TIME Drugs

Drones May Soon Have a New Customer: Drug Cartels

A drone loaded with packages containing methamphetamine lies on the ground after it crashed into a supermarket parking lot in the city of Tijuana on Jan. 20, 2015.
A drone loaded with packages containing methamphetamine lies on the ground after it crashed into a supermarket parking lot in the Mexican city of Tijuana on Jan. 20, 2015 AP

"If it's not happening, it soon will," one expert says

A drone carrying 6.6 lb. of methamphetamine that crashed in a supermarket parking lot in Mexico close to the California border this week probably doesn’t signify a popular new method for transporting drugs, U.S. officials say. But it’s a reminder that cartels can use the increasingly popular aircraft just like any other business or government agency.

It wasn’t the first time drones have been used to smuggle drugs across the border. U.S. authorities who speak to TIME say they haven’t noticed a trend of cartels using drones. Carlos Lazo, a spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, calls it “an isolated incident.”

But Matthew Barden, a special agent and spokesman with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, says authorities are always on guard for new cartel methods and that drones might appeal to traffickers for a number of reasons. The most likely, Barden says, would be surveillance, not transportation. “They can be used to spy on border agents doing rounds,” Barden says, speaking about the issue generally but not the latest incident. “People can use them to set up an ambush.”

The drone that crashed was carrying a relatively small amount of meth — about 6 lb. worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000. It wouldn’t make sense for a cartel to send millions of drones across the border carrying tiny amounts of any drug when they could transport hundreds or even thousands of pounds in a commercial vehicle, Barden says: “It’s like the post office sending one letter at a time.”

A DEA spokeswoman in San Diego says authorities are “aware of this smuggling technique.”

“While we would not call using drones a new trend in smuggling, we do know that drug-trafficking organizations will use any and all means to get their drugs [into] the United States,” says the spokeswoman, Amy Roderick.

The drone could have been sent by an individual trying to send drugs to a friend or contact, rather than by a cartel, Barden speculates. If it was sent by a cartel, it could have been by a low-level member looking to go out on his own, or as a kind of research and development mission by the cartel. The crash is still under investigation by the Tijuana Public Safety Secretariat.

And if cartels do start to use drones for surveillance, they won’t be along in the skies: the U.S. now patrols the airspace above almost half the Mexican border, according to the Associated Press. Customs and Border Protection says it has nine drones in its arsenal.

“If it’s not happening,” Barden says of cartels using drones for surveillance, “it soon will.”

Read next: CNN Just Got Permission to Experiment With Drones

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Research

What to Know About the Science of E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

A guide to understanding conflicting and ongoing research

Two Columbia University professors warned in a new study Thursday that the health fears over electronic cigarettes are hindering research. The very same day, another new study showed that smoking e-cigs, or “vaping,” can produce cancer-causing formaldehyde.

Clearly there’s some disagreement among scientists about the risks and benefits of a product that’s growing in popularity. Here’s what you need to know about the latest science.

What’s with the latest disagreement?

Columbia public health professors Amy Fairchild and Ronald Bayer argue in Science magazine that the staunchest opponents of electronic cigarettes are so concerned about the potential downsides that they advocate for an anti-e-cigarette regulatory and research approach that may be bad for public health. This approach of “deep precaution,” they argue, “has served as a kind of trump argument, hostile to the notion of trade-offs, seeing in them perilous compromise. Such a posture does not serve either science or policy well.”

MORE The Future of Smoking

It “may be years before the disagreements over the evidence” about the effects of electronic cigarettes can be resolved, Fairchild and Bayer wrote. On the one hand, electronic cigarettes may serve as gateway drugs for young people to start smoking cigarettes, and “dual” use of electronic cigarettes with tobacco cigarettes may stop some smokers from quitting. Electronic cigarettes may also carry unknown health consequences of their own. On the other hand, they may provide harm reduction for people who have been unable to quit any other way.

Given these two competing possibilities, the authors argued that the best formula for public health is to acknowledge the possibility for costs and benefits and to push for a regulatory scheme that is flexible enough to account for both outcomes. It is better to make public policy and execute scientific research under the assumption that e-cigarettes could bring good as well as bad.

