My attention span lately has been devoted to the spineless doings of legislators in my home state of New York. But bad news obviously happens everywhere, even sunny California, where politicians this week overrode the wishes of voters. Proposition 36, which called for treatment instead of jail time for first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders, was passed by 61% of the voters in 2000. A new provision approved Wednesday with the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allows judges to send relapsers to jail for up to five days.
It could be argued that this provision gives judges the same leeway that I'd like to see them have in New York State, where the Rockefeller Drug Laws have mandated stiff sentences. But why are we throwing addicts who need treatment into a system that doesn't treat at all?
On the other hand, giving judges the discretion to mandate 18 months of rehab instead of the current maximum of 12 months seems to me to be a good idea.
Libertarians will be interested in learning that Proposition 36 has purportedly saved taxpayers $1.3 billion, according the analysis by Huffington Post blogger Dave Fratello, a coauthor of Proposition 36.
The Wrong Guys?
Bridget G. Brennan, New York's special prosecutor for narcotics, says that the reforms to the harsh Rockefeller drug laws a couple of years ago, feeble as they were, are freeing free hard-core, top-level dealers, not low-level offenders. She also claims that the public has a skewed view of those who were serving mandatory life sentences for drug dealing in the state.
"I think there was a misperception that the people serving these sentences were low-level nonviolent offenders," she said told the New York Times. "Or that they were unsophisticated naifs who were caught up and manipulated by a drug organization."
Reformers say that Brennan's own view is skewed since her office only handles the big cases that involve drug kingpins, and her study did not include the seventy-five percent of inmates whose cases were handled by local DAs.
The bottom line, I think, is that each case should be judged on its merits, and mandatory sentencing doesn't allow that.
On the Ledge
Yonkers and New York City cops pulled a woman off a fifth-story ledge the other night. She said she was distraught over a drug relapse. As Deirdre wrote to the Journal News, the story epitomizes what's wrong with leaving treatment for chemical dependency out of the insurance parity law that both house of the New York legislature reached an agreement on last week.
"I wonder how this woman, taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where she is undergoing psychiatric evaluation, will fare," Deirdre wrote in a letter to the editor. "The short term look will tell you mental illness—depression—lead her to the window ledge, but if you read to the end of the article it becomes clear her recent addiction relapse, brought her there. Unfortunately it is most likely both those illnesses played out in her mind but chemical dependency, with its stigmatizing influence, likely pushed her to the edge. It is a place familiar to many addicts/alcoholics.
"Being in recovery myself, I know the feeling of hopelessness. For some, it seems no matter how hard you try to get sober it’s just beyond your grasp. For others, the compulsion is lifted almost as soon as they stop. People who haven’t suffered this disease can’t understand why. There are many reasons, too many to go into here, but suffice it to say even the addict has a hard time understanding, made worse by a society that treats this public health issue as a criminal justice problem and a legislature that doesn’t think 'those people' are worth saving.
"While the recovery community is grateful the long fight for mental health parity is nearly over and many lives will be saved because of it, many others will be lost. But we should not give up. We need to remind our legislators that we are good people getting better and rather than being a burden to society, we are taxpaying, productive members who vote."
It's no great revelation of human nature that we see what we want to see, read what we want to read, and twist research findings to suit our purposes. Well, not you or me, but other people
I got a kick out of the Adam comic I saw in the [Springfield, Mass.] Republican this morning. In the first panel, a guy (presumably Adam) is reading the a newspaper article aloud: "Further evidence confirms coffee may indeed counteract alcohol's effect on the liver." The second panel shows the guy facing us and saying, "Irish coffee sales should soar."
When I was growing up, I couldn't wait for my father to get home with his briefcase full of five New York daily newspapers — the Daily News, the Post, the World Telegram, Newsday and the Journal American — whose comic pages I devoured. (Two others didn't count: The Times was a barren wasteland of type and if the Herald Tribune had funnies, I don't remember them.) Sundays, with their color pages, were even better.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped reading comics — no doubt to my detriment — but a poster trumpeting two color pages of funnies every day made me check out the Republican today. I'd never seen daily comics in color, although I'd bet that the Repubican is not the first paper to run them. I stopped reading Editor & Publisher, the newspaper trade magazine that used to inform me about such things, about the time that it went online.
Alas, I don't think this innovation is going to make newspapers any more relevant to kids. We're on a tour of colleges with Duncan, who will be a senior next year. He's been text messaging on his phone all day and IMing next to me on Deirdre's laptop for three hours. During our college tours, he clicks away with his tiny digital camera to take visual notes the way I'll pull out a notebook. In other words, he's very media savvy, twenty-first-century style. Interactive, digital, visual. Newspapers have never been part of his media equation, and I doubt they ever will be. I got excited this morning when he actually read a headline over my shoulder in USA Today (and then asked me what the story was about). Kids ten years younger, who are the age I was when I started reading the funny pages, are even further removed from developing a newspaper habit.
I assumed, of course, that I'd be able to find the Adam cartoon online and I did with no problem. What surprised me, though, was that I'm not able to link to it permanently. The "postcard" I send myself and linked to above will expire in two weeks. The site that brought it to us obviously to build a subscription business for their archives and think that providing permalinks will undermine those efforts. I think not, but that's something to explore elsewhere.
The takeaway here is that it's blazingly obvious that we are going to have to reach kids in the media they are using and, as much as I love them, that's not newspapers or newsprint. And we are going to have to communicate with them in the style they are used to, and that's not the one-way, we-are-the-omnipotent-pontificators mode of editors, anchormen and advertisers. It will need to be, as much as it hurts my bloviating soul to adjust, a dialogue. And it will need to go beyond prescriptive words and carry illuminating visuals.
I read Timothy Leary's autobiography a few years ago. It was one of the saddest memoirs I've read because Leary put such a positive spin on a life that was fueled as much by the alcoholism at the core of his being as by his quest for a higher consciousness. And he had a special talent, as so many drunks do, for destroying the lives of his loved ones, too, including his wives and children. Still, I felt a sort of affection for him, sort of like I did for my crazy, alcoholic uncle Kip, who would talk to you quite rationally about last night's ball game one second, then lapse into a rap about the stigmata on his palms the next.
I first fell under Leary's spell as a prepubescent boy who'd listen to him rhapsodizing about LSD on Long John Nebel's late night radio show on WNBC in New York in the mid Sixties. Boy, did I even want to get my hands on some acid. It's a good thing that there were no known dealers in St. Gabriel's Parochial school back in the day. By the time I could buy acid, I'd decided that it wouldn't a good idea for me. Pot made often made me paranoid; I figured the odds were good that I'd totally flip out on acid. I never did take it.
This all come to mind because a new biography of Leary, by Robert Greenfield, is being published this summer. It was reviewed by Luc Sante in today's New York Times Book Review. Sante makes some broad observations in his final paragraph (below) and, in the last sentence, takes Leary's life to a higher level of conscious, if not consciousness.
"The book provides a crash course in several aspects of 60's culture: its often gaseous rhetoric, its reliance on mahatmas and soothsayers, its endless bail-fund benefits and sometimes dubious appeals to conscience, its thriving population of informers, its contribution to the well-being of lawyers, its candyland expectations and obstinate denials of reality, its fatal avoidance of critical thinking, its squalid death by its own hand.," Sante writes. "That still leaves many meritorious elements largely outside Leary's sphere: civil rights, the antiwar movement, music and art, the impulse toward communitarianism,; to name a few. In part because of Leary, however, ideals and delusions were encouraged to interbreed, their living progeny being avid consumerism and toothless dissent."
I never would have thought to hang avid consumerism and toothless dissent on this brilliant sad sack of a man, but Sante may have a point.
