A Mexican newspaper has publicly announced that it will no longer cover drug war-related crimes—after two violent attacks on its office in two months. Many other news sources in Mexico have taken similar vows of silence, but El Mañana newspaper—based in northern border city of Nuevo Laredo—took the unusual step of releasing a public statement, following a grenade attack on its office on Tuesday. "We ask for the public's comprehension and will refrain, for as long as needed, from publishing any information related to the violent disputes our city and other regions of the country are suffering," their editorial declared. "The company's editorial and administrative board has been forced to make this regrettable decision by circumstances we are all familiar with, and by the lack of adequate conditions for freely exercising professional journalism." The area surrounding Nuevo Laredo has been ravaged by violence, as the Zetas and Gulf cartels battle for control of drug-trafficking in the region.
The cartels have a complicated relationship with the press: they've been known to seek media attention to threaten their rivals and publicize their power, but frequently lash out at journalists who displease them. At least 45 journalists have been reported missing or murdered in Mexico since former President Felipe Calderón began his crackdown on the cartels in 2006—and the government's human rights commission alleges that 81 journalists have been killed and 16 kidnapped since 2000. Many Mexican newspapers have adopted policies to avoid covering the violence directly—often filling crime sections with stories about traffic accidents. When they do report crimes, they generally publish police records without further investigation, and avoid mention of specific gangs or cartels.
Stepping out of rehab and back into the “real world” can be a difficult process; temptations abound and money can be scarce. The Next Step MasterCard program—started up by three recovering addicts—hopes to make things a little easier for people getting back on their feet. Their re-loadable prepaid debit card is structured to make it as difficult as possible for users to relapse: the card can't be used in restricted areas like liquor stores, nightclubs and gambling establishments; cash-back and ATM withdrawals are prohibited; and parents can set a daily spending limit. Based on their own experiences of recovery, the program's founders have tried to block as many loopholes as possible. “We can’t obviously be foolproof, but we want to add another line of defense in the way of people being triggered to go out and relapse,” Eric Dresdale, one of the founders, tells The Fix. “The unfortunate thing with people in this community is, if they want to relapse, they’re going to find a way to relapse," he acknowledges. "What we’ve done with this product is make it that much more difficult.”
The program also aims to teach healthy spending habits. Dresdale remembers coming out of treatment for his own addiction to painkillers—and spending $500 on almost nothing useful. “It’s almost like someone who was paralyzed and they’re learning how to walk again,” he says. “You’re really starting at the basics and some of these people who never learned any life skills come out with no idea on how to manage money.” For this reason, users are limited to 40 swipes a month, and progress reports and budgeting tools will be available online. “In talking to my parents, they really wished they had something like this, because truth be told, they were biting their nails anytime they gave me money,” Dresdale recalls. Most of all, the program aims to encourage open communication between those in recovery and their loved ones. While the card will be available for anyone, Dresdale expects most users will be between ages 17 and 30.
Further down the road, the Next Step Network hopes to set up a charitable organization and have scholarships towards treatment. But for now, they're taking things, well, one step at a time—the debit card program will likely launch in early August. Ultimately, the organization will seek to help people get past its own program. “While obviously from a business standpoint, it’d be nice to have people on for a while, our real goal is to have them get off of it,” says Dresdale. “From an altruistic standpoint, we really want them to learn what they can from this and move on.”
Prisoners use every ounce of their creativity to invent new ways to support the thriving drug markets inside; the methods used are as wide-ranging as the substances that are brought in. "At some prisons they bring in drugs and tobacco through the warehouse," one prisoner tells The Fix. "If everything goes right, it's a hell of a move." This is a multi-person, highly coordinated scheme that groups of prisoners or gangs use to launch drug-dealing ventures behind prison walls. "The warehouse move is complicated. You need the right people in place at the camp and on the inside," says our source. "Your guys have to be in the right jobs: food service, commissary, laundry, Unicor. Any place where stuff is coming in on a daily basis."
