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drug trade

11/13/12 3:41pm

Pakistan's President Talks Drugs


Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari takes a
pragmatic stance. Photo via

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari was the keynote speaker at the Regional Ministerial Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Islamabad, which featured leaders from 12 countries including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and explored ways to tackle the region's drug trade. Zardari said that Pakistan is no longer a drug-producer, after going poppy-free in 2011, and is also one of the world's top countries for opium and heroin seizures. But he admitted that his nation remains a primary transit point for drugs. "Transit is bad enough as far as I am concerned… and I am sure you feel the same way,” he said. While acknowledging that ending the drug trade completely isn't a realistic goal in the region, he pledged to keep trying to reduce it. Zadari added that money from the heroin trade is being used to finance terror operations. But rather than blaming 9/11 and its aftermath, he said drugs in the region have been an issue for nearly 40 years. "It goes back to choices we made during the decades of '70s and '80s," he said. "That was the time when heroin was created as a war weapon by the world community to fight the rival ideology in the region. After the [Soviet war in Afghanistan], the international community left the region in a hurry. Many things of that era have now come back to haunt us. One of these is the heroin trade.” Pakistan's status as a transit country rather than a producer does nothing to protect its citizens from harm; there are now an estimated 8.1 million drug users there, compared with just 50,000 in 1980.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Quitting Smoking

11/13/12 1:01pm

Monday Is the Day to Quit Smoking


It could ruin your Monday. But save your life.
Photo via

About 70% of the 46.6 million smokers in the US want to quit, and thousands will be attempting to do just that on November 15, which marks the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout. The aim is to encourage people to put away the cigarettes—even just for one day—as a first step towards a healthier life. “The Great American Smokeout does more than urge smokers to quit for a single day or a few months—it encourages people to help create a world with less cancer and more birthdays by committing to making a long-term plan to quit for good,” says Michael Seserman, Director of Strategic Health Initiatives for the American Cancer Society in New York and New Jersey.

While the Great American Smokeout is actually on Thursday, when it comes time to quit for good, smokers may be more successful if they kick the habit on a Monday, experts suggest. "Research shows that Monday is the day people are open to starting healthy behaviors, so it's a good day to quit, celebrate success, and recover from relapses," says Joanna Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Smokers can use Monday, the start of the week, to think ahead and keep moving in the right direction," says Sid Lerner, founder of non-profit health initiative The Monday Campaigns. "Our surveys show that people see Monday as a fresh start; it's when people are 'ready to buy' into health, and they're looking for help." In fact, research has shown that Google searches for information on quitting smoking consistently increase at the beginning of the week, and a survey of state smoking quit-lines found that more people call in on Mondays than any other day. Sticking to the Monday plan may help smokers stick with their goal, as the average person attempting to quit lasts just eight days before a relapse.

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By Chrisanne Grise

michael jackson

11/13/12 11:58am

Did Fame Fuel Michael Jackson's Addictions?


One of many alleged shopping trips.
Photo via

A biographer is claiming the pressures of fame drove the King of Pop into his ultimately fatal battle with addiction. In a new book Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson, journalist Randall Sullivan, who spent three years researching and interviewing Jackson and people close to him, alleges that Jackson struggled with addictions to both shopping and prescription drugs following the massive success of the song "Thriller." Sullivan details the singer's routine six-figure shopping sprees, and his frequent requests to borrow cash from his business partners. "The shopping, like the drugs, it was a painkiller for him," says the author. "In one case there was a phone call where he's asking (business partner) Marc (Schaffel) for $7.5 million. When Schaffel first gave him cash, for some reason he put it in an Arby's bag, it was like a French fry bag or something and gave it to Michael...He wanted to have money he could actually put in his pocket. To him that was real money." Sullivan also claims the psychological damage from Jackson's celebrity led to the singer's "pre-sexual" identity confusion. "I think he was aiming to be pre-sexual because he saw that as the one place where innocence and purity and great ideas and you know, artistic visions and poetic fantasies all abided," he writes. Untouchable, which debuts in stores today, does not contain any interviews with members of the Jackson family; they declined to be interviewed.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Legalization of Marijuana

11/13/12 10:52am

Will Latin America Now Legalize Pot?


