Archive for the Education Category
In thinking about the drug war, I often wonder where we stand with alcohol. From my perspective, it seems to get a free pass. We hear about drugs, which we all know are terrible. Are they? Or is it that we don’t like the people who choose drugs over alcohol? Make no mistake, alcohol is a very dangerous substance and the truth is, it does more damage to society than anything else. Why is it that we treat it differently than other drugs? Marijuana is safer than alcohol and yet alcohol gets a free pass. It’s a strange aspect of the drug war and I started to wonder: what does alcohol cost society and who pays for it?
Nobody seems to know what alcohol consumption costs. Consumption of alcohol is fine but alcohol abuse is a different matter. In a sense, alcohol is just another product that people buy. Of course people are in denial and not honest about their drinking and the impact of it on themselves, their work places, or their families. I don’t think there is any real way to know what alcohol costs in dollars to the US on an annual basis. NIDA doesn’t seem to know. The Marin institute, a think tank in California estimates the cost to be 175.9 billion dollars annually. Seems like a huge number. Some of the categories they were looking into were; additional health care costs, loss of productivity, damage to property. As a side note, imagine the additional cost if we were trying to arrest people for consuming it. Forget scholarly research and stats, I argue they are never accurate with any kind of questions about chemical use because, addicts lie. In any event, let’s say alcohol cost a shitload of money every year in many ways, ways we cannot even imagine. Who pays the tab? The consumers of the product don’t pay the price, not really (when do drunks ever pay the price?). Looking into this and not very deeply, I was shocked to find how minimal the taxes are. In New York, beer is taxed .14 per gallon, wine .30 per gallon, and distilled liquor $6.44 per gallon. Cigarettes are taxed $2.75 per pack. A gallon of beer can do a lot of damage. Is .14 adequate?
Maybe one of the ways that we can finance treatment and continuing care options is by taxing alcohol in a real way. How about a .25 per drink tax in NYC bars? Who would this hurt? Bar owners? Not a chance. Who supports the low taxes on alcohol? Must be the alcohol lobby. In spite of our enmeshed relationship with alcohol, it is not a ‘needed” product. It’s not bread, milk, heating oil or gas. Have we become so fucked up by this substance that we just accept the damage it does to us? If cigarettes are taxed at 2.75 per pack, so should a bottle of wine, a 6 pack of beer or a bottle of liquor. Nobody likes taxes so I will take the heat: it can be called the “Schrank damage control/treatment option tax” and if you don’t like the tax, don’t buy the product. Take the money you will be saving and throw it into the hat at an AA meeting and shut the fuck up, you’ll thank me later.
On Tuesday afternoons at the center for counseling services on the campus of Penn. State, there is a substance abuse group. There are other groups offered at the center as well. Groups for: undergrads, women, depression management, mindfulness (what?), stress management and yes, a substance abuse group on Tuesday afternoons. Just how out of control is undergraduate drinking on American campuses and just what are we doing about it?
According to the Princeton review, Penn. State is the #1 party school in the nation based on their criteria and responses from an online survey. Graham Spainer, president of the university says he doesn’t mind being known as a party school but wishes they weren’t number 1. This is odd considering Penn State routinely lists alcohol as one of the biggest problems they have in Happy Valley.
A recent broadcast of “This American Life” from the Penn State Campus observed all kinds of drunken mayhem right outside the door of one of the producers of the show. In the span of 30 minutes the show producer witnessed drunken students stealing a stop sign as well as three girls who hike up their skirts and pee in her yard. We have always expected boys to pee in the yard but it’s good to know that this practice has now crossed gender lines. Later the show interviewed a girl celebrating her 21st birthday at a football tailgate party. Stating her goal was to get drunk. The celebrants included her parents and women from a neighboring tailgate who came over to watch this young girl get drunk and deliver her some kind of lemonade and vodka concoction.
According to student surveys, 75% of the Penn State undergrad population (more than 30,000 young men and women) drinks an average of 4.5 drinks on both Friday and Saturday nights more than enough for what the Harvard School of Public Health calls “binge drinking”. This does not include what they are doing on other nights. What is the problem with this? Is this wholesome behavior? A rite of passage? Is it the entitlement of a generation raised on being told they were all “geniuses” and protected from human experience for fear they would have ‘low self esteem”? I don’t think that is it because back in my day, we behaved in largely the same way. Inconsiderate, entitled to drink, party and do as we pleased because we were ‘in college”. Is this behavior so enmeshed into the American experience that we just accept it? Does it need to be “corrected”?
