Fear, Greed, and Crisis Management:
A Neuroscientific Perspective
BY Andrew W. Lo  /  January 9, 2009

The alleged fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff is a timely and powerful microcosm of the current economic crisis, and it underscores the origin of all financial bubbles and busts: fear and greed. Using techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists have documented the fact that monetary gain stimulates the same reward circuitry as cocaine — in both cases, dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens. Similarly, the threat of financial loss activates the same fight-or-flight circuitry as physical attacks, releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, which results in elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness.

These reactions are hardwired into human physiology, and while some of us are able to overcome our biology through education, experience, or genetic good luck, the vast majority of the human population is driven by these “animal spirits” that John Maynard Keynes identified over 70 years ago.

From this neuroscientific perspective, it is not surprising that there have been 17 banking-related national crises around the globe since 1974, the majority of which were preceded by periods of rising real-estate and stock prices, large capital inflows, and financial liberalization. Extended periods of prosperity act as an anesthetic in the human brain, lulling investors, business leaders, and policymakers into a state of complacency, a drug-induced stupor that causes us to take risks that we know we should avoid.

In the case of Madoff, seasoned investors were apparently sucked into the alleged fraud despite their better judgment because they found his returns too tempting to pass up. In the case of subprime mortgages, homeowners who knew they could not afford certain homes proceeded nonetheless, because the prospects of living large and benefiting from home-price appreciation were too tempting to pass up. And investors in mortgage-backed securities, who knew that the AAA ratings were too optimistic given the riskiness of the underlying collateral, purchased these securities anyway because they found the promised yields and past returns too tempting to pass up.

If we add to these temptations a period of financial gain that anesthetizes the general population — including C.E.O.’s, chief risk officers, investors, and regulators — it is easy to see how tulip bulbs, internet stocks, gold, real estate, and fraudulent hedge funds could develop into bubbles. Such gains are unsustainable, and once the losses start mounting, our fear circuitry kicks in and panic ensues, a flight-to-safety leading to a market crash. This is where we are today.

Like hurricanes, financial crises are a force of nature that cannot be legislated away, but we can greatly reduce the damage they do with proper preparation.

Because the most potent form of fear is fear of the unknown, the most effective way to combat the current crisis is with transparency and education. In the short run, one way to achieve transparency is for our president-elect to convene a “crisis summit” once in office, in which all the major stakeholders involved in this crisis, and their most knowledgeable subordinates, are invited to an undisclosed location for an intensive week-long conference.

During this meeting, detailed information about exposures to “toxic assets,” concentrations of risky counterparty relationships, and other systemic weaknesses will be provided on a confidential basis to regulators and policymakers, and various courses of action can be proposed and debated in real time. Afterward, a redacted summary of this meeting should be provided to the public by the president, along with a specific plan for addressing the major issues identified during the conference. This process would go a long way toward calming the public’s fears and restoring the trust and confidence that are essential to normal economic activity.

In the long run, more transparency into the “shadow banking” system; more education for investors, policymakers, and business leaders; and more behaviorally oriented regulation will allow us to weather any type of financial crisis. Regulation enables us to restrain our behavior during periods when we know we will misbehave; it is most useful during periods of collective fear or greed and should be designed accordingly. Corporate governance should also be revisited from this perspective; if we truly value naysayers during periods of corporate excess, then we should institute management changes to protect and reward their independence.

If “crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” as some have argued, then we have a short window of opportunity — before economic recovery begins to weaken our resolve — to reform our regulatory infrastructure for the better. The fact that time heals all wounds may be good for our mental health, but it may not help maintain our economic wealth.

Andrew Lo
email : alo [at] mit [dot] edu

Brian Knutson
email : knutson [at] psych.stanford [dot] edu

Sex, drugs, money: The pleasure principle
Theory of ‘neurofinance’ draws doubts on Wall St.
BY Adam Levy  /  February 2, 2006

Palo Alto, California: Late at night, in a basement laboratory at Stanford University, Brian Knutson was sending his students through a high-power imaging machine called an fMRI. Deep inside each volunteer’s head, electrical currents danced through a bundle of neurons about the size and shape of a peanut. Blood was rushing to the brain’s pleasure center as the students executed mock stock and bond trades. On Knutson’s screen, this region of the brain, the core of human desire, flashed canary yellow.

The pleasure of orgasm, the high from cocaine, the rush of buying Google at $450 a share – the same neural network governs all three, Knutson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology, concluded. What’s more, our primal pleasure circuits can, and often do, override our seat of reason, the brain’s frontal cortex, the professor said. In other words, stocks, like sex, sometimes drive us crazy.

That is something those in the world of finance need to know, according to Andrew Lo, a professor of finance and investment at the Sloan School of Management, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who thinks conventional financial analysis fails to take into account human behavior. “Finance and economic research has hit a wall,” said Lo, who runs AlphaSimplex Group, a hedge fund firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We can’t answer any more questions by running another regression analysis. Now, we need to get inside the brain to understand why people make decisions.”

Still, Knutson said he knew how heretical his findings were. Wall Street is dedicated to the principle that when it comes to money, logic prevails, that intellect matters in investing. The idea is enshrined in the economic theory of rational expectations, for which Robert Lucas was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1995. Lucas, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, maintains that people make economic choices based on all the information available to them and learn from their mistakes. As a result, their expectations about the future – from the price of Citigroup stock next week to the earnings of General Motors next quarter – are, on average, accurate.

Or so the theory goes. In practice, of course, investors do foolish things all the time. Some gamble away fortunes on money-losing investments, doubling down when logic tells them to fold, or letting winnings ride when the rational person would cash out.

Others seem to have an uncanny knack for knowing when to buy and sell. In the 1970s, Richard Dennis parlayed an initial stake of several thousand dollars into a $200 million fortune trading commodities in the Chicago futures pits. In the 1980s, the hedge fund icon Paul Tudor Jones made $80 million by betting against U.S. stocks just before the market crashed. In the 1990s, the billionaire investor George Soros, the man who beat the Bank of England, made $1 billion in an afternoon by shorting the British pound.

The question that keeps nagging Knutson is this: Why do some traders get rich while others walk away losers? The answer, he said, may lie somewhere in the 96,000 kilometers, or 60,000 miles, of neural wiring inside our brains. The results of the Stanford study, conducted in 2004 and published in September’s issue of Neuron magazine, have caused a stir among the small group of neuroscientists and psychologists who are mapping the human brain in hopes of understanding investor behavior.

This controversial field, called neurofinance, may represent the next great frontier on Wall Street, said Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel laureate in Economic Science for his pioneering work in behavioral finance, which fuses classical economic theory and studies of human psychology. “The brain scientists are the wave of the future in the financial world,” Kahneman said. “If you seek to maximize understanding, whether you’re in academia or in the investment community, you’d better pay very serious attention to them.”

To proponents like Kahneman, the potential of neurofinance seems virtually limitless. One day, brain science may help money managers spot shifts in investor sentiment, said David Darst, chief investment strategist for the individual investor group at Morgan Stanley. Armed with brain scans, psychotherapists may be able to hone traders’ natural impulses of fear and greed.

Neuroscientists may even develop psychoactive drugs, or neuroceuticals, that make people better, more-profitable traders, Knutson and other psychologists say. Look at Prozac. In the space of a few years, Prozac and other drugs have not only revolutionized the treatment of depression but also profoundly changed the way we view the mind.

People recognize that chemistry drives their brains, moods and behavior – and that chemistry can change them. Similar drugs, ones that improve a trader’s decision making by 20 percent to 30 percent, may be just a few years away, said Zack Lynch, managing director of NeuroInsights, a consulting firm based in San Francisco that tracks the $100 billion neurotechnology industry. If these neuroceuticals work, they could rock Wall Street. “The whole investment community will be scrambling to get these things,” Lynch said.

So far, the hopes and claims of neurofinance have far outpaced its science. Few investment professionals have even heard of the field. Many who have dismiss it as hokum. “It’s the latest malarkey,” said Richard Michaud, president of New Frontier Advisors, based in Boston. Michaud, who has a doctorate in mathematics from Boston University, said neurofinance and its forerunner, behavioral finance, have no place on Wall Street.

“I find these so-called disciplines to be more of a marketing tool, a way of taking an ages-old market valuation problem and calling it something space-age,” Michaud said. “I doubt it will be fruitful.” Knutson’s response: Just wait. “Investors want to beat the market and become better traders,” he said. “The first step is to know how the machinery works. The applications to exploit the machinery will soon follow.”

For Wall Street, brain science eventually could mean big money, said Darst of Morgan Stanley. Securities firms spend millions of dollars annually researching companies and crunching numbers in an attempt to predict the financial future. “Meanwhile, we spend peanuts on human psychology,” said Darst, author of “The Complete Bond Book: A Guide to All Types of Fixed-Income Securities.” “We have to take account of the deep atavistic and visceral traits and instincts that are triggering the buying and selling of securities.”

Knutson’s Stanford study caused a buzz in September at the third annual conference of the Society for Neuroeconomics, held at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. The three-day event drew 115 people, mostly from academia. The sole Wall Streeter was Arnold Wood from Martingale Asset Management in Boston, who said he was confident neurofinance would catch on.

Food Dance Gets New Life When Bees Get Cocaine
BY Pam Belluck  /  January 6, 2009

Buzz has a whole new meaning now that scientists are giving bees cocaine. To learn more about the biochemistry of addiction, scientists in Australia dropped liquefied freebase cocaine on bees’ backs, so it entered the circulatory system and brain. The scientists found that bees react much like humans do: cocaine alters their judgment, stimulates their behavior and makes them exaggeratedly enthusiastic about things that might not otherwise excite them.

What’s more, bees exhibit withdrawal symptoms. When a coked-up bee has to stop cold turkey, its score on a standard test of bee performance (learning to associate an odor with sugary syrup) plummets. “What we have in the bee is a wonderfully simple system to see how brains react to a drug of abuse,” said Andrew B. Barron, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia and a co-leader in the bees-on-cocaine studies. “It may be that when we know that, we’ll be able to stop a brain reacting to a drug of abuse, and then we may be able to discover new ways to prevent abuse in humans.”

The research, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, advances the knowledge of reward systems in insects, and aims to “use the honeybee as a model to study the molecular basis of addiction,” said Gene E. Robinson, director of the neuroscience program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a co-author with Dr. Barron, and Ryszard Maleszka and Paul G. Helliwell at Australian National University.

The researchers looked at honeybees whose job is finding food — flying to flowers, discovering nectar, and if their discovery is important enough, doing a waggle dance on a special “dance floor” to help hive mates learn the location. “Many times they don’t dance,” Professor Robinson said. “They only dance if the food is of sufficient quality and if they assess the colony needs the food.”

On cocaine the bees “danced more frequently and more vigorously for the same quality food,” Dr. Barron said. “They were about twice as likely to dance” as undrugged bees, and they circled “about 25 percent faster.” The bees did not dance at the wrong time or place. Cocaine only made them more excited about the food they found. That’s like “when a human takes cocaine at a low dose,” Dr. Barron said. “They find many stimuli, but particularly, rewarding stimuli, to be more rewarding than they actually are.”

Now, scientists are studying whether bees begin to crave cocaine and need more for the same effect, like humans. The testing occurred in Australia, and, Dr. Barron said, “my dean got extremely twitchy about holding cocaine on campus. It’s in a safe bolted to a concrete floor within a locked cupboard in a locked room in a locked building with a combination code not known even to me. A technician from the ethics department has to walk across campus to supervise the release of the cocaine.”

That, Dr. Barron said, for a bee-size supply of “one gram, which has lasted me two years. One gram, a human would go through in one night. I’m not like the local drug lord.”

Dancing Honeybee Using Vector Calculus to Communicate


BY Kathryn Knight  /  December 26, 2008

Since its discovery in the 18th century, cocaine has been a scourge of western society. Strongly stimulating human reward centres in low doses, cocaine is extremely addictive and can be fatal in high doses. But this potent compound did not evolve to ensnare humans in addiction. Andrew Barron from Macquarie University, Australia, explains that cocaine is a powerful insect neurotoxin, protecting coca bushes from munching insects without rewarding them. Knowing that foraging honey bees are strongly motivated by rewards (they dance in response to the discovery of a rewarding nectar or pollen supply) and that this behaviour is controlled by similar mechanisms to the ones that leave humans vulnerable to cocaine addiction, Barron and Gene Robinson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wondered whether bees may be vulnerable to cocaine’s allure at the right dose. Teaming up with Ryszard Maleszka at the Australian National University, Barron set about testing how honey bees respond to cocaine (p. 163).

Setting up his hives on a farm just outside Canberra, Barron trained the insects to visit a feeder stocked with a sugar solution. Then he gently applied a tiny drop of cocaine solution to the insect’s back, and waited to see how enthusiastically the foraging insects danced when returning to the hive. Amazingly, low doses of the drug stimulated the insects to dance extremely vigorously. They behaved as if the sucrose solution was of a much higher quality than it really was. The cocaine seemed to be hitting the insects’ reward centres, but were they really responding to the drug like humans or was the drug stimulating some other aspect of the insects’ behaviour to look as if they were becoming addicted?

Working with a team of undergraduate students, Barron tested whether cocaine stimulated the insects’ locomotion centres by monitoring their movements after a dose of the drug. The insects behaved normally, so the drug probably doesn’t affect their movements. However, when Paul Helliwell tested the bees’ sensitivity to sugar solutions, the drugged bees responded more strongly than the undrugged insects, so cocaine was increasing their sugar sensitivity. But was it only increasing their sensitivity to sugar, or increasing their response to all rewards? Barron offered the drugged insects pollen to see if cocaine increased their sensitivity to other floral rewards and found that the foragers were equally overenthusiastic, dancing as if the pollen quality was much better than it really was.

Finally Barron and Helliwell wondered whether bees that had been on cocaine for a few days had become dependent and went into withdrawal when the drug was withheld. Testing the insects’ ability to learn to distinguish between lemon and vanilla scents, they found that the bees were fine so long as their cocaine supply was maintained. But as soon as the drug was withdrawn the bees had difficulty learning the task, just like humans going into withdrawal.

Barron is confident that honey bees are as susceptible to cocaine’s allure as humans, and is keen to find out more about the drug’s effects. He hopes to identify the neural pathways that it targets to find out more about the mechanisms involved in human addiction and to find out whether the drug has as devastating an effect on honey bee society as it does on human society.

Andrew Barron
email : andrew.barron [at] [dot] au

Gene Robinson
email : generobi [at] uiuc [dot] edu

Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour
BY Andrew B. Barron, Ryszard Maleszka, Paul G. Helliwell, and Gene E.
Robinson  /  22 November 2008
“The role of cocaine as an addictive drug of abuse in human society is hard to reconcile with its ecological role as a natural insecticide and plant-protective compound, preventing herbivory of coca plants (Erythroxylum spp.). This paradox is often explained by proposing a fundamental difference in mammalian and invertebrate responses to cocaine, but here we show effects of cocaine on honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) that parallel human responses. Forager honey bees perform symbolic dances to advertise the location and value of floral resources to their nest mates. Treatment with a low dose of cocaine increased the likelihood and rate of bees dancing after foraging but did not otherwise increase locomotor activity. This is consistent with cocaine causing forager bees to overestimate the value of the floral resources they collected. Further, cessation of chronic cocaine treatment caused a withdrawal-like response. These similarities likely occur because in both insects and mammals the biogenic amine neuromodulator systems disrupted by cocaine perform similar roles as modulators of reward and motor systems. Given these analogous responses to cocaine in insects and mammals, we propose an alternative solution to the paradox of cocaine reinforcement. Ecologically, cocaine is an effective plant defence compound via disruption of herbivore motor control but, because the neurochemical systems targeted by cocaine also modulate reward processing, the reinforcing properties of cocaine occur as a `side effect’.”


Town where cocaine is the only currency
Guerima, a remote Colombian settlement, wants its Marxist rebels back.
With the national army deployed in a stranglehold around the town,
there is nobody to traffic the town’s only commodity – drugs.
BY Jeremy McDermott  /  15 Jun 2008

More than 1,000 people live in Guerima, carved out of the Amazonian rainforest. Its clearings are filled with coca bushes, the basis for cocaine. This was once the heartland of the 16th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the Marxist guerrilla movement that has fought in Colombia’s jungles for the past 44 years. But now the troops of the 58th Counter-Guerrilla Battalion patrol the dirt streets.

Their presence has stirred deep resentment, revealing the complexities of Colombia’s war against Left-wing rebels and drug lords. Countless ordinary people depend on the coca trade. “We are sitting on a mountain of coca and a series of Farc ‘IOUs’ “, said one local. “We need the rebels back to pay the debts and buy the coca, otherwise the town will die.”

No money has reached Guerima for months and transactions are conducted in coca, with one gram enough to buy a soft drink.

Major Edgar Gomez, who commands the troops, knows the community feels under siege. He also knows that most locals have friends or family among the rebels. But the major is also aware that his presence in Guerima is hitting the guerrillas’ finances. The rebels here once earned £10 million a month from cocaine. Now they will be lucky to get £1 million.

But the local people would prefer a return to the days when their fate was in the hands of the Farc. Tomas Medina, the local guerrilla commander, was seen as a Robin Hood-style hero, maintaining the drug economy and imposing law and order. “Before the army came there was no crime,” said one man. “Now the soldiers steal from us. Two girls have been raped. “This would not have happened before and if it did the criminals would have been punished, perhaps shot.”

There was no confirmation of the man’s claims and Major Gomez said that winning over the locals was more important than driving out the rebels. “I know these people live on coca,” he said. “The government has to offer them a viable alternative and we are just the first presence of the state. “Healthcare, education and economic investment must follow.”


Cocaine users are destroying the rainforest – at 4 square metres  gram
BY Sandra Laville  /  19 November 2008

Four square metres of rainforest are destroyed for every gram of cocaine snorted in the UK, a conference of senior police officers as told yesterday.

Francisco Santos Calderón, the vice-president of Colombia, appealed to British users of the class A drug to consider the impact on the environment. He said that while the green agenda would not persuade addicts to give up, the middle-class social user who drove a hybrid car and was concerned about the environment might not take the drug if they knew its impact. Santos said 300,000 hectares of rainforest were destroyed each year in Colombia to clear land for coca plant cultivation, predominantly controlled by illegal groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc. Officers were told cocaine and heroin use cost the British economy around £15bn a year in health and crime bills.

Santos outlined to the Association of Chief Police Officers how lives were lost in the illegal cocaine trade in Colombia. He said landmines that were used to protect crops and processing labs killed almost 900 civilians this year. Farc and other groups funded by narcotics production were also involved in kidnapping. The Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt was held for more than six years before her release earlier this year, and Santos himself was kidnapped and held by a cocaine gang for 18 months in the 1990s. He told the Belfast conference: “If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying four square metres of rainforest and that rainforest is not just Colombian – it belongs to all of us who live on this planet, so we should all be worried about it. Not only that, the money that you use to buy the cocaine goes into the hands of Farc, of illegal groups that plant mines, that kidnap, that kill, that use terrorism to protect their business.”

