New Mexico is the state with the highest fatal drug overdose rate in the country, at 27 deaths per 100,000 population. If you live there, and you’re addicted to painkillers or heroin and want to get clean, you might have heard of "Mystery Man"—an Albuquerque guy who raises money selling guns and crack to buy out patients’ legitimate prescriptions for Suboxone. He then turns around and sells the pills on the street for five bucks a pop to addicts who either can’t get in with Suboxone doctors or are looking to tide themselves over until their next full agonist fix. An addiction-treatment Robin Hood? He thinks so. “People don’t overdose no more,” he says. “They’re just mellow. If you take it, you won’t be stealing, you won’t be robbing, and you won’t be prostituting.” But there are those who disagree. “Mystery Man [is] not a doctor,” says special agent Keith Brown, who’s in charge of the DEA’s New Mexico force. “He doesn’t know anything about how the medicine should be used, the dosing of it, any side effects. I think it’s dangerous for all involved.”
Charles O'Keeffe, the former president and CEO of Reckitt Benckiser—the corporation that developed Suboxone in partnership with the federal government—told NPR “there’s not much money to be made” treating addiction with pharmaceuticals. But Reckitt’s pharma earnings shot up more than sixfold between 2004 and 2009—largely due to Suboxone sales. “Buprenorphine is now the 41st most prescribed drug in the US. Five years ago, it was 196th. It’s a money machine,” Dr. Steven Scanlan, medical director of Palm Beach Outpatient Detox, which has a specialty in detoxing addicts from opioids, tells The Fix. Suboxone (also known as buprenorphine, or “bupe”) is becoming known as “prison heroin,” and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research published a warning this spring predicting a wave of Suboxone misuse.
Even short-term use of the “rave” drug ecstasy may cause memory problems, suggests a new study published in the journal Addiction. Aiming to catch people just as they started using ecstasy regularly, researchers initially examined 149 subjects who had used the drug a maximum of five times, and then examined 109 of them who returned one year later. Of the returning subjects, 43 hadn't used ecstasy during the intervening year, while 23 others had taken more than 10 ecstasy pills—at an estimated average of 33.6 pills over the year. The two groups performed similarly in most of the tests they were set, except for one, which involved remembering which type of border had framed an image, both immediately after viewing and one hour later. The continuing ecstasy-users scored less well at this.
“By measuring the cognitive function of people with no history of ecstasy use and, one year later, identifying those who had used ecstasy at least ten times and pre-measuring their performance, we have been able to start isolating the precise cognitive effects of this drug," says lead author Dr. Daniel Wagner, of the University of Cologne in Germany. But Jerrold Meyer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, notes "I'm reasonably convinced by their data, but obviously, as with any study, there are always unanswered questions." Ecstasy has been deemed dangerous by health and law enforcement officials, although experts such as the British professor David Nutt—who famously declared, "Horse-riding is considerably more dangerous than taking ecstasy”—have bucked the trend. “To have a comprehensive answer, you need to study a drug from many different domains,” says Wagner. At the moment, he believes, “It’s hard to say that it’s a harmful drug.”
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Mexican President Felipe Calderón will end his term this December, leaving a largely unsavory legacy. Much of the public is critical of his role in a devastating drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since he took office in 2006. Local media struggle to cover the violence—often under threat of violence—and are often denied access to privileged information about decisions and incidents that take place "behind the scenes." Wikileaks has changed this—allowing the public more insight into national drug war strategies. In recent years, Wikileaks has made thousands of State Department cables—"secret" communications between the US Embassy and Washington—accessible to the public. These records have been picked up by Mexican news sources, shedding light on aspects of the political relationship between Mexico and the US that officials would otherwise have kept hidden. One prominent Mexican journalist, Blanche Petrich Moreno, says the records "revealed the astonishing degree to which the United States exercised its power and influence at the highest levels of the mexican government." This isn't a new development, he claims, but the records confirm what was already widely believed: that many decisions about how to handle the drug war were made not by Mexico—but by the US.
