Author: Andrew Bradford

A Blueprint to “Win” the War on Drugs

What can the United States learn from Portugal about the war on drugs?

A Guest Post by Becca Fritton.

On October 26, 2017, Trump declared the opioid crisis a National Public Health Emergency. As Andrew Bradford discussed in his October 27 post, while a first step, this announcement does not immediately open up additional funding for the crisis, but instead gives access to funding that already exists. Unfortunately, this funding is almost running out. [1] It is important to note that while this announcement raises the voice of the conversation around opioid use in the United States, many do not even consider this a beginning of a plan to address the epidemic.

Any discussion or solution proposed around addiction is remiss without discussing criminalization. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times put forth a stunning summary of how Portugal has managed to “win” the war drugs. While drug dealers still go to prison in Portugal, they have made it an “administrative offense” to possess or purchase a small quantity of drugs. Instead of going to jail or to trial, offenders attend a meeting with social workers who work towards preventing a casual user from becoming dependent on drugs. Rather than viewing an individual as a criminal, officials in Portugal focus on the individual’s health and help them find resources they need to stay healthy.

Those who are dependent on drugs need medical care, not punishment. The Health Ministry of Portugal also targeted certain neighborhoods and populations for passing out clean needles and encouraging methadone instead of heroin. At large events or concerts, the ministry would offer to test individuals’ drugs to advise if they were safe or not. Portugal’s government has also funded widespread use of methadone vans that supply users with a free and controlled amount of methadone.

This approach has worked extremely well for Portugal and now they have the lowest drug mortality rate in Western Europe, and one-fiftieth the latest count in the United States. [2] The United States should take note and begin moving in a different direction. Instead of funding prisons and jails, the government should place more funding and infrastructure in place to address addiction from a mental and public health standpoint.

Becca can be contacted via email at: rfritton [@] berkeley [dot] edu

 

[1] Allen, G. and Kelly, A. (2017). Trump Administration Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2017/10/26/560083795/president-trump-may-declare-opioid-epidemic-national-emergency

[2] Kristof, N. (2017). How to “Win” the War on Drugs. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/opinion/sunday/portugal-drug-decriminalization.html

Pssht.. it’s time to enroll

It’s November, so you know what that means. Enrollment is now open on HealthCare.gov to sign up for health insurance for 2018. Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter yesterday to promote the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and encouraged Americans to shop around for health insurance.

The enrollment period is only 6 weeks long so there is no time to procrastinate! Okay, you can procrastinate a little bit, take some time to explore the various options on HealthCare.gov, sleep on it, and then take action! There has been a lot of work put into the website to ensure it is as easy to use as possible.

With the scrutiny that has been placed on the ACA by the Trump Administration I was happy to see Barack Obama again spreading word to us Americans about the importance of getting healthcare insurance. This action by the former President is likely due to Trump cutting the advertising budget for the ACA by 90%.

If you haven’t seen the video yet (it’s only 2 mins) hop over to Twitter and check it out. In case you didn’t know, his Twitter handle is @BarackObama and he only tweets high-quality tweets, so he’s worth the follow. Then after you watch it, hop on over to HealthCare.gov and see which plan is best for you!

President Trump Declares an Emergency

The opioid crisis is now a National Public Health Emergency under federal law.

For those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic this is great news, but what exactly does it mean? While there is no quick fix to an epidemic of this proportion, the announcement made Thursday by President Trump will make the lives easier for those who have been battling the epidemic.

Trump, through the Public Health Services Act, directed his acting secretary of health and human services to declare a national health emergency, a designation that will not automatically be followed by additional federal funding for the crisis. Instead, the order will expand access to telemedicine in rural areas, instruct agencies to curb bureaucratic delays for dispensing grant money and shift some federal grants towards combating the crisis.

Overall, this is a win for Public Health and the families and communities that have been affected by the opioid epidemic. It is important to note that since the government is not simply throwing funds to states efforts to combat opioids need to be used strategically and effectively. There is still concern this announcement will be used to boost the production of life-saving antidotes only and ignore the need for addiction treatment for those still abusing opioids.

