01May/16

The Church of Baseball: Part One

“The only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”  — Annie Savoy, Bull Durham 1988

It began in childhood.

nicolletMy father grew up in Minneapolis. In the 1950s, the Minneapolis Millers were the farm club of the New York Giants. My Dad saw a number of Giant greats (including Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda) play while they were still minor leaguers, so naturally, he became a Giants fan. His father was also from Minnesota, but became a Yankee fan in the 1920s because of the prowess of Babe Ruth.  When the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins before the 1961 season, my father’s allegiance became a bit divided. I was born in 1976, and for the first 11 years of my life, my father worked a lot and neither of his baseball teams were local nor any good, so I don’t recall him watching games.

We lived next door to my grandparent’s farm. Gram was a Yankee fan, but she watched the Mets too. I remember her cheering when the Mets beat the Astros in extra innings in clinch the NLCS in six games (thus avoiding the dreaded, beastly Mike Scott, who almost surely would have shut out the 108-win Mets in the winner-take-all game seven). My grandfather did not follow either of the local teams. For years, he had been a Yankee fan but grew disgusted with the team in the 60s and 70s when players like Reggie Jackson talked about how great they were. Pop switched teams and began to follow the underdog Phillies. He particularly liked the humble, work-man like Mike Schmidt.

gary-carterjpg-1a6377f820cca38bThe first baseball game I remember watching with my father was Game Six of the 1986 World Series. We had spent the day at the Hunt Meet, a series of horse races that were held in Somerset County each fall. He had a few friends over, and they talked about how they had to see Boston finally win the World Series. When I asked him why it was a big deal, he said that the last time the Red Sox won was when his father was younger than I was. When the Red Sox lost, one of my Dad’s friends expressed frustration and I said, “They can still win in Game Seven.” He looked at me and muttered that the series was over. The day after the Mets won, a number of kids in my school were celebrating too much and in too annoying a fashion. I decided I did not like the Mets, regardless that they won 108 games in the regular season, had exciting young players, were a dynasty in the making and had just beaten the Red Sox in the World Series.

In 1987, I cheered along with my Dad as the Twins upset a strong Detroit team in the playoffs and went on to beat Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals in the World Series in seven games. The next spring, I convinced my friend Damon that we should play little league, despite that we had never played baseball before and that at age 12 and almost 12 (my birthday is in May), we were starting quite late. Damon could hit and hit for power. I hit .200 and couldn’t field, but loved taking walks (12 year-olds have shit for command) and I stole bases every time I made it to first. At that point, I had just started watching baseball, had chosen the Yankees, and my favorite player was Rickey Henderson (which is both cool and embarrassing). The Yankees were good but not great, couldn’t win the division and were in the shadow of the Mets and their annoying fans. I learned about the Yankees history and clung to their past era of greatness as a promise of future returns. That spring, our little league coach organized a trip to see the Phillies host the Cardinals at Veterans Stadium. I was told to watch the Cardinals shortstop. The men seemed so small from our seats, but it was fun to be at such a big event with all of those people. My father and Pop had come along. That was my first baseball game.

My first Yankee game was in the summer of 1991 (a dark time for the empire). I went with my Mom, Dad and Pop. It was surreal finally seeing something in person that I had watched on television for years. I was stunned at the size of the stadium, and found the other people there fascinating. The Yankees lost, which was disappointing, but the overall experience was wonderful. In 1992, I attended a game on my 16th birthday with my father, Pop and my friend Brad Henry. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor homered for the Brewers, Don Mattingly homered for the Yankees, and the Brewers won in 10 innings. There was a middle aged man (50s) who cheered when the Brewers went ahead in the 10th, thus angering others in our section, but I admired how he was willing to oppose everyone around him.

I celebrated other birthdays at a variety of stadiums. In 1999, I took the Denver Greenagel clan to see the Rockies in a 7-6 game in the bottom of the ninth at Coors Field. In 2001, April, my college girlfriend and eventual ex-wife, celebrated my 25th birthday by watching Andy Pettitte outduel David Cone in an emotional game for me. In 2004, my friends and family joined me at Shea as Tom Glavine almost pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history. In 2014, April and I went to Philadelphia to see Clayton Kershaw dominate for the Dodgers.

Sports_Illustrated_711060_19940418-001-775As a teenager I partied a lot, and things got out of hand for a few years. In August of 1995, Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia died within a few days of each other. Mantle had gotten sober a year and half earlier but died from decades of alcohol abuse. Garcia overdosed in a hotel room at the age of 53. Both of them weighed heavily on me, and their early ends factored into a decision to turn my life around a few months later.

In 1996, I decided to join the United States Army as a tanker. Before I left for Ft. Knox, I visited my friend Geoff at Boston College in April and bought tickets for all four games of a September Yankee-Red Sox series. I was at Roger Clemens last game as a member of the Red Sox and one of Nomar’s first games. I had a number of great conversations with Sox fans that series, and would eventually return to Fenway for over a dozen games the next several years (I attended a 15 inning game in 1997 where I saw a couple get into a horrific drunken fight in the 8th inning and then continue in the 12th where they then agreed to get divorced).

