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Drugs in Prison

10/02/12 1:49pm

How Prison Drug Dealing by Phone Has Changed


Drug dealers can find it easy to continue their
trade. Photo via

Back in the '90s, when the War on Drugs was in high gear, federal prison was drug dealer central. "People were sitting in prison, making drug deals," one prisoner tells The Fix. "Not to say that they aren't now, but back then it was crazy. It was much easier to sell drugs in prison because you're right there where the people that have direct access to the narcotics that you need are—the Colombians, Cubans and Mexicans." Before 1999, federal prisoners had unlimited and unrestricted phone access. Inmates with clout would block off hours of phone use at a time to conduct their transactions. "I would make 60 calls in a day, sometimes using two lines at once," the prisoner says. "It was something for me to do. It was just about everybody inside the jail in some way, shape, form or fashion dealing drugs, directly or indirectly."

What the federal drug warriors didn't figure on when they started locking up dealers in huge numbers, was that they were actually making it easier for them to continue to ply their trade—by incarcerating all the different dealers, of diverse nationalities and locations, together. "The temptation was there," the prisoner says. "You had people everyday hooking up drug deals and most were arranged by phone." Things are a little different now. Due to all the federal cases and investigations around drug empires run from behind bars, the Bureau of Prisons enacted new phone policies in 1999—including allowing each prisoner only 300 minutes per month, as well as other restrictions. Still, "In reality they haven't stopped anything," the prisoner says. "Just look at the news. Dudes are just using cell phones to make drug deals now."

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By Seth Ferranti

Drug War

10/02/12 12:52pm

Reporting the Mexican Drug War—There's an App for That


"117 reports in the last 8 hrs" Photo via

A new app created by two students in Mexico allows citizens to report crimes and incidents of corruption related to the country's drug war—creating instant transparency that holds police and other law enforcement officials accountable. Mario Romero and Jose Antonio Bolio created the free app, "Retio," which allows citizens to report—via Twitter—violent crimes, corrupt activity like road blocks or police abuse, and even broken traffic lights. Contributors use the handle for the corresponding city, eg @RetioDF for Mexico, DF, and tweet a description of the problem, sometimes with photo evidence, while an automatic system categorizes the report. The app can only be downloaded by iPhone and iPad users, but anyone with a computer can access Retio and contribute information. “The original goal was to organize and optimize Twitter to avoid different problematic situations that people face every day in Mexican cities,” says Romero. “Users in different cities started using hashtags to inform themselves of these type of situations, but it wasn’t an ideal solution—our plan was to build a better tool to resolve this and we’ve been able to do that. But we’re still not done.”

The Retio feeds for different areas vary greatly in following: the Mexico City and Monterrey feeds have roughly 62,000 tweets and 6,000 followers, while the feed for Ciudad Juarez has just 14 tweets and 2 followers—which Romero says is common, since the feeds often start slowly before eventually going viral. Even though the site lists contributers by name and photo, no one has received any threats yet. But local police reportedly aren't pleased with the new app. "The system forces an instant transparency as far as attention to citizens, and that’s something [the authorities] are not used to yet,” says Romero. “As far as the criminals, especially narcos, I think they would probably be more worried about other types of reports, like journalistic investigations that expose them and their connections, than about citizens alerting each other about shootings and risky situations.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

