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Monday, August 31, 2009

My Name is Roger, and I'm an alcoholic

I would like to share with you my thoughts about a Blog post that Roger Ebert did a few days ago that I found to be quite intriguing and informative. It's not every day that people in the spotlight decide to discuss their struggles with Alcoholism and their journey towards recovery outside of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Roger Ebert has not had a drink in 30 years and thought that perhaps sharing a little bit of his experience without going into a full on "Drunkalog" might help some body work towards starting their own journey towards recovery. As Ebert says: "You may be wondering, in fact, why I'm violating the A.A. policy of anonymity and outing myself. A.A. is anonymous not because of shame but because of prudence; people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse". Ebert conservatively opens the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous to the outside world and gives people a glimpse of what it is about and how it might be able to help. I believe that he very carefully goes about his post in order to not break the principles set forth by A.A.

Let's face it, there is a lot of social stigmas regarding A.A. and many people refer to it as a religion or a cult. Roger Ebert attempts to clear up some of those ideas regarding the program, "A "cult?" How can that be, when it's free, nobody profits and nobody is in charge? A.A. is an oral tradition reaching back to that first meeting between Bill W. and Doctor Bob in the lobby of an Akron hotel. They'd tried psychiatry, the church, the Cure. Maybe, they thought, drunks can help each other, and pass it along. A.A. has spread to every continent and into countless languages, and remains essentially invisible. I was dumbfounded to discover there was a meeting all along right down the hall from my desk".

A.A. helps those people who want to be helped, it is not a program of idea pushers and there is no one way to work a program; if it works for you, than it works and nobody is going to tell you that you are working the program the wrong way. It is a collective of similar minds with similar problems, all working towards one common goal - Don't drink no matter what!

Roger Ebert in my opinion rather beautifully discusses his experience upon arriving at the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and talks a little bit about the serenity that he found once he became a member. Without breaking peoples' anonymity he talks about some of the people he met and who helped him see things a little more clearly along the way. Alcoholism is not something you manage on your own and if that were the case there would be no need for such a program; people find strength to not pick up their next drink inside the rooms of recovery and it may seem simple and that is because it is a simple program based on 12 steps that one can live their life by.

"'Everybody's story is the same,' Humble Howard liked to say. 'We drank too much, we came here, we stopped, and here we are to tell the tale.' Before I went to my first meeting, I imagined the drunks would sit around telling drinking stories. Or perhaps they would all be depressing and solemn and holier-than-thou. I found out you rarely get to be an alcoholic by being depressing and solemn and holier-than-thou. These were the same people I drank with, although now they were making more sense", relates Ebert.

I encourage everyone to read Roger Ebert's post: My Name is Roger, and I'm an Alcoholic because it is a very enlightening piece from one man's lips about millions of people's experiences. I would love to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

California and Mexico are Testing Grounds for Revolutionary Ideas Regarding Drugs

California Mexico Testing Ground Drugs

A shift can be seen in mindsets around the world regarding illegal drugs! As the world nears the end of the first decade of our new millennium, poverty stricken and facing a drug pandemic, a lot of changes in policy and in the way people look at things are happening. California and Mexico are testing grounds for revolutionary ideas regarding drugs, both republics want change despite the fact that it may fail and come back to hurt them in the end. California is on the brink of legalizing Marijuana and Mexico just legalized small amounts of essentially any drug for personal use. It seems as if these two Republics are willing to try anything to counter their ongoing struggles, i.e. California's budget crisis and Mexico's drug war. I neither condemn nor condone their attempts at trying revolutionary tactics in order to enact change. Something had to give, old ideas and mentalities are not cutting it, and so drastic measures appear to be in order.

