Britain and the United Kingdom -- News on Drinking and Other Substance Abuse

British pub.jpgIt’s been awhile since I wrote about drinking and substance abuse problems overseas, but not for lack of material.

In the United Kingdom, drinking among young people has become a terrible, or terribly dangerous, problem. The number of young people drinking has decreased somewhat in recent years, as in the U.S. (where more young people are smoking pot), but the behavior is simply out of hand, according to a New York Times article.

“Partying Until Drunk and Disorderly in Britain,” about what’s happening in Northampton, England, tells the story. Young people are often going out in packs to get “thoroughly, blindingly, and often violently drunk,” according to a policeman interviewed. To save money, the youths drink cheap liquor before they go to the bars, and many are already drunk by the time they arrive. The police chief said that Northampton’s young people are looking for entertainment. No different from what young people in the U.S. do, it’s true, and drunk and disorderly young Americans get into trouble, too.

But this article holds that it’s not just bothersome to see Britain’s youth wandering the streets bloody after fighting, throwing up, crying, and dressed inappropriately for the freezing cold. Inebriated women are occasionally molested or raped.  To the east of the city, a house party that got out of control sent three people to the hospital. One was missing part of his nose, and another’s arm had almost been amputated.  Understandably, the drinking has become an issue of growing social importance, the authors of this article said, and the police are taking stronger action.

These young people’s behavior (those ages 15 to 24) — binge drinking on weekends only — is different from older generations, according to the article, and even different from  the way Americans drink, according to one of the policemen who once worked for the L.A. Police Department. (I don’t know that the majority of Americans would agree with that, however. The former L.A. policeman should visit some of the shore towns near where I live. Add to that the TV program called Jersey Shore that glorified a bunch of young people drinking south of where I live.) But I digress.

The United Kingdom’s older citizens are causing problems, too, in a different way. According to an article in the Independent, a U.K. newspaper, record numbers of “pensioners” (those over 65) are ending up in the hospital “after recreational drug use.”  Specifically, the article headline said that three times as many people are going to the “A&E,” the Accident and Emergency, or what we call the ER, than they were ten years ago.

The article seemed to point to pot, cocaine, and amphetamines as the main culprits, and to the reason for the increase as the “free love” attitude and the experimentation with drugs that this generation grew up with. (Over half of hospital admissions for overdosing have involved people over 75 who were in their 20’s in the 1960’s. An expert from the National Drug Prevention Alliance said that many have been doing drugs their entire life.)

The article sounded a warning for U.K. treatment centers, saying that they better be prepared for this “aging client group” and have the resources to treat them.  So, just as our health system is being taxed by the drug problem in the U.S., the U.K. is experiencing a burden on its health system.


Drugs in Russia - Spice and Krokodil

When people think of substance abuse in Russia, they often think of alcohol abuse because it’s rampant there. For example, here’s a headline atop a 2009 article from a Russian news agency: Russia's Medvedev calls for program to fight alcohol abuse. (Medvedev was president in 2009, prior to Putin.)soviet anti alcohol poster.jpg

Joan found a news item on another substance abuse problem in Russia: the synthetic drug spice, which is wreaking havoc among attract teenagers and young adults. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “’Spice’ refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as ‘safe,’ legal alternatives to that drug. Sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, and others — and labeled ‘not for human consumption’ — these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their psychoactive (mind-altering) effects.”

The article from the Russian news service says spice also mimics the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine. Drug pushers in Russia have been selling bags of the substance for under $15, often in schools and in shops with barred windows.

Astonishingly, a group of Russian vigilantes has been seeking out these pushers in Moscow and other cities to try and stop the scourge. According to the news service, the vigilantes’ frightening actions against the pushers are (unofficially) condoned by the government, although the head of the country’s anti-drug agency denies this. Still, citizens are questioning Putin’s “perceived tolerance for extralegal actions against forces considered harmful to the regime or to public order.”

The radicals are members of an anti-drug group associated with a group called Young Russia that is pro-Kremlin. The hammer-wielding subset calls itself the Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces. They have attacked drug pushers’ cars and thrown the people to the ground and tossed red paint on them.Kremlin.jpg

The headline of the article Joan pointed me to says it all: The spice must not flow: Pro-Kremlin youth violently hunt down ‘spice’ pushers in Russia. Unfortunately, if Russia bans one of the ingredients, the manufacturers just substitute another or change the mix somewhat. So the attackers find the pushers, attack them, and then film and publish the attack online to try and deter others. Scary all around.

