Sentences to ponder

photo credit: sarcasmo

From the ATTC/NIATx blog (emphasis mine):

Today public health leaders think using marijuana together with alcohol increases the risk for impaired driving. Tomorrow leaders of multinational corporations will think selling marijuana together with alcohol – and tobacco – increases the opportunity for enhanced profits.

One hundred and forty years ago the invention of machines for rolling tobacco cigarettes radically reduced production costs and prices. That triggered consolidation from regional companies to multinationals, and shifted tobacco consumption from cigars to cigarettes and from men to also women. Now the spread of legalization is radically reducing production costs and prices, rapidly increasing firm size, shifting the favored product forms, and shifting consumption from weekend to daily patterns of use.

I do not expect marijuana legalization to match the public health catastrophe wrought by the tobacco industry. But I expect the dynamic energy of the free market to exploit fully the profit potential of this new (to private industry) dependence-inducing intoxicant, and innovation will carry the markets and consumption to places we would have a hard time imagining today.

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What will mental health look like under the Trump administration?

This will be interesting to watch.

President Trump’s pick to run federal mental health services has called for a bold reordering of priorities — shifting money away from education and support services and toward a more aggressive treatment of patients with severe psychiatric disorders.

The proposal has some psychiatrists — a generally liberal bunch — cheering despite their distrust of the Trump administration.

But it’s also sparked concern among other health professionals, who worry that the administration will put too much emphasis on medicating and hospitalizing patients, and remove supports that might help them integrate successfully into society.

It would seem that there is plenty of room to discuss whether efforts to deinstitutionalize mental health have left us without some of the care we need. (For example, there’s a persistent shortage of psychiatric beds.) On the other hand,

She will be the first to assume the title of assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse — a near-cabinet position which reports directly to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Congress created the post to bring order to a scattered system; this is the first time mental health and substance abuse have received such a weighty emphasis in D.C.

“We’ve never had someone coordinating the fragmented mental health services in this country,” said clinical psychologist Xavier Amador, who has written several books for patients with mental illness.  . . .

McCance-Katz, a psychiatrist who specializes in opioid abuse, hasn’t spoken publicly since her nomination, and declined to talk to STAT. But she has had a long career in mental health, and her writings — as well as a fact sheet put out by the Department of Health and Human Services — give insight into her priorities. Among them:

  • Increase the number of inpatient beds for patients experiencing serious psychiatric symptoms.

  • Reconfigure health privacy laws to give families access to information about patients who are severely mentally ill.

  • Reevaluate federal funding for suicide hotlines and programs that train patients with psychiatric disorders to help their peers.

The article does a good job providing an overview of the politics involved, including criticism from politicians and the recovery vs. medical model tensions.

Read the rest here.

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Recovery Celebrities?

gut-check-image2A couple of days ago, I had a chance to catch up with a friend and recovery advocate. Turns out we share a concern about the emergence of a kind of celebrity culture within recovery advocacy efforts.

It seems like a good time to revisit a post from Bill White that addresses the topic. The post focuses on anonymity and advocacy, examining the changing cultural context for anonymity and its functions.

On anonymity as a spiritual principle [emphasis mine]:

When AA literature speaks of anonymity as a “spiritual principle,” it does so out of a profound understanding of the importance of self-transcendence as the vehicle for sobriety and serenity. You can hear people depicting AA as a “selfish program” to mean that the alcoholic must get sober for self and not for others, but you find a quite different orientation on the issue of anonymity. The “spiritual substance” of anonymity according to AA’s core literature is not selfishness but “sacrifice.” (AA, 1952/1981, p. 184). What is sacrificed in AA (and in acts of heroism) are one’s “natural desires for personal distinction,” which in AA are eschewed in favor of “humility, expressed by anonymity” (AA, 1952/1981, p. 87). Applying this understanding, one could see how an AA or NA member choosing public recovery advocacy could technically meet the letter of Tradition Eleven (not disclosing AA affiliation at the level of press), but violate the pervading spirit of the Traditions (Tradition Twelve). This could occur when advocacy is used as a stage for assertion of self (flowing from ego / narcissism / pride and the desire for personal recognition) rather than as a platform for acts of service, which flow from remorse, gratitude, humility, and a commitment to service. (2013)

He closes with a call for a gut check on our advocacy efforts:

There is a purity—perhaps even a nobility—to recovery advocacy when it meets the heroism criteria. There is a zone of service and connection to community within advocacy work, and I think we must do a regular gut check to make sure we remain within that zone and not drift into advocacy as an assertion of ego. The intensity of camera lights, the proffered microphone, and seeing our published words and images can be as intoxicating and destructive as any drug if we allow ourselves to be seduced by them. If we shift our focus from the power of the message to our power as a messenger, we risk, like Icarus of myth, flying towards the sun and our own self-destruction. To avoid that, we have to speak as a community of recovering people and avoid becoming recovery celebrities—even on the smallest of stages. We must stay closely connected to diverse communities of recovery and speak publicly not as an individual or representative of one path of recovery, but on behalf of all people in recovery. The fact that no one is fully qualified to do that helps us maintain a sense of humility even as we embrace the very real importance of the work to be done. The spirit of anonymity—that suppression of self-centeredness—can be respected when we speak by embracing the wonderful varieties of recovery experience rather than as individuals competing for attention and superiority. (2013)

We stand on the shoulders of others

I’m grateful for Bill’s reminder. Personally, I’m bothered be some of the slogans coming out of the newest generation of advocates. “Silent no more”, “I am not anonymous” and “The silence ends” are just a few examples.

First of all, anonymity, as practiced within communities of recovery, never demanded silence. All one needs to do is read AA’s chapter on the 12th tradition, published in 1952.

When opportunities to be helpful came along, he found he could talk easily about A.A. to almost anyone. These quiet disclosures helped him to lose his fear of the alcoholic stigma, and spread the news of A.A.’s existence in his community. Many a new man and woman came to A.A. because of such conversations. Though not in the strict letter of anonymity, such communications were well within its spirit.

But it became apparent that the word-of-mouth method was too limited. Our work, as such, needed to be publicized. The A.A. groups would have to reach quickly as many despairing alcoholics as they could. Consequently, many groups began to hold meetings which were open to interested friends and the public, so that the average citizen could see for himself just what A.A. was all about. The response to these meetings was warmly sympathetic. Soon, groups began to receive requests for A.A. speakers to appear before civic organizations, church groups, and medical societies. Provided anonymity was maintained on these platforms, and reporters present were cautioned against the use of names or pictures, the result was fine.

We may not have organized recovering people into a national advocacy movement, but we’ve never been silent. As a community, we haven’t cowered in shame. Communities of recovery are so frequently painted as “secretive”, with all of it’s pejorative connotations–implying shame, hiding, cultishness, etc. Why are we reinforcing this?

“I am not anonymous” seems dismissive of anonymity as a spiritual principle.

The issue isn’t advocacy. The first wave of this advocacy movement was much more respectful of tradition and the people who blazed the trail for building a recovering community capable of engaging in this level of advocacy. They made the case for “advocacy with anonymity” rather than dismissing it as quaint.

There’s nothing wrong with evolving. There’s nothing wrong with questioning the confines of tradition. We don’t have to be bound by tradition, but we should respect the traditions, principles and values that brought us this far.

I hope this movement grows, matures and succeeds in reducing stigma and improving access to help of adequate quality, intensity and duration.

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Design, Rebranding and Cannabis

Design/creative blog 99U looks at rebranding efforts in the cannabis industry:

In the last few months, Christopher Simmons, creative director for MINE, has designed branding and packaging for several dispensaries in San Francisco, including BASA, Dutchman’s Flat, Petra, and Prophet.

“With Prophet, the question was: How do you get away from the dominant paradigm in the industry, which is still holding on to that Bob Marley stoner culture? Because that’s not where the market’s going,” he says. “When I design packaging for these premium brands, I don’t ask if it’s going to look good in a head shop; I want to know if I could reasonably expect to see this at a Whole Foods or a Starbucks.”

Simmons’ work for Prophet’s flower features a sophisticated, bold, sans serif typeface and masculine color palette on a canister that mimics chewing tobacco tins. On the other end of the spectrum, his work for Petra mints is aimed at women, who generally prefer edibles to smoking. Each color hints at a flavor, and each pattern draws inspiration from a country where the plant is indigenous: A Moroccan pattern is paired with mint, and an Indian pattern is paired with mango.

As we move toward legalization, and experienced marketing firms are charged with growing sales, how will it change the culture and what will it look like? What regulations on marketing and sales will be needed?

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Maybe prohibition is the way to go?