Only time will tell if we as a Nation respond correctly to this emergency, but this is a promising first step to ending the opioid epidemic.

The Newest Style of Sex Education

About a week ago, our class had the pleasure of listening to Alexandra Lightfoot, EdD discuss her involvement in one of the more revolutionary forms of public health circulating the block. As a professional, she has focused on the intersection between the arts and public health and how the two can be combined to create more effective health messages.

The topic of her discussion was the Arts-based, Multiple-component Peer Education (AMP!) Program that first came to UNC from UCLA a few years ago. AMP! utilizes interactive theatre techniques with college students who create scenarios to deliver sex-ed to 9th grade students in a novel way, especially down here in the South.

The critical component of this program is its use of satire, humor and storytelling to disseminate knowledge and start discussions about sexual and reproductive health with high school students and their health teachers. Research has shown that this traditionally complicated conversation is facilitated by this arts-based approach and the AMP! intervention has significantly increased student knowledge about how to prevent HIV and maintain sexual health.

Given that the live performance model of AMP! is delivered by college student “near peers” in locations close to their universities, it has been difficult to scale the program here in North Carolina. However, it has scaled well in the Los Angeles Unified School District, so hopefully that will provide a blueprint for sharing this creative and fun program to more youth in North Carolina. Lightfoot and her partners at the UCLA Art and Global Health Center are currently developing a compendium of video scenarios made by NC-based college students and a manual for teachers so that the intervention can be implemented more widely via digital delivery in classrooms across the state. The team is currently applying for funding to further refine the digital model and pilot and evaluate the implementation process and impact on student outcomes.

What do you think? Is this something you feel is appropriate for NC high school students? What do you think are the barriers and challenges such a program might encounter here? What are the positives about this kind of approach to sex education? Let us know below in the comments.

Should you sleep naked?

As someone who traditionally loves wearing pajamas to bed at night I have always wondered about the question: is it better to sleep naked than in pajamas? A lack of sleep over time has been shown to increase the risk for stroke, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and obesity, so it’s important to determine what’s best for yourself to get a good night’s rest.

Rather than sit around and continue to wonder, I decided to do some research on the topic and solve this dilemma once and for all. In the US, around 10% of the population admit to sleeping naked; which is actually kind of low considering about 30% of our friends in the UK do so. Now that I know some people in the world actually do sleep naked, what are the benefits of doing so?

The most scientifically sound reason I could find for sleeping naked was to better regulate your body temperature overnight. If you sleep in pajamas and have heavy covers it can be easy to overheat and disrupt sleep accordingly. The Sleep Council has determined that 68°F is the ideal sleeping temperature for a high-quality night’s rest.

Personally, this just tells me to make sure my thermostat is set to 68°F at night before going to bed. I normally don’t have trouble sleeping at night, but I know that is not always the case. It seems there is more research needed to truly determine its effect, but do you think sleeping naked actually helps sleep quality?

 

AB

Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

Yes, you read the title correctly. Researchers from the UK published a report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) a couple weeks ago revealing they have had success with patients Beating Type 2 Diabetes into Remission.  Dr. Mike Lean, who co-authored the publication, spoke with an editor at the BMJ about the study which can be heard here.

Type 2 diabetes mainly stems from having excess body fat but once diagnosed, treatment usually ends at a tablet you take for the rest of your life to control your blood sugar. Very rarely do treatments take into effect the vascular issues or decreased life expectancy also experienced by those with diabetes.

So what is the miracle cure? Well as is the case for most chronic diseases, the cure is not locked inside a pill, rather within the contexts of a healthy lifestyle. A consistent exercise regimen coupled with a diet strategic to losing weight is the secret. Put simply, if you can lose weight and keep it off long enough remission can be possible.

Shockingly, they said reaching a healthy weight wasn’t the hardest part, but that maintaining a healthy weight is where people usually fail when striving to beat diabetes into remission.

So what do you think about this? As an optimistic health professional, this gives me hope for the future of our nation and globally in dealing with this chronic disease. Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy weight? If so, share below!