Another YouTube video brought home yet another drug problem in Russia. Krokodil (for Crocodile), is a synthetic drug that owes its existence to the war in Afghanistan. A short introduction in the video explains that when heroin started being exported to Russia from Afghanistan, many Russians became addicted. They’ve since turned to the cheaper Krokodil, which “makes their skin turn scaly and rot off their bodies.” (Search for photos on the Internet; they’re all over.)

One TV host toured an area where the drug addicts live and shoot up. Seeing what goes on is truly devastating.  A British newspaper said the drug—desomorphine—which can be made from “codeine-based headache pills” and other ingredients available in many people’s homes, is more powerful than heroin.

The writer noted that it’s a huge epidemic, especially in isolated areas of Russia. He quoted a doctor who said that the withdrawal is much worse than with heroin—sometimes the physical pain can last a month instead of five or ten days, and people have to be given strong tranquilizers so that they don’t pass out from the pain. Russia has plans to make codeine-based pills available only by prescription, but that has not happened yet. (And wait until they see how even that doesn’t always help, as evidenced in our country.)

The horror goes on and on in this article. I’ve occasionally recommended an article before, but this one is really a must.


Photos:  (Above) Soviet government anti-drinking poster, circa 1950s

(Below) The Kremlin in Moscow





Deadly Anti-drug Efforts in Honduras, and Iran as an Ally in the War on Drugs

A Less-Than-Successful Program in Hondurashonduras flag.jpeg

The news about drugs in Central and South America is often horrendous, but recent events in Honduras may surpass anything that has gone before. In two separate incidents, Honduran Air Force pilots shot down small planes flying off the coast. American radar intelligence was used in one of them, according to an article in The New York Times. What’s astounding is that neither Honduras nor the United States knows if the planes were indeed carrying drugs, and the pilots’ acts violated international law and established protocols.

It sounded as if the U.S. had just started an offensive against drug trafficking in Honduras, and understandably, U.S. officials were outraged. They also suspect U.S. commandos were conducting drug raids when they were only supposed to be acting as advisors, which could point to human rights abuses.

Articles like this one shed light on the U.S. administration’s policy and actions, which hope to stem the tide of drugs into our country. In aligning with several Latin American countries, our country was actually attempting to protect Honduras and “use it as a chokepoint to cut off the flow of drugs headed north.” But this latest effort has gone terribly wrong, and the article is worth reading for how the effort was bungled. A new initiative focuses more on “judicial reform and institution-building.” Honduras has rampant corruption like many Latin America countries, unfortunately, which doesn’t help anti-drug efforts. 

Iran’s More Successful FightIran-Flag.gif

For a total 180-degree turn, look no further (surprisingly) than Iran for some good news on the drug war front. Iran borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that has been a problem. For years, drug traffickers crossed the borders of these countries to enter Iran with opium and heroin that they would then transport to Europe and the Persian Gulf.

But the Iranian army dug trenches and built walls along the borders to try and deter the traffickers, and thwart them they have, “seizing the largest number of shipments worldwide,” the New York Times said, citing a report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Drugs have a religious link in Iran’s fight—the country’s leaders consider the fight against drugs a religious duty. However, that’s not the only way the war on drugs in Iran is different than it’s fought in other countries. A representative for the United Nations drug office in Tehran said the West had cut back on financing to help the Iranians, and Iran seems to have lost more lives in the war than many other countries.

As in Honduras, there are human rights considerations in Iran. The country sentences drug dealers to death, and uses hanging as one method. On the other hand, Iran has drug rehab programs for its 1.2 million addicts, and treats them (humanely) as patients, offering methadone and other medications rather than prison.

Of course, Iran is glad for the positive publicity about their fight against drugs because of the negative perception about its “nuclear enrichment program” and upcoming negotiations.




