If you must be arrested for drunk driving, you might as well do it in grand style. That seems to have been the attitude of 40-year-old Vermont policeman named Jason Nokes, who was nabbed by his colleagues after driving his cherry red pick-up truck at more than four times the legal BAC limit during rush hour. The off-duty Vermont cop, a 15-year veteran of the Winooski Police Department, was spotted by concerned commuters, who called 911 after they noticed his vehicle swerving alarmingly across the northbound lane of Interstate 89 last Friday. When some of his comrades arrived at the scene, they found the truck had come to a halt in the highway median—with Nokes passed out at the wheel. He was taken to hospital and registered a 0.332 BAC, police said—a life-threatening score. It's not the first time Nokes has hit the news. In 2008 he was stabbed by a jilted boyfriend after becoming involved in a messy love triangle. But his knife-wielding assailant escaped jail when witnesses contradicted the cop's claim that the attack was totally unprovoked. Vermont takes drunk driving very seriously: The state's supreme court recently reinstated charges against a man who was accused of operating a boom lift—a slow-moving piece of construction machinery—while he was drunk, ruling that it counts as a "motor vehicle." Nokes may have to give up his career if he's convicted of the charges. For the moment, he's on paid sick leave.
Big Boi, the 36-year-old rapper who is one half of OutKast, the multi-award-winning, multi-platinum-selling hip hop duo, was arrested in Miami yesterday on drug charges, reportedly after leaving a cruise ship. Antwan Patton, as his birth certificate reads, is charged with possession of ecstasy, MDMA powder, "drug paraphernalia" and also—perhaps to guard against any unwelcome side-effects—some unprescribed Viagra pills, according to the Miami Dade County corrections website. Initially held on $16,000 bond, the star was later released and tweeted "Fresh Out Baby!" to his 277,000 followers, later adding, "Shiiiiit they said it was the Love Boat." Big Boi's attorney said he was "confident" his client would be exonerated. It's been a bad few days for rappers with size-related soubriquets: Big Sean—just nominated by the MTV Video Music Awards as the year's Best Musical Newcomer—was arrested last week in New York for alleged sexual assault.
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."