But also on Thursday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a new study reporting that chemicals inside e-cigarettes—like propylene glycol and glycerol—can produce a type of the cancer-causing chemical called formaldehyde when heated during the vaping process. The researchers report that when testing samples of the aerosol from vaped e-cigs, they found that the e-cigs can contain formaldehyde-releasing agents slightly different from regular formaldehyde, and that the levels are especially high when a user vapes at high voltages. Scientists don’t yet know if formaldehyde-releasing agents carry the same risk as pure formaldehyde, but the researchers said in their report that if they assume the substances do carry the same risks, then long-term vaping could be associated with a significantly higher risk for cancer compared to long-term smoking. The researchers said formaldehyde-releasing agents may actually burrow into the respiratory tract more efficiently than regular formaldehyde, though the observation wasn’t confirmed.

Are there other reasons experts are concerned?

There’s also debate over the safety of the liquid nicotine inside e-cigarettes. In April 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing what they called a “dramatic” rise in e-cigarette-related calls to U.S. poison centers. Calls went from one a month in September 2010 to 215 calls a month in February 2014, and more than half of the calls involved children age five and under. Forty-two percent involved people age 20 and older. Symptoms of liquid nicotine ingestion are known to be vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.

Researchers are also wary of the long term effects of inhaling propylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in e-cigarettes. The jury is still out, but some physicians are concerned. “As for long-term effects, we don’t know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly,” Thomas Glynn, the director of science and trends at the American Cancer Society, told ABC News. “No one knows the answer to that.”

Are they really attracting young people?

Several recent—but fairly small—studies say yes. A December 2o14 study in the journal Pediatrics surveyed 1,941 Hawaii high school students and found that about 17% of the high schoolers smoked e-cigarettes only, 12% smoked both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes, and only 3% smoked conventional cigarettes. The findings suggested that kids who smoked e-cigarettes scored lower on outside risk factors to pick up a conventional smoking habit. “The fact that e-cigarette only users were intermediate in risk status between nonusers and dual users raises the possibility that e-cigarettes are recruiting medium-risk adolescents, who otherwise would be less susceptible to tobacco product use,” the authors wrote. Numbers released in 2013 from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that the percentage of middle school and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.

What’s the argument in favor of e-cigarettes?

Some smokers use e-cigarettes to help them curb their traditional cigarette habit, or even quit. An August 2014 study that surveyed over 20,000 Americans showed that among adults who used a product to help them quit smoking, 57% chose e-cigarettes. That’s compared to the 39% who used prescription drugs like Chantix and the 39% who used other over-the-counter methods like patches or nicotine gum. Another study from July 2014, which reviewed 80 studies on e-cigarettes’ safety and their effects on users, revealed that not only can e-cigarettes help smokers quit, but they are less harmful to smokers and bystanders’ health compared to regular cigarettes.

What’s the FDA doing about it?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only regulates e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes, though the agency has proposed a rule that would give it more regulatory power over e-cigarettes but that has not yet been implemented. The FDA has suggested a ban on sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and admits that there is a lot consumers don’t know about the product like whether they attract kids and teens or just how much nicotine is inhaled when a person vapes.

TIME Crime

Why UVA’s New Frat Rules May Not Make Much Difference

TIME.com stock photos Drinking Fraternity Frat Solo Cups
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Methods of enforcement remain few and far between

The University of Virginia has proposed new rules for its fraternity system after the uproar that broke out both on and off campus following a controversial magazine story late last year that depicted a brutal gang rape at a frat house.

The new rules include some strong reforms like the elimination of kegs and hard-alcohol punch. But the nature of the relationship between the university and the fraternities, many of which are privately owned, may make the rules hard to enforce.

The individual Greek organizations have until Friday to agree to the new rules. If they don’t, they risk losing formal affiliation with the university—the one bit of leverage UVA administrators have over the fraternities. Under the new rules, fraternities must furnish a minimum of three “sober brother monitors,” at parties, who must wait at each alcohol distribution point as well as the stairs leading to the residential bedrooms. Beer must be served unopened in the original can, pre-mixed punches would be prohibited, wine must be poured out of a bottle by a sober brother, and hard alcohol can only be served at large parties by a hired bartender licensed by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. A privately contracted security guard would also have to stand outside the front door and check names off a guest list.

MORE The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses

The new rules come after UVA briefly suspended social activities at all fraternities on campus following the publication of an article in Rolling Stone that included a detailed account of a horrific rape that allegedly happened at a UVA fraternity. The story has since been found to have significant inconsistencies. After the Washington Post and other outlets identified problems with the story, Rolling Stone issued an apology and promised to investigate further. On Monday, UVA announced that it would reinstate the fraternity in the story, Phi Kappa Psi, after the Charlottesville Police failed to find any “substantive basis” to confirm the gruesome events described in the story.

