The Sunshine State is making a much-needed effort to reduce prescription drug abuse as it prepares for its second "Prescription Drug Take-Back Day" tomorrow, August 27. Attorney General Pam Bondi sponsored a measure 10 days ago that marked the 27th as the day where Floridians can safely return unused or expired medications—over 70 pharmacies, grocery stores and law enforcement centers statewide will be waiting to receive their drugs. The numbered of sites doubled this year, due to high participation in last year's event. 5,647 drug-related deaths in Florida in 2010 involved prescription pills, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission Report on Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons—and the rate is rising. Florida's Governor Rick Scott, whose reputation on pill mills is extremely mixed, claimed his state is winning the fight against them, citing almost 940 arrests—including 17 doctors—since he set up a strike force in March. Florida has also confiscated more than 252,000 pills and almost $1.7 million in assets since then. “This is what is possible when we target the source of the problem: bad doctors at the top of the pill mill supply chain,” Scott said. “Florida’s law enforcement officers have made a dramatic impact.”
You often hear parallels being drawn between the recovery movement and the gay rights movement in areas such as public acceptance, and debates over anonymity and "outing." But it's far less common to hear major presidential candidates denounce both alcoholism and homosexuality as conditions born of lax values. Texas Governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry made just such a comparison in his 2008 book On My Honor—a tome which "takes dead aim at the moral relativism of the secular humanist movement," while extolling the virtues of the Boy Scouts of America. His controversial book includes lengthy comparisons of the burden of homosexuals with that of alcoholics. “Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink,” Perry writes. “And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.” His choice of the word "powerless" suggests some familiarity with the recovery landscape—and if his thinking is in line with the majority of US addiction specialists, who designate alcoholism a "disease," his comparison of alcoholism with homosexuality sounds particularly unsavory. While his book strongly advocates sexual abstinence for gay people, his campaign declined to respond when The Fix called to ask if the governor has changed his opinion on the subject. Even so, some of Perry's more enlightened fans can console themselves with the thought that he might be slightly less reactionary than one of his most prominent GOP rivals, Michigan congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has denounced homosexuality as a "sexual dysfunction." “This is not funny. It's a very sad life," she remarked in an interview on the subject. "It's part of Satan, I think, to say this lifestyle is 'gay'. It's anything but gay." Bachmann's wildly flamboyant husband Marcus runs a ministry counseling homosexuals seeking to become straight. He has been targeted by programs like The Daily Show and Real Time With Bill Maher, which have jokingly questioned his own heterosexuality.
Google has been ordered to shell out a $500 million fine to settle charges that it knowingly ran illegal ads for fraudulent Canadian pharmacies to Internet users in the United States, the Justice Department announced yesterday. The mammoth penalty, one of the largest in corporate history, spares the Internet giant from criminal prosecution in the matter. A federal investigation, which was made public in May, alleged that Google executives knew that many of the pharmacies it advertised sold drugs like Oxycontin and Ritalin without requiring prescriptions. But instead of declining to run the suspect ads, the government charges that Google kept accepting them—and in some cases even helped the pill mill improve their websites. In a statement issued following the Justice Department's announcement, the company admitted that “It’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place.” Indeed, Google policy had expressly banned similar ads in the past. The forfeiture covers revenue that Google earned from the advertisers as well as funds that the crooked Canadian pharmacies received from US customers—slashing Google's profit by 22% for this financial quarter. Illegal online pharmacies often stay under the radar and bounce back under different names if they get busted. In 2004, Sheryl Sandberg, a former vice president for Google's global online sales and now a top exec at Facebook, testified before the Senate that Google was keeping a strict watch on phony pharmacies. But a New York Times source claimed the company “did not turn a blind eye... but rather played a game of Whac-A-Mole with the rogue pharmacies.” The DOJ and others say Google knew about the problem and should have done more to address it. “Google does have a responsibility in this regard,” said Susan E. Foster, director of policy research and analysis at Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. “To the extent that they allow ads for illegal pharmacies, they’re aiding and abetting the problem and profiting from it as well.”
