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video games

8/16/12 12:13pm

New Video Game Aims to Help Children of Addicts

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"Quico" and his abusive pal, "Monster."
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A new video game, Papo & Yo, may resonate for children of addicts, and even help them navigate their own real-life struggles. In the game, a boy named Quico and his inseparable pal Monster traipse through a lush fantasy world. But Monster is often confused and destructive and, after eating too many frogs, he sometimes transforms into a real monster who beats Quico. Game creator Vander Caballero has admitted he based the characters on his own experience growing up in South America with an alcoholic and drug-addicted father, and he hopes the game will help kids who share similar struggles. "The only way you can create empathy in video games is through interaction." says Caballero. "I want players to feel what I felt as a kid and the only way I could achieve that was by creating game mechanics that let you interact and develop relationships as you play." The question at the heart of the game becomes how to handle Monster, and even more difficult, how to handle the memories of the damage Monster inflicts—even long after the harm has been done. Caballero says his goal with the game is to create player empathy with the interactions between the characters, such as showing Quico how to carry coconuts around to guide Monster along. The atmosphere of the game is also intended to be comforting—depicting dilapidated, yet beautifully sunlit favela-scapes accompanied by trance-like tunes. In a far less comforting portrayal of addiction, another video game on the market, Max Payne, guides players from the perspective of an addict himself.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Addiction Treatment

8/16/12 11:05am

Can PTSD and Addiction Be Treated Together?

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Many PTSD sufferers are addicts, and vice
versa. Photo via

Simultaneous treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction may be more effective than previously thought, as Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz explains for Time Healthland. Many people suffer from both PTSD and addiction. But most experts have previously thought that PTSD treatment shouldn't take place until the addict is sober—largely due to the belief that trauma treatment may trigger relapse. However, a new study from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, suggests that PTSD treatment may be effective even without a period of abstinence. Researchers examined 103 people with both conditions as they underwent exposure therapy (in which a patient is exposed to traumatic memories) and found the therapy to be effective, regardless of a patient's continued drug use. “These findings challenge the widely held view that patients need to be abstinent before any trauma work, let alone prolonged exposure therapy, is commenced,” the authors write. “Findings from the present study demonstrate that abstinence is not required.” The study also found that despite exposure therapy requiring patients to face past traumas, it didn't cause them to increase their drug use or drop out of treatment. Michael Farrell, director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center at the University of New South Wales, says of the study: "The exciting thing in my view is that it supports people with drug and alcohol problems having access to other forms of psychological interventions, rather than being fobbed off and told to sort out their alcohol or drug problem first."

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By Valerie Tejeda

Headlines

8/16/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: August 16, 2012

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Back in rehab? Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

prescription monitoring

8/15/12 5:00pm

Drug Czar Pushes for Rx Monitoring in Missouri

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No monitoring, MO problems. Photo via

Forty-nine states have adopted drug monitoring programs to help address America's prescription drug abuse scourge—but not Missouri. US Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who calls the programs "useful," is in the state today to speak with pharmacists, medical professionals, community members and lawmakers. "Our goal is not to tell people what they should or shouldn't do," Kerlikowske tells The Fix, "but we have provided a lot of information about the number of overdose deaths, and the costs in health care for treating Rx drug abuse. We wanted to put that information out there, and also to let people know that there are federal grants that pay for the start-up costs." Kerlikowske is joined today by Republican Senator Kevin Engler, who unsuccessfully pushed for a state monitoring program earlier this year; that bill was filibustered by Republican Senator Rob Schaaf, a family physician, who claims that databases infringe upon patients' privacy. "All they have to do is punch in your name and address and they can find out every controlled substance you've been prescribed," Schaaf said this week.

The Drug Czar has understandably called prescription pill abuse an "epidemic." It was responsible for nearly 21,000 deaths in 2009—more than the number of cocaine and heroin deaths combined. Most states have rolled out monitoring programs that use electronic databases to identify if a patient is "doctor shopping"—visiting different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions. The programs can also help identify "pill mills," offices that overprescribe meds and allow addicted patients to feed their habits. Feedback on these programs has been positive: "Physicians that use these programs say they are very helpful in determining which patients may be doctor shopping, and then the goal is to help get those patients into treatment if they need help," says Kerlikowske. "We don't see prescription monitoring as a silver bullet, but it's one more tool to be used in [combatting drug abuse] and it can be very effective. Doctors have called it a patients' safety tool."

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By May Wilkerson

information overload

8/15/12 4:09pm

DEA Drops Rx Drug Case to Free Up Storage Space

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Apparently the DEA couldn't spring for another
couple of these. Photo via

In a world where anyone can sign up for free Gmail accounts with 10 gigabytes of storage space, it seems strange that the DEA would abandon a major prescription drug-dealing case just because it doesn’t have the hard-drive space to maintain the vast amounts of evidence associated with it. But that’s just what happened last week in Iowa, when a federal judge dropped charges against Armando Angulo, a former doctor in Miami who was indicted in 2007 for selling millions of dollars’ worth of prescription drugs to patients he never even met. Angulo was then employed by Pharmacom International Corp., a Florida-based web company whose doctors signed off on prescriptions with virtually no information from the supposed patients who requested them. After Angulo found out he was under investigation, in 2004, the doctor hightailed it to his native Panama, which doesn't extradite its own citizens to the US. So the huge quantity of evidence accumulated in the investigation—over 440,000 documents and two terabytes of data—has been gathering actual and virtual dust on the DEA’s shelves and servers, with little hope of ever being used in a trial.

A terabyte equals 1,024 gigabytes, so the data in the case added up to about 200 maxed-out Gmail accounts. That might not sound like all that much, given that, according to Google co-founder Larry Page, there are more than 350 million 10-gigabyte Gmail accounts in the world (that's nearly 342,000 terabytes). But, according to the AP, two terabytes apparently sucked up an incredible 5% of the DEA’s worldwide electronic storage capacity. And that’s why federal prosecutors asked for the case against Angulo to be dismissed—to free up space for other cases. Still, even though this case against him has been tossed out (with prejudice, so it can’t be reopened), Angulo won’t be cruising the South Beach strip again anytime soon: he remains wanted for other, still-active Medicaid fraud and narcotics charges in Florida.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

addicted moms

8/15/12 3:24pm

Park Slope's "Hidden Addicted Mom Problem"

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One of Park Slope's many baby-friendly bars.
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Is Brooklyn's Stepford-esque suburban enclave hiding a secret substance-abuse problem behind the walls of its idyllic brownstones? Motherland, a new book by Park Slope mother Amy Sohn, claims moms in the neighborhood routinely abuse anti-depressants and afternoon cocktails in order to cope with their secretly unhappy lives. "The woman who starts drinking at three or four, people aren't necessarily going to know about that," says Sohn, who wrote the book as fiction based on research from her own life. "And a lot of them are also on antidepressants—I think women turn to antidepressants in larger numbers than men do. They're steered to Zoloft after they have children." Sohn claims these women keep their unhealthy lifestyles closeted from other moms—Stepford Wives-stylefor the sake of not ruining the "perfect family" image that's so assiduously cultivated in Park Slope. Motherland is a follow-up to Sohn's 2009 bestseller Prospect Park West, another fiction-based-on-truth novel that offered an inside look into families in the area. "One of the things that's weird about this neighborhood is there's very little interpersonal confession between mothers," she says. "I don't hear people admitting to their problems very often. They'll make comments like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to kill my husband' and they'll say it lightly, but you can tell by the tone of their voice, the look, that they're pissed." 

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By McCarton Ackerman

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