The US war on drugs, which for years has focused on Latin America, is reportedly expanding into Africa. US forces are currently training counter-narcotic police in Ghana, and will soon be employing squads in Nigeria and Kenya too, as Latin American drug cartels are increasingly using African countries as hubs to smuggle drugs in to Europe. This is due partly to crackdowns on drug smuggling in direct staging points, like Mexico and Spain, and cartels are finding they can exploit relatively impoverished African countries—where they drive up corruption and instability further. "West Africa is now facing a situation analogous to the Caribbean in the 1980s, where small, developing, vulnerable countries along major drug-trafficking routes are vastly under-resourced to deal with the wave of dirty money coming their way," says top US counter narcotics official, William F. Wechsler. According to the UN, cocaine trafficking and consumption in West Africa have risen dramatically in recent years, contributing to instability in places like Guinea-Bissau.
In response, the US has contributed $50 million to counternarcotic programs in West Africa over the past year—a huge increase from the $7.5 million spent in 2009. The "vision" is reportedly to help African nations "catch up" to Latin American countries in terms of being equipped to handle the problem of drug trafficking. This aggressive expansion of anti-drug tactics into Africa is also a sign of the US shifting its attention towards the war on drugs, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and demand fewer resources. But critics are dubious, believing the US is using a "Wack-a-Mole" approach that will simply cause traffickers to move to other more unstable countries, instead of eliminating the problem. Some fear that the anti-drug efforts will result in more violence, mirroring the situation in Latin America, where traffickers have often responded brutally to crackdowns. "There is always blowback to this," says University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley, a drug war expert. "You start killing people in foreign countries—whether criminals or not—and there is going to be fallout."
Is the second time the charm for troubled actor Nick Stahl? The Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines star had been missing for over a month since abruptly checking out of a drug treatment center—his second instance this year of going completely AWOL. Happily, his wife Rose Stahl tweeted the good news that Nick has been found alive and well, and has agreed to start receiving help for his addiction. Although he isn't in a residential drug treatment facility, he's apparently attending daily AA meetings to address his alcoholism. And although he hasn't moved home, he's reportedly reconciled with his family and is in constant touch with them. Sources close to Nick Stahl say he is in "a good place" at the moment. When he resurfaced after his first disappearance in May, he went to rehab to address his substance abuse issues, but left treatment early, against doctors' advice. Rose decided to not involve the police again when he went missing for the second time and effectively ended the search. "I'm backing off," she said then. "He knows exactly where home is. It's the loving thing to do for him, myself and our daughter."
San Francisco is aiming to crack down on smoking in public. A new bill would ban tobacco at all outdoor events like street fairs and concerts on city property—but medical marijuana would still be allowed. "This is another step forward to protect the public's health from the dangers of second-hand smoke," says supervisor Eric Mar, who proposed the bill. He adds that 73,000 non-smokers die every year from second-hand smoke. "It's a critical public health danger with no safe level of exposure." However, he feels the rule shouldn't apply to medical marijuana smokers. "My hope is that people wouldn't light up at community festivals," Mar explains, "but if it's something medical and prescribed by a doctor, that should be permitted." That wouldn’t mean toking anywhere is allowed, though; in San Francisco, smoking marijuana is already banned in public parks. If passed, the bill would require event organizers to post signs and enforce the smoke-free rule, as additional law enforcement resources aren't provided for.
Naturally, plenty of smokers are displeased about the prospect of yet another tobacco ban, and some challenge the accuracy of the science that the bill is based on. "Most people simply don't live long enough to die from secondhand smoke exposure," declares an article on PolicyMic.com. But many San Franciscans seem to support the proposal. "As the community norms are changing, people are expecting that all these things are non-smoking, so they become incensed when they find out there is no law to protect them," Serena Chen, a director of policy for the American Lung Association in California, tells The Fix. As you'd expect, many anti-smoking advocates welcome the proposed ban as a step in the right direction, but regret that it would exclude medical marijuana. Under California's Prop 65, you have to post a warning to alert people if they're being exposed to certain carcinogens. "I think that every city and its collected officials need to decide what their community wants or doesn't want," says Chen. "All I can say is what the facts are. The facts are that the state of California has listed marijuana smoke as a Prop 65 carcinogen." Still, advocates of the bill hope it will benefit the whole community and make events inclusive for everyone, whether they smoke or not. "Everybody has a right to breathe healthy, clean air," says Chen. "And no one has a right to pollute anybody else's air."
Medical experts and problem gamblers are claiming a surprising link between the common anti-depressant Effexor and gambling addiction. Although there's no clinical proof of this so far, numerous gambling addicts have reportedly come forward to claim that they began gambling compulsively after being prescribed the drug. Tim Hiller says his gambling habits started immediately after he was prescribed Effexor to treat both depression and OCD; the former investment banker went into financial ruin after making several weekly $1,000 bets on Aussie rules football games. He even once bet $80,000 on a tennis match. "I thought I'd feel upset, but because of the medication I was on, and the blunting effect that it had on me, I didn't feel much at all," he says. "I actually went to sleep and got up the next day and was fairly normal." Leanne Scott, who is currently serving two years in jail for fraud after stealing $800,000 to feed her poker machine habit, says she started taking Efexor in late 2003—and her problem gamblling started months after. "I'm actually [undergoing] therapy at Statewide Gambling therapy service, and my counselor says she is actually seeing a lot of people who are taking Efexor," she says. Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, director of Psychiatric Research at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital in Australia, can believe it: "I think here we could have a link in the neurochemical sense between the use of a medication that increases two neurochemicals, seratonin and noradrenalin, and the development of new problem gambling behaviors."
How big a part did drugs play in the Aurora movie theater massacre? James E. Holmes opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado just after midnight on Friday, killing 12 people—including a six-year-old girl—and wounding 59, among them a three-month-old baby. As new details emerge about the 24-year-old PhD student, there's been inevitable speculation that drugs may have played a part. Holmes reportedly admitted to police that he took 100mg of Vicodin about two and a half hours before the shooting, and unconfirmed reports say he was hooked on the prescription drug. Health Ledger—who played the Joker in The Dark Knight—had Vicodin in his system when he died back in 2008. Sources also claim that Holmes regularly smoked pot outside his home. “I’d see him smoking weed behind the apartment,” says his Aurora neighbor Lance Bradshaw. “Nobody ever really talked to him. He was alone a lot.” Authorities are also looking into a post on the sex site AdultFriendFinder.com that was placed by Holmes prior to the shooting. It said: “Will you visit me in prison?” He also described himself on the website as a “light/social drinker” and wrote on the question of whether he took drugs, “Prefer not to say.” Holmes remains in custody and is scheduled to be arraigned early this week.
- US Drug War Expands to Africa, a Newer Hub for Cartels [New York Times]
- Washington Hosts 19th International AIDS Conference [Washington Post]
- FDA Approves Two New Diet Drugs, But Doctors May Hesitate to Prescribe [Examiner.com]
- More Powerful, User-Friendly Heroin Moving to the Suburbs [Chicago Sun-Times]
- "The Situation" Sued for Hiding Rx Addiction [TMZ]
- Boozing Hamsters Don't Develop Beer Guts or Fight Hangovers [Alaska Dispatch]