The Yankee dynasty of the late 90s and early 2000s synced perfectly with my college years and my entrance into capable young adulthood. During the six years that followed basic training, I attended community college and then Rutgers. I either listened, watched or attended almost every Yankee game (I also watched the Braves on TBS, the Cubs on WGN and the Mets). There were times that I missed one because of military service or some event, and this being the era before cell phones, I had to go to extraordinary measures to get updated on scores. I attended over 150 home games during those years, was a season ticket holder in 1998 (and took my Dad to the first game of the World Series that year), and was there when President Bush threw a strike before the start of the third game of the 2001 World Series. My Yankees were Paul O’Neill (hardworking and passionate), Bernie Williams (quiet competence and grace), Andy Pettitte (a homegrown lefty who radiated decency), Mariano Rivera (the all-time great who managed to be truly humble), Joe Torre (who managed the Boss and the media with deft aplomb) and Don Zimmer (the baseball lifer who was funny, grandfatherly and wise).

Taken the last day of the 1998 season. It was Joe DiMaggio Day and Bernie Williams won the batting title.

Taken the last day of the 1998 season. It was Joe DiMaggio Day and Bernie Williams won the batting title.

In the late 90s, I started reading the work of Rob Neyer at ESPN. He was a disciple of Bill James, and he steered me onto rigorous baseball analysis and towards better writers. In 1999, he turned me onto Baseball Prospectus, where I started learning from Joe Sheehan, Gary Huckabay, Christian Kahrl, Kevin Goldman, Jay Jaffe and Nate Silver, who would eventually go on to become one of the most accurate political analysts. Their writings on baseball not only caused me to look at the game differently, but think differently too. I have adopted new approaches towards counseling, education and policy as a result of how those writers measured success and transformed my mind through their writing.

I’ve read over 70 baseball books, including amazing biographies (Sandy Koufax, Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengel, Mickey Mantle), fantastic first person seasonal stories (Ball Four and the Bronx Zoo) and wonderful tales of interesting teams: the 29 A’s, 34 Cardinals, Halberstam’s 49 and 64, 97 Marlins, 03 Cardinals, 04 Red Sox, and 2010s Dodgers. I developed an appreciation for other players, managers and franchises. Michael Lewis’s Moneyball was published in 2003 and detailed how Billy Beane was able to turn the cash-strapped Oakland A’s into a franchise that routinely outshined its larger-market rivals. I was pleased with the 2011 movie of the same name, and happy that Mr. Beane has become more celebrated. But until he wins a World Series title, his genius will continue to be underappreciated (the key problem with measuring success by the results of the postseason instead of the regular season is that randomness and luck play a much greater part in three short playoff series than in a 162 game season). Genius and talent that goes unrecognized or unrewarded bothers me – it’s a reason that I ache for Vincent van Gogh’s life and am thrilled at Sixto Rodriguez’s late success.

Steve Castro, a college buddy from Rutgers, and I drove to Toronto to see the Blue Jays play the Red Sox and Indians over Labor Day in 1998. We stopped at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo to try the first hot wings ever made and then journeyed to Niagra Falls before ending up in Canada. Toronto has the CN Tower, the hockey hall of fame, clean streets, friendly people and good food. I bought a Maple Leafs t-shirt and led fans in chants against the Red Sox on Sunday and then the Indians on Monday (Steve commented that the Boston fans must have been stunned to run into such an aggressive Canadian). We enjoyed the trip so much that we decided that we needed to visit more stadiums.

I attended several spring training games in 1999 with my friend Mike Neilan while on a raucous and driving intensive college spring break trip to Florida. We saw Greg Zaun (a favorite of mine because of his role in the 1997 Marlins book) hit a homerun against the Pirates and I caught a glimpse of Yankee superprospects Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano at Legends Field. In Tampa, I talked to four hardcore middle aged Tigers fans whom had been coming to spring training for 20+ years – I admired their passion, friendship and longevity.

In late August of ’99, Steve and I drove to Detroit to see Tiger Stadium before it closed. While waiting in line, I talked to a woman who had been attending games since the 1940s. She expressed a love for the city of Detroit, Hal Newhouser and Kirk Gibson. She showed me dozens of pins on her cap and bade me to enjoy my time at “one of the last real ballparks.” From there, we drove to Cincinnati where we saw the Braves crush the Reds. We sat in the far upper deck and ended up talking to a man from Houston who was 15 years older than us. We told him that we were driving to St. Louis after the game and that maybe we would head to Texas after. He slapped his knee and said that sounded awesome, expressed some jealousy and told us to continue to enjoy our youth. After the game, we drove to St. Louis. We went up the Arch, bowled at the bowling hall of fame and watched the Cardinal fans gape and yell during every Mark McGwire at-bat. My Mom’s second husband had been recently diagnosed with cancer, so we headed home (by way of Baltimore) rather than continue to Houston.

A few hours before Chipper Jones ripped out my friends' hearts.

A few hours before Chipper Jones ripped out my friends’ hearts.

In late September, the Mets had surprised everyone by staying in close contention with the Atlanta Braves. Steve, Mike, our friend Jimmy (all three are Mets fans) left New Brunswick at midnight on 9/21/99 and drove 18 hours to see the first of their three game showdown. Chipper Jones hit a homerun against Rick Reed in the 1st inning for a 1-0 lead and then hit another homerun (from the other side of the plate) off of Cook in the later innings to seal a 2-1 victory. Chipper won the 1999 MVP that year and is probably the player who killed one team more than anyone else. After the loss, we drove home. Mike and Steve were physically exhausted and emotionally devastated. A few hours into the ride home, I tried to console them by saying that they could get them tomorrow. Steve looked at me and said, “The game was a killer. We aren’t winning the division.”

