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Suicide Prevention

9/10/12 5:46pm

Gov. Anti-Suicide Plan Relies on Facebook

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Can Facebook save lives?
Photo via

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the US government has released a new plan to help those struggling with self-harm and self-destruction—which of course are behaviors closely tied to addiction. The new strategy will rely heavily on a new Facebook service that will allow users to report suicidal comments made by friends; the plan is to then follow up with an email urging the friend to call a prevention hotline, or speak in confidence with an online counselor. "All too often, people in crisis do not know how—or who—to ask for help," says Marne Levine, Facebook's global vice president for public policy. "We have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most." Suicide is a mounting problem in the US, killing over 36,000 Americans a year—that's more than double the rate of death by homicide. Over eight million adults seriously contemplated taking their own lives last year, estimates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But experts say that encouraging people to talk about their feelings—especially with trained professionals—can save lives.

The new suicide prevention plan will also focus on the 23 million veterans in the US; the number of suicides in this group rose from to 10,888 in 2009 to 17,754 last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Suicide is one of the most challenging issues we face," says Army Secretary John McHugh. "In the Army, suicide prevention requires soldiers to look out for fellow soldiers. We must foster an environment that encourages people in need to seek help and be supported." The plan, which also includes $55.6 million in grant funding for prevention programs, is the first new scheme in over 10 years to tackle suicide. "It takes the entire community to prevent suicides. It's not just one individual," says US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. "We all can play a role."

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By Chrisanne Grise

Legalization of Marijuana

9/10/12 4:48pm

Mayor of Maastricht Backtracks on Coffee Shop Rule

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The rules are changing again for Maastricht's
coffee shops. Photo via

Is this one to file under “hate to say we told you so?” Maastricht is set to become the first Dutch city to push back against the government requirement that citizens register as marijuana users in order to buy weed from coffee shops. Mayor Onno Hoes wrote to city councillors last week to tell them that customers should no longer have to register. The Dutch Justice Ministry introduced the controversial law to turn coffee shops into members-only clubs in an effort to block drug tourists' access—but the move has met resistance from a coalition of coffee shop owners, smokers and politicians, who have branded it “tourist suicide.”

Maastricht was one of the first cities to enforce the ban, almost a year ago. As well as a drop in pot tourists from France and Belgium, it faced losing an estimated 345 jobs and $41 million in tourism revenue. But it wasn’t just money that caused the mayor of the border city to change his mind: unsurprisingly, locals weren’t eager to register on a government database as users of a technically illegal drug, and this incentive to avoid legitimate establishments has seen street drug-dealing flourish. “I was in Maastricht in June,” says one commenter on DutchNews.NL, “and noticed large amounts of shady looking street dealers. When the crime rates begin to go up changes will be made.”

Still, the new policy earned approval from American drug warriors, who wasted no time celebrating the apparent end of the “Mecca of Weed.” Three-administration advisor, drug hawk and Fix contributor Kevin Sabet participated in a live chat on the subject of marijuana with the Seattle Times recently: “We know a few things about the Netherlands,” he said. “First and foremost, we know that in that country officials and the public have become increasingly uneasy with their de facto legalization policies. In fact, they are completely reversing them—closing down pot shops, restricting who can buy marijuana (Sorry, American college students!)”

He may have spoken too soon. Maastricht could be the first of several Dutch cities to opt out of the new system, with many in local government—like the mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan—opposing it. “The weed card will be introduced in Amsterdam,” said Dutch Junior Justice minister Fred Teeven recently, “but we will take local government into account.” Some took his words as a sign that the government might be softening its approach. And with a September 12 election looming—and a sizeable movement aiming to mobilize around half a million weed-smoking voters to ditch pro-"weed pass" politicians—that may make political sense. Another DutchNews commenter writes, “The only people that will be upset if the weed pass plan is dropped will be the street drug dealers.”

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By Tony O'Neill

shipping news

9/10/12 4:02pm

Narco-Subs: The Next Generation

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A drug sub crew abandoning ship. Photo via

Using “drug subs” to smuggle blow from South America to the US is a relatively new innovation from traffickers—and these handmade vessels are only getting more advanced and speedier, not to mention harder to detect. Previously most drug subs were semi-submersibles, which had to float just below the waterline in order to provide air (through a snorkel) for their diesel engines, and which had a max range of about 3,000 miles. But, according to the New York Times, new models—including three interdicted recently by the US Coast Guard—are capable of staying totally underwater (except for surfacing nightly to recharge batteries) for the entire trip from, say, Ecuador to Los Angeles, or nearly 4,400 miles. Drug subs first began to been seen in the 1990s in the Eastern Pacific, but now are pushing into new territories, specifically the Caribbean trade routes previously dominated by the “fast boats” of a previous era of narcotics shipping.