Claire and Mia
Deirdre, Carrick and I had breakfast with Claire and Mia Fontaine after their Good Morning America appearance this morning and confirmed in person what I'd already gleaned from reading Come Back and corresponding for a couple of weeks with Claire via email: It's uncanny how similar many of our experiences have been, and how sympatico we are.
During Charles Gibson's introduction to this morning's interview on GMA, a video and photo montage of young Mia splashed across the screen. Just like Carrick does in Saving Carrick — which incidentally will be rebroadcast on the NBC network's West Coast stations Wednesday evening (6/15) at 9 PDT — a young Mia dances and prances and sings and smiles as if she owns the world. Then come the teen years.
I'm a realist enough to realize that most TV interviewers skim the books they are discussing at best, but I thought Gibson came across as particularly shallow. He spent an inordinate amount of time wondering why Claire and Mia have changed their names — basically to protect themselves — and then asked Mia a question about cutting, which is not a major theme in Come Back. The theme of sexual abuse by Mia's biological father, however, was avoided altogether. In an interview like that, conducted with journalistic gravitas, it difficult to convey the ultimate message of the book, which is redemption and moving forward with compassion and humor.
Those qualities — compassion and humor — came to the surface as I listened to Carrick and Mia compare notes on their experiences and laugh together from the soul as they chatted away in an uptown diner. Carrick talked a little bit about the book she is "supposed to be" writing, and it was clear to me that a lot of it will be an attempt to put a story to some of the people she encountered — people who we often cross the street to avoid.
In Come Back, Claire writes about an epiphany she has when she realizes that the scary-looking runaways she's grilling while looking for Mia are all somebody's child. It's something I realized somewhere along the line, too. That's not to say there aren't dangerous people out there — incorrigibles and manipulating psychopaths who keep screwing people and would have you believe that they are the victims — but they are the exceptions. Unfortunately for Mia, she ran into one at an early age, but within minutes of meeting her, you know that this is a young woman, like Carrick, who will go as far as she wants to on native intelligence, empathy, and the wisdom she's gained.
Old White Men
The New York Senate's "old white men," as one advocate put it yesterday, agreed to an insurance parity bill last night that does not include any mention of substance abuse.
The Timothy's Law campaign has issued a press release that is remarkably celebratory. Those on the front lines of the struggle were both exhausted by 18-hour days of wrangling and fearful that whatever measures had been agreed upon would blow apart if they did not agree to this watered-down compromise.
The legislation will save lives, and for that we are grateful. But the discrimination against people with the disease of addition continues, and the old white men aren't aren't just penny pinchers looking out for small business, as they like to portray themselves. They are easy prey for the insurance lobby that holds great sway — make that swag — in the legislature. They combine the dangerous mix of ignorance (both about the nature of addiction and the true cost of parity) and obstinance.
"A huge amount of education has to go on in the Senate," the advocate said.
To Deirdre and me, this was precisely the deal that our state senator, Nick Spano, who exerts a lot of power as assistant majority leader, suggested could be delivered when we visited his office in April. He said that we should take what we could get this year and agitate for more in the future.
We were told back then by representatives on the Timothy's Law Campaign that it was not enough, and we agreed.
We've been calling, faxing, buttonholing and emailing Spano for months, and know that many others have, too, urging that no bill be passed without a chemical dependency component. The one response I got personally was a form email. The only response that would have counted, of course, is a positive result.
"He not only didn't deliver," the advocate involved in the negotiations said. "He stayed out of it."
In contrast, a couple of month ago, Spano was front and center and all over the news in prodding both the Assembly speaker and the Senate leader to pass the state budget on time.
To be fair, the substance abuse lobby, with a few exceptions, stayed out of it, too. Compared to the mental health advocates, our presence was pitiful.
The Timothy's Law press release acknowledges that the agreement fell short on coverage for those with addiction and promised to "return in September when the Legislature is expected to fulfill its promise to pass Timothy’s Law."