We drove on through the night and the next morning, and found ourselves in a horrible traffic jam on route 78 East in Pennsylvania. We drove off the road and cut through a field and took back roads into New Jersey. The Mets played well enough the rest of the season to tie the Reds for the wild card. After beating them in a one game playoff behind Al Leiter, the Mets went on to defeat the Diamondbacks and set up a showdown with, of course, the Braves. Atlanta buzz sawed through the first three games and went up 3-0. The Mets won games four and five and I got Steve and his older brother to agree that we would drive to Atlanta for game seven if the Mets were able to eke out game 6. The Mets lost a heartbreaker in the bottom of the 11th inning on a based loaded, walk-off walk by Kenny Rogers.

_________________________________________________________________

Part Two later this week

20Apr/16

Insults that people have said to me when they don’t like my positions

On my Greenagel Counseling Services Facebook Page today I wrote about the recent Saturday Night Live fake ad about Heroin AM (click here to see the video):

There was a fake commercial for “Heroin A.M.” on Saturday Night Live this past weekend and all kinds of people are freaking out over it. I think satire is an important part of communication, education and advocacy. Ford Vox wrote a nice piece on it.

“”Heroin A.M.” did a great job elevating awareness that many seemingly “normal” and high-functioning people are abusing opioids. This skit is savvy satire that portrays the medicalization and commercialization of a “street drug,” and that seemingly absurd scenario speaks to the underlying truth that a haywire medical system ruled by corporate greed, bad regulations and complacent doctors actually generated this problem in the first place.” (to read Mr. Vox’s CNN article, click here)

One woman disagreed with me and voiced her displeasure thus: “First you drank the Kool-Aid from Partnership for Drug Free Kids and now you talk about “satire” and a heroin epidemic. I hope to God your following is as small as it should be. Oh and I do understand satire and irony. I also understand the word “dangerous” and your posts are exactly that.”

This got me thinking about other insults and diatribes against me over the years.

When I wrote “The Suboxone Problem That No One is Talking About” for Hazelden-Betty Ford, I received the following emails:

a) I hope you die a fiery death

b) You have no understanding of addiction or recovery

c) You are in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry

d) You’re a fucking asshole

After “Why Colleges and Universities Need Naloxone,” I received a message that colleges would be better served “if they just let the junkies die” and another one that said “why should we worry about saving scum bags when there are so many good kids on campus that have real needs?”

After several deaths and negative incidents in the fall of 2014, I wrote two articles on why colleges should shut down fraternities and sororities on their campuses. I received dozens of missives, including:

a) You don’t know how to have fun

b) You have no understanding of college

c) Your an asshole!!! (their grammar, not mine)

d) You better not ever come to Alabama

Back in 2012 when we held the NJ Opiate Task Force Hearings, I was called some nasty things by other professionals and advocates in the field of addiction/recovery that disagreed with me. I could go on and on and make this a 10,000 word article, but you get the idea. Don’t feel bad for me and certainly don’t get defensive – I am both used to it and have thick skin. One of the key lessons that I work on with my students at the Rutgers School of Social Work is to not demonize those that you disagree with and try to find common ground. I explain that you not only fail to win people over that you are arguing with, but you may lose those that might have otherwise been sympathetic towards your cause (I have seen Michael Moore do this for much of his career). Part of the alarming aspect of American society and our political discourse is the nasty language and hyperbolic rhetoric that so many use. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you sit, you might recognize that members of your party accuse the other side of either “trying to fundamentally destroy America” or “not caring about the people.” Those who utter statements like that are both wrong. More often than not, both sides care and want good things but are coming from different perspectives and have a variety of view points.

I’ll conclude with my favorite insult I’ve ever received, and it was sent to me this past February by a recovery advocate after I criticized a program for not having enough training or supervision:

I’m glad the Vikings lost. You are both losers.

11Apr/16

My Spring and Summer Speaking Tour

This is a list rather than an article. I get a number of emails and messages each week asking about upcoming speeches, conferences, panel discussions, webinars, and other events, so I put this together as a tool for those individuals.I’m a huge music fan, and have recently purchased summer tickets for the Dandy Warhols, Grateful Dead (w/John Meyer but no Phil Lesh), Lumineers, and the star studded show of Cheap Trick-Heart-Joan Jett, so I was inspired to label this my tour (private speeches and trainings that are not open to the general public are not included here).

April 20: Life After Incarceration for NAADAC. Free Webinar. This webinar is aimed at professionals working with clients either currently or formerly involved in the criminal justice system. This includes prison, jail, parole, probation, intensive supervised probation (ISP), and drug court. This session will cover the current state of our national criminal justice system, including statistics that show that America is the number one jailer in the world. The costs of maintaining county, state and federal jails/prisons will also be covered. We will review current reforms in a few forward thinking states. Participants will discuss the top three ways to avoid recidivism: education, treatment and employment. Participants will receive a toolkit of concepts, topics and strategies that they can engage in with their clients. Recommended readings will be offered to help participants gain a strong foundation in the American criminal justice system. Statistics will also be provided regarding the number of people, crimes and costs. The need for reform will be presented, including discussion of problems and inequities within the system that need to be addressed, such as the impact that heroin and prescription drugs have had on the criminal justice system. The webinar will also cover soft and hard skills that we need to teach our clients in order for them to lessen their chances of recidivating, along with examples of success. Participants who have clients in the criminal justice system will leave the webinar with a plan for work with clients and an understanding of the clinician’s role in the work of criminal justice clients. To register, go here.

April 28: What is the Responsible Marijuana Policy for Our Veterans? at SAM/NJPN. Conference in Atlantic City, NJ. I’m going to lay out the evidence that details the damage that marijuana causes service members and veterans and detail the lack of data on how marijuana helps vets (whenever you read or hear about this, it’s just anecdotes). All day registration (10 to 4, plus lunch) costs $100. To register, go here.

