TIME Japan

This Week’s Foreign Policy Must-Reads

From yakuza battles to Russian food policy

A roundup of the most intelligent takes on global affairs this week

The Coming Yakuza War—The Daily Beast

Japan’s organized crime groups, known collectively as the “yakuza,” … are different from the mafias we know about in the West. They are treated as if they were some sort of controlled substance, dangerous but accepted within certain parameters… The Yamaguchi-gumi isn’t only Japan’s largest organized crime group; it’s also a well-known Japanese corporation… They are Goldman Sachs with guns.

Only in Japan: The “gangster company man.”

Pablo Escobar Will Never Die – GQ

Alive, Pablo was a murderer and a philanthropist, a kidnapper and a congressman, a populist antihero who corrupted the institutions that tried to contain him and slaughtered thousands of compatriots who got in his way. Safely in the grave, he has spawned an entertainment-industrial complex—movies, books, soap operas, souvenirs—his legacy as impossible to repress as the frisky hippos he left behindThe commodification of Pablo is an awkward development for many Colombians, having struggled for a generation to overcome the collective trauma he visited on them.

Some say you don’t really die until the last time someone says your name. If so, Pablo Escobar will be with us for a long time to come.

The Lessons of Anwar al-Awlaki – New York Times Magazine

Some government agencies have tried to boil the process of radicalization down to a few clear-cut and inevitable stages, but in reality, the journey to extremism is a messy, human affair that defies such predictability. This was true of Awlaki’s acolytes; it was also true of the great radicalizer himself. Before Awlaki could talk anyone else into violent jihad, he had to talk himself into it. One giant step came as the unintended result of surveillance by the United States government.

Here’s a question: Does law enforcement tend to overestimate its ability to use surveillance to understand a person, his motivation, his capabilities, and his intent?

The Other France – New Yorker

France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants… [After the Charlie Hebdo massacre,] there was a widespread feeling, in France and elsewhere, that the killings were somehow related to the banlieues. But an exact connection is not easy to establish. Although these alienated communities are increasingly prone to anti-Semitism, the profiles of French jihadists don’t track closely with class; many have come from bourgeois families. The sense of exclusion in the banlieues is an acute problem that the republic has neglected for decades, but more jobs and better housing won’t put an end to French jihadism.

There is nothing more dangerous for the internal stability of France (and many other European countries) than the isolation of its minority enclaves, the violence that isolation can inspire, and the rise of political parties who win votes by exploiting the resulting fear and anger.

Why Russia is So Afraid of French Cheese—The Atlantic

Russia’s Federal Customs Service has drafted legislation classifying banned foreign foods as ‘strategically important.’ Until now, that label only applied to weapons, explosives, poisons, and radioactive materials. If it becomes law, the new classification will mean those caught importing banned fruits, vegetables, meat, and poultry can face up to seven years in prison. French cheese is apparently now just as dangerous to the security of the state as polonium, uranium, assault weapons, and dirty bombs.

Maybe NATO should load brie into warheads and rain “fromage fury” on Moscow.

TIME Drugs

FDA Approves New Cholesterol-Lowering Drug

Repatha

It’s the second in a new class of drugs that works in a different way from statins to bring cholesterol levels down

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug for treating high cholesterol levels on Thursday. Evolocumab, called Repatha, is made by Amgen and is the second of a new class of lipid-lowering agents that are hitting the market.

Known as PCSK9 inhibitors, these drugs work by suppressing genes that slow down production of cholesterol receptors on the liver. With these medications, more receptors that are free to emerge and act like sponges can soak up LDL cholesterol and lower their levels in the blood.

MORE: This New FDA-Approved Cholesterol Drug Is a Game Changer

Evolocumab was approved first by the European Medicines Agency in July. In the same month, the U.S. FDA approved another drug in the same class, alirocumab (Praluent), made by Sanofi and Regeneron. In studies, both drugs helped to lower cholesterol levels in the blood by 60% more than the amount achieved by statins. The drugs carry labels that say medications should be used first in people with a strong family history of high cholesterol conditions, or in people who have tried and not responded to statin medications.

PCSK9 inhibitors were discovered among a group of people who happened to have genetic mutations that gave them extremely low cholesterol levels. Researchers studied this rare population, and found they did not have any negative health effects from their mutation other than the beneficial effect on their lipids. So drug makers began investigating ways to replicate the condition with a medication.

MORE: Memory Loss Not Caused By Cholesterol Drugs After All

Having another drug that can lower cholesterol levels will be a boon to treating heart disease, which remains the leading killer of Americans each year. Keeping cholesterol levels down, in addition to eating a healthy diet and exercising to maintain weight are crucial to lowering the risk of heart events.

