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War on Drugs

9/21/12 1:20pm

US Drug War Is "Total Disaster," Says Oliver Stone

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"It will never, never be won." Photo via

Director Oliver Stone's opinions on the US drug war pack as much of a punch as some of his work. His latest movie, Savages, hits theaters today and is based on Don Winslow's best-selling novel—the story of two Southern California youngsters who run a lucrative business raising some of the best marijuana ever developed until a Mexican drug cartel moves in. Stone produced the movie and co-wrote the screenplay, making some major changes from the book. And although he was always opposed to the US approach to drugs, his work on Savages only reinforced his position. “It’s a total disaster,” he says. “President Nixon called it the War on Drugs in 1969 and it has completely backfired. There are more people using drugs in high school today than ever before, so we haven’t solved the problem through prohibition. There’s a huge amount of money at stake and there’s no way the drug war can end because too many people are benefiting. It will never, never be won."

Stone enlisted the help of retired drug enforcement agents, drug growers and "some very interesting high-level people with a lot of money in Mexico" while preparing to write the script. He even made one of his actors, Aaron Johnson, meet real-life ex-cartel members to get a crash course in the politics of the marijuana industry. "It was in my interest that they meet real people involved in the industry and feel them out, because actors relate to people better than they do to words on a page,” says Stone. Of course, as a marijuana user for almost the whole of his adult life, Stone also has a well-researched opinion on where the best pot in the world can be found. “The best weed in the world is here in California,” he declares. “I’ve been doing it for 40 years as you know, and there’s better stuff here than in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Jamaica, South Sudan—and I’ve been to all those places. The Facebook generation, if that’s what you call them, are very smart kids and they make good stuff.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

Life expectancy

9/21/12 12:16pm

Life Expectancy Declines for Less-Educated Whites

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The smoking gun? Photo via

Life expectancy for the least-educated white people in the US is falling—and drug abuse and smoking are among the leading suspected causes. White women without a high school diploma lost an average of five years of life expectancy from 1990-2008, to 73.5 years, shows a study published in Health Affairs magazine that was led by S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois. White men in the same category lost an average three years' life expectancy, to 67.5 years, during the same period. Life expectancy rates for black and hispanic people in the same category meanwhile increased; by 2008, that of black women without high school diplomas surpassed white women of the same education level for the first time.

“We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,” says John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging, who wasn't involved in the study. The reasons behind the decline in life span of this section of the population aren't yet known for certain, but James Jackson, director of the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan and an author of the study, says that white women with low education levels may exhibit more risky behavior than previous generations. Overdoses from prescription drugs amongst whites have rocketed since 1990—the biggest change among this population in decades—while smoking rates among white and black women without high school diplomas have also increased. The proportion of working-age adults without high school diplomas who have no health insurance also rose to 43% in 2006—up from 35% in 1993. These numbers are a stark contrast to the mere 10% of college graduates without insurance.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Sober Stars

9/21/12 11:04am

Dax Shepard's Wild Ride

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Shepard and Bell co-star in Hit and Run.
Photo via

Dax Shepard discusses his former love for cocaine and Jack Daniel's, and some damaging drunken escapades, in a new interview with Playboy magazine. Shepard, 37, and his fiancee Kristen Bell were apparently quite the odd couple at the beginning of their relationship. “Kristen's a good girl. She grew up very Christian, went straight to college, did great in school and started work immediately. She's charitable and philanthropic and rescues dogs. So when we met, our backgrounds were opposites,” says Shepard. “All the things I'd done were terrifying to her.” His life pre-Bell was out of control: “I just loved to get fucked-up—drinking, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, diet pills, pain pills, everything. Mostly my love was Jack Daniel's and cocaine,” he recalls. “I lived for going down the rabbit hole of meeting weird people. Of course, come Monday I would be tallying up all the different situations, and each one was progressively more dangerous. I got lucky in that I didn’t go to jail.” The Punk'd star acquired some injuries during his hard-living years: “My nose is completely sideways from a drunken altercation. I’m missing a knuckle because of a drunken altercation,” he explains. “I ended up in a car accident with a [Hawaii] local on the way to get coke, which didn’t stop us from going to get coke. Then it wasn’t coke, it was crystal meth, but I did it anyway.” Shepard has now been clean and sober for eight years. “I think I have a pretty good handle on my 'isms,' but it takes a long time,” he says. “Each third or fourth bad thing you give up, you still have to hold on to one. I’m still on nicotine. I pound about a dozen of those Commit throat lozenges a day. I still drink gallons of coffee.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

