18May/15

Why I Got A Degree in Public Policy

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Yesterday, I graduated from the Edward J. Bloustein* School at Rutgers with a Masters in Public Affairs and Politics (it’s an advanced one-year public policy degree).  It is my third degree from Rutgers (I earned my BA in history and English in 2001 and my MSW in 2006). Each class was enormously time consuming and it took me four years to complete it.  Now that the degree is finished, I am going to get back to writing for this site more regularly. But first, I will elucidate the process which led me to pursue this degree.

In late 2003, I returned to America after teaching in Tokyo for a year. I took a job at Integrity House (a long term substance abuse treatment facility in both Secaucus and Newark) as a front line counselor. I had been there less than a month when I made the decision to pursue a MSW full-time while working full-time. When I was at Integrity, it was impossible to ignore the problems that my clients faced in addition to addiction: inadequate education, a lack of job skills, poor health care, a bloated criminal justice system that regurgitated prisoners, stressed out families, and a vicious cycle of poverty. After stabilizing my clients in recovery, we would focus on education and job skills. There were very few resources, and many of our clients just returned to the same blighted street corners with no hope of anything but a minimum wage, 25-hour a week job.

In 2005, halfway through my MSW, I began working at Hunterdon Drug Awareness (HDAP) in Flemington, NJ. Drug addiction caused the same problems in Hunterdon that it did in the inner-cities of NJ, but the people of that county had more resources to repair their lives. They had an easier time going back to school or developing skills that lead to meaningful and better paying jobs. This crystallized my thinking that I had to work on more than just drug treatment with people, but it would require additional skills and a different type of work if I wanted to affect macro level change. I also started working with clients that were addicted to prescription drugs like Xanax, Adderall, Valium, Vicodin, and Oxycotin. A lot of the people that came into treatment didn’t view prescription drugs as a problem because they were “safe, legal and pure.”

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Spring 2007. This was one of two Freshmen classes that I taught. They had quizzes every week and journal writing every day.

After graduating with my MSW in 2006, I took a job as an English teacher at Elizabeth High School,** which was the largest HS in America at the time (5500+ kids). My students were 65% Hispanic, 15% black, 15% Haitian and 5% other races. Many of them were the children of undocumented workers (who often worked 2+ jobs in order to scratch out an existence). The quality of the building, books, desks, supplies and instruction were all deficient. In 2007, due to a lack of space, the library of Dwyer House (where I taught)  was cleared out in order to make more class room space. The books were thrown in dumpsters. I took photos of this, rescued books from the trash, and wrote an impassioned essay about it on Myspace (it was 2007).

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The condition of the library was disastrous. The books had already started to be thrown out here. In my 2007 Myspace essay I wrote, “This never would have happened at a white, suburban school.”

Much like my time at Integrity House and HDAP, I poured myself into the work, bonded with those that I served and generally had a great time every single day. But the problems that my students and their families faced would not be solved by a high score on a vocabulary quiz or being able to articulate the political reasons behind the fighting in Julius Caesar. At the end of the 2009 school year, I was offered and turned down tenure. I had decided to take a job at Rutgers running the Recovery House and working at both the Newark and New Brunswick counseling centers.

In the spring of 2009, there was one student in the Recovery House who was in Recovery House for opiates. By the fall, that number had jumped to 6 (25%). In 2011, about half of the students were in recovery from opiates. I was also seeing more and more students come into the counseling centers that had problems with prescription drugs. It was even more pronounced than what I had seen a few years earlier at HDAP. I was also exposed to the devastating relationship between alcohol intoxication and sexual assaults (I’ve written about how males weaponize alcohol to incapacitate their prey). I collected data on what we accomplished and wrote about how a community could foster recovery and inspire students to academic excellence.

In 2010, I was asked to be a Trustee of the New Day Recovery Charter High School in Newark. While there were over 30 recovery high schools around the country, neither NJ nor NYC had one. From 2010 to 2012, I would leave work at Rutgers Newark at 6 pm every other Monday and head over to the New Hope Baptist Church for school board meetings that would sometimes last until 9 pm. We talked about educational policy, the recovery process, fundraising and how to get community support. We were all hardworking, excited and dedicated to this cause.

Alas, we didn’t understand the politics of the Newark School System nor were we prepared for the lack of faith and support of both the Department of Education and whatever niche covers charter schools. We were denied the charter in 2011 and then again in June of 2012. At that point, we decided to disband.

In the summer of 2011, my friend Eric Arauz recommended me for the Governor’s Council on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism (GCADA). I was mulling over issues on the school board and what I’d like to accomplish on the GCADA while flying on a plane to attend a close friend’s wedding in Sienna, Italy. I had also been reading a number of political profiles in the New Yorker (I catch up on that magazine when I travel) when I came across the story of a cabinet official who decided to get a policy degree when he was getting more involved in that kind of work. A light went off. By the time I returned to NJ ten days later, I had made an appointment to meet with Stuart Shapiro and was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to start taking classes at Bloustein that fall. During my interview, I told Dr. Shapiro that I wanted to hone my analytical skills and knowledge base in order to be more effective in the work that I was already doing.

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3 Task Force Members: Myself, Dr. Louis Baxter and Governor Jim McGreevey

In 2012, the GCADA created the NJ Heroin and Other Opiate Task Force. We held hearings, were on the radio, made the news and eventually (after a lot of listening, reading, data gathering and discussions, some backstabbing, and several political delays) released a report on March 17, 2014. Our report addressed mezzo and macro level issues, including, but not limited to: (1) creating a recovery high school in NJ; (2) creating more recovery college programs; (3) creating a warm-line so that people could get better and more timely access to opiate treatment information; (4) mandating the prescription drug monitoring program; (5) improving treatment in county jails; (6) revising the health curriculum in public schools in order to cover the dangers of prescription drugs; (7) better training of professionals that prescribe and dispense prescription drugs and (8) the enforcement of the Mental Health and Addiction Parity Act (2008) and the Affordable Care Act (2010), which mandates that treatment for addiction must be treated the same was as treatment for cancer or diabetes. My contributions to that report represent the changes in my thinking and approach that were influenced by the Bloustein school.

I took courses on policy formation, research, economics, energy, the environment, education, health care, and the state and federal budget. The professors were learned, patient and encouraging. I have found that this course-work has pushed me towards the middle of a number of policy issues, and I try to avoid hyperbolic language and taking rigid positions. This is particularly true of issues that I think I can influence. Supporters of these issues might grow frustrated at my deliberate pace, but I have adopted the wisdom of Ben Franklin: “Half a loaf is better than no loaf.” A small policy victory today can leave the door open for bigger victories later.

It is with great pride that I can now say that I am an alumnus of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

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Governor Florio, Dean Hughes, myself and Assemblyman Benson.

* The school is named for the 17th President of Rutgers. Edward J. Bloustein served from 1971 to 1989. He oversaw Rutgers College becoming co-ed, attracted top faculty, created the Employee Assistance Program, created one of the first Alcohol Policy Committees in higher education and generally raised the reputation of the university. All of the long-time and retired faculty that I know speak of him fondly.

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This was taken at the end of the 2007-08 school year. I had taught these kids for 2 years and now it was time for us to part. Many of us cried before, during and after the photo.

** I worked as a full-time teacher at Elizabeth and worked 2 to 4 nights a week as a substance abuse counselor at HDAP in Flemington. I did this for three years. I usually logged 700 miles a week.

05Apr/15

A Starting Plan to Address Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Last month, I wrote an article about the Hidden Wounds of Sexual Assault (I described how the survivors of sexual assaults are often: afraid of the dark; jump when touched; get alarmed at loud or sudden noises; have difficulty being intimate with someone; have problems in relationships; were not believed by friends, boyfriends, family members or the authorities; ….as a result, trust people less).

There is a new documentary out titled The Hunting Ground – it covers a number of sexual assaults on college campuses, that some frats (SAE) are fortresses of rape, and how many universities have failed to protect their students and/or prosecute the attackers/predators.

I’ve posted information about the movie on our Facebook site. I use that site to also put out links to numerous articles that I find informative and topical, and over the last half year I’ve suggested that people read about the failures of how the military addresses sexual assaults, methods that sororities are trying to shield their members against rape, and the horrific story of two football player-rapists’ attack on a young woman at Vanderbilt.

In today’s New York Times, Professor Jenny Wilkinson of the University of Vermont wrote an account about how she was sexually assaulted when she was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Despite being found responsible by the University, her attacker received a minimal reprimand with no real consequences. It’s a story that I urge people to read. Dr. Wilkinson concluded her piece with some basic suggestions to improve the way sexual assaults are handled on campuses:

At a minimum, though, we need victim-friendly proceedings, including administrators who encourage students to file reports; trained legal representatives, investigators and panel members; and rules that allow students to bring in outside support. Victim-sensitive punishments, explicitly expulsion, would allow survivors to walk around campus without fear of running into their attackers. With these changes, university proceedings could actually make a difference by getting predators off campus and into the hands of family members and friends who can find them the help they need.

27Mar/15

The “Irrational” AA Article and It’s Blowback

Earlier this week, an article from The Atlantic titled “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” was widely read and discussed. It started a vigorous debate.

