« July 2008 | Main | October 2008 »

August 18, 2008

Methamphetamine And The Wack A Mole Theory

Politicians and criminal justice types don't have to look very far today to be reminded that the Methamphetamine gravy train has long since left the station.  By 2005 only 10 States had not enacted precursor laws which, by controlling access to the pharmaceutical ingredients of meth, essentially knocked the legs out from under the home grown Meth Lab business across the country.  Lab seizures plummeted yet law enforcement officials, county, state and national politicians have continued to insist that meth was their highest priority despite a mounting body of evidence to the contrary. 

There is no question that methamphetamine is one, if not the most, highly addictive and potentially lethal substance being abused today.  Treatment professionals often privately say that while it is routine for men and women in their 70s and 80s to seek treatment for alcohol, prescription drug and even cocaine addiction, they are not likely to see methamphetamine addicts become senior citizens because they will be dead! 

It is also true that it is unlikely we will ever totally eradicate the use of any illegal substance that is abused and that there is also some truth to the "wack a mole" theory of drug prevention that as one substance is targeted and declines another escalates.  Indeed the "wack a mole" theory may be in play given the resurgence of heroin across the country as well as the alarming rate RX/OTC abuse nationwide that is now challenging marijuana for the top-spot in illicit drug abuse nationwide.

It is time for law enforcement officials and politicians to bring some balance to their prevention efforts and abandon their habit of demonizing a single substance while the rest of the moles get out of wack!!!!

August 18, 2008 at 09:25 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 11, 2008

A Miracle of Recovery

I had my first taste of alcohol when I was 15.  The locale was exotic even for a teenager.  My father, a university professor, was on sabbatical and we were living in England.  For Christmas that year my parents decided to leave the cold damp misty isles of Britain for the warm and sunny Mediterranean.  Their choice was the balmy beaches of  the Balearic island of Majorca and we eagerly packed our bags leaving the cold and dismal clime of London behind.  It was an idyllic week of sun and sand mixed with an occasional dose of castles, cathedrals and ancient Spanish history.  Our stay coincided with bringing in the new year in Palma the capital of the island chain where the Moorish influence hung heavy in the air.  On New Years Eve the hotel where we were staying hosted the obligatory bash and the champagne flowed like water.  I was 15 at the time soon to be 16 a scant 5 weeks hence.  My mother and father, teetotalers in their young adult years and now social drinkers, made a conscious decision to allow me and my year younger sister to partake of the festivities including the champagne.  They were both well educated and meaning parents who felt that the special circumstances and exotic location warranted some relaxation of their usual strict parental supervision and I could not have been more grateful at the time.

I still remember that first taste of champagne as it bubbled over my lips, the effervescence tingling in my mouth and throat, the warmth that spread throughout my body and the sense of well being that permeated my soul.  From that day forward and for the next 35+ years I chased that same feeling from drink to drink and drug to drug always striving, but never quite achieving the first wondrous feeling on that New Years Eve, 4500 miles from home and four decades past.

High school, college and graduate school saw my substance abuse grow in regularity and diversification as I added more and different kinds of drugs to the alcohol.  By young adulthood I was aware, as were those close to me, that I had some difficulty in controlling my use.  However the legal consequence that some of my friends experienced and which I equated with "problem drinking and drug use" never seemed to happen to me.  I would have occasional lapses of drunkenness which would be followed by periods of enforced sobriety, promises of stopping or attempts to control my drinking by changing from liquor to wine to beer.  But the result was always the same.  When our first son was born I vowed to stop drinking to excess which only resulted in my beginning to lie about my drinking and to hide it.  I became a closet drinker and at some point...which I can't remember...I became a closet alcoholic and occasional drug user.

I continued my clandestine career as an alcoholic as our boys grew into adolescence and when our youngest son David developed a serious problem with alcohol and marijuana at the age of 15 there was no denying that he was his father's son.  His death 11 months later in a substance abuse related drowning was a tragic example of the rapid progression of the disease of addiction in spite all his Mother and I tried to do to prevent it.

After he died...I came out of the closet.  I had never really needed an excuse to drink and drug but now I had a really good one.  No one was surprised by my drinking and even my therapist characterized my increased usage as understandable "self-medication".  What no one knew at the time was that I had jumped back into the bottle with both feet which seemed to be the only way I could make the noise in my head of grief, guilt and anger go away...if only for a little while.  Of course, as all alcoholics know, it only made it go away for a short while, and as the weeks turned in to months it took more and more to make it go away for a time that grew less and less.  I became a increasingly dysfunctional alcoholic until two years after David's death I dropped all the balls I had been juggling for so long and entered treatment at Fairbanks Hospital, the same facility he had attended.

