A new kind of park – keeping our kids safe

1152328_16239381 playgroundWhen my kids were young one of the most enjoyable activities for them was going to the park. They would beg and plead for me to take them and then when it was time to leave they would beg and plead to stay ‘just one more ride on the swings…or slide…’  There really wasn’t anything better than spending the day at the park under the warm sun, listening to the kids laugh and play. Today I have a different view of parks. I think about what happens at parks when the sun sets and the families are tucked away in their homes. I know that when my daughter was active in her addiction parks were a familiar place. She has since told me that you can buy drugs at just about any park. The dealers are lurking around waiting for a buyer. Sometimes it is someone they know; many times it is someone who just knows that the park is the place to go.
There is a park in a not too distant community that is nick named ‘Pill Park’. It is the place that everyone knows they can go and buy illegal prescription drugs. I’ve heard of statistics that it takes a teenager 5 minutes to seek and buy drugs – hearing of Pill Park makes me believe this is most likely true.  Although I’ve always known parks can be a place for troubled kids to hang out, this sounds like a whole new level of access for substance abuse. As a parent we want our kids to be able to ride their bikes to the park, play and come home as innocent as they left.  I hang on to the hope that we as parents become savvy and aware to be able to protect our children and grandchildren from the harms. I am grateful that my daughter is now clean and sober and at the same time I am fearful of the environment that kids are exposed to in our own neighborhoods. Education and awareness at a young age is vital to preventing more teens from falling into addiction.

On Cameron Douglas and Prison for Addicts

Cameron Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, is serving an extended sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession. He is 33 years old and began injecting heroin daily in his mid 20s. He has not received treatment in prison, and according to this NY Times Article on 5/21/12, “is a textbook example of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence [for whom] more prison time would do nothing to solve his underlying problems.”

Treating any illness or disease with punishment is not the answer.  Sure there are plenty of examples where drug dealers should be in prison.  Especially when violence is involved.  Still, if someone turns to violence or drug dealing or prostitution to feed an addiction there should be medical treatment as part of their reform.

The State of California spent a lot of time and money to change their name from “The California Department of Corrections” to add ” . . and Rehabilitation” to the end.  It appears that all they did was change the name.  What changed behind the walls?

According to the CDCR website, on June 1st of this year, “Twenty-seven inmates from California State Prison-Solano today received certifications that will eventually enable them to counsel other inmates in addiction treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse.” This is something; a start.

The State Prison Corcoran is supposed to work with substance abuse treatment, but it would appear that the availability of this is spotty and the success of these programs is uncertain. Opportunities for rehabilitation are primarily voluntary programs the prisoners can choose to join.

From what I hear, getting drugs in prison is easier than getting a steak.  The Times article about Douglas explained that Douglas got his incarceration duration extended because people inside the prison supplied him drugs and he was caught with them. Heroin. Suboxone.

Addicts have an illness and to put things in perspective, think about what a cancer patient might do to obtain life saving drugs if they were denied.  Would you sell your body to survive?  When someone is deeply addicted, they have lost control of the ability to “just say no” and all you need to do is watch the withdrawal video of my son to understand that the drug addiction is controlling the body.

No addict ever said, “Hey, I’ll smoke that joint; snort that line; or take that pill and if I’m really good at it I’ll be addicted and robbing a liquor store within the year.”

These people have a medical condition that is being ignored, and this is what has motivated a group of physicians to file a brief on behalf of Douglas.

Prison systems could cut costs dramatically and reduce the rate of return offenders if they took the word “Rehabilitation” seriously and segregated addicts into treatment centers that were secure without the need to put them in the general population of murderers and rapists.

Rehabilitate or Incarcerate? Perhaps a combination of both for addicts who have broken the law is the answer because either we treat the wound or we pour salt in it.

 This post was reprinted with permission from Bradley V. DeHaven, author and activist on the epidemic abuse of prescription drugs.   Mr. DeHaven contributes heartfelt experience strength and hope as a Parent Pathway expert.

And the Band Plays on about Teen Addiction

I read a powerful commentary on the Huffington Post the other day called “Death by Prescription Drugs:  How Dare you Say my Son ‘Deserved It.” Katie Allison Granju  who lost her 18-year old son to prescription pill overdoes, gives a voice to the way “the system” fails our chemically dependent children.

While her local media covered the rise of “hillbilly heroin” in her small town, it makes no mention of the 150-200 people from her community who die every year from pills sold to them illegally.  “It’s as if these people simply disappeared,” she writes. Where are the stories about the two teens—including her own—who died on the same day?  Where is the sorrow?  Where is the outrage?

To the police, they are invisible “unattractive victims” because their addiction to pills implies that they “asked for it.” They died at the hands of a weapon as lethal as a gun or knife, yet the police don’t treat the dealers who sold them deadly drugs as murderers.  The medical examiner routinely rubber stamps overdose as “accidental,” further erasing any possibility of criminal prosecution.