Santos said many middle-class Britons who used cocaine were unaware of its environmental impact. “For somebody who drives a hybrid, who recycles, who is worried about global warming – to tell him that that night of partying will destroy 4m square of rainforest might lead him to make another decision.” Santos said Europe was experiencing a boom in cocaine use among more affluent people that was comparable with that seen in the USA 25 years ago. Everyone, he said, had a duty to change their behaviour to halt a rise in demand that was destroying his country. “We call it shared responsibility, We can’t do it on our own. We need everybody’s action; police here, police in Colombia, the authorities in both countries and the consumers too. If there is no consumption, there will be no production.

“There is a sense of frustration, because here drug use is seen as a personal choice and to some extent cocaine is seen as the champagne of drugs which causes no effect and is a victimless crime. It is not victimless.” Bill Hughes, the director general of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, told the conference that the UK was a very attractive market for drug traffickers. “There is still a lot of disposable income; the risk compared to the US if you are caught is felt to be much less,” he said.

The £15bn cost to the economy reduced the amount of money available for schools, teachers and police officers. He said traffickers moved their drugs from South America to west Africa, and then to the EU and Britain, often operating through insecure countries with poor law enforcement. Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands were major staging posts on the trafficking routes and much of the synthetic drug market was supplied from the Netherlands. Hughes said the proceeds of crime were undermining or corrupting governments globally, with the trade worth £4bn-£6.6bn in the UK.

The World; Where a Little Coca Is as Good as Gold
BY Juan Forero  /  July 8, 2001

The Drug Center, the only pharmacy in the stiflingly hot jungle town of Camelias, deep in southern Colombia, looks ordinary, with wide glass counters and shelves stacked high with medicines. Then the customer pays the bill. The customer produces one of the clear plastic bags in which people here carry around coca paste. The pharmacist, Socrates Solis, scoops out a bit of the paste, weighs it on a digital scale and gives back change — the excess he had ladled out.

Welcome to the Caguan River valley, a swath of jungle towns and coca fields in far-flung Caqueta province, a part of Colombia with no government presence, only guerrillas. The economy is built on coca production, and coca paste has become a main currency. In the pharmacy, for example, everything is priced in grams. Expensive antibiotics retail for 45 grams, worth roughly $36; a bottle of aspirin costs a little more than a gram, or $1; medical exams are given to prostitutes for 12 grams, or $10.

”I was speechless when people would drop by the pharmacy and pay for the doctor’s bills or their medicines with coca instead of money,” Mr. Solis, 35, told the photographer Carlos Villalon when he visited the town. ”The first three months I worked here we collected six and a half kilos of base.”

In this part of Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia run things, patrolling roads, punishing law breakers, even building bridges over creek beds. Perhaps most controversially, the rebels regulate and tax a thriving trade in coca leaves and coca paste. Traffickers buy the paste, process it into cocaine and ship it by the ton to quench the United States’ insatiable appetite for the drug. It is a business that President Andrés Pastrana’s government says fortifies the rebel army and helps fuel Colombia’s brutal civil conflict.

But in a dozen towns in the region, coca paste is seen in much less nefarious terms. Paper money is in short supply, since conventional businesses are few. Instead, everything revolves around coca, as evidenced by thousands of acres of coca fields and the coca-processing laboratories in the jungles.

It is not unusual for people to be paid for their work in coca. They, in turn, pay for necessities with the paste, which is soft and powdery like flour. Need a pair of shoes for the little one? El Combate general store in Sante Fe takes coca paste. Groceries at Los Helechos in the village of Peñas Coloradas? Just drop the powder on the scale, the merchant says with a smile.

It feels quite normal for Wilber Rozas, 34, of Peãs Coloradas to spend 1.08 grams (worth 90 cents), for a large glass of juice at the Peñas Juicery. Or for villagers at the annual festival in Santa Fe to lug bags of coca paste to buy clothing from traveling salesmen or to bet in the cock fights. ”I would like to always take cash, but if I do not receive coca base I might as well shut down my restaurant,” said Selmira Vasquez, who owns the Buenos Aires restaurant in Peñas Coloradas.

As a currency, the coca paste is as good as gold. When traffickers arrive every few weeks to buy coca paste, they pay with a wad of bills — and soon money is flowing again. The merchants have cash. So do workers. The value of the paste, however, is unpredictable. ”The price of paste can go up or down, like having money in the bank,” explained Ms. Vasquez. ”When the dealers show up, the prices could be lower or higher than when I bought, so it is like gambling.”

The region’s bartering system does not mean the inhabitants themselves are cocaine addicts or gang members. The rebels keep the peace by prohibiting drug consumption. Those who violate the ban end up on road-paving or bridge-building duty.

The guerrillas also forbid those most susceptible to drug use — the young, single men who have come from across Colombia to pick coca leaves — to be paid in coca paste. They receive coupons they can cash once the traffickers arrive with money. ”That is the way it works in the Caguan river region,” explained Jose Sosias, 28, a villager. ”We are a coca culture. Our money, some times during the year, is coca base but we just use it as currency. No one here consumes the drug.”




Little Blue Pills Among the Ways CIA Wins Friends in Afghanistan
by Joby Warrick  /  December 26, 2008

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift. Four blue pills. Viagra. “Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam. The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills. For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency’s operatives have used a variety of personal services. These include pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas, and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said. “Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people — whether it’s building a school or handing out Viagra,” said one longtime agency operative and veteran of several Afghanistan tours. Like other field officers interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity when describing tactics and operations that are largely classified.

Officials say these inducements are necessary in Afghanistan, a country where warlords and tribal leaders expect to be paid for their cooperation, and where, for some, switching sides can be as easy as changing tunics. If the Americans don’t offer incentives, there are others who will, including Taliban commanders, drug dealers and even Iranian agents in the region. The usual bribes of choice — cash and weapons — aren’t always the best options, Afghanistan veterans say. Guns too often fall into the wrong hands, they say, and showy gifts such as money, jewelry and cars tend to draw unwanted attention.  “If you give an asset $1,000, he’ll go out and buy the shiniest junk he can find, and it will be apparent that he has suddenly come into a lot of money from someone,” said Jamie Smith, a veteran of CIA covert operations in Afghanistan and now chief executive of SCG International, a private security and intelligence company. “Even if he doesn’t get killed, he becomes ineffective as an informant because everyone knows where he got it.” The key, Smith said, is to find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.

“You’re trying to bridge a gap between people living in the 18th century and people coming in from the 21st century,” Smith said, “so you look for those common things in the form of material aid that motivate people everywhere.” Among the world’s intelligence agencies, there’s a long tradition of using sex as a motivator. Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer and author of several books on intelligence, noted that the Soviet spy service was notorious for using attractive women as bait when seeking to turn foreign diplomats into informants. “The KGB has always used ‘honey traps,’ and it works,” Baer said. For American officers, a more common practice was to offer medical care for potential informants and their loved ones, he said. “I remember one guy we offered an option on a heart bypass,” Baer said.

For some U.S. operatives in Afghanistan, Western drugs such as Viagra were just part of a long list of enticements available for use in special cases. Two veteran officers familiar with such practices said Viagra was offered rarely, and only to older tribal officials for whom the drug would hold special appeal. While such sexual performance drugs are generally unavailable in the remote areas where the agency’s teams operated, they have been sold in some Kabul street markets since at least 2003 and were known by reputation elsewhere. “You didn’t hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones,” said one retired operative familiar with the drug’s use in Afghanistan. Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could “put them back in an authoritative position,” the official said. Both officials who described the use of Viagra declined to discuss details such as dates and locations, citing both safety and classification concerns. The CIA declined to comment on methods used in clandestine operations. One senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the agency’s work in Afghanistan said the clandestine teams were trained to be “resourceful and agile” and to use tactics “consistent with the laws of our country.”

“They learn the landscape, get to know the players, and adjust to the operating environment, no matter where it is,” the official said. “They think out of the box, take risks, and do what’s necessary to get the job done.” Not everyone in Afghanistan’s hinterlands had heard of the drug, leading to some awkward encounters when Americans delicately attempted to explain its effects, taking care not to offend their hosts’ religious sensitivities. Such was the case with the 60-year-old chieftain who received the four pills from a U.S. operative. According to the retired operative who was there, the man was a clan leader in southern Afghanistan who had been wary of Americans — neither supportive nor actively opposed. The man had extensive knowledge of the region and his village controlled key passages through the area. U.S. forces needed his cooperation and worked hard to win it, the retired operative said. After a long conversation through an interpreter, the retired operator began to probe for ways to win the man’s loyalty. A discussion of the man’s family and many wives provided inspiration. Once it was established that the man was in good health, the pills were offered and accepted. Four days later, when the Americans returned, the gift had worked its magic, the operative recalled. “He came up to us beaming,” the official said. “He said, ‘You are a great man.’ And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area.”


V Is For Victory
by Mike Huckman  26 Dec 2008
Sectors: Pharmaceuticals / Companies: Pfizer Inc

On what has to be one of the slowest news days of the year, especially for business, today’s “Washington Post” has a great watercooler item. It’s not anything material or stock-moving for Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, but it will get people (think late-night comics) talking once again about the little blue pill. Reporter Joby Warrick put together a piece about how CIA agents are occasionally using PFE’s impotence-fighter Viagra to “make friends and influence people” in the renewed fight against the Taliban. The anecdotes in the article are pretty interesting and entertaining. A Pfizer spokeswoman told me the company has no comment on the Washington Post story except to say that PFE was “certainly not” aware this was going on until the Post dug it up.

Bob Windrem, a senior investigative producer at NBC News, chased down the story with the CIA. He reports that agency officials have no comment. But a senior intelligence official says, “If it was done, it was done in a handful of cases.” The official adds that no one’s gonna get in trouble for it. He tells Windrem the agency encourages officers “to think outside the box” and that whatever works within the U.S. law is fair game. Pfizer [PFE 17.10  0.09 (+0.53%)] has talked a lot lately about expanding into emerging markets and how important that is to the company’s growth. I’m certain this is not what they’ve been referring to.

Iraq’s ‘Viagra’ Black Market

Yasir Mazen is only 20 years old, but already he is a successful entrepreneur, dealing goods from his stall in a busy Baghdad market. There’s just one problem: Most of his products are counterfeit drugs and medicinal products that earn him big money, but that face the wrath of the law, starting Monday. That’s when the Ministry of Health has vowed to begin enforcing drug regulatory laws that have been ignored since 2003, when Saddam Hussein’s fall opened Iraq’s borders to all manner of imports. Many of those imports have included drugs and products that claim to have miraculous medicinal effects and that may or may not contain the ingredients needed to be effective.

Some have expired months or years earlier. Some are knockoffs of the real thing, like the little blue pills made to look like Viagra but manufactured in factories in China, India or elsewhere and lacking whatever the real thing contains. Then there are the nonpharmaceutical products that claim to have medicinal value, and which Masin says are his biggest sellers: penile enhancement pumps, sprays, gels. “The … pumps are very popular nowadays,” said Mazin, who acknowledges his products go through no government testing. The boxes in which they are sold usually feature pictures of half-naked men and women and bear little resemblance to legitimate health products. That doesn’t matter to his customers, who are willing to fork over as much as $75 for some items. Part of the appeal is that such products were never sold in public under Hussein, even if they could be smuggled into the country. Now, they are easily available, and everyone wants to give them a try, said Mazin.

That’s what riles Adel Muhsin, the Health Ministry’s inspector general, who says Iraqis are getting robbed. “Let’s be realistic. They’re scams,” said Muhsin. He says his goal is to shut down so-called “phantom pharmacies” that sell untested drugs, and the warehouses that supply these pharmacies. He also wants every medicine sold in Iraq to undergo testing at a state laboratory to ensure it is effective. The ministry already has begun stepping up enforcement. Last week, plainclothes police arrived at a market in central Baghdad and inquired how they could buy medicine. They purchased some pills from one of the vendors and left. Minutes later, uniformed police swooped down on the market, detaining vendors and confiscating their goods. One vendor who witnessed the raid but did not want to be identified said sellers usually know in advance of such raids because they pay off corrupt police to alert them. This time, he said, the police suddenly changed the location of the raid, leaving vendors unprepared.


Side Effects of Viagra
Very few drugs work perfectly, and Viagra® is no exception. Just about every drug has side effects that arise because the drug is flowing throughout the body and may affect parts of the body unintentionally. For example, aspirin is a drug that relieves pain, but this same drug can also erode the stomach lining and thin the blood. Those are side effects of aspirin.

Viagra® has several side effects of which patients need to be aware. The first problem comes because Viagra® happens to have a spillover effect. It blocks PDE5, but it also has an effect on PDE6. It turns out that PDE6 is used in the cone cells in the retina, so Viagra® can have an effect on color vision. Many people who take Viagra® notice a change in the way they perceive green and blue colors, or they see the world with a bluish tinge for several hours. For this reason, pilots cannot take Viagra® within 12 hours of a flight.

The second problem comes for people who are taking drugs like nitroglycerin for angina. Nitroglycerin works by increasing nitric oxide, and it helps with angina by opening up the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen. If you take nitroglycerin and Viagra® together, the increased nitric oxide plus the blocking of PDE5 can lead to problems.

Other problems with Viagra® can include little things like headaches (the drug, as a side effect in some men, opens up arteries in the brain’s lining and causes excess pressure) and big things like heart attacks. The possibility of heart attacks is one reason why Viagra® is a prescription drug rather than an over-the-counter drug like aspirin. A doctor needs to understand your medical history and make sure that Viagra® won’t cause a heart attack. Occasional patients who take Viagra® get painful, long-lasting erections and have to see a doctor to solve the problem. Finally, there is some concern that some men, especially younger men who take Viagra® recreationally and who don’t really need it for physical reasons, may end up with a dependency on the drug. That is, they may become unable to maintain an erection without taking Viagra®.

What about Cialis® and Levitra®?
Viagra® is a hugely successful drug, and other drug companies wanted a piece of the action. They developed different chemicals to block the PDE5 enzyme and created two new drugs: Cialis® (tadalafil) and Levitra® (vardenafil). Because Cialis® and Levitra® block the PDE5 enzyme, they work exactly the same way as Viagra®. They help men who have trouble maintaining an erection because of blood flow problems, and they only work when the man is sexually aroused.

Because they block PDE5 with different chemicals, however, there are some important differences between the three drugs. For example:
* Only Viagra® causes color-vision problems.
* Cialis® causes muscle aches in about 5 percent of patients.
* Viagra® and Levitra® last about four hours in the bloodstream. Cialis® stays in the bloodstream much longer (it has a 17.5-hour half life) and can therefore be effective for more than a day.



How Opium Can Save Afghanistan
by Reza Aslan  /  December 19, 2008

America’s drug war in Afghanistan has been a miserable failure. So why not legalize opium production and let Afghanistan become the Saudi Arabia of morphine? Afghanistan may be one the poorest countries in the world, but by legalizing and licensing opium production it could conceivably become the Saudi Arabia of morphine. It is a measure of just how great a failure the counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan has been that, after six consecutive years of record growth in poppy production, including a staggering 20 percent increase last year alone, American and U.N. officials are actually patting themselves on the back over a 6 percent decline in 2008. “We are finally seeing the results of years of effort,” said Antonio Maria Costa, who heads the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime.

Only the Taliban has ever managed to significantly reduce opium production in the country a feat managed by executing anyone caught growing poppies. Yet this meager decline has almost nothing to do with international eradication efforts and everything to do with the law of supply and demand. As The New York Times reported in November, the Taliban have begun forcibly curbing poppy production and stockpiling opium in order to boost prices, which had fallen sharply due to a glut in the market. Indeed, Afghanistan has produced so much opium—between 90 to 95 percent of the world’s supply—that prices have dropped nearly 20 percent.

The truth is that the poppy eradication effort in Afghanistan, which consists mostly of hacking away at poppy fields with sticks and sickles, or spraying them from above with deadly herbicides, has been nothing short of a disaster. All this policy has managed to achieve (excluding that vaunted 6 percent decrease) is to alienate the Afghan people, fuel support for the Taliban, and further weaken the government of president Hamid Karzai, whose own brother has been linked to the illegal opium trade. Meanwhile, poppy cultivation is now such an entrenched part of Afghanistan’s economy that in some parts of the country, opium is considered legal tender, replacing cash in day-to-day transactions.

In spite of all this, the U.S. State Department is planning to expand its crop eradication campaign. Last year, President Bush tapped the former ambassador to Columbia, William Wood, to become U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. Wood, whose nickname in Columbia was “Chemical Bill,” because of his enthusiasm for aerial fumigation, has been charged with implementing in Afghanistan the same crop eradication program that—despite five billion dollars and hundreds of tons of chemicals—has had little effect on Colombia’s coca production.

It is time to admit that the struggle to end poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is a losing battle. The fact is that opium has long been Afghanistan’s sole successful export. Poppy seeds cost little to buy, can grow pretty much anywhere, and offer a huge return on a farmer’s investment. Only the Taliban has ever managed to significantly reduce opium production in the country (as it did during its late-1990s rule)— a feat managed by executing anyone caught growing poppies. It is no exaggeration to say that we have a better chance of defeating the Taliban than putting a dent in Afghanistan’s opium trade. So then, as the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them.

The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), a policy think-tank with offices in London and Kabul, has proposed abandoning the futile eradication efforts in Afghanistan and instead licensing farmers to legally grow poppies for the production of medical morphine. This so-called “Poppy for Medicine” program is not as crazy as it may sound. Similar programs have already proven successful in Turkey and India, both of which were able to bring the illegal production of opium in their countries under control by licensing, regulating, and taxing poppy cultivation. And there is every reason to believe that the program could work even in a fractured country like Afghanistan. This is because the entire production process—from poppies to pills—would occur inside the village under strict control of village authorities, which, in Afghanistan, often trump the authority of the federal government. Licensed farmers would legally plant and cultivate poppy seeds. Factories built in the villages would transform the poppies into morphine tablets. The tablets would then be shipped off to Kabul, where they would be exported to the rest of the world. These rural village communities would experience significant economic development, and tax revenues would stream into Kabul. (The Taliban, which taxes poppy cultivation under their control at 10 percent, made $300 million dollars last year.)

The global demand for poppy-based medicine is as great as it is for oil. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, 80 percent of the world’s population currently faces a shortage of morphine; morphine prices have skyrocketed as a result. The ICOS estimates that Afghanistan could supply this market with all the morphine it needs, and at a price at least 55 percent lower than the current market average. Thus far, the Bush Administration has balked at this idea, despite a warm reception from the Afghan government and some NATO allies. There is a fear in Washington that such a proposal would contradict America’s avowed “war on drugs.” But the opium crisis in Afghanistan is not a drug enforcement problem, it is a national security issue: Licensing and regulating poppy cultivation would not only create stability and economic development, it could sap support for the Taliban and help win the war in Afghanistan. So which will it be? The War on Drugs? Or the War on Terror? When it comes to Afghanistan, we can only choose one.