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Institute—which runs an international harm reduction effort as part of its health program—has just released a graphic novel to promote the fact that methadone and buprenorphine maintenance programs dramatically cut the rates of HIV infection in countries where the epidemic is skyrocketing. The 24-page comic book, Methadone Man and Buprenorphine Babe, stars a dynamic superhero duo pushing back against the worldwide War on Drugs to advocate drug-maintenance—both as a tool to treat addiction and to stop the spread of AIDS. “Methadone stops HIV in its tracks!” declares Methadone Man, the comic's caped crusader. “Buprenorphine each day keeps injection away!” adds his comely pal, "Bupe Babe." Designed to reach young people in the developed and developing worlds, the glossy comics are a far cry from the ones you grew up with as a kid. They're also bound to raise some hackles among anti-drug groups who feel that Methadone is a poor substitute for outright abstinence.
Methadone, a synthetic long-acting full-agonist opioid drug, has been used in medication-assisted addiction treatment (MAT) for decades to block addicts' cravings for narcotics such as heroin and Oxycontin. Buprenorphine—AKA Suboxone, Subutex or "bupe"—is a newer synthetic long-acting partial-agonist opioid. Developed for pain treatment and to conduct short-term detoxes from full-agonist drugs, it's increasingly being used as a maintenance drug by many doctors. Like methadone, Buprenephorine can block cravings and prevent addicts engaging in criminal or unhealthy activities—like needle-sharing—to support their habits. Outside sub-Saharan Africa, one third of HIV infections are attributed to IV drug users sharing unsanitary works—IV drug use accounts for 10% of new infections around the world. The World Health Organization calls methadone and buprenorphine “essential medicines,” and they're recognized as such by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS, and other international organizations. Methadone and bupe are available to drug addicts in 65 countries, but because of onerous restrictions they fail to reach many who could benefit, an Open Society report says. The comic book contains startling stats about the link between addiction and HIV: In Vietnam IV drug users account for 65% of HIV infections, but fewer than 0.5% have access to drug maintenance; HIV has reached epidemic levels among IV drug users in Russia—37% of Russian IV drug users reportedly have HIV, and they make up 80% of new cases—yet Russia has outlawed methadone and bupe; Poland has limited its drug maintenance program to just 1,000 people; 88 countries have IV drug-use problems but no MAT programs.
The Open Society’s program is part of a larger effort to lower HIV infection rates among injection drug users. The recent International AIDS Conference in Vienna declared that the War on Drugs is helping to spread AIDS and called for a policy overhaul. The Vienna Declaration was signed by thousands of people worldwide, including the Nobel-laureate co-discoverer of the HIV virus and other prominent health-policy figures. President Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief also reportedly endorses MAT and harm-reduction strategies. A raft of methadone treatment programs were recently initiated in countries including Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Morocco, Cambodia and Bangladesh. In countries that already have MAT programs, like Georgia, Kyrgyszstan and Indonesia, IV addicts face prohibitively long waiting lists. The Open Society’s five-point harm reduction approach to reducing HIV infection also includes increasing needle exchanges, legal reform to end the focus on criminalizing addicts, increasing the availability of antiretroviral treatment, and teaching addicts to take care of their sexual health.
- Mexico Gunmen Set Casino on Fire, Killing 53 [LA Times]
- Why It's No Longer Raining Cocaine in the Dominican Republic [Time]
- Mexico Drug War: Local Mayor Found Murdered [International Business Times]
- Rodney King Charged with DUI for July Arrest [CBS News]
- New York Man Admits Dealing Drugs Out of Ice Cream Truck [Reuters]
- Mobile Meth Lab Found in Pickup Truck [Heartland Connection]
Fix Editor-in-Chief Maer Roshan appeared on CNN Headline News last night, to discuss Russell Armstrong's suicide. On Monday The Fix published an exclusive interview by Roshan with the much-maligned Real Housewives husband, an alleged wife beater and one-time financial felon who became a passionate advocate for recovery in recent years. Armstrong, the child of an alcoholic father who supported his sister through her meth addiction, and quietly paid for the treatment of several other addicts, approached Roshan about investing in The Fix just six weeks before his his death. On the show, Roshan pointed out that while Armstrong may have been no saint, reality T.V. doesn't always encourage good behavior, noting that many mshows ply their subjects with alcohol and radically edit segments to achieve maximum drama.