TIME russia

Russia Reverses Ban on Russian Wikipedia After Only a Few Hours

The entry on hashish contained banned information

Russia’s ban on Russian-language Wikipedia lasted only a few hours, ending on Tuesday.

A Russian communications watchdog agency told Internet providers to block access to the popular site’s Russian language material on Monday, after a provincial court ruled Wikipedia’s entry on hashish contained banned information, the Associated Press reports. Recent legislation in Russia has banned sites from carrying information about drugs, suicide and hate, leading critics to accuse authorities of censorship.

The communications agency lifted the ban on Russian language Wikipedia after saying the entry had been edited to comply with the court decision. But users noted that the entry for hashish had only adjusted its title.

TIME Drugs

Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenue Nearly Doubles in One Year

Marijuana tax revenue supports Colorado public schools

It’s been a year and a half since the legalization of marijuana went into effect in Colorado. Business for purveyors of marijuana was good from the beginning, but has soared in the past year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The state collected $9.7 million in taxes related to marijuana sales in June 2015, up nearly $5 million from the same month last year. By May, the state had collected more than $88 million in marijuana taxes in 2015.

Revenue from marijuana sales has been used to fund improvements to the state’s public schools. “The people who were smoking marijuana before legalization still are. Now, they’re paying taxes,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told USA Today in February.

Colorado is one of four states that have legalized recreational marijuana despite a federal ban prohibiting it. Many more states have legalized medical marijuana.

MONEY Health Care

What You’ll Have to Pay for ‘Female Viagra’

A tablet of flibanserin female viagra
Allen G. Breed—AP A tablet of flibanserin

The answer is, it depends

On Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration approved Addyi, the first sexual dysfunction drug for women. Questions remain about the drug’s side effects and risks. But if it works well, will it be affordable for most women?

Sprout CEO Cindy Whitehead said that while the cost of Addyi has not been finalized, it should be priced similarly to a month of Viagra pills. GoodRx, a drug cost comparison site, found that the average fair cash price for Viagra is around $400 a month. However, Whitehead expected that patients with insurance coverage would only need to pay about $30 to $75 a month in copays.

That’s the amount most Americans currently pay for non-generic prescription drugs. Virtually all job-based health plans have prescription drug benefits with a “formulary,” or a list of which drugs are covered and which are not. Most drug formularies have more than one tier, which means that some drugs require a higher co-pay or co-insurance rate than others, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. For formularies with just two tiers, the average co-pay for first-tier drugs like generics is just $11, while more specialized second-tier drugs go up to $30. On plans with four or more pricing levels, the most expensive average co-pay is $80.

That said, it’s not yet known whether all insurers will cover Addyi. For men seeking erectile-dysfunction medication, some insurers require evidence of a documented medical condition or refuse to cover certain drugs, according to the Cleveland Clinic. For instance, starting next year, CVS/Caremark will remove Viagra and Levitra from its formulary (though Cialis will still be available). Plus, those over 65 are often out of luck: By law, Medicare Part D is prohibited from paying for erectile dysfunction drugs.

TIME Drugs

What 8 Medical Experts Think About ‘Female Viagra’

Addyi, Flibanserin
Allen G. Breed—AP

Not everyone thinks flibanserin should be approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could soon approve a drug that’s been called a “female Viagra”—the first medication to treat a lack of sexual desire among women.

The agency is expected to make a decision on the drug, known as flibanserin, on Tuesday.

The drug, which is supposed to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder, has already been rejected twice. Medical experts who oppose its approval argue flibanserin’s results are not very encouraging, and that the drug has undesirable side effects like dizziness and sleepiness. However, many individuals and campaign groups in support of the drug have taken a very public and loud stance in the past year, arguing that it’s sexist that there’s no drug for women that treats a lack of sexual desire. In June, an advisory panel to the FDA recommended that the agency approve the drug.

The medical community is remarkably split on whether flibanserin should be approved or not. See what eight medical experts say about the drug, and whether they think it should be approved Tuesday.

“I am very opposed to the drug and have been since it first went to the FDA in 2010 and it was rejected. Then it was rejected a second time. The drug hasn’t changed, the data hasn’t changed, and my opinion hasn’t changed. I think it’s a disaster. It’s unsafe and it doesn’t work. That is all a drug is supposed to do. Work and be safe. The third strike is the illegitimate means by which the company [Sprout Pharmaceuticals] tried to distract the FDA by honing in on this completely erroneous accusation of sexism. The campaign is totally inappropriate.”
—Leonore Tiefer, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.

