Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Blacks strike back against Big Tobac

Carol-McGruder.gifCarol McGruder (right), Director of the San Francisco African American Tobacco Free Project, has launched BlacksForProp86.org, a grassroots initiative of African American health professionals, researchers, clergy, tobacco control advocates and concerned community members to support the passage of Prop 86.

BlacksForProp86.org, McGruder says, want the tobacco industry to know that if they want to help us they need to stop marketing their deadly products to our community and stop co-opting our leadership organizations. Each year over 45,000 African Americans die from tobacco related illnesses. Who will stand in truth for the 45,000 sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and grandparents taken from us? We will, we stand in truth for the 900,000 African American lives lost during the past 20 years of tobacco industry “regressive tax” rhetoric. Source.

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Reality" TV hyped with booze

Under the headline, "Drink Up. It’s Not Like You Have Lines to Learn," staff writer Heather Fletcher in Sunday's New York Times exposes one of the seamier sides of "reality" tv -- the use of booze to loosen the actors' tongues and generate unusual dialogue and action. She quotes a number of reality show veterans who say that alcohol was one of the producers’ favorite tools. Producers made alcohol, but not food, very available, and encouraged them to drink before emotional scenes.

Sarah Kozer was a contestant on the 2003 Fox hit “Joe Millionaire,” in which she and others competed to win the affections of a bachelor. She says she was drunk or close to it in 90 percent of her on-air scenes. Champagne was served with lunch, dinner and in between during her 29 days on the set, she said in a telephone interview: “It was available 24/7.”

A 10-hour date at a winery with Evan Marriott (the show’s male love interest) and a 10-hour grand ball with one tray of appetizers and unlimited Champagne led Ms. Kozer to one conclusion: Producers were trying to get her sloshed. “Anytime anyone ever wanted something to drink, it was made available,” said Ms. Kozer, 31, who works as a television host and writer in Los Angeles. “Whereas if you requested tampons you’d have to wait a couple days.”

Several reality tv producers denied the charges and asserted that all alcohol use on their sets was monitored responsibly. Read more.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Acupuncture: boosting your sober chi

Exactly how acupuncture helps addicts isn't understood, but practitioners are so convinced that it does help some cases that some volunteer their time to administer the needles. Read more.

Addict self and sober self as political metaphor

For years I've been saying that people with an addiction suffer from a divided self: part is addict, part is sober. Seeing and connecting with the sober self inside the addicted person is the key to recovery. (See How Was Your Week, Ch. 2)

Here's a blog that uses the same concept as a political metaphor for the upcoming election. Blogger and CUNY English teacher Aaron Barlow writes,
[W]e are a nation in the grip of addiction. The radical right that rules us right now is simply the addictive side of our national persona. Just watch how it acts, and you’ll see. Possessive, protective of its prerogatives, jealous, quick to anger. Any time conversation turns to its addictions, it changes the subject or excuses itself.
But wait, there's hope:
The nation, like an individual, has a sober person within, trying to take control.
OK, you get the picture. Barlow overworks the metaphor just a little bit, but not too much, and his heart's in the right place. Read his whole blog, Besting Our Addictions, source.

Therapy: My way or yours?

Therapists and schools of therapy differ in the degree to which they tend to push the client toward a preconceived goal. Clients differ in the degree to which they rebel against, or go along with, pushy therapists. Getting a productive match between the therapist's degree of directiveness and the client's resistiveness is a delicate dance. A fairly comprehensive and thoughtful review of research on this issue from the counselor's perspective is available free on the net from the UK journal Drug and Alcohol Findings, here. Thanks, Don Phillips, for the direction.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hastert receiving drug payoffs, whistleblower says

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (he of the Mark Foley coverup) is on the receiving end of bribes that lubricate the opium traffic out of U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, according to a recent interview with Daniel (Pentagon papers) Ellsberg, relying in part on testimony of whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Source.

