Aaron Paul, co-star of the new film Smashed, says he channeled his personal experience dating an addict into his role on screen. In the film, the Breaking Bad actor plays the beau of an elementary teacher, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose battle with alcoholism ultimately leads her to get sober in AA. Paul explains his own ex-girlfriend was a "severe alcoholic," who he ended up taking to AA meetings "all the time," even giving up alcohol for a period of time to support her. "I told her I would go cold sober just to try it," he says. "I really tried to save her." He blames her addiction for ultimately destroying their relationship, saying: "alcohol is an evil substance, and it's a serious problem all over the place." Paul says the film, a hit at both the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, uses honesty—rather than scare tactics—to deliver a powerful message about addiction that he hopes will help people. "I think this would be a good film for someone who has a substance abuse problem to watch," he says. Smashed is currently playing in theaters across the US.
Kids can now light up more easily than ever, thanks to smoking simulator apps available on Android and iPhone. These simulators let users “smoke” virtually, by blowing into the microphone or on the screen, causing the glowing red image of the cigarette to “burn.” Some include a virtual ashtray that sends messages, like “Would be even better with a beer in your hand!” Another iPhone app—claiming to be “almost as addictive as smoking for real”—lets you pass cigars or cigarettes among friends in virtual smoking sessions. At least 6 million users had downloaded the Android simulators by last February. And there are now 107 pro-smoking apps available, according to a recent study from the University of Sydney, many of which target kids or teens with cartoons, games and celebrity logos. The apps also include cigarette images for phone wallpaper, rolling instructions and tobacco "shops," where users can build their own cigs. "They normalize smoking," says Barbara Loken, a consumer psychologist at the University of Minnesota. "Kids are at a stage where they’re forming their identity. The apps can provide...a way of making smoking normal among peer groups." By enhancing the appeal of cigarettes to young people, these apps provide a loophole for tobacco companies, which have long been banned from advertising in the US. Loken says games may be worse for children than billboards or magazine ads: "They increase the involvement or engagement of the participant, even more than advertisements. This may make the participant even more likely to take up smoking." The researchers are calling for more regulation.
The number of drug and alcohol problems diagnosed by US doctors increased by 70% in the first decade of the 2000s, reveals a new study, just as painkiller abuse in the country reached an all-time high. The study, using data from two national surveys of doctors' visits, estimates that the number of addiction diagnoses jumped from 10.6 million between 2001 and 2003 to 18 million between 2007 and 2009. In addition, the number of visits involving a diagnosis of opioid painkiller abuse multiplied nearly sixfold in that time frame: from 772,000 to 4.4 million. "This finding is consistent with trends in substance use disorder-related utilization at the nation's community health centers and emergency departments and, sadly, use of its morgues," write the study's authors in the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the research team led by Dr. Joseph W. Frank, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 22.5 million people in the US are currently dependent on alcohol or drugs.
The study has its bright spots, however. Prescriptions aimed at treating drug and alcohol addiction have also increased drastically: from 643,000 between 2001 and 2003 to 3.9 million between 2007 and 2009. And the increase in diagnoses means that more people are seeking treatment for addiction, from medications such as methadone, to talk therapy. "We know that increases in prescription drug use are a big part of what's going on nationally. I also think—in our study—the availability of effective treatment is a big part of it as well and likely drawing people into care," says Frank. In more good news, the most recent national survey from SAMHSA indicated that US Rx drug abuse began falling in 2011.
An experiment is under way that seeks to produce a new version of booze, without the negative impact on drinkers' health. It's controversial—but then how could it not be, when it's run by Professor David Nutt, an ever-provocative drug expert from London’s Imperial College? He's aiming to develop a liquid cocktail that mimics alcohol's intoxicating effects, while negating the risk of addiction, hangovers and other health damage. To ward off those painful mornings after and all the other problems, the substance would need to contain an antidote to immediately reverse its own effects. "Every aspect of life, science has moved us on with the one exception, how we intoxicate ourselves,” says Nutt. “I think it's time for science to do something there as well.” He's already invented pills that act as an alcohol alternative, but believes a liquid version would be more popular, since people want the experience of imbibing. But Nutt is having some trouble financing his project; he says the drinks industry feels threatened, while the pharmaceutical industry worries that the UK government will block the resulting substance. If the product does end up on the market, the outcome is dubious. Taking the physical consequences of drinking out of the equation sounds good in theory, but Nutt's concoction would do nothing to reduce alcohol's other side effects—such as drunk driving, violence and self-destructive behaviors. For those inclined to overindulge, a substance that promises to "mimic" the effects of alcohol, without also promising a thumping headache in the morning, could prove, well, addictive.
In a scenario fit for Halloween season, a man on the hallucinogenic drug PCP developed a taste for flesh—his own. According to police, Jagget Washington of Jersey City, who was under the influence of PCP and being held at Hudson County Jail, first tried and failed to gnaw off his own wrist. But he then succeeded in biting off and swallowing his own finger. Police say Washington earlier stripped naked in the middle of a busy intersection, screamed incoherently, pounded his fists on passing cars and attempted to pull one driver out of his vehicle. When cops arrived, Washington took a fighting stance and tried to attack them. He was eventually restrained and taken to the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC). “When he was released [from hospital] the hospital felt that he wasn’t a threat to himself or others,” says a JCMC spokesman. That prediction was inaccurate, it turned out. When Washington was placed in a holding cell at the jail, he first spat on an officer and tried to eat his medical bracelet. Returning from a second trip to JCMC, he defecated in the back of a police cruiser, before finally dining on himself. Washington is currently being treated at JCMC once again. The charges he's racked up include carjacking, throwing bodily fluids at law enforcement officers and being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.
Plenty of people have found it stimulating to wander round one of the great Italian cities. Many will have been unaware that they were inhaling cocaine at the time. Researchers from Italy's Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research analyzed air particles in Naples, Verona, Palermo, Rome, Bologna, Florence, Turin and Milan, and have just published their findings in the Environmental Pollution journal. Traces of cocaine were ubiquitous, but sober folk may not need to count a trip to Italy as an automatic relapse: no one's getting high on quantities ranging from 0.02-0.26 nanograms per cubic meter. Despite Naples' solid reputation for organized crime, and all those tourists flooding into Rome and Florence, the highest level of atmospheric cocaine was found in Turin. The northern city's air also contains the most cannabinoids, nicotine and caffeine, which were measured at the same time. Intriguingly, caffeine and marijuana levels in all the cities were higher in the winter months and much lower in the summer (nicotine and cocaine levels remained steady year-round). A manifestation of seasonal affective disorder, perhaps? A previous Italian study showed a strong correlation between the concentration of cocaine in the air and requests for addiction treatment in a given area. What would airborne drug analysis in New York, San Francisco or Miami reveal?