Despite the inconsistencies in the article, UVA has decided to go ahead with fraternity reform. Though UVA President Teresa Sullivan was careful not to single out Greek organizations as the main culprits in the problem of sexual assault on campus during an interview with TIME last year, the rules do reflect a slightly softer version of the reforms she favored. “The days of the trash can full of punch have to be over,” she told TIME.

MORE UVA President: Eliminate All Booze Except Beer

Nonetheless, it appears that UVA may not be doing much to enforce the reforms—a reflection of the tricky nature of governing private organizations on campus. According to ABC News, UVA spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said the university would not provide staff to monitor the fraternities to because they are privately owned. “The University will work closely with Greek leadership to support them in seeking compliance with the new practices by their members,” de Bruyn told Time. “Should violations be brought to the University’s attention, as has been the case it the past, the Dean of Students Office will investigate, and any appropriate next steps would be based upon the details of each case.”

The lack of formal monitoring raises questions as to whether the reforms will have any teeth.

TIME Crime

UVA Fraternity at the Center of Controversial Rape Story Is Reinstated

UVA Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity Rolling Stone
The Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Nov. 24, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

Phi Kappa Psi is welcomed back after Rolling Stone article comes under scrutiny

The University of Virginia said Monday that it would reinstate the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity featured in a widely read story last year that depicted a brutal gang rape at its house but later came under withering scrutiny for factual inconsistencies.

The University’s reinstatement of the fraternity came after the Charlottesville Police were unable to find any “substantive basis” to confirm the gruesome events detailed in the November Rolling Stone story, UVA said in a statement. The fraternity chapter had voluntarily suspended its charter shortly following the article.

MORE: Crisis on Fraternity Row

“We welcome Phi Kappa Psi, and we look forward to working with all fraternities and sororities in enhancing and promoting a safe environment for all,” UVA President Teresa Sullivan said in the statement.

After reporting from the Washington Post and other outlets raised questions about the story, the magazine apologized for “discrepancies” and said it’s trust in the accuser had been misplaced.

MORE: The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses

TIME Foreign Policy

Bush Commerce Secretary Says Obama Gave Cuba ‘a Major Political Win’

The 1st China Conference Of Quality
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez gives a speech during the opening session of the 1st China Conference of Quality at The Great Hall Of The People on Sept. 15, 2014 in Beijing. Feng Li—Getty Images

"The U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return," Carlos Gutierrez tells TIME

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told TIME Thursday that the U.S. “will have egg on our face” following President Barack Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in half-a-century. Gutierrez, a Cuban-born former Kellogg CEO who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is now a consultant at the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Here’s his Q&A with TIME, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How much flexibility will businesses have if Congress doesn’t actually act to lift the embargo?

How much flexibility there will be for U.S. businesses will depend on how much flexibility the Cuban regime gives to U.S. businesses. That’s the aspect of this that has brought down these agreements. At the end of day, if the Cubans don’t change regulations to allow businesses to go in, invest, and make money [there is not much they can do]. There is talk about opening the Internet, but Cuba is one of most closed Internet countries in world. We have to see this with a certain amount of skepticism that they really are going to allow citizens to have Internet.

Read more: How Pope Francis helped broker the Cuba deal

There’s always been exception [in the embargo law] to be able to do commerce in the telecommunications industry because communications inside the island and communications outside island can only be a benefit. That’s the rationale. But the roaming rates are outrageously high. Who is able to buy a cell phone in Cuba is a matter of public policy, and there are very strict laws, so you know, what we haven’t seen is what the Cuban government is going to do.

This has been a very lopsided agreement, and I can tell you that the Cubans today feel that they have had a major victory. This is a major political win for Raúl Castro; the fact that we recognize them diplomatically is a major political win. They are going to go to Summit of the Americas [in Panama in April], and Raúl Castro will be the man of the hour. President Obama will be comfortable, with the Latinos cheering him on, but the real test really happens after the summit, and the standing of the U.S. in the hemisphere after the U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return.

Which industries are likely to take advantage of loosened restrictions?

Theoretically, the telecommunications industry, to some extent the agriculture industry, to some extent the pharmaceutical industry. The extent to which they will take advantage of this will rely on the good will of the Cubans. Business will only succeed if the Cubans want business to succeed, and everything we have seen from the Cubans over the last 50 years is that they will not allow business to succeed. Why is it different this time? They need to demonstrate that it is different.