Venezuela - Cocaine "Exporting" is Worse Than Ever

venezuela stamp.jpgIs it just me, or have you been seeing a ton of articles about drugs in Central and South America lately? One recent article, Cocaine’s Flow is Unchecked in Venezuela, held that the Venezuela government has exaggerated how well it’s doing in the drug war there. Officials have reported that they’ve raided labs and destroyed airfields, seized barrels of liquid cocaine (who knew it came in a liquid???), and confiscated planes involved in transporting the drug.

However, someone or some group (that went unmentioned) found that the situation is not as described. There are still “drug flights” transporting cocaine out of the country, and I can guess where it’s headed: the U.S.  It should come as no surprise that the cocaine is actually from Colombia. In fact, a Columbian guerrilla group – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia – is very active in a “remote region” of Venezuela. 

Venezuelan authorities could try and destroy the airstrip – again – but they’re not, according to the article. And although our government works with governments that include Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, we are not friendly with Venezuela, which is probably one reason why drug traffickers can operate so freely there. 

The article contributors cite the Venezuela government’s corruption as another problem, and the fact that the criminals have chosen the poorest state in which to operate is undoubtedly another factor. Even at the border with Columbia, they collect “protection money” from local businesses.

How much of a problem does cocaine from Venezuela present? According to the White House, more than 200 tons of cocaine passed through that country in 2010, which is about ¼ of the cocaine shipped from South America. Check out the aerial photo included in the article showing illicit drug flights operating out of Venezuela, collected by radar. It’s impressive.

Another article is just as depressing: Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War. The writer found that “only 31% of Americans said they thought that the government was making much progress dealing with illegal drugs, the lowest share since 1997.” More disturbing was that compared to 10 years ago, fewer people even worry about drug abuse! That, despite the fact that about 1 in 5 inmates are in jail for drug offenses (just one sad fact). Let’s not forget that about 15 percent of [high school] seniors said they abused a prescription drug in 2011. (I don’t think anyone in the addiction and recovery community needs to be convinced of the extent of the problem.)

I have another post in mind about some people’s thoughts on legalizing all illicit drugs, but I’ll throw this out now: In the article in this post, an economist at Harvard has suggested that this action would save the U.S. $65 billion annually, “mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well as through reduced crime and corruption.” The article points out that “even some Latin American presidents have asked our country to consider legalizing some drugs, like marijuana.”  How’s that for some food for thought?

News About Drug Use in India and in the Netherlands

The Pot War in the Netherlands

When people think of the Netherlands, they may think of things like tulips and the childhood story Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.  Amsterdam, the capital, is often associated with the Anne Frank house but also with its red light district and liberal policy toward pot smoking. However, in April, the U.S. press took note of a new law in the Netherlands that will potentially end “decades of pot tourism to Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.Dutch coffeee shop selling marijuana.jpg

A writer for The New York Post said: “The Netherlands is moving toward tighter control of its renowned liberal marijuana policy even as the United States and other nations debate whether to legalize “soft” drugs.” How ironic. Right now the law applies to coffee shops in the south of the country, and other cities must comply by 2013.  (Pot is widely sold in coffee shops.)  (Dutch citizens were supposed to obtain a weed pass, however, which explains the reference to pot tourism, above. Tourists are the main targets, it seems.) It’s interesting that lawyers are arguing it’s unconstitutional to forbid tourists from these purchases. Of course! The coffee shops stand to lose tons of money.

I looked for a more penetrating article on what’s behind this move, and found this, part of an AP article on CBC News.

“Ironically, the reason the Dutch tolerance policy got going in the 1970s was not on the theory that marijuana was OK — it has always been viewed as a public health problem — but because containing it in shops seemed like a pragmatic way to deal with the problems caused by street dealing.

But a growing body of evidence linking the drug to mental illness and a decade-long shift to the political right in the Netherlands has already led to minor changes in the policy, notably the closure of many shops located near schools or known for causing problems.”

India’s Drug Problemindian man smoking opium.jpg

I’d love to see India someday, so it was disheartening to read about drug problems there. Drugs have become a scourge, say two people reporting from India. Opium, which can be refined into heroin, is plentiful. Picture schoolboys eating “black balls of opium paste, with tea, before classes.”

The writers stated that it’s not known how many people are abusing drugs in India, but they believe it’s a large number. They also attribute it to “the demographic risks of a glut of young people.” And, it seems, many are unemployed.