Alcoholic monkey attacks people for beer

Idle taxi drivers in Unnao state in Northern India got this feral monkey drunk a decade ago, and now she's a full-blown alcoholic that attacks people and steals their beer. Source. Although addiction in feral animals seems to be rare, it's common in laboratory animals. More than 50 years ago, a researcher, Spragg, described chimpanzees who "would drag the researcher to the cupboard where the morphine, syringes, and needles were stored, and voluntarily assume the proper position to receive the injections." Source. A wide range of animals, ranging down to fruit flies, has been used in addiction experiments. The well-documented phenomenon of addiction in animals is a challenge to theories that locate the cause of addiction in spiritual maladjustment.

Federal prosecutor accused of alcoholism in fatal crash

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- An assistant U.S. attorney, Michael Gallagher, is accused of slamming into the back of an SUV in Saint Johns County and killing 23-year-old Coty Hastings (right). A civil lawsuit filed by the victim's family accuses Gallagher of being an alcoholic and says his "gross recklessness" caused the crash that killed Coty. The lawsuit is asking him to admit "that [he is] and have been, for the past one year preceding the accident, a functioning alcoholic." And "that [he has] been counseled by [his] employer, the United States Attorney's office... about [his] abuse of alcoholic beverages." The suit doesn't allege that Gallagher was under the influence at the time of the crash, only that he had an alcohol problem. More.

AA Obstacle to Effective Treatment

Effective modern treatment methods aren't reaching the majority of people who need them because the addiction treatment field is molded on the AA model, and most people don't want that, says a report today in the MIT Technology Review. Source.

Mark Willenbring (right), director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says:

The treatment system we currently have [for alcohol dependence] is separated from mainstream health care and mainstream mental-health care. It was devised in 1975, when all we had for treatment was basically group counseling and AA. So when people think about getting treatment for drinking, they envision going somewhere like the Betty Ford Center.

That system has three main problems: First, most people don't want it; they have to be forced into it. The second problem is that patients within the general health and mental-health system are not getting located or treated. Third, because the programs are built around counseling, they are not staffed by medical personnel. So there's no one there to talk about medications available for treating alcohol dependence. And a lot of counselors don't really believe in [medication].

Consequently, the new treatments we're developing are not being implemented.
Willenberg says that "Over the next 10 years, I think we'll see a paradigm shift in the kinds of treatments that are available and how they are offered."

Celebrity Quit Smoking Effort

Celebrities have done so much harm by modeling nicotine use that it's refreshing to see a little effort in the other direction. OK, this is a fashion t-shirt promotion, it costs $35, and it's on a website for self-admitted beauty addicts, but maybe it'll help somebody somewhere put down the ugly weed. Source. Whatever works.

Crack law insanity: an example

Norwalk, CT., Oct. 17: -- Brandon Miles was sentenced to 60 months imprisonment for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine (13 grams found on his person found during the course of a traffic stop). Source.

White Plains, NY, Oct. 26: John Mancini, a pharmacist, was sentenced to 72 months imprisonment for illegally distributing approximately 5.4 million (yes, that's right -- 5,400,000) tablets of Vicodin in a five year period. That's an average of 1,080,000/year or 90,000/month or 3,000/day. The judge's sentencing statement said that the penalty for this crime was ordinarily 33 to 41 months imprisonment but because of the extremely large amount, the extra time was added. Source and original source.

Crack laws target Afro-Americans: ACLU

Federal crack cocaine sentencing laws have filled federal prisons with small time users, mainly African-Americans, while white powder cocaine users get off easier and dealers run free. So says a report by the American Civil Liberties Union released today on the 20th anniversary of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

The law "established a 100-to-1 disparity between distribution of powder and crack cocaine," the report points out. Distributing just five grams of crack gets you five years in federal prison. To get the same sentence for powder cocaine, you'd have to distribute 500 grams -- a metric pound.

