A groundbreaking, in-depth documentary, recounting a year in the lives of pupils and staff at Northshore Recovery High—a school outside Boston that works exclusively with teens who are addicted to drugs and alcohol—is premiering tonight (Monday) on Current TV at 9pm EST. Principal Michelle Lipinski—a regular contributor to The Fix—is one of the chief subjects of the film, which also follows three of her students as they deal with recovery and drug tests on top of all the usual stresses of being teenagers. You can check out her replies to questions from Fix readers here, and take a peek at Current's trailer below:
- Study: More Casinos, More Gambling Addicts [Daily Herald]
- Vancouver Island Heroin Users Warned as Deaths Increase [Montreal Gazette]
- Top Mexico Trafficker Claims he was DEA Informant [Reuters]
- Drug Problem Fuels Crime on Cape Cod [New York Times]
- Beer a Growing Part of College Football Revenue Streams [USA Today]
- Supermarket Staff Ignored "Drunk" Stroke Victim [Daily Mirror]
- Charges Filed Against Woman After Drunken, Nude Swim [Sheboygan Press]
Rio de Janeiro is running an experimental crack program of police "collections," forcibly taking addicts off the streets and sending them for treatment. According to the LA Times, over a thousand people have been rounded up since May—including hundreds of children. Adults can leave if they want—and often do—but children are confined to treatment shelters for at least three months until authorities decide to release them. The action is focused on Rio's "cracolandias": extensive slums that house many users of crack or "oxi," a cheaper, deadlier cocaine derivative that's produced using gasoline. Apart from the human suffering involved, they represent an image problem for the South American nation, which will host the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Crack came relatively late to Brazil, but has boomed since 2006: authorities estimate that over 600,000 people are now addicted. Rio's social services are assisted by police in catching often-homeless users in "very dangerous and sometimes hostile" communities. Critics say holding minors without their—or their families'—consent is unconstitutional. Judge Siro Darlan wrote that children "should be respected as citizens and not collected like human trash." But the city's secretary for social services Rodrigo Bethlem supports the program: "I think what I would want done if it were my child." Forcing people into treatment is illegal elsewhere in Brazil, but Rio's local government has successfully argued that crack-addicted minors lack the capacity to give or refuse consent. Once released, cleaned-up kids are placed with a responsible relative—if there is one—or a foster family. "We're still not exactly sure what will happen to the children after they finish," admits social worker Daphne Braga. Debate continues to pit civil liberties against child welfare.
It's no secret that Russians love booze. The country that invented vodka ranks fourth in the world in per-capita alcohol consumption, and some medical experts estimate that one in every 13 citizens is alcoholic. A whopping 2.3 billion liters of vodka are sold in the country each year. Though Russian women drink more heavily than women in any other nation, the country's drinking problem has proved especially deadly to Russian men, half of whom expire from alcohol-related illnesses. Drug addiction rates in have also shot up astronomically. Over a million Russians are reportedly hooked on heroin, which flows in cheaply from neighboring Afghanistan. The country's wealthier elites have also developed a ravenous taste for cocaine. According to the United Nations, Russia recently replaced the U.S. as the principal market for Colombian coke.
Russia's affair with alcohol is nothing new, of course. Health officials have long raised alarms about the social and medical costs of the epidemic. But during the seventies and eighties, image-conscious Soviet leaders were wary of publicly tackling the problem. But the toll that addiction has afflicted on the nation have now become too dire to ignore. Soon after he took office, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev announced that curbing the country's drinking and drug problem was one of his most pressing priorities. But his recent decision to reclassify beer as alcohol instead of food was met with outrage by many citizens, who could no longer use their welfare dole-outs to buy their favorite brew. Even Medvedev's teetotal mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, criticized him for the move.