What impact will this have on the Cuban economy?

It has some benefit in that the amount of remittances has increased. What we need to remember is that the average Cuban gets paid $20 a month. A rationing card for 30 days only lasts 17 days. The Cuban government has total control. If they let U.S. businesses, let telecommunications, and let credit card companies set up shop freely, the government will lose control. You can use your credit card Cuba, but the banks have to set up inside Cuban banks, and there will probably be a fee that goes to the Cuban government. All of these things are designed to strengthen the government’s hold on the economy, and history suggests that they will not give up an ounce of control.

Will this have any impact on the U.S. economy?

Cuba is an extremely poor country. It is not as if a McDonalds is going to open in three weeks, or we are going to start exporting cars. It doesn’t work like that. People say, now in Cuba you can buy a car and that shows it has opened up, but a car costs $50,000 in Cuba, that’s a heck of a price if you make $20 a month. The big risk here is for President Obama. The Cubans know this agreement can be derailed easily in the U.S. because of politics and because of Congressional intervention. The moment that happens, it is an excuse to blame the U.S. In the meantime, the Cuban government has pocketed all of the concessions. They have been victorious, and they will move on to have the same type of regime they have today, and we will have egg on our face way that President Carter did and other presidents have. That’s the thing to watch, that’s thing to stay close to and not believe that somehow magically Cuba is changing.

TIME Crime

3 New Sexual Assault Allegations at Princeton

Amid growing scrutiny into how schools handle it

Three new sexual assaults were reported over the weekend to Princeton University police, at a time when colleges and universities are under increasing national scrutiny for how they handle sexual assault allegations.

Two of the incidents were reported on Friday and one on Saturday, the Times of Trenton reports. Two of the reported incidents—both involving unwanted fondling—allegedly occurred over the last month at eating clubs, co-ed social clubs at Princeton. The third report alleged sexual activity while incapacitated during the 2012-2013 school year.

Reporting of sexual assault is generally considered a good sign because it indicates that the culture at an institution makes victims feel safe to report. Raising reporting has been one of the signature goals of the federal-government’s months-long initiative to improve the handling of sexual assaults on campus.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on America’s campuses

Princeton has made a number of changes to its handling of sexual assault cases over the last several months, in response to a federal inquiry. It’s unclear if those changes played any role in empowering students to come forward.

In September, under pressure from the federal government, Princeton became the last Ivy League school to lower its standard of proof for sexual assault violations. Following that decision, the school reached a settlement agreement with the federal government ending an investigation into Princeton’s handling of sexual assault. In December, two student officers were stripped of their titles at the Princeton eating club Tiger Inn, after they sent emails ridiculing women including one that contained a sexually explicit photograph.

 

TIME Research

Why It’s Bad News That Some Teens Are Choosing E-Cigs Over Real Cigarettes

Tobacco smoking among teens is down nationwide

Fewer teens in the United States are smoking regular cigarettes, according to the results of a federally funded survey released Tuesday, but the popularity of electronic cigarettes suggests that some teens may be choosing e-cigs over traditional smokes.

Daily smoking among teenagers in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades has been cut almost in half in the last five years, according to data from the annual “Monitoring the Future Survey.” Gathered from more than 40,000 kids in 377 public and private schools nationwide by researchers at the University of Michigan, the data also shows that more than one in six high school seniors, and almost as many sophomores, used electronic cigarettes in the last month.

MORE: E-cigs Are the New Cool Thing for Teenagers

“It is very possible that [electronic cigarettes] could account for some of the decrease in tobacco smoking — that kids that would otherwise start with tobacco cigarettes start by vaping,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We are facing a completely new pattern of administering drugs.”

The data offers one possible explanation for why high schoolers are so willing to use electronic cigarettes: They think they’re safer. Just over 50% of 10th graders surveyed believed that smoking between one and five cigarettes a day posed a great risk, while only 14% thought the same thing about regular e-cig use.

While some kids may prefer the electronic alternatives, it’s also clear that many kids like to use both, just like adults who use tobacco. Of the high school seniors who said they’d used e-cigs in the last month, more than 40% said they had also smoked a conventional cigarette in the last month, too.

MORE: The Future of Smoking

While we wait for sorely needed regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “there needs to be a massive educational campaign to dispel the hype and outright deception from the industry,” says Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.), who as Connecticut’s Attorney General fought to stop deceptive tobacco marketing to children.