The mandatory sentencing law for crack cocaine has been used to fill the federal prisons with African-Americans.
Recent data indicates that African Americans make up 15 percent of the country’s drug users, yet they make up 37 percent of those arrested for drug violations, 59 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense. More than 80 percent of the defendants sentenced for crack offenses are African American, despite the fact that more than 66 percent of crack users are white or Hispanic.
African-Americans on the average get an almost 50 per cent longer sentence for possessing the same amount of the drug as other ethnic groups, the report points out.

Most of those filling the federal prisons are small time users or street corner dealers. The law has not been effective against major distributors. It has not made a dent in the wholesale side of the supply pipeline for the illicit drug.

A summary of the ACLU report is here. Full text here. Good audio segment on NPR here.

The Health Care Blog calls the 20-year old crack law "possibly the worst single bill ever passed by Congress." Source.

Boy, 5, runs household: parents on meth

Tucson, AZ: When Frankie Santa Cruz was 5 years old, he wasn't busy running around in the backyard, watching cartoons or playing with cars. He was changing diapers, making bottles and taking care of his two baby brothers and sister because his parents were too strung out on meth to care about anything else. Read more.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Author Defends AA Study

The recent study finding no scientific evidence for the effectiveness of AA (see below) has drawn some critical comments, such as a Wall Street Journal staffer (copy of source).

Independent researcher and journalist Maia Szalavitz, co-author of Recovery Options (reviewed here), takes on these critics. It's worth reading. She writes, among other points:

"Contrary to the Journal’s claims that AA “hasn't been subjected to the gold standard of medical experiments, the double-blind randomized clinical trial,” there have been several trials that did just that.

They just didn’t happen to find an advantage for AA ..."

"[As] one of the studies covered in the Cochrane review found, if AA has any advantage over other treatments that do not carry its baggage of involving surrender to a higher power and asking his help with 'character defects,' they haven’t yet been found in years of study."

Maia's comment is in STATS.org, website of the Statistical Assessment Service. Source.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stand-up comedy as recovery tool

“The best thing about living with 15 other addicts is you can tell stories about the time you sold some guy baking soda that he thought was cocaine. The worst thing about living with 15 other addicts is having to room with the guy you sold it to.”

Recovering from a drug addiction is nothing to laugh about. Or is it?

Stand up to drugs is a program being offered in New Westminster [B.C. Canada] this fall where the treatment is for recovering youth to tell jokes about using and recovering from drug addictions. The course will have them write their own jokes and routine and then perform it as a stand up comedian.

Counsellor and stand-up comic David Granirer is conducting the course through the Pacific Community Resources Society for youth aged 16 to 24 in New West and Abbotsford.

Comedy and laughter are great healers, said Granirer. More.

Robs store for nicotine fix

YARMOUTH, ME.: Police are on the lookout for the young man who robbed the Irving Station Wednesday night. Police say the man walked right into the store on Main Street, aimed a handgun at the clerk and demanded cash and cigarettes. Source.

Grandpa quits smoking for baby

GILROY, CA: Larry Hafvenstein smoked for more than 40 years. It was the "in" thing to do as he was growing up - movie stars smoked, doctors smoked, just about everyone smoked. When all the health complications smoking can cause came to light, Hafvenstein was already hooked and, despite many attempts, couldn't stop. But the day he held his baby granddaughter in his arms for the first time was the day he quit - cold turkey.

"My daughter, Lauren, was his first grandchild, and when we handed her to him at the hospital, he was thrilled," said Gilroy resident Kati Pauley, Hafvenstein's daughter. "But then it hit him that he must stink like cigarette smoke. I think he was holding this clean, perfect new little person, and he didn't want to hold her and smell like smoke. I think he also wanted to be around for her as she was growing up. So, he quit. Just like that, he quit. It's been eight years now, and he hasn't smoked since." Source.

Drinks Giant Scores Higher Profits

Diageo PLC, the world's Number 1 alcoholic drinks group, said it was on track with its full-year target for underlying operating profit to grow by at least 7 per cent after the first quarter. The British owner of Smirnoff vodka and Red Stripe beer said it gained market share in the North American market in the July-September period. Europe was mixed, however, with a double-digit percentage rise in Russian sales offset by a weaker market in Spain and slower sales of Guinness in the U.K. Source.