“Flibanserin is a game changer for women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. I see it as one of the top health innovations for the coming year.”
—Dr. Holly Thacker, women’s health specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

“Women who have been treated for cancer often experience a loss of sexual desire as an unwelcome and surprising long-term side effect. Many survivors will greet flibanserin with enthusiasm and high hopes. But we need rigorous, independent research to separate the hype from the benefit and to ensure that we can recommend this drug with confidence.”
—Andrea Bradford, assistant professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“To approve this drug will set the worst kind of precedent — that companies that spend enough money can force the F.D.A. to approve useless or dangerous drugs.”
—Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown University told the FDA committee in June.

“This one is not a fabulous drug, but it would be nice to have it. It’s for someone else to decide if nausea is worth more libido,”
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Yale School of Medicine told TIME.

“With such a substantial placebo effect and a very small benefit of the drug, is flibanserin safe enough to justify approval? We would say no.”
—Christina Silcox, PhD senior fellow at the National Center for Health Research in FDA testimony.

“It’s exciting we’ll have this in our armorarium… but we all wish it was a better drug.”
—Dr. Amy Whitaker, FDA panel member and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago.

Currently, there is no drug available in the U.S. for the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), and clinicians and patients are very interested in having access to an approved medication. Once the drug is available to clinicians and patients, the role of the drug in the treatment of HSDD will be better clarified.”
—Dr. Bob Barbieri, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

 

TIME Drugs

These ‘420 Games’ Athletes Want to Change the Perception of Weed

Marijuana Games 420 san fransisco
Olga Rodriguez—AP Runners take off in a 4.2-mile run, part of the 420 Games, an effort to stop the stigmatization of cannabis use through athletic events, at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Aug. 15, 2015.

Pot smokers got up bright and early for a 4.2-mile race

Participants in this year’s 420 Games in San Francisco rose bright and early Saturday morning for a 4.2-mile run—but some toked up first.

High performance athletes don’t sound like the typical marijuana users, and that’s the point.

The race and accompanying events were planned to change perceptions of marijuana and the people who consume it. Even as legal barriers to marijuana use continue to fall, stigma surrounding its use remain pervasive, according to the Games’ website.

“The 420 Games participants are not ‘stoners,'” said Jim McAlpine, the event’s founder on its website. “The 420 Games are sporting events, NOT ‘smoke ins’.”

Among the participants at the games were retired athletes who said that marijuana has helped them cope with painful injuries.

“There is a lot of wear and tear playing football and fighting professionally,” Kyle Kingsbury, a retired mixed martial arts fighter, told the San Fransisco Chronicle “But pain management is something everyone in the world has to deal with, not just me.”

 

TIME Video Games

Here Are The Drugs You Can’t Use in Professional Gaming

The ban is effective immediately

The Electronic Sports League (ESL) on Wednesday revealed the full list of drugs it will ban for gaming competitions .

“As the world’s largest and oldest esports organization, ESL has an ongoing commitment to safeguarding both the integrity of our competitions and that of esports as a whole—we wish to ensure we can provide a fair playing field for all participating players,” Ella McConnell, senior editor of ESLGaming, wrote in a statement.

ESL is working with the World Anti-Doping Agency to choose which drugs are prohibited. The current list includes everything from cocaine to steroids to ADHD medication Adderall. Those with legitimate medical reasons for taking Adderall will need proof from a physician.

This follows the ESL’s announcement last month that professional gamers would be tested for performance enhancing drugs, after one player confessed to using the ADHD medication to gain an advantage. As the ESL becomes increasingly popular and prizes get larger, “temptation of rule-breaking [becomes] even greater,” McConnell wrote.

Testing will begin for the first time at the ESL One Cologne this August via skin tests.

TIME Drugs

Ohio to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November

Advocates collected enough information for a November 3 vote.

The Buckeye state will put pot legalization to the ballot on Nov. 3, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted confirmed.

Putting marijuana legalization on the ballot took a couple tries: Ohio’s first attempt failed, but pro-pot advocate group ResponsibleOhio, a driving force behind the initiative, pulled through with the minimum 305,591 signatures. The group’s investors pledged to spend at least $20 million to convince Ohioans to vote for legalization.

If the measure passes, however, legalization might take a while: in June, the Ohio Legislature hurriedly placed a measure, Issue 2, that prohibited “a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel” in Ohio of federally-controlled substances like marijuana. The ResponsibleOhio initiative calls for a limit to pot production by ten farms, which state legislators argue might constitute an oligopoly.