Sub-hunters in the Coast Guard and US intelligence continue to do their work—despite the fact that three-quarters of possible drug cargo is allowed to proceed unmolested, due to the lack of anywhere near enough aircraft and ships to track and intercept shipments. But ever-improving drug-sub technology is raising another concern: US officials are worried about the potential use of these types of drug subs by terrorists, although this has yet to be seen. Coast Guard Commander Mark Fedor tells the Times, “These vessels are seaworthy enough that I have no doubt in my mind that if they had enough fuel, they could easily sail into a port in the United States.”


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By Hunter R. Slaton

Effects of marijuana

9/10/12 2:59pm

Marijuana Endangers Your Balls, Dudes

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A ballsy habit? Photo via

Young men who smoke pot may be putting their manhoods in the line of fire, according to new research from the University of Southern California. The study, published in the journal CANCER, links marijuana to non-seminoma tumors—a particularly dangerous form of testicular cancer—in males between their early teens and early thirties. "The group that is at risk for developing these tumors is overwhelmingly young men. They should be looking and paying attention to changes in their testicles anyway," says Victoria Cortessis, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at USC's Keck School of Medicine. Cortessis and her colleagues asked 163 young men with testicular cancer, and 292 healthy men, about their drug use. They found those who smoked pot had double the risk of developing testicular tumors—and the pot-smokers' tumors tended to grow faster and be more difficult to treat. Although the exact reason for this correlation is yet unknown, in animal studies, pot smoke and the chemical THC have been known to reduce testosterone, which regulates testes development and function. "It may be that marijuana use disrupts this regulation in a way that makes the testes much more vulnerable to cancer," says Coressis. 

It's not the first time this link has been flagged. "We now have three studies connecting marijuana use to testicular cancer, and no studies that contradict them," says Stephen Schwartz, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle who authored a 2009 study yielding similar results. "I think we should start taking notice." According to the National Cancer Institute, over 8,500 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2012—with 360 estimated fatalities. However, those with non-seminoma tumors have a much higher fatality rate, so male pot-smokers—especially young ones—might be advised to keep an eye on their junk.

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By May Wilkerson

Drugged Driving

9/10/12 1:15pm

Alcohol, Drugs Involved in Most Car Fatalities

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Alcohol was most commonly found in toxicology
screens after the accidents. Photo via

More than half of the drivers killed in car accidents in the US have alcohol or drugs in their system when they crash, and about one in five have been using two or more drugs, according to a new study published in the Addiction journal. Researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on 20,150 drivers killed accidents from 2005-2009, finding that men and night-time drivers were the most likely to have booze or drugs show up in toxicology tests afterwards: 60% of men killed were under the influence, compared with under 50% of the women. Alcohol was found most often, followed by marijuana and stimulants. However, the records didn't have enough data to tell to what extent the drivers were actually impaired, or the extent to which prescription drugs were to blame, so more research will be needed. "With alcohol, the amount of alcohol is more or less directly related to the level of behavior impairment,” says Robert Voas, who studies alcohol and highway safety at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, but wasn't part of the study. “The relationship of a drug in the body to the behavior of the driver is less direct and clear." 

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By Chrisanne Grise

sober stars

9/10/12 12:12pm

Lana Del Rey Didn't Let Her "Dark Side" Win

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Lana Del Rey bares all for GQ. Photo via

Indie pop singer and GQ's "Woman of the Year" Lana Del Rey has revealed that she struggled with substance abuse in her teens, and these "wilderness years" influenced her recent album, Born to Die. “I was a big drinker at the time,” she tells GQ. “I would drink every day. I would drink alone…I knew it was a problem when I liked it more than I liked doing anything else." Her worried parents sent her to boarding school in hopes it would help her kick the habit—at just 14 years old. "At first it's fine and you think you have a dark side—it's exciting—and then you realize the dark side wins every time if you decide to indulge in it. It’s also a completely different way of living when you know that…a different species of person. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Things seem to be on the up for the 26-year-old singer-songwriter, who appeared on Saturday Night Live in January, and is now working on her third album. Del Rey first opened up publicly about her addictions earlier this year on YouTube: when one commenter expressed thanks for her "Carmen" video, about a teenage meth addict, the star responded, "I got clean too, so I know how it goes.”

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By May Wilkerson

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