This Way Up

Saturday 28 March 2015, with Simon Morton

NZ Radio Awards 2012 winner: Best Daily or Weekly Series (one hour or more duration)

Desexing Caravan

SPCA s desexing caravan

All aboard the SPCA's desexing caravan! The caravan has been travelling the country neutering thousands of pets for the past decade and is run by husband and wife team Alistar and Sue McKellow who have worked together for 40 years.


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Tech: Netflix NZ

Peter Griffin looks at Netflix's launch of a local service. How does it stack up against the US version and the other streaming-video-on-demand services on the market?


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CriticaLink app in Bangladesh

Jennifer Farrell

Jennifer Farrell of CriticaLink is trying to improve emergency medical care in Bangladesh using mobile technology and a location-based system to get trained medics to the scene of crashes quickly.


CriticaLinkApp

 

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Alcoholics Anonymous: does it work?

Sad drunk man

Alcoholics Anonymous has become ingrained in popular culture. Many TV shows, from The Wire to House of Cards, feature characters trying to claw their way back to sobriety with the help of the AA's 12-step programme.

In the United States, AA meetings have been virtually the only treatment offered to problem drinkers ever since the organisation was established in 1935 by a failed stockbroker, Bill Wilson. Today AA boasts two million members world-wide and, for those who genuinely commit to it, the programme claims a 75 percent success rate.

Gabrielle Glaser

Gabrielle Glaser

Photo: Steve Schofield

But in an article for the Atlantic Magazine journalist Gabrielle Glaser writes that evidence suggests the actual success rate for AA in the United States is less than 10 percent. "Nowhere in the field of medicine is a treatment less grounded in modern science," she writes. "If it works for someone that's fantastic, you should continue using the steps and going to meetings" Ms Glaser said to This Way Up's Richard Scott, "but this is not a one-size-fits-all problem and this is a one-size-fits-all answer which we have been slapping on people."

Ms Glaser argued that AA's abstinence only approach can be "very demoralising and very disempowering" pointing out that the first of the 12 steps is to declare you are "powerless over alcohol". "One thing we have that really persists in popular culture is that a person needs to hit rock bottom before they can recover," she said. "Researchers I've talked with say that's akin to offering antidepressants only to those who have attempted suicide, or prescribing insulin only after a patient has lapsed into a diabetic coma."

Another criticism is that AA groups discourage people from using anti-addiction medicines to control their drinking.  Gabrielle Glaser said that while AA officially has no position on the use of such drugs "anyone can start a group and anyone can lead a group and depending on the attitude of the head of the group...  it can be very controlling." She said that's unfortunate because some drugs like Naltrexone and Antabuse have clinically proven success rates of between 25 and 78 percent.

Gabrielle Glaser's article has provoked a strong reaction. A week after being published it had attracted more than 9,000 comments. Ms Glaser says one common theme in those responses is the failure of AA to deal with underlying causes of peoples' drinking, like anxiety or depression.

"In AA those are considered outside issues. Alcohol is the problem, it's seen as the only problem and once you get that under control everything else will fall into place. This may have been what we believed in 1935 but we know a lot more about mental disorders now. A lot of people out there drink in order to keep their anxiety under control," she said.

This Way Up spoke to an addiction specialist as well as the Alcohol and Drug Association of New Zealand. They said that while New Zealand doctors and alcohol help-lines might recommend people attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, this would normally be as part of a wider treatment plan. That plan could also include professional therapy, medication and whanau support.

A spokesperson at Alcoholics Anonymous New Zealand head office in Wellington acknowledged that AA is not for everyone, but they also said they don't believe that many of the criticisms contained in Gabrielle Glaser's article are valid, especially here in New Zealand.

If you want help or advice about your drinking or want to get help for someone you know, you can call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or visit Alcohol and Drug Help NZ.


Links:
Article: The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous - The Atlantic  
Alcohol and Drug Help NZ  
Alcoholics Anonymous NZ

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An elephant's sense of smell

Elephants

The US military is trying to harness the sensory powers of Aftrican elephants to help them sniff out TNT and landmines. In addition, the elephants really do never seem to forget, making training them easy.

Sean Hensman has been studying a group of orphaned elephants on his farm in South Africa, after it was discovered just how good their enormous noses are at picking up scent.


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Necrobiome

The emerging study of the necrobiome; that's the community of bacteria that live on and in us after we die. It could be another useful tool for forensic scientists trying to solve crimes.

Jeff Tomberlin is a forensic entomologist at Texas A&M University who's studying the bacteria.


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Ebola vaccine and pollution health effects

Dr Chris Smith with the latest science news; this week tests on a new vaccine for ebola, and studies linking air pollution to stroke and higher anxiety levels.


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Quick hits
12:15   Desexing caravan
12:30   Tech: Netflix NZ launch  
12:45   CriticaLink app in Bangladesh      
13:10   Alcoholics Anonymous  
13:30   Elephant smell
13:40   Necrobiome  
13:55   Ebola vaccine and pollution health effects  

The small print
First up this week, all aboard the SPCA's desexing caravan! It's been travelling the country neutering thousands of pets for the past decade, run by a married couple with a 40-year history of working together.

Then at around 12:30pm, Peter Griffin looks at Netflix's launch of a local service. Peter's been looking at how this compares to the US version of the site that many New Zealanders are already using, and the other streaming-video-on-demand services on the market.

And before the 1pm news, trying to improve emergency medical care in Bangladesh using mobile technology. With one of the world's highest rates of fatal crashes, an American doctor's using a location-based system to get trained medics to the scene of crashes quickly.  

At about 1:10pm, Alcoholics Anonymous has been around for 80 years, but can the support group for recovering alcoholics really claim to be effective? We speak to American journalist Gabrielle Glaser who says it's outdated, unscientific, and doesn't work!

Links:
Article: The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous - The Atlantic  
Alcohol and Drug Help NZ

Then at 1:30pm, training African elephants to sniff out TNT and landmines. The US military's even interested in studies in South Africa to help it develop more effective electronic noses.

At 1:40pm, the emerging study of the necrobiome; that's the community of bacteria that live on and in us after we die. It could be another useful tool for forensic scientists trying to solve crimes.

And before we go, Dr Chris Smith with the latest science news. This week tests on a new vaccine for ebola, and studies linking air pollution to stroke and higher anxiety levels.

We're playing these tracks too... 
Artist: The Smiths
Track: Bigmouth Strikes Again
Composers: Morrissey, Marr
Album:  The Queen Is Dead
Label: WEA 991896
Broadcast: 12:40

Artist: Robyn
Track: Tell You (Today)
Composers: Arthur Russell
Album:  Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell
Label: YEP ROC
Broadcast: 13:40

And our theme music is:

Artist: Jefferson Belt
Track: The Green Termite
Composer: Jefferson Belt
Album: Table Manners
Label: Round Trip Mars