While plenty of college students that do keg stands and suck down beer bongs aren’t alcoholics, some definitely are. Now a program sponsored by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare at 33 colleges in 2008 is helping resident advisers (RAs) to identify college kids with addiction and other mental health problems. The 12-hour Mental Health First Aid course—often split into two six-hour sessions—is in place at such colleges as the University of Missouri and San Jose State and is based on a program that was pioneered by a group in Australian colleges in 2001 (more than 45,000 people have since taken it in the US). “Students are taught how to recognize withdrawal, overdose and alcohol poisoning but also how to note the warning signs for abuse and dependence,” Susan Partain, the Director of Mental Health for State Operations at the National Council, tells The Fix. The authors of the reportt claim that participating students “reported increased confidence in recognizing and responding to developing mental health problems and crisis situations” and that over 30% of them “encounter people who may be having a mental illness or crisis.” Partain adds that the program also resulted in unfoseen benefits for the college kids who were involved: “People who went through it reported that their own feelings of happiness increased, perhaps because the more they became aware of how they could help others, the more they realized they could also help themselves," she says. “That wasn’t the primary intent of the course, but it certainly is great.”
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that he's launched a new website, Share Your I-Stop Story, to feature personal stories from New Yorkers directly impacted by prescription drug abuse. The site's aim of putting a human face on the issue is also designed to persuade state lawmakers to pass Schneiderman's Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing (I-STOP) plan, which would connect doctors and pharmacists to a real time, online database tracking the prescribing and dispensing of frequently abused narcotics. “Numbers and statistics are important, but at the end of the day, the prescription drug crisis is about people,” says Schneiderman. “The first hand experiences of doctors, pharmacists, patients and family members prove that the status quo is not tenable. You can’t read these stories and not feel some urgency to improve our system and prevent more tragedies from happening in the future.” Prescription drug monitoring programs like I-STOP currently operate in 43 states. According to Schnidermann's recently released report on prescription drug abuse, the number of prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in New York has increased from 16.6 million in 2007 to nearly 22.5 million in 2010. Admissions for prescription drug abuse treatment and fatal prescription drug ODs in the state are also rising.
A new study shows that a drug designed to help people quit smoking may also be beneficial for problem drinkers. The participants in the study, led by Emma Childs, a research associate at the University of Chicago, received either a two-milligram dose of the quit-smoking drug Chantix or an inactive placebo—followed three hours later by a beverage containing either a placebo, or a low or high dose of alcohol. Combining the alcohol with Chantrix was found to increase the unpleasant effects of booze, while reducing the rewarding aspects of drinking. "Chantix might reduce alcohol consumption by reducing overall enjoyment of the alcohol drinking experience," says Childs. "Chantix increased the unpleasant effects of alcohol, for example feeling drowsy and irritable; participants also reported that they didn't like the alcohol effects as much." However, the researchers acknowledge that they don't fully understand how the drug helps curb drinking and that the study's small size—just 15 participants—is a limitation. Chantix has its fair share of side effects, too; In July 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that the drug carry a "black box" warning about potential risks of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Dr. Devi Sridhar, a researcher and lecturer at the University of Oxford, England wants the World Health Organization to regulate global alcohol use. “About 2.5 million deaths a year, almost 4 percent of all deaths worldwide, are attributed to alcohol—more than the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria,” she writes in the journal Nature. “The WHO is the only body with the legitimacy and authority to proactively promote health through the use of international law.” Sridhar, who lectures on global health policies, believes that the WHO should view drinking as a global epidemic and wants it to treat alcohol use the same way it treats tobacco use. Back in 2010, the WHO published a document, WHO Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol, listing recommendations to forbid unlimited drinking promotions and put an age minimum on alcohol purchases. Sridhar believes these recommendations should become a legal requirement, and that there should be an international consensus on ways to reduce problematic drinking. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking costs the country billions of dollars in losses for alcohol-related illness, accidents and reductions in workplace productivity.
There are over 30 public sober high schools spread across the US, but not a single one in New York City. Last night, SLAM, a non-profit organization focused on righting that wrong, held its first annual benefit at The Triad on New York’s Upper West Side. SLAM—which stands for sobriety, learning and motivation—drew stars of the stage, screen and Internet in a special performance of Celebrity Autobiography to drum up support (and cash). The night included numerous raucous readings of celebrity writing at its most absurd. Hosted by SLAM founder and event organizer Kristen Johnston (Third Rock From the Sun)—whose recovery memoir, GUTS: The Tiny Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, hits bookshelves March 13—the audience was in stitches from the very first reading, in which Bobby Cannavale (Third Watch, The Station Agent) brought the ridiculous ramblings of David Hasselhoff in Don’t Hassel The Hoff to life.
The hilarity never flagged, as Bravo’s Andy Cohen read New York Housewife Countess LuAnn de Lesseps’ Class With the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair. (The first tip? What to do with a toothpick at a party) America Ferrara (Ugly Betty) read Melissa Gilbert narrating sex with Rob Lowe on her mother’s couch; Santino Fontana bravely straight-faced it through Kenny Loggins’ The Unimaginable Life: Lessons Learned on the Way to Love; Kristen Johnston read Cindy Crawford’s diaries from the set of her movie Fair Game; Dayle Reyfel channeled Debbie Reynolds; and Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) brought down the house with the poetry of Suzanne Somers.
A fun evening sobered up at the end, when Dillon Eaton, a 2009 graduate of the North Shore Recovery High School outside Boston, told the audience they were there in support of a truly meaningful cause. “If I hadn’t gone to recovery high school, I’d be dead,” he said. The Fix's co-founder Joe Schrank received SLAM’s first annual “Friend of SLAM” award for his work with addicts of all ages, including Eaton—a new resident of Schrank’s Brooklyn-based transitional living facility, Loft 107.
On this morning's Today show, host Matt Lauer traded jabs with guest Fox News attack dog Bill O'Reilly, who has voiced skepticism that addiction is a disease, and believes that "free will" is the way to overcome something like crack addiction. Lauer quoted O'Reilly's remarks, "Whitney Houston wanted to kill herself. The hard truth is that some people will always want to destroy themselves and there's nothing society can do about it." O'Reilly went on to explain that someone who thinks addiction is a disease "doesn't believe in free will. I don't believe anyone is a slave to addiction."
The recovery world generally doesn't hold with the idea that free will is the essential component to getting clean. In fact, the 12 Steps work toward replacing free will with a higher power. O'Reilly disagrees. "I do believe it's a disease—it's a mental disease, but you have free will and you can get through the disease. As millions of people do. You don’t have free will when you have lung cancer; you do have free will when you’re a crack addict."
Houston had publicly fought addiction for decades before her death on Saturday, February 11, including at least three visits to treatment centers. To Lauer's exasperation, O'Reilly went on to say that the media overlooked her problems for decades. “You know what we in the media do, Lauer?” O’Reilly asked. “We wink wink it, we Snoop Dogg it. We Willie Nelson it. Hey, oh yeah, they’re stoned. That’s fine. And what message does that send? It’s okay!”