Moreno writes for the popular newspaper La Jornada, which began picking up the cables and publishing them in February 2011. Most of the revealed communications took place between 2008 and 2010 and "opened a private window onto the private diplomatic relationship between President Calderón and President Obama," says Moreno. Mexico's collaboration with the US is controversial, and in certain incidents came at a high cost: between 2007 and 2009, for example, at least 120 Mexicans working undercover for the DEA were killed. Moreno claims that the public knowledge of Calderón and Obama's relationship has "haunted" both leaders, and "poisoned the well" of Mexican-US relations—ultimately causing a loss of faith in Calderón's ability to handle drug war strategy.
Mexico's current president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, has vowed to take a completely different approach to the drug war. He has suggested that Mexico should continue working with the US to fight organized crime, but should also focus on what is best for Mexico, rather than what other governments want.
Count one more loss for team drugs. Comedian Artie Lange made no secret of his drug and alcohol use, and his fierce unwillingness to give up the habits, during his time on Howard Stern's radio show. But his 2010 suicide attempt and subsequent eight-month stay in a psychiatric ward seem to have scared him straight, and Lange reveals that he's now been heroin-free for over two years. "I feel great, man," says the comic. "I feel like I'm 17 again. I've never thought clearer. You know, when I was on heroin, everybody told me that if I got off it, every day I got away from it makes you better. And eventually, I felt like a kid again, and more creative and more productive than ever. I've never felt better." Lange said he also spoke to Stern in person last month and apologized to him for lying about being a heroin addict. Stern accepted the apology. In addition to headlining at stand-up comedy clubs, Lange has recently made guest appearances on the late-night shows of David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, while also launching a sports radio show with fellow comedian Nick Di Paolo. He's also gearing up to release his second memoir, Crash and Burn, in November, which will detail the worst of his drug use before he finally got clean. "I'll talk about those last couple of weeks on The Howard Stern Show, and how awful it was for me, and that last day, when I basically was on the air, blacking out," he says. "It'll bring back crazy stories from the past...that will help people realize how nuts I was. It's going to talk about how someone who was just near death, and wanted to die, came back to live."
Police in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, are increasingly resorting to the “sniff test” to catch drivers who've been drinking. Breathalyzers are scarce and blood tests unavailable, so cops simply stop drivers and engage them in conversation. If they think they can smell alcohol on the driver's breath, they can decide whether or not to seize their license and issue a fine. Kathmandu has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol and driving—unlike most western countries, which allow up to a certain blood-alcohol maximum. Some feel this is unfair: “I would have left my [motorcycle] and taken a taxi if I was too drunk,” says Ram Thapa, who lost his license and was fined 1,000 rupees (about $12) after a sniff test. He says he only drank three small glasses of rice wine. “I think a limited amount of alcohol, as in other countries, must be permitted for the drivers.” Police did introduce 150 breathalyzers two months ago in the wake of the complains—but half the devices immediately malfunctioned.
The crackdown has particularly upset many in Kathmandu's indigenous Newar community, in which alcohol is an integral part of religious and social customs. “Every festival is celebrated by offering some alcohol to family and friends,” writes Arjun Bhandari, a leading wine importer, in the Republica newspaper. “Century-old traditions can't be wiped out overnight without any education or alternative solutions.” But law enforcement doesn't buy it: “The culture factor is just an excuse,” says Ganesh Rai, deputy inspector general of Kathmandu Traffic Police. “We haven't banned drinking. All we have done is ban the drink-driving.” Since police started enforcing the rule six months ago, the city has raised 30 million rupees in fines—and they say the number of accidents has plunged. “Earlier, accidents used to occur regularly, especially during the night,” Rai says. “In most cases, the cause was drink-driving. So, we realized that if we can stop that, we can significantly reduce the accidents.”