Last week, the US Helsinki Commission—a federal agency that was established after World War II to investigate human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union—dusted itself off and convened a special meeting to discuss the growing crisis. Hundreds of Russian physicians, politicians and social workers turned out for the event. Panelists proposed national education campaigns and urged the government to tighten Russia's borders. But the issue that received the most attention at the conference was the failure of Alcoholics Anonymous to take root in the country. During the past decade twelve step groups have rapidly multiplied across the world, in nations from Indonesia to Italy. Even in Iran, where alcohol is strictly forbidden and and drug use is punishable by death, the Islamist government has actively promoted Narcotics Anonymous in an effort to combat the country's growing heroin problem. In Teheran, which has a population of 15 million, over 400 NA groups meet virtually around the clock. But Russia, which has a population of 142 million, supports just 370 twelve-step groups nationwide. Experts say the country's aversion to AA is fueled by several sources. “There is a lot of mistrust of twelve step programs because because they're viewed as a Western creation,” said Heidi Brown, an analyst at Kroll Associates, an international security firm. "Russia is a very nationalist culture, and many people are suspicious of methods that come from abroad.” A.A.'s roots in Reformed Protestantism have also raised hackles in a country dominated by devout Orthodox Christians.
"The recovery culture that exists in the the U.S. is foreign to most people," adds Sergei Vasyesnev, an addiction specialist at Moscow's Serbsky Institute. "Drinking is so ingrained that behavior that would be viewed as unacceptable in the U.S. is freely permitted here. There are not many rehabs in Russia, so people who seek treatment often have to go abroad. And in a country where drinking is so loved, attacking alcohol is not politically popular." Despite this, many believe that Russian leaders will have to address the problem to maintain the country's footing in an increasingly competitive world. "The costs to our productivity and our economy are astronomical," says Grigori Nescova, an economist at Moscow University. Hundreds of thousands of Russian's don't come to work every day because they feel too sick. Half a million young people die of alcohol every year. If the government doesn't move we become a third world country."
A 26-year-old California mother, Maggie Jean Wortman, has been charged with second-degree murder—her 6-week-old son Anthony died after ingesting crystal-meth contained in her breast milk. The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office, which investigated the infant's death last November, found that the baby had died of "methamphetamine toxicity." The Times Standard of Eureka, California, reported that Wortman tested positive for meth use six months into her pregnancy, and later admitted to police that she had used the drug "approximately" three times after her son was born. She said she last used meth as recently as just two days before Anthony's death. But her attorney contends that the drug's 9-to-12-hour half-life—the time when it's considered to be active—exonerates her. Wortman claimed she had no idea that her use of methamphetamine could harm her baby. But prosecutors say that Humboldt health officials had provided her with a leaflet spelling out the harmful effects of the drug, and after preliminary hearings this week the DA upgraded the charges against her from manslaughter to murder. Wortman's trial, scheduled to start in November, will be closely watched by other prosecutors across the country. While other states have gone after mothers who exposed their babies to meth, previous convictions have been for child endangerment, not murder. Wortman, who exclusively breast-fed her baby, may face a nine-year jail sentence if she is convicted. Her previous child, a 19-month-old daughter who also tested positive for meth, has been placed in foster care by the state.
Ukraine's Environmental Minister, Mykola Zlochevsky, is calling for an end to a practice that he denounces as extreme animal abuse: forcing bears to swill vodka in seedy bars. "On television, they keep showing bears suffering in restaurants and roadside hotels," the animal-loving politician complained in a recent interview, "How long can we tolerate animal torture in restaurants where drunken guests make bears drink vodka for laughs?" Not very long, we hope. Capturing and boozing up bears to entertain equally boozy bar patrons used to be a widespread tradition in Russia—and the tradition seems to have survived Ukraine's divorce from Soviet rule. You might say of the region that at least it gets there in the end: After Russia recently ruled ruled that beer was a beverage—rather than a food—it's nice to see its neighbor reach the conclusion that putting drunk people in close proximity with giant, vodka-infused beasts might not be the best idea. Zlochevsky says that he intends to confiscate more than 80 bears from their owners and relocate them to a large enclosure in a Ukrainian wildlife sanctuary, where they can detox in supervised comfort.