dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson

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Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Flesh-Eating Zombie Drug Hits Midwest (Still Not a Joke)

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 8:31 AM PDT

Last month, krokodil, a highly addictive drug that eats through human skin, made its first known appearance in the United States, with two cases reported in Arizona. Now, use of krokodil—which has been nicknamed the "zombie drug"—has spread to the Midwest. The Herald-News reports that five people have been treated for symptoms associated with krokodil use at the Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, which is located about 40 miles from the Windy City.

Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at the Joliet hospital, told CBS 2 that one of the patients was a 25-year-old longterm heroin user who started using krokodil about a month ago. Singla notes, "When she came in, she had the destruction that occurs because of this drug, over 70 percent of her lower body."

As we reported last month, krokodil, which is Russian slang for Desomorphine, has a similar effect to heroin, but it is significantly cheaper and easier to make. Its main ingredients are codeine, iodine, red phosphorous, paint thinner, gasoline, and hydrochloric acid. It's far more addictive and deadly; krokodil users tend to only live two or three years. When the drug is injected into the skin, it often causes gangrene, forcing the skin to rot away, and causes speech problems and erratic muscle movements. Singla told the Beacon-News, "If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it." (For gruesome and totally NSFW images of the health effects of krokodil, go here.)

Singla told the Herald-News that the krokodil users believed that they were getting heroin and were given the other drug instead. Most said they obtained the drug in Chicago—not Joliet. Three of the patients were "middle-class white women in their early to mid-20s" and the other two were men, one 22 and the other 32, with arm wounds, according to the paper. The 25-year-old remains in intensive care, and "two others have left the hospital against medical advice because they were afraid of prosecution." Krokodil is a new synthetic drug, so it is not yet a controlled substance, according to a DEA spokesperson.

Until this fall, the drug had never been seen before in the United States. However, the drug has been prevalent in Russia. In the first few months of 2011 alone, the Russia's Federal Drug Control Service confiscated 65 million doses of the drug.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is not currently investigating the reported emergence of krokodil in the US. "We have not received any sort of specimen in any of our labs," DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden tells Mother Jones. But, she adds, "we're keeping an eye out on the trends across the country, and if and when we need to get involved, we certainly will."

Alaska's Supreme Court Will Rule on This College Freshman's Global Warming Lawsuit

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 8:29 AM PDT

Many college students consider it an accomplishment if they beat their hangovers and make it to class on time. But last year, Nelson Kanuk, a freshman at at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, sued his state for failing to reduce carbon emissions or slow climate change. Last week, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed to hear Kanuk's appeal, becoming the first high court in the country to take up such a case. (You can view the full hearing, which took place in a high school auditorium, here.)

Kanuk hails from a remote Yup'ik Eskimo village called Kipnuk, which is accessible primarily via river. Due to melting permafrost, the riverbank that protects Kanuk's family's house from floods softened, and some 13 feet of their front yard was swallowed up by the rushing water. The family has since been forced to move about 100 miles away.

"[My village] is not really connected to the outside world, but I was always interested in what's going on all around us, I was curious in climate change and how it was affecting us," Kanuk says in a video put out by the environmental group helping with the lawsuit, Our Children's Trust. "I didn't realize how bad it was. When I finally understood what climate change was, I thought, what can I do to help?"

Kanuk's legal argument hinges on what's called the "public trust doctrine" which holds that there are natural resources (like lakes, or places where the states issues hunting permits) that can't be subject to private ownership, and as a consequence, states have a responsibility to protect them so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. Kanuk and his six co-plaintiffs claim that the atmosphere falls under this doctrine, and although the air hasn't been "threatened" before, "throughout history, law has evolved as courts respond to unforeseen, often urgent, circumstances."

Kanuk isn't the first person to bring a climate change lawsuit against a state—or even the first teenager. Lawsuits are also pending in 12 other states, including Montana, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and also in federal court. The environmental group working with Kanuk, Our Children's Trust, has been helping teens bring many of these lawsuits, and in Kansas, the plaintiff was only 14. But so far, only a trial court in Texas has backed the plaintiffs and the case is now facing appeal, according to Alaska Public Media. A decision in Kanuk's case is expected in a few months.

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