A cheap and easy method of cooking small quantities of meth—known as "shake-and-bake" or the "one pot" method—is costing taxpayers millions of dollars and contributing to the closures of some burn units. An Associated Press survey, gathering findings from key hospitals in the most active meth states, shows up to a third of patients in some burn units picked their injuries from making meth, and most were uninsured. Research by doctors at a burn center in Kalamazoo, MI, found treatment for meth burns costs $6,000 a day on average, with an average hospital stay costing $130,000—60% higher than for other burn patients. Seven burn units across the US have shut down in the last six years due to the cost of treating uninsured patients, many connected to meth. “I don’t think a lot of these patients will be able to re-enter society. They’ll need rehab therapy and occupational therapy, which is very expensive,” says Dr. Lucy Wibbenmeyer of the University of Iowa burn center. Shake-and-bake meth is made by combining raw, unstable ingredients in a 2-liter soda bottle. Even small errors like removing the cap too soon can lead to explosions that cause permanent disfigurement, blindness or even death. In 2010, 80% of labs busted by the DEA were using this method.
Barbie's squeaky-clean image has bitten the dust after a debauched new photo shoot with Scream 4 actress Emma Roberts, niece of Julia, involving alcohol, drugs and violence. The shots were taken by Hollywood photographer Tyler Shields, well known for provocative portraits like a black-eyed Heather Morris from Glee and a meat-chewing Mischa Barton. His latest work shows 20-year-old Roberts—who's just returned from the Sundance festival in Utah, where she was promoting her new film Celeste and Jesse Forever—peering through walls as Barbie lays out lines of coke, sports a drunken nosebleed and beheads her longtime lover, Ken. No toy store has yet requested to use the snaps for publicity purposes.
Former pro wrestler Andre Davis was sentenced to 32 years in prison in Ohio yesterday for having sex with a dozen women and either failing to disclose that he was HIV positive or lying about it. Davis blames sex addiction for his promiscuity and claims he didn’t disclose his HIV test results because he didn’t want his family to know. “Sex addiction is probably the worst addiction you could ever have. Drugs and alcohol are terrible, but sex is something everybody wants," said Davis at the trial. "I never did a drug in my life, I’m a social drinker, but those things mean nothing to me—sex was it.” His attorney, Greg Cohen, says an appeal will be filed. The judge cited medical privacy laws in refusing Cohen's request to bring up whether any of the women concerned were actually infected with HIV. Davis wrestled on the independent circuit under the names "Gangsta of Love" and "Sweet Sexy Sensation." He tried out for World Wrestling Entertainment in July 2009, but wasn't hired because of his failure to pass a physical and his positive HIV test.
New analysis of a CDC report on US alcohol consumption found that the Midwest remains America's "wettest" region; people there drink more alcohol more often than elsewhere. The Midwest binge drinking rate stands at 20%, and the epicenter of the "binge belt" seems to be Wisconsin, at 21.6%—compared with a national average of 15%. In 2006 there were 446 alcohol-related driving deaths in Illinois alone, and from 2007-2008 in Minnesota there were four binge drinking-related student deaths. But while the Midwest is home to the nation's thirstiest drunks, there are signs that at least the problem isn't growing: binge rates in Illinois (17.8%) and Chicago (17.2%) have held pretty much steady. Binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks in a session for a woman, or five or more drinks for a man. Around 38 million Americans binge drink, and the CDC report notes noted that the practice causes of 80,000 deaths annually in the US. It also costs taxpayers an estimated $223.5 billion a year—that's about $746 per person, or $1.90 per drink.
Comedian Tracy Morgan collapsed over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, and many speculated that the 30 Rock star was intoxicated. But his publicist says the claims are completely untrue. The 43-year-old Saturday Night Live veteran was being honored in Park City, Utah at the Creative Coalition Spotlight Awards; he suddenly became unresponsive after his acceptance speech. An ambulance took Morgan to a nearby hospital for treatment and tests there found no drugs or alcohol in his system. His publicist says: “He is with his fiancée and grateful to the Park City Medical Center for their care. Any reports of Tracy consuming alcohol are 100 per cent false. From a combination of exhaustion and altitude, Tracy is seeking medical attention.” Morgan was diagnosed with diabetes back in the 90s, and was hospitalized in 2010 to receive a kidney transplant.
