Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Michael Jackson's Tragic End

On June 25th, we lost one of the marvels of the entertainment world, a truly talented and tortured artist, Michael Jackson. With his meteoric rise to fame as the centerpiece of the Jackson 5 and then an amazing solo career, in total selling over 750 million records worldwide. However, this fame came at an amazing price.

Having been in the spotlight since the age of 5 or 6, Jackson seemed to struggle with his place in the world. Naming his home the "Neverland Ranch" lead us to believe he wanted to be a child who never grew up (which, of course, led to the infamous sleepovers on the Ranch and the molestation accusations). A documented addiction to painkillers, two failed marriages, and numerous lawsuits for pedophilia dominated Jackson's last 20 years, causing him to become a late-night joke mainstay and most of us to forget his talent.

The question remains- do we remember him for the art he produced? Has there ever been a more polarizing, successful individual? His death caused delays and nearly shut down numerous websites. He had become the centerpiece of a media storm- mostly negative in the last 20 years.

In 1993, Jackson abruptly canceled the remainder of his "Dangerous" tour after admitting on an audiotape that pain from a burn injury while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984 as well as allegations of sexual abuse have caused him to become addicted to painkillers. As of yesterday, June 29th, various news and entertainment outlets were reporting that Jackson had received a Demerol injection the morning of his death- but we'll only find out for sure after the autopsy is published. Lisa Marie Presley, Jackson's wife for a few short years, posted a blog entry on her Myspace page talking about his drug use. She talks about how she and Jackson had conversations about how he would end up with the same fate as Elvis- and it's looking more and more like he did.

Either way, we've lost the most tortured and talented artist we've seen in a long time. There will never be another like him, good or bad. Here are some of the telling articles from a series of Vanity Fair interviews. It will be interesting to see what unfolds from the autopsy results- but it seems as though we've lost another soul to the disease of addiction. Would it have been possible for Jackson to get help? Had anyone offered treatment? Had he BEEN to treatment? Was there support for him to get well, or just to prop him up and keep him out in the public eye? We may never know, but these are questions we can answer as we move forward to help other artists in the future. He was not a commodity- he was a person. And it's hard to remember that sometimes.

Here's a tribute to Michael Jackson:

In health news, here's a great video by Lance Armstrong's organization, Livestrong:

Here's something funny.

As always, connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter. Become a fan of the blog on Facebook. See you this week.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama Signs Anti-Smoking Bill Into Law

In keeping up with his progressive health care reform policies, President Obama today signed a bill that puts tobacco under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration. With the new bill, the FDA will be able to monitor, regulate, and mandate lower nicotine levels in cigarettes and other tobacco products.

"Each day, 1,000 young people under the age of 18 become new regular, daily smokers, and almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday," Mr. Obama said before signing the legislation. "I know; I was one of these teenagers. And so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time."

"Kids today don't just start smoking for no reason," the president said Monday. "They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting."

"Today, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, health care and consumer advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious," he added. "Today, change has come to Washington."

The goal here is not to ban tobacco products, but to allow adults to make a choice, much like alcohol. With the progressive legislation being passed, we hopefully can see some change in our junior highs and high schools allowing kids to make it to 18 before choosing to smoke. We've seen stronger legislation passed to enforce the "no selling under 18" methodology, but I know from my own experience and the experience of others that it's still easy to obtain cigarettes under the age of 18. Hopefully we can further educate our kids to be able to make the right choices around tobacco, and, of course, around other drugs.

Like anything else, however, starting smoking is a choice, just like starting to drink or smoke pot is a choice. The best thing we can do isn't legislation- the best we can do is let our kids and smokers and addicts know that help is available when they need it. And that it's not a weakness to ask for help- that asking for help is a strength. We in America have this "pull-ourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps" type of mentality, and that can prove fatal when dealing with addictions. It's imperative, at least around addiction, to instill in our youth that asking for help is ok. Because, as President Obama put it, "If current trends continue, 1 billion people will die from tobacco-related illnesses this century." 1 billion is 1/6th of our total population today, just to put it into perspective.

Educate, educate, EDUCATE!

