For me, food is the killer," the singer wrote in her 1995 memoir. But despite his turbulent upbringing, "There was a lot of laughter and good times," Donto recalls. "I miss the conversations we had and I miss her attitude and the crazy things she would do. I miss playing [music] with her."

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By McCarton Ackerman

pregnant Drinkers

11/15/12 12:52pm

Drinking While Pregnant Can Lower Baby's IQ


To booze, or not to booze? That is the
question. Photo via

Drinking in the third trimester of pregnancy—even just a glass or two of alcohol a week—may lower a baby's IQ by a few points, according to new research. The issue has been long debated by doctors, but a new study led by Ron Gray, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, suggests that light drinking does harm a baby's brain development. Researchers tested for slow metabolizing genes in thousands of pregnant women—some who abstained from alcohol during pregnancy, and others who drank the equivalent of a half pint to three pints of beer (or three small glasses of wine) a week. Eight years later, researchers examined the IQ's of 4,167 of these women's children; they found across the board that women who drank lightly or not at all during pregnancy gave birth to children with higher IQ's. "This is good evidence to implicate moderate drinking during pregnancy having an effect on childhood IQ at age 8," says Gray. "Some women are going to be genetically more vulnerable or resilient than others to the effects of alcohol on the fetus, but we don't know who those people are." 

However, the results are not entirely conclusive. The study's non-drinkers were richer, older and more educated than their drinking peers, which may have skewed the results. Also, research into the controversial issue of drinking during pregnancy has resulted in a dramatic range of findings over the past few years. One study has linked a glass of wine a day to premature births, while another claims light drinking does not in fact harm a baby's brain development. One study even found that women who drank lightly during pregnancy gave birth to children with higher vocabularies.

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By McCarton Ackerman

hurricane sandy

11/15/12 11:39am

Pot Dealer Donates Profits to Hurricane Relief


Helping hands. Photo via

Today in adorable drug news: a Brooklyn dealer has been assisting victims of Hurricane Sandy by donating the proceeds from his weed business. In the wake of the devastation, a college-educated marijuana dealer (who asked to remain anonymous), alerted his clientele that he would be giving half of his proceeds to hurricane relief—provoking a sudden spike in business. "Look, there are probably some people down there [in the Rockaways] who want some marijuana—but that's not going to clothe and feed them," he says. "So in order for me to help, I needed to turn what I do into something concrete that I could give to them." In two days, the Robin Hood of pot claims to have made $1,400—meaning he will be contributing $700 to purchase formula, diapers, hot meals, and other supplies that are much-needed in the Rockaway Peninsula. "Yes, I made a little extra money for myself those two days," he admits. "But [my clients] are getting something they'd already get anyway. I was going to work regardless, and now I felt like I was doing it with purpose.” The drug salesman will also be transporting relief goods around south Brooklyn and Queens—claiming his actions are motivated by altruism, not greed. “I'm not doing what I do in order to get rich or create some super marijuana empire," he says: "I'm trying to help, and this is my job." 

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By Valerie Tejeda


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