painkiller scheme

10/02/12 12:01pm

Doc Blames Split Personalities for Rx Fraud


Dr. Williamson was well-respected in her field.
Photo via

A doctor involved in a $300,000 prescription painkiller scheme is trying to get out of an 11-year prison sentence by claiming that "Nala"—one of over a dozen of her multiple personalities—was responsible for the crime. Diana Williamson was once lauded for opening an AIDS hospital and her treatment work in the field, but the government claims she defrauded Medicaid out of about $300,000 and then wrote phony prescriptions for around 11,000 painkiller pills, mostly oxycodone, that were bought with Medicaid benefits and sold on the street. Williamson pleaded guilty, but her lawyer argues that a prison sentence would be equivalent to a death sentence due to her several medical issues that prisons aren't equipped to treat. The defense also claims that Williamson wasn't aware she was carrying out crimes committed by her “mischievous, irresponsible, reckless and, as we have just discovered, criminal" alter ego. Williamson wrote to the judge that Nala “committed these crimes without telling Diana or the other parts of me about them.” US District Judge Loretta Preska delayed sentencing so it can be determined if prison authorities will be able to treat Williamson's illnesses, but remains skeptical about the multiple personality argument: “I guess I’m having trouble understanding that with the defendant’s remarkable medical career, having founded an AIDS hospital, it doesn’t seem to have impaired her ability to function as a medical professional,” she says. Williamson argued in court, “Perhaps it sounds incredible that a part of me could be doing something that the rest of me would not know about, but everything about dissociative disorder is difficult to fathom for those who do not have it."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Alcohol risks

10/02/12 10:59am

Booze May Boost Arrhythmia Risk


Quit playing games with your heart.
Photo via

Consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol may increase the risk for arrhythmia for those with diabetes or heart disease, according to a new study. The study—published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal—pulled from data of over 30,000 adults in 40 countries (median age 66) from two large research trials studying congestive heart failure and controlling high blood pressure, and followed these subjects for four and a half years. When the researchers compared the data of moderate and heavy drinkers to those who lightly drink, they found higher rates of atrial fibrillation among those who drink more. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia, and those who suffer from it are at a higher risk of experiencing a stroke. Dr. David Juurlink, an internal medicine specialist in Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, cautions that this study is limiting in that it only identified associations and does not prove that drinking is the cause of higher rates of atrial fibrillation. However, he agrees moderating booze is safer for those with heart problems. “It's hard to make sweeping pronouncements from a single study, but there is a compelling commonsense argument for moderation, and this study supports that,” he says. “If someone who drinks heavily needs one more reason to cut back, this is it. But as we all know there are plenty of other reasons to moderate one's alcohol intake.”

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By Valerie Tejeda


10/02/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: October 2, 2012


Not officially endorsed Photo via

By Bryan Le

Medical marijuana

10/01/12 5:12pm

Connecticut Welcomes Medical Pot Today


You can possess it, as long as you don't buy it...
Photo via

As of today, patients in Connecticut with certain debilitating conditions can apply for a license to legally possess and use medical marijuana. The law limits this to a list of specific conditions, including cancer; glaucoma; positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Parkinson's disease; multiple sclerosis; and damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity. Other conditions covered include epilepsy, cachexia (also called wasting syndrome), Crohn's disease and PTSD. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection website carries instructions on how to apply. A doctor's recommendation is key—and interestingly the doctor must determine that “in the physician’s medical opinion, the potential benefits of the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks to the patient.” The relative health risks of far more easily obtainable meds are debatable, to say the least: there has never been a death caused directly by marijuana toxicity, while over-the-counter acetaminophen, for example, claims 500 lives per year and hospitalizes thousands.

After you get the go-ahead from the doc, you have little more to do than provide proof of Connecticut residency, ID, and a passport photograph to get started. Although there’s still no way to legally buy marijuana or marijuana seeds in Connecticut—an issue that the state hopes to resolve by 2013. According to Erik Williams, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Connecticut, "There's a large amount of people who are thrilled to use medical marijuana instead of hardcore prescriptions that leave them acting like zombies. My hope is that this would be done in such a way that it is the absolute model for the nation." Connecticut is the 17th state to permit MMJ to some degree. In the race to become No. 18, the Arkansas Supreme Court—despite the best efforts of a conservative bloc calling itself the “Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values”—has upheld a proposed ballot measure on medical pot that could make the Natural State the first in the South to join in. While the state-by-state push to change our marijuana laws gathers momentum—and gains popularity with voters—neither presidential candidate seems interested in capitalizing. 

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By Tony O'Neill


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