Watch Out; Those Ecstasy Pills You're About to Swallow May Actually Be Meth in Disguise


You should probably think twice before ingesting those blue and yellow or purple (illicit) pills you scored on the Houston streets recently. While the dude slangin' on the corner may have told you those colorful tabs were ecstasy, it may actually be meth in disguise.

Deputies with the Harris County Sheriff's Office shut down a couple of major drug labs in northwest Harris County Monday, where investigators say pill manufacturers were whipping up methamphetamine pills but disguising them to look like ecstasy. Not awesome at all.

According to the HCSO, deputies obtained voluntary consent to enter a warehouse on W 34th Street -- which was located right next to a daycare and a church, mind you -- and discovered that it was being used as major drug manufacturing lab.

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The Sick Untouched by the Affordable Care Act Turn to Houston's San José Clinic

Categories: Public Health

Courtesy of San Jose Clinic
Jason Villareal goes over his treatment with San José Clinic's Dr. Sherri Onylego.
Just after midnight on January 1, 2011, Jason Villareal and his wife were driving home from a church service when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. The damage was massive.

"My wife broke her right foot. I was knocked unconscious. I had a shattered right foot, heel and a broken left arm. My ribs were all broken, displaced and my aorta had came out of my heart. It had severed," he says.

Doctors had to resuscitate him twice at Ben Taub Hospital, Villareal says. "I was in ICU for 20 days. I had nine surgeries. I was out of work for a year." He had to use a walker to get around.

Fortunately, he was a longtime employee of his company, which produces lift equipment. "I was disabled and left with a deformity in my right leg and right foot. They still wanted me to come back. They gave me a lot of accommodations; they understood. If I had to leave early or come in late, it didn't bother them." And equally fortunately, he had health insurance.

But then another company bought out his employer. "I got laid off November 30 of 2012." And because it was the end of the month, on the day his job was terminated, he also lost health insurance coverage on the spot.

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Blood in the Streets: Harris County Suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Over Alleged Violations

Photo by Dianna Wray
The Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat

After more than two years of alleged violations, Harris County is suing Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meat.The Harris County Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats last Friday requesting an injunction and civil penalties against Irfan Sheikh, the owner of the slaughterhouse. The suit alleges that Sheikh has discharged industrial waste into state waters, improperly stored animal parts and discharged contaminated storm waters without a permit. And according to the recorded violations, this has been going on for years.

It started with blood in the streets.

Well, bloody water, technically. On Dec. 31, 2012, someone called in to complain about a slaughter house, Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats, located on 13221 Old Richmond Road out on the very edge of Harris County. Bloody water was filling up the parking lot and slopping into the streets, the caller reported, according to court documents.

A Harris County Pollution Control investigator went out to the scene and "observed blood and smelled a metallic odor" in a ditch in front of a property just east of Texas Farm Fresh Halal. There must have been about 500 gallons of blood, she figured, according to court records. She noticed a small pool of blood, just a few inches wide, next to the fence bordering the two properties, with a 25-foot trail connecting the small pool of blood to the larger amount in the ditch, according to court documents. And this was just the beginning.

The investigator continued following the gory trail, tracking pools of blood to the animal holding pens and then to the kill floor. She watched the blood flowing from the site at a rate of about a quarter of a gallon per minute. And then a violation was issued against Texas Farm Fresh Halal Meats. A couple days later the investigators came back and managers of the company said that the kill floor waste is set up to flow into a septic tank, but the septic tank was clogged, hence the blood in the streets.

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The Flu Is on the Rise in Texas, Just in Time for the Holidays

Categories: Public Health

CDC Weekly Influenza Map

Should you want to avoid some Thanksgiving awkwardness with the family, well, just go out into the general public and touch a bunch of stuff. Flu cases are up in Texas, a bit earlier than normal, according to the CDC, which means there's still hope for a valid excuse for skipping out on the turkey talk next week.

According to the most recent weekly survey data from the CDC, Texas is one of the states seeing a significant uptick in flu cases. About 8.8 percent of the folks heading to the doctor with flu-like symptoms are testing positive for the virus, which is quite a bit higher than other regions are reporting.

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The Galveston Plague of 1920

Courtesy of the Blocker History of Medicine Collections, Moody Medical Library
Galveston officials fought the 1920 plague by declaring war on rats and poisoning thousands of them.

While Ebola is the most recent incredibly unexpected disease to show up in Texas, it isn't anywhere near the most deadly. Long before anyone even knew Ebola existed, the city of Galveston grappled with an outbreak of bubonic plague.

When the first few patients started getting sick in June 1920, bubonic plague was such a foreign possibility that most doctors in the town didn't even consider it, according to reports from the time. It was only after the first patient, a 17-year-old boy, died that tests confirmed he'd had plague.

The disease sprang up in four different Gulf ports at almost the same time, including Galveston, according to a report published in 1921 by Dr. Mark Boyd and Dr. T.W. Kemmerer, the doctors who ran Galveston's plague laboratories. The timing indicated that there was a common source for the disease, but they were never able to figure out what the source was.

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Convicted Riverside CEO Tells His Side of the Story

Photo by Susan Du
Earnest Gibson III, former CEO of Riverside General Hospital, is in the process of appealing his conviction.

