Denver DEA head Barbra Roach’s recent attempt to demonize marijuana growers with some mold-related scaremongering raised the bar. But not to be outdone, UK police apparently made an even more outlandish claim: that the very smell of mature marijuana plants is “carcinogenic.” This revelation appeared in a Harborough Mail story entitled “Drugs Factory Raided.” The “factory” in question was a home in the village of Cottingham, Yorkshire, where police seized 90 cannabis plants. Slipped into an otherwise-mundane report was a jaw-dropping claim: "Police are warning that when cannabis plants reach the final stages of maturity the odour they release has carcinogenic properties. Officers who deal with the plants use ventilation masks and protective suits and people who have plants in their home, especially anyone with young children, may be exposing their family to a health risk." No officer’s name was attributed to this, nor was a journalist’s name attached to the article.
The alert Dr. Ben Goldacre, academic, broadcaster and author of Bad Science, did some digging over at his blog. The real fun comes as Dr. Goldacre posts his email exchanges with both the editor of the newspaper and Andy Roberts, a “communications officer” from Northamptonshire Police, prompting an impressive display of blame-shifting. After a few rounds of “he said, she said” Roberts—who says the police originally issued the claim to the newspaper with the caveat that it should be investigated by a medical expert—states: “I have asked Inspector Gary Williams to ask his local officers where the 'carcinogenic' link has come from and I am waiting to hear back. I suspect this may be an urban myth and, should this be the case, I would be happy to address it.” Well, they do say that the first casualty of war is the truth.
Already engaged in an epic battle, both Palestinians and Israelis are now dealing with another deadly problem: heroin addiction. Smack was scarce on the West Bank and the Gaza strip before 1967's Six Day War, when Israel occupied the area. But since then, Al Quds University estimates that 6,000 people in East Jerusalem are hooked on the drug, compared with 300 in 1986. Naturally, the problem has become highly politicized. Activists claim that unemployment and poverty have led many young Palestinians—especially in East Jerusalem—to seek release through the drug. But Israelis haven't been spared. According to a recent news report, the Jewish state is now home to an estimated 300,000 heroin addicts—70,000 of them teenagers. NGOs promote drug awareness and counseling services in schools and distribute needles, straps, and condoms to addicts in an attempt to stem the rising tide of STDs and Hepitatis C associated with heroin use. No figures are available for overall drug use in Palestinian territory, but just a single drug rehab is now operating on the West Bank. "There are no resources," explains its founder Nihad Rajabi.
Even high-ranking US military officials don't think the war on drugs is succeeding. Air Force General Douglas Fraser, Chief of the US Southern Command, admits that the US military covering South America only intercepts about one third of the drug shipments and other illegal traffic that it knows about—and even that number is starting to decrease. The smugglers succeed in operating in hard-to-reach areas, where US forces can't pursue them without violating foreign airspace, while the local authorities lack the resources for the job. Fraser blames factors including a limited budgets in both the US and other allied nations, a shrinking US Navy, and the diversion of Air Force reconnaissance assets to Afghanistan. "I don't think a long term trend of the military being involved in law enforcement is a good thing, [but] countries have seen the necessity to do that as their only available solution," says Fraser. "[Instead, we need to] help build law enforcement capacity, help build judicial capacity." The US Navy is also retiring its Perry-class frigates—the main staples of drug interdiction patrols—which will likely be replaced with other vessels coming back from Iraq, some of which could be transferred to friendly countries that currently lack the capability to intercept drug boats in their own waters. Fraser also hopes to use the Air Force's MC-12 "Liberty" reconnaissance planes and "Global Hawk" high-altitude drones, most of which are currently in use in Afghanistan.
Californian pill-poppers beware—the state will still be closely scrutinizing opiate prescriptions, despite reports that its landmark monitoring program was going to be shelved. CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) ended up surviving the cash-strapped state’s 2011 budgetary cuts. “The database was housed and monitored under the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement," California Department of Justice spokesperson Michelle Gregory explains to The Fix. "With the closure of that bureau, CURES is now housed under the Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS). This department also oversees other criminal databases.” So practitioners, pharmacists and law enforcement can still scour 100 million entries in a huge database, sniffing out doctor shoppers (addicts who seek multiple doctors to get as many prescriptions as possible) and practitioners who prescribe suspiciously high quantities of controlled drugs. “If they [the Justice Department] see something in the data they would refer it accordingly or notify a law enforcement agency for further investigation,” says Gregory. “The prescription drug monitoring program is a valuable investigative, preventative and educational tool for law enforcement, regulatory boards, educational researchers, and the healthcare community.”
But doctor shoppers in the state may have higher hopes for the future. “Currently the DOJ is working on trying to obtain other funding for more positions and to keep the program going through this year," a US Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman tells us, which doesn't sound too definite. He adds that while 48 states have passed legislation for prescription drug monitoring programs, only 40 have enough funds to operate them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says monitoring programs are a promising strategy to combat the deadly epidemic of prescription drug abuse that has multiplied across the country.
Kristen Johnston details her dangerous drug and alcohol addictions in a new book, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster. The comely 3rd Rock from the Sun star says that years of prescription pill abuse eventually caused her to land in the hospital with acute peritonitis, an incident that nearly killed her. “I’m a pill-popping lush,” she writes in her moving memoir, which hits shelves next week. The now-sober 44-year-old actress, who currently stars on the hit show The Exes, says her obsession with chemicals started in high school when she started drinking and stealing painkillers from family and friends. By her thirties she was downing bottles of wine and swallowing painkillers that were prescribed for her dog. "After the age of 25, it's no longer cute to have a red-wine mustache and purple teeth," she writes. Soon after she arrived in London in 2006 to join the cast the West End show Love Song, her addiction took a deadly turn, “Opening night, and we were a smash hit,” she recalls. “Then the next night my intestines ripped open.”
As a result of years of drug abuse, Johnston eventually spent months recuperating at a London hospital. But soon after undergoing intricate surgery, she returned to popping pills and downing booze. Eventually she sought treatment at The Meadows rehab in Arizona, “I was finally brave enough to face my biggest nightmare, revealing the hideous, revolting monster,” she writes in Guts. “I’ve been in recovery for five years, and I’ve worked my ass off to prevent a relapse.” Back in November Johnston—who is a big advocate for recovery causes—publicly talked about taking Suboxone to help her kick Vicodin on a much-talked appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. Telling The New York Times that she "hates anonymity", Johnston also recalls a run-in she had with a Hollywood agent who told her "Honey, you really gotta stop telling everyone that you're sober...it could get into the wrong hands, and it could hurt your career. But mostly it makes people uncomfortable." On Friday The Fix will feature an exclusive interview with the star, as well as an excerpt from her book.