Addiction Mentor's Tee Martooni Lunches

From the Northern Echo, UK: A senior National Health Service manager recognised nationally for his work helping people overcome drug and alcohol problems has stepped down after an investigation found he was regularly drunk at work.

It concluded there was evidence David Cliff, head of County Durham's Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT), returned from extended lunches under the influence of alcohol and behaved inappropriately.

One witness told NHS investigators it was common knowledge he drank at lunchtime and they had seen Mr Cliff and a colleague "both coming back, absolutely reeking of alcohol and giggling and the worse for wear." More.

AA member allegedly shoots, kills his sponsor

LONG BEACH - A recovering alcoholic pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he murdered his former Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor outside a Long Beach church last month.

Scott Gordon Reynolds, 27, is accused of shooting 33-year-old Uriel Noriega multiple times in the parking lot of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 525 E. Seventh St., on Sept. 2, Deputy District Attorney Patrick O'Crowley said.

The shooting occurred shortly before 8 p.m. on the night of one of the church's biweekly AA meetings. Source.

Flag-raising Marine a victim of alcoholism

Marine Pvt. Ira Hayes was one of the six Marines who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, in a photograph that became a symbol of national price. Hayes, a Native American of the Pima people, died of exposure and alcoholism in 1955, his body discovered near his Gila River Reservation home in Arizona. He was 32. Hayes and his tragedy are featured in Clint Eastwood's latest movie, Flags of our Fathers. Source.

Highly effective Teen anti-tobacco campaign gasping for funds

A few years ago, Florida's SWAT clubs (Students Working Against Tobacco) launched what many consider the most effective youth anti-smoking campaign in the nation. SWAT's edgy TV ads, many of them focused against the tobacco industry, were credited with bringing down the rate of teen smoking in Florida. Then state legislators raided the tobacco settlement account that funded SWAT, cut its budget from $70 million to practically nothing, and prohibited the clubs from running ads. From 1995 to 2003, the tobacco industry had given about $1.4 million to officials running for public office, says Common Cause of Florida. Only 10 of Florida's 160 state legislators were not recipients. Officials deny there was a connection. Now tobacco use among young teens is on the rise in the state. Read the full story from the Sarasota FL Herald-Tribune.

AA group wants exemption from smoking ban

Some people struggling with addiction are fighting Omaha's new smoking ban. A group of Alcoholics Anonymous attendees said it has been contacted by authorities and warned that attendees can't smoke during meetings, Omaha television station KETV reported. The group is talking to an attorney, hoping to create an exemption to the law.

The group contacted attorney James Martin Davis. "One of the city councilmen told me keno and smoking go hand in hand. Well, what goes hand in hand is AA meetings and smoking," Davis said, referring to the temporary exemption the city's ordinance allows for keno parlors. Source.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Teen smokers more deeply hooked

Smokers who acquire the habit as teenagers often find it far harder to kick the weed as adults. This is because nicotine alters the developing brain’s hard-wiring, Pittsburgh University researchers claimed at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting (Oct 16). Their study found that nicotine’s formative influence is particularly strong in males. Source. Another source.

Wives of Alcoholics Screen Men for Sobriety

So serious is the effect of alcoholism on the Russian economy that an entrepreneur has started a registry of certified sober workers.

Wives of known alcoholics serve on the committee that examines the men for the certificate, because they have the necessary experience to spot the tell-tale signs.

Employers pay a fee to get access to the list of certified sober workers.

Drink has a serious impact on Russia’s economy. A 1995 study found that regular drunkenness affected as many as 60 per cent of manual and 21 per cent of white-collar staff. Source.

Get in shape, kick the habit

A new study finds that smokers who combine exercise with gum or patches are more likely to quit than those who rely on nicotine replacement therapy alone. -- Source.