{Reza Aslan is a fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, Middle East analyst for CBS News, and a featured blogger for Anderson Cooper 360. He wrote the New York Times bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Aslan is co-founder and creative director of BoomGen Studios as well as the editorial executive of}


Afghanistan swaps heroin for wheat
by Con Coughlin  /  Apr 8, 2008

“I’ve just come from a meeting with the newly appointed Afghan governor Gulab Mangal where it emerged that for the first time since British forces deployed to the region two years ago local farmers are not concentrating all their energies on producing heroin. Poppy eradication was flagged up as one of the main British priorities when former defence secretary John Reid first announced Britain’s deployment two years ago. This part of the mission has not exactly been a glorious success. Last year poppy production actually increased. But now it seems the message is finally getting through. In parts of Helmand Afghan farmers are this year sowing wheat instead of poppy – not because they have suddenly been converted to the argument that producing heroin is not in the national interest. Market forces have been the deciding factor – with wheat prices doubling in the past year, and the street price of heroin falling, it is now more cost effective to grow wheat. At last there are signs of progress being made amidst Afghanistan’s battle-scarred landscape.

Afghanistan’s wheat problem
by Blake Hounshell   /  03/11/2008

Eminent Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin is sounding the alarm about rising wheat prices in South Asia. Seeking to tamp down food inflation, Pakistan has reduced its exports of wheat to Afghanistan. That could lead to dangerous riots and civil unrest north of the Durand Line and provide a potent political issue for the Taliban to exploit. The flip side, Rubin notes, is that the rising prices of farm products ought to make crop-substitution programs more viable: “Nonetheless, the rise in price in wheat and other commodities (what is happening to horticultural commodities, flowers, essential oils, and so on?) presents an opportunity for investing in other cash crops and their marketing in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about how the drug economy is supporting insurgency and terrorism, where is the program to seize this market opportunity? And for all the talk of the importance of Afghanistan to global security, where is the program to assure Afghans of an affordable supply of basic food?”

Indeed, the lack of creativity on this front has been astonishing. A few weeks back, I attended a Cato Institute luncheon with Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States. Noting that opium traffickers often loan farmers the money to plant and fertilize the opium harvest for the coming year, I asked the ambassador what programs are in place to provide loan support for farmers who want to grow alternative crops. According to him, there are essentially none. So if you’re an Afghan farmer who wants to grow wheat or strawberries instead of opium poppies, you’re largely on your own. And we wonder why Afghanistan now supplies 93 percent of the world’s opiates.

by Barnett R. Rubin  /  February 27, 2008

“I returned from a trip to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 1998. A few months later, during a discussion at the International Peace Academy, I summarized my findings as, “Outside of Afghanistan, all people think about about is Islam and extremism, but inside Afghanistan all people think about is money.” I often [think of] this, most recently when a reporter who was gearing up for his first trip to the region by reading books on theology and political ideology asked me how it was possible for Hanafi Muslims like the Taliban to ally with Wahhabis like al-Qaida — was it because the Deobandi school was closer to Wahhabism? I replied (with a pinch of exaggeration) that this had nothing to do with anything, and to understand the Taliban he would be better off looking into the price of bread.

Outside of Afghanistan people want to know if Deobandis are a type of Hanafis that are closer to Wahhabis, but inside Afghanistan all people think about is the price of bread. As I was leaving Kabul in January, the fixer who helps me get through lines and avoid bribes at the airport started complaining about the price of bread (as for bribes — when one of the border police at the numerous airport checkpoints asked him for some money for tea, he pointed to me and said “mahman-i rais-i jamhur ast wa-farsi mifahmad” — he’s a guest of the President and understands Persian — both clauses of which were exaggerated but effective). He complained that people in Afghanistan were concerned with only one thing: getting enough bread to eat, and so many were not able to do so. The prices of everything were so high! Under the Taliban the price of everything was much lower. I pointed out to him that we were driving to the airport (much improved, difficult though it is to believe for those seeing it for the first time) along a newly paved wide highway that could accommodate the increased traffic. He acknowledged all that, but said that many people were better off under the Taliban.

I paused a little bit to let that sink in, and then I asked him, So do people want the Taliban to come back? His eyes bugged out as if I had completely lost my mind, and he started waving his hands in the air and shouting, “No! No!” Of course this man had a secure job with the government, was about to leave for English-language training course in India, and had been able to go on hajj last year. I don’t think that foreign soldiers had broken into and searched his house or killed, arrested, or abused any of his relatives (at least he never mentioned it, which others did). He was a hajji, but a clean shaven hajji. And by the looks of him, he was getting his daily bread, and then some.

But I had heard quite a bit about this bread. Someone told me that food prices had gone up 70 percent. After General Musharraf declared a state of Emergency during my visit in November, notes from Pakistani friends often spoke of a growing shortage of “atta” (whole wheat flour). On my flight to Delhi from Kabul I sat with a senior official of the Indian Customs Service who was advising the Afghan Customs Department. He told me that Afghanistan was importing only ten percent the amount of wheat that it had last year. U.S. Ambassador William Wood was trying to convince Afghan villagers that food shortages (like the insurgency) were due to poppy cultivation. (I always heard that food shortages led Afghans to cultivate poppy so they could buy wheat plus have some cash for other needs — but that would require assuming that farmers earn money for their crop and can buy food on a market.)

What is going on? The Wall Street Journal (behind subscription firewall) answers the question this morning (hint — it’s not the scourge of narcotics or, to be fair, General Musharraf either):

“The little known Minneapolis Grain Exchange is suddenly one of the hottest spots in the global financial markets…. Yesterday wheat closed at $22.40 a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, up from about $5 a year ago….Minneapolis has become ground zero for the global wheat shortage, which has been caused by drought in Australia and poor weather in other grain-producing countries. Global stocks are projected to reach 30-year lows this year, while U.S. stocks will reach 60-year lows. The rise in agricultural prices, combined with high oil prices .. have contributed to higher food inflation in the U.S. and around the world…. Another byproduct of the rally by wheat and other grains is that food is becoming more politicized as countries dependent on food imports fear they will be left at the mercy of volatile markets and shrinking supplies. Such a development could exacerbate hunger while generating food riots or political problems at home. To cope with high prices, countries have been rationing supplies by leveling tariffs or taxes on grain exports. [Kazakhstan and Syria have taxed or canceled exports, while Jordan and Egypt are short of food.] Pakistan recently stopped exporting some of its wheat flour to Afghanistan.”

In addition, countries accounting for a third of global exports (Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Argentina, and China) have taken some wheat off the market to address domestic shortages. “Food riots or political problems….” Of course there were those riots in Kabul in May 2006 in which a few hundred angry young men paralyzed the capital for much of a day…. At several meetings I have heard former Minister of Finance of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani say that the most common definition of a “Talib” in southern Afghanistan is “an unemployed youth.” Some Kandahari fruit traders I interviewed said that nearly all the fighting in Afghanistan was due to unemployment. Statistically, youth employment is one of the most robust correlates of civil violence. Another thought — this bad weather, drought, and so on leading to shortages not seen in decades…. Could it be related to climate change? I don’t know. But I suspect that neither missile strikes, nor more NATO troops, nor a deeper study of Islamist political ideology will enable us to solve these problems.”

Failing Wheat Crop Causes Afghan Food Crisis
by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson  /  September 11, 2008 ·

In Afghanistan, a lingering drought has led to the smallest wheat harvest in the country in years. Officials say the shortfall is nearly 1.7 million tons. Compounding the dilemma is a global spike in food prices. Millions of Afghans are now in danger of going hungry, and the international community is responding to the crisis. The U.S. recently donated 50,000 tons of wheat, but experts warn this kind of crisis will happen again unless the Afghan government and international donors start paying more attention to the country’s farmers.

Frustration Growing
The only thing growing in a village in northern Kunduz province is frustration. Farmers complain the drought has left them without enough wheat to eat, let alone sell, this winter. This is the worst drought any one can remember, and looking at the brown fields it is easy to see why farmers are distressed. One field was a wheat field, but there was not enough rain and water in the canal, so farmers tried planting okra and melons. Those crops didn’t take either, so now the field is just mounds of dirt that stretch for acres. Mohammad Yusuf heads an informal farmers’ cooperative called “Beggars’ Gathering.” He takes his anger out on dried okra stems sticking out of the dirt by snapping them in half. Yusuf says rain touched their fields maybe twice this year, and he says other than providing some seed, his government has done nothing to help. Abdul Aziz Nikzad, the agricultural director in Kunduz province, says he empathizes with Yusuf. Nikzad says his province used to be called the wheat warehouse of Afghanistan, but not anymore.

Mistrust In The Ministries
Nikzad blames the drought and the government in Kabul for not acting more quickly to help farmers. He says the various ministries don’t trust one another: When his superiors at the Agriculture Ministry told him to rent tankers five months ago to help get water to dying livestock, he is still waiting for the Finance Ministry to give him the money. “The ministries with money act like warlords guarding their personal coffers,” Nikzad says. “There’s so much red tape and micromanaging that there’s little I can do to help the farmers.” Nikzad is still waiting to hear whether they will give him money to dig the three wells he needs to keep his 250-acre government farm alive. He says he has to dig those wells by next month or he’ll miss the deadline for planting next season’s wheat. For now, the only water at the farm is pumped through a four-inch fire hose donated by the French. The water comes from the farm’s lone well. A farm worker uses the water to plant a small field of almond, apricot and other saplings. It’s the only field in sight where anything is growing.

‘A Blessing In Disguise’
Tekeste Ghebray Tekie, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization representative based in Kabul, says of the billions of foreign dollars spent on rebuilding Afghanistan, only a few hundred million have gone to improving agriculture. But, Tekie says, the drought and soaring wheat prices served as a wake up call about the dangers of ignoring agriculture in a country where 80 percent of the population is dependent on farming. “I call it a blessing in disguise,” Tekie says. “For one thing, it brought attention to agriculture. For another, farmers may switch from poppy to growing crops or wheat. So maybe there’s an opportunity there from the crisis.” Many say that wheat at this stage is becoming more lucrative than opium poppy, and the key is to help poppy farmers make the switch. Still, there are a lot of questions about what Afghan agriculture should look like.

U.S. officials are interested in seeing farmers focus more on cash crops like fruit and nuts that grow better and will boost the economy. “You grow a little wheat, and you eat it; and then you grow tree fruits and other kinds of things, and you sell those for cash; and that’s kind of the relationship,” says Loren Stoddard, the director of alternative development and agriculture at the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kabul. “So wheat’s important to people, but it’s really not anything that’s going to generate revenues and jobs really — economic progress.” Still, USAID officials are working to ease the wheat shortage in Afghanistan. They say they will roll out an up to $60 million voucher program later this month. Farmers can use the vouchers to buy seed and fertilizer at a hefty discount.

Seed shortage hits Afghan wheat farmers
by Jonathon Burch  /  06 Dec 2008

Thousands of tonnes of wheat seed are being distributed across Afghanistan, but this will meet only a quarter of demand so Afghans will rely heavily on imports next year, a development expert said on Saturday. Afghanistan has been hit hard by drought and rising global food prices, making it heavily reliant on handouts and imports. An estimated 30 percent of Afghans are considered chronically food insecure, according to the U.S. development agency (USAID). Much of the best arable land is also used to grow opium, the raw material for heroin, adding to the food shortage. Always a wheat importer, the country should focus on high-value cash crops like pomegranates in future, the development expert said. The Afghan government and several donor countries have launched a $60 million agricultural stimulus programme for the 2008/2009 crop season.

Around 12,000 tonnes of U.N. certified wheat seed are being distributed to farmers, but this falls short of the 50,000 tonnes the government says is needed. “We know it’s not enough for every farmer in every province. We know it’s not enough for all of their lands,” said Loren Stoddard, director of alternative development and agriculture for USAID in Afghanistan. “But we’re promoting the use of certified seed which means we’re only promoting about 12,000 tonnes, which is all there is available in the country,” he said, while visiting a distribution site in Samangan, northern Afghanistan. There are more seeds available for commercial sale in the country, Stoddard said, but they have not been certified and are of much poorer quality.

Big Seed Subsidies
The certified seeds are being distributed to those farmers considered most vulnerable at a considerably subsidised rate. Farmers will pay around 15 percent of the market value. “I am happy. I can’t get it at this price from the city,” Mohammad Sadiq, a farmer waiting in line at a distribution site in Samangan, told Reuters. “I’m happy with this amount but if they distributed more it would be better,” said another farmer, Mohammad Murad. The Agriculture Ministry does not want seed to be imported as this would change the genetic characteristics of the local seed which is well adapted for Afghanistan, said Stoddard. Drought and rising global food prices have pushed up the price of certified wheat seed, said Stoddard.

“We’re anticipating this will create incentive for seed companies to grow more so we can develop this,” he said. Stoddard believes that within two to three years, Afghanistan could grow enough certified seed to meet demand. But while USAID and other donors are trying to stimulate wheat production, Stoddard said Afghanistan had always been a net importer of wheat and its long-term future lay in producing high-value cash crops. “Long term we have to focus on things like planting more pomegranate, fruit and nut trees, vineyards … that’s really where the future is,” said Stoddard. “Wheat is really kind of a supplement to those other cash crops. We just want to make it as efficient as possible,” he said.

Canada buys wheat seeds to give Afghan farmers alternative to poppies
by Ethan Baron  /  November 08, 2008

Canada is providing $1.2 million to buy wheat seeds and fertilizer for thousands of Afghan farmers, but the Taliban warn they may attack any foreigners who attempt to distribute the seeds. The money will pay for 293 tonnes of wheat seed, to supply more than 5,000 farmers with 50 kilograms each, and plant a total of 2,000 hectares of land. “We look forward to working with the governor of Kandahar to sow these seeds of peace,” said Elissa Golberg, Representative of Canada in Kandahar, head of Canadian development operations in Kandahar province. The project is intended to raise farm yields, and give growers an alternative to the lucrative poppy trade, said Kandahar Gov. Rahmatullah Raoufi. “We are going to avoid and prevent farmers from the poppy cultivation,” Raoufi said.

Farmers have good reasons to switch from growing poppies to growing wheat, said Abdul Hai Niamati, Director of Agriculture for Kandahar province. Pressure from other nations concerned about opium production, and from the Afghan government, provides a disincentive, Niamati said. “The government says that if anyone grows poppy they will be punished, and their poppy will be killed,” Niamati said. “If they grow poppy, the government will make trouble for them.” Also, wheat prices are increasing, and “that is why people are wanting to grow wheat,” Niamati said.

Poppy cultivation also takes more time, labour, and water than growing wheat, Niamati said. The Taliban won’t target farmers who switch from poppies to wheat, but may take violent action if it’s done by the wrong people, said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “We are not against wheat growing. There will be no threat or concern for farmers who are sowing wheat in their lands,” Mujahid said. “However if the government authority or foreigners come down to the districts for the purpose of distributing wheat seeds, we might attack them. “If the seeds are being distributed by local community people or tribal elders or through ordinary people, it doesn’t matter, there will be no problem.”

Raoufi said the provincial government will set up a provincial-level commission, and district-level commissions, which will determine how the seeds are distributed, and monitor the distribution. Seeds will go to farmers in five districts – Daman, Arghandab, Panjwaii, Maywand, and Zhari – who meet the minimum farm-size requirement, have the ability to irrigate, and are in need. Much of the region is a hotbed of Taliban activity, with Canadian troops having daily skirmishes with insurgents in some areas. Mercy Corps, a U.S.-based aid group, will oversee the program, Raoufi said. Farmers will pay 25 per cent of the value of the seeds they receive, and that revenue will go into development work to be determined by Mercy Corps, Niamati said. Niamati said the provincial government would like to see that money go to develop a wheat-seed farm at Tarnak Farm outside Kandahar, former home of Osama bin Laden.

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]





Aug 4, 2008 3:27 PM

if anyone has information, ANY INFORMATION!
please, please, PLEASE as soon as possible contact
Eric Fischer at:
cell phone: +1 646 932 1907


all equipment was in a rented penske 15 foot yellow truck
with u.s. (michigan) license plate number AC46493
parked immediately outside the hotel, the theft had
to have happened in the morning, between 6:30 and
7:30 am – truck and all gear stolen

pictures of some of the stolen stuff

Item      Country of Origin   Serial Number

Red roadcase containing:
Red Gibson 1963 EB-3 bass (this is mike watt’s bass!)   USA   No
serial number

Black roadcase containing:
Reverend Flying V guitar – Volcano black   USA   #08001

Black roadcase containing:
Reverend Orange guitar   USA   03416 ZSL7

Black fibre case containg:
Gibson red SG short scale bass   USA   No serial number

Black roadcase containing:
Marshall Vintage/Modern Amplifier   UK   M-2007-07-0926-2 RoHS

Black roadcase containing:
Marshall Vintage/Modern Amplifier   UK   M-2007-07-0927-2 RoHS

4x Marshall 4×12 Cabinets (with Tuki cover)      UK   #1 Slant:  M-2007-05-0149-0

4x Marshall 4×12 Cabinets (with Tuki cover)      UK   #2 Straight:  M-2006-49-0380-0

4x Marshall 4×12 Cabinets (with Tuki cover)      UK   #3 Slant:  M-2007-05-0150-0

4x Marshall 4×12 Cabinets (with Tuki cover)      UK   #4 Straight:  M-2006-49-0381-0

Orange Calzone road case containing:
Guitar pedal board and pedals   USA/Japan   No serial number
Assorted leads    USA/UK   No serial number
2x mic stands   Germany   No serial number
Assorted strings and spares   USA   No serial number
2x Boss TU2 Chromatic Tuner
Boss CH1 Super Chorus
Fulltone OCD Overdrive
Crybaby Wah
Peterson Strobo-Stomp Tuner Pedal
Whirlwind A/B Boxes
Whirlwind Cable Tester
and many many istrument cables
various tools ( screwdrivers, soldering iron, pliers, etc… )
tambourine and maracas

Cardboard box containing:
Assorted replacement drum heads   USA   No serial number

Gretsch Silver Sparkle Catalina drum kit      USA   No serial number
26″ Kick Drum      No serial number
13″ Rack Tom      No serial number
18″ Floor Tom      No serial number
4x Cymbal Stands      No serial number
1x Snare Stand      No serial number
1x Hi Hat Stand      No serial number
1x Drum Throne      No serial number

Eden D810 Bass cabinet      USA   D810RP4 0703E5001

Eden D810 Bass cabinet      USA   D810RP4 0703E5002

Cardboard box containg:
Eden VT300 Bass amplifier   USA   0601E5115

Cardboard box containg:
Eden VT300 Bass amplifier   USA   0507E5033

Floor Fan      CHINA   No serial number

Floor Fan      CHINA   No serial number

Green clamshell suitcase containing:
Yamaha snare drum   JAPAN   No serial number
Yahama kick pedal   JAPAN   No serial number
Zildjian Mega Bell cymbal   USA   No serial number
Zildjian 15″ Hi-Hats   USA   No serial number
3x Zildjian 18″ 19″ 20″ crash medium cymbals   USA   No serial number

Brown Epiphone guitar case:
Black Epiphone EB3 short scale bass   KOREA   F300503

1 x Wheeled Black Pelican case (50cm x 28cm x 20cm) containing :
A selection of microphones and microphone accessories, most of which
are in separately labeled black pouches. All of the microphones are of
Shure manufacture, also a BSS DI box. Inside the Pelican case there is
also a Ferrari pencil case containing an iPod, iPod accessories,
various small cables and adaptors, a Leatherman Charge, a Stooges AAA
tour laminate, some pain killers, some sharpies, some electrical tape,
some business cards (Mr Rik Hart). Within the case there is also a big
pair of Sony headphones (model MDR7506) with a long curly cable and
three very long XLR to XLR mic cables. Here’s a more specific list of
the microphones :
2 x SM91
5 x SM98
2 x B98
2 x SM81
2 x KSM32
1 x KSM27
2 x B52
3 x SM57
8 x SM58
1 x BSS AR-133 DI Box
(all manufactured by shure)


RE: posted by [ rsolomon ]

nothing sadder than an empty van

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]






“Working first with the D.E.A. and then with the State Department,
Wankel helped create the Afghan Eradication Force, with troops of the
Afghan National Police drawn from the Ministry of the Interior. Last
year, an estimated four hundred thousand acres of opium poppies were
planted in Afghanistan, a fifty-nine-per-cent increase over the
previous year. Afghanistan now supplies more than ninety-two per cent
of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin. More than half the
country’s annual G.D.P., some $3.1 billion, is believed to come from
the drug trade, and narcotics officials believe that part of the money
is funding the Taliban insurgency.”