May 3: Substance Abuse Keynote Panel and Life After Incarceration for NASW-NJ. Conference in Atlantic City, NJ. I am facilitating a panel discussion on addiction and recovery that will cover prevention, treatment, recovery support services, policies and medication assistance. The panelists include Dr. Louis Baxter, Jass Pelland and Patty DiRenzo (I handpicked them). This will go from 9 to 11 am. I will present on the criminal justice system in the afternoon. To register, go here.

 TBD: College Recovery’s 1st Client Graduation Ceremony. New Brunswick, NJ. Back in 2014, I helped a few concerned individuals create a new treatment program for young adults in order to combat the opiate epidemic and provide newly sober individuals with supportive housing and an entree into higher education. I stepped away from full time work with them in 2015, but I have continued to run the family program there, which is work that is very near and dear to my heart. Sometime this June, they will be having a graduation ceremony for the first half dozen clients that have completed a year of treatment (among other successes). This is free and open to interested individuals. To learn more about College Recovery, go here.

July 10: The Opiate Epidemic and the Medical Industrial Complex for the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. Keynote in New Brunswick, NJ. I’m going to talk about the history of opium, heroin and opioids. I’ll discuss how Big Pharma, doctors, insurance companies, marketers, the FDA, the government and consumers are each responsible for the current epidemic. They are all guilty, though some moreso than others. I’ll also mention policies that are still causing problems and I’ll conclude with policies and programs that are working and should be copied or expanded. To register, click here

July 11 – 15: 21st Century Drugs and Working with the Military and Veterans at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. Conference in New Brunswick. These are 10 hour classes that I’m teaching over five days. They count for initial CADC/LCADC education or CEUs for a variety of health care professions. To learn more about 21st Century Drugs, go here. To learn more about Working with the Military, click here.

August 18: The History of Marijuana Policy at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders. Conference in Denver, CO. This session provides a detailed history of US drug laws, especially as they pertain to marijuana. We will cover the mid-17th century to the present. A strong focus on state laws will be provided from the 1990s to the present, with a particular examination of California, Massachusetts, Colorado and Washington. The push and pull between the federal government and the states will also be discussed. While the main thrust of this session is on history and policy, interventions at the individual and group level with clients will be discussed. (I may have military duty at this time or another obligation, so I’m only 50/50 for actually making this). To register, go here.

 

07Apr/16

Jesus Smoked Weed

I didn’t make this photo, and I am not trying be offensive, sacrilegious, nor blasphemous. I was shocked to find this photo and a series of other images, articles, ads, rants, and blog pieces about how “Jesus smoked weed.” Let’s back up to the original plan for where I wanted to start this article.

Historically, people, organizations, institutions and industries in America have used four major images or concepts to argue or sell their point (or product). They are:

1) The Bible

2) Dogs

3) Babies (or little children)

4) The American flag, now most often represented by current service members and veterans.

Think how often these major images and themes are used to sell a product or justify a political platform. Over the last dozen plus years, all of these have also been used to push agenda of the very for-profit marijuana industry. You would be shocked to find out how many people claim that marijuana helps dogs with “late stage cancer” (I tried to find the article from NJ.com that was published a few years ago, but alas, I could not).

Last fall, there was a news story in NJ about a woman who was not allowed to bring medical marijuana to her child at school (some people thought it unjust – snide aside here, I doubt those individuals have experienced real injustice). I’m a well-known critic of Governor Chris Christie (I didn’t like him LONG before it was cool to dislike him), but we do agree that marijuana should not be legalized (of course, he talks about it with his typical diplomatic flourish). It is easy to find CNN pieces on how marijuana helps children with seizures. The Huffington Post seems like a house organ for the for-profit marijuana industry. Another site site calls it “pot for tots.”

For me, the most offensive manipulation of the American public is when things are described as good for soldiers or veterans. The proliferation of articles on how medical marijuana can benefit the military and veterans is astounding; the one thing they all have in common is a lack of data. Amazingly, Congresspeople have told the VA they should consider giving marijuana to vets. An ambitious reporter should see if any of those politicians received donations from the for-profit marijuana industry. Bernie Sanders has said that he would end the military’s ban on marijuana – it’s an awful policy proposal and shows his clear failure to understand addiction and drug policy. The Veterans Administration released an excellent article citing evidence from several studies that marijuana does not help people with PTSD – in fact, it causes further harm. Two years ago, I sat on a panel where a paid advocate for the for-profit marijuana industry said that he knew of a veteran who benefited from using marijuana. It was an anecdotal story – we need to be very careful of these. One will find that most arguments for how marijuana can help soldiers and veterans is anecdotal.

My original plan was to end this piece by stating that one day we may see the Bible or Jesus used to justify or sell marijuana. And then I spent five seconds poking around with Google and learned that we are already there.

05Apr/16

Partnership For Drug Free Kids, Revisited

continuing care parent teen addiction treatment

Back in February, I wrote a critique on the Partnership for Drug Free Kids (PDFK – formerly the Partnership for a Drug Free America). I was prompted to research PDFK and write the article after witnessing the empty testimony of an executive from the Partnership for a Drug Free NJ at a State Senate hearing. I mistook one Partnership for the other (if you are sufficiently confused, then you are now experienced with the problem of similarly named agencies within the same field). While I stand by the research and data from that article, I do want to clarify and expand upon it (eventually, I need to get around to examining the Partnership for a Drug Free NJ, but that’s a piece for another time).

