Three former Cornell University undergraduates and members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity have been found not guilty of hazing George Desdunes—a sophomore who died after being forced to drink vodka during a frat hazing ritual last spring. Max Haskin, Ben Mann and Edward Williams were acquitted of the misdemeanors of hazing in the first degree and unlawfully dealing alcohol to a minor. The fraternity itself, however, was found guilty—it faces a $12,000 fine and its Cornell branch has been shut down. Desdunes, a 19-year-old pre-med student from Brooklyn, was taken to an off-campus house, blindfolded, bound and quizzed about the history of the fraternity by Haskin, Mann and Williams. When he answered a question incorrectly, he was told to drink vodka. After reportedly vomiting and continuing to drink, Desdunes ultimately passed out. An autopsy revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.356—more than four times the legal limit for driving. Andrew Bonavia, the prosecutor in the case, said "regardless of this decision, we hope that people are going to be bringing their friends, their fraternity brothers, to the hospital if they participate in an event that makes them that sick.”
The fatal incident draws attention to a common problem on college campuses across the country in which students are often encouraged to partake in dangerous drinking rituals while being inducted into fraternities and sororities. A rising sophomore from Cornell's Greek community tells The Fix that this hazing incident was not shocking: "I think SAE has had their issues with drinking. The school knows they drink, they know they haze, but it’s nothing jaw-dropping.” As for the future of Cornell's Greek life, she maintains that the environment will be "100% different [but] this one, terrible incident is not an accurate reflection of who we are."
Quitting the habit may be as easy (or hard, depending how you feel about needles) as getting vaccinated. Scientists have found a way to prevent nicotine addiction over a lifetime, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College tested their new anti-smoking vaccine on mice and found that levels of the nicotine chemical in the brain were reduced by 85% after the injection: "As far as we can see, the best way to treat chronic nicotine addiction from smoking is to have these Pac-Man-like antibodies on patrol, clearing the blood as needed before nicotine can have any biological effect," says the study's lead author, Dr. Ronald G. Crystal. "Our vaccine allows the body to make its own monoclonal antibodies against nicotine, and in that way, develop a workable immunity.” Previous vaccines have produced antibodies to fight nicotine addiction. But this new approach is a gene-therapy vaccine, which uses a genetically-modified virus to produce more, longer-lasting antibodies. Researchers say it could one day be used preventatively for children and young adults: "Just as parents decide to give their children an HPV vaccine, they might decide to use a nicotine vaccine. But that is only theoretically an option at this point," says Dr. Crystal. More research is anticipated, this time on humans, and he and his team are optimistic: "While we have only tested mice to date, we are very hopeful that this kind of vaccine strategy can finally help the millions of smokers who have tried to stop, exhausting all the methods on the market today, but find their nicotine addiction to be strong enough to overcome these current approaches.”
The number of patients being admitted for opiate addiction to Assisted Recovery Centers of America (ARCA) has surged 20% so far this year, according to Percy Menzies, president of the St. Louis drug and alcohol treatment center. “After 12 years of treating more than 5,000 people addicted to drugs and alcohol, I have never seen this much opiate usage, particularly heroin,” he tells The Fix.
Why the rise? Menzies blames two factors: one, the huge increase in the use and abuse of prescription pain meds in the US—which are the perfect segue to heroin, he believes—and two, the targeting of a previously untapped market by drug cartels. “We thought heroin addiction was long gone,” he says. “But Mexican drug dealers very shrewdly saw an opportunity to start selling it in the suburban community, to which the DEA was completely oblivious. They saw a huge market opportunity to sell to kids who are now getting easy access to pain medications. Now it is a lot more expensive to buy an OxyContin on the street than it is to buy heroin. It perfectly filled the need.” Fortunately, in Menzies’ opinion, heroin addiction is actually the easiest addiction to treat—for the simple reason that a number of drugs, including the non-addicting opioid blocker naltrexone (aka Vivitrol), have been approved to combat it. Naltrexone works by blocking opiate receptors in the brain, preventing the user from getting high.
