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 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.




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




Our Friend Pat

Four members of the 2011 alumni softball team. Pat is the young blonde man.

Our friend Pat died last week. He was 30 years old. Yesterday, I went to Pat’s funeral in the suburbs of Philadelphia. There were at least 200 people there, most of them in their 20’s and 30’s. It was very somber, even by a funeral’s standard.

Pat got sober as a young man. He went to Rutgers and lived in Recovery Housing. I met him in 2005. I was finishing up my masters in social work and he was a rowdy undergraduate full of zest and life. He was close friends with a number of guys that I eventually became quite tight with. Pat was a strong member of the recovery community and he was extremely welcoming and supportive of newcomers. He was the RA of the Recovery House during the 2007-08 school year (which was the year before I was hired to oversee the program). Pat was never my student or my client. I was never responsible for him. We were both just members of the Rutgers Recovery Community who felt a strong sense of gratitude and dedication to the Recovery House. Eventually we became friends.

Pat shared his experience with me as a RA and made some suggestions for improving the program. He played in our Alumni-Student softball games, sang at Karaoke with his friends, and spoke with current students about the importance of academics and internships. He shared his time and experience.

In the past 18 months, I went to Costa Rica with Pat for a bachelor party, was in a wedding party with him and attended two other weddings together of mutual friends. He enjoyed smoking cigars on the beach, fine dinners, a good joke and dancing like a lunatic. I knew him. After 9+ years of sobriety, Pat relapsed. I’m not going to get into details, but I’ll say this:

1) He stopped doing what he used to do in order to stay sober

2) His close friends were upset and concerned

3) Pat made a series of poor choices and his life got increasingly worse

4) People talked to him and he wouldn’t hear it

5) He cut people off

6) He put together about two weeks of sobriety this fall. Our friends visited him and told me, “It was nice to have my friend back.”

7) A month later he was dead.

One of my closest friends called me on Tuesday night and told me the news. I felt sad because Pat was my friend. I felt bad because Pat was an alumnus of the Rutgers Recovery program. I felt frustrated because Pat had once turned his life around. I felt awful for his closest friends. I felt devastated for his family, especially his parents.

I lost my friend Fraser in September of 2002. I had tried for several years to get him sober. His death was the final event that put me on the path of my life’s work. Both Rutgers and myself have written about it. Pat’s death reminded me of Fraser again and all the feelings that I went through in the aftermath. I sent out an email to his closest friends:

I am so sorry for your loss. I know this pain all too well. I just wanted to share my experience with you all in the hope that it might be of some help.

(1) Write down everything you can about Pat. Things he said, things you did together, jokes played, things that pissed you off and little gestures. Your mind will be flooded with memories over the next two weeks, and then they will slowly fade. You will never remember him as well as you do right now. Write it down. Also…it will help you grieve.
(2) I was angry at Fraser for dying and then I would feel bad about being angry at my dead friend. It was confusing. It took me a while to reconcile all of those feelings. It is ok and natural for you to be angry at Pat.
(3) There was nothing you could do to help. Do not blame yourselves in any way or carry that burden. You were all good examples and good friends to him.
(4) Double up on your coping mechanisms, whether they be therapy, AA, exercise, yoga, meditation, hanging out with friends, hiking, etc….Do this for a number of weeks.
(5) You have the right to talk with who you want about this, and you can also tell people that you are sad and just need some space. I found that I talked about it a lot with a couple of close friends, shared about it at every meeting I went to and discussed it in therapy. But I didn’t have it in me to talk to everyone. Some people just pissed me off or didn’t “get it.”
(6) Remember that his family’s pain is worse than yours. Writing a letter to them about how much he meant to you, as well as some funny/good stories will be valued more than you can possibly know.

At the service, I told his parents about GRASP (Grief After Substance Passing). Since 2012, I either get a letter, email or phone call from at least one parent of a young person who died from substance abuse each week. The pain a parent experiences when their child dies is indescribable and immeasurable. There are no words or deeds of comfort.

I watched my friends at the service. I watched them look at pictures, talk to each other, cry in their spouses’ arms and try to make sense that this happened. “I keep waiting for him to pop out of the next room and say it was all a joke,” one friend told me. It happened so fast and seems so unreal. I wish I could take away their pain. All I can do is share my experience and be there for them.


We are going to create a scholarship for students in recovery in Pat’s memory. If you want to be a part of that scholarship, you can contact me. If you just want to donate in Pat’s memory, you can mail a check to Rutgers ADAP, c/o Lisa Laitman, 17 Senior Street, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901.

Pat 3

Marijuana Effectively Decriminalized in NYC

I’m strongly against both marijuana criminalization and legalization. Criminalization is costly, leads to a crowded criminal justice system and mars the records of otherwise upstanding citizens. Legalization is costly, leads to more cops, more use, more hospitalizations and more treatment episodes.

