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8/15/12 2:20pm

Video: NBC Probes Narconon Deaths


The success claims are controversial—as are
the deaths. Photo via

The heat is on Scientology’s Narconon rehabs, as NBC’s Rock Center investigates tomorrow the deaths of three patients at its Oklahoma facility, which The Fix covered recently. The sauna-and-vitamins program, based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “purification rundown,” hasn't been proven as an effective treatment for addiction. Yet this doesn't prevent it and other faith-based facilities from advertising and operating—and even getting accredited and listed on government treatment directories. Narconon’s leadership refused to be interviewed by NBC on camera, but issued a statement saying, “Three out of four Narconon graduates are able to live stable, drug-free lives.”

Citing success rates only for graduates is a classic technique used by rehabs of many stripes to inflate their outcome measures. Most people who start rehab don’t complete it; those who do tend to be the most highly motivated. Genuine evaluations of treatment include dropouts—and never achieve 75% lifelong abstinence rates. Of course, this particular statement is even more vague: 100% of Narconon graduates are likely “able” to live drug-free lives so long as they survive the treatment. That doesn’t mean they actually do. The program airs at 10 pm Eastern, and includes interviews with the families of those who lost their lives.

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By Maia Szalavitz

Cigarette packaging

8/15/12 1:14pm

Australia Insists on Plain Cigarette Packs


Aussie cigarettes may soon look like this.
Photo via

A decision announced today by Australia's highest court—despite tobacco companies' protests—could have a knock-on effect for other countries, including the US. It upholds a new law will require all logos and brand colors to be removed from cigarette packaging—which will have to be plain olive green in color and will feature graphic anti-smoking warnings. Major tobacco manufacturers like Philip Morris and British American Tobacco tried but failed to derail the law, which was passed by the government last year and is set to take effect on December 1. The government believes the plain packaging will reduce the number of smokers in Australia, boosting public health. But tobacco manufacturers say the law is unconstitutional and violates their intellectual property rights. "It's still a bad law that will only benefit organized crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets," says Scott McIntyre, a spokesman for British American Tobacco (BAT) Australia. And of course they fear a drastic reduction in profits—not only in the relatively small Australian market, but in larger markets that may follow. Several other countries including India, New Zealand and the UK, as well as some US states, have been looking to follow in Australia's groundbreaking footsteps. However, the American Legislative Exchange Council launched a worldwide campaign against plain cigarette packaging last month. 

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By McCarton Ackerman

art on drugs

8/15/12 12:10pm

45 Self-Portraits on 45 Different Drugs


Saunders' self-portrait on 'shrooms Photo via

If artist Bryan Lewis Saunders is known for anything, it's making people uncomfortable. He calls his spoken word performances "stand-up tragedy," because the goal is to make the audience cry. But Saunders also draws self-portraits—and these are sure to inspire as much discomfort as anything else he's done. Because when he draws himself he gets high. Last year he put together a collection of 45 self-portraits, each one drawn while on a different drug, and they've gone viral this week after being posted on The Chive. In an interview last year with Dinosaurcity, Saunders said he was inspired to do the project by the residents of a run-down Tennessee building where he was living. For good measure, he provided some reviews of the drugs he used as muses. Xanax came out well: "It made me feel real at peace with life and with the trauma, and it also made me a real social dynamo!" On the other end of the spectrum was PCP: "Any drugs that detach your mind from your body I don't care for too much," he said. As far as which drug most enhanced his artistic abilities, that'll be left to you. But psilocybin mushrooms are definitely the frontrunner.

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By Adam K. Raymond

Addiction and the Brain

8/15/12 11:26am

Scientists Block Brain's Addiction Receptor


Plus-naloxone may be a key. Photo via

It may soon be possible to block the addictive rewarding effects of opiates in the brain while still allowing painkillers to provide relief, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers at the University of Colorado and University of Adelaide in Australia discovered an immune receptor responsible for becoming addicted to drugs, and a way to block this receptor—while still allowing pain relief. It's possible that this breakthrough may allow people to use drugs like morphine without the risk of becoming addicted, and help opiate addicts to quit. “It is fundamentally paradigm shifting,” says Linda R. Watkins, a professor in the University of Colorado’s psychology and neuroscience department and a study co-author. “You can’t find a way to solve the problem of addiction if you don’t know there is a key missing player in all the models.” 

Her team identified the receptor 4 (TLR4)—a key immune system component responsible for signaling drug reward—and then blocked this receptor using plus-naloxone, a variant of Narcan. “The most interesting thing about the study is the suggestion that the addition of plus-naloxone may increase the analgesic effect of the opioid while reducing its rewarding effects,” says Wayne Hall, deputy director at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Blocking the crucial receptor was shown to suppress the cravings in heroin-dependent rats, and researchers say plus-naloxone may have a broader application with other addictions as well. “It raises a lot of interesting questions about where plus-naloxone works and how it’s doing that, because we really don’t know that,” says Mark Connor, professor of pharmacology at Macquarie University in Sydney, who wasn't part of the research. “It’s going to provoke a lot of debate in the opioid field. There are going to be people rushing to repeat these experiments.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

Stinky Weed

8/15/12 10:19am

Roman Cops Sniff Out Subterranean Pot Farm


Lighting a Roman candle photo via

Some cities are proud of their underground spaces: Paris has a museum dedicated to its sewers, while NYC’s defunct Delancey subway station may soon turn into an underground green space. But enterprising pot farmers in Rome, the cradle of Western Civilization, decided to see those two cities and raise them higher. After a long investigation in which Roman police literally followed their noses, a subterranean pot plantation was discovered in a walled-off portion of the city's subway system. Apparently, the summer’s record high temps caused the damp tunnels to act a bit like a natural vaporizer, sending the dank smell of weed wafting through the streets of the Eternal City. The 43,000 square foot ganja garden was hidden behind a wall in a abandoned Mussolini-era subway tunnel, which was to have officially housed a mushroom farm. While mushroom farms are fairly common in these underground areas, the earthy aroma of fertilizer clearly wasn’t enough to mask that sticky green stink. According to police reports, 340 kilos (almost 750 pounds, worth about $3.7 million) of cannabis were seized in the bust, and the owner of the farm was arrested.

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By Lacy LeBlanc


8/15/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: August 15, 2012


Creed's Scott Stapp welcomes sobriety with
arms wide open. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise


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