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Drug Epidemic

9/11/12 1:01pm

Synthetic Drugs Plague India

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A set of drugs and syringes are sold for as
little as 50 rupees ($.90) Photo via

Economics have switched the drugs of choice for residents of India from heroin and cocaine to opioids and prescription drugs, resulting in an epidemic that is now the country's fastest growing problem. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates there are 160,000 injecting drug users throughout the country, roughly one-third of whom are HIV positive. According to the UNODC's recently released World Drug Report 2011, this increase in drug use is also one of the least reported in developing countries. Heroin costs more than 10 times as much as pharmaceutical drugs in India, where chemists sell a set of three drugs and two syringes and needles for as little as 50 rupees ($.90). NGO workers say that although it's illegal to sell the drugs, it's standard practice for chemists to pay off the police. "It is a very big problem here. All my friends from when I was a teenager are users or dead," says Faqir, 32, who used to run a snack shop until his own drug habit forced him to stop. The epidemic has gotten so bad that wives and parents have been known to pay up to 5,000 rupees to have a user picked up against their will in the hope that their habit will be broken. "Every day there is a fight," says 45-year-old Ramesh Kumar. "Only my wife looks after my children. We have no money. I think first of the drugs and then only I think of them, but I can't stop."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Effects of alcohol

9/11/12 11:57am

North Korean Gets Drunk, Wakes Up in South

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Pulling a geographic Photo via

"Whiskey takes you to a better world," goes the saying. "But then the world you wake up in is worse than the one that you left." One hard-drinking North Korean may have found only the first part to be true. The man, thought to be in his 20s, was discovered by South Korean authorities on Sunday morning—drunk, wearing only his underwear, and hiding in somebody's house in the coastal border town of Gangwha. "The man said he crossed to the South, holding on to a floating object to waters off the coast of Gyodong Island," says a spokesman for the South Korean military. "The floating object is seen as a wooden board that drifted due to the flood in the North." This seemingly inadvertent act of intoxicated self-smuggling has opened up new possibilities for the man's future: after questioning by the South Korean Marine Corps, he'll be able to choose between returning to the secretive land of Kim Jong-un or remaining in the thriving democracy he woke up in. And the result of his last binge may make him think twice before his next one.

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By Will Godfrey

booze brain

9/11/12 10:59am

Binge Drinkers More Prone to Early Strokes

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You may want to do your brain a favor and
moderate. Photo via

If you were looking for another reason to avoid drinking your face off, a new study has found that binge drinking raises the risk for a bleeding stroke at a younger age. Published in the journal Neurology, French researchers discovered that people who drank three or more alcoholic drinks daily were more likely to have a stroke nearly a decade and a half earlier than those who drank less. Based on 540 people (average age 71) who'd had an intracerebral hemorrhage (a less common stroke that is caused by bleeding in the brain), 25% were identified as heavy drinkers—meaning they consume three or more drinks or 1.6 ounces of pure alcohol a day. The researchers also reviewed each of the participants' medical records and required them to take brain CT scans; they found that the heavy drinkers averaged age 60 when they had a stroke—as opposed to an average age of 74 amongst the moderate or non-drinkers. “The study does add to our knowledge that excessive drinking is bad for our health in a variety of ways, including increased risk of bleeding into the brain,” says Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, a heart doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. “If someone enjoys drinking, I don’t discourage them, but I will caution them even more so after this study to make sure that the amount is considered moderate.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

9/11/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: September 11, 2012

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Mark Ruffalo plays a recovering sex addict in
"Thanks for Sharing." Photo via

By May Wilkerson

Suicide Prevention

9/10/12 5:46pm

Gov. Anti-Suicide Plan Relies on Facebook

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Can Facebook save lives?
Photo via

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the US government has released a new plan to help those struggling with self-harm and self-destruction—which of course are behaviors closely tied to addiction. The new strategy will rely heavily on a new Facebook service that will allow users to report suicidal comments made by friends; the plan is to then follow up with an email urging the friend to call a prevention hotline, or speak in confidence with an online counselor. "All too often, people in crisis do not know how—or who—to ask for help," says Marne Levine, Facebook's global vice president for public policy. "We have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most." Suicide is a mounting problem in the US, killing over 36,000 Americans a year—that's more than double the rate of death by homicide. Over eight million adults seriously contemplated taking their own lives last year, estimates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But experts say that encouraging people to talk about their feelings—especially with trained professionals—can save lives.

The new suicide prevention plan will also focus on the 23 million veterans in the US; the number of suicides in this group rose from to 10,888 in 2009 to 17,754 last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Suicide is one of the most challenging issues we face," says Army Secretary John McHugh. "In the Army, suicide prevention requires soldiers to look out for fellow soldiers. We must foster an environment that encourages people in need to seek help and be supported." The plan, which also includes $55.6 million in grant funding for prevention programs, is the first new scheme in over 10 years to tackle suicide. "It takes the entire community to prevent suicides. It's not just one individual," says US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. "We all can play a role."

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By Chrisanne Grise

Legalization of Marijuana

9/10/12 4:48pm

Mayor of Maastricht Backtracks on Coffee Shop Rule

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The rules are changing again for Maastricht's
coffee shops. Photo via

Is this one to file under “hate to say we told you so?” Maastricht is set to become the first Dutch city to push back against the government requirement that citizens register as marijuana users in order to buy weed from coffee shops. Mayor Onno Hoes wrote to city councillors last week to tell them that customers should no longer have to register. The Dutch Justice Ministry introduced the controversial law to turn coffee shops into members-only clubs in an effort to block drug tourists' access—but the move has met resistance from a coalition of coffee shop owners, smokers and politicians, who have branded it “tourist suicide.”

Maastricht was one of the first cities to enforce the ban, almost a year ago. As well as a drop in pot tourists from France and Belgium, it faced losing an estimated 345 jobs and $41 million in tourism revenue. But it wasn’t just money that caused the mayor of the border city to change his mind: unsurprisingly, locals weren’t eager to register on a government database as users of a technically illegal drug, and this incentive to avoid legitimate establishments has seen street drug-dealing flourish. “I was in Maastricht in June,” says one commenter on DutchNews.NL, “and noticed large amounts of shady looking street dealers. When the crime rates begin to go up changes will be made.”

Still, the new policy earned approval from American drug warriors, who wasted no time celebrating the apparent end of the “Mecca of Weed.” Three-administration advisor, drug hawk and Fix contributor Kevin Sabet participated in a live chat on the subject of marijuana with the Seattle Times recently: “We know a few things about the Netherlands,” he said. “First and foremost, we know that in that country officials and the public have become increasingly uneasy with their de facto legalization policies. In fact, they are completely reversing them—closing down pot shops, restricting who can buy marijuana (Sorry, American college students!)”

He may have spoken too soon. Maastricht could be the first of several Dutch cities to opt out of the new system, with many in local government—like the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan—opposing it. “The weed card will be introduced in Amsterdam,” said Dutch Junior Justice minister Fred Teeven recently, “but we will take local government into account.” Some took his words as a sign that the government might be softening its approach. And with a September 12 election looming—and a sizeable movement aiming to mobilize around half a million weed-smoking voters to ditch pro-"weed pass" politicians—that may make political sense. Another DutchNews commenter writes, “The only people that will be upset if the weed pass plan is dropped will be the street drug dealers.”

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By Tony O'Neill

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