All of this change may appear to be surrender on Mexico's part and a form of cynicism on California's, which may be the case; however, there may be room for success with regards to legalization issues and these changes could possibly do more good than harm. It has been clear for a very long time that prison does very little, if any, to help the addict and if anything it only slows the addict's progression but does nothing to curb the disease. Without proper education by way of drug treatment people who have had drug convictions stand very little chance of not returning to the drugs upon release. In Mexico, under previous laws, possession could lead to long jail terms. Mexico now views drug abuse as a "social and public-health problem rather than a law-enforcement issue", which will open up space in prisons and leave available resources to pursue the drug cartels - according to Mexican officials. According to government statistics, the number of addicts in Mexico has risen by more than 50 percent in six years; Mexico who has supplied the United States with drugs for a long time is just now seeing their own domestic drug problem and treatment seems to be more effective than prison.

In the California arena the problem crisis at hand has more to do with the budget and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano proposes full legalization of marijuana with regulation and taxation. A proposed tax of $50 per ounce is estimated to raise $1.3 billion annually. "According to one poll, 56 percent of California voters support such a plan. There also are three initiative efforts in California to put marijuana-legalization measures before voters in November 2010.", reports the Arizona Republic. People will smoke marijuana regardless of the fact that it is illegal, that being said, perhaps the argument for legalization is sound.

It is impossible to predict the direction all this new legislation will take us. Certainly, both Mexico and California are sailing into uncharted waters with failure lurking on the horizon. Drastic times call for drastic measures, time will tell if this shift in policy will be the lesser of two evils. Mexico needs to lower the murder rate and California needs to boost the economy, it will be interesting to see the results of their efforts. A lot of questions and very few answers at this point!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mexico Legalizing Drug Possession

Mexico Legalizing Drug Possession
A new law was passed on Thursday, August, 20, 2009, decriminalizing small amounts of drugs for personal use in Mexico. The drugs that fall under this new act include: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and even LSD; the only requirement is that the amounts be under a certain weight that has been agreed upon by the Mexican government. According to the Associated Press "Mexican authorities said the change only recognized the longstanding practice here of not prosecuting people caught with small amounts of drugs". If a person is caught with drug amounts falling under the set limit they will be encouraged by authorities to seek treatment; however if caught a third time treatment will then be mandatory even though Mexico has not stated any penalties for noncompliance. Mexico legalizing drug possession raises some very serious questions considering that they are currently in the grips of a serious drug war as we speak. If the government is supposedly trying to stop the cartels from producing and distributing drugs, it seems counterproductive that they would legalize the cartels main source of income.

The new drug law went into effect on Friday, August 21, 2009, and will set "the maximum amount of marijuana considered to be for “personal use” under the new law at 5 grams — the equivalent of about four marijuana cigarettes. Other limits are half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams of LSD". It took several months before before President Felipe Calderón would approve this new law. What kind of message is he trying to send to the world by doing this? A mixed message certainly, and one that can only have a devastating effect on Mexicans as well as Americans who travel to Mexico. If they could not enforce laws before they became legal how do they propose to do it after the fact? There is no way that this new law that sets limits on the amount one can be caught with will have any sway on the mind of a drug addict.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

California Officials to Jail Drug Offenders

California Officials Jail Drug Offenders

Federal judges ordered California to reduce its prison population, but this week the Schwarzenegger administration is set to vote on increasing funding to police anti-drug units, which would allow California officials to jail more drug offenders. The California Emergency Management Agency was to decide yesterday whether to route $33 million in federal money to narcotics task forces around the state that have had trouble getting the upper hand on drug criminals. It seems strange that funding for drug treatment programs was cut in half from $120 million two years ago. The increase in money for anti-drug units will most likely help to convict low level drug offenders that would be better served by going to treatment and it would cost the state less than imprisoning them. There seems to be a lot of contradiction in California legislation, on the one hand funding for prisons and treatments has been cut, on the other hand judges are ordering the state to lower the prison population by more than 40,000 in the next two years; but Schwarzenegger wants to channel more money into putting drug offenders into prison, the same type of offenders that are responsible for the over crowding to begin with.