Liver disease rising in UK, Ireland

The number of deaths from liver disease is rising rapidly in Ireland and Britain, Irish researchers have warned.

According to researchers at the National Liver Transplant Unit in Dublin's St Vincent's University Hospital, liver disease death rates have doubled over the past 20 years and with current trends in alcohol consumption, 'are likely to increase further'. Source.

65,000 Teens with Liver Disease: S. Korea

More than 65,500 medical treatments were given to teenagers having alcoholic liver diseases last year, indicating an education program about alcohol is needed for students, says the Korea Times. The article says that S. Korea is now fifth in the world in per capita liquor consumption. Source.

No Scientific Evidence that AA is Effective

A comprehensive meta-analysis of published effectiveness studies concerning Alcoholics Anonymous and twelve-step facilitation (TSF) treatment methods found no scientific basis for claims that these methods were effective. "No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems." The study, by three Italian researchers, was published in August 2006 in the prestigious Cochrane Library journal in the UK. An abstract is available online here.

Media underreport role of alcohol in crime, accidents

COLUMBUS , Ohio – The news media seriously underreport the role alcohol plays in violent crimes, injuries and traffic accidents, according to a new national study.

While alcohol is believed to play a role in about one-third of homicides and fatal motor vehicle accidents, media reports linked alcohol to specific accidents or crimes significantly less frequently.

Some of the largest discrepancies occurred in reporting alcohol use in violent crimes, particularly for television news. Only 1.4 percent of television news stories in the sample mentioned the role of alcohol in their reporting of homicides, according to Michael Slater, co-author of the study and professor of communication at Ohio State University Source.

Slater, working on a grant from the NIAAA, doesn't ask why this underreporting happens. Might it have something to do with publishers' reluctance to risk offending alcohol industry advertisers?

Our Brains Are Wired to Connect

"Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us affect the brain-and so the body-of everyone we interact with, just as they do us." -- Daniel Goleman, from his new book, Social Intelligence. Source.

It's well known that an effective way to develop some part of ourselves is to connect with others on the same frequency. That's why support groups can be effective. It's high time that this powerful process were demystified and taken out of the realm of magic. How many people still believe that the boost they experience from recovery group participation has some kind of supernatural origin or requires a supernatural presence? Daniel Goleman, whose books on Emotional Intelligence displayed his gift for translating technical, scientific research into concepts that everyone can understand and use, goes at it again with this new book.

"Empathizing with a friend, whether in grief or elation, can activate the very same circuits in our own brains as in our companion's." The fledgling field devoted to studying this kind of interaction is called social neuroscience. Virtually all the research underlying this book was published in the past ten years, after the publication of Emotional Intelligence. I've sent away for a review copy and hope to post a longer discussion in the Booktalk section of unhooked.com soon. See also the item on mirror neurons, below.

Monday, October 23, 2006

UK women worst binge drinkers in world

Women in England and Ireland are officially the world's biggest binge drinkers, according to a unique study of global alcohol consumption.

One in three 17- to 30-year-olds is now classed as a heavy drinker, bingeing on four or more drinks in one session at least once a fortnight. Source.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Book Says Faith-Based Programs Just Political Ploys

David Kuo, a conservative evangelical who was second-in command of the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, has come out with a book in which he says that Bush's people privately made fun of the faith leadership and used faith-based program money mainly to gain votes.

In public, Bush and his top advisers coddled and kissed up to the born-again religious leadership, but behind their backs called them "nuts," "ridiculous," "out of control," and "goofy." Faith-based program initiatives were thinly disguised events to get out the vote for Republican candidates, and awards of faith-based funds were made mainly on the basis of loyalty to the administration. Read more. Bush's faith-based addiction treatment funding initiatives, misleadingly called Access to Treatment, can be seen as part of this cynical framework. More about that here and here.

