Maxwell Chorak – Rest in Peace

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Sunday November 2, 2014

Today is All Soul’s Day, the Dia de Los Muertos. It is an especially painful day for our family this year.

On June 10th I was called out of an early evening meeting and told that my step-son, Maxwell, had committed suicide. He had jumped from a 5 story sky bridge at UC Irvine a few hours earlier that was known as a site for suicides. The parking structure had suicide prevention tiles with hot line numbers cemented into the walls from the third floor upwards.It was the culmination of every parent’s worst nightmare.

But it had been a long time coming. Susan, my wife, and I had been living in fear of “the call” for years. She thought that it might be drugs but had never thought of suicide. We are still deeply grieving. What we do know is that the system let him down badly.

Max - 6

How does one deal with the sudden, traumatic death of a child? There are no guidebooks. It is the worst sort of emotional blow. His sister and brother are distraught. We were all deeply concerned for him but the cold reality of such a violent death at a young age is searing. But somehow we must go on and help change a broken system.

Maxwell exhibited his first signs of mental illness at the age of ten. He would act out. He raged. He sometimes became violent. When the Sheriff’s deputies got to the house they did not know what to do. At the time, my wife as a single mother was on her own trying to chart new territory. There was no place in the county to which a ten year old child could be taken to be treated for mental illness. There still isn’t.

She eventually found a psychiatrist who tried to “get” him and he was treated for bipolar/schizophrenic disorder but not formally diagnosed. But Max was using street drugs to self-medicate and the doctors pulled back.

Maxwell entered high school but it didn’t last long. He was brilliant. He was bored. He was different. But he also had charisma. He was a handsome young man with a very gentle way most of the time. But by his sophomore year he was out. His erratic behavior, drug use, and inattention just were not going to get Max through a conventional education.

He was a wonderful young man. He would take his last dollar and spend it on a gift for his brother or take his 90 year old aunt out for a pedicure and manicure. He was kind. He wanted nothing more than to hang out with his family. He loved his brother and his sister devotedly. And then the voices would whisper in his ear and it would get scary.

He was too smart for his own good. He could argue the most absurd point until even a well educated person could be fooled. He could also listen to a guitar riff or even a whole song just once and play it back brilliantly. His guitar was his refuge. He could pick up a cello never before having touched one and play it better than his mother, who had studied for years.

Maxwell took the GED test without studying and passed with flying colors. He entered the local community college. He wanted to be a doctor. Shortly before he died he was discussing textbooks for the next semester.

Clonazepam is a drug used to control seizures. Usually an adolescent is given one pill and would sleep for 18 hours. They gave Maxwell five once and still had to restrain him. Marijuana has been well documented for its terrible effect on individuals with schizophrenia. The literature discusses adverse or paradoxical effects. You bet there are.

Maxwell would eventually learn to study the side effects of the various drugs prescribed for his treatment in order that he could tell the doctors that he was having them in order to avoid the drugs. The prescription drugs left him feeling lethargic and hemmed in. At least some of the illegal ones gave him a brown haze to find refuge in.

I call him Max because it was what my grandmother called me. She too suffered from mental illness. She had a nervous breakdown in the 1930’s after being thrown out on the Brooklyn streets one too many times with her 5 children after her husband had once again squandered his plumber’s salary on booze.

She ended up at a place called Creedmoor in Queens, NY for 40 years and it was only when Thomas Szasz and his accomplices in government closed the psychiatric hospitals in the 70’s that she came to live with us. Creedmoor had been her safe place. Now her life was disrupted. When she came to live with us it was a wonderful experience because of my mother’s love and compassion. She taught us to be kind and caring.

So I had a lot of empathy for Maxwell. He had no place to be safe. There was no safety net. We have since the 1970’s gutted out mental health care programs.

His condition was slowly deteriorating. It was only when he became 17 that the handbook of the American Psychiatric Association allowed him to be formally diagnosed as schizophrenic. By that point he had been in in-patient programs in Southern California and Idaho to help treat his condition.

Max - 25

By the age of 18 he had been in the local hospitals for six 5150’s, which refers to the section of the California Welfare & Institutions code which allows for an individual to be detained for up to 72 hours for psychiatric observation.

And through all of this, Max’s friends and family became isolated from him. His mom and his family visited him when he was in treatment, but the loss of human contact was deeply upsetting. We loved him, but one of the things one encounters with the mentally ill and addicted is that it is difficult to love them in a normal manner. It is sometimes impossible to be close and to be there for them. You often don’t know what to expect and a lot of what you do expect is bad.