In early March, I had a lengthy conversation with PDFK President Marcia Lee Taylor (noted marijuana policy expert and my friend Kevin Sabet told me she was a decent and well-meaning professional). During our talk, she stated that:

1) Partnership for Drug Free Kids is “completely separate from Partnership for a Drug Free NJ” and that they are often confused. She said that local programs often do the legwork to secure advertising on television and then both the local and national programs will put their names on public service announcement (PSAs).

2) The $100 million budget was made up of 80-90 million in donated advertising time and that it wasn’t “actual money” and that their operating budget was closer to $7M.

3) Ms. Taylor said that when the organization changed its name from Partnership for a Drug Free America to Partnership for Drug Free Kids in 2014, the focus changed to educating parents about drug problems and providing information and support to families. She was very clear that they are not an advocacy organization, but that people (like me) often confuse them for one based upon their history and PSAs.

4) “Everyone at PFDK is against marijuana legalization but studies show that 50% of parents are for legalization and we do not want to alienate them.” That is why, she said, that they do not take a hard stance against marijuana on their website or in their materials.

5) They use a news aggregator to report prevention and substance abuse issues on their site. They do this so people don’t spend lots of time each day hunting down different stories; rather, they can get their information in one place.

6) Ms. Taylor stated that the “families’ help” is the work they are most proud of. They have a toll free hotline that is staffed by bi-lingual licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) during the work week. These LCSWs walk people through the website, provide them support, and refer them to volunteer parent coaches (who have been through this themselves). She reported that PFDK has over 80 parent coaches. These coaches have been trained by the Hilton Foundation.

 7) In an email correspondence a few days later, I asked Ms. Taylor about any metrics or evaluations that they had (or were aware of) about the effectiveness of their work. I will provide her full answer here:

Please note that proving a causal relationship between advertising exposure and a behavioral outcome is always difficult –there are so many variables that impact behavior- but a few of these studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between exposure to Partnership messaging and strengthened anti-drug attitudes as well as reduced substance use.

American Journal of Public Health (August 2002) – Evaluation of effectiveness of drug education messaging from PDFA from 1987 through 1990 – found that anti-drug advertising associated with a reduced probability of marijuana and cocaine / crack use among adolescents.  Team of researchers from Yale, NYU and elsewhere concluded that by 1990, “after three years of PDFA ads, approximately 9.25% fewer adolescents were using marijuana.”

Previously, the February 2001 issue of AJPH reported on a NIDA-funded study conducted by Philip Palmgreen at U of Kentucky that tracked impact of ad campaigns (mainly Partnership’s) running in selected counties in Kentucky.  Study showed a 26.7% decline in marijuana use among sensation-seeking teens exposed to the advertising.

In the same journal, in 1995, “The Impact of Anti-Drug Advertising” reported on a study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine finding that teens’ perceptions of anti-drug advertising “suggest that anti-drug advertising serves as a deterrent to [middle and high school] youth substance abuse.”

Reporting on positive teen inhalant abuse data in Monitoring the Future (U of Michigan’s annual survey of teen substance use),  Dr Lloyd Johnston observed in 1996 that “the turnaround in inhalant use and beliefs about its harmfulness corresponds exactly with the start of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s anti-inhalant ad campaign… We are inclined to credit much of the improvement in inhalant use to that intervention.”

“Above the Influence” – the teen targeted program developed by the Partnership and ONDCP, has been shown in three separate studies (attached here) to be effective in reducing teens’ intention to use, and actual reported use, of marijuana.  (It should be noted that ATI was created initially, in 2005, as part of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.  (The earlier incarnation of that campaign, “My Anti-Drug”, was evaluated independently between 1999-2004 and found to be ineffective.  I personally have never bought that conclusion –teen marijuana use declined dramatically over that period.  In any case,  ATI was developed after that evaluation was completed.)

The Partnership is currently working with the Consumer Healthcare Products Association to prevent OTC cough medicine abuse among teens via “intercept” digital messaging and content.  Ongoing evaluation of the messaging by Hall & Partners (independent research company) has shown that target (“fence sitter”) teens exposed to the messaging have stronger anti-cough medicine attitudes and lower intent to use.

In 2011, an independent evaluation of our Parents360 community education program that found it was effective in increasing parent knowledge and self-efficacy to address their child’s drug use.

Lastly, I think it’s worth pointing out that in-market “effectiveness” (as opposed to a controlled test of a PSA), requires both media tonnage and strategic “rightness” – something that rarely happens in the real world.  We can point to the period between 1987 and 1992 when Partnership advertising was most strongly supported by the media (hitting $350 million in 1991) and teen drug use declined significantly –not just cocaine, which was the drug most often featured in our messages, but all drugs including marijuana.

I followed up the conversation with President Taylor with a long phone call and email exchange with Denise Mariano, a parent of a young person in long term recovery who has become an effective advocate in NJ. She was a 2013 NCADD-NJ Advocate Leader, is a naloxone trainer and a member of the Morris County Opiate Task Force. She was recognized at the White House last year as one of the 2015 Office of National Drug Control Policy (OCDCP) advocates. She has been a volunteer for the Partnership for Drug Free Kids for four years and credits them with changing her life. When her child was struggling with addiction, she said she called and emailed over 50 different programs/resources and only two responded to her – one was the Partnership. She is extremely proud of the Parent Support Network and was trained as a peer-to-peer coach in 2014. When pressed for measurable data that showed the effectiveness of the peer-to-peer program, she said it was still early but that she had personally seen it help a number of people.

After these phone calls and some further reading/study, I have refined my stance on the Partnership:

1) There is a name problem. The fact that there are multiple “Partnerships for a Drug Free …..” is extremely confusing. I don’t think changing their name for a second time in three years is the optimum solution, but the Partnership does need to differentiate themselves better. Additionally, keeping the name makes it harder to shake off the failures of the 1985-2014 Partnership for a Drug Free America’s work (which I went into detail in my previous piece).

