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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Sakai bust puts spotlight on narcotics evil

Case of ex-antidrug poster girl points to stimulants' proliferation


Staff writer

The recent headline-making police search and arrest of actress and pop star Noriko Sakai shocked fans both at home and abroad and cast a harsh spotlight on "kakuseizai," or stimulants, which she and her husband allegedly used.

News photo
Sakai has left the building: Surrounded by reporters, a police car carrying pop star Noriko Sakai, who was arrested on suspicion of possessing illegal stimulants, exits the Shibuya Police Station in Tokyo on Sunday. KYODO PHOTO

Sakai's husband, Yuichi Takaso, 41, was arrested Aug. 3 in possession of the drug, which is derived from either amphetamines or methamphetamines. She and her 10-year-old son apparently disappeared the same day, although the boy was later found at the home of an acquaintance.

A search later turned up a small amount of stimulants at Sakai's home in Tokyo's Aoyama district. Her husband lives at a different location.

Kakuseizai is the most commonly available illegal narcotic in Japan. According to the National Police Agency, about 80 percent of people recently arrested for alleged possession of drugs were carrying stimulants, although the number of marijuana users is also rapidly increasing.

In 2007, 12,211 people were arrested in connection with stimulants, 2,375 for marijuana and 47 for opium.

Kakuseizai is widely available and has a history of being used for medicinal purposes during the war, according to the Drug Abuse Prevention Center. Workers in arms factories used methamphetamines, sold under the name of Hiropon, to ward off fatigue.

After the war, stockpiles of stimulants kept by the disbanded army were sold on the black market to the public. 1954 saw 55,000 people arrested for abusing stimulants, according to the center. The Diet enacted a law to ban stimulants in 1951.

News photo
Sakai holds up a picture of her husband, Yuichi Takaso, during a news conference to announce their marriage in December 1998 in Tokyo. KYODO PHOTO

The drug can be diluted and injected or smoked, making the user feel alert and confident; it can create feelings of euphoria during sex.

But once the high wears off, fatigue, irritability and severe depression can follow.

That can create a powerful craving for the drug. "Users feel like they can do anything after taking stimulants," said a spokesman for the Drug Abuse Prevention Center, adding that under the influence of the drug, "the pupils dilate, then breathing and heart rate become elevated."

Regular use of stimulants can result in hallucinations, paranoia and delusions, and an overdose can be fatal, according to the Narcotics Control Department of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Stimulants and other drugs are becoming more available. "it's becoming easier to obtain drugs," partly because of the Internet.

The NPA reported that 55 percent of the people recently arrested for alleged possession of stimulants were on their second offense. Over half are gang members.

Police say cell phones and the Internet make it easier for ordinary people to get illegal drugs.

"In the past, people had to contact gangsters, but now they can find drugs through the Internet," the drug prevention center spokesman said.

Police are still investigating how Sakai, who once appeared in an ad warning against drug abuse, and her husband obtained the stimulants.

Before her arrest, Sakai had been missing for six days. Police found 0.008 grams of stimulants at her home on Aug. 3. A urine test she underwent after her Aug. 8 arrest turned out negative for the drug, but that doesn't mean she didn't take the drug, because it usually takes about a week for traces of the drug to disappear after its last use.

Sakai was missing from Aug. 3 to 8, raising speculation that she may have been hiding until she could pass a urine test.

The spokesman for the drug prevention center said the stimulant would not be detectable in a urinalysis in Sakai's case, but it can be detected in her hair.

According to police, dozens of straws and pipes apparently used to inhale the stimulant were seized at Sakai's home, and a DNA sample taken from the items matched hers.

Sakai's 30-year-old brother has also been arrested in connection with drugs.



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