Outside warehouses—which accept the incoming goods and materials that institutions need to operate—are a necessity. And most institutions have an adjacent minimum-security camp outside their fences, which supplies the prisoners that staff the warehouse. Getting these minimum-security prisoners to coordinate with the guys behind the fence isn't hard—although a cell phone or other means of exchanging information is vital. Then it's just a question of hiding a package of drugs in a box bound for the inside. "The guy at the camp notifies the point man inside of the specifics like when, where and how the drugs are coming," the prisoner explains. "He in turn tells the guys who work at the critical spots, and boom—they get the package, distribute it and count the money all the way to the bank, taking care of their homie on the outside who made it happen." It's an intricate process, but one that prisoners pull off daily.
A Minneapolis woman who was vilified by CNN host Nancy Grace on national television has died after setting herself on fire in her mother's backyard. Toni Medrano, 29, accidentally killed her three-week old son last November, when she drunkenly rolled onto him while sleeping on the couch and crushed him. The woman, who became known as "Vodka Mom," admitted to drinking a fifth of vodka before going to sleep—her blood alcohol level was at .11 (.08 is the limit for driving). Medrano had reportedly been suicidal over personal issues, but had been seeking help for alcoholism and parenting counseling. However, when Grace got hold of the story after Medrano was charged last month with two counts of manslaughter, she lambasted the woman on her show and theorized that the baby had been "crushed" for hours. "There was a long period of time that baby’s life could have been saved," Grace said, before claiming there should be murder one charges for premeditated murder. Grace also held up a fifth of cheap vodka and said she was going to see how many glasses she could get out of the bottle, pouring at least nine in the segment as the words "vodka mom" appeared on the screen. Nancy Grace and CNN haven't responded to requests for comment.
Just when drug enforcement officials were starting to get a handle on the US scourge of OxyContin abuse, along comes another major threat. Opana—which first became "small town America's new favorite drug" earlier this year—has now replaced OxyContin as the most widely abused prescription painkiller in the country, with several states reporting huge spikes in use of the drug. The main difference is that while OxyContin pills have become impossible to crush since 2010, there are still plenty of crushable Opana ER pills on the market, since the crush-resistant version of Opana didn't get approved until late last year. Opana users are willing to shell out big bucks for the pills as well—when a national shortage of the drug took hold earlier this year due to a production snafu, the price in Louisville, KY, soared from $65 for a 40 mg pill to $185.
"When OxyContin changed, the drug abusers looked for a different thing. Opana emerged immediately," says Sgt. Jerry Goodin of the Indiana State Police. "Seems like every time we get a handle on something, another evil pops its head up." Kentucky is reporting that oxymorphone, the primary ingredient in Opana, was present in 23% of overdose victims in 2011, while medicaid data in Nassau County, NY, showed a 45% increase in prescriptions for Opana during the first six months of the year. However, many people believe that when the harder-to-abuse Opana dominates the drug market, addicts will simply turn to a more familiar name to satisfy their craving: "They will adapt the same way drug traffickers or criminals will adapt to a new law. They are going to find a way to satisfy their addiction," says DEA Special Agent Gary Boggs of the Office of Diversion Control. "When they either can't get those particular pharmaceuticals or can't afford them, they now gravitate to heroin."
X Factor judge Demi Lovato has kicked out two contestants on the Fox show for rapping about bath salts. At the Greensboro, North Carolina auditions, two amateur rappers hoping for a chance at stardom got the boot instead—after their performance included the line “I’m high on bath salts.” A visibly angry Lovato responded: "It's really inappropriate to rap about drugs in front of kids" and ordered them to leave the stage. "She wasn't having any of it," a source tells E! News. “They tried to make excuses and Demi said, 'You talked about bath salts, I heard you.'" The designer drug has been in the hot seat lately, rousing media attention ever since it was initially blamed for the infamous cannibal attack in Miami—although it later turned out the face-eater was only high on marijuana. Even President Obama has bath salts on the brain (figuratively, of course): he signed a bill on Monday banning the two chemical compounds used to make the "demon drug." Lovato—who is now sober—has been open about her rocky past and rehab stint nearly two years ago. Back in February, the 19-year-old actress and musician wrote a letter to Seventeen magazine saying: “‘Sober Is Sexy’ is my new motto, and it couldn't be more true! All you need to have fun in life is a great attitude and good friends. I've made a commitment to myself to live a happy healthy life the best way I know how and I want to spread the message that you don't need to do drink or do drugs to have fun.”