Three Transportation Security Administration agents and two cops were arrested in Connecticut yesterday for letting vast quantities of oxycodone move freely around the country in exchange for cash and gift card bribes. They were among twenty people rounded up in a DEA sting called “Operation Blue Coast,” which involved setting up a fake oxy sale. TSA's Christopher Allen and John Best, both of Florida, and Brigitte Jones, of New York, along with NYPD officer Michael Brady—all of whom allowed pills to pass through airports where they were stationed—were charged with conspiring to distribute oxycodone and possessing with intent to distribute. Florida trooper Justin Kolves, 28—whose role was to ensure the safe passage of cash and pills by car through the Sunshine State—faces the same charges, which carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison. These latest swoops came after agents arrested a man who regularly purchased thousands of oxycodone pills in Palm Beach and flew up to Westchester County, where he could count on his TSA contacts to let him through in exchange for payments. Meanwhile Florida battles a notorious pill problem. The state is well-known as a center for pill mill operations, and is considered the source for much of the oxycodone on the east coast. Doctors in Florida bought an astonishing 89% of all the oxycodone legally sold in the US last year. Florida's pain clinics frequently supply oxy to Appalachia, giving rise to a category of people who travel to Florida to transport drugs up to their home states—dubbed “pillbillies” by the press.
A comprehensive report released yesterday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights a global boom in amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). This category of synthetic drugs includes methamphetamine and ecstasy, as well as less-regulated "analogue substances," such as mephedrone and the catchy-sounding methylenedioxpyrovalerone (MDPV)—which are sometimes sold as "bath salts" and "plant food" respectively. Meth use may be declining in the US, but the bigger picture shows ATS eclipsing heroin and cocaine to become the second most used category of drugs on the planet. While global seizures of heroin, cocaine and cannabis remained stable between 2005 and 2009, ATS seizures surged—although cannabis remains in first place. The 2011 Global ATS Assessment declares: "Once viewed as purely a cottage industry, ATS manufacture and trafficking has undergone its own industrial revolution." This revolution is switching the focus of drug production away from cocaine and heroin bastions like Colombia and Afghanistan. The Netherlands and Burma (Myanmar) are the two largest producers of synthetic drugs, while lab busts and seizures are rising in regions such as West Africa (particularly Nigeria), Europe, and different areas of Latin America.
Seizures of methamphetamine in South-East Asia are one indicator of the overall trend: 32 million pills were confiscated in 2008—but a staggering 133 million were taken in 2010. UNODC executive director Yury Fedotov described an industry that has moved from one "typified by small-scale manufacturing operations to more of a cocaine or heroin-type market." This means large criminal organizations now control the trade, attracted by the low cost and flexibility of manufacture, which isn't tied to particular locations like plant-based drug production. The attractions for ATS users include affordability, convenience, an association with a fast-paced modern lifestyle, and reduced social stigma compared with heroin or cocaine. But the perception that ATS drugs are not dangerous or addictive is wrong, said one of the report's co-authors, Justice Tettey: “There is this conception that they are not really hard drugs, but people can definitely get hooked on them.” And the increased popularity of injection as a means of taking ATS drugs—particularly evident in countries as diverse as New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and several Eastern European and Scandinavian states—is also hastening the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne diseases. Despite the global explosion of uppers, the majority of users are still found in the heavily-populated East Asian and South-East Asian regions.
A math teacher at New Mexico's Belen High School may have made a major miscalculation after students and fellow teachers accused her of teaching drunk for more than five hours on Monday morning. Kathleen Jardine allegedly ran her classes under the influence for most of the day, before a delegation of fellow teachers reported to the main office that she was slurring her words and generally "acting pretty strange." Administrative staff, who are trained to recognize signs of impairment, then went to see the evidence for themselves. Soon after, the allegedly smashed teacher was escorted from the school grounds, before submitting voluntarily to an alcohol and drug test. Kathleen Jardine's profile on the Belen High School website states, "I'll do my best to educate students and continually improve my teaching skills." Jardine now faces an internal investigation, and District Superintendent Ron Marquez said he would expect a criminal complaint to be filed if alcohol is found to have been in her system—the cops are eagerly awaiting the results. But with six of her seven school periods devoted to algebra each day—and with a course to teach that includes "in-depth study of linear equations and inequalities; quadratic equations; solving systems of linear and quadratic equations; graphing a constant, linear and quadratic equations; and operation with rational and irrational exponents"—Mrs Jardine may receive sympathy from some quarters. Six hours of quadratic equations a day could drive many of us to drink.
Earlier this season, baseball legend Manny Ramirez, 39, decided to retire from the Tampa Bay Rays rather than face a 100-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug program for a second time, after testing positive for steroids. Many fans and players dismissed Manny as a "selfish jerk" for leaving his team flapping in the wind and further tarnishing baseball's already dubious reputation. But apparently his retirement isn't going too well. Police in Broward County, Florida arrested the former baseball star on Monday night after his frantic wife called 911 to report a domestic assault. Juliana Ramirez said her husband struck her in the left side of her face with an open hand during a heated argument in their bedroom, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of their bed. She later told reporters she had called the cops because she was afraid the situation would escalate and was worried about her safety. While the stiff-lipped ball-player successfully avoided the hordes of reporters who greeted him upon his release from the Broward County Jail, Ramirez certainly isn't the first person to experience violent rages after prolonged exposure to steroids. Many believe that steroids are addictive even though there are no physical highs associated with them. One of the common side-effects of prolonged steroid use is "roid rage." While some studies are still inconclusive, other studies—as well as anecdotal evidence from any gym where steroids are common—indicate that "roid rage" is very real. After he was spirited away from jail in a waiting SUV, Ramirez allegedly knocked the camera out of the hands of one cameraman and got into a brief scuffle with a photographer. He was released on $2,500 bail yesterday and was ordered to have no direct contact with his wife. With endless time on his hands after dedicating most of his life to baseball, his image in tatters, his stellar batting average open to question, and his marriage in jeopardy, can rock bottom be far away?
Vending machines containing snacks and drinks are so last century—now they widely dispense prescription drugs. Blue Island Hospital in Chicago is the first venue in Illinois to join the club of hospitals across about 30 other states that now employ 24-hour prescription drug vending machines. The machine in question—called "InstyMeds"—is stacked with drugs commonly prescribed for emergency room patients, with the goal of saving them the hassle of searching for a pharmacy at all hours when they're sent home from the ER. Docs register prescription details and insurance info electronically, and patients can then pay at the machines using a credit or debit card. The convenience of the machines has made them hugely popular. But is the automation of medication safe? Perhaps not 100%. After all, falling vending machines famously kill more Americans than man-eating sharks each year.
- Price of Alcohol is "Obscenely Low" [The Guardian]
- Counseling May Not Help Pregnant Smokers Quit Habit [Reuters]
- Gambling Addiction Lands Ex-Bookkeeper in Prison [UticaOD.com]
- Dubai Customs' Heroin Haul [Khaleej Times]
- Man Accused of Drunken Driving Asks for Beer in Hospital ER [Chicago Sun-Times]
- Fresno Teacher Charged with Possessing Meth, Knife [Sacramento Bee]
- Woman Charged with Handing Out Pot to Register Voters [CNN]