Mirror Neurons -- Biological Basis of Group Support

Recent research into mirror neurons points to a biological basis for the effectiveness of group support. These specialized brain cells were discovered by accident when researchers studying monkey brains found that cells that fired when a monkey grasped food also fired when the monkey saw another grasping food. The cells mirrored the action of the other animal. Subsequent research discovered mirror neurons widely distributed throughout the human brain.

Mirror neurons make it possible for us to experience the actions, feelings, and intentions of others as if they were our own, without having to perform elaborate rational deductions. An article in the current Scientific American suggests that, because of mirror neurons, the common expression, "I feel your pain," can be literally true. Source. Mirror neurons are involved in imitation, one of the most important forms of learning. Mirror neurons are also thought to be the foundation of emotional resonance or empathy, a key ingredient in professional and lay psychotherapy. It follows that mirror neurons are very probably the biological basis of many of the processes that are at work in mutual aid groups. The process of sober-to-sober reinforcement that empowers the participants' sober selves plausibly rests, biologically, on mirror neurons.

In a related article, researchers explore the hypothesis that damage to mirror neurons is the cause of some of the symptoms identified in many types of autism. Lacking functioning mirror neurons, some autistic children are asocial and lack empathy. Work is being done to see what can be done to stimulate or repair mirror neurons so as to make inroads against this condition. Source.

Katherine Hepburn on Sobriety

"Cold sober...I find myself absolutely fascinating." -- Katherine Hepburn, in response to Dick Cavett's question whether she had ever had a desire to do drugs. Source. Thanks, Gillian!

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Anti-Addiction Drugs: Chantix, Vivitrol

Two new drugs to treat addiction have hit the U.S. market -- Chantix for nicotine addiction, Vivitrol for alcoholism. Read more. And more.

Two girls trampled to death in alcoholic stampede

Two high school girls were trampled to death when a group of drunk students stampeded to escape police who had come to break up their rowdy party, reports African News Dimension from Zambia. Source.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Montana adopts integrated treatment model

Substance abuse and mental illness, long treated as distant cousins, become conjoined in the latest treatment model in Montana.

Community Program Officer Mary Jane Fox with Montana’s Addictive and Mental Disorders Division came before the Kalispell Mental Health Local Advisory Council recently with a clear message.

“Individuals with co-occurring disorders need to be thought of as the expectation, not the exception,” Fox said.

To move toward integration, Montana contracted two top experts, Dr. Ken Minkoof and Dr. Chris Cline, for training and consultation.

Their model stresses screening every mental illness client for substance abuse and every substance abuse client for mental illness in a welcoming atmosphere. Success comes from “empathetic, hopeful, continuous treatment relationships.”

“There is no one correct treatment approach,” Fox said. “Everyone is an individual.”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Free-base nicotine: why cigs contain ammonia

Tobacco companies add ammonia and urea to cigarettes to make them more alkaline when hot. The alkaline pH converts nicotine into its free-base form, instantly absorbed in the lungs and transmitted to the brain. Without the ammonia and urea, nicotine would remain in its natural form and go to the stomach, taking a long time to get to the brain. Researchers think that the action of free-base nicotine is key to its highly addictive properties. Read more here in the Middletown NY Times Herald-Record.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Acid and Alcohol Don't Mix

Nick Johnstone speaks for me on this topic:

"It should be obvious: giving LSD to an alcoholic in the hope of curing them is a very, very bad idea. But various newspapers this week appear not to agree. For instance, we've got the Independent claiming "LSD helps alcoholics put down the bottle" and Metro stating, "LSD can help alcoholics quit drink".

"They're alluding to the just-released findings of Erika Dyck, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Alberta, who recently revisited the subject (and subjects) of a four decades old research study by British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond, who experimented with giving alcoholics a single dose of LSD in a bid to cure their illness.

"Although Osmond's study was dismissed with skepticism, Dyck has now presented her findings in an academic journal, Social History of Medicine, claiming that "the LSD experience appeared to allow the patients to go through a spiritual journey that ultimately empowered them to heal themselves".

"On the eve of being twelve years sober, reading this dangerous drivel makes me shake my head in disbelief. ... " Read Nick's whole article.