Here's a video of the bill being signed:

Watch CBS Videos Online

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If you have a couple of extra dollars, feel free to support me in my efforts to end Leukemia and Lymphoma via the Team In Training Program. I'm riding a century (100 miles) on August 15th in Ventura, CA to raise money and awareness. Please donate here if you can. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

U.S. College Binge Drinking on the Rise

Thanks to Jim Geckler over at Assistance In Recovery for sending me a great article this morning. According to the Healthday Reporter, binge drinking in U.S. colleges is growing even as we bring more attention to it. As I mentioned here and here in earlier blogs, binge drinking and abusive behavior has been growing in this current generation.

According to the article, drinking-related deaths among students and young adults aged 18 to 24 years have increased from 1,440 a year in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005, according to a report from the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And the number of students who acknowledged driving drunk rose from 26 to 29 percent.

Ralph Hingson, the chief researched on this project, had this to say: "The younger people are when they first become intoxicated, the greater the likelihood that when they are in college they will meet alcohol-dependence criteria: that they will drive after drinking; that they will ride with drinking drivers; they will be injured under the influence of alcohol; or they will have unplanned and unprotected sex after drinking."

None of these things sound like fun. We've seen stories in the news of parents providing alcohol to minors for years, and allowing them to drive afterwards. I know in my experience, parents thought they were providing a safe environment for drinking, and didn't know the extent of the consequences to follow.

Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse in the psychiatry department at the New York University School of Medicine, had this to say: "The heavy drinking during college not only results in severe consequences at that time, [but] it also primes college students for later alcohol addiction. Heavier drink at this age is a predictor of later alcoholism and is likely a major causative factor."

I know that for me, my binge drinking in college lead to me having to find a new path, as my college didn't exactly agree with my behavior. Drinking and driving is also a part of my story, and I'm very very lucky that I didn't have major consequences. Looking back with a sober mind, those decisions were awful- yet I wasn't able to access the "prevention education" that I was taught in school. We need to make sure help is available and accessible for those in need. And we really need to push our kids to recognize that it's OK to ask for help when one needs it. Otherwise, our statistics will get worse, and more and more kids will die as a result of these dangerous behaviors.

Here's a video about defining college binge drinking:

Here's another video about one woman's experience with binge drinking:

Here's something a little more lighthearted.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

U.S. Drug Czar calls for end to "war on drugs"

As I talked about in an earlier post, I'm very excited to have Gil Kerlikowske as our new drug czar. On Wednesday, we finally got some good news in the so-called "War on Drugs." In a Wall Street Journal article, new head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, said that the "war on drugs" was a, "barrier to dealing with the nation's drug problem."

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

FINALLY some progress and someone who sees the nation's drug problem as something that can't be fixed by putting more and more people in prison. The more people we funnel into treatment as opposed to prison, the better the solution is going to get. I also like how the Obama administration is going to change the policies surrounding the major criminal disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, thus hopefully closing the racial barrier. The administration is also planning on changing the current federal rules that allow federal agents to raid state-run medical marijuana facilities based on federal law. This would allow states that legalize medical marijuana to operate freely as opposed to being under constant threat from the federal government. All of this is progress. As much as we can do to keep people out of prison for unnecessary reasons and put them into treatment when needed, the better we'll be off.

Here's a video about Barack Obama's stance on drug policy:

Here's a video from Ron Paul about ending the war on drugs:

And here's the famous episode of Different Strokes where Nancy Reagan talks about the war on drugs and just saying no:

Here's something funny.

As always, connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter. Become a fan of the blog on Facebook. And please support my advertisers!

Also, if you're feeling generous, please donate a couple of dollars towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society- I'm riding 100 miles on August 15th in support of individuals suffering from these terrible diseases. Thanks so much, and see you tomorrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Senate Approves Tight Regulations on Cigarettes

On June 11th (yesterday), the U.S. Senate approved a measure that would allow federal officials to regulate tobacco products. It's now been four decades since the Surgeon General declared cigarettes a health hazard, and we'll finally have oversight into the product. The legislation will allow the FDA to regulate both the content of tobacco products as well as the marketing side of the house.

In order to gear the tobacco companies away from marketing their products to the youth segment, outlawing ads within 1,000 feet of schools and/or playgrounds. Also, the terms "light" and "low tar" will be removed from packaging by 2011, and by 2012 there will be large health warnings on cigarette packs, similar to Canada and Europe.

