Tag Archives: addiction

Safe injection sites and the ‘War on Drugs’

Embed from Getty Images

 

There has been a great deal of controversy in recent weeks here in my hometown of Philadelphia regarding a proposal by some local politicians to open so-called safe injection sites.

The position of Mayor Jim Kenney and others is that such sites would help combat the exploding opioid crisis.

This would be accomplished by providing a safe place for drug abusers, but also by providing them with counseling.

Kenney was quoted by Aubrey Whelan for Philly.com just last week:

“We don’t want dying on the street and we want to have a place to administer Narcan if necessary. We also want an opportunity to speak to people about their future and getting their lives straight. They can’t do that under a train bridge or on a train track.”

Almost immediately, various members of Philadelphia City Council tried to apply the brakes. Per a piece by Claudia Vargas and Holly Otterbein for Philly.com, those concerns were summed up by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez: “There’s no plan,” Sánchez said, adding that the city’s official presentation on the proposal looked “like an intern gave it to them.”

I have a number of problems with the idea. Concerns over exactly where any facilities would be located, issues involving liability for the city involving death and injuries at the facilities, and many others.

However, perhaps my biggest problem with the idea is even more basic and controversial. This is especially so coming from me, as I spent most of the last three decades as a Philadelphia Police Officer, Detective, and Sergeant. That included a decade in the Training Bureau teaching officers, supervisors, and commanders.

My biggest problem is that the city would be basically endorsing and supporting folks who are breaking the law. Possession and use of illicit drugs such as heroin is a crime. Addiction is not a valid defense.

Now that statement is factual, so my problem may not seem immediately apparent. Until I reveal why I feel that it is a problem. It’s a problem because the city is supporting an illegal activity. But it is an activity that I do not believe should be illegal in the first place.

That’s right – I do not support laws against the sale, possession, or consumption of narcotics. And if you do, I want to hear the reasons. The real reasons.

Those reasons cannot have to do with health concerns for the individuals involved in that usage, or their families, or for the community. Not unless you also support criminalizing the use of tobacco products and alcohol.

The cost of alcohol addiction to the U.S. economy has been estimated at nearly $250 billion annually. This includes lost productivity, health care expenses, law and other justice costs, and motor vehicle crashes.

More than 40% of that cost, over $100 billion, is drained from government. In other words, you and I pay for it with our taxes. Another $3.5 billion in costs is incurred by individual states, who of course also get their money from we the taxpayers.

Even with all of the education regarding tobacco abuse and the decline in its use over recent decades, its use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in America today.

More than 55 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes. Another 12.4 million smoke cigars regularly, 8.8 million use smokeless tobacco, and there are 2.3 million pipe smokers. These were the figures presented by the American Cancer Society as of just five years ago.

A 2014 study at Georgia State University revealed that cigarette smoking alone generates as much as $170 billion in health care spending annually here in the United States.

This doesn’t include the simple economic cost of smoking to the user. An average pack of generic cigarettes costs more than $5, with many brands costing even more. Most smokers go through at least a pack per day, so that’s at least $150 per month in basic costs.

Use a pack and half per day, you’re up to $225 per month. Smoke an $8 per pack brand or product? That same pack and a half is now $360 per month. What could consumers and their families do with $360 per month if they were not addicted?

President Richard Nixon first formally declared a “War on Drugs” in June of 1971. The basic cost to the U.S. government to fight that “war” had risen to $1 trillion per a piece by Richard Branson for CNN back in 2012.

And the fact is, we are losing the war. How many times have you seen a local news story in which federal, state, or local law enforcement displays some vast amount of narcotics, cash, and weapons recovered from a drug operation? Was that the last one you would ever see? No. These stories continue to come, month after month, year after year. You’ll likely see another on your local news any day now.

It’s obviously not that law enforcement isn’t doing anything about the problem. Brave police officers at all levels of government are working hard every single day and night trying to enforce the law. In this “war”, some of those brave officers have even lost their lives.

But just as with the prohibition against alcohol a century ago, the prohibition against and war on drugs is a losing proposition.

Throughout the 1920’s and into the early 1930’s, a great deal of law enforcement manpower, time, and financial resources were expended enforcing prohibition against the evil and illegal scourge of alcohol. Officers died enforcing those laws as well.

And then, alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933. It was all for nothing. Police did their jobs, as they are doing them today. It wasn’t law enforcement that was the problem. It was the law itself. It is long past time to revamp and even repeal many drug laws.

In November 2016, Elevations Health published a piece on the financial costs to the U.S. taxpayer to continue fighting this war. The piece included this summation of those financial costs:

“In 2015 alone $36 billion was spent on the war on drugs, but that number was just for law enforcement and some social services, and does not take into account the cost of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders once they are arrested and sentenced to jail. Roughly $80 billion is spent each year on incarcerating American prisoners and since 50% of our prison population is serving time for drug-related crimes that means that an additional $40 billion needs to be added to $36 billion price tag for the war on drugs, bringing the grand total to $76 billion.”

The fact is that human beings have used and abused substances almost since the beginning of our existence as a species. Many of the substances now considered illegal were not so at a previous time. The same can be said for other vice crimes such as prostitution.

It is my position that not only would cost to taxpayers go down with decriminalization, but in some cases we might find revenue streams. This is already happening today with the widespread and growing trends involving marijuana.

Can you imagine the decrease in violence which is currently perpetuated in the trafficking of illicit narcotics by cartels and street gangs? What kind of impact would the loss of that violence have on our neighborhoods?

If we continue on, trying to fight this losing battle, we will never find out. We will simply continue with the status quo. And trust me, there are many who are just fine with that status quo. Their own livelihoods depend on it.

More importantly, if we can get to decriminalization we can begin to treat this as what it really is, a health problem. Focus dollars instead on education, prevention, and treatment.

So called “Safe injection sites” might then become some piece of a viable treatment opportunity for folks who were fighting this particular addiction.

Want to argue that the abuse of heroin and the current opioid crisis is killing people every day, while cigarettes and alcohol are not? Seriously? Now who is being naive?

The CDC estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. Do the math. That’s 1,315 people dying every single day.

Per the NHTSA, in the year 2016 in the United States there were 10,497 people killed in car crashes involving drunk driving. These were crashes where a driver had a BAC of .08 or greater. Again, do the math. That’s roughly 29 folks every single day.

There are some who are going to question my conservative bona fides after this piece. There are many in law enforcement who are going to think that I have either lost my mind or gone over to some “other side” now that I am in retirement from the profession.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is something that most people are unwilling to deal with. The truth is that this isn’t a war that we are losing – it’s a war that we lost a long time ago. It’s one that we should have never begun fighting, in fact.

There will always be a criminal aspect to drug abuse. If drug users and abusers commit some crime while high, they will pay for that crime, just as drunk drivers and others who commit crimes while intoxicated on alcohol have to pay for their crimes.

In his CNN piece, Branson quoted H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. On the issue of prohibition, Menchen had this to say. The same sentiment can be applied to the war against drugs:

“Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society.”

“There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”

Tell me why this is a criminal issue rather than strictly a health issue. I’ll wait. Meanwhile, safe injection sites are not the answer as long as drugs remain illegal.

Dealing with that bigger issue is what has a chance to make a real, significant difference in the lives of individuals and communities in the long run.

Are your kids – or even you – becoming a screen addict?

Embed from Getty Images

 

Are you, or is someone you care about, an addict?

 
I’m not talking here about an addiction to some substance. Illicit drugs, prescription pain killers, alcohol.
 
I’m talking about something that many people in 21st century America, certainly among the younger generations, take part in as a daily activity – video gaming.
 
Jacob Passey with the New York Post has reported that at some point later this year the World Health Organization will come out with their 11th update to the International Classification of Diseases.
 
The ICD is a well-respected and referenced guidebook which describes a variety of diseases. It further notes causes, symptoms, and ramifications.
 
The Post reports that an early draft includes “Gaming Disorder”, essentially an addiction to video gaming. The disorder includes a behavior pattern which “is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
 
In a look into the possibility of gaming addictions back in 2016, CNN interviewed Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile. He stated: The first study I began in 1999, to basically try to show video game addiction isn’t a real thing, and it turns out I was wrong!
 
Gentile went on to further describe the results of his research as follows:
Even though different researchers across the world may define the problem somewhat differently, or ask different questions in different countries with differently aged kids, we find almost the same results across the world. The estimates perhaps vary somewhat, but they all seem to come out somewhere between about 4 and 10 percent: that’s the amount of gamers I would classify as addicted.
 
The Post column stated that the American Psychiatric Association had considered the disorder for DSM-5, which was released five years ago. 
 
However, that latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders did not include anything in regards to an Internet or gaming disorder, stating that more research was needed before formal inclusion.
 
It’s not just kids who are developing potentially harmful habits where the modern information, communication, and entertainment tech is concerned. A piece for MarketWatch by Quentin Fottrell in December 2016 stated that “parents with tweens and teens (children aged eight to 18 years) spend over nine hours with screen media each day.
 
That may sound like a lot of hours. Surely you don’t spend that amount of time in front of a screen? But consider your usage. 

Many spend time at work in front of a computer screen. Then add in time spent watching television. Factor in social networking on a laptop, home PC, and your phone. And there are parents also involved in video gaming. It all adds up.
 
Parents need to be concerned about the amount of time that their children spend watching television, on their phones with social media and other activities, and engaged with Internet gaming. Get them involved in activities outside the home, where they actually must learn to interact in person with peers and adults.

Of course, being a good example yourself goes a long way towards getting kids to buy in to your parenting. Make sure that you are spending time with other adults outside the home. And perhaps more importantly, that you are spending time with your family in both indoor and outdoor non-screen activities.
 
I’m not trying to tell anyone to unplug and give up gaming, or social media, or watching television. It was the ancient Roman playwright known as Terence who first wrote “moderation in all things.” Some 2,000 years later, that saying applies well once again to the amount of time we spend in front of a screen.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back

Florence Welch awoke one morning after a particularly long, hard night of partying and drinking way too much. This particular morning-after found her body exhausted, her mind a scramble, and her soul depressed.

She wasn’t particularly happy about what she could remember about that previous night. At the time she thought she was having a good time, but she didn’t think about the consequences.

That is always going to be a problem, not realizing the fullness of the price that you are going to have to pay for the mistakes that you are willfully making right now in your life.

Florence Welch is a singer and a songwriter, and so the outlet that she chose to help her express and overcome her feelings that morning was to pen a song called “Shake It Out“, one that she had her band, ‘Florence and the Machine’, set to music and video.

The bible tells us that Satan was an angel in God’s heavenly army. The single most beautiful and magnificent angel, he was known as Lucifer, the angel of light. There was something about him that stood out, and it was noticed by other angels as well. His ego grew so large that he eventually believed that he could take God’s place, and so he rebelled against God.

Of course, he could not win, but you could not tell him that. In the end he was banished from heaven for eternity, along with a third of the angels. They had chosen to follow Satan in his folly.

Cast down to earth, they looked about at God’s creation knowing how important this world was to the Almighty. In particular, Satan saw the man and woman who were particularly beloved by God.

Adam and Eve had been created in God’s own image, and they dwelt in a garden paradise without a care. They had no idea of the danger that was now approaching. They didn’t even know of the concept of danger or fear. How could they possibly have been prepared for the devil?

Adam and Eve had been given just one single rule by God, that they should not eat the fruit of one particular tree. Their love of God and the magnificence and happiness of the world kept them from ever questioning this rule. Satan, who we now know also simply as ‘the devil’, saw this as his opportunity to deal God a devastating blow. He took the form of a simple snake, and slithered up to Eve one day as she was alone in the garden.

And then the devil did to Eve what he has since been doing to men and women for millenia: he whispered a simple question into her ear: why? Why was it that God didn’t allow the fruit of this one single tree to be eaten. After all, that fruit looked particularly interesting. It smelled wonderful, and offered the promise of being delicious to eat. He then whispered the second thing into her ear, also the message whispered to men and women for millenia now: a bold-faced lie: God doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because he knows that it will make you just like him.

He cajoled Eve along: eat the fruit, it looks so delicious. I know that it will taste just as sweet as it looks. And it brings the promise of you becoming as mighty and powerful and wise as God himself. And it’s just one taste. God is not here right now. He’ll never know. Just one taste will change your life forever. Eve took the bait, and took that bite. She then found her partner Adam, convinced him of the same, and Adam took his own bite.

We all know what happened next. Goodbye to the Garden of Eden. Hello to a permanent struggle between mankind and Satan’s evil influence. But God did not leave man alone forever. He sent his own son to us, took the form of man himself for us. When Jesus began to spread a message of love and men began to listen, the devil again whispered into the souls of men, and had the Lord tortured and crucified. Little did the devil know that he was playing right into God’s hands, as this very suffering and death was intentional, the price being paid for all those sins of man that Satan had initiated.

Now it may seem on it’s face to be a powerful and long leap from Florence Welch’s early morning hangover into the Garden of Eden and further into man’s constant struggle with sin and evil. But the fact remains that it really is just one more perfect example. Florence was realizing that morning what she knew all along, that what she thought was fun and liberating and exhilarating was short-lived, and ultimately was destructive, was harmful, and was limiting her.

Her simple response in “Shake It Out” comes in the song’s recognition of the root cause of the problem, the temptations and lies of the devil, and the recognition that her constant submission to her particular temptation for alcohol was not liberating, but that instead it was limiting her from reaching full happiness and peace. In recognition she penned and sings the line “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off!

Your parents and teachers and others tell you while growing up that certain things are bad for you, that certain places are dangerous, that some people are a bad influence. Stay way from drugs, don’t drink, do your homework, play by the rules. But the devil comes along and, just as with Eve, whispers in our ears: why? Your parents know that you’ll have so much fun that you’ll want to leave them, and besides, they’ll just be jealous of all the fun you’ll be having. It tastes sweet, it makes you feel wonderful.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. Shake him off.

I know someone beautiful and funny and at times disarmingly charming. But in response to the various challenges that life has thrown her way over the course of her still-young life, this person has made poor decisions trying to find happiness and self-worth. Wanting love and acceptance and fulfillment, she intellectually knew the best road to these things. But the devil whispered shortcuts and lies into her ears, and she listened to him.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. Shake him off.

Josh Hamilton is an incredible athlete. In 1999 he was the top draft pick in all of baseball by Tampa Bay, and he could do it all: run like the wind, hit a baseball long and hard, throw a ball like a laser beam. But Josh Hamilton got hurt, and the devil whispered into his ear that drugs and alcohol would make him feel better. It did, of course, until he awoke one morning like Florence Welch, and like that beautiful girl I just mentioned, addicted and nearly destroyed.

Hamilton battled and battled against his demons. With the help of family and good, positive influences in his life, especially an acceptance and love for Jesus Christ, he turned it around after many had given him up for a lost cause. After 8 long years, he finally became the superstar baseball player that God had created him to be. But the devil doesn’t just slither away on his belly. The other day, Josh Hamilton relapsed with a night of drinking and other bad behavior that has jeopardized his family and his future.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. Shake him off.

I’ve personally battled a couple of issues for a long time that have kept me from becoming the most full and complete version of the human being that God intends for me to be. I am well aware of my faults and sins, and yet I have yielded to them over and over. I briefly overcome them, and then fall back into the trap as Satan whispers into my ear: “God’s not here right now. No one will know. It will taste good, feel good.” But it never does for long, and the disappointment of having given in to temptation is at times devastating.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on my back. I have to shake him off myself.

It sounds like a simplistic message, but it is just the opposite. We make our lives so complicated, when they are really so simple. We make so many excuses, we give so many circumstances power over us. In actuality, our problems are not another person’s fault. They are not some traumatic event’s result. The circumstances that limit us in the end are simply of our own choices, our own bad decisions, made willfully and knowingly when the devil whispers the shortcuts and lies into our ears and we choose to listen.

The answer really is very straightforward. Put down the needle. Put down the drink. Put down the cigarette. Put down the spoon. Never pick them up again. Pick up your Bible. Pick up the New Testament. Pick up Jesus Christ. Never put him down. Shake off the devil, and shake out your life.

It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back. Shake him off.

Corey Haim Should Have Just Said ‘No’

Of all the truly great legacies left to us by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, one of the truest, simplest, most enduring messages is the one that came from the campaign during those years of his wife, Nancy Reagan.

The validity and importance of her anti-drug campaign with the slogan “Just Say No” was brought home once again today with the overdose death of popular 1980’s child movie star Corey Haim.

This death comes on the exact 22nd anniversary of the death of 1970’s teen heart throb, musician Andy Gibb, the kid brother to the Bee Gees who also abused drugs. Haim was a child star and Gibb died during the very year that the First Lady was popularizing her vital message.

“Just Say No” is a simple slogan, and some of it’s detractors have stated that it is not only simple, but that it is simplistic, even simple-minded. Of course these critics are always the same old liberal “I can do whatever I want with my body and who are you to tell me different” crowd. Funny thing is, when the Haim’s and the Gibb’s die of their excess, these folks are never heard from.

Everyone with half a brain on the planet earth knows that drugs are bad for you. They are addicting, they are debilitating, they destroy lives and families, they drive people to commit crimes, they kill. The cost of drug abuse comes in dollars and cents, both to the addict and to the community that must support the consequences of their actions, but also comes in wasted time and talent.

No one, not Nancy Reagan, not those in the early years of the full-on initial “Just Say No” campaign ever posited, as it’s detractors have lied and still lie, that their only tactic was to tell kids to just say “No” but give them no educational information to back that up. The campaign was and in spirit is still about educating kids fully to the point where they are able and willing to say that “No” at the key moment.

I have had drug abuse and addiction within my own family. I have seen first-hand the ravages to a person’s body and soul that come with this addiction. But while it is very true that drug addiction, like most other addictions to other substances such as alcohol, is a disease, the fact is that it is not only a disease. It is a choice.

People who come down with cancer and other diseases and illnesses do not usually choose them, or take actions that cause them. These illnesses are often hereditary, genetic in nature. Lifestyle decisions do affect most people, from the person who eats too many cheeseburgers over the years and develops heart disease to the person who smokes too many cigarettes and develops lung cancer. These too are choices.

The difference, however, and there is a difference, is that in the vast majority of the cases the drug abuser is a young person, usually one who is not like Haim or Gibb. It is usually one who has not even started out on life’s journey, or barely so, and has not had an opportunity at career or educational or relational success. The choice, and it is a choice, to take the drugs wrecks that opportunity.

When a young person is lost to drug abuse, it is a loss to all of us. How many of those individuals could have made something positive out of their lives? How many could have cured our own illnesses, educated us, entertained us, defended us, protected us, been our leaders? The cost in dollars is significant, but the cost in lost human lives and opportunities for the addict and us all is staggering.

Now some will challenge that drug addiction, or addiction in general, can also be hereditary, and some will say that there is little or nothing that the addict could have done. I challenge that, having lived through it first hand. There is always another choice, another option, another direction. The addict chooses the negative, chooses the darkness. Again, it is a choice.

There always comes a time in every single addicts life where someone approaches them. It could be a friend, an acquaintance, a school classmate, a lover. But someone always approaches them for the very first time offering the drugs. Offering to share it, offering to show them how, offering it even for free that first time.

Every single addict has been told at some point prior to that moment that drugs are bad for them. It is simply too loud a message to ignore. It is taught in homes and schools and on the streets. The negative examples are all around them in the worst homes and neighborhoods. Family members and communities ravaged by the violence and decadence.

So at that pivotal moment, every addict has a choice. Some will say “You just can’t expect a young kid to have the strength or courage” to do the right thing. Baloney. Kids find courage and strength in any number of situations when they want to do it. The simple fact is that the kid makes a conscious choice, usually knowing or having a good idea of the possible outcome, or at the very least the danger.

Often that kid makes that choice when, if they just stepped back and thought about it, they would realize all of the options that they have for a positive direction in life, options that could and likely would be ruined by saying the “Yes” to drugs. But out of the excuses of the pain and loneliness and lack of confidence that we all face during those teen angst years, some seek temporary comfort in bad decisions knowing full well that they are bad.

While it’s fine to be sympathetic, supportive, hopeful and helpful to those close to us who become addicts, what is needed right now is not more embracing of the choices being made by addicts around us, but a return to reinforcing ever more strongly that simple message to kids of “Just Say No” in their lives. When that moment comes for them, they need to care more about their life, their family, their future than looking or acting ‘cool’ in front of some friend or some group.

Families need to understand as well that it is not their fault that their family member makes the choices that they make. You can be the strongest, most loving, most caring family in the world. You can provide solid educational opportunities for your children. You can give them a mostly positive, surely imperfect because you are only human yourself, but nurturing home and lifestyle.

In short, you can give them the foundation that they need to succeed. But you can buy no guaranteed insurance, you cannot make them say “No” at their own key moment.

Just Say No” is as simple a message as there is out there. But it is an effective message. And the fact remains that no matter what some liberal or some addict might want to tell you, had Corey Haim and Andy Gibb simply just said “No” at the pivotal moments, they would be here today. Gibb would be a 52-year old popular entertainer, and Haim would likely have not lived the past decade and a half in depravity, wasting away his talents.

For my own life situation, I still deal with the effects of my family member’s decision to give in and say “Yes” at the pivotal moments. That one first “Yes” turns into a habit, which turns into a compulsion, which turns into an addiction. At that point, yeah, it’s a disease that you are going to have a hard time ever fully beating. But it didn’t start out that way. You never had to go down that path in the first place.

While I pray for the miracle that would be even a reasonably positive life for my own addict, I also pray that no one else in my life makes the same choice, ever. I won’t only pray, but I will pass along that message, to “Just Say No.”

I pray that all of your children and grandchildren when faced with their own moment will have not only the courage and strength, but also the self-respect to embrace that simple idea, to simply “Just Say No.”