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drug laws

11/08/12 4:31pm

California Votes to Reform "Three Strikes"

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69% voted in favor of Prop 36 Photo via

Yesterday California voted overwhelmingly to soften the “Three Strikes” law, which imposed 25-to-life sentences for minor drug law violations and other nonviolent crimes if they were third “strikes” after two “serious or violent” offenses. The reform measure, Proposition 36, will ensure that life sentences can now only be inflicted when the third felony is also “serious or violent.” The original law has frequently been challenged as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. “Locking up people for life whose only recent offense was a minor violation of the state’s drug laws never made sense in terms of public safety, finance or morality," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "California at last is rejoining the civilized world.”

For incarcerated third-strikers and their families, the reform measure is "a dream come true," Geri Silva, executive director of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS) tells The Fix. “A lot of people stand a chance to get out, some who have been in prison since 1994, when the original law passed." The process of petitioning courts to re-examine old sentences, which may take as long as two years, could benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners—about a third of the people incarcerated under Three strikes. But Silva cautions that the battle is far from over: “There is the other side, people who won’t qualify to get out [those whose third offenses, such as residential burglary, still count as “serious”]...They won’t be eligible for resentencing, which is heartbreaking." Silva also expresses concern that “there will be sensitivity to welcome these people coming home,” especially since the law disproportionately affects people of color, the mentally ill, and the poor. “Many [addicts] go to prison because not everyone is a famous actor and gets to go to a really good rehab program to help them,” says Silva. “We need to make sure we centralize substance abuse resources so these people are not coming home to nothing.”

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By Sarah Beller

internet addiction

11/08/12 3:27pm

Internet "Addiction" Debate Rages On

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Brett Walker speaks to Dr. Nancy Snyderman
about his online obsession. Photo via

In an interview airing tonight at 10 pm EST on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams, recovering Internet addict Brett Walker talks about how his compulsion to play games like World of Warcraft nearly ruined his life. The 28-year-old Texan eventually sought treatment at reSTART, the first residential treatment program in the US dedicated to helping people with Internet addiction. Treatment involves a minimum of 45 days with no access to digital technology, which—according to the program's co-founder, Dr. Hilarie Cash—is about how long it takes for the often “brutal” withdrawal process to occur. The program also encourages graduates to use its after-care program, in which recovering addicts are paired up in a digital technology-free apartment for six months or longer.

Cash co-founded reStart in 2009 to help the growing population of Internet addicts she’d noticed in her own practice. She tells The Fix that clients are often in a terrible state when they arrive: “Because they are neglecting the real word,” she says, “things fall apart. It’s like a heroin addict who goes on a heroin binge, and just wants to be in that cave. They completely forget about the world. If they are married and have kids, they’re not taking care of them. If they are students, they’re not taking care of academics. They are generally neglecting physical health, not eating right, and not exercising.” This year, the American Psychiatric Association will add “Internet Use Disorder” to the appendix of the DSM-V, deeming it a condition "recommended for further study."

But some still question whether technology obsession is a “real” addiction. Dr. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist who chaired the DSM-IV and is currently a professor emeritus at Duke University, has been fighting efforts to add the diagnosis to the new manual. “I’m not arguing against the fact that there’s a small group of people who suffer horribly from this,” he says. “But when you introduce a diagnosis into the system, it’s very likely to take off in directions you never imagined, and become a fad. Where do you draw the line? Why not include…golf addiction, model-railroading addiction?”

In response to such critics, Cash tells us: “Internet addiction is being recognized as a very real phenomenon. It’s just a matter of time, there’s a ton of research that shows the brain lights up in the same pattern as drug and alcohol.” Brett Walker certainly seems to agree: “Whenever I went online, it really was like getting high on a drug,” he says in his interview. Cash says that programs like reStart can help, but cautions that rehab isn't a magic bullet. She says that it's “really common to struggle and relapse when a person first leaves an inpatient setting and has to face digital temptations at every turn. But especially if they stay connected with us through our after-care program, it is possible for them to learn how to successfully manage a healthy relationship with digital technology.”

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By Sarah Beller

Addiction Treatment

11/08/12 2:24pm

The Fix Reviews Five New Rehabs

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Sure Haven's LEED-certified "Green House."
Photo via

Today The Fix adds five new insider reviews of addiction treatment facilities to its Rehab Review—the only resource of its kind for unbiased, independent information about the best place for you or a loved one to get sober. New rehabs covered are Michael's House, a Foundations Recovery Network facility in Palm Springs, Calif.; Sure Haven, a women-only rehab in Costa Mesa, Calif.; Recovery Road, a men-only center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; The Retreat, an affordable rehab just west of Minneapolis; and New Method Wellness, a gender-segregated facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Reports from former residents at each of these rehabs are for the most part positive; all five of the facilities received either three or four stars overall. Really, though, what it comes down to is which place is best suited for you. The Retreat—befitting its name—is on the site of a former Catholic retreat, and places an emphasis on volunteer-driven recovery. If you want to get plugged into a vibrant sober community from day one, The Retreat is a good option. Then there's a pair of female- and male-only rehabs—Sure Haven and Recovery Road, respectively—if you're of the mind that getting sober in a same-sex environment would be beneficial. Michael's House, meanwhile, is big on parent company Foundations Recovery Network's "Integrated Treatment Model" approach, which has been shown to generate higher success rates for dual-diagnosis clients. And finally, while New Method Wellness is a 12-step-based program, those who are opposed to AA can opt to do SMART Recovery instead.

