Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Response to a reflection on Amy Winehouse

British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse died four days ago at the age of 27. She had been struggling with drug and alcohol addiction for some time. The star's troubles were well-known to the public, due to the the volume of media and paparazzi coverage.

The author of an opinion piece recently published on Yahoo! News presented a thought-provoking question -- a question, in fact, that was also the title of the piece: "Remembering Amy Winehouse: Will addiction overshadow talent?"

Well, will it?

I can't say that I know very much about Amy Winehouse, having never listened to her music. Still, I can appreciate the question. To me, it opens up an even wider field of inquiry -- one that deals with general societal attitudes and norms regarding drug and alcohol addictions.

Few of us would seriously deny that there is a stigma toward substance abuse in our society. And, of course, their should be; but I would venture to say that equally few of us tend to recognize the concurrent stigma toward substance abusers.

It's not my intention to excuse people who abuse drugs and alcohol. One must make the choice to start using (except, perhaps, in the cases of infants who are born with the consequences of their parents' addictions), and people must want to change their lives. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that while this is certainly possible, it's not anywhere near as simple as we would have it.

Dr. Gabor Maté, in his book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction," writes about Dr. William Stewart Halsted, a major pioneer of modern surgery. Halsted's time predates the War on Drugs, which took off in the early part of the 20th century. Halsted, according to Maté, "was an opiate addict for over forty years." During those forty years, "he did stellar and innovative work at Johns Hopkins University, where he was one of the four founding physicians."

Please don't misunderstand me: Neither I nor Dr. Maté are suggesting that Dr. Halsted was able to do such great work because of his addiction. That's not the point. Rather, this example shows that drug addicts can make meaningful contributions to society if they are not shunned, stigmatized and maligned.

What I wonder is this: How many people knew about Dr. Halsted's addiction? Surely it could not have been the subject of media frenzy. Contrast this with Amy Winehouse and others, whose forays into substance abuse and/or struggles with addiction are clearly in the public eye, and whose addictions come to define who they are. Let's face it: Once addictions become publicized, people don't forget. Whatever contributions stars make to the entertainment industry (or elsewhere, for that matter), it seems they are doomed to be the butt of crude humor, criticism, and derogatory slurs ("junkie," "drunk," etc).

We don't want to hold or encourage positive or lax attitudes toward substance abuse, and I do hope that Winehouse's unfortunate death serves as a warning to young people about the very real dangers of drugs and alcohol. At the same time, we shouldn't foster attitudes that label those who struggle with addictions unredeemably evil and/or "messed up." This can only exacerbate and keep them trapped in the troublesome behaviors into which they have fallen.

Hard to imagine anything more counterproductive than that, isn't it?

To read the Yahoo! News opinion piece, click here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Smoke Free NOW Coordinator scores victory at Batavia City Council meeting

This picture was taken by Nick Serrata and published in The Daily News around 8:41 this morning. It accompanies Joanne Beck's article, "Council bans smoking in city parks."

Our own Kevin Keenan presented a compelling argument for a smoking ban in all city parks at last night's City Council meeting. Partly as a result of the efforts of Smoke Free NOW, the smoking ban has been enacted.

For more details, click here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

22-year-old woman hospitalized after 5-Hour Energy overdose

Well, we all knew caffeine could be addictive; furthermore, we all know that energy drinks carry some significant risks. But who would have thought that a 22-year-old woman would contract acute hepatitis from the popular beverage, 5-Hour Energy?

This was reported in the June 22 edition of the Journal of Medical Case Reports, and covered by contributor Bill Briggs in the article, "5-Hour Energy binge lands woman in hospital."

Granted, this woman consumed 10 bottles per day. Most of us would agree that this constitutes overkill. But extreme cases like this do offer a vivid illustration of the need to exercise caution.

Another interesting point made in Briggs' article was this: According to nutritionist Joy Bauer,
“The ‘lift’ (these energy drinks) give you comes from caffeine (. . .) The high doses of B vitamins and amino acids they dump in are purely for glitz and glam -- they don’t actually help you instantly perk up."

That said, reflective soul that I am, I feel the need to comment on a societal phenomenon that I see behind the whole energy drink craze. Right at the beginning of his article, Briggs makes the following statement: "For many of us who march in the sleep-starved army that is the American workforce, it’s as critical to our survival as air, food, and bad reality TV: Caffeine. Beloved, energizing, career-preserving caffeine."

Not a few commentators on the history of modern Western society have expressed concern about the modern workforce consisting of "drones" who are overworked and housed within professional environments that, albeit unintentionally, seem to regard them more of as means toward production and profit, rather than as human beings aiming to reach individual and collective fulfillment (on that note, see the May 16 post on Bart Dentino's workplace-oriented program).

Perhaps the phenomenon of energy drink overdose is one manifestation of this situation coming back to bite us in the neck. But that's just my speculation -- I'll get off my soapbox now.

To read Briggs' full article, click here.

NOTE: The above image was published along with the article; no source is credited.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Senior Prevention Educator represents GCASA at annual 4th of July 'Picnic in the Park!'

This photo was published, along with the article "Many perks at GoArt!'s 'Picnic in the Park' this year, including author from Bethany," at 3:41 p.m. today on The Batavian.

Dick Lawrence, our new "Senior Spice" coordinator and senior citizen prevention educator, was at "Picnic in the Park," an annual event showcasing local organizations and providing 4th of July entertainment, yesterday.

Dick, who joined us last month, very generously volunteered to represent our organization at this event. From what I understand, he did a great job. A lot of information on our programs was disseminated. Way to go, Dick!

Video on K2 (a.k.a 'Spice')