Opening in limited release this weekend, the new indie film Smashed—starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul—brings the dangers of social drinking to the big screen. The movie, which was a critics' favorite at both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals, follows a first grade teacher (Winstead) whose nightly drinking binges see her lose control of her life, leading her to attend AA meetings. The story is loosely based on co-writer Susan Brooke's personal experience with alcoholism and sobriety, so Winstead went to AA meetings with Brooke before shooting, to help develop her character. “I don't think many of us really look at ourselves and think, 'Okay, do I drink too much?'" says Winstead. "At a certain point, you have to really get to a point where you are able to look at yourself and say, 'Okay, I think this is too much. I think I have a problem.' Sometimes it's really that fine line of 'I'm just having fun.' It can be a blurry line sometimes.” Though the movie deals with serious issues, the writers aimed to do it with a light touch. “We really wanted something to add humor and didn't want to take ourselves too seriously,” says co-writer James Ponsoldt. “Usually in movies people feel like they have to treat [characters] who are struggling with something as fragile, but they're not. People are tough and resilient and complicated. We wanted the film to feel that way and a main character that had all of those things.”
Last Friday, New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, conditionally vetoed the state's bipartisan Good Samaritan Bill, which sought to grant immunity from prosecution to people who call 911 when someone is OD-ing in their presence. Christie claims that the bill wasn't wide-ranging enough on subjects like drug deterrence and public safety; opponents accuse him of stalling at the expense of addicts' lives. On Saturday, Patty DiRenzo, advocacy leader for the New Jersey affilate of the National Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD-NJ), created a “NJ 911 Good Samaritan Bill” Facebook page. “We are not giving up," she tells The Fix. "We have people all over the country supporting this bill. This epidemic is out of control, and saving lives must take precedence over arrest.” DiRenzo has personal reasons to back the bill: “I will keep fighting in honor of my son Sal and for every child struggling with addiction and those we have lost.”
Christie has asked the Division of Criminal Justice to report back in 18 months with a study that addresses the “many social problems that accompany…drug distribution and use.” Roseanne Scotti, state director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, tells us, “We are very saddened. We had 30 to 40 public health groups and drug treatment organizations support it with no opposition. Overdosing is the leading cause of accidental deaths in NJ," she continues. "This needs immediate attention—not 18 months while people continue to die. It’s heartbreaking for the families who have lost loved ones. They have taken time to testify, to call the Governor’s Office.” Candice Singer, NCADD-NJ policy analyst, adds, “Although we are disappointed, we will continue working with interested groups. This bill saves lives.”
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- Kickstarter’s Most Dedicated Backers: Do-Gooders or Addicts? [VentureBeat]
- Russell Brand to Throw a Party Celebrating 10 Years of Sobriety [Entertainmentwise]
Haiti’s government is hoping to raise $100 million for education by putting an additional tax on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced that the new 2% "sin tax" would amass enough money to build 200 schools and refurbish 2,000 more. In addition, the money is needed for training and pay raises for thousands of teachers. "In Haiti, 70% of the teachers have not completed sixth grade," says Lamothe. "We need to train the teachers, and that is a $23 million program.” The proceeds raised by the tax would go into a government fund that already has accrued nearly $34 million in taxes on international phone calls and money transfers. However, the new sin tax must be approved by Parliament before it can go into effect. Lamothe hopes that efforts to improve and rebuild the educational system would boost enrollment in schools; Haiti has about 4.5 million school-age children and only about half of them were attending school before the 2010 earthquake that destroyed and damaged thousands of classrooms.
It has been long documented that the use of injection drugs is a major risk factor for spreading HIV and AIDS, but a new study has confirmed a link between methadone treatments and a reduced risk of HIV transmission in people who inject drugs. An international team of researchers carried out a meta-analysis of several published and unpublished studies from nine countries including the US, Austria and China, which looked predominately at men between the ages of 26-39. Pooling the results, the researchers found opiate substitution therapies such as methadone and buprenopine were linked to a 54% fall in risk of HIV infection among people who inject drugs. "Increases in HIV incidence have been reported among PWID (people who inject drugs) in a number of countries in recent years, where opiate substitution therapies are illegal or severely restricted," says co-author Julie Bruneau, from the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Montreal. "There is good evidence to suggest that opiate substitution therapies (OST) reduce drug-related mortality, morbidity and some of the injection risk behaviors among PWID. However, to date there has been no quantitative estimate of the effect of OST in relation to HIV transmission."
The researchers noted that HIV/AIDS account for nearly a fifth of the burden of disease among people who use illicit drugs and that 5 to 10 percent of HIV infections worldwide are contracted via intravenous drug use. Using methadone to combat withdrawal and HIV has long been a controversial subject: billionaire George Soros released a comic book character called "Methadone Man" urging for methadone and buprenorphine maintenance programs, whereas actor-comedian Russell Brand is against the practice, claiming it prolongs drug use. “We might as well let people carry on taking drugs if they’re going to be on methadone," said Brand. "Obviously it’s painful to abstain, but at least it’s hope-based.”
Prisoners are admitted to the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) in line with their projected release dates. RDAP consists of a minimum of 500 face-to-face contact hours over the course of 10 months, and its unit-based component has three phases: Orientation, Core Treatment and Transition. Participants are exposed to a variety of interventions during each phase, including community meetings, pychoeducational groups, service groups, process groups and individual sessions as warranted. "They got three parts you have to take and complete to get the year off [your sentence]," one prisoner tells The Fix. "Phase one is Orientation; it's 11 weeks, it goes over the eight attitudes of change and confronting and leveling. Phase two, which is broken into two eleven-week sessions, goes over RSAs [rational self-analysis], criminal thinking errors and how to have healthy relationships. Phase three is 11 weeks and it gives you the tools to evaluate the balance of your life."
Each program segment requires active participation and a commitment to change—mere attendance and observation, without active participation, is not sufficient to complete the program. Before a participant can make the transition from one stage to the next, he must demonstrate acceptance of his diagnosis, take responsibility for the entire community, actively and appropriately engage in group activities, make an observable commitment to positive change and demonstrate mastery of phase-related concepts. "I learned how to be more aware of myself and the attitudes I demonstrated in Orientation," the prisoner says. "In phase two I learned that I look for unhealthy relationships because I am codependent, and in phase three I'm learning that every aspect of my life has to be in sequence for me to be balanced."