He was arrested for petty crimes and began the cycle of being in jail and on the street. 40% of America’s jail and prison population have mental health issues. Experts here in Orange County have told me that it is more like 70% -80% in our local jail. It is a cycle that we somehow have to break.

Maxwell was homeless at times. His interactions with law enforcement bordered on the absurd. While he was in jail he was sentenced for a “failure to appear”. He spent several months at a local mental health facility which is outsourced by the county. And then he would end up back in jail for another petty offense. He began to hear voices, holding conversations with them and laughing to himself. He would end up in the psychiatric unit.

The drugs, especially those that were self prescribed, left him in a haze that was better than the suffering, but psychoactive drugs do not affect the mentally ill the way they do others.

For most of his last 18 months Max was either at one of the very few facilities for the mentally ill in California, a drab forbidding site in Riverside, or in jail. Maxwell was a prime candidate for long term care. But there is almost none available. There are 5,900 acute mental health care beds in a state of 34,000,000 people. There are almost no long term facilities. And there are an estimated 1.5 million Californians with serious mental illness.

When he was released from the facility (you really can’t call it a hospital) in Riverside he stayed with his father. He saw his brother and mom and things were looking up. He had a great day with an old friend just hanging out. He left his father’s house one night and didn’t come home.

He was found the next day in a catatonic state in a local park and taken to the emergency room. He was then transferred to UCI Medical Center, the regional acute mental health unit, where he stayed for 9 days.

When we were informed of his admission to UCI his mother immediately contacted the doctors and nurses regarding his care. Maxwell did very poorly on Haldol, the drug of choice for the zombification (aka control) of the symptoms of schizophrenia in state run facilities. We knew this from years of experience. Haldol can cause severe depression.
We knew that Risperdal was more effective for Max and told his doctors so. The nurse responsible for him told my wife “It doesn’t make any difference since they don’t stay on their meds when they leave here anyway.” They put him on a maximum dose of Haldol.

She had requested that she and Maxwell’s dad be notified before he was released. This did not happen. Max was released at @ 1:30PM on the day of his death with the clothes on his back and a bus pass given to him by the hospital. He took the bus directly to the main campus of UCI several miles away and jumped almost immediately. After his mother found out and after collapsing, she called the hospital to ask why he had been released. There was silence at the other end of the line.

To this day we don’t know if Maxwell jumped because he was disoriented on Haldol or because of other factors. We will never know. That hurts.

The system is broken. Many of the professionals are callous and uncaring. There are petty jealousies and a lack of communication. The system as designed and implemented is malevolent. Our brothers and sisters with mental health issues are warehoused in our jails and in a very limited number of beds. We read daily of misdiagnoses and maldiagnoses and even misconduct in psychiatric care.

Treating mental illness is a matter of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. It is perhaps the most difficult of illnesses. With the mentally ill there are often no good answers. As a society, we don’t want to know. We don’t want to deal with them on a concrete level. The mentally ill are often stigmatized. And at the most basic family level it can be heart wrenching.

But Max is gone. He will be a statistic to most but he will have left a massive hole in the hearts of his family and friends. There is little understanding left except that he was deeply, fatally mentally ill in a world that does not treat those who suffer from this very well. He is at peace now.

We can honor him by doing better, as individuals and as a society.

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

Mother Teresa

© Matthew Holzmann 2014

Common Core and Common Sense – The Orange County Board of Education Hearings- Round One

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Last night the Orange County Board of Education held the first of two special meetings to discuss the concerns of parents and educators with the Common Core curriculum now being introduced around the country. A standing room only crowd attended.

This first exchange featured a panel of speakers, each given an initial 5 minutes to discuss support for the introduction of Common Core and opposition to same.

The first comment was by Trustee David Boyd, who looked something like Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab with a bad haircut and bad attitude. He launched into a tirade against the Tea Party and called for the meeting to be suspended. The meeting then proceeded.

Next came pro and con appeals from 4  selected attendees from each side. One of them, representing an organization of charter schools, strongly supported the curriculum. Another, against, pointed out that the curriculum has not been tested or proven and that California has ranked #1 or #2 nationally in math and language skills using the proven curriculum.

A mother told the story of her straight “A” daughter now struggling with her math lessons. “There are no books, and the teachers themselves are confused.” she said.

The first panelist speaking on the “pro” side was Dr. Claire Cavallaro of Cal State Fullerton, who pointed out that 1/3 of college freshmen in California require remedial English and Math. (note: that would not seem to jibe with California’s ranking). She said that Common Core is new and misunderstood and threatening. She asked that the curriculum be allowed to roll out further and that the bugs be fixed.

The next was Celia Jaffe from the PTA. She stated the state PTA’s support of Common Core and that it represented the latest in and most up to date thinking in education. It’s focus on critical thinking is essential for our changing economy and learning becomes more robust to paraphrase.

The third pro CC panelist was Dr. Glen Thomas, who began the process of introduction of Common Core while State Secretary of Education under Arnold Schwarzenegger. His statement was  a history of the process of introduction that was foreshortened by the 5 minute time limit.

Last came Glen Warren, one Orange County’s Teachers of the Year for 2014, who spoke from a classroom perspective about empowerment and collaboration and creativity and information literacy. Powerful buzz words.

The can the prepared remarks counseling caution.

Robin Eubanks, a corporate counsel from Georgia spoke first, cautioning that the purpose of Common Core in the words of its developers is to shape the values, attitudes and perceptions of students. Underlying this are agendas far beyond simple education. Phrases such as “change of consciousness”, “positive social identity” and “identity, orientations and dispositions” are a subtext that runs through the core of Common Core. It is no longer about teaching our children how to read and write and prepare them for the next grade from Ms. Eubanks perspective, and she cited the very word’s of the curriculum’s developers to substantiate her claims.

Next came Hugh Hewitt, a constitutional law professor and nationally syndicated conservative radio show host . He was brief and to the point. He noted that when United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tied federal funding to the implementation of Common Core it constituted the biggest power grab by the Federal government in 100 years. An issue of local and state control was federalized by fiat against the express wishes of Congress.

Dr. Gary Thompson, a clinical psychologist specializing in early childhood development and special education then spoke. He opened by recounting the series of errors committed by psychologists in experimenting on their patients and cautioned the Board of Trustees not to institute and unproven and potentially detrimental syllabus on the children of Orange County. He presented a binder with multiple peer-reviewed articles on the effects of various parts of the Common Core curriculum on children.

Last came Lydia Guiterrez, a Master Teacher and program director at UCLA, who emphasized the lack of transparency and lack of data on the success of Common Core to date. She spoke of the difficulties seen in school districts around the country that have had significant issues with implementation. She emphasized the lack of flexibility in adapting the standards to local needs because of federal requirements.

Next came questions from the Trustees themselves.  The first was from Trustee Lindholm who asked “why is the math in Common Core so hard and complex?” One of the pro-Common Core panelists stated that there is no evidence of this.

Next came Trustee Beskell, who was to the point. He asked if Common Core was pre-Obama. Yes, stated one of the panelists. “Which states have opted out so far? ” Indiana came the response.

Trustee Williams asked Ms. Eubanks about data mining. There are significant concerns about who has access to the data and how it is used and how extensive that data is in light of the NSA scandal and the efforts by companies such as Google and Microsoft in this field.

Another question by Trustee Williams was “what is the effect of the gaming used in the classroom today and of virtual reality”. Dr. Thompson expressed deep concerns and noted that several of the medical papers he had earlier submitted indicated detrimental psychological effects.

Trustee Hammond asked two very pointed questions of each panelist. “Would you enforce a law that was unconstitutional?” was the first. The second was if there is a federal law that allows control of local education. The responses were interesting. While the pro Common Core were both uncomfortable and mixed in their response, those expressing concern were unanimous in their desire to challenge the legality of such a mandate.

Lastly, Trustee Boyd lectured Mr. Hewitt specifically on the cost of such litigation. Mr. Hewitt responded by suggesting that there are law firms and attorneys that might act on a pro-bono basis and that this might be investigated. What Mr. Boyd may not have known was that the Pacific Legal Foundation participated in a press conference just prior to the hearing in which they offered to take the case at no cost to the Board of Education. Oops.

I am not an expert, but I do know that when the jargon clogs the language clarity is lost. When agendas are developed without transparency there is suspicion. When someone connects the dots on those promoting that agenda along with their financial interests and political dogmas,  those suspicions are raised further.

Editorials and polls indicate that trust in government is at an all time low regardless of one’s ideology.