ARCA treats heroin addicts by starting them on anywhere from two days to a month of suboxone, before slowly tapering them off that drug and switching to naltrexone. “Long-term recovery and success is based on how quickly you can make the switch,” says Menzies. He's a big fan of naltrexone: he worked as a rep for it in 1984, when it was first approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction—at which time it was “relentlessly maligned and slandered by the methadone lobby.” And that is not the way forward, he argues: “The future of drug-addiction treatment is how well we use non-addicting medication. Why did anti-depressant medication become so mainstream? Because the drugs used to treat depression are non-addicting.”
It looks like the critics needed some anger management after watching Charlie Sheen's new show. Anger Management premieres tonight on FX at 9:00pm EST/PT, but several critics who caught a preview were far from kind in their assessment. The Daily Beast says that the show is essentially a rehash of Two a Half Men, calling it "entirely episodic and intentionally repetitive, lazy situational comedy writ large." The New York Times wasn't much kinder in complaining that the debut episode was filled with "raucous recorded laughter and predictable one-liners." However, the harshest critiques of Anger Management are offered by The Huffington Post. "Let me be clear: If Sheen wants to continue to act, that's fine," writes Maureen Ryan. "I never expected him to end his career after his various scandals and non-apology tours. But what he is doing now is not for the benefit of anyone but himself and the companies bankrolling him. Acting in a lazy, stiff, laugh-track sitcom is Charlie Sheen doing something for himself and his corporate partners. That's all." Charlie Sheen has sounded a more conciliatory note about his excesses in some recent interviews—but still reportedly refused to submit to drug testing requested by FX. It looks like this show is in danger of becoming the eccentric star's biggest trainwreck moment yet—and that's saying something.
A landmark Supreme Court ruling today found in favor of Obama's health care law—a victory that may reap major benefits for the addiction community. There are an estimated 40 million addicts in the US today—but only 10% of those reportedly receive any treatment at all. With this ruling by the Supreme Court, this could soon change. Last month, The Fix reported that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)—or “Obamacare”—contains four provisions that will help make addiction treatment and prevention more accessible to Americans. First, and perhaps most significantly, the ACA will mandate health insurance to treat mental health and addiction comparably to other health conditions. Second, the law will allow parents to keep their kids on their health insurance up to the age of 26—an important tool in helping prevent and treat addiction since “almost everyone who develops an addiction to alcohol or tobacco or to other drugs does so in adolescence or in young adulthood,” says Stanford mental health expert Keith Humphreys. Third, the ACA will lift a ban that prevents some people from receiving health care if they have prior health conditions—this has created a barrier for many addicts seeking treatment. And finally, the act contains provisions geared towards targeting signs of addiction and substance abuse before it becomes full-blown—providing insurance for early intervention and treatment.
After weeks of speculation that the Miami “face-eater” was high on bath salts—and an accompanying hysterical outcry—lab tests have found only marijuana in his system. Back in May, Ruby Eugene was shot and killed by Florida law enforcement, after violently attacking and "eating" the face (although no human tissue was found in his stomach) of 65-year-old Ronald Poppo. Many hypothesized that Eugene was under the influence of bath salts or LSD. Toxicology reports released yesterday found only traces of marijuana in the 31-year-old’s system and there was no evidence of other illicit substances. “The laboratory has tested for but not detected any other street drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs, or any adulterants found in street drugs,” reported the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner. “This includes cocaine, LSD, amphetamines (Ecstasy, Meth and others), phencyclidine (PCP or Angel Dust), heroin, oxycodone, Xanax, synthetic marijuana (Spice), and many other similar compounds.” Investigators are now scratching their heads for an explanation. Following the attack, Poppo was left blind, and missing both his nose and one eye. Doctors from Jackson Memorial Hospital say he's been upbeat despite his traumatic experience. “It’s one of the most devastating cases we have seen,” says his plastic surgeon, Dr. Wroodcq Kassira. “It is going to take many, many facial reconstruction surgeries but we are hoping for the best.”