New research chal­lenges tradi­tional accounts of why we wallow in
chemical gratification / March 21, 2008

Why do peo­ple abuse drugs? It’s not only a ques­tion wor­ried par­
ents ask their way­ward, sub­stance-dab­bling teenagers. It’s al­so a
deeper ques­tion asked by bi­ol­o­gists. In gen­er­al, na­ture has de­
signed all crea­tures as ex­quis­ite machines for their own pro­tec­
tion and propaga­t­ion. Yet we’re easily and of­ten drawn in­to self-
destruction by noth­ing more than life­less chem­i­cal lures. This
weak­ness seems such a jar­ring ex­cep­tion, such a dis­mal Achilles’
heel, that it calls out for ex­plana­t­ion.

Sci­en­tists typ­ic­ally of­fer the fol­low­ing one. Drugs are chem­i­
cals that in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ly trig­ger ac­ti­vity in brain cir­cuits
de­signed for very dif­fer­ent pur­poses: to pro­vide a sense of re­
ward for hav­ing sat­is­fied or­di­nary needs, health­fully.  The
brain has few de­fenses against this chem­i­cal de­cep­tion, the stand­
ard ac­count goes, be­cause drugs were un­known in the nat­u­ral en­vi­
ron­ment that shaped hu­man ev­o­lu­tion.

This tra­di­tion­al view, though, is com­ing un­der at­tack. A new
study pro­poses the brain evolved to ac­count for and even ex­ploit
drugs. Al­though their abuse is still un­healthy, the au­thors sug­
gest it’s wrong to think they cheat the brain in the sense tra­di­tion­
ally theo­r­ized.

“Ev­i­dence strongly in­di­cates that hu­mans and oth­er an­i­mals
have been ex­posed to drugs through­out their ev­o­lu­tion,” wrote the
sci­en­tists in the stu­dy. The re­search, by an­thro­po­lo­g­ist Rog­
er Sul­li­van of Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­s­ity and two col­
leagues, ap­peared March 19 on­line in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of
the Roy­al So­ci­e­ty B: Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences.

The most pop­u­lar drugs of abuse are plant tox­ins that evolved to
pro­tect plants from preda­tors, as ev­o­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gists
have “con­vinc­ingly ar­gued,” Sul­li­van and col­leagues wrote. For
ex­am­ple, nic­o­tine, the key ad­dic­tive in­gre­di­ent of
cigarettes, helps ward off an ar­ray of in­sects, mam­mals and other
creat­ures from munch­ing on to­bacco plants. Fur­ther ev­i­dence of
the fun­da­men­tally poi­son­ous na­ture of drugs of abuse, the three
sci­en­tists ar­gued, is that first-time users of­ten re­port un­pleas­
ant re­ac­tions.

Since plants long pre­date hu­mans, the pres­ence of these sub­stances
in plants would seem to in­di­cate we and our an­ces­tors have long
dealt with them, the re­search­ers con­tin­ued. But fur­ther ev­i­
dence of this, they added, is in our own make­up. All an­i­mals pro­
duce mo­le­cules known as cy­to­chromes, whose func­tions in­clude de­
tox­i­fy­ing in­gested plant poi­sons. Cy­to­chromes that spe­cif­ic­
ally neu­tral­ize brain-affecting plant tox­ins have re­mained a con­
sist­ent fea­ture of hu­man ev­o­lu­tion, Sul­li­van and col­leagues

All this shows “our an­ces­tors were reg­u­larly ex­posed to plant
neurotox­ins,” they added, so the view of our brains as un­sus­pect­
ing vic­tims of the new chem­i­cal threat is un­ten­able. It remains
unclear what might be the true ev­o­lu­tion­ary ex­plana­t­ion of drug
abuse, they wrote: the “para­dox” stays of why sub­stances de­signed
as poi­sons, are pleas­ur­a­ble to so many.

One pos­si­bil­ity, the sci­en­tists sug­gested, is that an­i­mals co-
opted some plant tox­ins and used them for their own de­fenses against
para­sites. If this is true, then ev­o­lu­tion, the pro­cess by which
spe­cies adapt and change to meet en­vi­ron­men­tal de­mands, might
have de­signed our brains to en­cour­age some drug use. This could in­
volve shap­ing our brains to as­so­ci­ate drug in­take with feel­ings
of re­ward. “But there are, of course, oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties,” the
re­searchers wrote.

Researchers stumped by drug addiction paradox
BY Lisa Zyga  /  April 16, 2008

Throughout history, plants have created their toxins by mimicking
their own molecules that regulate metabolism, growth and reproduction.
When ingested by herbivores, some of these molecules can interfere
with nearly every step in the animal’s neural signaling process.

In current evolutionary interpretations of drug addiction, these toxic
substances trigger the brain’s reward center by rewiring the brain’s
natural reward circuits, and falsely indicating a fitness benefit and
blocking painful feelings. But, as Sullivan, Hagen, and Hammerstein
show, this explanation makes several assumptions that contradict
evidence from previous studies. Most significantly, it assumes that
humans evolved in environments without exposure to drugs, and that the
brain never evolved to protect itself from plant toxins.

However, the researchers point to several other studies which show
that the detoxification enzymes developed by animals (and which
originally evolved in bacteria about 3.5 billion years ago) expanded
in animals about 400 million years ago – about the same time that
plants were evolving their own toxins. In other words, animals and
plants seemed to have coevolved competitive genes in response to each
other, which contradicts the evolutionary interpretation.

As the researchers investigated further, they compiled other studies
showing evidence that humans inherited these detox genes from their
mammalian ancestors. Interestingly, although many modern animal
species can tolerate plant toxins, different species possess different
detox function levels. Even among humans from different geographic
locations, these functions differ. Often, human populations with
greater numbers of toxin-metabolizing genes originate from parts of
the world that contain an abundance of those plants. For example,
human populations in and near Turkey have a very high frequency of
enzymes that can metabolize opiates, and the opiate poppy is native to
the Turkish region.

To conclude their argument against the evolutionary interpretation,
the researchers explain that (pre-human) animals and plants did appear
to have evolved the relevant genes simultaneously. If that’s the case,
then the brain shouldn’t treat drugs as if they contained a fitness
benefit, giving strong support to the paradox.

“We have been surprised by how robust the paradox is – that is, in
presenting the arguments at scientific meetings for several years now,
no one has been able to refute the basic argument that plant
ecological models and neurobiological models of drug use are in direct
conflict,” Sullivan said.

Many more questions also remain unanswered, but they may contain clues
to an explanation. For example, there is contradictory evidence for
whether commonly used drugs have become more or less potent as they’ve
been domesticated. Also, as the researchers point out, current models
explaining drug reward mechanisms don’t differentiate between
different drugs – even though the pathways taken by opiates, cannabis,
or any other drug are vastly different. Models of multiple-drug
pathways might better explain drug appeal, the scientists suggest.

Based on evidence from previous studies, Sullivan, Hagen, and
Hammerstein note that plant toxins may actually have some kind of
benefit for animals. For instance, because plant toxins are more
harmful to some species than to others, the less affected species
might actually consume levels of toxin that are tolerable to
themselves but much worse for the parasites or pathogens that feed on
them in order to protect themselves. For example, earlier humans that
consumed nicotine (in much smaller amounts than today) could have
received the benefit of fewer parasitic infections. Of course, the
benefits also come with trade-offs.

“The main implications for future research are that neurobiological
theorists must consider facts emerging from plant ecology,” Sullivan
said. “We are also planning field studies looking for relationships
between human drug use and protection from helminth parasites.”

“Neurobiological models of drug abuse propose that drug use is
initiated and maintained by rewarding feedback mechanisms. However,
the most commonly used drugs are plant neurotoxins that evolved to
punish, not reward, consumption by animal herbivores. Reward models
therefore implicitly assume an evolutionary mismatch between recent
drug-profligate environments and a relatively drug-free past in which
a reward centre, incidentally vulnerable to neurotoxins, could evolve.
By contrast, emerging insights from plant evolutionary ecology and the
genetics of hepatic enzymes, particularly cytochrome P450, indicate
that animal and hominid taxa have been exposed to plant toxins
throughout their evolution. Specifically, evidence of conserved
function, stabilizing selection, and population-specific selection of
human cytochrome P450 genes indicate recent evolutionary exposure to
plant toxins, including those that affect animal nervous systems.
Thus, the human propensity to seek out and consume plant neurotoxins
is a paradox with far-reaching implications for current drug-reward
theory. We sketch some potential resolutions of the paradox, including
the possibility that humans may have evolved to counter-exploit plant
neurotoxins. Resolving the paradox of drug reward will require a
synthesis of ecological and neurobiological perspectives of drug
seeking and use.”

Roger Sullivan
e-mail : sullivar [at] csus [dot] edu

Edward Hagen
email : hagen [at] vancouver [dot] wsu [dot] edu

Peter Hammerstein
email : p [dot] hammerstein [at] biologie [dot]







YES, #1 IS NEW YORK,1518,450078,00.html,1518,384456,00.html
Quiet Spanish city is Europe’s coke capital
Miranda de Ebro second only to New York says UN
Study of waste water is mistaken, say residents
BY Dale Fuchs  /  June 29 2007

Miranda de Ebro, a small industrial city in northern Spain, was once
known for small blood sausages, a three-day fiesta after Holy Week and
its strategic location as highway stopover – on the way to somewhere
else. But now the city has a new distinction: cocaine capital of

The United Nations World Drug Report this year ranks Miranda de Ebro
as the city with the highest incidence of cocaine use in Europe and
second in the world after New York, with a rate nearly five times as
high as in St Moritz, London, Zurich and Madrid. The city’s 40,000
residents, mostly factory workers and small shopkeepers, are
astonished by the findings. They can not understand how the UN study
of waste water could have found a consumption rate of 97 lines a day
for every 1,000 people, in a city whose big event is the traditional
Sunday evening stroll. “It’s absolutely absurd,” the mayor, Fernando
Campo, told the Guardian. “This is a tranquil, working-class city.
What the people like to do is have a little glass of wine with their
tapas, not white lines.”

With no large discos and few other clubs to attract a party crowd,
Miranda de Ebro had little in common with the wild atmosphere of
Ibiza, Mr Campo insisted. He suggested the findings were an error
possibly caused by a nearby chemical plant. City waste is purified
before reaching the river, he said. Miranda de Ebro may be in denial,
but nobody in Spain disputes the rest of the UN report, which ranks
Spaniards as the most avid cocaine users in the world. Of the
population aged 15 to 64, 3% inhales the white powder, compared with
2.4% in England and 2.8% in the US. The percentage of youths aged 14
to 18 using the drug has roughly quadrupled in the past decade.

The UN report blames Spain’s avid use of cocaine partly on cultural
and linguistic ties to cocaine-producing countries of Latin America,
and its expansive coastline, especially the dangerous and hard-to-
patrol coves of northern Galicia, which invite smugglers. The UN
report dubs Spain a drug-trafficker’s “gateway to Europe”. The number
of police seizures of the drug far surpasses any other Mediterranean
country. Sociologists also point to the liberal, feel-good youth
culture that blossomed since the end of the Franco dictatorship – now
coupled with historically high purchasing power that keeps suburban
mega-discos and chic city bars doing a lucrative business until dawn.

Parents who came of age under the repressive Franco years are also
generally wary of imposing too many restrictions on their teenagers
and young adults who live at home, sociologists say, allowing generous
budgets for once unthinkable luxuries, such as a breast implants or
trips to Ibiza. The health ministry, alarmed by the trends, announced
this week a €7m (£5m) campaign to take the glamour out of cocaine so
young people no longer associated sniffing with success. The ministry
is also trying to persuade hotel owners to fight against drug use in
their establishments.

Miranda de Ebro, meanwhile, is battling to clear its name. The mayor
has sent a letter to the UN asking for an explanation of the findings.
Police are investigating to see if the river, at a transport
crossroads, could be used by smugglers passing through. Many
residents, though, have taken the report as a joke. “I laughed when I
heard about,” said a youth hostel worker. “There is no nightlife here.
You can run through the town in 10 minutes. Everyone is joking, ‘Who’s
the person sniffing the 97 lines each day’.”










Gary Slutkin
e-mail : gslutkin [at] uic [dot] edu

Blocking the Transmission of Violence
BY Alex Kotlowitz  /  May 4, 2008

Last summer, Martin Torres was working as a cook in Austin, Tex.,
when, on the morning of Aug. 23, he received a call from a relative.
His 17-year-old nephew, Emilio, had been murdered. According to the
police, Emilio was walking down a street on Chicago’s South Side when
someone shot him in the chest, possibly the culmination of an ongoing
dispute. Like many killings, Emilio’s received just a few sentences in
the local newspapers. Torres, who was especially close to his nephew,
got on the first Greyhound bus to Chicago. He was grieving and
plotting retribution. “I thought, Man, I’m going to take care of
business,” he told me recently. “That’s how I live. I was going
hunting. This is my own blood, my nephew.”

Torres, who is 38, grew up in a dicey section of Chicago, and even by
the standards of his neighborhood he was a rough character. His
nickname was Packman, because he was known to always pack a gun. He
was first shot when he was 12, in the legs with buckshot by members of
a rival gang. He was shot five more times, including once through the
jaw, another time in his right shoulder and the last time — seven
years ago — in his right thigh, with a .38-caliber bullet that is
still lodged there. On his chest, he has tattooed a tombstone with the
name “Buff” at its center, a tribute to a friend who was killed on his
18th birthday. Torres was the head of a small Hispanic gang, and
though he is no longer active, he still wears two silver studs in his
left ear, a sign of his affiliation.

When he arrived in Chicago, he began to ask around, and within a day
believed he had figured out who killed his nephew. He also began
drinking a lot — mostly Hennessey cognac. He borrowed two guns, a .38
and a .380, from guys he knew. He would, he thought, wait until after
the funeral to track down his nephew’s assailants.

Zale Hoddenbach looks like an ex-military man. He wears his hair
cropped and has a trimmed goatee that highlights his angular jaw. He
often wears T-shirts that fit tightly around his muscled arms, though
he also carries a slight paunch. When he was younger, Hoddenbach, who
is also 38, belonged to a gang that was under the same umbrella as
Torres’s, and so when the two men first met 17 years ago at Pontiac
Correctional Center, an Illinois maximum-security prison, they became
friendly. Hoddenbach was serving time for armed violence; Torres for
possession of a stolen car and a gun (he was, he says, on his way to
make a hit). “Zale was always in segregation, in the hole for fights,”
Torres told me. “He was aggressive.” In one scuffle, Hoddenbach lost
the sight in his right eye after an inmate pierced it with a shank.
Torres and Hoddenbach were at Pontiac together for about a year but
quickly lost touch after they were both released.

Shortly after Torres arrived in Chicago last summer, Hoddenbach
received a phone call from Torres’s brother, the father of the young
man who was murdered. He was worried that Torres was preparing to seek
revenge and hoped that Hoddenbach would speak with him. When
Hoddenbach called, Torres was thrilled. He immediately thought that
his old prison buddy was going to join him in his search for the
killer. But instead Hoddenbach tried to talk him down, telling him
retribution wasn’t what his brother wanted. “I didn’t understand what
the hell he was talking about,” Torres told me when I talked to him
six months later. “This didn’t seem like the person I knew.” The next
day Hoddenbach appeared at the wake, which was held at New Life
Community Church, housed in a low-slung former factory. He spent the
day by Torres’s side, sitting with him, talking to him, urging him to
respect his brother’s wishes. When Torres went to the parking lot for
a smoke, his hands shaking from agitation, Hoddenbach would follow.
“Because of our relationship, I thought there was a chance,”
Hoddenbach told me. “We were both cut from the same cloth.” Hoddenbach
knew from experience that the longer he could delay Torres from
heading out, the more chance he’d have of keeping him from shooting
someone. So he let him vent for a few hours. Then Hoddenbach started
laying into him with every argument he could think of: Look around, do
you see any old guys here? I never seen so many young kids at a
funeral. Look at these kids, what does the future hold for them? Where
do we fit in? Who are you to step on your brother’s wishes?

