A four foot tall former streetwalker—well-known in San Francisco by the name "Little Bit"—was celebrated in a lengthy and respectful San Francisco Chronicle obituary following her death last month. Though she was addicted to heroin and crack for decades, the "raspy-voiced", diminutive, much-beloved local character, whose real name was Susan Beach, cleaned up and moved successfully into supportive housing a year ago, along with her partner and her two pet rats. Since then she has emerged as the self-proclaimed leader of "Homeless Island," a colony of street kids and drug addicts who had set up shop on a traffic triangle in the city. But her previous long-term drug abuse sadly caught up with her when she died from kidney failure last month at the age of 40. Her story echoes the words of an expert who spoke at the Vancouver Missing Women inquiry yesterday. Thomas Kerr, co-director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Colombia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, cited a 2007 study that found 63% of sex-trade workers said they would quit sex work if they quit using drugs: "They said they would forgo the activity if they didn't need the money for drugs." He added that many street sex workers are robbed by men who assume they're carrying money and drugs. The inquiry is investigating problems in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the scene of numerous assaults, disappearances and murders in recent years. A 1998 survey of San Francisco's prostitutes found 75% reported a drug abuse problem and 27% an alcohol abuse problem, with the duration of these problems ranging from three months to 30 years. “I know what I could do if I could shake the dope,” Little Bit told the San Francisco Chronicle when she was still on the street in 2003. “I could really do something with myself. But it’s so damn hard. Real hard.”
- Cameron Douglas Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Heroin and Cocaine into Jail [NY Daily News]
- GOP Candidate Johnson Would Consider Full Pardons for Nonviolent Marijuana Offenders [Huffington Post]
- US Navy Sailor "Tried to Smuggle Five Kilos of Coke Out of Colombia" [ABC News]
- Man Who Robbed Drugstore Three Times Has Standoff With Police [WHAS11]
- How the Chinese are Learning to Drink Wine [CNN]
- Heroin Stolen from Sheriff's Evidence Locker [Chicago Tribune]
- Jonny Gomes Can Attest to the Addiction of Chewing Tobacco [Press Democrat]
A study released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week, investigating the social and healthcare costs of drinking, found the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 was $223.5 billion—or $746 for each man, woman and child in the US. That comes to about $2.11 per standard drink consumed today, or $1.90 in 2006—a lot less than the state, local and federal taxes levied on alcohol, which amount to about about 14 cents per drink. The disparity results in a national alcohol-cost deficit to the tune of about $114 billion. “For comparison, this was almost half the size of the federal budget deficit last year,” writes Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at Boston Medical Center and author of a commentary published concurrently with the study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “The $5.368 billion in 2006 state and local tax and $9.194 billion in federal excise tax in 2006 don’t begin to cover the economic costs.” Naimi recommends “making people pay the true cost of alcohol . . . increased taxes would result in net savings for most taxpayers, and excessive drinkers would pay almost five times as much per capita as low-risk drinkers.” And unlike tobacco taxes, he points out, increased alcohol taxes would be paid mostly by folks with relative social and economic advantages. Of the total costs of excessive drinking in 2006, 72% came from lost productivity, 11% from increased healthcare costs, and 9.4% from criminal justice costs.
A drunken dad who may have thought he'd dodge a DUI by making his 9-year-old daughter drive him around at 3 am is facing child abuse charges instead. Michigan father Shaun Weimer, 39, was even rash enough to boast to a gas station clerk that he was drunk and that his daughter was the "designated driver" of his large red van. She'd driven him all the way to the gas station, he told the incredulous employee—"And I parked," added the little girl, proudly. Surveillance cameras recorded the child driving away with her dad in the passenger seat, and a startled witness called 911 to report the scene—although he admitted to the operator, "She's driving pretty good!" When cops pulled the van over, the girl, who was sitting on a booster seat behind the wheel, asked them, "What did you stop me for? I was driving good." Weimer appeared to be intoxicated but refused a breathalyzer. He also insisted while in custody that it was his right to let his daughter drive for him. The girl's mother, Heather Hammon, 36, told the media she was "mortified" to hear what had happened, but defended her former partner: “He is a good dad. He just made a bad choice.” Weimer's preliminary hearing was yesterday rescheduled for November 8. He's free on bail but has been ordered by a judge to have no contact with his daughter.
When Dr. Douglas Deiterich contracted Hepatitis C as a med student—he accidentally pricked himself with a contaminated needle—the disease didn’t even have a name; they just called it “Non-A, Non-B Hepatitis.” For the next 20 years, he struggled with a poorly understood and highly stigmatized disease. “Death definitely did not escape my mind,” he said of 1980s, when he was most sick. But ten years ago, Dr. Dieterich cured himself with one of the treatments he helped to develop. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,” he said. Hepatitis C is often transmitted via unsafe intravenous drug use. The disease can be cured, but for a long time the only available drugs caused severe side-effects and were very expensive. The biggest barrier to treating Hep C is recognizing it: a carrier can have no symptoms for years. Most of the estimated 3.2 million Americans with the disease don’t know they have it. But even in the absence of symptoms, the longer they wait before getting tested and treated, the more difficult the disease will be to cure—ironically, the patients who have severe symptoms right away are better off, because they get treatment at an earlier stage. Rates of Hepatitis C have been falling since the 1980s, in part due to vigilant screening by doctors, but also due to preventive measures. Areas that allow harm reduction programs for intravenous drug use—from needle exchanges to more controversial measures like the Insite clinic in Vancouver, where drug users can inject in a safe environment—have significantly lower rates of Hepatitis C infections: more studies need to be done, but many show at least a 20% reduction in new Hepatitis C infections due to harm reduction programs. Meanwhile, treatment has gotten more advanced—though it remains expensive—and the disease can be cured in 40-80% of cases. Two new medicines have been approved, and Dr. Dieterich reports that 200 more are in the approval process: “Now that we have the tools, we have to start kicking some viral butt!”
An Indiana couple, Brandon and Anne Marie Riggs, deny that they gave their then 4-month-old son to a drug-dealing husband and wife in exchange for $13,000 in cash, a used Lincoln car, and fifty OxyContin tablets, as well as Xanax, methadone and morphine sulfate. Brandon, who is currently in prison on unrelated drug charges, and Anne Marie were trying to cope with a baby born addicted to methadone back in October 2009. The couple apparently gave their son, Brandon, Jr., to two accused drug dealers, Stephen and Melissa Lynch, and only tried to make the adoption official months later. Brandon Riggs wrote from prison that, “At the time, we were in no way capable of caring for a newborn, let alone a newborn with medical complications.” He called the Lynches “good people, good parents.” Nonetheless, San Diego authorities arrested 26-year-old Anna Marie on October 13th, and court documents show that she admitted to receiving the money and drugs in exchange for the child. The boy, who is now two years old, has been taken into protective care.