End War on Drugs

A national movement is afoot to end the war on drugs. Find out what you can do in your community to help.

When: Thursday, May 22nd from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Where: Food For Thought Bookstore in Amherst Center (Refreshments will be served.)

Come and watch the one-hour version of the film THE HOUSE I LIVE IN.

Listen to the story of a formerly incarcerated person from EPOCA- Ex Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.

Participate in a conversation with fellow community members. State-wide efforts to change Massachusetts laws, practices and policies will be highlighted.

To inform yourself, feel free to view this 23 minute Tedx talk of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow.

If I knew this could be considered therapy…

IMG_4726“If I knew this could be considered therapy, I would have started seeing you sooner,” M says.
The late afternoon sun shines through the cladding boards and blazes the red maple leaves that surround the abandoned tobacco barn. I’m standing with one of my clients, a 15 year-old named M. She had suggested we go for a walk on the trails behind her house rather than sit in her bedroom. I do house calls and have been seeing M for nearly two months. Autumn’s warm, dry days followed by cool nights has resulted in a vivid display of crimson, gold and orange leaves amidst the evergreens that permeate these woods.
M asks me if it would be OK to have a cigarette. She’d already confided that she smoked. “I’ll allow this one time. In my experience,

it’s hard to feel what you’re feeling while you’re smoking.

Given that that’s part of the reason we see one another…” I say with a smile.
“But in all those old movies, you see the client and the therapist smoking together.”
“True. We didn’t know then what we now know. I assume you understand that it’s not good for your overall health.”
“Who doesn’t?” The sunlight now captures the smoke rising through the slats of the antique pinewood boards, and it appears more like mist rising.” We’re both quiet, mesmerized by the space and the light.
“How are you feeling?” I ask as she bends over to extinguish her cigarette on the bottom side of her sneaker.
She cocks her head and smiles. It’s new for me to see her face, let alone, her beautiful smile. She’s a petite and intelligent girl, dressed in baggy pants and a long sleeved flannel shirt. Her hair, recently died fuscia is long and hangs in her eyes most of the time. Her Mom had called about six weeks ago, desperate for someone to help her daughter, their family.
“Alright. I wish my parents would mind their own business more than they do.

Do they understand how hard I try?”

“I don’t know. They’re busy trying too.” She and I begin walking back towards the house. “But I know that they are concerned about you. You’ve done things that make them feel like you’re not safe. It’s their job to protect you.”
“I know. I know. It just sucks.” She says swinging her arms and walking beside me.
“What do you mean?”
“They ask me constantly about what I’ve eaten. They talk to the parents of my friends, checking up on me. They bring me to the doctor’s and make me expose my body every month.”
“You’ll be in a position soon to earn back their trust. You’re doing well. And you’ve always been more than the sum total of your broken parts.”

I look right at her and say, “You’re great, M.

I’ll miss seeing you.” Her mom, after weeks of searching, finally discovered a program that will accept their insurance and provides one on one, parent coaching, and group-work for the specific issues that M has. More than I can offer and what M really needs. I’m sad that I won’t be seeing her anymore, but relieved. She’s another wonderful teenager I’ve had the privilege to come to know.


Recently, Motherlode, a NYTimes blog on parenting, posted this article: How Parents Handle Teenage Drinking. I was invited to respond. Mike Winerip selected the most interesting and useful responses to facilitate the conversation and my comment was chosen.

I’m relieved and pleased that attention is being paid to the topic of teen drinking. Forums like this one are a great place to join in the conversation. It is rare that public dialogue permits the validity of multiple perspectives even though it is often the best way for parents to feel more informed. We need to remember that ‘Just Say No’ is a myth and that talking with one another is important.

Adolescents More Vulnerable? Don’t Think So

Having read Adolescents more vulnerable to effects of drugs, alcohol on January 28th 2013, I was once again concerned with the overall content. What follows is my response to particular statements. I firmly believe that we are always changing and that it is important to remember that possibility is neither forever nor instant, in our own lives and our children’s.