Two articles on the reaction:

The High Functioning Alcoholic from Psychology Today

Spirituality vs. Science from the Huffington Post

A blog reaction:

Trashing AA as Irrational

And a TV clip:

Does AA Really Work? from MSNBC. This clip had two women discuss it. I have to say, especially for TV (and cable tv, no less), that the discussion was equal and measured. No shouting or namecalling or casual dismissing.

A few thoughts of mine:

(1) Too many treatment programs rely too much on the 12-Step Model.

(2) Those that do rely on the 12-Step Model tend to discount medication and a number of behavioral therapies that have strong outcomes (and data to back it up).

(3) I have personally and professionally seen AA be wildly successful for thousands of individuals.

(4) I agree that AA’s strongest aspect is the power of the group. The creation of a social network and a collection of some inspirational role models.

(5) In summation, AA is a wonderful program that helps lots of people. Treatment programs need to offer more than just AA though.

19Mar/15

The Hidden Wounds of Sexual Assault

A few months ago, I was talking with someone I’m very close to about sexual assaults on college campuses, in the military, and generally throughout America. I told her how 1 in 4 women in the United States will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime, and how that number jumps to 1 in 2 if a woman has a substance use disorder. I spoke about how 80% of survivors are under the age of 30, and how often colleges typically mess up the less than 5% of cases that are reported.

She responded, “Something happened in the last year.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve talked about sexual assaults for the last half decade, but nothing like you’ve done in the last year. Something happened to someone you know. One of your clients maybe.”

I stopped and thought about it. I sat down and thought some more. “Over the last dozen years, I have heard a great many stories involving sexual assault and rape. Some of them were particularly gruesome and heinous,” I said. “But it’s not just the incident. The mental, emotional and spiritual toll that these women have experienced and endure has long lasting consequences and affects many different areas of their lives. The sum total of it all has left me deeply affected, concerned and angry.”

Here are a few examples of what I’ve helped women process through the last few years:

(1) Jane Doe #1: Went to a highly regarded, small, private, liberal arts college in the Mid-West. Was raped at the end of a date. She told her friends about it a few days later, and they told her she hadn’t been raped. “Those kind of things happen,” her friends (all females) told her. A few weeks later, she realized she had been raped. She didn’t tell her friends. She didn’t go to see a counselor or a police officer. Years later, she told me that, “I felt stupid for taking so long to work out what happened.”

(2) Jane Doe #2: Attends school at a major public university. Was raped on four different occasions by four different men that she considered friends. She didn’t report any of them to the police. She did tell two of her female friends. She is currently experiencing major academic, social and physical problems (none of which pre-existed the first rape). She will only leave her house during the day if someone else accompanies her. She will not go out at night.

(3) Jane Doe #3: While at an off-campus fraternity party, she was cornered into a bedroom by a “giant.” She reported that he threw her down on a bed, choked her and raped her. He told her that if she ever reported him that he would kill her. A year later, her PTSD was causing her so many problems that she sought counseling. She declined to inform the authorities.

(4) Jane Doe #4: A woman in her early 20′s met a 29 year old man at a self-help group for people with alcohol problems. They hung out twice after a meetings: they got coffee after the first meeting; he raped her in his car after the second meeting. “I felt so stupid and ashamed. It was my fault,” she told me.

Think for a moment about how difficult it is to tell someone about a problem. Think what it took for these young women to tell a man in his late 30′s about this (research states that women have an easier time talking to other women about these issues). Most never go to the police or even a counselor. Less than 5% of sexual assaults are every reported.

To my knowledge, none of the aformentioned women ever told any of their family members. Read that last line again. If there is a female in your life under the age of 30, there is almost a 25% chance that she was sexually assaulted and never told a family member. If it is your daughter, sister or grand-daughter, you might have no idea of the hidden wounds that she has been carrying around.

There stories are not unique. They are just examples of cases that are all too common. Many of the women I’ve talked to or worked with:

- are afraid of people

- are afraid of the dark

- jump when touched

- get alarmed at loud or sudden noises

- have difficulty being intimate with someone

- have problems in relationships

- were not believed by friends, boyfriends, family members or the authorities

- ….as a result, they trust people less

It seems like sexual assaults have been reported more frequently in the last dozen years. Colleges and the military have had national scandals and leaders called onto the carpet for the failures of reporting and treating women that have been sexually assaulted at those institutions. And yet on Friday, an article appeared on 538.com about how College Presidents Appear Delusional about Sexual Assaults on Their Campuses. Those in power are acknowledging, more than ever, that sexual assaults are on the rise and that they are a significant problem. They just don’t believe it is happening in their backyard or is their responsibility. Most of those in power that aren’t properly addressing this are men. To sum it all up: these sexual crimes are being committed by men, and then other men are glossing it over or disregarding it. It’s time that we educate men on these issues, rather than just focusing on what women can do to prevent them.

