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drug policy

4/18/12 11:21am

Has Obama's Drug Policy Softened?

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Obama offers up an even-handed strategy to
tackle drugs in the US. Photo via

The US government's drug control strategy should focus more on prevention and treatment, and less on incarceration of drug offenders, said the White House on yesterday. A new strategy is planned, aiming for a middle-of-the-road approach: it will counter both the push for drug legalization, as well as the aggressive “War on Drugs.” It also calls for changes to the probation-and-parole systemsending non-violent offenders to substance abuse treatment programs instead of jail—and for more community programs to provide addiction education and outreach. "This is nothing short of a revolution in how we approach drug abuse," says Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Although overall drug use is down in the United States, more Americans than ever are dying from drug-induced death, even more than from gunshot wounds. This underscores the need for different approaches for drug control, one that treats drug addiction as a disease, in which drug-related crime is addressed in a fair and equitable manner. We can't arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

In line with a more comprehensive understanding of addiction, the new policy will embrace three concepts: first, that addiction is a disease that can be treated. Second, that people with substance use disorders can recover. And third, that criminal justice reforms can stop the revolving door of drug use, crime, incarceration and re-arrest. Building on previous innovations from the Obama administration, the new plan outlines over 100 actions that can be taken in place of criminal enforcement. These included drug screenings, brief interventions, referral to treatment and the Affordable Care Act, which according to Kerlikowske, “will make drug treatment a required benefit from all that suffer from substance abuse."

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By Valerie Tejeda

Criminal behavior

4/18/12 10:12am

The Real Judge Dredd

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Baumgartner under the influence on the bench Photo via

While a drug addicted judge isn't anything new, Tennessee Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's situation is one of the more egregious cases in recent memory. Baumgartner, now 64, stepped down from the bench in March 2011, pleading guilty to a single count of misconduct—after a series of incidents that might shock even those who've heard it all. The former judge first became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed them for pancreatitis caused by "chronic alcoholism," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file. While he supposedly had a variety of doctors prescribing him Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax and Valium, when the docs couldn't deliver fast enough Baumgartner had ample access to those who could: people who had graduated from his drug court. One of them, Deena Castleman, told agents that the married judge paid her bills and had sex with her, occasionally in his chambers. Nor was Baumgartner's illicit work behavior limited solely to sexual acts, since he also allegedly made drug deals during breaks in court. But the judge has never been punished for his actions: not only was the felony conviction wiped off his record—he was also able to avoid jail and keep his pension.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been appointed to re-hear Baumgartner's former cases and is overturning some of the convictions, including one that involved a death sentence; it's estimated that Baumgartner presided over more than a thousand cases and that re-trying them could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Prosecutors are appealing these decisions, claiming that Baumgartner was actually sober when he came to them. Michael Cohen, the Executive Director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, a non-profit that helps addicted lawyers, judges and law students, says that ultimately Baumgartner's situation is "no more shocking than a construction worker being addicted and doing shoddy construction." Cohen adds, "You can't look at the situation and say he should be held to a higher standard because of his job. That goes against everything we know about the fact that addiction is a disease. He's an addict first and a judge second."

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By Anna David

Headlines

4/18/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: April 18, 2012

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Drink at work? Knock yourself out.
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By Bryan Le

Bad Sports

4/17/12 5:13pm

Tyson's Rock Bottom: Beating Hookers on Coke

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Today, Mike Tyson lives a peaceful, sober life
and tends pigeons. Photo via

“Iron” Mike Tyson has come out of his corner to open up about one of the darkest moments of his drug-addicted past. The 45-year-old former “baddest man on the planet” recalls hitting rock bottom in in a hotel room in 2009; he was high on drugs and paranoia set in. “This is really dark. I am in my hotel suite, I've got seven women there, and I have a morphine drip, and I had my cocaine, and I had my (Viagra like pill) Cialis, I had my marijuana, I had the Hennessy," he recalls. "I am at my lowest point because I got paranoid and I thought these women were trying to rob me and set me up. I started beating them. I was in a dark place. There was a purpose, though, because I didn't want to give them any more of my soul.” Tyson booted the women from his room, believing them to be possessed by demons. “It was the lowest point of a very low life, but it was my own knockout punch to clean up life, get whole, get well—and I haven't done anything in three years now,” he says. “I'm clean, I'm sober.” The former heavyweight champ tells all in his show, “Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth,” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

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By Bryan Le

effects of alcohol

4/17/12 4:25pm

Adult Drinkers May Experience "Peter Pan Syndrome"

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Stuck in Neverland? Photo via

People who feel perpetually suspended in childhood may want to cut back on the booze, according to a study conducted at the University of Missouri. The research shows that those who engage in excessive drinking feel immature, and when they hit 30 they might wonder why their peers have surpassed them in life. The study concludes that heavier drinking is more culturally acceptable among younger adults and isn't widely perceived as immature. "Young adults are out at the bars with their friends and drinking is a bonding experience. They also view blacking out, vomiting and drunk driving as more acceptable because peers are behaving similarly,” says Rachel Winograd, a doctoral student in psychology at MU. But as these youths leave their 20s and begin to witness their peers settling down, those who continue to excessively drink may feel like "Peter Pans" in their social circles, having never grown up. The study is based on research on teen alcohol dependency, which suggests that excessive drinking in the adolescent years also correlates with feelings of immaturity. "There seems to be a window of time in the early to mid-20s when drinking is not associated with immaturity," she observes. "Before and after that window, excessive alcohol use is associated with a lower self-reporting of maturity, according to our results and previous studies."

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By Fionna Agomuoh

drug war

4/17/12 3:31pm

El Salvador: Murder-Free for One Day

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Mara 18 gang members convene at a mass to
give thanks for the recent truce. Photo via

The two most powerful drug gangs in El Salvador, Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18, called a truce earlier this month and violence has dramatically decreased in the country. An official announcement has been made that last Saturday was El Salvador's first murder-free day in three years. This is the first day without killings since President Mauricio Funes took office in June 2009, when the country had an average of 12 murders per day. "After years where the number of murders reached alarming levels of up to 18 per day (in early 2012), we saw not one homicide in the country," said Fumes in a statement. Much of the violence in El Salvador is blamed on Mexican drug cartels that use the country as a transit point. According to United Nations data, El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world at 66 per 100,000 people.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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