Next week will be the fifth anniversary of the beginning of my recovery from alcoholism, a recovery that begins anew every morning.  I have come to believe many new truths, have received many gifts and have witnessed many miracles in recovery.  I never believed in miracles before because I really didn't believe in God.  But in recovery I have found a higher power and today I do believe in miracles.  When I was just out of treatment I was required to go to "aftercare" a weekly meeting of 35 to 40 alcoholics and addicts.  The counselor who ran the group was a crusty old codger in his late 70s.   He had more than 20 years of sobriety but his years of drinking had taken a heavy toll making look every bit of a 90 year old.  He was full of all that Alcoholics Anonymous wisdom stuff, knew all the sayings and spouted them continuously throughout his weekly meeting.  I didn't like him very much in the beginning because he had a way of reading our files and then calling us out when we said something he took exception to.  I had successfully stayed out of his way and thought I was off his radar screen until one night after I had been in his group for six or seven weeks. 

I don't remember what I said that night but he brought me up short and called me out in front of the entire gathering.  He said "Kim, I've read your file and I know what happened to you...and I want you to know that I believe that when an addict or an alcoholic dies they buy sobriety for someone else.  I think that is what your son did for you."  I hated him for saying that to me that night.  Hated him because I didn't believe it and I didn't want to believe it.  But five years later I do believe it and I have accepted that gift from my son David.  And that journey from the anger I felt that evening five years ago to the acceptance I have today....is a miracle.  A miracle of recovery from my son David. 

August 11, 2008 at 06:43 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 10, 2008

A&E's Intervention and Inhalants

Intervention on A&E has consistently offered a honest and often stark view of the disease of addiction and continues to distinguish itself as the only true "reality" show on television today.  While many of the segments have hit close to home for me the most recent episode is especially compelling and poignant in that it deals with the substance and practice that killed my son David.  "Huffing", the intentional inhaling of propellant chemicals contained in aerosol cans is an addictive and potentially deadly practice profiled this week by Intervention

In the years since David's death I have written and spoken about the tragic consequences of "huffing" to thousands of young people and their parents.  In working with several national advocacy organizations on inhalant abuse I have always tried to adhere to their basic tenant of "do no harm" by refraining from showing how to use inhalants while telling the story of David's death.  This week Intervention tells the story of Allison, a young pre-med student addicted to inhalants, using up to 10 cans of computer duster a day and spiraling down into insanity.  It is a brutal depiction of the extreme effects of a young woman in the advanced stages of addiction to inhalants and near death.  During the course of the show there are numerous scenes of Allison inhaling duster shown in great detail that leaves nothing to the imagination. 

Despite these graphic scenes, which inhalant abuse awareness advocates may feel violate the "do no harm tenant, I strongly support and applaud A&E for their bold portrayal of this subject.  In today's culture where one need only search My Space, Face Book and You Tube to find hundreds of references and videos of young people using inhalants recreationally in a callous manner without fear of the lethal consequences.  It is laudatory of A&E to address Inhalant Abuse in a manner that leaves no doubt about this dangerous and potentially tragic practice that can cause death with "every breath you take." 

August 10, 2008 at 10:51 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 07, 2008

Drug Testing and Teens

U.S.News & World Report

7 Reasons Parents Should Not Test Kids for Drug Use

Seek out an addiction professional, experts say, to get reliable results and avoid a potential tragedy

Posted August 6, 2008

When Kim Manlove and his wife discovered that their teenage son was abusing pot and alcohol, they did what they thought was right: They purchased commercially available drug-testing kits and began administering random urine screens at home. "We thought we'd be able to handle it on our own," recalls Manlove, 56, of Indianapolis. And for several months it appeared that their efforts were working. The drug tests, obtained on the Internet, consistently indicated that 15-year-old David was alcohol free and that his marijuana levels were decreasing, which they interpreted as a sign that he was quitting. Not so. Their son had switched to drugs that the tests couldn't detect, such as prescription pills and LSD. When his parents finally caught on, they enrolled him in treatment. "Things were beyond our capability," says Manlove.

David completed the program, but his desire to get high ultimately cost him his life, Manlove explains. Enticed by the notion that inhalants wouldn't register on his weekly, now professionally administered urine tests, David and his friends spent an afternoon huffing an aerosol (computer duster) and diving into a swimming pool because they'd heard the underwater pressure would heighten the rush. Instead, doing so triggered what's known as "sudden sniffing death syndrome," the gravest consequence of inhalants. David had a heart attack and drowned at age 16.

The Manloves' experience underscores some of the pitfalls of at-home drug testing, an increasingly popular practice among parents aiming to stop or prevent their child's drug use. And with countless test kits available, experts say that it's an increasingly difficult practice to resist—though parents should.

"I don't recommend that parents ever use home drug tests," says pediatrician Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Children's Hospital Boston. "[They're] going to be misled." The tests are often billed as preventive, but there's no evidence that they actually keep kids away from drugs, she adds. Levy's stance is echoed by numerous others, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued a 2007 statement opposing home and school drug testing until further research is done. In hindsight, Manlove agrees: "I'd go straight to the professionals, no question," he says. "Shame" and "embarrassment" are the primary reasons that he and his wife didn't seek help sooner.