Will legalization spread south of the border?
Photo via

Latin American leaders are weighing up last week's legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Many in the region—where drug decriminalization policies have wide support, even among politicians—believe the votes may make their own pot bans untenable. The leaders of Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras have called for the Organization of American States to study the impact of the states' votes, and also suggested that the UN General Assembly should debate drug prohibition by 2015. They released a statement that they say is "an important indicator of the desire to engage in a more robust discussion of policy." Mexican leaders in particular question how their country, a major supplier of pot to the US, can now realistically enforce a ban on growing and smuggling marijuana. "It has become necessary to analyze in depth the implications for public policy and health in our nations emerging from the state and local moves to allow the legal production, consumption and distribution of marijuana in some countries of our continent," said Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, after meeting with President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize. Luis Videgaray, head of Mexican president-elect Pena Nieto's transition team, said, "Obviously we can't handle a product that is illegal in Mexico, trying to stop its transfer to the United States, when in the United States, at least in part of the United States, it now has a different status." The Governor of Chihuahua, a political ally of Pena Nieto, has backed Mexico to become a marijuana exporter in the wake of the states' votes.

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By Valerie Tejeda


11/13/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 13, 2012


SNL spoofs Romney's "drinking" problem.
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By The Fix staff

prostitution and addiction

11/12/12 5:03pm

Philly Court Helps Sex Workers Heal


Most jailed sex workers report substance
addiction. Photo via

Philadelphia's Project Dawn Court is no traditional court of law. Part justice, part therapy, it's aimed at helping women with repeat prostitution offenses to exit the criminal justice system. As well as regular court hearings, it provides supervised treatment services to target the addiction and mental health issues that drove the women to sex work in the first place. Based on Philly's nationally-lauded Mental Health and Treatment problem-solving courts, it has three main purposes: to connect non-violent repeat offenders with therapeutic and re-entry services; to make communities safer by reducing recidivism; and to ease the financial burden of jailing minor offenders. To enter the program, women must complete four rigorous phases, ranging from drug and alcohol recovery to sexual trauma therapy; if they test positive for drugs or neglect their duties, they must backtrack and repeat a phase. The process lasts from 30-125 days. If a participant graduates, her case is dismissed with prejudice; a year later, provided her record shows no return to prostitution or drug-use, her case is expunged.

About 1,000 sex workers are arrested in Philly each year, of whom over 80% are women. Most report drug addiction—usually crack or heroin—and many have histories of sexual or emotional trauma. "These people don't need to be in jail," says J.P. West, director of partial hospital services at the Joseph J. Peters Institute, where the women receive treatment. "We are making criminals out of someone who suffered trauma." The program launched in January 2010 with 28 women, and has since graduated over 70% of participants, with 25 more joining this May. Aided by a recent $250,000 federal grant, they hope to expand to help 70 women each year. The first program of its kind in the US, Project Dawn Court has now been joined by a handful of similar programs elsewhere. 

"It sounds easy, but it's a really difficult program," says Lilly, a graduate. But she adds, "I'd rather be doing it than be in jail." Mary DeFusco, a public defender who helped found the court, says humanizing the judicial system is key. "The judge becomes a part of the person's therapy," she says. "[The women] are not used to judges saying 'good job, I'm proud of you.'" One current participant, Cassalia, is a recovering heroin and cocaine addict who worked in the sex industry for eight years. She entered the program in April. "You have to want to change your life if this program is going to work," she says. "You can't [bungle] it, you can't pretend, you can't 'fake it till you make it.' This is raw." Cassalia admits to struggling with relapse since joining Project Dawn, but says she "loves" going to court every month, due to the kindness and support of the judges. "We have lost so many relationships, we've had people use us...They're showing us how to love again and be loved."

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By May Wilkerson


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