Ohio follows ballot initiatives from across the country. Thus far, recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Washington, D.C.; 28 states make exceptions for medical marijuana.

TIME Drugs

NYC Sees Surge in Synthetic Pot Use, With Dire Consequences

synthetic marijuana
New York Police Department—AP This photo provided on Aug. 7, 2015 by the New York Police Department shows packets of synthetic marijuana seized after a search warrant was served at a newsstand in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The cheap knock-off weed is spiked with unknown chemicals and comes with harsh side effects

(NEW YORK) — Ignoring the police officers standing down the block and the disingenuous fine print on the foil packet peeking out of his front pocket — “Warning: Don’t Smoke” — a homeless man openly lit up a synthetic marijuana joint and explained why it’s not like the real thing.

“It’s a zero-to-60 high,” said the 47-year-old, who gave his name only as J.C. because of his frequent run-ins with the law. “I’ve done plenty of drugs in my life, and it only compares to dust,” he said, referring to PCP. “But it doesn’t last as long.”

The tutorial was offered in broad daylight on a bustling street corner in East Harlem, one the neighborhoods where the New York Police Department says it’s seen an alarming increase in consumption — mainly by homeless men — of the leafy substance known as “K2.” The cheap knock-off weed is spiked with unknown chemicals that are supposed to mimic the more mellow effects of pot, but often comes with harsh side effects that have created a quandary for authorities already grappling with how to deal with the city’s homeless population.

“When people talk about synthetic marijuana, it’s kind of bad misnomer because we don’t know what these chemicals are,” said Robert Messner, a police official in charge of civil enforcement.

What’s known is that in recent months, there’s been a spike in emergency room visits in New York City by users suffering from high blood pressure, hallucinations, hot flashes and psychotic meltdowns that can turn violent or deadly.

On July 24, five patients at a psychiatric facility on Wards Island off of Manhattan were rushed to the hospital after smoking synthetic marijuana. Less than a week later, a man in the West Village jumped into the Hudson River and drowned. A friend told police the victim was high on K2.

New York City health officials issued warnings in April after synthetic marijuana sent 160 people to hospitals in a little over a week. Statewide, there have been more than 1,900 emergency department visits from April through June alone, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call for tighter regulations on an existing list of banned substances to include new chemical compounds.

The risks of synthetic marijuana aren’t limited to the smokers: An internal NYPD memo issued last month warned officers that some people strip off their clothes, become impervious to pain and go berserk if confronted, and advised to call for backup and use a Taser if necessary to get them off the street. At a recent new conference, Police Commissioner William Bratton described how a suspected user who locked himself inside a home and began tearing it apart suffered a gruesome injury when he deliberately grabbed the blade of an electric saw that emergency service officers were using to get him out.

Users can go “totally crazy,” Bratton said. “Some of the normal takedowns we use aren’t going to work. … It’s something we’re very concerned about.”

Worries over synthetic marijuana aren’t new or confined to New York. In 2013, Washington DC launched a zombie-themed website — K2ZombieDC.com — to warn teenagers of its dangers. Earlier this year, the National Association of Attorneys General wrote to gasoline companies to demand that they outlaw sale of synthetic drugs — which can come in the form of herbal incense and potpourri — at gas stations and convenience stores.

Authorities in New York have largely treated the trend has a public health issue, with police officers calling ambulances for users in distress, sometimes after handcuffing them for their own safely. But they’ve also sought to put a dent in the market by using health codes to raid small businesses to issue and seize thousands of packets of K2 believed to be produced in China — under brand names like “Green Giant,” ”Smacked” and “AK47” — that go for as little as $5.

In East Harlem, the packet carried by J.C. was called “What’s Up?” and — despite the warning not to smoke its contents — had the wording, “lab certified, no banned chemicals,” and “it’s legal.” J.C. and other homeless people gathered on the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue pointed to a deli and a smoke shop where they said K2 was sold, though none was on display in either location that day and workers denied having any.

At one point, J.C. gave a pinch of his stash to another man, who rolled a cigarette and smoked it without making an effort to hide it. Nearby, a homeless woman, Victoria Parks, talked about dabbling in synthetic marijuana but preferring vodka. She called the scare overblown.

K2 “changes your reality,” said the 32-year-old Parks. “It heightens your senses.”

Passer-by Carol Shoemaker, 58, looked on with disgust. The lifelong Harlem resident called the open use of synthetic marijuana a blight.

“They got rid of all the crackheads and here come the K2 smokers,” she said. “It’s just terrible.”

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