“The industry is saying to teenagers that e-cigarettes are healthy and cool, that there is nothing in the vapor that could possibly harm you, and that they are a healthy alternative to cigarettes for people who want to quit,” he adds. “But in fact they may be a very unhealthy gateway to cigarette smoking for people who don’t use tobacco products now.”

Electronic cigarettes are such new products that research is inconclusive about their safety and whether they will act as a gateway to smoking for teens. Though the FDA has proposed plans to begin regulating them, the hundreds of e-cig offerings on the market are currently unchecked, leaving a wide range of safety implications depending on the product.

TIME Crime

More Tasers for New York Cops Might ‘Do More Harm Than Good’

Experts skeptical of NYPD plan

New York City cops may soon be armed with more Tasers. But experts are skeptical that will make the city safer.

Police Commissioner William Bratton announced plans Wednesday to purchase an additional 450 Tasers to give to training officers who work with rookies, the New York Daily News reports. “We are very interested in expanding [the use of Tasers] very significantly,” Bratton said, describing them as “a nonlethal method officers could use.”

The NYPD already has roughly 600 Taser guns.

“The concern with any tool is that once someone has it they may opt to use it rather than non violent strategies,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and member of de Blasio’s Public Safety transition committee. “We also need to reduce the police footprint, and this simply takes us in the direction of continuing the over-policing of America.”

The talk of Tasers comes amid incidents that have put city cops under scrutiny for their use of force. This past summer, Eric Garner was killed after an officer held him in what appeared to be a chokehold banned by the NYPD, and a recent grand jury decision not indict him ignited protests across the city. Then on Tuesday, a police officer shot and killed a mentally ill suspect wielding a knife after he stabbed a student and charged toward the police knife in hand.

“This is something we think could be a tool we use additionally that could bring us some ability to help resolve situations better,” Mayor de Blasio said in an unrelated press conference Thursday, according to a report from the Staten Island news site silive.com.

But law enforcement experts say Tasers are a mixed bag when it comes to improving safety for officers and suspects, and they may even lead to more unnecessary violence. The logic behind increasing the use of Tasers is that they give officers a non-lethal alternative to guns when they are threatened, but they may not always work that way in the field, experts say. And while it’s somewhat rare, Tasers can cause death, particularly for those suffering from heart disease.

MORE: Police body cameras poised to become standard after Ferguson

Professor Peter Moskos, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former Baltimore City police officer, agreed. “Generally I’m sort of anti-taser,” he said. “They do serve a purpose. They can be used in situations in which you wouldn’t shoot someone, but there are very few cases when they are used instead of gun. The sad reality is there’s always going to be some messy situations, and the taser doesn’t fix that. By and large, in NYC, it would do more harm than good.”

Maki Haberfeld, a professor of political science at John Jay echoed the others concerns, but she took a slightly more optimistic view. “I wouldn’t like to see people Tased on a more frequent basis,” she said, adding: “I think it’s a good idea to try this. I’m always a proponent of alternatives, but it has to come with proper instruction.”

TIME Crime

These Are the Women Forgotten in the Sexual Assault Crisis

Focus on campuses obscures young women not in school

There’s a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate about campus sexual assault: Non-students are actually more likely than students to be victimized, according to new federal data.

The finding, in a Justice Department report released Thursday, comes amid a fierce focus over the last several months on campus sexual assault and the federal government’s efforts to address it. This new data indicates that just as much—if not more—needs to be done to protect young college-aged women who aren’t in school. College-aged women, whether or not they are in school are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than other age groups.

“I think the data shows that all the attention to college rape over the last year has been appropriate because it’s a problem there, but it has been too narrow a focus because we want to make sure we are not leaving out the huge number of people who don’t go to college,” says Scott Berkowitz, president of Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

For the period of 1995 to 2013, non-students aged 18-24 were 1.2 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than their student counterparts, according to the report.

The report contained other interesting findings about the similarities and differences between these two groups of victims. Students and non-students were equally likely to know their attacker (80% in both cases), but non-students were more likely to report it to the police. Eighty percent of student rapes and sexual assaults went unreported to the police compared to 67% for non-students. The finding is particularly interesting because of the debate raging among advocates, public officials and administrators over how best to involve police in campus assault.

“Much of the reform attention has been on the college judicial process,” adds Berkowitz, “but this data really points out that we cannot focus on that at expense criminal justice system, because that would mean abandoning the great many victims who never attend college.”

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