The habits that you develop as a teenager are pretty much programmed for life.

This statement has got to be one of the most hopeless statements I’ve read about adolescence in a long time. On top of which, it exasperates me that experts (again and again) guise their negativity as concern. The teen years have been for some time now that period of our life when we are the most likely to experiment, take risks and push the limits. It is no surprise that drug use peaks-among the group that use- in their late teen years. Generally, such experimentation is not likely to end in disaster and that most adolescents who try alcohol or other drugs do not become frequent or problem users. (Stats here) And most teens grow out of it quickly, with rates of drug use dropping off dramatically when they reach their early 20s.

In MRIs of teens who drink regularly, the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain) is 10 percent smaller than in teens who do not drink.

This statement is close to being true, at least according to the data I was able to locate. The problem I have comes with the use of word ‘regularly’ vs. heavily because in Journal: Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (2010),  they found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of those youth who drank heavily-four or five drinks per occasion, which constitutes binge drinking.

 Pot smoking is second only to alcohol as the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents.

I looked for the data on this statement and found these. Firstly, driving a car puts everyone at a hugely increased of dying, but you never seriously hear anyone talk seriously about not driving as a solution. Furthermore, car accidents are the leading cause of death for US teenagers and if you’re male between 15-24 years old-check this out-a motor vehicle fatality is the number one reason you will die. —-When we look at the top 10 reasons for car accidents, it appears the list is varied, but not that surprising. Things like distraction, speeding, drinking, drug use including illicit drugs, rain, running red lights, running stop signs, etc…are the big culprits. Specific to marijuana, some studies can demonstrate a clear bad effect of marijuana on driving, but there are studies out there that actually go the other way. While marijuana use may worsen reaction and coordination abilities, it isn’t clear yet whether the amount of marijuana used, or how it was ingested, contributed to crash rates. If I was able to find this information, you can bet your tech-savvy teen-ager will too.

Marijuana grown today is about 10 times stronger than that on the market 20 or 30 years ago.

There have been modest changes in THC levels that are largely confined to domestically cultivated and produced cannabis. Cannabis of this type is typically more potent, although it is also clear that the THC content of cannabis products in general is extremely variable and that there have always been some samples that have had a high potency. Also, joint sizes have dropped over the years from half a gram to about a quarter of a gram. In addition, pipes, water pipes, and vaporizers typically require less marijuana per use than joints and these items have become increasingly popular over the last 30 years. This could mean that more potent marijuana means less marijuana is needed to achieve the desired results

Within two weeks of use, an MRI scan of the brain of someone who has used ecstasy shows a severe decrease in the brain cells that contain serotonin. Even seven years later, those brain cells still have not returned to normal.

What matters is whether brain changes have associated functional consequences, about which those sentences are silent. I think the report of the MRI scan may be mistake and actually be referring to a SPECT scan study, which is entirely different.

Also, let’s look at the sentences more closely. The supposed drop in serotonin is referred to as ‘severe’. If that we’re true, you’d think there would be functional consequences. There is no mention of the dose that caused this “severe” drop. Is it a normal human dose? She states that changes last at least 7 years. How close to normal does serotonin come? If there are severe reductions, has the brain developed new ways to restore function?

Moreover, I checked on Medline and didn’t see any MRI studies that report that after one dose of MDMA, there is a “severe decrease in the brain cells that contain serotonin.” Nor did I see any MRI studies that show that after multiple uses of MDMA, there is a “severe decrease in the brain cells that contain serotonin.”

Clearly, parents want their children to be healthy. The question isn’t do we want our kids to do drugs; it is what is the best method to prevent and/or minimize harm when they are going through a life stage that for most kids necessitates pushing the boundaries? When are we going to stop believing and proliferating half-truths? What is the appeal of simple and misleading information when it comes to the topic of drugs and substance use?

I’ve wondered about these sorts of things for over 25 years and have children of my own, one of whom is 16 years old. I am preoccupied on a daily basis with what works to keep our children safe and healthy. Again and again, fear mongering and inaccurate information ends up hurting the very people the (so-called) experts are trying to help.