For years I’ve been writing comments like this about drug policy:

Any drug policy will have problems, probably serious problems. The important questions are:

  • Which problems are we most unwilling to live with?
  • Which problems are we most willing to tolerate?
  • What strategies will help us achieve these goals while maintaining concern for all problems?

Of course, of equal importance is our willingness to regularly re-assess policy to improve our response and address unanticipated problems.

These are really hard questions.

And, it’s been frustrating to read lots of people treating it as though there are simple and obvious answers.

The intersections of addiction, capitalism, medicine, crime, and government, with all their variations, limitations and flaws make this a very difficult problem. We tend to underestimate the existence of unintended consequences and overestimate our influence.

It’s good to see a pretty influential writer at Vox interrogate his own beliefs and assumptions.

By the time I began as a drug policy reporter in 2010, I was all in on legalizing every drug, from marijuana to heroin and cocaine.

It all seemed so obvious to me. Prohibition had failed. Over the past decade, millions of Americans had been arrested and, in many of these cases, locked up for drugs. The government spent tens of billions of dollars a year on anti-drug policies — not just on policing and arresting people and potentially ruining their lives, but also on foreign operations in which armed forces raided and destroyed people’s farms, ruining their livings. Over four decades, the price tag for waging the drug war added up to more than $1 trillion.

. . .

Then I began reporting on the opioid epidemic. I saw friends of family members die to drug overdoses. I spoke to drug users who couldn’t shake off years of addiction, which often began with legal prescription medications. I talked to doctors, prosecutors, and experts about how the crisis really began when big pharmaceutical companies pushed for doctors and the government to embrace their drugs.

. . .

Looking at this crisis, it slowly but surely dawned on me: Maybe full legalization isn’t the right answer to the war on drugs. Maybe the US just can’t handle regulating these potentially deadly substances in a legal environment. Maybe some form of prohibition — albeit a less stringent kind than what we have today — is the way to go.

Read the whole thing here.

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Changes coming to Michigan’s public funding system for addiction and mental health services?

There an article in Bridge magazine that does a great job bringing us up to speed on proposed changes to the funding system. (This is just a portion. Please go read the entire article here.)

For over a year, intense review has taken place across Michigan on a critical matter. How it is resolved will say much about our state.

On one side are powerful private insurers, who think about ways to increase profits. On the other are consumers of mental health service and their families and advocates, who think about survival.

The issue began in February 2016, when Gov. Rick Snyder proposed transferring $2.5 billion of Medicaid mental health money from governmental Community Mental Health Services Programs (CMHSPs) to the state’s 11 private Medicaid HMOs (also known as Medicaid Health Plans, or MHPs). The latter contract with the state to manage “physical” health care of many Medicaid beneficiaries.

The governor’s proposal was put on hold after public outcry. Since then, the state has done three major reviews of the issue. Each time, the governor’s plan was rejected.

First, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley formed a 120-person work group in early 2016. It recommended the publicly funded mental health system remain under CMHSP management.

Next, 45 affinity group sessions were held across the state last fall. Two-thirds of these were for service recipients and families, attended by over 700 people, who stated overwhelmingly they didn’t want MHPs controlling their mental health care. Additionally, the 15 affinity groups for service providers and payers yielded no recommendation supporting the Governor’s proposal.

Finally, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) appointed a 23-person workgroup to develop reports to the Legislature, delivered this January and March. Again, it was recommended that CMHSPs lead publicly funded mental health care and MHPs lead publicly funded care for other medical conditions. It was further recommended that joint CMHSP-MHP programming for shared enrollees be strengthened. These reports had over 70 recommendations, many targeted to improving the state’s mental health system.

You would think that would settle the matter.

However, there are rumblings in Lansing that legislature may not follow the recommendations of these 3 workgroups.

If this concerns you, call your State Senator and State Representative.

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Vancouver OD deaths keep rising

From the Vancouver Sun:

More than 20 temporary supervised injection sites opened in Vancouver, Victoria and across the province and a mobile medical unit was deployed — although medical staff have since been withdrawn — in the Downtown Eastside, all of them kitted out with life-saving naloxone and trained staff. More than 3,000 overdose events have been safely managed since late December.

Despite these measures, more than 100 people have died due to drug overdose so far this year in Vancouver, a pace that would see 400 people dead by the end of the year. There were 216 overdose deaths in Vancouver last year and 922 in the province, roughly five times the number for an average year.

And, the provincial context from David Juurlink:

 

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