"The Drug Policy Alliance estimates that the increase could yield 13,000 arrests during the coming year, resulting in prison time for nearly a quarter of those apprehended, at a cost of $160 million" according to the LA Times. Lopsided is the only word that comes to mind when considering that drug treatment funding has been cut and just last month legislators approved a $1.2-billion reduction in prison spending; yet, the Governor would have more money be put forth to make more arrests and ultimately work against lowering the prison populations state wide. "While one side of the government is addressing prison overcrowding, another side seems to be acting directly counter to that goal," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance.

At some point the state needs to realize that this is a vicious cycle that will be impossible to break as long the various branches of government are working against each other. As long as California continues to flood its prisons with low level offenders without providing them treatment options they will without a doubt be more likely to be repeat offenders. Education is the best solution to prison population reduction, which exists in drug treatment facilities - not prisons.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alcohol Addiction Lies Destroy Families

Alcohol Addiction Lies Destroy Families

Addiction is 'cunning, baffling, and powerful'; strong words with a lot of weight and even more truth! Diane Schuler killed four members of her family, herself, and three men in another vehicle in a devastating accident that has gripped the nation. An accident that has the world wondering what exactly goes on right in front of their eyes. The idea that everyone knows someone that is hiding their addiction can be hard to swallow; after close examination, when you scratch beneath the surface it can sometimes reveal things that we wish we were not aware of. What can make a person snap, drink alcohol and smoke pot while caring for several children is no mystery. The mystery is how no one saw this coming or spoke up about it before something occurred like what happened on the Taconic. Alcohol addiction and the lies that come along with it destroys families.

The truth is that most people know very little about alcoholism and addiction; even more so they don't understand how to intervene before it is too late and something bad happens. Ultimately when something bad happens, like in Schuler's case and even Jackson's case, everyone is in denial about what was actually going on. Denial is the first response in families and friends when something terrible occurs, it's the natural order. No one wants to believe the unbelievable! I think in most people's minds they feel somewhat responsible for the fallout of their loved one's explosions, again a natural occurrence. The fact of the matter is that everyday people's lives are forever altered by addiction, whether first hand or second; education is the only barrier, the only defense against the disease of addiction.

If you think you are seeing signs, then you probably are. If you know someone who is afflicted with this disease (and we all do), take the first step. Learn what you can and must do. I invite you to watch an ABC News Nightline Report "Hidden Addictions."

Someone once said, "Some people fail to notice; others fail to care."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Possible 'Stroke-Like' Attack Caused Taconic Crash

Taconic Possible Stroke Attack

The country is still wondering how the car crash that left eight people dead on the Taconic Parkway could have happened. The husband of the intoxicated driver, Diane Schuler, insists that his wife was not an alcoholic and that there must have been something else operating on that tragic day; claiming that a possible 'stroke-like' attack could have been the cause of everything that happened on the Taconic. With a blood alcohol level of .19% and high on marijuana it is hard to believe that there was not a problem; even if she was not an alcoholic, we could even remove alcohol form the entire picture, there is no reason why she should been "high" with five children in the car with her. Nevertheless, Diane Schuler was high and drunk when she drove the wrong way towards oncoming traffic. It seems that the writing is pretty clear and that Schuler's husband may have been in the dark about her substance abuse problem. It's highly unlikely, but, possible he did not see that his wife had a problem.

On the other hand, Mr. Schuler was arrested for a DUI over ten years ago and so it stands to reason that he could be an alcoholic as well. Furthermore, Diane Schuler's husband has to argue that this was out of the ordinary behavior because he let her drive away with the kids that morning; if he admits to knowing about his wife's addiction he could be held partially responsible for the events of that day. Some journalists are reporting and I find it interesting that Mr. Schuler's son, the only survivor that day, may not have been released back to his father until the authorities decide whether it is a safe and healthy environment. Mr. Schuler has hired a top-notch attorney to represent him, almost as if he knows that he did something wrong that day. They argue that a possible 'stroke-like attack is to blame for such irrational behavior on the Taconic by Diane Schuler; experts say that it is highly unlikely that was the cause. "This is a killing. Don't call it an accident", said Irving Anolik the Bastardi family's attorney. Anolik argues that medical condition theories are "at war with the autopsy report, with the blood analysis, with the whole panorama of things that surround this killing."