It's crazy to think that in 40 years we've gone from ads like the one pictured here:

to warnings like this saying things like "Smoking will kill you."

We'll see what happens in the future. I'm surprised we haven't heard more of an uproar from the tobacco companies, although Phillip Morris has been going along with the legislation. No other tobacco companies have made any effort to support this measure, and the Democratic senator from North Carolina, Kay Hagan, was the only Democrat not to support the bill. Coincidentally, North Carolina is the nation's leading producer of tobacco.

Will we see a revolution that involved less people smoking? It remains to be seen. For now, we can only hope for a more healthful country that is conscious of the decisions they make.

Here's a Camel ad from 1949:

And here's an ad from 2008 from TheTruth.com:

Amazing how things change, huh?

Here's something funny.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Addiction Recovery and Physical Activity

The longer I've been in recovery, the more important I've been finding physical activity. When I was in treatment, we went to the gym a couple of days a week, but there was no real stress on it, plus we weren't exactly in the best shape when in treatment. I also find myself eating lots of sweets and just in general, eating more than when I was actively using. And of course when I left, I continued to eat the way I had in treatment and quickly started to gain weight. After experiencing some sobriety and a lack of physical activity, I joined a gym and rediscovered the joys of physical activity. Playing in a basketball league and working out provided a new foundation for feeling good about myself.

These days, I've become even more passionate, enrolling in the Team In Training program to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research (you can donate to my cause here) and riding 100 miles in one day in August. I'm also contemplating another century (100 mile ride) in Austin in October to raise money for cancer research via the Livestrong Foundation. We'll see how it goes. Either way, I know by training for these events I've created an avenue for success and a challenge, both of which keep me engaged and healthy- both key elements of my recovery.

Other groups have popped up around the country to encourage physical activity in recovery. Treatment centers like Sober Living By The Sea in Newport Beach, CA (where I work), Jaywalker Lodge in Carbondale, CO, and Gray Wolf Ranch in Port Townsend, WA all include various treks, physical activities and sports in their treatment plans. Phoenix Multisport, a group based in Boulder, CO specializes in groups of recovering individuals engaging in tough physical activities like climbing and biking. And make sure to check out Racing For Recovery, featuring Todd Crandell, a recovering addict who now raises money for addiction treatment by doing triathlons. CNN posted an article on recovery addicts participating in triathlons.

Another good resource if you're interested in recovery and sports is the book by Andrew Dieden, "The Sports Lover's Guide To Recovery." The book is filled with great quotes, stories and experiences. You can get the book here.

For a great story, check out the redemption of Josh Hamilton, a highly regarding baseball prospect who got derailed from drug addiction. He then climbed his way back. Check out the article on ESPN.

So basically, if you're in recovery, make sure to get involved with som sort of physical activity- it will help your healing process! I'm sure we'll see more treatment centers employing the physical aspect of treatment in the years ahead.

I've posted this before, but a great video from Doug MacBain who rode across Canada to raise money for an addiction recovery home:

For "Addict" socks, click here.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

The Business of Addiction Treatment- A Manifesto

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who doesn't work in the addiction treatment world this week, and she made the observation that it's strange to see people with no business training running successful treatment businesses. And, unlike the rest of the business world, this is definitely the majority of treatment centers as opposed to the other way around. The lack of business knowledge can be very detrimental to the treatment itself- when owners and executive directors are panicking about meeting the bottom line, the staff of clinicians and lower-level operations personnel can feel the panic. This isn't good for anyone, ESPECIALLY the patients, who can pick up on the tiniest weakness in their counselor and work to exploit it to their advantage. After all, addicts are the greatest manipulators. What we don't want is the option for addicts to basically be running their own treatment plan-- and when staff is in panic mode, they often can.

In these lean times, with unemployment rising and the economy not doing so hot (to say the least), more and more treatment centers are comprising their level of care, admitting clinically incorrect patients, and laying off staff in order to make the numbers work. What's sad is that even the most business-minded owners can't avoid this reality. Only a few of the treatment centers are running at capacity. And unlike the hey-day of the late 90s and early 2000s when people would take out home equity or other loans to pay for treatment, the credit has dried up and treatment centers are feeling the squeeze.

