Law enforcement says it needs a new enforcement tool, the Drug Czar blames the problem on marijuana, the ACLU says “zero tolerance” is a terrible idea, and nobody seems to remember the fate of Colorado’s recent attempt to legislate “drugged driving.” Undeterred, California is pushing ahead in the wake of reports that one out of four drivers in fatal accidents tested positive for drugs, as we reported. The California Highway Patrol says that “fatalities in crashes where drugs were the primary cause and alcohol was not involved jumped 55% over the 10 years ending in 2009,” according to the Los Angeles Times. And Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said, as Drug Czars always do, that “marijuana is a significant and important contributing factor in a growing number of fatal accidents.” That assertions remains controversial, but so far 13 states have adopted zero-tolerance laws, while 35 states, including California, have no formal statutes, but rely instead on “the judgment of police to determine impairment,” as the Los Angeles Times phrased it. And that is exactly the problem. Medical marijuana advocates are convinced that the idea is to make it impossible for pot users to drive a car for days, or perhaps even weeks, after using their medicine. Meanwhile, federal scientists are salivating over the prospect of a spit test that would enable a cop to swab your mouth and get drug results immediately. But that remains a law enforcement wet dream rather than a reality. In the meantime, California police use a complicated 12-point examination system involving standing on one leg, and estimating the passage of 30 seconds, and a blood pressure check, and a look into the driver’s pupils, and several other hoops to jump through, all of which is supposed to enable an experienced cop to tell whether you are too high to drive. Not nearly good enough, says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which advocates the “Pennsylvania Model” of a cut-off level for marijuana of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The ACLU says this is consistent with research by NORML on the impact of cannabis on driving skills.
“Everybody wants a magic number, because that makes it easy,” according to a toxicologist who serves as an expert witness in drug trials. Juries seem to agree that the current system needs a rebuild. For example, a medical marijuana user in San Diego was recently acquitted of manslaughter stemming from a fatal car crash he was involved in after smoking marijuana. While blood tests showed a high level of marijuana metabolites in his blood, the jury heard so much conflicting toxological testimony on what constituted impairment that they threw up their hands and set him free. Measuring delta-9 THC, and determining at what level it impairs driving, is a scientific endeavor still in its infancy.
Coheed and Cambria bassist Michael Todd was arrested for robbing a pharmacy of Oxycontin before a scheduled show in Massachusetts over the weekend, AP reports. Todd allegedly showed a Walgreens pharmacy worker a message on his phone, “wherein he threatened to detonate a bomb if he was not given the painkiller Oxycontin.” Digitalspy.com reports that the bassist "apparently fled the scene in a waiting taxi after being given six bottles of the drug.” Todd was later arrested at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. The progressive metal band was slated to open for Soundgarden. Charges to be filed against Todd include armed robbery and unlawful possession of prescription narcotics.
Coheed and Cambria said in an official statement: "Michael Todd was arrested today on what we consider very serious charges and therefore he will not be finishing up the current tour. Wes Styles, long-time member of the Coheed family, will take on bass duties starting tomorrow for the remaining dates. No shows will be canceled. We are surprised to say the least and will address the situation with Michael after the tour.” Coheed and Cambria's last studio album, Year of the Black Rainbow, made the top five on US album charts in 2010.
- Steeler’s Hines Ward Charged With DUI [LA Times]
- A New Drug Making the Rounds in Los Angeles [LA Times]
- “Jersey Shore is Turning Snooki Into an Alcoholic” [UK Daily Mail]
- Las Vegas Gets Stiffed on Aid to Fight Drug-Related Crime [Las Vegas Sun]
- In Defense of Antidepressants [NY Times]
- She’s Addicted, Says New Lady Gaga Bio [CBS New York]
- Is Personal Experience Necessary for Successful Addiction Treatment? [All About Addiction]
- New Addiction Residencies Get Started [NY Times]
Is Dr. Drew Pinsky finally fleeing Celebrity Rehab? With the fifth series of the show barely underway, rumor has it that Pinsky’s hit VH1 show will be going on indefinite hiatus at the season's end. But is it really the show that's going on hiatus, or just the depressed doctor himself? A source close to the production told The Fix that Pinsky was hit hard by the recent deaths of two celebrities on the show: Mike Starr, the former bass player of Alice in Chains, and Jeff Conaway, the former star of Taxi and Grease. The two men overdosed within weeks of each other, in March and May respectively. A VH-1 producer adds that filling the celebrity slots at the show has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and that the doctor has grown increasingly embarrassed by the show's circus-like environment.
"We've really stretched the limits of celebrity," said another producer, noting that last year's panel of "stars" included one-time crack-head Frankie Lons, the mother of hip hop singer Keyshia Coles. "It's hard to go much lower than that." Cast members for the current season include Michael Lohan, Amy Fisher, and intermittent actress Bai Ling, who threatened to jump off the Pasadena Recovery Center's roof during the season's premiere. A close friend of Pinsky's added that the doctor was feeling the sting of a growing group of medical colleagues who attacked the show for exploitation, poor therapeutic practices, and simple bad taste. Officially, Radaronline reports, the show is simply going on hiatus "because Dr. Pinsky is just too busy to continue to do the show.” Dr. Drew would "absolutely love to revisit doing the show again in the future when he has the time," a spokesperson for Celebrity Rehab told Radaronline.