Strangely, for a guy whose life is so steeped in living free of intoxicants, I kind of think much of what goes on is late adolescent hijinks, that when sequestered to certain areas is harmless fun. Incidentally it seems that one of the biggest issues at Penn. State is the conflict that the undergrad revelry creates for the families that live on or near fraternity row. Umm, how about move dip shit? Maybe it is kids just being kids. I can’t imagine having 40,000 young people living in close proximity of each other without many things going on. In one sense, Penn State seems pretty honest about it. They don’t seem to be telling the kids not to drink in a hypocritical scolding. Many of the young people who live this way will be OK. It is true that kids will be kids and for most, they will age out of this kind of lifestyle.
What is disheartening about the substance abuse climate at Penn State, and college life in general, is the flagrant disregard for the recovery life and culture. Considering the overwhelming amount of drinking on the campus, how would a kid in recovery make it? The simple answer is, they wouldn’t. How would a kid questioning what impact partying is having on their life flush that out at Penn State? I guess they could attend the group on Tuesdays but is that really adequate? The short answer is No, it is not in any way enough to support a young person who is having issues with alcohol. My issue is not that Penn State has a culture of drinking but that they don’t have a culture of recovery and marginalizes youth who want to live a recovery lifestyle. Nobody can foster a recovery lifestyle alone. We all need peer support, community, a sense of belonging, and a blend of community based and professional helping to sustain recovery. So I guess, kids who want this are not eligible to attend Penn State? That seems wrong, is it different from excluding a kid in a wheel chair? How about a kid with diabetes? What if they were raised in Pennsylvania, grew up watching Nittany Lion football, idolizing Joe Paterno is it fair to deliver the message that a huge land grant university can’t accommodate you? Fair or not, that is the message. On the off-chance that someone undergoing treatment at Hazelden youth and family or at Caron’s young adult program is reading this and thinking about how to integrate into an undergraduate life, scratch Penn. State off the list.
Recovery is never served by an evangelical membership drive. It makes no sense to try to police an entire culture on undergraduate campuses. Not to mention that I don’t think everyone who drinks has a problem. I loved every beer I drank out of a red cup and oh how I wish I still could but I don’t think everyone else should be sober, it’s really not my business. What does make sense is to start to think of recovery as something for young people and to make strides toward treating it as the acute illness that it is. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Kids might stay sober?
KDVR.COM reported today that Fort Lewis College has forbidden any marijuana on campus, even if someone has a medical marijuana license. The issue was raised after a student group asked that the penalties for Marijuana are the same for those who violate the alcohol policy. Help me Jesus!! Where to start……..A few issues jump out at me. Let’s begin with the obvious, even if someone has a legal right AND a doctor’s prescription they can’t consume their medicine? Ok, that’s fine, except what if you have a prescription for Zanax? How about Valium? Ritalin? Adderall? All of these are drugs of abuse but legal if they are prescribed. Is consumption of those substances forbidden on the campus of Fort Lewis College? Why is it that Marijuana users are singled out? Adderall can be crushed, snorted, and has all kinds of routes of admission that make it highly addictive and dangerous. What if you have dental work? Can you take Vicodan on campus? In other words: Chemo got you down? Well that sucks for you but don’t think you will be relieving your side effects on our campus, you hippie – commie – pinko. This makes no sense at all. The report didn’t state the penalties for alcohol violations but one could surmise that they are less severe than they are for Marijuana. Who drafts this policy? What are they smoking?
I began to wonder what other schools did about this. If one attended Berkeley and had a prescription for Marijuana and had that prescription filled at a legal dispensary in Oakland, could you sit on Sproul plaza and smoke it? Beats me. It would seem logical that you could. I selected to look at the drug and alcohol policy at the University of Iowa. Why Iowa? It seemed to be a pretty American place. There is no mention made of medical Marijuana, I have no idea if Iowa has legal medical Marijuana but I did read through the other policies. The residence halls at Iowa are all substance free (um, ok, Iowa). However if some of the kids did use something, let’s hope it’s alcohol. Why? Because if they get caught they are sent to a program at Iowa health. After repeated offenses they could be dismissed from the residence halls. Caught with Marijuana at Iowa? They call the police. What is this really saying? It’s saying, “use alcohol,” the penalty is softer; forget that it can kill you. My sense is that the policy at Iowa is common at other universities. It’s outdated and unrealistic (the residence halls are substance free), it follows generations old ineffective “just say no” rhetoric based on “tough on crime” logic that simply does not work.
