The American staff sergeant suspected of murdering 16 Afghan villagers in their homes had been drinking alcohol on the night of the massacre—a violation of military rules in combat zones—according to a senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the suspect has not yet been formally charged. It's the strongest indication yet that the sergeant was drunk, adding to previous accusations from local witnesses. The official believes the sergeant's actions were likely due to a combination of alcohol, stress on his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments. "He just snapped," says the official."There will be questions raised about his emotional and mental stability for a fourth deployment." The military is preparing to move the sergeant to a US-based prison as early as today after officials in Kuwait expressed outrage at his being moved to a US base there. The statements made by the US military in response to the massacre have been heavily scrutinized. Despite their reports that it was carried out by one man, Afghan witnesses claim that several US soldiers were involved, all of whom were drunk. A lawyer retained by the soldier's family denies any marital tensions, saying the official's anonymous statement is "baseless." The sergeant has refused to speak to investigators, invoking his right to a lawyer shortly after he surrendered on returning to base following the shootings.
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Drinking and surgery don't mix—for patients, as well as the surgeons. Patients who drink heavily have longer post-surgery hospital stays and are more likely to make a return trip to the operating room, indicates a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. Researchers asked surgery patients to complete a questionnaire on their drinking habits over the previous year; the answers given were compared with each patient's surgery complications and results. It turns out that high-risk drinkers spend 1.5 days longer in intensive care on average and one day more in the hospital, and are twice as likely to have to return to the operating room compared with low-risk drinkers. "The findings from this study indicate that preoperative alcohol screening might serve as an effective tool to identify patients at risk for increased postoperative care," concludes lead author Anna D. Rubinsky, PhC. Previous studies have shown that 16% of men undergoing major surgery have misused alcohol in the past year. More positively, another previous study of people who consume more than four drinks daily found that ceasing all drinking a month prior to surgery cuts the risk of complications in half.
Canadian biotech company Immunovaccine is linking with New York's Weill Cornell Medical College to develop a cocaine vaccine. If successful, the vaccine produced could prevent addicts from getting high on cocaine, by creating antibodies that dull the drug's pleasurable effects. Weill Cornell's researchers have only been able to achieve limited success in trials with mice, but their promising initial results still caught Immunovaccine's eye. “They showed that it has the capacity to work by preventing animals from feeling the effects of cocaine,” says Marc Mansour, Immunovaccine’s chief science and operating officer. “But they need an antibody or immune response that is long-lasting, and they need to generate it with fewer immunizations. So that is where our value proposition is. We can enhance the vaccine.” The plan is to combine the college's anti-cocaine antigen—a substance that causes the body to produce antibodies against the drug—with Immunovaccine's own adjuvant, a substance made to boost the body's immune response. Human trials will commence if it works on mice. “The vaccine would be applied theoretically for people in relapse,” says Mansour. “They’ve gone through their treatments and they’re at high risk of getting addicted again, so you give them the vaccine to prevent them from a setback.”
The results of the huge Guardian/Mixmag international drug survey—which asked a self-selected sample of 15,500 drug users, mainly from the UK and US, detailed questions about their habits—have just been published. Headline findings include that despite being relatively educated, happy and healthy, large numbers of these "recreational" drug users are prepared to "chance it" by taking drugs without being sure what they are; 19% of respondents under 25 have ingested a mystery substance. Many users of illegal drugs—one third of those in the UK—also take prescription meds to deal with the aftermath of their highs. But the survey paints a picture of a generation of weekend drug users who are mostly satisfied with life and don't feel defined by their habits—although they'd like to cut down on certain substances, with tobacco, alcohol, heroin and crack at the top of the list. Honest, rather than exaggerated, government health warnings could help them to do so.
The survey enables a detailed comparison of US and UK drug users, who share common ground such as high alcohol use (over 95% in both cases) but differ in other ways. For example, UK respondents are twice as likely to have used MDMA in the last year (54%) or cocaine (42%)—compared with 27% and 20% respectively in the US. But US drug users are twice as likely to take heroin (2.5% in the last year) or meth (2.1%), with the UK figures at 1.1% and 0.8%. Contact with cops and doctors also turns out very differently for drug users on either side of the pond. Fortunately amid this barrage of new data, some of the most fascinating findings have been condensed into a short animated video:
The US is far from the only country with a prescription drug problem. Drug-addicted youths in India are turning to nursing homes to supply them with their fix. One opiate painkiller called Pentozocine, is particularly sought-after. It costs nursing homes just six Rupees per injected dose to buy Pentozocine in bulk from wholesalers; it's commonly prescribed by doctors to patients who have had surgery. But somehow the drug often winds up being sold to addicts at 50 Rupees (about $1) per injection. Police in Andhra Pradesh state suspect that addicted youths have befriended nursing home staff as other supply routes dry up; most medical retail stores in the area refuse to sell the drug because they're closely watched by police and undergo monthly inspections by the drug control department. “We collect the details of Pentozocin drug sales from the traders every month and keep vigil on the buyers who purchase in bulk quantity,” says T. Ravi Kumar, Assistant Director of the Drug Control Administration. Nursing homes remain far less regulated.