THE STUBBORN CORE of violence in American cities is troubling and
perplexing. Even as homicide rates have declined across the country —
in some places, like New York, by a remarkable amount — gunplay
continues to plague economically struggling minority communities. For
25 years, murder has been the leading cause of death among African-
American men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, which has analyzed data up to
2005. And the past few years have seen an uptick in homicides in many
cities. Since 2004, for instance, they are up 19 percent in
Philadelphia and Milwaukee, 29 percent in Houston and 54 percent in
Oakland. Just two weekends ago in Chicago, with the first warm
weather, 36 people were shot, 7 of them fatally. The Chicago Sun-Times
called it the “weekend of rage.” Many killings are attributed to gang
conflicts and are confined to particular neighborhoods. In Chicago,
where on average five people were shot each day last year, 83 percent
of the assaults were concentrated in half the police districts. So for
people living outside those neighborhoods, the frequent outbursts of
unrestrained anger have been easy to ignore. But each shooting, each
murder, leaves a devastating legacy, and a growing school of thought
suggests that there’s little we can do about the entrenched urban
poverty if the relentless pattern of street violence isn’t somehow

The traditional response has been more focused policing and longer
prison sentences, but law enforcement does little to disrupt a street
code that allows, if not encourages, the settling of squabbles with
deadly force. Zale Hoddenbach, who works for an organization called
CeaseFire, is part of an unusual effort to apply the principles of
public health to the brutality of the streets. CeaseFire tries to deal
with these quarrels on the front end. Hoddenbach’s job is to suss out
smoldering disputes and to intervene before matters get out of hand.
His job title is violence interrupter, a term that while not artful
seems bluntly self-explanatory. Newspaper accounts usually refer to
the organization as a gang-intervention program, and Hoddenbach and
most of his colleagues are indeed former gang leaders. But CeaseFire
doesn’t necessarily aim to get people out of gangs — nor interrupt the
drug trade. It’s almost blindly focused on one thing: preventing

CeaseFire’s founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist and a
physician who for 10 years battled infectious diseases in Africa. He
says that violence directly mimics infections like tuberculosis and
AIDS, and so, he suggests, the treatment ought to mimic the regimen
applied to these diseases: go after the most infected, and stop the
infection at its source. “For violence, we’re trying to interrupt the
next event, the next transmission, the next violent activity,” Slutkin
told me recently. “And the violent activity predicts the next violent
activity like H.I.V. predicts the next H.I.V. and TB predicts the next
TB.” Slutkin wants to shift how we think about violence from a moral
issue (good and bad people) to a public health one (healthful and
unhealthful behavior).

EVERY WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, in a Spartan room on the 10th floor of the
University of Illinois at Chicago’s public-health building, 15 to 25
men — and two women — all violence interrupters, sit around tables
arranged in a circle and ruminate on the rage percolating in the city.
Most are in their 40s and 50s, though some, like Hoddenbach, are a bit
younger. All of them are black or Hispanic and in one manner or
another have themselves been privy to, if not participants in, the
brutality of the streets.

On a Wednesday near the end of March, Slutkin made a rare appearance;
he ordinarily leaves the day-to-day operations to a staff member. Fit
at 57, Slutkin has a somewhat disheveled appearance — tie askew, hair
uncombed, seemingly forgetful. Some see his presentation as a
calculated effort to disarm. “Slutkin does his thing in his
Slutkinesque way,” notes Carl Bell, a psychiatrist who has long worked
with children exposed to neighborhood violence and who admires
CeaseFire’s work. “He seems kind of disorganized, but he’s not.”
Hoddenbach told me: “You can’t make too much of that guy. In the
beginning, he gives you that look like he doesn’t know what you’re
talking about.”

Slutkin had come to talk with the group about a recent high-profile
incident outside Crane Tech High School on the city’s West Side. An 18-
year-old boy was shot and died on the school’s steps, while nearby
another boy was savagely beaten with a golf club. Since the beginning
of the school year, 18 Chicago public-school students had been killed.
(Another six would be murdered in the coming weeks.) The interrupters
told Slutkin that there was a large police presence at the school, at
least temporarily muffling any hostilities there, and that the police
were even escorting some kids to and from school. They then told him
what was happening off the radar in their neighborhoods. There was the
continuing discord at another high school involving a group of girls
(“They’d argue with a stop sign,” one of the interrupters noted); a 14-
year-old boy with a gang tattoo on his forehead was shot by an older
gang member just out of prison; a 15-year-old was shot in the stomach
by a rival gang member as he came out of his house; and a former
CeaseFire colleague was struggling to keep himself from losing control
after his own sons were beaten. There was also a high-school
basketball player shot four times; a 12-year-old boy shot at a party;
gang members arming themselves to counter an egging of their freshly
painted cars; and a high-ranking gang member who was on life support
after being shot, and whose sister was overheard talking on her
cellphone in the hospital, urging someone to “get those straps
together. Get loaded.”

These incidents all occurred over the previous seven days. In each of
them, the interrupters had stepped in to try to keep one act of enmity
from spiraling into another. Some had more success than others. Janell
Sails prodded the guys with the egged cars to go to a car wash and
then persuaded them it wasn’t worth risking their lives over a stupid
prank. At Crane Tech High School, three of the interrupters fanned
out, trying to convince the five gangs involved in the conflict to lie
low, but they conceded that they were unable reach some of the main
players. Many of the interrupters seem bewildered by what they see as
a wilder group of youngsters now running the streets and by a gang
structure that is no longer top-down but is instead made up of many
small groups — which they refer to as cliques — whose members are
answerable to a handful of peers.

For an hour, Slutkin leaned on the table, playing with a piece of
Scotch tape, keenly listening. In some situations, Slutkin can appear
detached and didactic. He can wear people down with his long
discourses, and some of the interrupters say they sometimes tune him
out. (On one occasion, he tried to explain to me the relationship
between emotional intelligence and quantum physics.) But having seen a
lot of out-of-control behavior, Slutkin is a big believer in
controlling emotions. So he has taught himself not to break into
discussions and to digest before presenting his view. The interrupters
say he has their unqualified loyalty. Hoddenbach told me that he now
considers Slutkin a friend.

It became clear as they delivered their reports that many of the
interrupters were worn down. One of them, Calvin Buchanan, whose
street name is Monster and who just recently joined CeaseFire, showed
the others six stitches over his left eye; someone had cracked a beer
bottle on his head while he was mediating an argument between two men.
The other interrupters applauded when Buchanan told them that, though
tempted, he restrained himself from getting even.

When Slutkin finally spoke, he first praised the interrupters for
their work. “Everybody’s overreacting, and you’re trying to cool them
down,” he told them. He then asked if any of them had been
experiencing jitteriness or fear. He spent the next half-hour teaching
stress-reduction exercises. If they could calm themselves, he seemed
to be saying, they could also calm others. I recalled what one of the
interrupters told me a few weeks earlier: “We helped create the
madness, and now we’re trying to debug it.”

IN THE PUBLIC-HEALTH field, there have long been two schools of
thought on derailing violence. One focuses on environmental factors,
specifically trying to limit gun purchases and making guns safer. The
other tries to influence behavior by introducing school-based
curricula like antidrug and safe-sex campaigns.

Slutkin is going after it in a third way — as if he were trying to
contain an infectious disease. The fact that there’s no vaccine or
medical cure for violence doesn’t dissuade him. He points out that in
the early days of AIDS, there was no treatment either. In the short
run, he’s just trying to halt the spread of violence. In the long run,
though, he says he hopes to alter behavior and what’s considered
socially acceptable.

Slutkin’s perspective grew out of his own experience as an infectious-
disease doctor. In 1981, six years out of the University of Chicago
Pritzker School of Medicine, Slutkin was asked to lead the TB program
in San Francisco. With an influx of new refugees from Cambodia, Laos
and Vietnam, the number of cases in the city had nearly doubled.
Slutkin chose to concentrate on those who had the most active TB; on
average, they were infecting 6 to 10 others a year. Slutkin hired
Southeast Asian outreach workers who could not only locate the
infected individuals but who could also stick with them for nine
months, making sure they took the necessary medication. These outreach
workers knew the communities and spoke the languages, and they were
able to persuade family members of infected people to be tested.
Slutkin also went after the toughest cases — 26 people with drug-
resistant TB. The chance of curing those people was slim, but Slutkin
reckoned that if they went untreated, the disease would continue to
spread. “Gary wasn’t constrained by the textbook,” says Eric Goosby,
who worked in the clinic and is now the chief executive of the Pangaea
Global AIDS Foundation. Within two years, the number of TB cases, at
least among these new immigrants, declined sharply.

Slutkin then spent 10 years in Africa, first in refugee camps in
Somalia and then working, in Uganda and other countries, for the World
Health Organization to curtail the spread of AIDS. During his first
posting, in Somalia, a cholera epidemic spread from camp to camp.
Slutkin had never dealt with an outbreak of this sort, and he was
overwhelmed. The diarrhea from cholera is so severe that patients can
die within hours from dehydration. According to Sandy Gove, who was
then married to Slutkin and was also a doctor in the camps, infection
rates were approaching 10 percent; in one camp there were 1,000
severely ill refugees. “It was desperate,” she told me. Slutkin drove
a Land Cruiser two and a half days to an American military base along
the coast to the closest phone. He called doctors in Europe and the
United States, trying to get information. He also asked the soldiers
at the base for blue food coloring, which he then poured into the
water sources of the bacteria, a warning to refugees not to drink.
“What Gary is really good about is laying out a broad strategic plan
and keeping ahead of something,” Gove told me. There were only six
doctors for the 40 refugee camps, so Slutkin and Gove trained birth
attendants to spot infected people and to give them rehydration
therapies in their homes. Because the birth attendants were refugees,
they were trusted and could persuade those with the most severe
symptoms to receive aid at the medical tent.

After leaving Africa, Slutkin returned to Chicago, where he was raised
and where he could attend to his aging parents. (He later remarried
there.) It was 1995, and there had been a series of horrific murders
involving children in the city. He was convinced that longer sentences
and more police officers had made little difference. “Punishment
doesn’t drive behavior,” he told me. “Copying and modeling and the
social expectations of your peers is what drives your behavior.”

Borrowing some ideas (and the name) from a successful Boston program,
Slutkin initially established an approach that exists in one form or
another in many cities: outreach workers tried to get youth and young
adults into school or to help them find jobs. These outreach workers
were also doing dispute mediation. But Slutkin was feeling his way,
much as he had in Somalia during the cholera epidemic. One of
Slutkin’s colleagues, Tio Hardiman, brought up an uncomfortable truth:
the program wasn’t reaching the most bellicose, those most likely to
pull a trigger. So in 2004, Hardiman suggested that, in addition to
outreach workers, they also hire men and women who had been deep into
street life, and he began recruiting people even while they were still
in prison. Hardiman told me he was looking for those “right there on
the edge.” (The interrupters are paid roughly $15 an hour, and those
working full time receive benefits from the University of Illinois at
Chicago, where CeaseFire is housed.) The new recruits, with strong
connections to the toughest communities, would focus solely on
sniffing out clashes that had the potential to escalate. They would
intervene in potential acts of retribution — as well as try to defuse
seemingly minor spats that might erupt into something bigger, like
disputes over women or insulting remarks.

As CeaseFire evolved, Slutkin says he started to realize how much it
was drawing on his experiences fighting TB and AIDS. “Early
intervention in TB is actually treatment of the most infectious
people,” Slutkin told me recently. “They’re the ones who are infecting
others. So treatment of the most infectious spreaders is the most
effective strategy known and now accepted in the world.” And, he
continued, you want to go after them with individuals who themselves
were once either infectious spreaders or at high risk for the illness.
In the case of violence, you use those who were once hard-core, once
the most belligerent, once the most uncontrollable, once the angriest.
They are the most convincing messengers. It’s why, for instance,
Slutkin and his colleagues asked sex workers in Uganda and other
nations to spread the word to other sex workers about safer sexual
behavior. Then, Slutkin said, you train them, as you would
paraprofessionals, as he and Gove did when they trained birth
attendants to spot cholera in Somalia.

The first step to containing the spread of an infectious disease is
minimizing transmission. The parallel in Slutkin’s Chicago work is
thwarting retaliations, which is precisely what Hoddenbach was trying
to do in the aftermath of Emilio Torres’s murder. But Slutkin is also
looking for the equivalent of a cure. The way public-health doctors
think of curing disease when there are no drug treatments is by
changing behavior. Smoking is the most obvious example. Cigarettes are
still around. And there’s no easy remedy for lung cancer or emphysema.
So the best way to deal with the diseases associated with smoking is
to get people to stop smoking. In Uganda, Slutkin and his colleagues
tried to change behavior by encouraging people to have fewer sexual
partners and to use condoms. CeaseFire has a visible public-
communications campaign, which includes billboards and bumper stickers
(which read, “Stop. Killing. People.”). It also holds rallies — or
what it calls “responses” — at the sites of killings. But much
research suggests that peer or social pressure is the most effective
way to change behavior. “It was a real turning point for me,” Slutkin
said, “when I was working on the AIDS epidemic and saw research
findings that showed that the principal determinant of whether someone
uses a condom or not is whether they think their friends use them.”
Daniel Webster, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins
University who has looked closely at CeaseFire, told me, “The guys out
there doing the interruption have some prestige and reputation, and I
think the hope is that they start to change a culture so that you can
retain your status, retain your manliness and be able to walk away
from events where all expectations were that you were supposed to
respond with lethal force.”

As a result, the interrupters operate in a netherworld between
upholding the law and upholding the logic of the streets. They’re not
meant to be a substitute for the police, and indeed, sometimes the
interrupters negotiate disputes involving illicit goings-on. They
often walk a fine line between mediating and seeming to condone
criminal activity. At one Wednesday meeting this past December, the
interrupters argued over whether they could dissuade stickup artists
from shooting their victims; persuading them to stop robbing people
didn’t come up in the discussion.

LAST DECEMBER, at the first Wednesday meeting I attended, James
Highsmith came up to introduce himself. At 58, Highsmith is one of the
older interrupters. He wears striped, collared shirts, black
rectangular glasses and often a black Borsalino, an Italian-made
fedora. He reminded me that I had mentioned him in my book, “There Are
No Children Here,” about life in a Chicago public-housing project in
the late 1980s. I wrote about a picnic that some Chicago drug kingpins
gave in a South Side park. There was a car show, a wet T-shirt contest
and softball games for the children. About 2,000 people attended,
dancing to a live band while the drug lords showed off their Mercedes
Benzes, Rolls-Royces and Jaguars. Highsmith was the key sponsor of the
event. He controlled the drug trade on the city’s South Side. He owned
a towing business, an auto-mechanic’s shop and a nightclub, as well as
a 38-foot boat. In January 1994, he was sentenced to 14 years in
federal prison on drug-conspiracy charges; he was released in 2004.
Highsmith was just the kind of recruit CeaseFire looks for: an older
man getting out of the penitentiary who once had standing on the
streets and who, through word of mouth, appears ready, eager even, to
discard his former persona. “I’m a work in progress,” Highsmith told

One evening we were sitting in Highsmith’s basement apartment when the
phone rang. It was Alphonso Prater, another interrupter. The two had a
reunion of sorts when they joined CeaseFire; they shared a cell in the
county jail 34 years ago. Prater’s voice is so raspy it sounds as if
he has gravel in his throat. He told me that he became permanently
hoarse after a long stint in segregation in prison; he had to shout to
talk with others. When Prater called the night I was there, all
Highsmith could make out was: “There’s some high-tech stuff going on.
I need you to talk to some folks.” Highsmith didn’t ask any questions.

We drove to a poorly lighted side street on the city’s West Side.
Empty beer bottles littered the side of the road. Prater, who is short
and wiry and has trouble keeping still, was bouncing on the sidewalk,
standing next to a lanky middle-aged man who had receded into his
oversize hooded sweatshirt. Highsmith, Prater and another interrupter
joined the man in a parked car, where they talked for half an hour.
When they were done, the car peeled away, two other sedans escorting
it, one in front, the other in the rear. “Protection,” Highsmith
commented. Apparently, the man in the hooded sweatshirt, whom I would
meet later, had been an intermediary in a drug deal. He had taken an
out-of-town buyer holding $30,000 in cash to a house on the South Side
to buy drugs. But when they got there, they were met by six men in the
backyard, each armed with a pistol or an automatic weapon, and robbed.
The out-of-town buyer believed he’d been set up by the intermediary,
who, in turn, was trying to hunt down the stickup artists. In the car,
Prater, who knew the intermediary, had worked to cool him down, while
Highsmith promised to see if he could find someone who might know the
stickup guys and could negotiate with them. The intermediary told
Prater and Highsmith, a bit ominously, “Something got to give.”

After the intermediary drove off, Prater joked that there was no way
he was getting back in a car with him, that he was too overheated and
too likely to be the target or the shooter. “I’m not sure we can do
anything about this one,” Highsmith told Prater.

RELYING ON HARDENED TYPES — the ones who, as Webster of Johns Hopkins
says, have some prestige on the streets — is risky. They have prestige
for a reason. Hoddenbach, who once beat someone so badly he punctured
his lungs, is reluctant to talk about his past. “I don’t want to be
seen as a monster,” he told me. Hoddenbach’s ethnicity is hard to
pinpoint. His father was Dutch and his mother Puerto Rican, and he’s
so light-skinned his street name was Casper. He has a discerning gaze
and mischievous smile, and can be hardheaded and impatient. (At the
Wednesday meetings, he often sits near the door and whispers
entreaties to the others to speed things up.) Hoddenbach’s father had
an explosive temper, and to steal from Slutkin’s lingo, he seems to
have infected others. Two of Hoddenbach’s older brothers are serving
time for murder. His third brother has carved out a legitimate life as
a manager at a manufacturing firm. Hoddenbach always worked. He did
maintenance on train equipment and towed airplanes at a private
airport. But he was also active in a Hispanic street gang and was
known for his unmitigated aggression. He served a total of eight years
in the state penitentiary, the last stay for charges that included
aggravated battery. He was released in 2002.

In January, I was with Slutkin in Baltimore, where he spoke about
CeaseFire to a small gathering of local civic leaders at a private
home. During the two-hour meeting, Slutkin never mentioned that the
interrupters were ex-felons. When I later asked him about that
omission, he conceded that talking about their personal histories “is
a dilemma. I haven’t solved it.” I spent many hours with Hoddenbach
and the others, trying to understand how they chose to make the
transition from gangster to peacemaker, how they put thuggery behind
them. It is, of course, their street savvy and reputations that make
them effective for CeaseFire. (One supporter of the program admiringly
called it “a terrifying strategy” because of the inherent risks.) Some
CeaseFire workers have, indeed, reverted to their old ways. One
outreach worker was fired after he was arrested for possession of an
AK-47 and a handgun. Another outreach worker and an interrupter were
let go after they were arrested for dealing drugs. Word-of-mouth
allegations often circulate, and privately, some in the police
department worry about CeaseFire’s workers returning to their old

Not all the interrupters I talked to could articulate how they had
made the transition. Some, like Hoddenbach, find religion — in his
case, Christianity. He also has four children he feels responsible
for, and has found ways to decompress, like going for long runs. (His
brother Mark speculated that “maybe he just wants to give back what he
took out.”) I once asked Hoddenbach if he has ever apologized to
anyone he hurt. We were with one of his old friends from the street,
who started guffawing, as if I had asked Hoddenbach if he ever wore
dresses. “I done it twice,” Hoddenbach told us — quickly silencing his
friend and saving me from further embarrassment. (One apology was to
the brother of the man whose lungs he’d punctured; the other was to a
rival gang member he shot.) Alphonso Prater told me that the last time
he was released from prison, in 2001, an older woman hired him to gut
some homes she was renovating. She trusted him with the keys to the
homes, and something about that small gesture lifted him. “She seen
something in me that I didn’t see,” he told me.

