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'Safer' Drugs Found at Music Festivals Contain Meth and Bath Salts

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iStock

With the summer festival circuit in full swing, party drugs are more ubiquitous than ever. But are those little pills really what they promise to be? And do users actually care? No, and yes, according to a new research paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The street drug Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) has seen a resurgence and an evolution over the last 10 years. The once-popular variety called Ecstasy has given way to Molly, which is supposedly both purer and safer than its predecessor. 

But the thing about illegal drugs is that, well, they're illegal, which means they're unregulated, which means there's no formalized quality control or consumer protection. You can't know for sure what you're getting. This could mean that the drug fails to get you high. It could also kill you. 

Looking at this problem, behavioral scientists at Johns Hopkins University had two questions: First, if party drug users had a way to check their drugs, would they do it? And second, what would they find?

To find out, the researchers teamed up with the nonprofit DanceSafe, which aims to make the electronic-music scene a safer place. Part of that work involves on-site adulterant screening, better known as pill testing. DanceSafe volunteers bring a mobile lab to a festival or other event and offer attendees cost-free, judgment-free chemical analysis of their pills and powders. 

Over a five-year period between 2010 and 2015, DanceSafe volunteers collected and tested 529 samples of drugs sold as MDMA. To test them, they scraped a tiny sliver or a few grains into a vial, and then mixed it with color-changing chemicals. The testers then compared the resulting color inside the vial with the color-test profile of 29 different substances, including MDMA, sugar, caffeine, and cocaine. 

Unsurprisingly, the results were not great. About 40 percent of the samples contained no MDMA at all and had been adulterated. The most common substitutes included methamphetamine and the compounds called "bath salts." Three samples included the amphetamine called PMA, which has been strongly linked to overdose and death. And the pills sold as Molly were no safer or purer than those sold as Ecstasy.

After sharing the results of a pill test, DanceSafe volunteers typically ask each person if they still intend to take the drugs. Only 26 percent of people with adulterated pills said they did. Interestingly, that number was only 46 percent for people whose MDMA was real—which suggests that the test itself may have caused them to reconsider.

"Our results suggest that some people will reject taking a pill to get high if it doesn't contain what they thought it did, or has harmful additives," corresponding author Matthew W. Johnson said in a statement.

Because their plans were self-reported, it's hard to know for sure what any of these people actually did next. They might have taken the drugs anyway, given them away, or sold them.

Judgment-free pill testing is not without controversy, and it's hard to design controlled experiments when illegal substances are involved. Still, the researchers say, these findings should give us pause.

"People would be safest not taking any street drugs at all," Johnson said. "But if free, no-fault testing can reduce deaths and other catastrophic consequences, it may be a service worth having."

Johnson and his colleagues urge would-be MDMA users to think hard about these findings: "People who take pills and first responders need to know that no matter how the pills are branded or what name they are sold as, they almost always contain a mix of ingredients."

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The Hidden Benefits of Your Health Insurance Plan
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iStock

When we talk about health insurance, it’s usually in the context of a complaint. While it’s true that insurance companies often fight tooth and nail to keep their financial exposure limited, they’re also making moves to offer benefits beyond standard health care—and you might not even know about these perks.

A prime example is the recent trend for companies to offer a discount savings card on groceries. United Healthcare, Humana, and Medica are just a few of the insurers who have issued cards that can be used for an instant price reduction when checking out at participating stores. The catch? The programs typically cover healthy or organic foods. Along with discounted gym memberships, the benefit is an effort to keep policy holders fit and—at least theoretically—to reduce the need for medical interventions.

If you’re surprised to hear about it, you’re not alone. Here are some other programs offered by the nation's largest insurance companies that you might be missing out on. (Bear in mind that each company has various tiers of coverage and not all perks may apply to all levels.)

UNITED HEALTHCARE

The company’s Healthy Savings program for groceries allows shoppers to save on select items that change on a weekly basis. Each Sunday, the cards will recognize between $40 and $50 in deals on healthier grocery options. It’s only good at participating retailers, including Shop ‘n’ Save, Giant, and others. You can search for locations on their website.

Through UnitedHealth Allies, the company also offers discounts on weight loss programs like NutriSystem and Jenny Craig, as well as gym memberships and even active footwear [PDF].

CIGNA

The Northeast-based insurance company provides an umbrella discount service, Healthy Rewards, that offers savings on eye exams and up to 25 percent off alternative health therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage appointments [PDF]. They also offer fitness membership discounts. More information can be found at MyCigna.com.

AETNA

It’s hard to know what the pending acquisition of Aetna by pharmacy giant CVS will mean for health care perks moving forward. Currently, the company offers discounted memberships and trial passes to more than 10,000 gyms nationally, as well as discounts on home fitness equipment like treadmills [PDF]. You can also find discounts on meal home delivery subscriptions. Logged-in members can go to the Aetna website and select “Health Programs” then “Discounts” to determine your eligibility.

ANTHEM BLUECROSS

In addition to savings on groceries, gym memberships, and weight loss programs, Anthem BlueCross offers savings for members on DNA ancestry kits, pet insurance, and even baby-proofing.

HUMANA

Humana offers an impressive array of “lifestyle discounts” that range from basic wellness perks to teeth whitening, identity theft services, and 15 percent off in-network LASIK procedures. They also offer discounts on over-the-counter medications like Claritin and Advil. You can register at MyHumana.com to find out more.

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Bose
Bose's New 'Sleepbuds' Are Designed to Help You Doze Off Faster
Bose
Bose

If you’re the kind of person who can’t fall asleep without the whir of a fan or some other ambient noise in the background, then Bose has a product for you. As spotted by The Verge, the audio equipment company’s new wireless noise-masking Sleepbuds are designed to fit comfortably into your ears and help you doze off faster.

The Bose sleepbuds
Bose

Unlike other Bose earbuds—and, well, most headphones in general—the Sleepbuds don’t actually play music or allow audio to be streamed from external devices. Instead, they come equipped with 10 soothing audio tracks, including brown noise, rain, ocean waves, a running stream, and more.

The earbuds aren’t noise-canceling, but their audio tracks are specifically engineered to mask certain outside sounds like traffic and, perhaps most impressively, your partner’s snoring. The rechargeable battery lasts for 16 hours, and at just 1 centimeter in width and height, they’re Bose’s tiniest product yet.

For early risers whose partners like to sleep in, the Bose Sleep app can sound off an alarm in your ear that only you can hear. The app can also be used to adjust your sleep settings, including your noise of choice, volume levels, and how long you want the sound to play for.

Bose spent a couple of years developing the product and raised over $450,000 in an Indiegogo campaign to help improve the Sleepbuds by getting backers to test them out and provide feedback. The Sleepbuds are now available for purchase on Amazon for $249.

[h/t The Verge]

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