Just the other day President Obama joked that he could no longer help with his children’s math homework. Anecdotal evidence of major structural problems within Common Core is building rapidly.

One thing is certain. The science is not settled.

Math meme

 

 

 

8th Grader dies of overdose – Media silent

b6fc9d2c155111e3931722000a1fc67c_6The other day, an 8th grader at Niguel Hills Middle School in Laguna Niguel, CA died of a drug overdose. The cause of Branden Stock’s death was Vicodin, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

The only media report of his death was on Channel 5 News. His school and the district said nothing at all beyond their confines. He died at home alone. Imagine finding your child or your best friend cold and lifeless and there’s nothing you can do. His friends held a memorial service at Salt Creek Beach, where I spent many days in the water surfing like Branden was said to have loved to.

The death of a child is the most painful thing a parent goes through. No one should have to endure this burden. And yet his parents will carry this sadness for their entire lives. His friends will remember for a while and then more rarely and maybe a few will remember to pray for his soul sometimes over the course of their lives.

That the death barely made the news is indicative of the problem. Drug abuse begins in 6th-8th grade now. Kids are experimenting and going through new emotions and have left the cocoon of grade school. And the availability has never been greater. The taboos are gone. “Everyone is doing it.” I heard the same thing when I was a kid. And here we are 40 years later and we’re still getting it wrong.

And it’s not just public schools. It’s everywhere. Catholic schools, prep schools. If you go to the parking lot of Gelson’s in Newport Beach you can usually score within minutes. The Port Streets in Newport are considered one of the last bastions of the Ozzie & Harriet lifestyle and the drugs and alcohol usage by kids is pervasive. Laguna Niguel and every town in Orange County are the same.

Prescription drugs are the new battlefield. Vicodin, Codeine, Oxycontin, Zanax, Opana, Percocet, and Valium are all being abused at record levels. Between dirty doctors, pill shopping, and stealing from mom & dad’s medicine cabinet it is an epidemic. That people can even obtain some of these drugs like Opana, which is prescribed for very limited applications, indicates how awry the system is. And it is hitting 12 & 13 year olds, those who haven’t got a clue, the worst.

And after they can’t find the prescription drugs or can’t afford them, heroin lurks in the background ready to offer a brown haze from which there is little chance of escape. $80 for an Oxycontin or $6 for a bindle of Afghan white or black tar? This is the reality on the street here in the OC.

The Orange County Register did an article a few weeks back on heroin abuse in our high schools. The number of OC kids trying heroin has doubled since 2006. And once heroin has you it is a monkey on your back that is very difficult to remove.

And a lot of people just don’t want to know. Two girls were caught recently smoking heroin in a bathroom at Laguna Beach High School. “The girls caught smoking was an “isolated incident,” Laguna Beach High Principal Joanne Culverhouse said.”

30 years ago when I lived in Dana Point, Laguna Beach High School had one of the worst drug problems in the county. Nothing changes much, it seems. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

In San Clemente, the community has bonded together through CURE, which links the church, counselors, schools, parents, other stakeholders and the kids. We need such programs in every city. Every loss of a child is one too many.

Education is vital and we need to get to the heart of the matter and educate parents and children about the consequences of bad choices. We have the resources. But first we must recognize the problem honestly and without blinkers.

Drug abuse and self medication are the scourges of our times. Between addiction and mental health issues we have responded in a woeful manner. We must open our eyes and our hearts to this plague.

 

 

The Deafening Silence on Leftist Corruption

The headlines have been full of the arrests of Democratic politicians on charges ranging from bribery to corruption to gun running and yet the opinion pages have been silent.

In 2006, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made the Republican “culture of corruption” a major campaign issue. The daughter of one of the most corrupt politicians in Maryland history, Thomas D’Allesandro, she hammered the Republicans for their support of legislation she and her allies deemed corrupt. It worked.

Then, in January of 2007, immediately after her election as Speaker of the House  the minimum wage was increased from $5.15 to $7.25. Pelosi had American Samoa exempted from the increase so that Del Monte Corporation would not have to pay the higher wage. Del Monte is based in her congressional district and at the time her husband held $17 million in shares in the company.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is famous for the influence she has peddled for her husband, Richard Blum. A few years ago she engineered a land swap that landed her husband’s company Pentagon held land that mining experts call perhaps one of the largest gold formations in the world in exchange for worthless rangeland in northern California. This is also the same man entrusted with the famous “Train to Nowhere” multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

So the recent arrests and convictions of a number of California politicians who happen to all be Democrats might come as a bit of a shock after such transparently obvious self dealing. Let’s look at the list, shall we?

