Visions began as a screenplay about addiction, penned by a newly-sober auto worker in between shifts at a New Jersey factory. But it's evolved into something much larger—a theater company, a far-reaching play, and now a full-length film—all with the sole purpose of helping addicts get clean. "Our only mission is to bring hope," Bob, the screenwriter, and founder of the Visions Recovery Inc. theater company, tells The Fix. Their hour-long play chronicles 20 addicts as they hit bottom, then find a moment of awakening that leads them into 12-step recovery. It's now been performed to an estimated 30,000 people.
But it started small: in 1991, after several community theaters turned it down, Bob's short play was first performed at a New Jersey treatment center. After the show, he recalls, "people were crying like babies, guys as large as houses weeping, hugging us." The initial cast and crew of 20 non-actors, pulled randomly from a recovery room, has since expanded to include over 400 volunteer actors and production crew—many of them recovering addicts, and most with no prior acting experience. Although the show has appeared in an off-Broadway theater, it's mainly performed in churches, rehabs, shelters, prisons and correctional facilities, and other "places no one will go," says Bob. Mainly performed in the tri-state area, it's also gone as far west as Kansas, and south to Washington, DC, where it played in front of congressional aides and addiction field, in an effort to secure more funding for treatment.
Visions follows 12-step traditions by excluding last names and putting on its shows for free, relying solely on donations. "It's special because it's a gift to us," says Bob of the experience, which has helped him stay sober for nearly 24 years. "A good portion of [cast and crew] have remained clean and sober, not entirely because of the show, but because it provides us with an opportunity to do service." The powerful story was recently picked up by notable documentarian and NYU professor Karl Bardosh, who produced a documentary feature about the play called Demons and Angels that premiered in the Reel Recovery Film Festival in NYC this week. Bob says he was nervous about seeing his work on screen: "Doing a live show is magic," he explains. "Over the period of editing, I had doubts that it would capture the magic. But when we premiered it—the magic was there." You can watch the film trailer here.
On the addiction-wracked Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, a drug-legalization drama is playing out among 45,000 resident members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The drug in question is alcohol—which has long been banned on reservation land. Just like with other drugs, though, people who want to drink will get it somehow—in this case, driving to the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska (population: 10), and purchasing some 13,000 cans of beer and malt liquor—per day—from just four stores. Clearly, prohibition isn't working. That’s why the chairman of Oglala’s Law and Order Committee, James Big Boy, said yesterday that he will soon submit a proposal to the tribal council to lift the ban. He believes that allowing alcohol to be sold on the reservation would free up the tribal police to investigate more meaningful crimes; it would cut back on drunk-driving deaths; and the tribe could use money raised by taxes on the sale of booze to fund alcohol-abuse education and addiction treatment programs. The tribe's half-a-billion-dollar lawsuit against the Whiteclay liquor stores was recently tossed out by a federal judge. Following thdecision, Big Boy told the New York Times, “I think it’s time to legalize alcohol.”
Ants: crawling all over your body. It sounds like a less-than-recreational side effect of a drug. But for some feathered "addicts," the stimulation it may provide could be the whole point. Birds' well-documented love of letting ants crawl all over them—or even slathering chewed up mouthfuls of ants onto their bodies—is called “anting,” reports NPR. It's particularly popular among smarter birds like ravens and magpies. Scientist Y.C. Wee divides it into two categories: "active anting," when you pick up ants in your beak and place them on to you, and "passive anting," which involves simply lying down on an ants' nest and seeing what happens. It's not certain why birds do it. Scientists theorize, firstly, that ants transfer chemicals that repel other insects and fungi. But it may also just feel good. One British scientist assessed that "the purpose of anting is the stimulation and the soothing of the body... similar to that gained by humanity from the use of external stimulants, soothing ointments, counter-irritants (including formic acid) and perhaps also smoking." But as with human self-medication, some bird-brains let their anting progress to a point where "it has no biological purpose but is indulged in for its own stake, for the feeling of well-being and ecstasy it induces."
To varying degrees of disappointment and relief, the final season of Jersey Shore premiered on MTV last night. Things are different this year—Snooki is renting her own house with her fiance and unborn child and Deena is in a relationship, which means viewers can expect fewer blurry crotch shots from Team Meatball. But the biggest change appears to be in Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino: after spending 40 days in a Utah rehab, The Sitch returned to the house eager to prove himself a changed man. And halfway through last night's episode, he sat them all down to make a Ninth Step amends for his previous behavior. Not that he quite broke his 12-step anonymity, but his apology and discussion of his recovery was easily identifiable as an amends. It's natural enough to wonder if Sorrentino really is a changed man, though. He still makes a show out of objectifying women. And he may make it through the on-screen season sober, but has reportedly fallen off the wagon since filming ended. What are meetings like at the Jersey Shore? Instead of coffee and donuts, do participants get Red Bull and glow sticks?
The FDA is using the power of the Internet to fight illegal online pharmacies. The fifth International Internet Week of Action, held from September 25-October 2, is a global effort to fight the online sale and distribution of potentially counterfeit and illegal meds. Through the efforts of this campaign—joining forces with international regulatory and law enforcement agencies from around 100 countries—more than 18,000 illegal pharmacy websites were shut down and 3.7 million doses of counterfeit medicine seized. An additional 4,100 internet pharmacies were shut down yesterday and 79 arrests have been made. "Consumers in the United States and around the world face a real threat from Internet pharmacies that illegally sell potentially substandard, counterfeit, adulterated or otherwise unsafe medicines," says FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. "This week's efforts show that strong international enforcement efforts are required to combat this global public health problem." One of the targeted web pharmacies was Canadadrugs, which the FDA has previously warned and accused of selling drugs made by unapproved manufacturers for unapproved use, among other infractions. Canadadrugs was also accused of producing fake versions of the cancer drug Avastin that made their way into US oncology clinics, a claim the company denies. Other online pharmacies that were busted sold drugs including "Female Viagra"—which doesn't exist—and unapproved variations such as "Viagra Professional" and "Cialis Super Active."
Actor Martin Sheen says that being of service to others is what keeps him sober. The recovering alcoholic and Emmy award-winning West Wing star, 72, spoke yesterday at the Coming Together 2012 conference at Western Michigan University, declaring that "Acting is what I do for a living. Activism is what I do to stay alive," and urging the drug court professionals in attendance to keep up their work. "You have no idea how important what you do and how you do it is to our national health and culture," said Sheen. He encouraged his audience to "find something worth fighting for...because when you do, you will have found a way to unite the will of the spirit with the work of the flesh." While Sheen credits AA for his sobriety—and even headlined a live benefit reading of the play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, depicting the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous—his son Charlie Sheen has publicly derided the fellowship, declaring it to be a "cult" with a mere five percent success rate.