In poor countries, up to 25% of all drugs are counterfeit, according to the World Health Organization. These often-ineffective, sometimes-toxic medicines make up a nearly $200 million industry worldwide. The black market in fake anti-malarial drugs alone kills 100,000 Africans a year. Counterfeit knockoffs have become a big headache for India, where contentious patent laws have enabled the fast development of the world's largest industry in generic prescription drugs—and where overwhelmed quality-control enforcement has, in turn, enabled the fast development of the world's second-largest black market in fake drugs (China is the world's no. 1 maker of counterfeit goods.) With its generics industry's reputation at stake, the Indian government launched an anti-counterfeit campaign, regularly raiding suspect manufacturers, but the lab tests necessary to confirm even a single fake drug are slow and expensive. Now the Indian Ministry of Health is initiating what it hopes is a far more efficient strategy—targeting the drug packaging—by requiring drugmakers to invest in advanced security technology to improve counterfeit detection, including 2D barcodes, scratch-off labels and printed quick response (QR) codes that allow any consumer with a camera phone and web access to scan the code and link to the manufacturer’s website to authenticate the drug. Starting this month, all pharmaceutical exporters must print barcodes on the outer-most packaging. A secondary-level track-and-trace system, mandatory next year, will offer additional package identification. Of course, the new approach has its drawbacks: not every consumer in India (to say nothing of Africa) has a sleek new iPhone with which to snap and scan. Paul Lalvani, dean of Empower School of Health, says that Indian drugmakers “impact the lives of over six million people around the world who are on anti-HIV drugs and 200 million people on anti-malarials. So it's important for India to reassure consumers worldwide of the safety and credibility of drugs.” Meantime, Chinese drug-safety officials sit back and watch the U.S. Food and Drug Agency's first-ever overseas branch attempt to penetrate China's vast web of unregulated, corrupt supply chain for drugs.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills this week that will increase access to sterile needles for injection-drug users, with a view to decreasing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. The first bill lets pharmacies sell syringes to adults without a prescription: California is one of the last states to legalize such sales. The second bill allows health and social-service agencies to provide needle-exchange programs in locations where the rapid spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infections present particularly high risks. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who took the lead on the needle-exchange law, told The Fix: “Syringe exchanges shouldn’t be about politics. They are about the science of public health.” Every agency that has evaluated the policy of needle-exchange—including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization—has found that such programs decrease the spread of infectious disease without increasing levels of drug-use. And the costs of not adopting these schemes—in terms of health-care and lost life—are enormous. The office of state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who wrote the first bill, cited a report by the California Research Bureau saying hospitalizations for hepatitis B and C cost the state $2 billion in 2007. The per-patient lifetime cost of treating HIV/AIDS is now estimated to top $600,000. Yet needle-exchange as a policy remains controversial in some counties. Just last month, the Fresno County board of supervisors blocked a previously-approved plan to legalize a well established needle exchange—despite county health officials’ warnings that new HIV and hepatitis C infections are rising. “AIDS and hepatitis do not recognize county borders and thus our current policy is not nearly as effective as it should be,” said Yee.
Yesterday 29-year-old rapper Lil Wayne publicly admitted what anyone with a passing familiarity with his work—such as the song Watch My Shoes, which contains the line "Syrup got me slow, like a turtle"—already knew. He's got a problem with the "sizzurp," or "purple drank," as codeine and promethazine cough syrup is known down South. And it was listening to the lyrics of UKG rapper Pimp C—who died of a sizzurp overdose in 2007—that got Lil Wayne started on his own addiction, he says. Cough syrup has long been the hustler's preferred high. It's considered among drug dealers as a manageable alternative to harder, more addictive opiates like heroin. Hustlers need to keep up the appearance among their street associates of having their substance abuse under control, in order not to be considered a liability who can't be trusted with large quantities of drugs and money. You would never front a kilo of coke to a dopefiend who runs needles—a hustler who smokes blunts all day while tippling codeine syrup and eating Xanax like they're Tic Tacs is considered more trustworthy and reliable. Cough syrup is just as popular in the North as the South: in the big East Coast cities it's known on the streets as "water"—or as "pancakes and syrup" when it's taken in combination with Xanax. Public perception is that street drug dealers aren't addicts. But social workers in the criminal justice system routinely page through casefile after casefile of corner hustler biographies that tell you it's not the case. Certain drugs are off limits for dealers: crack use, particularly, is a big taboo. (Remember the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ten Crack Commandments: Never get high on your own supply.) But syrup, pills, blunts, wet—basically anything that doesn't get lit on the end of a glass stem or put in a syringe—is game on. And the hustlers hit it pretty hard.
A heavy drinker was fined A$700 by an Australian court this week for waging war on cops with some unorthodox live weaponry. Last month, police were dealing with the scene of a car-crash in Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, which involved three vehicles. But 29-year-old local Shane Hobbs didn't own any of them—or have any other apparent reason to get involved. Nevertheless, Hobbs—described by the Australian media as a "heavyset New Zealander"—arrived from nowhere to do battle with the police officers in almost biblical style: barefoot, drunk, and with a five-foot Murray Darling carpet python coiled around his shoulders. He waved his intimidating pet in the faces of onlookers and yelled expletives at the officers. And then—in what must have been an alarming moment—he attempted to sling his unwilling accomplice in through the open window of a parked cop car and on to the lap of the officer sitting inside. Whether the reptile intervened at this point by clinging to Hobbs for dear life is unknown, but the intoxicated Antipodean eventually strode off with the potential projectile still draped across his shoulders. Hobbs pleaded guilty at Maroochydore Magistrates Court to assaulting police, obstructing police and being a public nuisance. Murray Darling carpet pythons typically grow to around eight feet in length and, as constrictors, are non-venomous. Hobbs admitted he had his own poison inside him at the time of his rampage. It's recently been a bad time for drunks and pythons to mix—not that there's ever a good one. A 54-year-old Californian named David Senk was arrested, also last month, for taking a bite out of a three-foot specimen while on a binge. The snake is reported to be in recovery, and it's only to be hoped that the same can now be said of Senk, who acknowledged he had a drinking problem.
- US Claims Iranians Directed Bomb Plot with Involvement of Mexican Drug Cartels [The Guardian]
- Seattle Schools Celebrate Drop in Underage Drinking [King5.com]
- Tribeca Building Reborn as Rehab Center [New York Times]
- Drank Student Dies After Drinking 16 Shots [Des Moines Register]
- Warning Over Chloroform in Fake Vodka [BBC]
- Slideshow: Drug Cartels Reach Belize [Washington Post]
- Pot Brownies Land Three Seniors in Hospital [Daily Pilot]