Here are seven reasons why experts say drug testing should be left to the professionals:

1. It can become a missed opportunity. Manlove, who now works as a substance abuse prevention specialist for the state of Indiana, believes that the six months that elapsed between he and his wife's initial discovery of David's drug use and their procuring outside help allowed a minor problem to become major. "That delay really worked against us," he says. "If we had sought professional help earlier, I think we would have had a better chance of preventing this outcome."

2. It's easy to cheat. With all the ways to cheat urine screens, says Levy, experts worry that parents could be falsely reassured by negative drug tests while their kid actually has a problem. "My clinical experience tells me that parents are fooled all the time," she says. Furthermore, Levy says parents aren't encouraged to watch their adolescents urinate—but some testing facilities can require that urine collection is witnessed by an observer to prevent tampering. "We do it under controlled circumstances, and we know the tricks of the trade," says Peter Rogers, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University medical school who conducts substance abuse testing. That's why, he says, if a drug test is warranted, it should be handled by experienced professionals.

3. False positives can mislead you. Poppy seeds, cold medications, and even antibiotics in high doses can potentially cause false-positive results on certain types of tests, says Levy, leading parents to falsely accuse innocent teens of illegal drug use.

4. Some tests are confusing. Home kits can be difficult to navigate, says Levy, and to ask parents who have no experience with laboratory medicine to do them correctly is "tough." Moreover, she says, parents have to be pretty sophisticated to know the difference between similar-sounding drug types such as opiates (e.g., heroin) and opioids (e.g., oxycodone). Get the wrong kit, and your results could be meaningless. "Unless you have a really good indication of what your kid is using," says Manlove, "you're really just taking a shot in the dark."

5. They give you limited information. Most drugs clear the system pretty quickly, says Levy, so parents would have a tough time catching a child's occasional use.

6. And they can be costly. A package of home tests can be pricier than a visit to a medical professional. Manlove paid roughly $50 for a six pack of urine tests, though costs vary widely.

7. You're a parent, not the police. Some experts worry that the practice of home drug testing may damage the parent-child bond. "I'm not sure that's the relationship that parents want to have with their kids," says Rogers, who himself is the parent of a former teenage drug abuser (who's now a sober 21-year-old). "They shouldn't be policemen, just parents."

August 7, 2008 at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 03, 2008

Recovery, Relapse and Redemption

When a adolescent or young adult is in early recovery it is a significant challenge for a parent to know how much trust to restore to the parent/child relationship that has been so utterly and repeatedly destroyed during the acute phase of addiction.  Questioning and self doubt are constant companions as parents struggle to reward solid recovery efforts without setting the bar too low and thus enabling a return or relapse of using behaviors.  As our sons and daughters struggle with early recovery so do parents and family members who are equally at risk for relapse and a return to their own old behaviors of enabling and denial.

One example of this complex dynamic occurred when David first got out of treatment after two months and found that there were many of his hopes and dreams that were put on hold.  Perhaps the greatest setback in his mind was his dream of getting his own car.  The intensity of effort required for early recovery and the monetary cost of treatment made that dream impossible for him for the foreseeable future.  Dave did reluctantly accept the finality of that decision as a natural consequence of his previous actions but then turned his attention to convincing his mother to allow him to "customize" her car with a "killer" sound system.  After considerable discussion between us we decided that the progress we were seeing in his recovery warranted her agreement and so Dave eagerly made the arrangements for the installation.  When his death from addiction occurred barely a month later the decision we had made to allow him to install his "killer system" gave us great comfort. 

18 months ago the transmission went on Marissa's car and when we went to trade it I could not bear to leave Dave's system in the car and asked the dealership to remove it.  And for the last year and a half I have carried those components in the trunk of my car periodically announcing my intention to install them in my car at some point.  This past Father's Day my son Josh and his wife Angie gave me a gift certificate to have the system installed....and last Saturday I finally did it.  Dave's CD player....his 500 Watt amplifier and the sub-woofer speaker which now takes up half of my trunk.

And as I drove home...I slid one of Dave's CDs into the player (it was 2PAC's r u still down?) cranked up the volume until all three rear-view mirrors were pulsating with such violent vibrations they were totally useless...and drove down one of the busiest streets on the north-side of Indianapolis drawing stares of disbelief from people my age and ones of envy from David's contemporaries.  I called Marissa on my cell phone so she could share in the moment and as we started to speak the tears came for me; not tears of grief but ones of joy and love.   I wept all the way home with Dave all around me, happy to be together again, and though he is never far from me, at that moment we were closer than we had been in a very long time.  Thank you Dave.

August 3, 2008 at 08:45 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack