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big alcohol

8/09/12 2:31pm

Africa's Binge Drinkers Tempt Big Alcohol


Africa has the world's highest proportion
of binge drinkers. Photo via

As Western alcohol companies begin to swoop in on the African market, countries like South Africa, Kenya and Zambia face an overwhelming problem with alcohol abuse—and politicians are under increasing pressure to crack down. Africa has the highest proportion of binge drinkers, at about 25% of the population, despite the fact that large numbers of Muslims and evangelical Christians do not drink alcohol. "It's true that most people in Africa don't drink for cultural, religious and economic reasons but those who drink, drink a lot," says Dr. Vladimir Poznyak of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva. Alcohol abuse has contributed to increased rates of driving accidents, violent crime and HIV, and about 122 out of every 1,000 children are born with illnesses like fetal alcohol syndrome—compared to about 8 per 1,000 babies in the US. Education about substance abuse is generally lacking, and laws to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving are rarely enforced. To make matters worse, brewers and distillers like SABMiller, Diageo, and Heineken are increasingly targeting African markets by offering “traditional” cultural beverages, sponsoring local football matches and running ads promoting "female empowerment." SABMiller is investing $2.5 billion over the next five years into breweries in Africa, and Diageo’s sales on the continent have risen on average by 15% each year for last five years.

These companies could risk losing their burgeoning alcohol market if the African governments do finally crack down on alcohol abuse. South Africa is considering a new law that would restrict alcohol advertising, raise the minimum drinking age to 21 and enforce stricter penalties for drunk driving. It would also raise booze taxes and propose warning labels on containers. Other countries like Kenya are looking to create similar laws. However, the beer breweries argue that increased taxes will actually be more damaging to the health of African drinkers: “The alternative is that lower income people who wish to consume liquor will buy illicit and potentially dangerous alcohol," says Vincent Maphai, executive director of Corporate Affairs at SABMiller's South African unit—referencing the dangerous home-brews often containing lethal ingredients such as battery acid. Still, health officials are mainly concerned with getting the binge drinking under control. "In spite of all economic benefits that increased investments in alcohol production and sales can bring, the health of the population should be properly protected and this should be a priority," Poznyak says. "Health is the best investment, also from an economic point of view, in any society."

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By Chrisanne Grise


8/09/12 12:52pm

Kathie Lee Gifford Insults Parents of Addicts


Gifford is not known for her tact. Photo via

Today Show co-host Kathie Lee Gifford seems to have a habit of putting her foot (and on-air morning cocktails) in her mouth, and her latest misstep during an interview with Family Circle magazine has deeply offended many parents of addicted kids. In the interview, she seemed to imply that addiction can result from bad parenting, saying: "I'm not a perfect mom, but my kids haven't been arrested, in rehab or kicked out of school, so I must be doing something right!" Apparently her imperfections extend beyond her parenting abilities: hoards of angry parents of addicted children went directly to Gifford's Facebook page and slammed her for her comments, with one even going so far as to call her a "thoughtless human being." "I'm glad you never had to face any of your babies drowning in a disease they could not be cured from," wrote one poster. "I lost my baby at the age of 32 to a heroin overdose in Sept 2010. I am a doctor and worked hard my entire life to give her the best." So far, neither Gifford or Today have commented on her indiscretion.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Cocaine addiction treatment

8/09/12 11:38am

Cocktail of Meds Could Treat Coke Addiction


Not only rodent coke-fiends might benefit.
Photo credit: Jay Kusnetz

A cocktail of FDA-approved medications—including the opioid buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex)—could treat cocaine addiction without producing physical dependence, according to a new rat study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The trick is adding the opioid-blocking drug naltrexone, which can preserve the anti-coke effects of buprenorphine without producing a high—or leading to the physical dependence that develops with daily opioid use. As noted in

Buprenorphine itself is a marvel of multiplicity. At low doses, it acts like an opioid, cutting physical and emotional pain and reducing anxiety by activating a class of opioid receptors, known as mu receptors. At high doses, it has the opposite effect: preventing opioid-like action and inducing withdrawal symptoms rather than relief. That’s what makes it an especially safe drug for maintenance of people with opioid addictions. But buprenorphine has another action as well: it blocks the kappa opioid receptor, a target that has long intrigued pharmacologists because it seems to be one of the “brakes” on the pleasure-producing dopamine system. When people repeatedly take drugs—particularly stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine—the brain releases excessive amounts of dopamine. This triggers a feedback loop: it overactivates kappa opioid receptors, which in turn shuts dopamine down. Now “it’s payback time,” says [lead researcher] George Koob [of the Scripps Institute], because your brain’s pleasure pathways conform to an austerity plan, getting increasingly stingy with the joy juice.