2) The $80M to $90M a year in free advertising is extremely significant (one need only look at the Trump 2016 GOP primary to see how valuable free media air time is). I am still dissatisfied with the PSAs and would like to see that free advertising used more effectively.

3) While I understand the political nature of the Partnership’s public marijuana stance (so that they don’t alienate parents they might otherwise reach), part of leadership is setting the tone and changing public perception. The best public stewards are those that are willing to lead people in the right direction, even if it means taking unpopular positions and irritating other stakeholders and people in power. Ideally, I would like to see them change their position on their website and donate some of the airtime to anti-marijuana legalization groups like Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

4) By using a news aggregator to publish industry stories on their website, it gives off the appearance that they are supporting policies, programs, companies or industries when they may not be. For example, when they publish articles about the pharmaceutical industry, it can appear that they support them. I have urged them to clearly delineate what is news and what they support.

5) Each spring, I teach one to two senior seminars at the Rutgers School of Social Work. It is the last class before they graduate, and I spend much of the semester teaching them the importance of data, evaluations and how success is measurable. While I appreciate both President Taylor’s and Ms. Mariano’s answers regarding the effectiveness of the Partnership and the limited evaluations metrics they have, I stridently urge them to work harder on getting both internal and external measures on the effectiveness of the Partnership’s work. Anecdotal stories are wonderful and often touching, but they are not reasons to support a program. The Partnership has a prominent role in our national battle against substance addiction and receives a great deal of free advertising – for that, they need to invest in better evaluation tools.

6) It was evident that Denise Mariano’s life has been transformed by the help that the Partnership provided several years ago, and she has helped numerous families since then. I know of a few other parents who have also dedicated their time, energy and hearts to the Partnership – I am aware of how hard they work and how much they truly care (and how they do this all for free). The strength and value of the Partnership is obviously in their volunteers and in their parent support network. Their work is real and should be commended. For my part, I am sorry for concluding my previous piece with saying the Partnership “needs to go away.” It was a flippant remark from someone who tries to take a middle-of-the road approach and seeks nuance. I will do better.

14Mar/16

Lawyers Should Start Suing Doctors Who Prescribe Medical Marijuana

See original image

As of March 13, 2016, 23 states and Washington DC allow for medical marijuana. In order to qualify for medical marijuana, one needs to see a doctor a get a recommendation. In California, one can get a recommendation for (but not limited to) the following:

The problems and medical conditions that are approved for medical marijuana vary from state to state, but one can pick up on the vagueness of some these maladies (how do you prove or disprove migraines, pain or nausea?). Besides the subjectivity of a number of these problems, there is an even more pressing concern: clinical research has not be conducted where marijuana was used to treat these illnesses. The doctors are making these recommendations with little to no research about these issues. One doctor I spoke to recently described the practice of prescribing marijuana as perhaps being a bit medieval but definitely pre-enlightenment.

One of the key defenses for doctors is that they are not prescribing marijuana but rather recommending it. That obviously has been set up this way to limit their liability (key word is limit, not eliminate). Is a recommendation a form of medical care or treatment? If it is not, then why is it called medical marijuana? If it is a form of medical care or treatment, then it becomes much clearer that the doctor has some responsibility here. When a medical marijuana user has an accident or experiences some psychological problems from their marijuana use (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, lack of concentration), a strong trial lawyer may make a case against the doctor (and/or the marijuana dispenser) for liability.

It will happen. The question is where and when.

08Mar/16

I Sent a Bunch of Earth People to Some AA Meetings

Earth people is a colloquial term that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members sometimes use to describe non-alcoholics. It is neither a compliment nor an insult – just a way of separating the kind of person who would drink despite horrific consequences or take ludicrous risks from a person…who wouldn’t.

For the last 10 semesters, I have co-taught a senior level seminar at the Rutgers School of Communication with Lea Stewart, who is both a much loved professor and the Dean of Livingston Campus (she is also a major ally of the Recovery House). The class is Advanced Health Communications (AHC) and we conduct outreach with 1st and 2nd year students to address problem drinking. The outreach campaign is called RU Sure, and we share statistics to let students know what normal drinking looks like. We put theory into practice. Simply put, we let undergraduates know that:

– 2 out of 3 students drink three drinks or less

– and that 1 out of 5 don’t drink at all

Each semester, I teach students about how I diagnose someone with a substance disorder, how alcohol (and drugs) effect the brain, services available on campus, and I bring in a student who is in recovery to tell his or her story. The final part of the class that I am responsible for is that I send all of them to an open 12-step meeting and have them write about it. In their papers, they have to write a paragraph about what they expect the meeting to be like. After they attend the meeting, they have to tell me where they went, the demographics of the meeting, a gist of what was shared (while keeping it completely anonymous) and then their reactions to the entire experience. The 15 students this spring probably did the best job of any class with this assignment, and one student wrote the greatest 12-step reaction paper that I have ever read.

Some highlights from what these Earth people expected:

1) I could just see everyone staring at the “new girl” coming to get help. The uncertainty of what it was going to be like showing my face for the first time at an AA meeting was causing me extreme stress and anxiety. I did not want to go there and have people think I was an alcoholic, or have someone ask me to tell my story and then I would have to awkwardly answer, “I’m here for a class.” As I continued to wonder and worry, I expected everyone to be quiet or sad.

2) I was very nervous. I didn’t want to be in a room with older, scummier male alcoholics. I didn’t want to sit through a venting session and I didn’t want to have to awkwardly have to say to the group, “Hi, I’m XXXX and I’m not an alcoholic.”