Though the interrupters may not put it this way, the Wednesday
meetings are a kind of therapy. One staff member laughingly compared
it to a 12-step program. It was clear to me that they leaned on one
another — a lot. Prater once got an urgent call from his daughter, who
said her boyfriend was beating her. Prater got in his car and began to
race to her house; as he was about to run a stop sign, he glimpsed a
police car on the corner. He skidded to a halt. It gave him a moment
to think, and he called his CeaseFire supervisor, Tio Hardiman, who
got another interrupter to visit Prater’s daughter. Not long ago,
three old-timers fresh out of prison ruthlessly ridiculed Hoddenbach
for his work with CeaseFire. They were relentless, and Hoddenbach
asked to sit down with them. But when it came time to meet, he
realized he was too riled, and so he asked another interrupter, Tim
White, to go in his place. “I was worried I was going to whip their
asses, and wherever it went from there it went,” Hoddenbach told me.
“They were old feelings, feelings I don’t want to revisit.”

Recently I went out to lunch with Hoddenbach and Torres. It had been
four months since Torres buried his nephew. Torres, who looked worn
and agitated (he would get up periodically to smoke a cigarette
outside), seemed paradoxically both grateful to and annoyed at
Hoddenbach. In the end, Hoddenbach had persuaded him not to avenge his
nephew’s murder. Torres had returned the guns and quickly left town.
This was his first visit back to Chicago. “I felt like a punk,” he
told me, before transferring to the present tense. “I feel shameful.”
He said he had sought revenge for people who weren’t related to him —
“people who weren’t even no blood to me.” But he held back in the case
of his nephew. “I still struggle with it,” he said. On the ride over
to the restaurant, Torres had been playing a CD of his nephew’s
favorite rap songs. It got him hyped up, and he blurted out to
Hoddenbach, “I feel like doing something.” Hoddenbach chided him and
shut off the music. “Stop being an idiot,” he told Torres. “Something
made me do what Zale asked me to do,” Torres said later, looking more
puzzled than comforted. “Which is respect my brother’s wishes.”

When Slutkin heard of Hoddenbach’s intervention, he told me: “The
interrupters have to deal with how to get someone to save face. In
other words, how do you not do a shooting if someone has insulted you,
if all of your friends are expecting you to do that? . . . In fact,
what our interrupters do is put social pressure in the other

He continued: “This is cognitive dissonance. Before Zale walked up to
him, this guy was holding only one thought. So you want to put another
thought in his head. It turns out talking about family is what really
makes a difference.” Slutkin didn’t take this notion to the
interrupters; he learned it from them.

ONE JANUARY NIGHT at 11 p.m., Charles Mack received a phone call that
a shooting victim was being rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center.
Mack drove the 10 miles from his home to the hospital, which houses
one of four trauma centers in Chicago. Two interrupters, Mack and
LeVon Stone, are assigned there. They respond to every shooting and
stabbing victim taken to the hospital. Mack, who is 57 and has a
slight lisp, is less imposing than his colleagues. He seems always to
be coming from or going to church, often dressed in tie and cardigan.
He sheepishly told me that his prison term, two years, was for bank
fraud. “The other guys laugh at me,” he said. LeVon Stone is 23 years
younger and a fast talker. He’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the
waist down as a result of being shot when he was 18.

Advocate Christ has come to see the presence of interrupters in the
trauma unit as essential and is, in fact, looking to expand their
numbers. “It has just given me so much hope,” Cathy Arsenault, one of
the chaplains there, told me. “The families would come in, huddle in
the corner and I could see them assigning people to take care of
business.” Mack and Stone try to cool off family members and friends,
and if the victim survives, try to keep them from seeking vengeance.

The victim that night was a tall 16-year-old boy named Frederick. He
was lying on a gurney just off the emergency room’s main hallway. He
was connected to two IVs, and blood was seeping through the gauze
wrapped around his left hand. Mack stood to one side; Stone pulled up
on the other. “You know, the most important thing is —” Mack ventured.
“You’re alive,” Stone chimed in. Stone then asked Frederick if he had
heard of CeaseFire. The boy nodded and told them that he had even
participated in a CeaseFire rally after a killing in his neighborhood.
“We try to stop violence on the front end,” Stone told Frederick.
“Unfortunately, this is the back end. We just want to make sure you
don’t go out and try to retaliate.”

The boy had been shot — one bullet shattered his thigh bone and
another ripped the tendons in two fingers. Nonetheless, he seemed
lucid and chatty. “My intention is to get in the house, call my
school, get my books and finish my work,” he told Mack and Stone. He
mentioned the school he attends, which Mack instantly recognized as a
place for kids on juvenile-court probation. Frederick told his story.
He was at a party, and a rival clique arrived. Frederick and his
friends sensed there would be trouble, so they left, and while
standing outside, one of the rival group pulled a gun on them.
Frederick’s friend told him earlier he had a gun. It turned out to be
braggadocio, and so when his friend took off running, so did
Frederick, a step behind. As he dashed through a narrow passageway
between buildings, he heard the shots.

“Can I ask why you’re in the wheelchair?” Frederick asked Stone. “I
got shot 15 years ago,” Stone told him. Stone didn’t say anything more
about it, and later when I asked for more detail, he was elusive. He
said simply that he had gotten shot at a barbecue when he tried to
intervene in a fistfight. “You doing good,” Stone assured him. “You
got shot. You’re here. And you’re alive. What you do when you get out
of here?”

“You got to stop hanging with the wrong person, thinking you’re a
Wyatt Earp,” Frederick said, speaking in the third person as if he
were reciting a lesson. At that point, Frederick’s sister arrived. She
explained that she was bringing up her brother. She was 18. “He just
wants to go to parties, parties, parties,” she complained. “But it’s
too dangerous.” She started to cry. “Don’t start that, please,”
Frederick pleaded. Mack left a CeaseFire brochure on Frederick’s chest
and promised to visit him again in the coming weeks.

LAST MAY, after a 16-year-old boy was killed trying to protect a girl
from a gunman on a city bus, Slutkin appeared on a local public-
television news program. He suggested CeaseFire was responsible for
sharp dips in homicide around the city. Slutkin, some say, gives
CeaseFire too much credit. Carl Bell, the psychiatrist, was on the
program with Slutkin that night. “I didn’t say anything,” he told me.
“I support Slutkin. I’m like, Slutkin, what are you doing? You can’t
do that. Maybe politically it’s a good thing, but scientifically it’s
so much more complex than that. Come on, Gary.”

Last year, CeaseFire lost its $6 million in annual state financing —
which meant a reduction from 45 interrupters to 17 — as part of
statewide budget cuts. One state senator, who had ordered an audit of
CeaseFire (released after the cuts, it found some administrative
inefficiencies), maintained there was no evidence that CeaseFire’s
work had made a difference. (The cuts caused considerable uproar: The
Chicago Tribune ran an editorial urging the restoration of financing,
and the State House overwhelmingly voted to double CeaseFire’s
financing; the State Senate, though, has yet to address it.)

It can be hard to measure the success — or the failure — of public-
health programs, especially violence-prevention efforts. And given
Slutkin’s propensity to cite scientific studies, it is surprising that
he hasn’t yet published anything about CeaseFire in a peer-reviewed
journal. Nonetheless, in a report due out later this month,
independent researchers hired by the Justice Department (from which
CeaseFire gets some money) conclude that CeaseFire has had an impact.
Shootings have declined around the city in recent years. But the study
found that in six of the seven neighborhoods examined, CeaseFire’s
efforts reduced the number of shootings or attempted shootings by 16
percent to 27 percent more than it had declined in comparable
neighborhoods. The report also noted — with approbation — that
CeaseFire, unlike most programs, manages by outcomes, which means that
it doesn’t measure its success by gauging the amount of activity (like
the number of interrupters on the street or the number of
interruptions — 1,200 over four years) but rather by whether shootings
are going up or down. One wall in Slutkin’s office is taken up by maps
and charts his staff has generated on the location and changes in the
frequency of shootings throughout the city; the data determine how
they assign the interrupters. Wes Skogan, a professor of political
science at Northwestern (disclosure: I teach there) and the author of
the report, said, “I found the statistical results to be as strong as
you could hope for.”

BALTIMORE, NEWARK and Kansas City, Mo., have each replicated
components of the CeaseFire model and have received training from the
Chicago staff. In Baltimore, the program, which is run by the city,
combines the work of interrupters and outreach workers and has been
concentrated in one East Baltimore neighborhood. (The program recently
expanded to a second community.) Early research out of the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that in the East
Baltimore neighborhood there were on average two shootings a month
just before the program started. During the first four months that
interrupters worked the streets, there had not been a single incident.

“My eyes rolled immediately when I heard what the model was,” says
Webster of Johns Hopkins, who is studying the Baltimore project.
Webster knew the forces the interrupters were up against and
considered it wishful thinking that they could effectively mediate
disputes. “But when I looked closer at the data,” Webster continues,
“and got to know more about who these people were and what they were
doing, I became far less skeptical and more hopeful. We’re going to
learn from it. And it will evolve.” George Kelling, a Rutgers
professor of criminal justice who is helping to establish an effort in
Newark to reduce homicide, helped develop the “broken window” theory
of fighting crime: addressing small issues quickly. He says a public-
health model will be fully effective only if coupled with other
efforts, including more creative policing and efforts to get gang
members back to school or to work. But he sees promise in the
CeaseFire model. “I had to overcome resistance,” Kelling told me,
referring to the introduction of a similar program in Newark. “But I
think Slutkin’s on to something.”

Most of the police officials I spoke with, in both Chicago and
Baltimore, were grateful for the interrupters. James B. Jackson, now
the first deputy superintendent in Chicago, was once the commander of
the 11th district, which has one of the highest rates of violent crime
in the city. Jackson told me that after his officers investigated an
incident, he would ask the police to pull back so the interrupters
could mediate. He understood that if the interrupters were associated
with the police, it would jeopardize their standing among gang
members. “If you look at how segments of the population view the
police department, it makes some of our efforts problematic,”
Baltimore’s police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, told me.
“It takes someone who knows these guys to go in and say, ‘Hey, lay
off.’ We can’t do that.”

Like many new programs that taste some success, CeaseFire has
ambitions that threaten to outgrow its capacity. Slutkin has put much
of his effort on taking the project to other cities (there’s interest
from Los Angeles, Oakland and Wilmington, Del., among others), and he
has consulted with the State Department about assisting in Iraq and in
Kenya. (CeaseFire training material has been made available to the
provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq.) Meanwhile, their Chicago
project is underfinanced, and the interrupters seem stressed from the
amount of work they’ve taken on.

THE INTERRUPTERS have certain understandings. At the Wednesday
meetings, no one is ever to mention anyone involved in a dispute by
name or, for that matter, mention the name of the gang. Instead they
refer to “Group A” or “Group B.” They are not investigators for the
police. In fact, they go out of their way to avoid knowing too much
about a crime. When Highsmith and Prater left me the night of the
failed drug deal, they began working their contacts. Highsmith found
someone who knew one of the stickup men and who, at Highsmith’s
request, negotiated with them. Highsmith’s contact persuaded the
robbers to return enough of the money to appease the drug-buyer’s
anger. When I met with the intermediary a few weeks after things were
resolved, he was still stirred up about the robbery. “I was mad enough
to do anything,” he told me, making it clear that he and his friends
had been hunting for the stickup guys. “This could’ve been a hell of a
lot worse than it was.” To this day, neither Highsmith nor Prater know
the identities of anyone except the intermediary — and they want to
leave it that way.

The interrupters often operate by instinct. CeaseFire once received a
call from the mother of a 15-year-old boy who wanted out of a gang he
joined a few weeks earlier. The mother told Hoddenbach and another
interrupter, Max Cerda, that the gang members chased her son home
every day from school threatening to beat him. They had shot at him
twice. Hoddenbach found the clique leaders and tried to talk sense to
them. If the boy didn’t want to be in the gang, he told them, he’d be
the first one to snitch. The gang members saw the logic behind that
but insisted on giving him a beating before releasing him. Hoddenbach
then tried another tack: he negotiated to let him leave the gang for
$300 — and no thrashing. The family, though, was only able to come up
with $50, so Hoddenbach, Cerda and another interrupter came up with
the rest. At their next Wednesday meeting, some interrupters were
critical of Hoddenbach for paying what they considered extortion
money. “It was kind of a messed-up way, but it was a messed-up way
that works,” Hoddenbach said.

It was nearly three months before Charles Mack could find time to
visit Frederick, the young shooting victim. Frederick had since moved
in with his great-grandmother in a different part of town. In his old
neighborhood, he told Mack, “there always somebody who knows you. And
I had a reputation.” He complained to Mack that he had never been
interviewed by the police but then declared he would never identify
the person who shot him anyway. “I’m going to leave it alone,” he
said. As is so often the case, Frederick couldn’t remember the genesis
of the disagreement between his clique and the other. Mack promised to
stay in touch, and as we dropped him off, Mack turned to me and said,
“I think he’s going to be all right.” It sounded like both a
proclamation as well as hopeful aside.

Not long ago, I stopped by to visit with Hoddenbach at the Boys and
Girls Club, where he holds down a second job. It was a Friday evening,
and he was waiting for an old associate to come by to give him an
introduction to a group of Hispanic kids on the far North Side.
Apparently, earlier in the week, they bashed in the face of an African-
American teenager with a brick. From what Hoddenbach could make out,
it was the result of a long-simmering dispute — the equivalent of a
dormant virus — and the victim’s uncle was now worried that it would
set off more fighting. As we sat and talked, Hoddenbach seemed
unusually agitated. His left foot twitched as if it had an electric
current running through it. “If these idiots continue,” he told me,
“somebody’s going to step up and make a statement.”

Hoddenbach also worried about Torres, who had recently gone back to
Texas and found a job working construction. Hoddenbach says he
originally hoped Torres would stay in Chicago and establish some
roots, but then decided he’d be better off in another town. “I kept
him out of one situation, but I can’t keep him out of all of them,”
Hoddenbach said. This may well speak to CeaseFire’s limitations.
Leaving town is not an option for most. And for those who have walked
away from a shooting, like Torres, if there are no jobs, or lousy
schools, or decrepit housing, what’s to keep them from drifting back
into their former lives? It’s like cholera: you may cure everyone, you
may contain the epidemic, but if you don’t clean up the water supply,
people will soon get sick again.

Slutkin says that it makes sense to purify the water supply if — and
only if — you acknowledge and treat the epidemic at hand. In other
words, antipoverty measures will work only if you treat violence. It
would seem intuitive that violence is a result of economic
deprivation, but the relationship between the two is not static.
People who have little expectation for the future live recklessly. On
the other side of the coin, a community in which arguments are settled
by gunshots is unlikely to experience economic growth and opportunity.
In his book “The Bottom Billion,” Paul Collier argues that one of the
characteristics of many developing countries that suffer from
entrenched poverty is what he calls the conflict trap, the inability
to escape a cycle of violence, usually in the guise of civil wars.
Could the same be true in our inner cities, where the ubiquity of guns
and gunplay pushes businesses and residents out and leaves behind
those who can’t leave, the most impoverished?

In this, Slutkin sees a direct parallel to the early history of
seemingly incurable infectious diseases. “Chinatown, San Francisco in
the 1880s,” Slutkin says. “Three ghosts: malaria, smallpox and
leprosy. No one wanted to go there. Everybody blamed the people.
Dirty. Bad habits. Something about their race. Not only is everybody
afraid to go there, but the people there themselves are afraid at all
times because people are dying a lot and nobody really knows what to
do about it. And people come up with all kinds of other ideas that are
not scientifically grounded — like putting people away, closing the
place down, pushing the people out of town. Sound familiar?”


‘I think within ten years that we will have strategies that re-grow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones’  – Dr Stephen Badylak, Univ. of Pittsburgh

The man who grew a finger
BY Matthew Price  /  30 April 2008

In every town in every part of this sprawling country you can find a
faceless sprawling strip mall in which to do the shopping. Rarely
though would you expect to find a medical miracle working behind the
counter of the mall’s hobby shop. That however is what Lee Spievak
considers himself to be. “I put my finger in,” Mr Spievak says,
pointing towards the propeller of a model airplane, “and that’s when I
sliced my finger off.”

It took the end right off, down to the bone, about half an inch. “We
don’t know where the piece went.” The photos of his severed finger tip
are pretty graphic. You can understand why doctors said he’d lost it
for good. Today though, you wouldn’t know it. Mr Spievak, who is 69
years old, shows off his finger, and it’s all there, tissue, nerves,
nail, skin, even his finger print.

‘Pixie dust’
How? Well that’s the truly remarkable part. It wasn’t a transplant. Mr
Spievak re-grew his finger tip. He used a powder – or pixie dust as he
sometimes refers to it while telling his story.

Mr Speivak’s brother Alan – who was working in the field of
regenerative medicine – sent him the powder. For ten days Mr Spievak
put a little on his finger. “The second time I put it on I already
could see growth. Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and
was a finger. “It took about four weeks before it was sealed.” Now he
says he has “complete feeling, complete movement.” The “pixie dust”
comes from the University of Pittsburgh, though in the lab Dr Stephen
Badylak prefers to call it extra cellular matrix.

Pig’s bladder
The process he has been pioneering over the last few years involves
scraping the cells from the lining of a pig’s bladder. The remaining
tissue is then placed into acid, “cleaned” of all cells, and dried
out. It can be turned into sheets, or a powder.

How it works in detail
It looks like a simple process, but of course the science is complex.
“There are all sorts of signals in the body,” explains Dr Badylak. “We
have got signals that are good for forming scar, and others that are
good for regenerating tissues. “One way to think about these matrices
is that we have taken out many of the stimuli for scar tissue
formation and left those signals that were always there anyway for
constructive remodelling.” In other words when the extra cellular
matrix is put on a wound, scientists believe it stimulates cells in
the tissue to grow rather than scar. If they can perfect the
technique, it might mean one day they could repair not just a severed
finger, but severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.

Clinical trial
They hope soon to start a clinical trial in Buenos Aires on a woman
who has cancer of the oesophagus. The normal procedure in such cases
is often deadly. Doctors remove the cancerous portion and try to
stretch the stomach lining up to meet the shortened oesophagus. In the
trial they will place the extra cellular matrix inside the body from
where the portion of oesophagus has been removed, and hope to
stimulate the cells around it to re-grow the missing portion.

So could limbs be re-grown? Dr Badylak is cautious, but believes the
technology is potentially revolutionary. “I think that within ten
years that we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones, and
promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones. And that
is a major step towards eventually doing the entire limb.” That kind
of talk has got the US military interested. They are just about to
start trials to re-grow parts of the fingers of injured soldiers.

Skin burns
They also hope the matrix might help veterans like Robert Henline re-
grow burnt skin. He was almost killed in an explosion while serving in
Iraq. His four colleagues travelling with him in the army Humvee were
all killed. He suffered 35% burns to his head and upper body. His ears
are almost totally gone, the skin on his head has been burnt to the
bone, his face is a swollen raw mess. So far he has undergone surgery
25 times. He reckons he has got another 30 to go. Anything that could
be done in terms of regeneration would be great he says. “Life
changing! I think I’m more scared of hospitals than I am of going back
to Iraq again.” Like any developing technology there are many
unknowns. There are worries about encouraging cancerous growths by
using the matrix. Doctors though believe that within the so called
pixie dust lies an amazing medical discovery.