Mix this official anonymity with personal shame and stigma surrounding a child’s chemical dependency, and we’ve got a disease raging uncontained through our communities.  As Katie Granju points out so eloquently, “In the early days of the spread of AIDS, the victims of overdose are far too often treated as disposable and invisible, because so many believe that they have only themselves to blame for their own deaths…It was only after American’s attitudes towards AIDS victims began to shift from blame to compassion that were were finally able to come together in a unified national effort to fight the monster that had already been allowed to devour an entire generation of gay young men.”

The voice of a passionate and articulate mother is a formidable weapon as we fight the monster.  Please share Katie’s story with everyone you know.

Do We Perceive Drug Addicts as Evil or Morally Wrong?

Having seen Wicked the musical the second time I captured a new perspective. The first time was 5 or 6 years ago. Since then, I experienced tumultuous changes in my life as drug addiction and alcoholism gripped the young adults in my family. I recall the Musical, but could not give you the details. This is an example of how bad things were for me as a product of the family disease – I was in attendance, but I was not PRESENT.

Nonetheless, after seeking help, there has been growth and change in my life. Foremost in my recovery is a new perspective which is the analogy I saw in Wicked the 2nd time around.  The parallel messages and analogies to alcohol & drug addiction, co-dependency and recovery in the story line were like neon signs.

Knowing all about the Wizard of Oz, I assumed a complete understanding of the characters. One of many assumptions was that the wicked witch was just born evil. I had an assumption about drug addicts too. I never saw them as a child of God or having a concerned parent at home. I never considered that they might have had a rough home life, an accidental prescription pill abuse or brain chemical imbalance. I just saw a dark and gloomy world, a snapshot, and it made me fearful.

With a new perspective on the witches from birth to young adults; their background and family life, a completely different viewpoint appears. Nothing changed in the story line of the Wizard of Oz – yet a shift in my understanding of the story line happened and my fear of the “Wicked” subsides.

The Oz/Wicked story is an excellent way to see the same events from a different perspective, which is what happens in recovery. My own faults of bias, judgment and prejudice may have simply been ignorance or inability to see the other perspective. Recovery gives me tools to empower myself to see the bigger picture with compassion and understanding on a daily basis.  Broadway musicals put an art form to that!

New Glasses – New Vision

Life experience is interesting.  Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”  Today, I see things differently – as if I’ve been given new pair of glasses that help me view events from that perspective.

Lately, the news has been on my radar, singling out individuals for ridicule or disdain.  Two incidents come to mind.  First, the tanorexic mom whose picture and profile was posted in everyone’s view.  At first, I thought oh my gosh – what is she thinking? Then I realized, this a person with an addiction who might be better served with love and compassion. Maybe there is help in some form of rehabilitation – she may not want it though, and that’s her choice.  Next a police officer was in the spotlight for re-filling and keeping prescription pills from an elderly friend – a police officer no less! I see it as the pervasive nature of the drug epidemic – there is no segregation, and it’s that serious. Police officers are people too and can be victims of the prescription drug epidemic like everyone else, equal opportunity!  Why shame and stigma?

I hope I can be the open minded person with empathy and compassion versus the judgmental opinionated person the news media targets.  It just feels better! My recovery has helped with this and when I know better I can do better.  I am a mere mortal so I have to make a conscious effort to adorn my new glasses every day.

“She had so many hopes and dreams….”

This posting is dedicated to Tiffany Noel Chapman, a Christmas baby born in December, 1976.  She became addicted to the pain pills that were prescribed when she broke her neck in a high school car accident.  She died when she was 27, her liver destroyed by the pain pills that her body and brain demanded.

Many people believe that teens “choose” to become drug addicts or alcoholics when they party with drugs or alcohol, but addiction often develops under less voluntary circumstances.   Tiffany’s genetic predisposition for addiction was triggered by the pain meds that she needed to take for intractable pain.  Her story, while not uncommon, is an eye-opener to those (including me) who had no clue that even doctor-prescribed and doctor-monitored medications can become addictive.

Tiffany’s parents took her home from various ERs after repeated overdoses.  Not once did they receive discharge instructions that shed any light on the disease they were fighting.  Not once did they receive counsel about rehab or information about resources.  They didn’t understand the phantom they were fighting in the dark, without tools or weapons.    And they aren’t alone in their not-knowingness:  teen addiction and alcoholism aren’t commonly discussed in today’s parenting books.  In fact, most physicians have little or no training about addiction or alcoholism, especially as a teen issue, and little wisdom to share with struggling parents.

Tiffany’s mother Linda opens her heart when she shares their story in the Collision Course-Teen Addiction Epidemic trailer, reminding all of us to be vigilant and aware that anyone—even the most golden child—can be vulnerable to this deadly disease.