 

AB

 

The Realest Statistic on Opioids

Earlier this week the CDC released a study that shined light upon the real impact the opioid epidemic has had on the American population. According to their study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the average life expectancy of American’s has gone down for the first time in a quite a while. This kind of statistical anomaly has not been seen since the early 90’s when the AIDS epidemic was at its peak.

The number of deaths from opioid overdose has nearly doubled between 2009-2015. Dr. Deborah Dowell, Senior Medical Advisor in the Division of Unintentional Injury at the CDC,  analyzed the data and found that opioid overdose contributed to decreased life expectancy more than Alzheimer’s, chronic liver disease, and unintentional accidents (which included car accidents) combined.

I knew the opioid epidemic, was, well, an epidemic, but this definitely put it into perspective for me. Do you know someone who has suffered from the opioid epidemic? Or maybe know someone who knows someone? Odds are, you do. Regardless, spreading the word can only help.

What resources do you know of that are dedicated solving this problem? The more information we spread the greater impact we can have!

 

AB

 

What is DACA?

There has been a lot of buzz around “DACA” the last couple days; which has left many of us wondering, “what is DACA?” The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, or DACA, was enacted by the Obama Administration in June 2012. The program

The program had granted undocumented immigrant children, who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday, a renewable two-year deportation protection and work permit while they either worked, attended school, or served in the military. However, it did not provide lawful status to those within the program.

DACA had nearly 800,000 immigrants enrolled in the program before President Trump ended the program this week. Survey data shows that 91% of those in the DACA program were currently employed and that number goes up to 93% for those 25 and older.

While some have thought President Trump did this to open up more jobs for American citizens, it is obvious there was not much thought given to those who are currently enrolled in DACA. Now, without DACA, the enrollees have to reevaluate everything they had planned for their lives. How will they be able to work to provide for their family? How will they pay for schooling? How will they be eligible to keep their position in the military?

 

Sincerely,

AB

The Magic of Mindfulness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with work, can’t stay focused in class, or simply feel down most of the time? If so, you may have gotten caught up in the whirlwind style of functioning known as “multitasking.” It is likely that we all have at some point or another and for some, there is no way around it, so what can we do to combat the stresses of the busy lifestyles of 2017?

You shouldn’t have to uproot your whole working style or job just to find peace of mind. Today I’m going to propose a solution that you may have overlooked, mindfulness meditation. The following are the benefits that we know of today:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased empathy
    • With decreased negative feelings like sadness, tension, and anger
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased focus
  • Decreased blood pressure
    • While also improving the transportation of oxygen and carbon-dioxide
  • Increased immune function

As you can see, mindfulness does a lot more than simply strengthen our ability to focus. While you will see some of these benefits after your first time, there is evidence showing that after 8 weeks of practice neurologists seen an increase in gray matter density in brain regions associated with learning, memory processing, and emotional regulation.

Mindfulness is just one style of meditation. There are myriad resources out there to help you get started, but Headspace is my favorite. Have you tried meditating before? If so, let me know your thoughts on the practice and your favorite style.

 

AB

Hate Crime as a Public Health Concern

Unless you have been living under a rock the past few months you are well aware of the social tension amongst citizens of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, it has never been ideal, but since the election of President Trump, we have been a country far from united.

In the first month following the 2016 election, there were over 1,000 race-related incidents. While the monthly rates have decreased, the overall occurrence of these incidents continues daily. I’m not here to take sides or point fingers, but instead, look at hate crimes from an often overlooked perspective.

The psychological and physiological damage accumulated by those who face routine discrimination is now considered by many as a public health concern in and of itself. Data from the American Psychological Association shows the impact of discrimination and racism can increase rates of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety; while a meta-analysis compiled by Cambridge University has shown it increases rates of the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

While data continues to develop, it is now obvious how snide remarks and hateful actions do much more than simply hurt feelings. In times like these, it’s important to take an introspective look and ask what we are doing in response to this climate of hate.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”