Another friend demurs: "I think it went from being a fun idea to one with life and death ramifications. He was just getting sick of the circus." This wouldn't be the first career change for the doctor, a board-certified internist, who became hugely popular as host of radio's hit Loveline, which launched in 1984. Celebrity Rehab and its now-cancelled sister show Sober House established him more as an addiction expert in the public eye, but in recent months, sources tell The Fix, he has tried to steer attention away from his addiction-related duties. His eponymous "current affairs” program, The Dr. Drew Show, premiered earlier this year on viewer-starved HLN, earning fair ratings. Another Dr. Drew show, Lifechangers, is set to debut on CW this fall. And during the Casey Anthony trial, the doctor popped up on seemingly every television network in existence to comment on the controversy.
But while Pinsky is clearly intent on moving on, is Celeb Rehab really disappearing forever? Don't count on it just yet. While the show's ratings have waxed and waned over the years, it remains one of the network's most popular programs. It's a safe bet that VH1 will go to extreme measures to save it. As The Fix recently reported, this year the show added the highly respected Harvard psychologist John Sharp to its staff, who will presumably take over a substantial part of Drew's duties. Charismatic, with a quick sense of humor, Sharp appears today in an exclusive interview by The Fix, in which he discusses Dr. Drew and the new season. There's a chance that if Dr. Sharp does really well, he'll take over where Drew left off, leaving Pinsky free to pursue his other projects, while still collecting a princely sum as one of the show's producers.
In his interview today with The Fix, Sharp conceded that the never-ending need to amp up the stories—bigger, crazier, deadlier—had taken its toll on Pinsky: “The first few seasons of Celebrity Rehab were very close to what Drew had originally wanted: they really showed what was going on in terms of rehabilitation. After that, the show was kind of amplified a bit to make it more dramatic—not that they were showing anything that wasn’t true, but it was more entertaining.”
VH1 could not be reached for comment. But questioned about Drew's rumored departure, Dr. Sharp replied this morning, "No one's asked me if I'd replace him. That would be pretty cool."
Read the full interview here.
In case there was any doubt on this point, the government has finally announced it’s opposition (again) to reclassifying cannabis and moving it into a less severe category of scheduled drug, nine years after marijuana activists requested a decision. The Los Angeles Times reported that DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart rejected the request, saying marijuana should remain in the same category as heroin because of its high abuse potential—and arguing, despite substantial research to the contrary that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." Ouch. The letter, and 37 pages of supporting documents, were published Friday in the Federal Register. "At this time," Leonhart said, "the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy." We will assume she said this with a straight face, as the main reason we do not have a wealth of well-controlled clinical trials for scientifically evaluating marijuana safety is because the U.S. government effectively shut down that line of research decades ago, and only recently reopened it to outside researchers in some cases. Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, said Administrator Leonhart had “reaffirmed in the Federal Register the administration’s ‘flat Earth’ position regarding the medical properties of cannabis.”
Americans lately have consistently supported medical marijuana by slim margins in national polls. Back when the petition was filed, eight states had approved medical marijuana. Now 16 states and the District of Columbia have done so. In 2009, the American Medical Association urged the government to review its classification of marijuana "with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."
Attorneys who had filed for the reclassification put the best face on matters. “We have foiled the government's strategy of delay, and we can now go head-to-head on the merits," said Joe Elford, the chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.
Iceland—a county where just 15% of the population lights up, the lowest in all of Europe, is seeking to crunch the number even further. The proposed plan to have their government license cigarettes as if they were medicine is just one piece of a much broader 10-year-plan aimed to ban smoking in all public places in the small country nestled in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean. That figures: Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is named after its local hot springs, and means, legend has it, Smoke Cove. But if former Icelandic health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir gets her way, the Icelandic Medical Association-backed proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes will become a reality. It will only work, she insists, if cigarettes are available by prescription for struggling addicts. The idea is that a blanket ban, with cigarette prescriptions for adult smokers who are quitting under a doctor’s care, would virtually eliminate the chance of children are young adults seriously taking up the smoking habit. In a small Northern European country like Iceland, maybe they can get away with it. The specter of a black market always looms over proposals of this kind. But this plan calls for a gradual phase-in, and would start by restricting cigarette sales pharmacies, “and eventually only to those with a valid medical certificate,” according to the UK Guardian. Shades of medical marijuana—if medical marijuana were being offered for marijuana addiction. Perhaps it is; we’re not up to date on the roster of acceptable indications.
In the past 20 years, Iceland has successfully slashed the number nicotine addicts in half. This can be attributed to a steep increase in taxes as well as a drastic dip in disposable income due to the financial collapse of 2008, according to the report. Another key part of the plan: Making prescription cigarettes cheaper than existing cigarettes. “Under our plan, smokers who are given prescriptions will be diagnosed as addicts, and we don’t thing the government should tax addicts,” said the president of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology. Kudos to Iceland for attempting to make their country a healthier place, but according to an Icelandic ministry of welfare spokesperson, Anna Baldursdottir, the bill has a slim chance of catching on with the majority in Parliament—where it will be debated this upcoming fall. “Whether or not it eventually becomes a law, I do not know, I seriously doubt it,” she says.