Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Methamphetamine – What YOU can do to stop the labs

We used to worry about meth labs in West Marin, even in Bolinas, picturing a cluttered house stocked with tubing, tanks of explosive chemicals, and a stove with bubbling beakers of a toxic brew. It’s gotten a lot simpler in recent years. Meth is now made in cars. There is a faster, cheaper and simpler method of making small amounts of meth. The ingredients – pills with the decongestant pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and household chemicals are shaken in a 2 quart soda bottle. No flame is required. The back seat of a car or a bathroom stall are the new makeshift labs. The batches of meth are much smaller, so the addicts who make them are harder to apprehend. According to the NYTimes (4/15/10) roadsides throughout the country are littered with discarded pop bottles and chemicals from these car labs. Cleanup is dangerous and time-consuming, and addicts in cars are hard to apprehend. They are also very dangerous drivers.

The basis for meth production is pseudoephedrine, made in labs in Mexico, China and other countries, often from petroleum-based compounds. The chemical comes into the country illegally. However, most of the new car-based labs use pseudoephedrine pills known as Sudafed, Actifed or Contac. In California, these drugs are no longer directly available over the counter, and a limited amount is sold at any one time. However, drug addicts and dealers employ ‘smurfers’ - people who travel to various pharmacies, using different names, to buy as much Sudafed as possible
States are trying out different techniques to stop the new car labs. Oregon has gone the farthest, with a 2006 law that makes medicines with pseudoephedrine available only with a prescription. The state has seen a marked decrease in seizures of meth labs and in property crime,. Identity theft and child abuse are also linked to meth use. A similar law has been proposed in California, opposed by drug companies and chain drug stores. Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden has introduced a bill in the US Senate called the Meth Labs Elimination Act, which would take Oregon’s law nationwide. This proposed legislation has been targeted and opposed by drug companies eager to protect their $500 million allergy and cold care business.

Sudafed and related drugs cause stimulation of the central nervous system, including sleeplessness, excitability, dizziness and anxiety. In certain people they can cause blood pressure elevation, a very rapid or irregular heart beat, and stroke.

There are safer ways to deal with nasal congestion due to colds or allergies. Work on eliminating allergens in your home. Rinse your nose with a solution of 4 ounces warm water, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, using a bulb syringe or a neti pot. Alternatively, you can buy a Sinus Rinse kit in local pharmacies. Use an antihistamine such as Benadryl or Chlor-trimeton, being aware that these drugs can make you sleepy, or Claritin. Vitamin C in high doses is a natural antihistamine; many people take a gram of C every 3-4 hours when they have a runny nose due to a cold or allergy, and get relief without fatigue as a side effect.

But back to meth – here are some steps you can take for the safety of your family and the wider world. Call Jared Huffman, our assemblyman: 415-479-4920. Ask him to support the Wright bill, a measure that would require a prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine, which can be made into methamphetamine. Also call Mark Leno, our state senator, 479-6612, with the same message. Take your activism a step further and call Lynn Woolsey, our Congresswoman – 507-9554, and Senators Feinstein -393-0707, and Boxer – 403-0100. These are all local numbers. Ask these congresswomen to support Senator Ron Wyden’s bill to require a prescription for drugs containing pseudoephedrine.

Meth is not a benign recreational drug; it is a killer drug that threatens our youth and also our budgets. If you have any doubts about this, read Tweak, by Nic Sheff, a local youth whose life was profoundly disturbed by methamphetamine. Annual costs for meth detection, cleanup and health care in the US exceed $23 billion. It’s time to try what worked in Oregon to combat this drug.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH - back issues on this blog.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Biological Exuberance; a new view of animal homosexuality

In his 1999 book Biological Exuberance – Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity – the biologist Bruce Bagemihl writes about same-
sex behaviors in a wide variety of primates, other mammals and in many bird species, explaining homosexual courtship, affection, sex, pair bonding and parenting. Same-sex behavior has been documented in over 450 species of animals; biologists point out that only a fraction of the more than a million species known to exist have been studied in any depth, so the number may be far larger. Bagemihl writes that western science has overstressed the importance of heterosexual sex for passing on genes and failed to notice many other kinds of sexual behavior – such as same sex mounting, necking (among male giraffes), oral sex and masturbation- mutual and solo.

Bonobos – pygmy chimpanzees (with whom we share over 99% of our genes) - are predominantly bisexual; females and males have frequent hetero and same-sex contact with each other, including with juveniles. Females also have sex during their pregnancies. Clearly their ‘exuberant’ sexual behavior has meanings beyond reproduction – anthropologists see it as beneficial to the group by creating tribal cohesion and preventing fights over food. These animals truly do make love not war.

Bagemihl points out that western science has attempted to explain animal homosexuality for over two hundred years but has had problems explaining behavior that is non-reproductive. However, from the point of view of biological exuberance, natural systems are driven as much by abundance as by limitations and practicality. Seen in this light, homosexuality and non-reproductive heterosexuality are “expected occurrences” – they are one manifestation of an overall “extravagance” of biological systems that has many other expressions.
Bagemihl. 1999. (Think of the peacock’s tail.)

In 2006, the Natural History Museum in Oslo opened the first-ever museum exhibition dedicated to gay animals. The exhibit , titled Against Nature?, showed photographs of the more than 1500 species (their count)where homosexuality has been observed – from insects to mammals. The curators stated that a greater understanding of how extensive and common this behavior is among animals could help to demystify homosexuality among people. You can see a few of the outstanding photographs of this exhibit by going to google : Against Nature? Exhibition in Oslo.

In today’s New York Times Magazine, April 4, 2010, the article The love that Dare Not Squawk its Name concerns new studies on animal homosexuality, mostly among seabirds. Careful observation of the Laysan Albatross, who nest in Hawaii, reveals that a third of nesting pairs are made up of two females. One or both mate briefly with a male and then return to their female nest-mate, with whom they may bond for many years. Taking off from Bagemihl’s theories, scientists are thinking that homosexuality must be seen as having different ‘purposes’ or manifestations in each species - it is a byproduct of reproductive sex, but cannot easily be explained by our current Darwinian model. New thinking is needed about the possible benefits of homosexuals to the family or the group, and also about homosexuality and bisexuality being a by-product of exuberant desire for sexual play.

Scientists studying animal sexual behavior have generally been careful not to extrapolate their findings to human society, but of course their findings have had an impact on the wider world. After publishing, the authors have been reviled by homophobes and cheered by many liberals and the GLBT community. The culture wars go on – and will undoubtedly be affected by new findings from other animals.
Sadja Greenwood, MD – back issues on this blog