LSD treatment had AA support

A set of experiments in which alcoholics were treated with LSD in the 1950s "gained support from the provincial government, local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Bureau of alcoholism," according to Dr Erika Dyck, professor of the history of medicine at the University of Alberta, Canada. Source. And not only local groups. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, experimented with LSD himself. (So did Chuck Dederich, founder of Synanon). See Wm. White, Slaying the Dragon, p. 229. ABC News quotes sources saying that Wilson and other AA members felt that LSD was useful in getting people to accept the "higher power" concept. Source.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hello Faith, Goodbye Taxes

Religious employers don't have to pay into the state unemployment compensation fund, and ministers don't have to pay income tax on their housing allowances, says an article in today's New York Times. Source. In many states, religious publications are also exempt from the sales tax. The result is that religion gets a tax subsidy of at least $500 million a year -- a tax burden that's shifted to the rest of us, thank you. Among the consequences: treatment counselors working for "faith-based" agencies may not be eligible for unemployment compensation if they're laid off. See also Hello Faith, Goodbye Rights, below.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Alcohol Industry Runs Oregon

In Oregon, the alcohol industry runs the show, says an editorial in today's Oregonian. The paper points out that the excise tax on alcoholic beverages hasn't been raised in more than 30 years, thanks largely to millions of dollars the industry spends funding and entertaining state lawmakers. As a result, the state has "glaringly inadequate resources to deal with alcohol-related social ills that are largely responsible for filling our emergency rooms, jails and prisons, as well as contributing to the breakup of many families." The editorial supports an alcohol tax increase that would raise much-needed funds for addiction and mental health treatment, prevention, and education. Source.

Counselor Busted on Bribery Charges

Addiction counselors are among the most poorly compensated of all professionals. No surprise, then, to read about the indictment of Timothy J. Smith of Arapahoe County (Denver), a top level counselor, for allegedly taking bribes from clients to supply them with fake DUI class completion paperwork. In one case, says the indictment, Smith accepted payment in the form of marijuana. Source. The surprise is that there aren't more cases like this, given the overworked and underpaid status of the addiction counselor.

Terror Treatment in India

"Yes, we do beat them up when they don't listen to us. What else is there to do?" -- A staff member at the Paras Foundation addiction treatment center in Mohali, India. A Times of India investigative team found 70 "inmates" of the program sleeping on the floor in one room. Addicts are made to squat and stare at the wall for hours for minor infractions. There is no medical staff. Food is slop thrown together in a squalid kitchen. The Times says inmates "were routinely tortured and abused." Source.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hello Faith, Goodbye Rights

Addiction professionals concerned to upgrade their salaries, benefits, and professional standing need to read "Where Faith Abides, Employees Have Few Rights" in today's New York Times. Source. Correspondent Diana Henriques details a string of court cases in which employees of faith-based institutions have been denied elementary protections that employees of secular companies take for granted: disability rights, the right to pensions and healthcare, protection against sexual or other discrimination and harassment, against arbitrary firing, and for the right to organize, and others. Typical is the case of Sister Mary Rosati (right), dismissed from her order after she was found to have cancer. Faith-based employers run roughshod over employee rights under the doctrine of "church autonomy" or "ministerial exception." The spectre of the Bush administration's heavily subsidized "faith-based treatment" spells relapse for the few protections and benefits that addiction professionals have been able to win in recent years. See also Bush Spends 2.2 Billion (September) and Bush Taking the Axe to Recovery (2004).

Faith-Based Free-Baser

The man who founded a faith-based drug rehabilitation program in Clayton [AL] after kicking his own drug addiction is now facing a felony cocaine possession charge. Keith Dohney, 42, founder of Southeast Alabama Rehabilitation Services Inc., was arrested Tuesday afternoon by the Barbour County Drug Task Force and charged with a single count of possession of a controlled substance. Source.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Foley's Alcoholism Phoney?