The Republicans hold a five-seat majority in the Senate. An article in the Journal News recently indicated that they were expected to hold on to that edge in the November elections despite the strong showing expected by Democratic candidates for other statewide and federal (Hilary) offices. Ironically, a lot of the power of the Republicans derives from upstate communities whose population is swelled by downstate prisoners who not only cannot vote but also aren't counted as residents of their home districts. Doubly ironic is the fact that the majority of them are doing time under the state's draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.
The imperative now becomes to vote the most vulnerable Republicans out of office, presumably starting with Spano. A softball jersey with the number 18 hangs prominently behind his desk. Eighteen is the number of votes by which he won his last election.
"Ah, but not so fast," a voice in the back of my head keeps telling me. "Politics is the art of getting things done. Perhaps Spano is the guy to educate his peers."
The only way I'll listen to that voice, however, is if Spano gets in front of this issue in the coming weeks and articulates — loudly and clearly — a concrete plan to personally deliver a chemical dependency component to the parity legislation in 2007.
Financier and philantropist George Soros will announce Wednesday that he is giving $10 million to cities to build comprehensive drug treatment centers. I don't know how far $10 million will go, but it's certainly a generous kick-start by a private individual toward a dealing with America's No. 1 health problem. It also fills what I've long perceived as a big hole in Soros' stance on drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance, which Soros also funds, gives lip service to prevention and treatment, but seems more concerned with making the world safe for those who use drugs than in helping those who want to recover from them.
There's certainly a need for a group that agitates for treatment over incarceration, and for allowing the use of medical marijuana and the like, but I sometimes get the feeling that some anti-drug war crusaders have never been in the trenches with an addiction of their own, or tried to help a friend or loved one who is strung out.
I certainly got that feeling when I recently read some testimony of Craig Reinarman, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, In "The Social Construction of Drug Scares," Reinarman states:
"What I have called drug scares have been a recurring feature of U.S. society for 200 years (Reinarman and Levine, 1989a). They are relatively autonomous from whatever drug-related problems exist or are said to exist. I call them "scares" because, like Red Scares, they are a form of moral panic ideologically constructed so as to construe one or another chemical bogeyman, a la "communists," as the core cause of a wide army of pre-existing public problems."
"Said to exist?"
I agree with Reinarman that it's very easy for politicians to get on the bandwagon of anti-drug crusades, and to build jails instead of treatment centers. But when he claims that "armed with 'drugs' as a generic scapegoat, citizens gain the cognitive satisfaction of having a folk devil on which to blame a range of bizarre behaviors or other conditions they find troubling but difficult to explain in other terms," my first reaction is that he gives pointy-headed intellectualism a bad name. Lives, and neighborhoods, are destroyed by drugs, and the "moral entrepreneurs" he rails against are not engaging in some sort of class war. I don't think it has anything to do with morals, either, but that's a discussion for another day.
Back to Soros, who hit the nail squarely in his statement on the Open Society Institute site.
“Despite the large number of people who suffer from drug addiction, treatment is far from accessible in the United States at present. The sad fact is that the majority of Americans who need treatment do not receive it, even though drug treatment is as effective as treatment for other chronic health disorders.”
At the risk of sounding like a "moral entrepreneur," amen.
Timothy's Law Bulletin
We've just received work that a compromise between the New York State Senate and Assembly on Timothy's Law is being discussed at high levels, and that a resolution is near. If you live in New York State, it is critical that you contact your assemblyman ASAP and let him or her know that any compromise MUST INCLUDE TREATMENT FOR CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY.
DNA, Fentanyl & Meth
I found three items of great interest in today's New York Times. The first is a front page story about the explosion of research tying human behavior (like addiction) and physical characteristics (like obesity) to genetics. It raises some interesting questions:
The second article talks about the spate of ODs — fatalities have risen to 130 in Chicago and Detroit alone — due to lacing heroin with fentanyl. It, too, raises issues worth thinking about:
Finally, a full page ad across from the fentanyl-laced heroin story proclaims: GAY MEN & CRYSTAL METH, a manifesto.