The problem is acute in Punjab, which borders Pakistan. There are private drug treatment centers available, but the writers questioned the qualifications of the people running them. Hospital treatment wards are seeing more and more patients.

The writer also revealed that the government is dependent on alcohol sales for revenue, and consumption has risen almost 60% between 2005 and 2010. In addition, drugstores are profiting from “selling pills and other synthetic drugs to addicts who can’t afford heroin.”

The stories are as sad as you might expect. Children are losing parents to drugs and are being lost to drugs themselves. As one person interviewed said, “In every village, people are falling prey to this drug abuse.”

Drugs in Afghanistan

In the photos, one man looks like a business man, and another is an artsy type.  Yet another could be a member of the clergy. But these are men from Afghanistan, not the U.S.,as you might think from my descriptions, and all are addicts. They are evidence that we truly live in a global world where no one is immune from becoming an addict.Afgan shopkeeper.jpg

Most of the men depicted wear the type of headgear that immediately identifies them as Central Asian, and the subtitle of The New York Times article I’m reading leaves no doubt. The title is “Trapped in a Narcotic Haze”, and the subtitle is “With Abundant Opium and Few Treatment Programs, Afghanistan’s Addicts, and Health Risks, Multiply.” (As I mentioned previously, the NYT changes article titles online after articles are published, so the next headline was “Few Treatment Options for Afghans as Drug Use Rises.”)

The men in the article – from 200 to 300, depending on the day -- live under a bridge that healthcare workers who visit call “a circle of hell.” Many of them have H.I.V. from sharing needles. And although treatment is not always easy to come by for those without money in the U.S., it’s doubly hard in Afghanistan. The government has a few detox centers and is building more, but there’s no support post-detox and there’s a 92% relapse rate, the author of the article found. Plus, the World Health Organization may support opiate substitution therapy, but the Afgani government does not, believing that it’s simply substituting one addictive substance for another.

Since Afghanistan is the leading producer of the opium poppy, opium is pure and cheap in that country, the writer notes, and addiction is increasing. From 12 to 41 percent of Afghani police recruits smoke pot, and the incidence of H.I.V is 7 percent, double what it was in 2008.afgan younger man.jpg

Part of the problem is that men who travel to Iran for work from other countries become addicted and are then sent back home or travel home of their own free will. That’s sad, because Iran is not opposed to methadone therapy so it sounds like they’d do better if they stayed.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced at the beginning of February that U.S. troops will be pulling out of Afghanistan starting in 2013-- earlier than the original date of 2014. Besides thinking of our troops serving there for so many years, I thought of the country’s drug problem on hearing this. 


Alcohol Abuse in the U.K.

We know that the U.S. isn’t the only country with substance abuse problems. I believe the news about what’s happening in other countries is interesting and I thought others might find it so as well. Why should we care what other countries are doing? Because we’re one world. Perhaps we can learn from each other, and countries with more advanced policies and research can help others.big-ben-london.jpg

I’ll start with England. In a posting this year on the BBC news site, Alcohol Concern, a national charity in England and Wales, predicted that the number of hospitalizations in the country due to alcohol abuse could reach 1.5 million by 2015.

The organization, which calls itself a national agency on alcohol misuse, suggested that the country have an alcohol specialist on the staff of every hospital and in every general practitioner group.

The post decried the thousands of deaths from liver disease and the increased risk of stroke, heart disease and some cancers among people who drink. It also noted that that Department of Health is planning to come up with a new “alcohol strategy” that will give more power and money to local communities for treatment. Leaders will also tighten licensing laws and forbid supermarkets to sell liquor below cost.

England, like the U.S., is concerned about the national cost of alcohol abuse and is taking strict measures. Part of the impetus is the country ending primary care trusts, or “organizations that work in both health [including mental health] and social care,” according to a government site.

The Alcohol Concern also called for more alcohol specialists throughout the healthcare industry and criticized the government for not earmarking sufficient funds to date for alcohol abuse.

Kudos to this organization for pointing out the need to do more. Without getting into a discussion about the merits of socialized medicine vs. a system like ours, I wonder how these suggestions would go over in our country. Sadly, we’re not the only country that needs more readily available resources to save lives.