It's probably best not to speculate too much into what went on that day until all the facts are in. I will say that it will be interesting to see what the authorities figure out and if the victims' families will see any justice. Is it possible that Mr. Schuler had no idea that his wife had a problem? It's not like someone wakes up one morning and makes the decision to start binge drinking vodka! I encourage you to watch a short video with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, on the Today Show, about whether or not you can hide a drinking problem from your family.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Abolish the Disparity Between Penalties for Powder and Crack Cocaine

crack cocaine reform
President Obama pledged in his campaign to abolish the disparity between penalties for powder and crack cocaine. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress now agree that crack sentencing rules need to be altered; and this may be the year that ball starts rolling in Congress. The idea that powder cocaine is safer than crack cocaine is a simply wrong, since 1986 the "100-to-1" drug ratio rule has been in place. This rule has been responsible for judges dealing extreme sentences for over 20 years, no second chances or opportunities for those convicted of selling or possession of crack. Unfair is the only word that can be used for the disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Naturally, drug dealers should serve time for their actions, but, the 100-to-1 rule is unjust and needs to be reformed as soon as possible.

According to Time.com "the mechanism is known as the "100-to-1 drug ratio," which gives crack cocaine 100 times the weight of powder cocaine. Under the ratio, a person convicted of selling five grams of crack — about the weight of a teaspoon of salt — triggers the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine, roughly the weight of a loaf of bread. Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer believes that something needs to be done about the unfairness in the Judicial system. "The criminal-justice system must be fair, and it must be perceived as being fair," Breuer says. "The 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder is perhaps the single worst symbol of unfairness in the system. There really is no longer any basis for it." Reforming punishment is something that has been long overdue and it is great that people are wising up to the fact that there should not be discrepancies in punishment between cocaine powder and crack cocaine.

There is another aspect of this story that needs to be addressed regarding the Department of Justice not taking a position on retroactivity, but, Breuer says the issue is "being looked at hard". Doing away with the "100-to-1" rule would be a great move in making a fairer justice system; however, if the retroactive sentencing is not granted it would leave a lot of people already serving lengthy sentences in the same position. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said "it would be cruelly ironic not to make that change available to the very people whose cases led our lawmakers to make this decision".

If old laws are smashed and new laws are formed, those new laws should trickle down to everyone regardless of when they were sentenced. The "100-to-1" rule was not fair to begin with and getting rid of it would lose its value if retroactivity is not a concern when passing new laws. If the justice system is only fair for some people then it is not fair for anyone and that is unacceptable; exceptions and exclusions should not have a place in the Judicial system with regard to people that were punished for the same crime but given different sentences. Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based reform group, asks: "If we've been doing something that's unfair for 23 years now, don't we have an obligation to address that unfairness?"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tests Show that the Driver was Drunk in Parkway Crash that Killed Eight

Driver Drunk Parkway Crash Killed Eight

A terrible event took place on July 26 along a Westchester Highway in New York State. Tests show that the driver was drunk in parkway crash that killed eight; not only drunk but also high on marijuana. There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding why Diane Schuler would drive intoxicated with her: son Bryan 5, daughter Erin 2, and her three nieces, Emma Hance, 8; Alyson Hance, 7; and Kate Hance, 5. Diane Schuler had a blood alcohol level of .19 and had un-metabolized vodka still in her stomach when she drove the wrong way head on into a Chevy Trailblazer driven by Guy Bastardi along with his father Michael, and family friend Daniel Longo who were all killed in the tragic crash. Only one person, Diane Shuler's son Bryan, made it out of the wreck with his life and is still hospitalized.