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This is a great site for information regarding sexual campus policies, reporting, activism, and alcohol and drug use. I urge you to learn more and tell others.

15Mar/15

For the parents of young adults with a substance use disorder

According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (the most recent survey available to us) and the latest findings by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), these are the percentages of young adults, aged 18 – 25, that do the following:

- 39% of full-time college students report engaging in binge drinking within the last month (this number is 33% for those in not in college or part-time)
- 19% report using marijuana within the last month
- 22% report using illicit drugs (Molly, heroin, opiate painkillers, methamphetamine) within the last month
- 13% report abusing prescription drugs within the last month

People who abuse alcohol and/or drugs are more likely to get injured, have a mental health disorder, be involved in sexual assault, have legal problems, and attempt suicide. It’s a huge risk factor that can also lead to school, work and family problems. If you are a parent of someone aged 18 to 25, you may have already seen your child experience some of these issues. At the very least, you probably have some concerns. I’ve worked as a therapist with this population for 12 years and I’ve run programs at high schools, universities, in-patient and out-patient treatment centers. Here are some simple tips, based on those experiences:

- be a role model -> young adults with a parent who abuses alcohol/drugs are much more likely to have substance use disorder themselves
- talk to your young adult about school, friends and substance use
- engage in activities outside of your home with your offspring (too many relationships get bogged down by the business of housekeeping (shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry) and not enough families engage in fun or recreational pursuits

If you suspect or know that your young adult has a drug or alcohol problem, here are some further actions that you can take:

- get your young adult into counseling immediately (College Recovery specializes in the treatment and care of young adults)
- accept that everyone who lives with someone with a substance problem is affected
- do not have alcohol or drugs in the house
- abstain from alcohol and/or drug use while your offspring is in treatment or trying to stay clean
- attend at least six Al-Anon meetings (Al-Anon is for the family, friends & lovers of someone who has an alcohol or drug problem)
- attend an open AA speaker meeting alone
- set clear rules & boundaries
- make sure that you have some time each week to spend with other family members (to take the focus off of your young adult that is using and to make sure that others have not been ignored)
make sure that you have some time each week for your own fun activities
- consider individual therapy for yourself

With treatment, young adults with a drug and/or alcohol problem can still reach their utmost potential. This gets harder and harder to do once your offspring hits their mid-20’s, 30’s or 40’s. Without treatment, your young adult’s drug and/or alcohol problem will get worse. There are many people in the United States that are paying the rent of their 30-something child and/or are raising their grandkids. To borrow a term from Charles Dickens, you can change your “ghost of Christmas future.” After reading this article, you can never say that you were nottold.

24Jan/15

Frank Greenagel Answers Your Questions About Marijuana

Last month, I presented “The History of Marijuana Policy in the United States” on a national webinar for the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). You can find the link to watch it for free here. The webinar is about 90 minutes long. It was well received, and I posted the participant ratings of it here. A number of people sent in questions, and I spent a little bit of time this evening answering them. I’ve listed them here for your benefit (enjoyment?).

Q: Are the statistics presented similar in other countries that have decriminalization or legalization of marijuana (ie: Holland, Canada)?

A: Canada has very similar rates to the United States when it comes to marijuana use and abuse. Holland has lower rates of use and abuse than the United States. When Holland lowered the legal age to 16 and allowed for easier access, rates of use and abuse increased.

Q: Alaska’s new legalization of marijuana will be interesting as marijuana has been a privacy issue for generations in Alaska. It appears (though research is HIGHLY needed) that the attitude in Alaska has historically been positive toward marijuana is a personal decision/issue. Thoughts?

A: I can’t speak with any authority on the culture in Alaska. I drove to Alaska after I graduated from Rutgers in 2001, and I spent the month of August there. From reading and talking with hundreds of people, I learned that Alaska attracts a lot of people from the lower 48 that are highly individualistic and less interested in rules and regulations than the average US citizen. That would seem to jibe with the thoughts behind this question, but again, I am not certain.

Q: Did the studies regarding marijuana’s effects on the lungs/respiratory system address whether the issues were because of marijuana or the act of smoking?

A: Both. There are chemicals in marijuana which are damaging to the lungs. Smoking, of course, is bad for them as well. There needs to be a lot more research done on vaping (for e-cigs too), but most researchers tend to agree that both marijuana and smoking are bad for the respiratory system.