9/21/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: September 21, 2012

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Like father, like son Photo via

By Bryan Le

Afghanistan

9/20/12 5:09pm

Afghan Addicts Suffer in the Shadow of War

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Medecins Du Monde workers help a heroin
addict who has collapsed with a needle still
stuck in his hand. Photo via

The streets of Kabul, Afghanistan are home to growing numbers of drug addicts, some of whom are seen openly injecting heroin. Afghanistan not only produces 90% of the world's opium, but is a major user. Its addiction rate of 8%—that's about one million people—is twice the global average. Of course, with so much opium produced locally, high-purity heroin is cheaply available. One 28-year-old heroin addict filmed by CNN [below] injects half a gram a day at a cost of about $4 USD. “Using drugs made me leave my home, my family,” he says. “If I didn't use drugs I would have a family, a good life.” Two years ago, the Afghan government moved to help by setting up a methadone program—as recommended by the UN—but shut it down just two months later amid doubts over whether it was the best approach. Now methadone treatment in Kabul is limited to just one clinic run by Medecins Du Monde, which can only legally serve 71 patients, so most addicts seeking recovery have to look elsewhere. Masoma, a 25-year-old woman whose whole family—her mother, brother and sister—began using to cope with a number of bereavements, is turning to counseling. Her two young children also became addicted, through secondhand smoke. But despite the problems, Afghanistan’s farmers continue growing opium, which is far more profitable than alternative crops. 

One Western aid worker who spent several months in Kabul tells The Fix, "We would regularly drive through one district that was known as the drug addicts' hang-out. It was next to a dried-up canal in the center of town." He recalls how authorities ignored the situation: "There was an Afghan military checkpoint at the top of the road, but they were obviously more worried about suicide bombers than drug addicts.” Though terrorism concerns generally overshadow addiction concerns, the two issues are linked—the Taliban reportedly relies on opium profits. But addicted Afghans have non-political reasons for trying to quit: “I feel shame and say to myself 'Why did I do this?'” says Masoma. "Why didn't I think of my children, my future?”

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By Bryan Le

Recovery community

9/20/12 4:10pm

Philly Hosts Huge Walk For Recovery

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Recovery Walks! spreads the word. Photo via

This Saturday (September 22) in Philadelphia, thousands will join Recovery Walks! 2012 to celebrate sobriety in a big way. Hosted by the non-prof PRO-ACT as part of Recovery Month, the annual walk covers 1.75 miles through the historic city, raising funds as well as awareness. “We do this so that people understand that recovery is possible, and that there is hope out there for individuals and families that are still struggling with this illness,” Beverly Haberle, executive director of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, which hosts PRO-ACT, tells The Fix. Last year, 15,000 participants made it the largest walk ever assembled in support of addiction recovery. Organizers hope to beat that figure this weekend. Plenty of festivities are also planned: politicians and celebrities like Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and YouTube sensation Ted “Golden Voice” Williams will make appearances, and there will also be a “Recovery Idol” singing contest. But for Haberle, one real highlight is the Honor Guard—participants who have 10 or more years in recovery—leading the walk. “There’s some pride attached to it," she explains, "but also it’s a demonstration to other people that long-term recovery is possible.” 

When Recovery Walks! began 11 years ago, expectations were very different. “Our first walk, we had 100 people and we were feeling great about it,” says Haberle. “The first few years, people didn’t know what to expect, having a bunch of ‘addicts’ around. We said ‘in recovery’ but they didn’t hear it quite that way, so we were sort-of shuttered off to places that were less conspicuous.” But the organizers and volunteers stayed committed, and the recovery movement in general began making great strides to change misconceptions: “Not only the number of people, but the breadth of the community that is supporting recovery has grown over the years.” And with the community growing more supportive, the walk has been granted more prominent routes through Philadelphia. “If you think about this movement, when would people 11 years ago have been cheering a bunch of people in recovery?” asks Haberle. “All of those are signs of more and more understanding and support for recovery and what recovery means, and that’s what’s exciting.”

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By Chrisanne Grise

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