Thirty years ago, while he was holed up in a bungalow in West Hollywood's tony Chateau Marmont Hotel, John Belushi single-handedly put the speedball on the map when he overdosed and died after injecting a lethal cocktail of cocaine and heroin. A Chicago-area native who made his name on the first seasons of Saturday Night Live, Belushi had been on an extended cocaine bender in LA for weeks, culminating in a small party in his bungalow that lasted into the morning of March 5.
During his four seasons on Saturday Night Live, Belushi was widely credited with revolutionizing sketch comedy, but he became really famous after playing Bluto, the filthy party fiend who stole the show in 1975’s hit comedy Animal House. Later he starred as Jake Blues on The Blues Brothers. But mostly, he's remembered for pioneering the recurring role of the troubled, self-destructing overweight comedian, a la Chris Farley, Artie Lange, etc.
Belushi’s last party started at the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard, where he and his friends drank and snorted coke well into the evening. Eventually, he was joined by Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, and the three repaired to bungalow #3, where Belushi had been living for several months. The actor was found at 12:30 in the afternoon by his personal trainer, William Wallace, who showed up for a scheduled appointment. EMTs pronounced the him dead 15 minutes later. He was just 33 years old. To this day, Bungalow 3 remains one of the Marmont's most in-demand suites.
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee dragged its feet today on the state's proposed Good Samaritan law, requesting a statement for further clarity of language between “distribution” and “possession” of drugs. The bill, which seeks to extend protection from certain penalties to any witness who calls 911 in a drug overdose emergency, will now be heard again on March 22. Its main sponsors are state Senators Vitale and Weinberg, and it's backed by the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence–New Jersey (NCADD-NJ). Candice Singer (NCADD-NJ Research & Policy Analyst) and Roseanne Scotti (New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance) were invited to answer questions by the committee; Scotti and Drug Policy Alliance Policy Coordinator Meagan Glazer tell The Fix that 40 public health organizations and 14 individuals submitted testimony supporting the bill. Paul Ressler, an NCADD Advocacy Leader, lost his 22-year-old son to an overdose; he states, “A 911 call was attempted on my son’s cell but not completed.” And Patty DiRenzo relates, “My son…Sal…was 27 when he overdosed. His death…could have been prevented if the people he was with had called 911 for help; but they didn’t, most likely for fear of arrest. Sal was left alone to die.” Good Samaritan laws already exist in Connecticut, New York, Illinois, New Mexico and Washington State.
A drug addict in Singapore has been spared a punishment of caning under the regime's punitive drug laws—due to the fact that she has become a woman. Preeta Nivashani M. Rechnam received a sentence of five years and three strokes of the cane as a male back in 1998 for using morphine. In Singapore, a previous offense lines you up for an even harsher punishment of up to 13 years in prison and six to 12 strokes of the cane the next time you're caught using. A four-foot rattan cane, soaked in water and treated with antiseptic, is applied to the bare buttocks of unfortunate recipients. Rechnam was arrested on December 2 last year and found by urine tests to have used crystal meth and heroin. However, having undergone a sex change in 2006, she now identifies as a woman. That meant she was exempt from the cane, which is applied only to male offenders. (Her lawyers argued in court that it would be unlikely for a man to undergo a sex change just to avoid the caning punishment.) Rechman was sentenced on Monday to seven years and three months in prison for drug use—which in itself seems excessively severe.
A growing group of Florida pharmacists are denying critically ill patients pain meds for fear of being forced out of business. Some of those pharmacists, speaking to The Fix, blame the business practices of Florida’s largest wholesale pharmaceutical supplier, Cardinal Health Inc. Rather than warn pharmacies of its accepted maximum order levels for controlled substances, Cardinal simply cuts off their supply, they say. In return, pharmacists cut off seriously ill customers to ensure that they'll stay open.