Stephen F. Badylak, DVM, MD, PhD
email : badylaks [at] upmc [dot] edu


Humans can regrow fingers?  /  BY Julia Layton

When a hobby-store owner in Cincinnati sliced off his fingertip in
2005 while showing a customer why the motor on his model plane was
dangerous, he went to the emergency room without the missing tip. He
couldn’t find it anywhere. The doctor bandaged the wound and
recommended a skin graft to cover the top of his right-middle stub for
cosmetic purposes, since nothing could be done to rebuild the finger.
Months later, he had regrown it, tissue, nerves, skin, fingernail and

This particular hobbyist happened to have a brother in the tissue-
regeneration business, who told him to forego the skin graft and
instead apply a powdered extract taken from pig’s bladder to the raw
finger tip. The extract, called extracellular matrix, lays the
framework that cells use to generate any given body part. It’s like a
cellular scaffolding, and all animals have it. It holds the signals
that direct cells to divide, differentiate and build themselves into a
specific form.

Extracellular matrix is a component of body tissue that functions
outside of the body’s cells (thus the “extracellular” designation).
It’s made up mostly of collagen, a type of protein. So extracellular
matrix extracted from the bladder of a pig does not actually have any
of the pig’s cells in it. In human fetuses, the substance works in
concert with stem cells to grow and regrow everything from heart
aortas to toes. Fetuses can regrow almost anything that gets damaged
while in the womb. Scientists have long believed that when a fetus
reaches full development, this extracellular matrix stops functioning.
But with evidence that applying extracellular matrix from a pig can
initiate certain types of regeneration in humans, they’re wondering if
they can trigger human extracellular matrix to start working again.
After all, according to regeneration researcher Dr. Stephen Badylak of
the University of Pittsburgh, children up to the age of two have been
known to regrow fingertips with no outside help.

Pig-extracted extracellular matrix is already used by veterinarians to
help horses repair torn ligaments. In people, it’s used to treat
ulcers, closing a hole in the tissue that lines the stomach. It
employs an entirely different process than the typical mammalian
healing mechanism. Let’s take the case of a person who loses the tip
of a finger. When the finger is severed, the cells die, and their
contents seep into the surrounding tissue. This alerts the immune
system to a problem. The immune system’s response to cell death is
inflammation and scar tissue. The formation of scar tissue prevents
any future cellular development in the area. That’s why scars last —
cells are prevented from doing a repair job on that skin.

But when extracellular matrix is applied to a wound, it doesn’t
trigger an immune response. Instead, when it begins to break down into
surrounding tissue, it causes the cells in that tissue to start
repairing the damage the way they would in a developing fetus (or a
salamander that loses a limb) — they divide and rebuild, creating
new, normal tissue, not scar tissue.

Combined with developments in stem-cell research, this extracellular
matrix may work miracles in the area of regeneration science. As of
early 2007, testing of the effects of extracellular matrix is being
carried out on a military base in Texas. Scientists are using the
powdered pig extract on Iraq War veterans whose hands were damaged in
the war. They’re opening the wounds and applying the component to
finger stubs in an attempt to regrow them. The researchers conducting
the study say they don’t expect to regrow the entire finger, but are
hoping to regrow enough of a finger to allow for some utility. They
don’t believe it will regenerate bone, but nothing is for sure right
now. That man in Cincinnati had only lost his finger tip, at the lower
part of the nail; he hadn’t lost the entire finger.

Help from pigs aside, many wonder if the extracellular matrix in
humans is unable to function or is simply in a latent state, awaiting
some sort of trigger. Do humans in fact have the same regenerative
capacity as salamanders, which can regrow an entire limb, and
researchers just haven’t found a way to activate the mechanism? It’s
not just amphibians that can regrow body parts: Deer regularly regrow
lost antlers, composed of bone, tissue, cartilage and skin — the same
things that make up human limbs. Could there possibly be an internal
switch that would reactivate the regeneration capacity that humans
possess in the womb? Regenerative medicine is actively pursuing
answers to these questions. And in the meantime, if applying powdered
pig extract to a snipped finger can in fact facilitate regrowth, the
possibilities for medicine are startling. Spinal injuries, amputated
limbs and damaged organs could all be coaxed back into a complete,
healthy state if science finds the right combination of treatments.



Science Finds New Ways to Regrow Fingers
BY Malcom Ritter  /  February 19, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Researchers are trying to find ways to regrow
fingers, and someday, even limbs with tricks that sound like magic
spells from a Harry Potter novel.  There’s the guy who sliced off a
fingertip but grew it back, after he treated the wound with an extract
of pig bladder. And the scientists who grow extra arms on salamanders.
And the laboratory mice with the eerie ability to heal themselves.

Powdered Pig Extract – The Stuff of Magic?
This summer, scientists are planning to see whether the powdered pig
extract can help injured soldiers regrow parts of their fingers. And a
large federally funded project is trying to unlock the secrets of how
some animals regrow body parts so well, with hopes of applying the the
lessons to humans. The implications for regrowing fingers go beyond
the cosmetic. People who are missing all or most of their fingers, as
from an explosion or a fire, often can’t pick things up, brush their
teeth or button a button. If they could grow even a small stub, it
could make a huge difference in their lives. And the lessons learned
from studying regrowth of fingers and limbs could aid the larger field
of regenerative medicine, perhaps someday helping people replace
damaged parts of their hearts and spinal cords, and heal wounds and
burns with new skin instead of scar.

A Story of Regeneration
But that’s in the future. For now, consider the situation of Lee
Spievack, a hobby-store salesman in Cincinnati, as he regarded his
severed right middle finger one evening in August 2005. He had been
helping a customer with an engine on a model airplane behind the shop.
He knew the motor was risky because it required somebody to turn the
prop backwards to make it run the right way. “I pointed to it,”
Spievack recalled the other day, “and said, ‘You need to get rid of
this engine, it’s too dangerous.’ And I put my finger through the
prop.” He’d misjudged the distance to the spinning plastic prop. It
sliced off his fingertip, leaving just a bit of the nail bed. The
missing piece, three-eighths of an inch long, was never found. An
emergency room doctor wrapped up the rest of his finger and sent him
to a hand surgeon, who recommended a skin graft to cover what was left
of his finger. What was gone, it appeared, was gone forever.

If Spievack, now 68, had been a toddler, things might have been
different. Up to about age 2, people can consistently regrow
fingertips, says Dr. Stephen Badylak, a regeneration expert at the
University of Pittsburgh. But that’s rare in adults, he said.
Spievack, however, did have a major advantage, a brother Alan, a
former Harvard surgeon who’d founded a company called ACell Inc., that
makes an extract of pig bladder for promoting healing and tissue

Federal Government Clears Use on People
It helps horses regrow ligaments, for example, and the federal
government has given clearance to market it for use in people. Similar
formulations have been used in many people to do things like treat
ulcers and other wounds and help make cartilage. The summer before Lee
Spievack’s accident, Dr. Alan Spievack had used it on a neighbor who’d
cut his fingertip off on a tablesaw. The man’s fingertip grew back
over four to six weeks, Alan Spievack said.

Lee Spievack took his brother’s advice to forget about a skin graft
and try the pig powder. Soon a shipment of the stuff arrived and Lee
Spievack started applying it every two days. Within four weeks his
finger had regained its original length, he says, and in four months
“it looked like my normal finger.” Spievack said it’s a little hard,
as if calloused, and there’s a slight scar on the end. The nail
continues to grow at twice the speed of his other nails. “All my
fingers in this cold weather have cracked except that one,” he said.
All in all, he said, “I’m quite impressed.”

Powder Being Used on Wounded Soldiers
None of this proves the powder was responsible. But those outcomes
have helped inspire an effort to try the powder this summer at Fort
Sam Houston in San Antonio, on soldiers who have far more disabling
finger loss because of burns. Fingers are particularly vulnerable to
burns because they are small and their skin is thin, says David Baer,
a wound specialist at the base who’s working on the federally funded
project. The five to 10 patients in the project will be chosen because
they have major losses in all their fingers and thumbs, preventing
them from performing the pinching motion they need to hold a
toothbrush, for example. The soldiers will have the end of a finger
stub re-opened surgically, with the powder applied three times a week.

Nobody is talking about regrowing an entire finger. The hope is to
grow enough of a finger, maybe even less than an inch, to do pinching.
And it is just a hope. “This is a real shot in the dark,” says
Badylak, who’s participating in the project. “There’s literally
nothing else these individuals have to try. They have nothing to
lose.” But from a scientific standpoint, he said, “this isn’t ready
for prime time.” For one thing, it’s not completely clear what
happened inside Lee Spievack’s finger.

Magic Finger Regrowth from Pig Cells?
The broad outline is pretty straightforward. The powder is mostly
collagen and a variety of substances, without any pig cells, said
Badylak, who’s a scientific adviser to ACell. It forms microscopic
scaffolding for incoming human cells to occupy, and it emits chemical
signals to encourage those cells to regenerate tissue, he said. Those
signals don’t specifically say “make a finger,” but cells pick up that
message from their surroundings, he said. “We’re not smart enough to
figure out how to regrow a finger,” Badylak said. “Maybe what we can
do is bring all the pieces of the puzzle to the right place and then
let Mother Nature take its course.” But “we are very uninformed about
how all of this works,” Badylak said. “There’s a lot more that we
don’t know than we do know.”

Some animals, of course, can regenerate tissue without help from any
powder. Badylak and other scientists are involved in a separate,
Pentagon-funded project to uncover and harness their secrets. This
work might someday lead to regenerating entire limbs.

Salamander Study
One animal they’re studying is the salamander, a star of the
regeneration field. Chop off a salamander’s arm, and it will grow back
in a matter of weeks. Why? The short answer is that rather than making
a scar to heal quickly, as people do, the salamander forms a mound of
cells called a blastema. This is a regeneration factory: If you cut
off a salamander hand and transplant the resulting blastema to the
creature’s back, it will grow out a hand there.

David Gardiner at the University of California, Irvine, is studying
the secrets of the salamander by growing extra arms on the creatures.
That allows for more controlled conditions than amputating arms and
trying to follow what happens, he said. So how do you make a
salamander grow an extra arm? Make a shallow wound on the upper arm.
Re-route a nerve to the site so it will pump out critical chemical
signals that promote the creation of blastema cells. And insert a tiny
piece of skin from the other side of limb you just wounded, to help
provide a blueprint for what needs to be done. The recipe sounds like
“you put it in a cauldron under a full moon,” Gardiner observed.

The creatures are so lethargic it’s hard to tell if they can use their
extra arms, he noted. But the research shows that beyond establishing
a blueprint for a new arm, this mix of cells sends out a chemical
S.O.S. to attract other kinds of cells from the salamander’s body to
help construct a new appendage. Just how many chemical signals are
involved, and what they are, remain to be discovered.

Then there’s the specially bred mouse strain that befuddled Ellen
Heber-Katz a decade ago, and has since become a focus of her research.
Heber-Katz, of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, was using the
mouse strain known as MRL in a study of autoimmune diseases. Her team
punched tiny holes in the animals’ ears as markers. About three weeks
later, Heber-Katz noticed a troubling thing. “There were no ear
holes,” she recalled the other day. “We ear-punched again, and they
closed up and disappeared…. We were just so shocked.”

Like salamanders, the mice were growing blastemas instead of scars.
They also heal damage to their hearts. But for regrowing digits, even
this mouse falls short. If a toe is cut off at some point other than
the tip, the remnant produces a cell mass that looks like a small
blastema, but it doesn’t grow the missing part back. (An ordinary
mouse just develops a scar.) At least, the MRL mouse “looks like it’s
trying,” Heber-Katz said.

In studying the mice and salamanders, scientists will pursue several
questions. What genes rev up to produce regrowth? What biochemical
signals are involved? What is the role of specific cells? Can this
knowledge be used to regrow a digit on a mouse? Scientists say it’s
not clear when this research might help people. As for Spievack, the
model-airplane enthusiast, he’s had enough personal experience in this
area. “I don’t plan on cutting anything more off to find out if I can
grow that back,” he said.

Ellen Heber-Katz
email : heberkatz [at] wistar [dot] org


Tiger Penis Soup
“This recipe was graciously given by “Miss Casey”, the head waitress
at the Pu Chung Pao resturant in Taizhong, Taiwan. If you prefer, you
can buy a bowl of this tasty?? soup for a mere 400 dollars. This
recipe makes 8 bowls of Tiger Penis Soup.

* 1 tiger penis, dried
* 24 other spices and medicines, including rhino horn, bear gall
bladder, tiger bone, and ginseng

Soak the tiger penis in water for one week. Simmer with the 24 spices
and medicines for 24-26 hours. Serves 8

Tiger Penis has long been valued by practicioners of eastern medicine
as an aphrodesiac. The penis can be taken in soup, ground in wine, or
soaked in rice alcohol for 6 months. Results vary, and recent
interviews indicate that the recent influx of Viagra into the
traditional markets of China, South Korea, and Taiwan has caused the
demand for tiger penis to drop. Apparently Viagra has more reliable
results than penis of tiger. That could also be due in part to the
common substitution of ox or deer tendons for real tiger penis by some
unscrupulous shop owners.

Medicinal uses of tiger parts has contributed greatly to the
extinction of some species of tigers, and the near-extinction of
others. Worldwide tiger populations, over 100,000 at the turn of the
century are now estimated to be around 9,000. Despite the outlawing of
killing tigers for body parts in virtually all the places where they
are found, a brisk trade still exists in tiger medicine. In April,
1999 and survey was taken of Chinese markets in New York’s Chinatown
by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international non-profit
organization. Sixty three percent of the markets surveyed either sold
or claimed to sell goods containing tiger parts.

Traditional Chinese medicine gives body parts of certain animals the
ability to transfer the power of that animal to a human consuming or
wearing that body part. The tiger is able to mate vigorously and
repetitivly over several days. The average length of these mating is
only 15 seconds, however. hmmmmmmm.”

Other traditional uses for tiger body parts are:
whiskers – give protection from bullets, give user courage, and
prevent toothache.
eyeballs – rolled into pills, prevent and treat epilepsy and
brains – mixed with oil and rubbed over body – cures laziness and acne
bones – mixed into wine, cures rheumatism
tail – rubbed on body, said to cure skin problems
heart – cooked and eaten, imparts strength, courage, and cunning

Viagra may be saving endangered species after all  /  07 October 2005

Chinese men are selectively switching from traditional Chinese
medicine (TCM) to Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction, but sticking
with tradition for ailments such as arthritis, indigestion and gout,
according to new research published in Environmental Conservation. The
finding supports a prediction made by Australian and Alaskan
researchers at the advent of Viagra’s commercial release in 1998 that
the new impotence drug might reduce demand for several species that
are over-harvested to treat impotence with TCMs. Animals such as
seals, sea horses and tigers have long been hunted because
practitioners of TCM use their body parts for their presumed healing
and virility qualities.

The researchers surveyed 256 Chinese men, aged 50 to 76, who sought
treatment at a large TCM clinic in Hong Kong. The men were questioned
about their previous and current use of TCM and Western treatments for
arthritis, indigestion, gout and impotence. The study’s lead authors
are Dr Bill von Hippel, a psychologist from the University of New
South Wales (Sydney, Australia), and Dr Frank von Hippel, a biologist
from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The von Hippel brothers cite
three key findings from the research. “First, significantly more men
had formerly used a TCM treatment for impotence than were current
users. Second, they were significantly more likely to be using a
Western treatment for impotence than a TCM treatment. Finally, among
men who formerly used either Western or TCM treatments for impotence,
they were more likely to switch from a TCM treatment to a Western drug
than vice versa. In fact, nobody had switched from a Western drug to a
TCM treatment for impotence. “This was in contrast to their behaviour
with the other three ailments – arthritis, indigestion and gout, where
the men were more likely to be current users of a TCM treatment than a
Western treatment,” says Bill von Hippel.

These findings stand in contrast to prior research suggesting a
mistrust of Western medicine in Asian markets. “When we proposed that
Viagra might make inroads into TCM treatments for impotence,
conservationists told us we were naïve and that TCM consumers were
unwilling to use a product outside their own medical tradition,” says
Bill von Hippel. “For example, there is still strong demand for tiger
bone among TCM apothecaries who use it in the treatment of pain
relief, despite the widespread availability of aspirin.”

“But the failure to achieve an erection isn’t comparable to having a
headache or the many other ailments for which consumers still prefer
TCM treatments. Furthermore, Viagra differs from many other Western
drugs, in that the effects are rapid and visible to the naked eye. The
fact is that prior to the commercial availability of Viagra in 1998,
no product in any medical tradition had been proven to be an effective
and non-intrusive treatment of erectile dysfunction. So despite their
history of using traditional medicines and their alleged suspicions of
Western medicine, the men we interviewed chose the product that works
best,” Bill von Hippel says. These findings are consistent with
previous research by the von Hippels showing evidence of a post-Viagra
decline during the 1990s in the harvesting of three species used in
TCM impotence treatments. The pair attributed some of this decline to
Viagra, despite scepticism among many academics and wildlife experts.
In 2002, the global market for TCM products and treatments was valued
at more than $20 billion, according to the Chinese firm Shenzhen
Matrix Information Consulting.

Funding statement
The research was assisted by research grants from Pfizer Inc.

William von Hippel
email : billvh [at] psy [dot] uq [dot] edu [dot] au

Frank von Hippel
email : affvh [at] uaa [dot] alaska [dot] edu / frank [at] uaa [dot] alaska [dot] edu
AP probe finds drugs in drinking water
by Jeff Donn, Martha Mendoza & Justin Pritchard  /  Mar 9, 2008

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe. But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health. In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky. Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public “doesn’t know how to interpret the information” and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water? People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue. And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife. “We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it very seriously,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation’s 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

-Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city’s watersheds.

-Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

-Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

-A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco’s drinking water.

-The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

-Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP. The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven’t: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people. Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present. The AP’s investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation’s water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28. Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city’s water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer. City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” – regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals. In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water. Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP’s questions, also citing post-9/11 issues. Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren’t in the clear either, experts say. The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City’s upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas. He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. “Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail,” Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don’t necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry’s main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems. Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea. For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

In the United States, the problem isn’t confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation’s water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Perhaps it’s because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co. “People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that’s not the case,” said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States. Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals. One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.

Another issue: There’s evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic. Human waste isn’t the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals. Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity — sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute. Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. “Based on what we now know, I would say we find there’s little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health,” said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby – director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. – said: “There’s no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they’re at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms.” Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.

Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show. Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting. “It brings a question to people’s minds that if the fish were affected … might there be a potential problem for humans?” EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. “It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven’t gotten far enough along.” With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water. “I think it’s a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health,” said Snyder. “They need to just accept that these things are everywhere — every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It’s time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental.”