"Let's face it. There's a problem, and we all need to deal with it," the body copy begins. The manifesto urges gay men to take responsibility for the health of their community by talking to other gay men about the dangers of crystal meth, showing compassion for those who are addicted ("meth is the problem, not those in its grasp"), and fighting for more money for drug treatment. There is a petition and more information at
The gay community taught us a lot about effective advocacy with AIDs; it appears to be ahead of the curve on this issue, too:
"And most importantly, we know that love works. Yeah, that might sound corny to some. But love is what motivated gay men to care for one another when the AIDS epidemic hit 25 years ago...."
It's appropriate that I'm writing about a book titled Come Back this morning as I've been away from the site too long. With some bill-paying assignments out of the way, I look forward to devoting more time to Elephant, starting with our excerpts from Claire and Mia Fontaine's extraordinary tale of the repercussions of a father's rape of his toddler.
There's much more to the book than the sordid tale of the abuse of Mia by her biological father, Nick, which is featured here only because I think the chapters open the door to talking about the unsettling topic of sexual abuse as a root cause of substance abuse. I have two double-sided pages of annotations about other events and issues where Claire or Mia hit home: denial, cutting, manipulation, the reactions of friends and neighbors, wacko shrinks, miracle-working shrinks, "dead eyed vagrants [who] were somebody's children," the feel-good phase of drug taking, facing one's fears, parents afraid of their own kids, adrenaline queens, being emotionally present and, not least, how a boot-camp, behavior-modification program actually operates.
Claire and Mia will be in New York for an appearance on Good Morning America next Tuesday morning. Deirdre and I hope to meet them in Manhattan for dinner on Sunday. It's dependent on the weather. Duncan's high school baseball team, which is 28 - 0 and ranked No. 1 in the B division in New York State, is traveling to Binghampton for the state championship tournament on Saturday and we're headed up there this afternoon . Showers are forecast for Saturday. We hope the games will not be postponed. Besides catching up with other work, I've been watching all of Hasting High School's ball games. Returning from an away game that ate up about five hours Monday when I was on a deadline, I was reminded of whole weeks that would be consumed a few years ago dealing with the repercussions of a loved one's mental illness or drug abuse. I feel very blessed that I'm cheering for a base hit and not tracking down a runaway child or distraught spouse.
There are a few paragraphs toward the end of the Fontaine's book where Claire writes about teen culture. Its more expansive than most of Claire's writing in Come Back; she says that she did not want the book to "come across as scolding or reactionary." I think Claire raises some important questions for our society in the following passage, which is touched off by a Mia's visit home after spending many months in two austere rehabs.
Don't designers get that "heroin chic" should be a contradiction in terms? That the drug-eyed post-coital teens in those "hip" seventies basement ads are irresistible to teens who live and die by how much they look and act like models. Doesn't [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening find it disingenuous to denounce censorship a few years after apologizing to parents once he had his own kids? Why don't we want to acknowledge that the biggest parent of all is the culture.
Our generation has no problem with censorship when it suits them. We censor a man if he wants to comment on a coworker's chest size. We deny him his right of free speech because we acknowledge the damage it does. But we won't limit the "free speech" that surrounds our kids even though it damages them. Are we really too stupid, or too profit-minded, to see the connection between what they grow up seeing, hearing, and imitating and the fact that they can't build schools like Spring Creek fast enough?
I used to dread feeling like I didn't belong. Before this happened, I would keep my opinions to myself at meetings or dinner parties for fear of being seen as uncool. What's uncool to me now is the greed and arrogance of those who want to create, or defend, teen culture and deny its effects, who think that they've come so very far from the era of children being seen as chattel.
Children are still chattel to them—they're just chattel with a disposable income. Not to mention perky breasts and bee-stung lips.