But the study found that in the right dosage, adding naltrexone to buprenorphine preserves the kappa blocking effect of the drug, without the high and addiction potential associated with the mu receptor—at least in rats. A clinical trial in patients with both cocaine and heroin addiction is currently recruiting. (A clinical trial is one of the best places to get top notch addiction care: even if you wind up in the control group, you'll still get treatment based on the best available evidence). If the combo proves effective, expect trials in people with cocaine and amphetamine addictions that don’t involve opioids. Since both drugs are already approved, providers could use them in treatment as soon as the best dosing is discovered. But using two separate pills might prove tricky if addicted people decide to skip the naltrexone to get high on buprenorphine. Not that it would be a very good high: the version used in addiction treatment has abuse deterrent drugs in it that mean it can only be taken orally, although it could have some effect and daily use without the naltrexone would produce dependence. The cocktail could also potentially help depression and chronic pain, both of which may involve reduced pleasure caused by an overactive kappa opioid system. 

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By Maia Szalavitz

celebrity rehab

8/09/12 10:43am

Brigitte Nielsen: "A Relapse Can Happen"


Nielsen needed a moment to herself.
Photo via

Celebrity Rehab star Brigitte Nielsen has spoken out about the alarming photos released over the weekend of her drinking vodka and stumbling drunk around an LA park. She told Entertainment Tonight that while the incident was definitely a relapse, there is "no cause for alarm" from fans. She cited the stress of a non-stop work schedule and major health issues in her family to leading up to the highly public incident, but made it clear that it was not part of a pattern of similar behavior. “At that moment in time, I felt like I needed a moment to myself, in a park," she said. "The vodka came about as a desperate move to try to release some pressure and is under no circumstances an indication of how I lead my life on a day to day basis. It’s a very sad situation, but, you know, a relapse can happen... Life goes on and you have to press on, learn from your mistakes, deal with the issue.” The Danish former model and actress appeared on the first season of Celebrity Rehab in 2007 to address her alcoholism, which she had been struggling with for well over a decade. She confirmed that Dr. Drew has been in touch with her since the photos surfaced and invited her back to the Pasadena Recovery Center for an off-camera stint in treatment.

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By McCarton Ackerman


8/09/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: August 9, 2012


Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.
Photo via

By Gabrielle Wuhl

Drug Smuggling

8/08/12 4:50pm

Why K2 Is the Prisoner's Choice


Prisoners beat the system with K2.
Photo via

Cops and DEA agents raided dozens of businesses suspected of selling drugs like K2 and Spice in almost 100 cities recently, as part of the first-ever nationwide crackdown on synthetic drugs. They might have done better to focus on our country's correctional facilities: K2 use is rampant on the inside, where its properties help users avoid detection. "K2 is cheaper and easier to get than marijuana and you smuggle it in the same way," one prisoner tells The Fix. "The thing about it is, when you smoke it you won't get a dirty and the guards don't know what the fuck the smell is. They think it's incense or something. The homies have been beating the urine tests and we smoke K2 everyday."

In prison the C/Os carry out random drug testing and urinalysis. If a prisoner gets a dirty, he can go to the hole for 60 days—as well as losing phone, commissary, visiting and email privileges for up to six months, and getting 41 good-time credit days taken away. That's some pretty steep sanctions, giving some prisoners second thoughts about smoking marijuana. But they still want to get stoned, so they smoke K2: the "consequence-free" high. "I've been smoking K2 like crazy," the prisoner says. "This is fun for me. This is how I do my time. I spend all my money on K2. I want to stay stoned. But going to the hole for dirties is some bullshit. Ain't nobody trying to go the hole for that. It's like going to jail when you're already in prison."

The Special Housing Unit or SHU—known as the hole or the bucket—is where prisoners are housed when they're found guilty of disciplinary infractions like dirty urine, getting drunk or smuggling in drugs. It's basically 24-hour lockdown in a cell. Smoking K2 enables prisoners to get high and still avoid that. But the prison administrators will catch on soon—if they haven't already. "My homie told me they got new cups for the tests that register for K2," the prisoner says. "But that's a rumor. I'll know for sure when they piss me, because I've been burning that K2 up."

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By Seth Ferranti


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