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Harm reduction

10/31/12 1:12pm

Should Syringes Be Decriminalized?

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Syringes are being hotly debated in NC.
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Harm reduction advocates in North Carolina are currently pushing for a bill on syringe decriminalization to be introduced to the state legislature. Currently, syringes that are used for (or intended to be used for) the injection of illicit drugs are illegal. Naturally, this doesn't actually stop IV drug use—but it does encourage addicts to re-use or share contaminated needles. Advocates believe that decriminalizing syringes would make it easier for people to access clean needles, and also encourage honesty with law enforcement. “There is a lot of fear in being a law enforcement officer,” explains Ronald Martin, a retired police officer with over 20 years' experience. “There is fear of injury, getting hurt, being killed, so sometimes dialogue can make a huge difference…If a drug user can openly admit he is carrying a syringe, the officer has one less thing to worry about.” 

Martin now travels with staff from the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition to conduct officer safety trainings about handling syringes or other potentially contaminated paraphernalia. He also uses the opportunity to speak about decriminalizing syringes. While some worry about changing the law, surveys show that about 60%-70% of officers are supportive, feeling the measure would increase safety for everyone. “Some cops are resistant to [syringe decriminalization] because they haven’t been exposed to the idea before,” says Martin. “You just have to give them the information, say ‘Hey, one out of three of you will be stuck by a needle. If you could reduce that possibility, would it make sense to do it?’ The benefits are clear if cops have the right information.” There's evidence to back his words: in New Mexico, where syringes are partially decriminalized, needle-sticks to law enforcement have dropped by 66%. Ten states currently exempt some or all syringes from their drug paraphernalia laws, including New York, Oregon and Illinois. “I can’t see anything about [syringe decriminalization] that would make [the drug situation] worse,” says Martin. “It’s a plus for law enforcement safety, community safety, and it minimizes some of the fears cops are dealing with."

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By Chrisanne Grise

hurricane sandy

10/31/12 12:17pm

Hurricane Prohibition Ends in Pennsylvania

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Let's hope they stocked up. Photo via

Hurricane Sandy may have soaked the tri-state area and beyond with torrential rain and record-breaking floods, but it left Pennsylvania dry for two days, as all 600 of the state's liquor stores were closed down. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which controls the statewide sales of wine and liquor, decided to keep all liquor stores closed in order to "assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy." The monopoly also forbids PA residents from importing booze from neighboring states, in order to save on tax revenues. But of course, hurricanes and booze go hand in hand for many drinkers, forcing those desperately-seeking-booze to break the rules yesterday to obtain alcohol from liquor stores just across the border. "We're open for convenience," said Gary Brady, manager of Canal's Discount Liquor Mart in Pennsauken, Camden County; this store, and others in New Jersey and Delaware, are common destinations for Pennsylvanians hoping to illicitly sneak bootlegged liquor back in to their home state, where the taxes on alcohol are much higher. Most of Pennsylvania's liquor stores have reopened today.

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By May Wilkerson

coffee addiction

10/31/12 10:59am

Coffee Addiction Is No Joke

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The Foo Fighter got too buzzed.
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Coffee is one of the world's most common addictions. While it may seem innocent, the beverage contains caffeine (a drug), and for some people a daily java habit can spiral out of control. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has admitted that a 2010 spoof video he made about his caffeine habit was based on a real incident that had him hospitalized. “We were in the studio making a record and I was drinking a lot of coffee," the singer recalled, "and I started having chest pains, so I went to the hospital and they told me to stop drinking so much coffee.” Cindy Grassin, an addiction specialist who works at a drug and alcohol rehab in California, tells The Fix that many people are unaware of the dependence you can develop on the seemingly benign beverage. “People don’t realize how addictive coffee can actually be,” she says. “Especially for those that have an addictive personally, monitoring coffee intake is important.” Grassin advises people to treat java just as they would any other substance. “Coffee is a drug. Period,” she says. “Because of this, you need to treat it that way by consuming it in moderation, and getting help if you, or those around you, feel you may be addicted.”

Because drinking coffee is an integral part of so many people's daily lives, its dangers may often go unnoticed. “No one ever thought I had a problem because coffee is such an acceptable addiction in our society,” Daniel from Northern California tells us. “At one point, I believe I was drinking a cup of coffee an hour. And it wasn’t just black coffee—I would change it up with Frappucinos, lattes, and lots of coffee ice cream.” Ultimately, Daniel's addiction landed him in the hospital, where he came to realize the severity of his problem. “I was having severe chest pains, and doctors said my adrenal glands were shot. I’m glad I got help when I did because according to them, I was on my way to a heart attack. I was also having panic attacks all the time, and my heart rate was through the roof,” he says. “Since leaving treatment, I stick to only water. But I still love the smell of coffee.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

10/31/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 31, 2012

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The Octomom leaves her kids behind to go
to rehab. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

drug cartels

10/30/12 5:27pm

Are Mexican Cartels in Cahoots With Hezbollah?

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah Photo via

Middle Eastern terrorist group Hezbollah may be collaborating with Mexican drug cartels, and even using their trafficking routes to infiltrate the US, according to at least one US lawmaker. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican from North Carolina, says there's evidence that the Lebanese militants have been working with drug cartels to sneak across the border since as far back as 2009—and she claims that the federal government is choosing to ignore the problem. "I don't have a lot of faith in the Department of Homeland Security," says Myrick. "They should be looking at these groups in Mexico much more closely." Other recent links have been drawn between drug gangs and Islamic terrorists: about a year ago, an alleged Iranian operative plotted to assassinate a Saudi diplomat with gunmen from the Zetas cartel—except the gunmen were actually undercover FBI agents. Now, Myrick has requested that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) create a task force to monitor Islamic extremist groups in Mexico. But DHS secretary Janet Napolitano remains adamant that current intelligence resources are adequate, and denies there's any credible evidence of Middle Eastern terrorists operating south of the border. More than 200,000 people of Lebanese and Syrian descent live in Mexico, but US officials have not identified any ties to Hezbollah.

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By Chrisanne Grise

Designer Drugs

10/30/12 4:38pm

New Drug "25i" Haunts New Orleans

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Don't judge a drug by its Spongebob cover.
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The latest in a succession of scary "designer drugs" blamed for landing kids in the hospital is a liquid hallucinogen, known on the street as "25i". It can be dropped on the tongue, and mimics the effects of LSD. Authorities say 25i can lead to seizures and multi-organ system failure; this past weekend, three people were hospitalized in New Orleans after reportedly using it at the Voodoo Music Experience festival. "[25i] is a drug that both myself and my colleagues haven't seen before in the city," says Dr. Joseph Lasky, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Tulane University Hospital. "There's been some reports of it throughout the United States, causing severe injury and even death." Doctors can't currently predict the 25i's effects with much accuracy, however. "The drug binds to a receptor in the brain, a 5HT receptor, and the amount of this receptor is highly variable from person to person," says Lasky, "so there's no predicting the effect or the magnitude of the effect that this drug is gonna have, which makes it particularly dangerous.” New designer drugs—which pop up faster than authorities can crack down on them—leading to their implication in a string of hospitalizations and deaths. Recently, another "legal high" known as "Annihilation" was banned in the UK after landing nine people in the hospital; in the US, a substance called "Smiles" was banned for its involvement in two teen deaths, after apparently causing one user to "smash his head against the ground" and act "possessed."

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By Chrisanne Grise

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