A colleague sent me this article about how a speedy referral to a drug treatment program makes for greater chance of success. At once, I felt pleased and frustrated. Pleased that attention is being paid to a program that truly works. But frustrated because none of what this program does is new. Courts and substance abuse treatment programs have known for SOME TIME that the sooner you get someone to treatment, the quicker and better it works.

For many years, I worked for a substance abuse program in the metro-Boston area that served young people and their families. We had on-going relationships with various court programs. If a kid was caught committing a crime and it was known or suspected that alcohol and drug use played a role-even a minor one-that kid was referred to us. We’d quickly conduct an assessment and more often than not, place the kid in a mandatory peer-group designed to help its members examine the role that alcohol and drugs had played in their actions. At worst, all of the kids had to withstand learning things about the topic of drinking and drugging that they would otherwise not have known. But a lot of the kids began to see a pattern: the more they used the more likely they were to get into trouble. Even if they weren’t “addicts”, they began the process of choosing to do things that would lessen the likelihood of engaging in health-compromising behaviors. And for the kids who were carrying a legacy of substance abuse, we could hook them up with more intensive treatment options. All this without perpetuating their criminal record.

And let’s face it. If you get in trouble for anything related to your drug use behaviors these days, the likelihood of legal consequence making it near impossible to lead a normal productive life is huge!

Once you have been branded a criminal or felon, you are typically trapped for life. For the rest of your life you must check the box on employment applications asking the dreaded question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” And once you check that box, the odds are sky high that your application is going straight to the trash…About 70% of those released from prison return within a few years, and the majority of those who return in some states do so in a matter of months because the challenges associated with mere survival on the outside are so immense. -Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow/Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness

A few years ago, I had to train my new and undisciplined puppy. After researching different methods, I chose the “capture the behavior” method. The second the dog does something you want her to do, reward her. The second the dog does something you don’t want her to do, express your disapproval-strongly. Very quickly, the dog learns. Now humans are more complicated and when it comes to addiction, I’ll be the first to admit that methods to promote health are not always easy to employ. But a basic premise of this dog training method is act swiftly and clearly and you and your animal will benefit. Just look at the data.

The Vermont Center for Justice Research published an evaluation of Rapid Referral. Of 171 participants who went through Spectrum’s program since early 2009, the recidivism rate was just 18.7 percent. For a follow-up evaluation published this October, researchers generated a test control group of 394 people (selected from 14,000 whose criminal records closely matched those of program participants). They found that the recidivism rate among the control group was 84.3 percent. –For Drug Users, a Swift Response Is the Best Medicine by DAVID BORNSTEIN

The numbers don’t lie! Treatment works and while some treatment programs are better than others, no treatment leads us NO WHERE! We need to move beyond relying on individuals and institutionalize effective strategies. We need to recognize that all these people waiting to go to jail and then ending up in our prison system is not working. At best, we are perpetuating the very problem we espouse wanting to prevent!

Articles that could promote conversation with teens about pot smoking

Here are two articles that could be used in conversation with teenagers, those who smoke and those who don’t.  The first one is a recent study on the danger of smoking marijuana under the age of 18. The second one is a retort, a rather smart one, that questions the validity of the study. They both raise certain and important questions.

Are there costs that adults and teens have underestimated? If so, what are they really? What investment do we continue to have in drawing attention to these costs, despite what adults and teens experience? What might be ignored if we accept that many teens will smoke regardless of the ‘dangers’? What is the goal of knowing-really knowing-more about the human interest in altering mindstates?

Parents as Active Players

What do we do for our kids when they are having a hard time?

Often we don’t know who to go to, we feel isolated and the response from our kids might lead us to feel like we’re failures.

Even if your kids don’t tell you, I am here to let you know that parents do have an impact. Here’s a great resource that sums up the latest in a longstanding body of research that supports that parents do make a difference. It comes from the Treatment Research Institute dedicated to reducing the impact of addiction by employing scientific methods and disseminating evidence-based information.