3) I thought it would look like people in a small room, sitting in a circle, telling each other about their feelings. I also assumed it was going to be a lot of white people, based upon what I’ve seen in the media.

4) In class, we had spoken about how prior alcoholics sometimes turn to caffeine or cigarettes to ease their cravings. Therefore, I was expecting to see some people smoking outside of the building. I was also expecting coffee to be provided at the meeting.

5) I figured it would be a group of people sitting in a circle half talking about the struggles or temptations they’ve had to stay sober, and the other half not wanting to say anything. I imagined AA to be therapy or catharsis for those involved, but lacking in positivity.

6) For some reason, I picture gray folding chairs in a circle and people open to anything. Everyone is willing to share and not afraid to cry. I expect to see only a handful of people, but amongst those that are at the meeting there is a leader – someone who organizes and was previously certified to host these meetings.

7) I was amazed at the amount of meetings available to me within a five-mile radius.

8) Going into this meeting I feel especially anxious to see a large population of college students because I think it will make me feel sad and upset that such young kids are dealing with addiction; although I really feel sad thinking about any person of any age having addiction.

And their reactions to their actual AA experience:

1) It made me upset when a member mentioned that he would constantly drive drunk. I was shocked to learn that many members attend daily meetings, regardless of being sober more than five years. Lastly, it was interesting to hear how God and prayer are both a large focus in these meetings. Since I come from a religious family, I enjoyed hearing about God’s presence in the members when they spoke.

2) AA continues to exhibit the patriarchal monotheistic society of its origins. AA is not as open as it would have you believe. The literature may profess a higher power of your understanding, but it continues to address that high power as God and Him.

3) …I’m a complete stranger and she seemed so happy to see a new face here and welcomed me.

4) …after the meeting, almost everyone went outside for a smoke, which kind of threw off the whole vibe I was getting where people come here to fix problems and not just to replace them with something else.

5) The family-feel and the work those involved put in just gave off a really positive vibe. It put a new perspective on alcoholism for me and took away the stereotype I had in mind of what meetings are like.

6) One thing that stood out to me about the speakers was that they were really humble. They did not credit their recovery solely to their own strength and abilities, but made sure to recognize the major role that their loved ones, AA community, sponsors and/or higher power had in their journey.

7) I was really impressed with one guy who had been sober for 20 years. I thought that was amazing because I cannot imagine the amount of dedication that this took for him. Some people’s stories made me tear up a bit and I have a new appreciation for people going through this struggle. The people at these meetings are like one big family. It was very welcoming and I felt so comfortable the entire time.

8) I was surprised to find out what a big role God plays in AA, and at first I was a little taken aback by this factor, but I came to better understand the concept of “God as we understand him,” especially when one of the speakers shared that he does not believe in God. He was able to make the program work for him though. Besides that, I think the biggest impact this meeting left on me was seeing that anyone can be an alcoholic.

9) It was disappointing to see the speaker as the only Latino besides myself.

10) It made me realize that I should learn to practice empathy.

11) It was surprisingly difficult to find the meeting.

12) I realized that although they have a problem I do not have, I am more similar to them than I could ever imagine.

13) I could tell these people really cared for each other and wanted the best for each other.

14) One small thing happened on my way to the meeting. I got lost and met a girl who was also trying to find it. Her name was XXXX, she was an alcoholic and this was her first time coming to this meeting. I helped her find the building and we walked in together. This interaction immediately made me think about all the times I have been new somewhere and hadn’t been so graciously received and welcomed. Overall, and maybe most importantly, after leaving the meeting I can truly stand behind the RU Sure message for the first time and feel authentic doing it. When I came into the class,  I was afraid that I would look like a hypocrite campaigning for safe drinking when I went out and drank, but I realized that I do drink safely and when I drink unsafely I really hate it and end up regretting it. These experiences make me feel ready to be an active part of RU Sure, eager to help people and well-equipped to educate students.

07Mar/16

Profiles of Service: Eric Arauz

I have long considered that attending Rutgers was the second best decision of my life. Besides getting a world class education, I formed a number of very close friendships and met some extraordinary people. I count Eric Arauz as both a close friend and an extraordinary person. Eric is the President of the Trauma Institute of NJ – it is an organization that trains doctors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, academics and community members about trauma and suicide.

I met Eric in the fall of 1997 when we were both undergraduate students. I was a 21 year soldier in the Army National Guard and he was a 26 year old Navy Veteran from Gulf War I. I studied history and English while he majored in American Studies. We discussed the military, history, literature, recovery, spirituality, movies and sports as we walked around New Brunswick fueled by coffee. We both had dreams of advanced scholarship and helping people on a large scale.

Eric graduated with high honors from Rutgers in 2000. A few years later, he completed a Masters in Labor Relations from Rutgers, where he was once again a top graduate. During the 2000s, I worked at Integrity House, Elizabeth High School, Hunterdon Drug Awareness and Rutgers. Eric came to every place I worked (multiple times) and spoke to my clients/students about his life, the importance of education, why substances are dangerous, and how they could do anything with their lives. For all three years I taught high school English at Elizabeth, Eric came in to the school on or around September 22 and talked to my students. He did so in three different classes per day, which is exhausting – both physically and emotionally. That date is significant to me because it was the anniversary of the overdose death of my friend Frazer Curry. Eric knew him also and how important it was for me that young people learned from Frazer’s experiences.