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to “detect and quantify pharmaceuticals” in wastewater. “We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations,” he said. “We’re going to be able to learn a lot more.” While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it’s being considered is its widespread use in making explosives. So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts. There’s growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs — or combinations of drugs — may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day. Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics. For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants – pesticides, lead, PCBs – which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk. However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body. “These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That’s what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects,” says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs. And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That’s why – aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies – pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water. “We know we are being exposed to other people’s drugs through our drinking water, and that can’t be good,” says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.

NYC: Traces of Sedatives in NYC Water
by Jeff Donn  /  March 9, 2008

Locals say this city makes the world’s best bagels from the best water, piped in from rustic reservoirs up to 150 miles north. Yet few know of a secret ingredient in their source water: a dash of pharmaceuticals. Research studies have turned up minute amounts of more than 15 drugs or their byproducts in several pristine-looking rivers, a reservoir, and aqueducts feeding the country’s biggest water system. Though barely measurable, these pharmaceuticals are present in a variety worthy of a medicine cabinet: drugs for aches, infections, seizures and high blood pressure; hormones for menopause; the active ingredient in a popular sedative; and caffeine _ all bound for the city that never sleeps. How did they reach waterways? The vast watershed, while mainly rural, stretches almost from Pennsylvania to Connecticut and encompasses lots of human activity. Human and veterinary medicines are excreted or discarded, and eventually enter source waters mostly through residential sewage or farm runoff. And while these waters are processed at wastewater treatment plants upstate, much of the pharmaceutical residue passes right through, studies show. It’s unknown how much lingers each day by the time 1.1 billion gallons reach the faucets of more than 9 million people in the city and northern suburbs via a century-old network of aqueducts and tunnels. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the city’s water system, responded to an Associated Press survey of water utilities, saying it has not tested its drinking water for pharmaceuticals, despite the findings in its watershed. The tests that detected pharmaceuticals in the upstate source waters were conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and New York State Department of Health.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview and issued only a brief general statement: “New York City’s drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system” – regulations that do not address pharmaceuticals in trace amounts. As in other cities, human health risks from trace pharmaceuticals are uncertain, since concentrations in New York source waters are way below medical doses and undergo dilution as they mix with fresh water en route to the city. Already, though, troubling studies indicate that traces of pharmaceuticals may be harming fish in New York City’s Jamaica Bay, within sight of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Researcher Anne McElroy at Stony Brook University has found feminized male flounder there, and she links them to high levels of the female hormone estrone or other estrogenic chemicals discovered in the waterway.

Estrogen also has been found in the city’s watershed in recent years. Upstate, the geological survey and state health agency also detected the heart medicine atenolol; anti-seizure drugs carbamazepine and primidone; relaxers diazepam and carisoprodol; infection fighters trimethoprim, clindamycin, and sulfamethoxazole; pain relievers ibuprofen, acetaminophen and codeine; and remains of caffeine and nicotine. Despite all that, the federal government considers the New York City system to be so clean that it need not filter most of its water, as most big cities are required to do. When the filtering waiver was extended last year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg exulted: “I’ve always thought that New York City has some of the best water around, and now we’ve got confirmation from Washington.” However, filtration is meant mainly to remove germs, and the federal government hasn’t required any testing of pharmaceuticals in source or drinking water. Though it lacks conventional treatment plants with filtering processes, New York City does disinfect and add chemicals to its drinking water. Plus, it is building a filtration plant for water from its Croton watershed _ its smallest and closest source. Patrick Phillips, a geological survey hydrologist who has studied drugs in the city’s watershed, says recent sewage treatment upgrades probably catch some, though the systems aren’t designed to. The city also is building a plant to disinfect with ultraviolet radiation the water taken from the major, upstate sectors of the watershed. Research shows that ultraviolet can degrade some pharmaceuticals. “I think both the state and the city are aware that these things could be an issue and you could be proactive about it,” Phillips says. Few New Yorkers seem aware of their possible presence. The AP contacted more than two dozen water-testing companies across the metropolitan area, and none had ever been asked to check for pharmaceuticals. Douglas LeVangie, a sales executive at Simpltek, says even the company’s home water tests for disease-causing germs sell modestly in New York City, with its global reputation for wholesome water.

The Drugs in the Area’s Water  /  March 10, 2008

Tests revealed that some of the Washington area’s drinking water contained trace amounts of these drugs:

Caffeine: a stimulant found in food and drinks.
Carbamazepine: an anti-convulsive to reduce epileptic seizures and a mood stabilizer for treating bipolar disorders.
Ibuprofen: an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.
Monensin: an antibiotic administered to cattle.
Naproxen: an anti-inflammatory drug commonly found in Aleve.
Sulfamethoxazole: an antibiotic that can be used to treat infections in humans and animals.
Triclocarban: a disinfectant found in antibacterial soaps.

{Source: Washington Aqueduct}
Area Tap Water Has Traces of Medicines
Tests Find 6 Drugs, Caffeine in D.C., Va.
by Carol D. Leonnig  /  March 10, 2008

The Washington area’s drinking water contains trace amounts of six commonly used drugs that typically turn up in wastewater and cannot be filtered out by most treatment systems. The pharmaceuticals – an anti-seizure medication, two anti-inflammatory drugs, two kinds of antibiotics and a common disinfectant – were found in very small concentrations in the water supply that serves more than 1 million people in the District, Arlington County, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County. But scientists say the health effects of long-term exposure to such drugs are not known. Pharmaceuticals, along with trace amounts of caffeine, were found in the drinking water supplies of 24 of 28 U.S. metropolitan areas tested. The findings were revealed as part of the first federal research on pharmaceuticals in water supplies, and those results are detailed in an investigative report by the Associated Press set to be published today.

In addition to caffeine, the drugs found in water treated by the Washington Aqueduct include the well-known pain medications ibuprofen and naproxen, commonly found in Aleve. But there were also some lesser-known drugs: carbamazepine, an anti-convulsive to reduce epileptic seizures and a mood stabilizer for treating bipolar disorders; sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic that can be used for humans and animals in treating urinary tract and other infections; and monensin, an antibiotic typically given to cattle. In addition, the study uncovered traces of triclocarban, a disinfectant used in antibacterial soaps. That the drugs were found so commonly nationwide highlights an emerging water dilemma that the public rarely considers. The drugs we use for ourselves and animals are being flushed directly into wastewater, which then becomes a drinking water source downstream. However, most wastewater and drinking water treatment systems, including Washington’s, are incapable of removing those drugs. And although the chemicals pose no immediate health threat in the water, the health effects of drinking these drug compounds over a long period is largely unstudied. Some scientists said there is probably little human health risk; others fear chronic exposure could alter immune responses or interfere with adolescents’ developing hormone systems.

Washington’s water regulators and utility officials say they are not alarmed by the findings because the drugs are found at such low levels – parts per trillion, a tiny fraction of the amount in a medical dose. But they do view these “emerging contaminants” with concern. “What concerns me is we’re finding pharmaceuticals in the river that we rely upon for drinking water,” said Thomas P. Jacobus, general manager of the Washington Aqueduct. “If we can’t get them out, we have to find a way to neutralize them if we find there’s a health effect from them.” Jacobus said the aqueduct leadership will recommend in the next few months likely upgrades for water treatment to deal with an array of newly identified and increasing contaminants in the water. The aqueduct uses chlorine, which kills a wide group of bacteria and breaks down some chemicals but cannot disrupt pharmaceuticals. Studies show ozone water treatment is the most effective in zapping such drugs. The U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been screening Washington’s and other cities’ water supplies for pharmaceuticals in the first research project on pharmaceuticals in the water. The Washington Aqueduct, an arm of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, does not regularly screen for caffeine or pharmaceuticals, nor do most water utilities.

The drugs discovered in testing over the past two years typically get into the water supply because they pass through a user’s body and are flushed downstream. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying some pharmaceuticals for their impact on public health but has not set safety standards for any of the drugs. “We recognize it is a growing concern, and we’re taking it very seriously,” Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said of the drugs’ presence. There is no clear evidence of a human health threat from such low levels of pharmaceuticals. But scientists warn that, because there has been very little study of the long-term or synergistic effects of this kind of drug exposure, water providers and regulators need to exercise caution. Although experts agree that aquatic life are most at risk from exposure to the drugs in rivers and streams, researchers are concerned about what they don’t know about human health effects.

In other findings from its reporting, the AP said officials in Montgomery County and Fairfax have found numerous pharmaceuticals in their environmental watersheds but do not test their drinking water supplies for the same chemical compounds. Nationwide, the AP reported that researchers found anti-depressants, antacids, synthetic hormones from birth control pills, and many other human and animal medicines in the water. In San Francisco, tests found a sex hormone. In New York, the water tested positive for heart medicines and a prescription tranquilizer.


At least one pharmaceutical was detected in tests of treated drinking water supplies for 24 major metropolitan areas, according to an Associated Press survey of 62 major water providers and data obtained from independent researchers. Only 28 tested drinking water. Three of those said results were negative; Dallas says tests were conducted, but results are not yet available. Thirty-four locations said no testing was conducted. Here’s the list of California metropolitan areas, grouped by categories – those with positive test results, including the number of pharmaceuticals detected and some examples of specific drugs found, locations where tests were negative, locations where tests were not conducted and a location with pending results:

Concord: 2 (meprobamate and sulfamethoxazole)
Long Beach: 2 (meprobamate and phenytoin)
Los Angeles: 2 (meprobamate and phenytoin)
Riverside County: 2 (meprobamate and phenytoin)
San Diego: 3 (ibuprofen, meprobamate and phenytoin)
San Francisco: 1 (estradiol)
Southern California: 2 (meprobamate and phenytoin)

Fresno: no testing
Oakland: no testing
Sacramento: no testing
San Jose: no testing
Santa Clara: no testing

At least one pharmaceutical or byproduct was detected in testing within the watersheds of 28 major metropolitan areas, according to an AP survey of 62 major water providers and data obtained from independent researchers. Test protocols varied widely. Some researchers tested for more drugs than others. Thirty-five areas said they tested. Four said tests were negative, and three said they were awaiting results. Twenty-seven locations said they had not tested watershed supplies. Here’s the list of the California areas where pharmaceuticals were detected, with the number found and some examples.

Concord: (unspecified drugs)
Long Beach: 9 (unspecified drugs)
Los Angeles: 9 (unspecified drugs)
Riverside County: 9 (unspecified drugs)
San Diego: 12 (clofibrate, clofibric acid, ibuprofen and nine unspecified)
San Francisco: 1 (estrone)
Santa Clara: (unspecified drugs)
Southern California: 9 (unspecified drugs)

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]





Flu could hitch a ride on banknotes
Debora MacKenzie  / 16:02 22 June 2007

The flu virus persists so well on banknotes that money could help
spread the next pandemic, researchers say.

Yves Thomas and colleagues at the University Hospitals of Geneva in
Switzerland dripped various strains of flu virus – including some that
were circulating during winter 2007 – onto Swiss banknotes and left
them at room temperature for varying amounts of time before testing
for live virus.

“We wanted to assess the survival of human flu on banknotes, knowing
that billions of them are exchanged daily,” Thomas says.

Money is so widely exchanged among all members of society that its
movement has been studied as a model for the way infections spread.

At home in mucus

Some strains of flu lasted only two hours, but the most common flu,
H3N2, lasted up to 72 hours.

However, all the strains lasted longer when they were dripped onto the
notes along with human nasal mucus. Some lasted as long as 17 days.
One strain that lasted only two hours on its own lasted 24 hours in

“I’m surprised the virus persisted so long,” says Graeme Laver, an
expert in the spread of bird flu, formerly of the Australian National
University in Canberra. But the flu virus likes wet environments – and
mucus is ideal because it is designed to retain water.

Touch transmission

Typically humans with flu shed copious amounts of virus in their nasal
secretions, the main route by which flu is believed to spread.

The extent to which flu spreads by floating through the air is debated
by scientists, but experiments have shown that it is transmitted when
people with flu touch surfaces that are then touched by other people.

This means that handling money within the lifespan of the virus could
pass on the illness.

The findings were presented at the Options for the Control of
Influenza Conference in Toronto, Canada, 17 to 23 June.

BY Barbara Mikkelson  /  Last updated: 19 February 2007

Claim:   A large percentage of U.S. currency bears traces of cocaine.
Status:   True.

Origins:   So often those Money “everybody knows” facts we naively
place reliance upon turn out to be embarrassingly false. Such is not
the case here, in that there is some truth to the “U.S. currency
tainted by cocaine” claim, but the implications of this conversation-
stopping fact are far more mundane than we might initially presume. To
put it another way, it’s less shocking a fact than we first perceive
it to be because the underlying assumption – that every bill bearing
traces of cocaine got that way through having been used to inhale
lines of cocaine – is false.

Contrary to our first thought upon encountering this interesting
little fact, that trace amounts of cocaine turn up on approximately
four of every five bills in circulation doesn’t mean the now-
contaminated currency was at one time used to snort coke or passed
through the dope-laden paws of seedy characters. Rather, the drug is
easily conveyed from one bill to another because cocaine in powdered
form is extremely fine. (This point would have been much more
difficult to explain prior to the anthrax mailings of 2001, but those
deadly contaminations taught even the least drug-savvy among us how
easily minute amounts of finely-milled substances can be transferred
from one letter to another, even when the powder is contained within
the envelope rather than lying on the

When a cocaine-contaminated bill is processed through a sorting or
counting machine, traces of the drug are easily passed to other bills
in the same batch. ATMs serve to spread tiny amounts of cocaine to
nearly all the currency they distribute, as do the counting machines
used in banks and casinos.

How widespread is the contamination? No one appears to have the
definitive answer, as every study comes up with a different
percentage. (For simplicity’s sake, we’ll say “four of five”
throughout this article because that’s the worst-case scenario, and
the figure is representative of the results of some studies.)

In one 1985 study done by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on
the money machines in a U.S. Federal Reserve district bank, random
samples of $50 and $100 bills revealed that a third to a half of all
the currency tested bore traces of cocaine. Moreover, the machines
themselves were often found to test positive, meaning that subsequent
batches of cash fed through them would also pick up cocaine residue.
Expert evidence given before a federal appeals court in 1995 showed
that three out of four bills randomly examined in the Los Angeles area
bore traces of the drug. In a 1997 study conducted at the Argonne
National Laboratory, nearly four out of five one-dollar bills in
Chicago suburbs were found to bear discernable traces of cocaine. In
another study, more than 135 bills from seven U.S. cities were tested,
and all but four were contaminated with traces of cocaine. These bills
had been collected from restaurants, stores, and banks in cities from
Milwaukee to Dallas.

A single bill used to snort cocaine or otherwise mingled with the drug
can contaminate an entire cash drawer. When counting and sorting
machines (which fan the bills, and thus the cocaine) are factored in,
it’s no wonder that so much of the currency now in circulation
wouldn’t pass any purity tests.

The average person need not fear that the money in his wallet will
inadvertently get him high, or that the act of paying for his burger
and fries at McDonald’s will cause him to fail a random drug test.
Only those whose jobs call upon them to handle an extremely large
number of bills every day need worry that enough cocaine is getting on
their hands to be detectable. Bank tellers or those who work in the
soft count rooms of casinos, for instance, might need to consider the
effects of this contamination, but not average folks – not even ones
who occasionally carry a great deal of cash about their persons.

As to how much cocaine will be on a contaminated bill, the expert
witness in that 1995 court case charted results from as small as a
nanogram (one-billionth of a gram) to as much as a milligram (one-
thousandth of a gram). The Argonne National Laboratory study revealed
that the average contamination was 16 micrograms (which is 16 one-
millionths of a gram). If you’re not quite sure how much a gram of
cocaine is, picture the head of a thumbtack.

These are very small amounts indeed, a fact that should be kept in
mind as we speed off to share this startling new information about
drugs on our money with friends and neighbors. This is not the latest,
newest lurking danger to our health and welfare, nor is it an
apocalyptic sign that drugs are taking over. Yes, drug use in our
society is real, but it has yet to reach the proportions where four of
every five bills in our wallets has been used to snort cocaine. That
four of five bills might test positive only means that 80% of our
paper money has at some time come into contact with contaminated bills
or counting machines. It takes only one bill to contaminate hundreds
or even thousands of others, so the number of bills that have actually
come into direct contact with the drug trade is far smaller than we
might first assume upon seeing that “four of five” claim marked as

Abrahamson, Alan.   “Prevalence of Drug-Tainted Money Voids Case.”
Los Angeles Times.   13 November 1994   (p. B1).
Price, Debbie.   “Use of Drug-Sniffing Dogs Challenged.”
The Washington Post.   6 May 1990   (p. D1).
Ritter, Jim.   “4 out of 5 Dollar Bills Show Traces of Cocaine.”
Chicago Sun-Times.   26 March 1997   (p. S10).
Sones, Bill and Rich Sones.   “Most U.S. Bills Contaminated with
Traces of Cocaine.”
Chicago Sun-Times.   19 October 1997   (p. 47).
Wagner, Michael.   “Why There’s Cocaine on Your Money.”
Sacramento Bee.  16 November 1994   (p. A1).
Knight-Ridder News Service.   “Cocaine Found on Money in Miami.”
The [Bergen County] Record.   17 January 1985   (p. D31).

“The probability that every single person in the United States is
carrying drug-tainted money is almost certain.” — Dr. James Woodford,
forensic chemist in Atlanta. Woodford cites a 1989 experiment by Miami
toxicologist Dr. William Hearn, who gathered 135 dollar bills from
banks in twelve cities. 131 had traces of cocaine.

It also cites a 1985 study by the Miami Herald, which asked eleven
prominent local citizens to supply a $20 bill for testing, including
the Catholic archbishop, George Bush’s son Jeb, and Janet Reno. Ten
out of the eleven bills had traces of cocaine.

Finally, there’s a reference to an until-now secret 1987 DEA study
showing that 1/3 of the money at the Federal Reserve Building in
Chicago was tainted with cocaine. It’s thought that cocaine is
transferred from some bills to agencies’ high-speed sorting equipment,
which then “distributes” the cocaine to the rest of the nation’s

FBI Chemists Find Cocaine on Majority of Paper Currency in U.S.
November-December 1997

FBI chemists have discovered that traces of cocaine can be found on
almost every dollar bill in the United States (Supplement, “Cocaine
money,” NewScientist (UK), October 4, 1997, p. 2).

Tom Jourdan, a chemist at the FBI’s laboratory in Washington D.C., and
his colleague, Deborah Wang, checked Federal Reserve notes from all
over the country, including Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and inner-
city streets. Using a specially adapted vacuum cleaner to pick up
particles, the researchers then screened the samples with a portable
ion mobility spectrometer.

They concluded that the primary culprit for the widespread traces of
cocaine are automatic money counting machines in every bank and post
office. The force of the rollers on currency is strong enough to strip
off some of the surface fibers of paper, thus exposing and picking up
the cocaine below. Jourdan said, “The extent of the contamination
surprised everyone, early on.”

The researchers said that finding cocaine on money may still good
evidence in court. Although the mere presence of the drug is not
significant, the amount of cocaine can be incriminating.