Dr. Rich Lawrence of Ft. Myers Prescription Shop says he hates turning away desperate patients. “The wholesalers, even the smaller ones, all have established unknown limits on what I can buy. If I exceed the limits, they can turn off my abilities to serve my customers, including terminal cancer patients.” Cardinal cut Lawrence off in December. “Cardinal never spoke to me before, during, or after the cut off," he tells us. "They never once said that I was selling too much, was filling for bad doctors, was filling illegitimate prescriptions, wasn't doing my due diligence, was filling for known or suspected dealers or "doctor shoppers", or exceeding my [unknown] limits or percentages," he adds. "And no one will return my phone calls or emails.” Cardinal spokesperson Debbie Mitchell responds, “While we cannot comment on individual customer circumstances, we regret if a customer feels they weren’t dealt with fairly and we strive to keep those situations to a minimum.”
Cardinal also cut off John Ward, owner and pharmacist at John’s Pharmacy, Bonita Springs, Florida. He complains, “There’s no warning. That’s the way they do it. It is impossible to know ahead of time. I ordered the normal amount that I do every week. They cut me off in January. I feel like if it’s legitimate I should be able to sell it if it seems reasonable. I’m sending away people every day. It [Cardinal] is a dirty little secret.” Mitchell tells us, “We have made every effort to develop a best practice anti-diversion program based on the information we have available to us as a distributor.”
Still, Cardinal has reason to be wary of its own ability to remain operational. The DEA ordered the immediate suspension of controlled substance distribution by one of its 24 US distribution centers in Lakeland, Florida facility last month, saying it posed an “imminent danger” to public safety due by failing to take adequate steps to prevent Cardinal’s top four pharmacy customers from unlawfully diverting controlled substances. That suspension was temporarily blocked earlier today. Court records show that the DEA suspended the operations of four Cardinal distributions in 2007 and 2008—including Lakeland for 10 months—and Cardinal paid fines of $34 million. The $16.5 million for Lakeland was the largest such fine ever.
Australian researchers have deemed a possible vaccination campaign of anti-nicotine shots for teenagers too expensive and ineffective to justify moving forward. In the best case scenario, they believe, the vaccine would cut the number of 12-to-19-year-olds who start smoking from 10% per year to 2%. But citing already-tested anti-smoking vaccines such as Nicvax, they conclude that the drugs would need to achieve better results, require fewer doses and be more cost effective to make a large program worthwhile. "Since we finished our study, Phase III trial results [of NicVax] have become available that fail to show any benefit of a vaccine for smoking cessation, suggesting this 'best case scenario' is highly unrealistic," says Coral Gartner, the University of Queensland researcher who led the study. Each year of sickness or disability that teens receiving the shots would avoid by not smoking could cost anywhere from $80,000 to $530,000—well above Australia's public funding cut-off of $50,000. Gartner thinks other anti-smoking strategies should be considered, such as banning tobacco advertising and higher tobacco taxes. But some believe that a vaccination program could still be viable in the US, where these public funding cut-offs don't apply. "Cost-effectiveness is one consideration, but not the sole consideration, with regard to decisions about vaccine use in the US," says Dr. Grace Lee, a professor at Children's Hospital Boston. She points out that a meningitis vaccine currently recommended for children in the US is thought to cost more than $100,000 for each year of life saved.
A chemically laced herb variety of a street drug called "blueberry spice” has caused at least 15 users to fall seriously sick in Casper, Wyoming. State officials say the victims, mainly teens and young adults, sought medical care after experiencing vomiting and back pain after smoking or ingesting the substance; three people have even been hospitalized for kidney failure. “At this point, we are viewing use of this drug as a potentially life-threatening situation," says Wyoming state epidemiologist Tracy Murphy. According to the DEA, “spice” is coated with chemicals that are meant to mimic THC—the active ingredients in marijuana—giving users a similar experience to smoking pot. The DEA first tracked spice back in 2009, and since then the number of users has continued to rise. A ban on five of the chemicals used to make spice was extended by the DEA last week, but authorities continue to struggle to keep up with the ever-changing chemical make-up of the herbal product, as manufacturers circumvent bans by adjusting their recipes.