In the mid-2000s, Eric dedicated himself to becoming an expert speaker and trainer. He worked for NCADD-NJ and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), served on a national project for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and won a Voice Award in 2009. For the last six years, he has been a faculty member at the Rutgers Medical School in the Psychiatry Division. He was appointed to the NJ Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in 2011 and immediately fought for me to be brought on as well. Eric was instrumental in helping create and run the NJ Heroin and Opiate Task Force. Our report was released in 2014. One of the handful of recommendations that has been successfully implemented was the NJ Warmline – Eric suggested it, wrote that part of the report, and then met and fought for it behind closed doors.

Eric’s story, An American’s Resurrection, was published in the fall of 2012. It is his story of surviving childhood abuse at the hand’s of his schizophrenic father, substance abuse, mental illness and institutionalization. I have read many books written by people with mental illnesses, and I think that this is the best one about bi-polar disorder and what it is like to be in an inpatient VA hospital. It has won numerous awards and is highly regarded within the medical and professional communities. I have assigned it to all of my senior social work students at Rutgers over the last four years. Eric has generously come to each class, hit upon aspects of his story, inspired students, and signed their books. He always gives them his email address and pledges to help them in whatever way he can. This is hard to fathom, but he does it. And he follows through. Eric finishes things. It’s so impressive.

Eric has helped me in my work with soldiers, veterans and law enforcement officers. These are professions that have high rates of alcohol abuse, divorce and PTSD. There is a huge stigma in seeking help and talking about problems in those fields. Eric understands cumulative stress and secondary trauma far better than anyone that I have ever come across. Much of the work I’ve done in those areas has been made possible with the training and advice that Eric has provided me.

Eric has keynoted the American Psych Nurses (APNA) National Conference and won their Champion of Psychiatric Nursing Award in 2012 with First Lady Rosalyn Carter.  He was a faculty member with APNA on their five year Recovery to Practice grant with SAMHSA (the largest grant in SAMHSA’s history). He also co-authored APNA’s first set of national suicide competencies for inpatient nurses.

Eric recently signed a deal with the NJ Division of Children and Family (DCF). He was the sole creator and head trainer for their Trauma program called Taming Trauma. He will train all 6000 workers. He will help them deal with the stressful conditions of their jobs – seeing kids malnourished, beaten and even sexually abused. Like soldiers and cops, child welfare workers have high rates of burnout and it shows in their divorce rates, mental health problems and substance abuse. Some of the fields that people work in are potentially very damaging – Eric is helping those that help others. He deserves every recognition and award that has come (and will come) his way. On behalf of both NJ and America, thank you Eric.

 

 

06Mar/16

My Recent Visit to the NJ Recovery High School

On Friday March 4, 2016, I visited NJ’s first and only recovery high school. It is called the Ray Lesniak Recovery High School (they have a Facebook page too). I wrote an article about the history of the recovery high school movement in NJ back in August of 2014, and was thrilled when they had their official opening that November.

I was invited by Morgan Thompson, a MSW student at Rutgers who is also a member of Young People in Recovery (YPR) and a NCADD-NJ trained advocate. She works there as a recovery mentor – she is with the students for much of the day and helps organize the speakers who come in each Friday afternoon.

The school is located on the Kean College campus and they have their own building on the west end. There is a library, computer room, a number of smaller offices and a huge classroom where the students take their online classes. It is decorated nicely and has the feel of a small school where everyone knows and cares about each other.

I spoke with the students for about an hour. They told me where they were from, how they get to school each day, and how some of them didn’t want to be there at first (but now they all love it). They spoke glowingly of Morgan and the other staff members and all plan on going to college (I pushed Rutgers hard). The kids were so sweet, grateful and bursting with energy and hope.

If you are a professional in the field of prevention, treatment or recovery support services, I urge you to visit. Ditto if you are an advocate. Every student assistant counselor (SAC) and guidance counselor in the state needs to be aware of it – if you are a parent or educator, make sure your local school is aware of the Ray Lesniak Recovery High School in Union County. Students in recovery from anywhere in the state of NJ can go to the school, and they will receive a strong education and have a far better chance at staying sober than if they stayed in their current high school (I so wanted to write the word drug-infested, but I thought the better of it).

We need to get the word out. Governor Christie has not only failed in visiting (or even talking about) the recovery high school, but last summer he rejected a bill that would allow the creation of other recovery high schools in NJ. We must succeed where the Governor has not even dared to try – get the word out. Please help. This amazing school should be bursting with students.

05Mar/16

A Brief Note About What Legalized Marijuana Looks Like

I’ve written about the difference between criminalization, decriminalization, medicalization and legalization a number of times over the last few years.Gallup released a poll last year that stated that 58% of Americans now support marijuana legalization. If you favor legalization, here are a few questions to consider:

Do you think that marijuana should be advertised on television?

Do you think that marijuana should be advertised on billboards?

Do you think that marijuana should be advertised in magazines or comics?

Are you ok with a cartoon character selling marijuana?

Should marijuana gummy bears be sold at your local Quick Check, Wawa or 7-11?

What are your thoughts about marijuana vending machines? Should they be allowed? If you like marijuana vending machines, how close should they be allowed to high schools? What about colleges?

Should bus drivers, taxi drivers and uber drivers be allowed to smoke marijuana? If not on the job, how long before they drive should they be allowed to smoke?

Should companies that grow, process, sell or advertise marijuana be exempt from lawsuits from people who use, misuse or abuse marijuana?

These are all outcomes that are not only possibly, but probable in a United States that legalizes marijuana. Before you decide to be pro-legalization, think these questions through. If you want to learn more about legalization and marijuana policy, they should check out Smart Approaches to Marijuana and any article that features Kevin Sabet.