If you'd like to contribute to our Rehab Review, you can fill out a quick survey about your treatment experience here. Or, if you want to suggest a facility that The Fix should add to its coverage, feel free to send us an email.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

quitting Smoking

11/08/12 1:11pm

Smokers' Horror Stories Help Others to Quit

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An ad featuring Terrie, who lost her larynx
due to smoking. Photo via

Despite controversy surrounding a recent anti-smoking campaign from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new numbers show the graphic ads seems be working. The Tips from Former Smokers campaign, which launched last March and ran until mid-June, featured roughly a dozen ex-smokers offering personal testimony on the devastating health consequences of their long-term tobacco use. Participants were featured in 30-second televised PSA's, radio commercials and web and print ads. "Everything that's happened to me has come from the fact that I smoked cigarettes," said campaign participant Terrie Hall, who developed throat cancer and had her larynx removed as a result of smoking. She now requires mechanical assistance to speak and breathes through an opening in her neck, which the videos frankly depicted. "That means that every day I have to put in my teeth, I have to put in a talking device in my neck, I have to wear a wig. That's how I get ready for my day." The national online portal smokefree.gov had roughly 120,000 visitors to its site from March-June in 2011, but that number increased to 630,000 people during the same time frame of the campaign. That's a 428 percent jump overall. The CDC's 1-800-QUIT-NOW information line had 158,000 callers from March-June 2011, which rose 132 percent during the same time frame this year with 365,000 callers. "[We wanted to give] a voice and a strong sense of humanity to people who have been the victims," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "Not helpless, pathetic victims, but people who want their stories told about what's been happening over the last 50 years, and who don't want to see this happen to anybody else."

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By McCarton Ackerman

legalization of Marijuana

11/08/12 11:52am

NFL and MLB Uphold Pot Bans

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Still no bong hits for pro athletes. Photo via

Marijuana may be legal in Colorado and Washington now, but it will remain very much forbidden for pro baseball and football players. While the feds may well refrain from arresting pot smokers in the two states, a league official at MLB has made it clear that marijuana, unlike alcohol, will remain under the list of prohibited "drugs of abuse" in its current policy. Under this policy, testing positive for any of these drugs results in a 50-game suspension on the first offense. Several MLB players have been benched for a positive pot result in recent years including Tampa Bay Rays prospect Tim Beckham, who received the 50-game suspension last May. Tim Lincecum was also benched in 2009 after being arrested in Washington for marijuana, although the MLB technically didn't have the grounds to authorize the suspension because it was a civil matter and Lincecum had never tested positive for any illicit drugs. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also reaffirmed pro football's stance on pot yesterday morning by stating that: "The NFL's policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades. Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program."

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By McCarton Ackerman

celebrity rehab

11/08/12 11:01am

Cocaine "Almost Killed" Kirstie Alley

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Alley is no longer dancing with cocaine.
Photo via

Kirstie Alley says the Church of Scientology saved her from an addiction to cocaine that almost killed her years ago. The former Cheers star reveals that her sometimes multi-day drug binges started a few years prior to her career as a Hollywood actress, when her marriage to Bob Alley began to crumble. "I thought I was going to overdose almost every time," she tells Entertainment Tonight. "I kept going for that feeling of being extroverted and that would last for sixty seconds. And then I was going to die for thirty minutes, and then the second I wasn't going to die I went 'boom,' I'd do it again." The 61-year-old is now sober and says her clean living was inspired by Scientology—particularly L. Ron Hubbard's book Dianetics. “I sat there with cocaine on this mirror and I was reading Dianetics and doing cocaine at the same time,” she recalls. "Somehow I got through it and I thought this is either the world's biggest scam or, I thought, this is how I'm going to get rid of this hideous compulsion.” Although the method seems to have worked for Alley, Scientology's rehab program, Narconon, has been under investigation in the past for its detox process—which some have claimed is even life-threatening. “When I was at Narconon, people were taken away in ambulances and had to spend days in the hospital,” said David Love, a client at Narconon Trois-Rivieres from December 2008 to May 2009, who was interviewed exclusively by The Fix. “People have died in the Quebec facility.”

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