Q: How do we debunk the myths associated with marijuana while at the same time promote responsibility and acknowledge that marijuana has benefits?

A: It depends upon what myths you are asking about. Some myths state that marijuana is comparable to heroin and causes people to instantly go crazy and attack people. Other myths report that marijuana is not addictive and doesn’t cause physical dependence. All of those aforementioned myths are wrong.

I’m wary of a person, company or institution that wants to promote “responsible marijuana use.” Does anyone talk about responsible tobacco use? I know that there are lots of PSA’s and programs that promote responsible alcohol use, but that is an attempt to address the widespread binge drinking culture that is rampant among younger people and that also leads to drunk driving. I think that the idea of promoting responsible marijuana use suggests that many people use it irresponsibly or even dangerously.

Q: Why is recreational use of marijuana considered abuse?

A: Partly because “recreational use” has a wide range of definitions, depending upon who is using the term. Some people define recreational use as once every two weeks. Another person may define it as smoking after dinner every day at 6 pm. A third may say that they recreationally smoke whenever they are not working.

Q: How long does marijuana will stay in someone’s system?

A: If you are asking about how long will marijuana metabolites appear in someone’s urine sample, it depends upon how long someone has been using it, how strong their marijuana was, how often they smoked and their individual physiology. That answer is most likely anywhere from 2 to 90 days.

Something a little more daunting…THC attaches to fat in the body. White blood cells are made of fat. The neuron walls in the brain are also made of fat. It can take FAR longer for the THC that has attached to fat, especially in the neurons, to leave the body. It won’t be detected in a urine screen, but it will affect the body.

Q: Can nanogram levels go up and down without new use?

A: Only down. The half-life of marijuana is about a week in most people, but because of our different physiologies and variation within the species, it can probably range from 2 to 10 days.

If you test someone and her nanogram levels went up from a previous test, she used. Unequivocally.

Q: It is clear that Americans continue to be uninformed as to the real risks to our children and our society that will increase as we continue to legalize marijuana as both medicine and recreational use. As mental health professionals, we need to decide what we are going to do to educate the public in our communities, and our political leaders, to keep this from continuing. Positions statements are not enough – we must carry the message to the public or accept the consequences that we know will only get worse. Are we going to take any meaningful action?

A: Kevin Sabet and SAM are doing an excellent job about presenting information about marijuana and providing policy suggestions.

These are fascinating and scary times: some states have made marijuana completely legal, others have allowed for medical use only, a few have decriminalized it , while many other states continue to make the use and possession of marijuana a criminal offense. Over the next several years, we will be able to collect and observe how the use and abuse of marijuana has been affected by the varying policies. We will also see if there are real tax benefits, or if marijuana is revenue negative. We will see if marijuana legalization leads to less arrests, more arrests or similar rates of arrest (you might be wondering why legalization would lead to more arrests – well, there may be more driving while under the influence and we might see an increase in use among people under 21, which is still illegal). We will also see if it does anything to address the fact that minorities get disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession.

I am on the record as being in favor of decriminalization and against both legalization and criminalization. I have suggested to the powers that be in several states that they should not change their policies for the next few years and just watch what happens in different states. I am hopeful that we will have a sound grasp of these issues by 2020.

Q: Does the move of marijuana from schedule I to schedule II impact the international drug treaties which in my opinion will always be a reason for federal government to continue to keep marijuana illegal at that, the federal level?

A: Just to be clear, marijuana is still a DEA schedule I drug. It is there along with heroin and MDMA (ecstasy). Schedule I drugs are considered highly addictive and without any medical value. I have suggested that marijuana should be moved to schedule II in order to allow for true medical research so that we can determine if marijuana is helpful for people with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and/or serious chronic pain.

I would guess that it would have little to no impact on our international drug policy. Take that last sentence with a grain of salt though, as that is not an area of my expertise.

Q: What would be a good resource to monitor Colorado’s impact of legal marijuana use?

A: SAM will provide balanced data, but their opinions will probably skew against legalization. The CATO institute is a libertarian think tank serves as an interesting counterpoint. I also believe that the New York Times will continue to do an excellent job reporting on this issue. While it is my newspaper of record, I disagree with the editorial board’s pro-legalization stance.

 

20Dec/14

Paul Ressler and the Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation

Paul Ressler, holding a picture of his son, Corey.

Paul Ressler’s son, Corey, died on July 14, 2010 of a drug overdose. He spent the next year both grieving and trying to find a way to make a difference in the lives of people who had problems with substance abuse. I met Paul in the summer of 2011 when he showed up to his first meeting as a new appointee to the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA). After the meeting, I walked over and grabbed his hand and introduced myself (Paul is blind). He told me about his son and how he wanted to “make a difference and save lives.” I recognized the rare fire that burns in people who want to implement change.

Paul told me he also cared about veterans. I asked him why. He responded that he had been a combat medic in Vietnam (it’s one of the most meaningful jobs in the military that I can think of). I told Paul that a blind, Vietnam combat medic who lost his son to a drug overdose could be a powerful advocate in the fight for better public policy, improved treatment and maybe even insurance reform. Paul responded, “Whatever I can do Frank. Whatever I can do.”

Within a year, the NJ Heroin and Opiate Task Force was formed. Neil Van Ess, the Chairman of the GCADA, appointed me as the Chairman of the Task Force, Eric Arauz as the Vice-Chair and Paul as one of the other members. We held hearings around the state and listened to testimony from the parents of dead kids and a few people who fought their way into recovery. After the last session in October of 2012, we got down to the business of writing our report.

Also that October, Governor Christie vetoed the Good Samaritan Law. It was a law that had been enacted in other states in order to save lives. There is evidence that shows that 70% of people who died from an overdose and were found alone were actually not alone at the time of their overdose. People flee the scene and don’t call for help because they don’t want to get arrested. The Good Samaritan Law would have saved lives and all it would have cost was to not charge someone with drug possession that called for help. Governor Christie vetoed it because he said that drug dealers would use it to avoid getting in trouble.

Paul went public and denounced the Governor. It was a bold move, because this was pre-bridge, still-national-rising-star Governor Christie. Paul didn’t care. He said the Governor was wrong. He wanted the Task Force to officially support the Good Samaritan Law, but he couldn’t sway a few members who didn’t want to publicly oppose the Governor. Along with a number of other advocates (including Patty DiRenzo from South Jersey), Paul raised hell for the next six months. On May 2, 2013, Governor Christie announced that he was doing something that he rarely does – “I’ve changed my mind.” He signed the Good Samaritan Law and the Overdose Prevention Act into law. Paul was there when the Governor signed it.

Meanwhile, the Task Force report was repeatedly stalled, changed and blocked. Politics. The delay made the front page of the Bergen Record with the brutal title: In the Fight Against Heroin, Help Stalls While Frustration Grows in Trenton. Paul continually argued that the report should be released immediately, regardless of the political fall out (behind closed doors, he even gave me an earful on a couple of occasions). Eventually, the report was released on March 17, 2014.

Paul is on the board of Daytop-NJ. He was trained by NCADD-NJ to do advocacy work. He donates his time and money to the cause. He makes phone calls. He shows up to events all over the state. He speaks his mind without fear – “I don’t care what happens to me Frank…no one can do anything to me. I lost my son and I’m blind.”

This fall, Paul founded the Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation. It is a non-profit that conducts free trainings on how to administer Narcan to someone who has overdosed. The corporation also supplies free kits of Narcan to people that attend the training. It’s a big deal (it is supported through donations, so consider giving). Paul has continued to deliver on his words that he told me when we first met: “I want to make a difference and save lives.”

You have Paul. You do. Thank you.

 

13Dec/14

A New Treatment Program

Back in August, I wrote about how I left a dream job working at the Rutgers Counseling Centers and overseeing the Rutgers Recovery House. I mentioned that there were several new prospects that I was pursuing, including rejoining the United States Army (USA Today ran a nice article about me as well). I am now ready to unveil another one of those opportunities: late last summer, I was hired to be the Executive Director of College Recovery. We are a new business (that has ties to a large, successful and ethical treatment program in California) that has a Sober Living Component as well as a NJ DMHAS-licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Center.

College Recovery (click here for the treatment website) is treatment program that provides individual and group counseling to people with alcohol and/or drug problems and people with co-occurring disorders. We treat people at a variety of levels: Partial Hospitalization (PHP – 20 hours a week), Intensive Outpatient (IOP – 9 hours) and Outpatient (OP – 1 to 8.5 hours a week). We are less than a mile from the Rutgers campus and only a few blocks from the New Brunswick train station. We are located in a brand new, green (eco-friendly) building in downtown New Brunswick just a block away from City Hall and the Courthouse. Our population age range is 18 to 29, although we will take older individuals when they make sense. The key requirement (after the diagnoses) is that they are in college (or just wiped out of college and plan to go back within one semester). Soon, we will be licensed to offer individual and group treatment (both IOP and OP) for people with mental health disorders and/or eating disorders.

Those close to me know about my affinity for supergroups (Cream, the Traveling Wilbury’s, the Avengers, Giffen’s Justice League, the 2006 Swedish Hockey Team, the 2012 NJ Opiate Task Force, Temple of the Dog, the special case unit in The Wire, etc…). Within a week of being hired, I put together an all-star team of treatment experts.

Dr. Louis Baxter is our consulting medical director. He is the past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). He served with me on the aforementioned Task Force and is nationally known for his expertise in medication assisted therapies (MAT’s). Joe Buttler is the clinical director and comes to us with over 40 years of experience in the field. Joe is known throughout the state for his expertise in training clinicians, especially running internship programs. Jass Pelland is the compliance officer and has 30 years of experience on the front lines. She has an absolute expertise in quality assurance and regulations. There are a few other well known figures and experts that I’m in discussions with about joining our team. I’ve hired a number of clinicians that I’ve worked with in other places, as well as a handful of my former students. They are young, bright, motivated and extremely coachable. It’s a great team. I’m both thrilled and proud of it.

At College Recovery, we do monitored urine screens. In addition to traditional groups like gender groups, relapse prevention and multi-family groups, we offer a guided mediation group and multiple yoga classes each week. We encourage exercise and take people to the gym. We take students to 3+ 12-step meetings a week and offer 2+ social activities a week as well. Being outside of Rutgers is a wonderful fit, as there are 40 students in recovery housing and 60 young alumni that live nearby, so there are over 100 young people in recovery that understand the unique issues facing college students who don’t drink or drug. This provides an immediate social circle, set of role models and potential sponsors that are not available to young people in early recovery anywhere else.

We also offer supportive housing (click here for that website). The brand new building has 20 beds, live-in staff and is located a block behind the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue Campus. Residents must submit to a breathalyzer in the morning and night, follow a curfew and be enrolled in some kind of treatment (obviously our treatment program is an easy fit, but they can choose to go to another program if they want). Getting sober at a young age is tough, and doing so on a college campus provides an even more difficult set of challenges. We are providing supportive housing, treatment, exposure to positive peers and role models, and perhaps most significantly, fun activities throughout the week and on every Friday and Saturday night. If people don’t find new ways of having fun, they aren’t going to stay sober.

So, I’m doing what I’ve done for over a dozen years (with my students in Japan, the residents at Integrity House, the residents at Earth House, my students at Elizabeth High School and my Rutgers Recovery House members)….I take them for late night, high caloric foods and on brutally long, surprisingly cold hikes.

Spread the gospel.

 

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Members of College Recovery and I look over the Catskill mountains in the crisp, late autumn weather.

23Nov/14

Marijuana Like Starbucks

“My concern is the Marlboro-ization or Budweiser-ization of marijuana,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That’s not what I’m fighting for.” This quote it taken from an article on NBCnew.com that discusses, among other things, how the alcohol and tobacco industries warily view marijuana as both a threat and an opportunity. One thing everyone agrees on is that Big Pot is here to stay.

Mr. Nadelmann has been a pawn for the wrong side and it seems like only now is he beginning to realize that the same marketing whizzes that got America hooked on Starbucks will churn out several new generations of ardent marijuana users. He should look up the term unintended consequences. The most irritating part about this is that multiple people told him this is exactly what would happen.

 

 

 

14Nov/14

Greek Life: “Rape Haven” and Other Campus Disasters

The stone walls at the Tiger Inn eating club at Princeton University were spray-painted with the words "Rape Haven" earlier this week (Photo courtesy of The Daily Princetonian)

The stone walls at the Tiger Inn eating club at Princeton University were spray-painted with the words “Rape Haven” earlier this week (Photo courtesy of The Daily Princetonian)

Back in late September, Caitlyn Kovacs, a Rutgers sophomore died after drinking at a Delta Kappa Epsilon party. I wrote a piece in the immediate aftermath calling for colleges and universities around the country to shut down fraternities and sororities. I wrote about the rampant alcohol and drug problems associated with Greek life, high rates of sexual assaults, racism, sexism, academic cheating and the overall negativity they bring to campus life (to date, it has been the most read piece I’ve written for this site). Members and alumni of the Greek system were outraged and responded in droves. Several stated that I had jumped to conclusions and that maybe she didn’t die because of alcohol or maybe she hadn’t been served alcohol at Delta Kappa Epsilon. Recently, the Middlesex County Prosecutor announced that the county coroner determined that she died from “acute ethanol toxicity.” Caitlyn was 19 years old. She died drinking at a fraternity. Those are indisputable facts.

In the last six weeks, there have been several more fraternity and sorority related disasters. I list several of them below. This piece concludes with a number of scholarly articles that provide data that backs up my assertions and adds weight to the problems I’ve enumerated.