Universities are important systems for progressive policy reform that makes sense. They need to lead the culture with this and lay the foundation for the next era which could stand a chance at ending the bloody, senseless and ineffective drug war.
This week Loft 107 hosted a fun dinner to spread the word about establishing a Recovery High School in NY for adolescents battling addiction who need a safe, structured sober environment to attend High School. Dr. Tian Dayton wrote about it on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/the-growing-problem-of-ad_b_324244.html
It’s a safe bet to say that we’ve all been in school circles and gossiped. Who was what with whom, relationship break-ups, who had a STD, whatever. The funny thing about school gossip is that it doesn’t seem to change all that much as we grow up. Now that I am the parent of a school age child, I have found that the school gossip mills are alive and well, even in adulthood. Much of this seems to go down in the parking lot at drop-off and pickup but it’s there nonetheless. I try my best to be an active participant in the day to day life of my son, which is difficult given the geographic separation and the nature of my work (for those of you who know, try scheduling an addict to do something). In any event, I was not able to attend a recent back to school night at my son’s school. Imagine my surprise when the school gossip machine revealed that there were parents that brought bottles of wine in to the classroom to enjoy at back to school night. Really? How odd!
I guess this is harmless, there were no children present and I assume everyone is of legal age and it was just wine sipping (according to the Head of the School). However, to me it sends a message, a contradictory message confusing to youth and adding chaos to any system. Dichotomy does not support prevention, so having this kind of thing in a system is really not helping the “just say no” message infused into school systems. So in other words, “no drinking kids unless you just need to try some Pinot Noir sitting on a tiny chair in a kindergarten class listening to the daily routine of your 5 year old”. The cynic is me takes it one step further: What if you don’t like alcohol but need to unwind after the stresses and pulls of parenthood? “Mind if I smoke some crack or some weed on campus”? Oh, wait, that’s different…..Is it?
Of course I couldn’t just let this slide, so I inquired as to the rules of our school and specifically how it responds to drugs and alcohol on campus. In the guidelines, written by the head of the school, for prom night it states “if we determine that someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, we will immediately contact you and will ask that you come and pick him or her up.” A decent policy for young prom celebrants. Should this be system wide? Should back to school night also be intoxicant free? I will go with a resounding “yes” on that one.
Whenever I am on my soapbox I often wonder what it all means. Having worked in chemical dependency and being interested in the politics of it, I form a lot of opinions. I stand and point, frequently. I advocate for treating chemical dependency as a health issue and not as something that can be addressed by paramilitary interventions, but what does all of this mean?
One of the ways to foster change is to support recovery high schools. Recovery high schools are community based scaffolding built around young people who are committed to living intoxicant free and need help to do it. In other words, we can send kids to treatment, but then what? High School? They don’t call that institution HIGH school for nothing. Currently there are 30 recovery high schools nationwide (not one in NYC, c’mon New York 12 steppers, get active!). They range in size and funding but in my view they bring a complex issue into honesty. They address a chronic problem at a maintenance level rather than when the fever spikes and the crisis hits. The outcomes are great. Grades are better, graduation rates are better, and matriculations to higher education rates are better.
One of the difficulties about measuring success in recovery is that we will never know what isn’t happening, who knows what would become of the kids if they didn’t have a recovery high school to attend? Jail? Maybe? Death? Maybe? Emotional turmoil? Almost certainly.
I attended the association of Recovery High Schools in Indianapolis and learned a lot. The highlight for me was that Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis, took the time to attend the conference and address the attendees. We need more people in government who understand the power of recovery, especially for young people. Additionally, Gil Kerlikowske sent some staffers to scope out what recovery schools are and what they mean. I also learned that Gil visited North Shore Community High, a recovery High School in Mass. Thank you Mayor Ballard and Czar Kerlikowske for supporting these schools. Any chance you can get mayor Bloomberg to look into this?