Brain imaging—high-tech cameras like MRI and PET scans—have stolen the show in addiction science recently, with two much-publicized studies backing previously unproven if extremely prevalent assumptions. Yet while the pricey photos offer important descriptive data, they—and the media—oversimplify the picture, confusing cause and effect and more.
- What's the Matter With the White Matter? [The Guardian]
A new study of "Internet addiction” from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuha made a big buzz last week. The media portrayed it as the first-ever proof of the disorder, but many scientists scoffed. Some even suspected political bias in a nation where Internet access is harshly policed. MRI scans of the brains of 17 adolescents with “Internet addiction disorder”—an official diagnosis in China, unlike in the US—showed abnormalities in the white matter, the tissue through which messages of emotion, cognition, attention and decision making are transmitted. These impairments resemble those associated with alcoholism and other addictions. The study had major limitations: It was tiny—involving just a handful of heavy-gaming kids—and the authors admit there’s no way to know whether the white-matter mess is the cause or the effect of gaming compulsion.
As popular culture applies the "addiction" concept to every imaginable transgression, many scientists push back, pointing out that state-of-the-art neuroscience shows addicted brains share very specific structural and functional irregularities. The 2012 DSM-V will reportedly add only one behavior—gambling—to its list of substance addictions. (Sex and Internet addictions will be second-classed in the appendix.) No one denies that more people are spending many nonproductive, even self-destructive, hours trolling the Web. But classifying a compulsive activity as an addiction may divert research into, and treatment for, its underlying psychological causes, said Colin Drummond, professor of addiction psychiatry at King’s College London. “If people have emotional problems that lead them to use the Internet obsessively, then they obviously need help...but that's quite different from saying that the Internet is addictive. Excessive Internet use is a symptom not a cause of a person's problems.”
- Is Alcoholism a Problem of Too Much or Not Enough? [Science Translational Medicine]
Scientists have long assumed that alcohol makes you feel good by triggering the release of endorphins, the brain’s “natural opiates.” A new study using PET scans to record the immediate effects of booze on 13 heavy drinkers (and 12 nondrinkers) now backs this theory—all 25 volunteers got an endorphin hit. More suggestive was the finding that while the natural-opiate levels in the brain’s pleasure centers were the same for all, only the heavy drinkers reported that they felt better the more they drank. (This correlation was seen only in the brain’s reward-processing region.)
That alcoholics find more bliss in the bottle than others may be self-evident, yet PET-scan confirmation increases the promise of investment in R&D. But as with the Chinese MRI imaging, basic questions demand answers. Which came first, the endorphin aberration or the alcoholism? And are heavy drinkers chasing the bottle because their pleasure center is out of whack? Said the Scripps Research Institute's Dr. George Koob, a leading specialist in the neurobiology of addiction: "It could be that some people don't have very good endorphin release and alcohol is the only way for them to get that." The study's lead author, Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Francisco, hopes that "if we can block that high, eventually alcoholics will learn that drink isn't worth it anymore. That's why we think drug treatment could be effective.”
In fact, naltrexone, which targets the same opiate receptors as alcohol-induced endorphins, is already prescribed to tens of thousands of alcoholics, with mixed benefits. Also available as a once-monthly injection called Vivitrol, naltrexone can partially blunt booze’s buzz. But it also blocks other opiate receptors, causing a decrease in overall pleasure, which may spur further drinking. One innovation would be the development of a more specific opiate antagonist that obstructs only alcohol-related endorphin harbors, not the other pleasure-producing receptors. "We believe this research will help us reverse-engineer naltrexone," Mitchell said. "You don't want to block good feelings in general. You want it to be specific to the alcohol. That's the key."