It's been two years since FBI agents burst into the Third Ward office of Riverside General Hospital's longtime CEO, Earnest Gibson III, and accused him conspiring to scam Medicare and Medicaid out of $158 million. Judge Lee Rosenthal ordered Gibson not to discuss Riverside business or speak to Riverside colleagues, so his side of the story went unheard. But since a jury convicted him on October 20, he's now filing a motion for a new trial and firmly maintaining his innocence as he awaits sentencing.

Federal prosecutors accused Gibson and others of paying illegal kickbacks to group homes owners to send their patients to Riverside so Riverside could then bill the government for medical services they it never intended to deliver. The hospital claimed to employ marketers who were really acting as patient bounty hunters, prosecutors said.

"The former president of Riverside Hospital, his son, and their co-conspirators systematically defrauded Medicare, treating mentally ill and disabled Americans like chits to be traded and cashed out to pad their own pockets," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement. "For over six years, the Gibsons and their co-conspirator stuck taxpayers with millions in hospital bills, purportedly for intensive psychiatric treatment. But the 'treatment' was a sham - some patients just watched television all day."

Gibson, speaking out against his conviction, claims prosecutors and their witnesses took the jury for a ride. He says the government's witnesses were all confirmed criminals who stood to gain from falsely accusing him.

Gibson says he's rather "go down to Guantanamo Bay and be waterboarded to the point of death" than claim that Riverside ever paid for patients. "I want the jury to remember that, that one day I may be dead and gone, but it's gonna come up. Somebody will come out and tell the truth."

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Texas Man Plays the Ebola Card to Dodge Jail (It Didn't Play Well)

Thumbnail image for robertkirchener.JPG
Victoria County Sheriff's Office
Robert Kirchener claimed he went on missionary trip to Sierra Leone right before he was picked up for public intoxication.

Nobody wants to go to jail, but some people are willing to go that extra mile to try and avoid being behind bars. And sometimes, every so often, there's an extra-special almost-brilliant type who comes up with a get-out-of-jail plan so brazen that all the rest of us can do is stand back in wonder. Robert Brandon Kirchner, of Victoria, is such a man.

Last Thursday, Kirchner, 29, was arrested by the Victoria Police Department for public intoxication. He was duly transported to the Victoria County Jail. That's where things got entertaining, because Kirchner took a rather interesting route to try and avoid jail, according to a Victoria County Sheriff's Office release.

Now, in case you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, people across the Lone Star State have been pretty freaked out since the nation's first Ebola patient arrived in Dallas in late September. We've heard about people dodging Texas weddings over Ebola fear. One family even forbade a relative from visiting after a trip to South Africa (keep in mind that this bout of Ebola has been confined to West Africa, which is a long way from the southern part of the continent.)

Over in Victoria, the Victoria County Sheriff's Office has changed its intake procedures. When booking someone, sheriffs now ask questions -- subtle stuff like, "Have you been to Africa and do you potentially have an incredibly infectious and dangerous disease?" -- meant to determine if you might possibly have Ebola. (Though if the Fox News pundits are right and Ebola is actually being brought in from Mexico, we detect a flaw in their questioning.)

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Medical Marijuana Proves Promising for Kids from Cannabis Advocacy Group

Graphic by Brian Stauffer

The last we'd heard from Renee Petro, the Florida pot advocate whose story was highlighted in our recent feature on medical marijuana refugees, the pint-sized parent was still fighting to obtain cannabis for her son, Branden, a FIRES sufferer.

Branden's debilitating seizures were spiraling out of control, and like the other parents in our story, Renee found herself caught between conflicting state laws and ideologies on medical marijuana. Traditional treatments weren't working for Branden, and in Florida -- much like Texas -- when it came to matters of medical marijuana, her hands were tied.

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E-cig, Vape Users Brace for FDA Regulations

Photo by Susan Du
Thomas McCool of New Element Fine Vapors

Cloud blowers, flavor connoisseurs, smokeless e-cig puffers, surreptitious stoners, cancer patients trying to quit cigarettes -- Houston's e-cigarette and vape consumers as are diverse as the products created in the local DIY market. It's a market that's been allowed to frankenstein and modify new contraptions for vaporizing countless blends of liquid nicotine and flavored juices to the point that no two sonic screwdrivers meeting up at a bar have to be alike.

But with the FDA proposing to crack down, mom and pop vendors are holding their breath to see if regulation will stomp out innovation.

The FDA proposes permitting blends, limiting vending machine sales and free samples, marketing with health warnings and imposing a strict age limit. Ads claiming that e-cigs and vapes are healthier than regular cigarettes will require the backing of direct scientific evidence.

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Texas Could Soon Be Home to a Giant, Crowd-Funded Vagina

Kickstarter Screenshot

With any luck -- and about $600 in Kickstarter donations -- Austin, Texas will soon be home to one giant vagina statue.

Aptly entitled "Texas Women by Chloe," the project is currently in the fundraising phase on Kickstarter, and appears -- at least on the surface -- to be awesome. The crowd-funded tribute to the vulva is set to be about six feet tall, and will be built by Chloe, an artist and activist out of Austin.

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