Decriminalization does not encourage new users but also keeps the criminal justice system clear (so cops can do real police work and citizens don’t have to explain a marijuana arrest when they were 26).

It’s great news out of NYC: click here

When Insurance Companies Engage in Medical Bad Practice

On Tuesday morning I received a call from a former colleague of mine that a young man was caught drinking on the job. My colleague knew that the young man, George*, was a former student of mine and that he had once been sober for about two years.

I was able to get in touch with George and explain to him that the jig was up. “Everyone at your job knows that you have a drinking problem,” I told him. I explained that he should go to treatment and that he could keep his job and that I would help him through this. He agreed to call several detoxes. Within 15 minutes, he had an appointment at a quality program in Central New Jersey for Wednesday morning.

The medical staff at the detox unit took his vital signs. His resting pulse was 101 and his blood pressure was 140/100 (he is 25 years old). He admitted to drinking for the last 72 hours and that he usually drinks 13 out of 14 days (his pattern for the last several months). The medical professionals and the substance abuse counselors all agreed that he needed to be admitted to the detox.

Here is a word by word copy of our text conversation from Wednesday morning (reprinted here with his permission):

George: I’ve been admitted.

Me: Great. Keep me posted on your progress and let me know when they begin discharge planning.

George: Correction. I was denied. I’m under “doc” review from my insurance company.

Me: WHAT?!? If they don’t pay for it make sure that doctor gives you written reasons why and a referral/rec for other treatment.

George:, I’ve drank for 72 hours straight, my pulse is 101, BP is 140/100 and they fuckin deny it. How is that possible? Alcohol is one of two detoxes that you can die from.

Me: Let’s try Sunrise detox or Bergen Pines.

George: It’s my insurance saying no.

Me: Ah…it’s the insurance. Right. Of course.

George: Yessir. The clinician is really pushing for me to be accepted.

Me: Who is your insurance company and what kind of insurance is it?

George: HBCBS and advantage EPO. I’m being referred to an ambulatory detox.

Me: Are you going to go there?

George: Probably not. I don’t see how I’m not going to drink at night. My pulse is 116 now. The doctor told me to go to a GP and have him prescribe me a benzo and detox at home.

Me: That is outrageous. Who is the doctor reviewing your file for the insurance company.

George: Dr. Pigvomit**.

Me: Ok. We are going after him and that company. Fill out this form when you get a chance – NJ State Insurance Complaint Form

George: Will do. This detox is admitting me.

Me: Ah, great news.

George: They said irrelevant to what the insurance doctor says, I’m in and not responsible for all payment if the insurance company says no.

Me: Wow. Great great news. I’ll have to contact them and thank them.

My student has been there for 36 hours now and is doing fine. We are going to file a complaint against the insurance company and I’ll take this story to the press. Sadly, this is all too common. If you have a story like this or know someone who does, please fill out this form: NJ Insurance Complaint Form and please tell your story to the press.


* George is not his real name. I’ve changed it for this article.

** Pigvomit is not the Dr.’s real name.

Recent Articles That You Should Be Aware Of

Excellent article about addiction, overdose, treatment, medication assistance therapy, PMP’s and Narcan from the September 8, 2014 The New Yorker: click here

Halloween fell on a Friday night this year and college towns around the country were overrun with parties and alcohol-fueled hospitalizations. New Brunswick’s police force, EMT’s and hospitals were overwhelmed: click here.

A Natural Fix for ADHD from last Sunday’s New York Times.

I’m in favor of punishment and consequences, but after people have served their time, I think they should be allowed to move forward. Today Californians will vote on reclassifying some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an attempt to make it easier for ex-offenders to find jobs. This excellent piece appeared on click here.

This guy is very sharp. He does an excellent job explaining why medication should be a part of some treatment and recovery regimens. My only disagreement is that I think needle exchange programs are a little better than he makes them out to be. Read the interview from The here: one man’s war on treatment.

From Forbes: What 20 Years of Research Has Taught Us About the Chronic Effects of Marijuana.

For Addiction Treatment Professionals: sexual misconduct on the job.

More marijuana facts: What the Marijuana Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know

My favorite, current-sitting, NJ politician, Senator Joe Vitale, appeared at Rutgers in late October and spoke at an Overdose Vigil. His 21 bills that address education, prevention, treatment and recovery are a fantastic way to address the opiate epidemic. While Governor Christie gets headlines for saying things, Senator Vitale quietly works towards getting big things done. Read about it: Overdose Vigil at Rutgers.

* I post most of these on the Facebook page when they are published, as well as a number of other articles that I don’t discuss on this site.