Directly after resigning from Congress, Mark Foley (R-FL) made a public admission of alcoholism and checked himself into an addiction rehab program.

Foley's claim of alcoholism is not convincing a lot of people who knew him. One of his own colleagues, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Fox the claim is "a gimmick." Source. Advocate.com, the LGBT website, quotes sources close to Foley as doubting that he had a drinking problem. Source. From this perspective, Foley's quick public entrance into an alcohol rehab clinic was a convenient exit from further public questioning about his sexual advances to underage male pages.

True, as a psychiatrist pointed out to the press, many alcoholics manage to hide their addiction for fear of being stigmatized. But Foley had other stigmas to worry about. He was a closeted gay Republican -- but his orientation was an open secret in Washington and in Florida. He was also sexually interested in the male Capitol pages -- but this fact was widely known among the pages themselves and evidently at least some in the House leadership. Does the stigma of alcoholism carry a more painful sting than homosexuality and pedophilia, such that Foley would guard the secret of his drinking more closely than his other secrets? Hard to believe. Especially in Washington.

Foley wasn't alone in taking dubious refuge in alcohol rehab. Rep. Bob Ney (R.-OH) declared himself an alcoholic and checked into rehab last month hours after pleading guilty to corruption charges in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.

The parallel has been a feast for skeptics. The Maine Morning Sentinel's editorialist observed that "claiming an addiction becomes the last resort of the poorly behaved." Source. Another commentator thinks that checking into rehab is becoming standard procedure for cornered politicos. Source.

Writer William Saletan had fun with this emerging pattern in Slate. Politicos in trouble should follow a 10-step program, he writes, including:
4. Call yourself an alcoholic. Foley adopts the label directly: "I am an alcoholic." This is vital, because when you're also a crook, anti-Semite, or pervert, "alcoholic" sounds so much nicer. Millions of people are alcoholic or love someone who's alcoholic. Embrace the label, and they'll embrace you. Roth adds a nifty twist to this maneuver, calling Foley "a closet drinker." Everyone knows Foley had a closet. The only question is what's in it. Booze is the least shocking answer he can hope to get away with. Source.
The conservative pundit Mona Charen also wasn't buying it. She wrote: "A fly on the wall of these treatment centers would doubtless discover that some of their celebrity clients are not alcoholics at all, but simply charlatans anointing themselves with alcoholism to wring sympathy from an infinitely forgiving public." Source.

So, at least if you're a celebrity, the "alcoholism" label, far from stigmatizing you, makes you downright lovable. NCADD, are you listening?

It's a perverse world. The huge majority of alcoholics who need treatment can't get it. Source. Scarce and understaffed emergency detox centers have waiting lists. Source. But for a handful of public figures, alcoholism treatment serves as a convenient moral refuge, a beggar's cup for sympathy, and a safe harbor from public inquiry.

P.S. A number of the commentators on Foleygate are mixing up his case with Mel Gibson's. While Foley's "alcoholism" seems too convenient to be true, there's no doubt about Gibson's bona fides in this department. See earlier blog posts here and here.

Fraternities: Another Jungle

Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle did more than any other single work to arouse public opinion against the malevolent excesses of the American meat packing industry, and to initiate its reform. Now another literary heavyweight, the prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, has come forward with a short story (Landfill in the current New Yorker, source) that ought to arouse a similar passion about the jungle of college fraternities.

Oates' fictional story describes the death of Hector Campos Jr., a Latino student at Michigan State University, who got drunk and either fell or was pushed down a trash chute into the dumpster behind the Phi Epsilon fraternity. Authorities found his body three weeks later -- three weeks of agony for his parents -- in the county landfill. Oates writes in a documentary style, sequencing factual detail after detail until the resulting tapestry becomes emotionally overwhelming.

Newspaper reports of real deaths of real college students don't seem to have made much of a dent in the college fraternity drinking scene. Source. Maybe Oates' intensely felt and written fictional piece in the New Yorker will succeed where journalism has failed. Thank you, Ms. Oates, for the effort.