Diane Schuler did not survive to account for her actions on that terrible day, who pays for this crime and who will explain how Schuler was allowed to drive off into the sunset wasted with so many children? A New York Times Article stated, "On July 26, Ms. Schuler loaded her two children, Erin, 2, and Bryan, 5, and her three nieces into the minivan to drive them home from a camping trip in the Catskills. Her husband, Daniel, also left the campground at the same time, with a dog, in his pickup truck, said Ann Scott, the owner of the Hunter Lake Campground, where the Schulers had spent most of their summer weekends for the past three years". Scott said on Tuesday that she never saw either of them with a drink that morning and that everything seemed normal.

“When I stopped to say hello to her, the kids were yelling in the car, saying, ‘We had a good time, we’re coming back,’ ” Ms. Scott said. “The husband just waved like he usually did with a smile on his face. She was fine. I said, ‘Have a safe trip home.’ She said, ‘See you soon.’ And that was it. And off she went. It was as normal as apple pie.” I guess things were not normal when a mother is driving down a highway high on marijuana and a bottle of Absolut Vodka between her legs with a van full of children. It does not make sense to me that no one noticed that something wasn't right when Schuler drove off that morning. Neither her husband nor Ann Scott can account for what took place to make Diane Schuler such a big risk, a risk that many would have to pay for with their lives.

As I said above, there are many unanswered questions, many questions that may never be resolved; however, this event can serve as a "teaching moment" for families. If you see behavior that is out of the ordinary, then don't be afraid to start a dialogue with your family member. It could save their life and others.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mexican Crystal Meth is America's Problem

Mexican Crystal Meth Americas Problem

Methamphetamine production has crossed over borders and become industrialized with the advent of Super-Labs. With so much heat on the production of Meth in America as well as the ability to acquire mass amounts of Pseudoephedrine (the main ingredient in the manufacturing of the drug) being lessened, it is no surprise that other countries like Mexico have taken upon themselves to pick up where the U.S. manufacturers left off. Mexican Crystal Meth is America's problem considering U.S. citizens are Mexico's number one customer. "Mexico now has some massive and very sophisticated operations. We call them super labs," said the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Elizabeth Kempshall, special agent in charge of the Phoenix Division. Kempshall, whose jurisdiction is in Arizona, keeps a close watch on Meth production in Mexico due to her state being one of the major trafficking routes.

The Mexican Crystal Meth market has become a multi-billion dollar industry in what seems like over night. Drug production in Mexico looks a lot different from what we saw in America with trunk and trailer-park operations. Mexican cartels have honed their production skills and created labs that can produce unthinkable amounts of this 'death dealer'. In June police and military discovered the biggest laboratory yet in the municipality of Badiraguato, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. According to the Global Post, "It is estimated to have produced 40 metric tons of Meth, worth some $1.4 billion on American streets, in just two months before it was shut down — making it the largest operation of its kind to be exposed in the continent." Numbers like that can't help but make you feel that an epidemic is taking place given the fact that the majority of those 40 tons without a doubt crossed our border.

The DEA states that Meth is now the most popular hard drug in America’s Midwest and West, ahead of cocaine and heroin. Consumption and addiction rates will undoubtedly continue to rise as long as factories like the ones above continue to thrive. The bust in Badiraguato had to have been a major blow for the cartels, but, when you take out one weed another will pop up somewhere else with the same devastating ability. How can we keep the onslaught of Methamphetamine away? If Americans keep buying the drug, someone will always be there to make a profit. Personally, America's history of being able to curb the flow of traffic from other countries has been less than satisfactory; it seems unlikely that their tract record will change with regard to the most dangerous drug ever invented. If we can't keep Meth out of America then the least we can do is better educate people on the matter. I, like so many others, am at a loss in terms of the best solution; please let me hear your thoughts on this subject.

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