The Tiger Inn Eating Club at Princeton University (Eating Clubs are the equivalent of Greek Life at a few Ivy League schools) is currently under investigation by local authorities because a photo of a sex act was electronically distributed (there is a wide range of possibilities of what happened, but clearly, someone’s privacy was violated). On Tuesday night, someone spray painted “Rape Haven” on the walls of their entrance. I’m not a supporter of the destruction of public or private property, but someone apparently feels very strongly that the Tiger Inn Eating Club is a Rape Haven.

Today, West Virginia University announced that is was suspending all frats and sororities after an 18 year old was found unconscious and not breathing in a WVU frat (he died a few days later). One week earlier, 19 pledges got involved in a street brawl. I know that I am going to seemingly malign a whole state here, but seriously, you know that an institution has gotten out of hand when it is banned in West Virginia.

In September, Clemson University suspended all frats after the death of a teenage pledge.

Last month, Phi Kappa Psi was suspended at Brown University (a great, world class school) after two students reported they were given date rape drugs and one of them claimed she was sexually assaulted later that evening.

In just a few paragraphs, I’ve detailed several anecdotal examples that include deaths, dangerous drinking, fighting, drugging and sexual assaults. Two weeks ago, the New York Times published an article about the high cost of Greek life. While it doesn’t cover the destruction of drinking, drugging, date rape and death, it does paint a further negative portrait of Greek life. Pledges and members of sororities are often asked to spend a lot of money on fees, parties, clothes and other events each semesters.

Here are a number of scholarly articles and/or studies about Fraternities and their relationship to binge drinking and sexual assaults (thanks to Tess Krakoff for conducting this research).

Fraternity membership and binge drinking by Jeff DeSimone
• Social fraternity and sorority membership relationship with binge drinking incidence and frequency among 18–24 year old full-time 4-year college students who participated in the 1995 National College Health Risk Behavior Survey.
• The main activity with which fraternities are associated is alcohol use.
• Data confirm that fraternity members drink more intensively than do non-members. In the NCHRBS, past month binge drinking, defined as consuming at least five alcoholic beverages within a few hours, was reported by 69% of fraternity members as compared with 42% of non-members.

High-Risk Drinking Among College Fraternity Members: A National Perspective
• Extensive profile of drinking behaviors and predictors of drinking among 3406 members of one national college fraternity, distributed across 98 chapters in 32 states.
• Multiple indexes of alcohol consumption measured frequency, quantity, estimated blood alcohol concentration levels (BACs), and related problems.
• Among all members, 97% were drinkers, 86% binge drinkers, and 64% frequent binge drinkers.
• Drinkers had an average BAC of 0.10, reaching at least 0.08 on an average of 6 days.
• These fraternity members appear to be heavier drinkers than previously studied fraternity samples, perhaps because they were more representative and forthright.

‘Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear’: binge drinking and other risk behaviours among fraternity/sorority members and their non-Greek peers
• Respondents who binged were significantly more likely to be male and belong to a fraternity/sorority.
• Fraternity bingers were significantly more likely to engage in physical fights ( p < 0.05) than non-Greek male bingers.
• Sorority bingers were significantly more likely to be injured ( p < 0.01), drive under the influence of alcohol (DUI) ( p < 0.001), be sexually victimised ( p < 0.01) and engage in unwanted sex ( p < 0.05) than non-Greek female bingers.
• Fraternity members who binged frequently (≥3 times in 2 weeks) were significantly more likely to DUI ( p < 0.01) and engage in unprotected sex ( p < 0.05) than were those who binged intermittently.
• Sorority members who binged frequently were significantly more likely to DUI ( p < 0.05) than were those who binged intermittently.

Fraternity and Sorority Members and Alcohol and Other Drug Use
• A report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes the disturbing consequences of drinking on campus each year: 1,700 college student deaths from alcohol-related causes; more than 500,000 unintentional injuries; more than 600,000 assaults; and more than 70,000 cases of sexual assault and acquaintance rape.
• Fraternities and sororities are among the key groups that foster this culture of drinking on campus.
• Given the high rates of heavy drinking in fraternities and sororities and the role they take in promoting frequent and heavy alcohol consumption on campus, college and university prevention efforts should target these social societies.

Study Ties Binge Drinking To Fraternity House Life

• This 1995 study was written about in the New York Times. You can read it here (things haven’t changed in 19 years).

Living in a fraternity or sorority house is by far the strongest indicator of binge drinking in college, a new study by the Harvard School of Public Health reports.

• 86% of fraternity residents and 80% of sorority women are binge drinkers
This compares with 45 percent of men not affiliated with fraternities and 36 percent of women