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Rx Drug Safety

6/25/12 4:05pm

Big Pharma Lied About Another Pain Pill


Butter wouldn't melt.
Photo via

Once again, a pharmaceutical company's lies about the safety and effectiveness of its product are revealed to the public ten years too late. Documents reported on by the New York Times show that researchers conducting trials of the arthritis drug Celebrex for a subsidiary of Pfizer "cherry-picked" the data—as one researcher put it in the internal docs—to show that the drug upset the stomach less than the competing brands. As it turns out, the favorable results were selected from the first six months of a year-long study, rather than the whole thing. The disturbing facts were uncovered among a slew of executive emailssuch as one in which an associate medical director at Pharmacia (which was later bought by Pfizer) minimized trial findings for "no other reason than it happens to look better." The documents were released as part of an ongoing securities-fraud case against the company, which has previously included a 2003 lawsuitand heralded a major drop in Pharmacia's stock value. Although this obfuscation might have less dire consequences than Purdue Pharma's marketing of the painkiller OxyContin as "less addictive" than competing brands—helping to spark the worst prescription drug addiction epidemic in history—it's a timely reminder that companies like Pfizer and Purdue have dual allegiances: to their patients and to their bottom lines. Celebrex has made its manufacturer over $2.4 billion.  

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By Jed Bickman

alcohol laws

6/25/12 3:24pm

Iran Deals Death to Drinkers


Protesting the death sentences Photo via

It's brutal even for a regime with Iran's reputation. The Khorasan "justice" department has sentenced two male citizens to death for being caught drinking alcohol for the third time. The previous two sentences for the unidentified individuals resulted in 80 lashings; Iranian law allows the death penalty for a third conviction for drinking alcohol. Despite this, the country hasn't sent down a death sentence for drinking since 2007—and in that case the man was pardoned for his fourth alcohol offense when he repented. "The execution sentence for the two people who had been caught using alcoholic beverages has been confirmed and is now in process,” says Hojjatoleslam Hassan Shariati, the head of the Khorasan justice department. “We will not show mercy in alcoholic beverage offenses and we will sentence the offenders to the harshest letter of the law.” There may be plenty more of these executions and public lashings to come, because alcohol consumption is very much on the rise in Iran; Shargh newspaper reports that 26% of drivers stopped by police currently test positive for drug or alcohol use.

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By McCarton Ackerman

celebrity rehab

6/25/12 2:11pm

Sober Oscar De La Hoya Pursues Golf


Things are on the upswing for De La Hoya.
Photo via

Getting sober can feel like starting over; it is often heard in the recovery community that addicts are given the opportunity to live two lifetimes in one. Perhaps no one exemplifies this opportunity for transformation better than one-time boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya, who is clean and sober for over a year, repairing his marriage, and taking on a new sport: golf. De La Hoya, 39, earned his reputation as boxing's "Golden Boy" after scoring a gold medal at the Barcelona olympics, 20 years ago. But despite career success that included 17 world champions and 10 world titles, his addictions nearly beat him to a pulp—his dark past included cocaine addiction, alcohol abuse, and sex scandals that nearly destroyed his marriage, including rape allegations. “I almost lost everything,” says the ring legend, who had his first drink aged nine. But a little over a year after checking himself into rehab in Malibu, CA, De La Hoya has maintained his sobriety with the aid of 12-step meetings, recovered his wife's trust—and is now pursuing career aspirations as a pro golfer. He discovered golf in his 20s and pursued the sport as a hobby even as his boxing career took off. These days he plays weekly and plans to try out for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in 2023. “Got the green light from the wife,” he says. “She understands that golf fulfills me.”

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By May Wilkerson

Drug war

6/25/12 12:32pm

More DEA Death and Intrigue in Honduras


The DEA is watching Honduras from
the skies. Photo via

As The Fix reported last week, US-backed drug enforcement violence in Honduras looks set to continue. Early Saturday morning, a DEA agent killed a man in another drug-seizure operation. It's the first time the DEA has admitted to one of its own agents opening fire in Honduras, an action it says was justified because the target—who was being arrested—was reportedly reaching for his weapon. Meanwhile an investigation continues of the May 11 massacre in Ahuas, in which four seemingly-innocent bystanders were killed by gunfire from a US-owned helicopter.

The New York Times reports that it obtained (but didn't release) video of the incident, taken by an unmanned drone hovering overhead. But the video adds mystery to an event already clouded by conflicting reports. The people killed were in a dugout canoe that villagers say was ferrying lobster fishermen and families back to town. The canoe came on the scene of an in-progress drug sting, with DEA agents supporting Honduran and Guatemalan law enforcement in the seizure of a boat loaded with cocaine. According to the video—in a detail omitted from both official reports and the reports of eyewitnesses and victims to human rights observers—the canoe seemingly collided with the drug-smuggling boat as the former was docking, before the American helicopters opened fire on it. Although this doesn't clarify the conflicting stories—the identities of those killed in the boat have been verified separately as including a young boy and two pregnant women—the Times reports that the video “satisfied Congressional staff members that the American agents on the raid did not fire their weapons.” Which seems to mean that Americans are unlikely to accept any responsibility for the incident.

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By Jed Bickman

addiction in the movies

6/25/12 11:47am

MLB Addict Josh Hamilton's Life to Hit Big Screen


Hamilton's rise from addict to MVP will soon
hit the big screen. Photo via

Josh Hamilton's story of overcoming his addictions to crack, cocaine and alcohol, and then returning to pro baseball better than ever, could have come straight out of a movie—and Hollywood producers seem to think so too. A feature film on the life of the Texas Rangers star is already in the works, with Casey Affleck taking on the role of writer-director and Thunder Road Pictures signing on for the flick. A statement from Hamilton and his wife Katie says that while they won't be involved in the Hollywood pitching process themselves, they will have "an integral part of the film's creative direction and accuracy as the project develops." As of now, the biggest issue in the film is finding an actor who physically matches Hamilton and can play the role. Will Ferrell's name was tossed around initially because he bears the closest resemblance in terms of facial structure—but unfortunately he doesn't have an athletic enough body. Other actors who may come out swinging include Channing TatumJesse Eisenberg of The Social Network and Cole Hauser of Good Will Hunting.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Addiction and the Brain

6/25/12 10:59am

Food Addicts "Less Likely to Do Coke"


Coke, or cake? Photo via

People with food addictions may be less likely to do cocaine, according to new research from Yale University's School of Medicine. The new study—published in Nature Neuroscience—finds that overeating and an appetite for cocaine are both driven by the same set of brain neurons. Researchers performed some tests on mice: first "knocking out" a molecule that controls hunger neurons in the brain, and then measuring how the mice responded to coke. "We found that animals that have less interest in food are more interested in novelty-seeking behaviors and drugs like cocaine," says Professor Tamas L. Horvath, one of the authors. "This suggests that there may be individuals with increased drive of the reward circuitry, but who are still lean." The researchers believe that the hypothalamus—the part of the brain controlling body temperature, hunger, thirst and sleep—is vital to higher brain function, which impacts behavior. "These hunger-promoting neurons are critically important during development to establish the set point of higher brain functions, and their impaired function may be the underlying cause for altered motivated and cognitive behaviors," says Horvath. The study was originally conducted to find treatments for metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity, but instead flipped the common wisdom about obesity and drug addiction on its head. "There is this contemporary view that obesity is associated with the increased drive of the reward circuitry," says Horvath. "But here, we provide a contrasting view: that the reward aspect can be very high, but subjects can still be very lean. At the same time, it indicates that a set of people who have no interest in food, might be more prone to drug addiction."

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By Valerie Tejeda


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