What we, as an industry, need to maintain is a sense of urgency. Every day we fight on the front lines of addiction. We help people change their lives, and see miracles happen every day. Some days, when the business doesn't make sense and it feels like we're not going to make it, we need to remember that we're doing some of the toughest work on the planet. We help dying people find a new light and a new LIFE. The more we help each other, as industry professionals, the better we all do, and we make sure everyone survives. So when someone calls in a panic, in need of referrals to keep the doors open, help. Because you never know when you'll be the person in need.

And as a follow up to my military post, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, said on Tuesday night that troops' mental health needs to be a priority. "I think we need to get to a point where everyone is screened by a competent mental health professional," he said. Check out the article on CNN here.

Here's a great video from Feliz Dennis, a former crack addict who now is one of the world's foremost publishers.

Here's something funny.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Binge Drinking and the Military

In exploring the Blog Catalog, I stumbled across the Addiction Index blog which had a great article about binge drinking in the military. This is such a viable topic these days with the wars going on in the Middle East that I thought I'd grab some of the information and pass it along here.

"Binge drinking is so common in America's armed forces that startling numbers of those who serve on military bases report for work drunk, drive drunk and drink illegally while they are underage, according to a study released today by the University of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."- this is from the article in the Minnesota Post. The survey covered soldiers at home and overseas, and an astonishing 25% reported a history of drunk driving. Can we point to the fact that their lives are some dangerous that they seek risk even when off duty?

In an interview with a University of Minnesota radio station, Mandy Stahre, a researcher on the project said that 43 percent of the active respondents reported binge drinking in the past month. That broke down to 29.7 incidents of binge drinking per person per year. That's a huge and dangerous number. How do we better educate these service men and women?

An article in the Chicago Tribune touched on the increase in suicide of soldiers. "The Department of Veterans Affairs tracks the number of suicides among those who have left the military. It says there have been 144 suicides among the nearly 500,000 service members who left the military from 2002-2005 after fighting in at least one of the wars." The website wsws.org reported that in 2008, there were 128 confirmed suicides by serving army personnel and 41 by serving marines.

Now we've started to see progress, with the military providing classes on suicide prevention and alcohol abuse. But how do we truly improve this? It's not like we can take away the trauma that soldiers suffer while on active duty. Our Veterans Affairs offices are already swamped with cases and are underfunded. How do we fix this? The easiest solution- provide more funding to attract better researchers and addictional clinicians. However- that would increase taxes, something more than half the country is against, even though it goes towards making our soldiers safer. Some things to think about as we move forward.

Here's the suicide prevention video:

And here's one about the binge drinking in the military:

Here's my favorite new website.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

The Mechanism of Addiction

In an article posted in the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU researchers as well as Canadian neuroscientists, induced drug addiction in lab rats without using actual drugs. This is a huge breakthrough, basically proving that addiction is a brain disorder and not one of willpower.

Scott Stephenson, a lead researcher on the project, provided some good feedback. "We are wired for pleasure," said Steffensen, a professor in the department of psychology. "Drugs overwhelm this system that is under tight regulation. It's a sad spiralling disregulation that takes place." By isolating a protein in the brain (known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF) that is enhanced in people struggling with addiction, they were then able to inject the protein into the rats and create the symptoms of opiate addiction.

This research opens many new directions for drug and alcohol treatment. Are we getting closer to a medical solution to addiction prevention? Maybe it's going to be possible in the future to establish blockers to these proteins that create the insatiable need for drugs and alcohol. Will it be possible to help a child with a family history of addiction to block the effects of drugs and alcohol with a simple medical treatment or prescription? I don't think that these are far off in the future.

I've been reading "The End of Overeating," by Dr. David Kessler (available here on Amazon), and in it he speaks about certain foods affecting our opiate receptors almost as much as drugs do directly. So we may also be on a path to developing further medical treatments for overeaters as well. Some doctors are already seeing progress in using naltrexone to stop the craving for carbohydrates. Dr. Richard Bernstein, in his book "Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution" has published studies on the effectiveness of this method of treatment on chronic overeaters.

So it's possible that medical treatments may, in the future, be the true path to prevention and treatment. But we'll see.

Here's a video about some of the uses of naltrexone.

And here's a clip about the book, The End of Overeating:

And of course- here's something funny.

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