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner – False Imprisonment & Battery

San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew – Extortion & Perjury

State Senator Leland Yee – Arms Trafficking, Money Laundering, Murder for Hire, Drug Dealing, Bribery, Corruption and being a member of a Chinese Tong.

State Senator Ron Calderon – Bribery & Corruption

State Senator Rod Wright – Voter Fraud & Perjury

All of these politicians are on the far Left of the political spectrum. They are the ones who regularly accuse their political opponents of corruption, greed, racism and base motives. But time and again it seems that the ones who cry “Injustice” the loudest are in fact the most unjust.

Yee is one of the most vocal opponents of Second Amendment rights in America and yet he was caught on tape discussing the sale of automatic weapons and shoulder mounted rockets to terrorists in the Philippines, where U.S. Special Forces have been working side by side with the Philippine Army fighting those same terrorists.

Calderon was even more of a crook. Michael Drobot, who owned Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, bilked the state and federal governments of over $500 million in a sophisticated medical equipment scam. The same type of scam that our president promised to stamp out when selling Obamacare. Calderon facilitated Drobot’s  corrupt empire that included crooked doctors, medical equipment companies, and hospital personnel.

But the corruption of the left goes far beyond California. It is especially strong in Illinois; in New York and in a number of other blue states. In New York it even includes some of the Republican leadership.

On a national level the Obama Administration is open for business. The green energy scandals cost the taxpayers over $1 Trillion and much of the stimulus bill was parceled out for projects of very dubious utility. The GM and Chrysler bailouts benefited primarily the unions.

Crony capitalism is everywhere one chooses to gaze and yet the media is virtually silent. It even includes some Republicans and yet the thought leaders have chosen to ignore the problem because it does not fit the narrative. Just as the Nomenklatura pillaged the Soviet Union with their special privileges and dachas today’s Leftist politicians are carving their own “fair share” at the expense of the people.

In his 40 year career as a professional politician, Willie Brown was able to avoid indictment despite a highly flamboyant lifestyle and several investigations. He was admired by many for his style but he was dogged by corruption and favoritism charges throughout his career. Today, there are a thousand Willie Browns and Leland Yees and Ron Calderons and Dianne Feinsteins and Nancy Pelosis.

Now, indictments are coming fast and furious. You would think there is an opportunity for a Pulitzer, even.

And yet the same grifters in the press, in academia, the unions and the special interest groups are silent. For they too are part of the gravy train. Spout the proper slogans and steal all that you can that’s not nailed down and some of what is.

When I was a kid California was known as a “clean government” state. Starting back in the 1890’s the Populist Party was a disorganized amalgam of small businesspeople, workers, farmers, and political leaders. Activists such as Theodore Roosevelt rose in opposition to the “Reckless Decade” of the 1890’s.The clean government movement was founded to stamp out the rampant political corruption in many states. California was seen as a leader in good government. Now it is a banana republic as are so many of the “blue” states.

The map speaks for itself. From the wars on charter schools in Chicago and New York and Washington to the checkbook legislation in Washington our politicians are sitting behind the cash register and don’t give change.

We are in a new Reckless Decade where the oligarchs and the crony capitalists have been allowed to pillage. And because the disease is overwhelmingly on the Left today the country suffers. Our faith in justice is corrupted, and this is a very dangerous thing for our republic.

 

Addiction is a disease

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The papers are still trying to figure out what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of the most engaging actors of our day died with a needle still sticking in his vein sitting on the can in his apartment. It was a “hot shot” and now his family is stricken with the loss of a father and lover and his friends are devastated.

The costs of addiction are terrible. I know. I have seen the needle and the damage done. A family member is struggling with recovery and it ebbs and flows. My wife and I pray on this every day and night.

There are many kinds of addictions. Prescription drugs are the worst at the moment. There is a pipeline from “Pain Management” centers to the pharmacies who are the new dealers. Oxycontin? Vicodin? Zanax? Opama? Percocet? Morphine? Valium?  Add Meth to the list as well. Ecstasy has had its toll as have many other drugs.

National Review’s Kevin D Williamson describes the Oxycontin Express, a bus route that runs from Florida to Kentucky and West Virginia bringing prescription drugs to the “Pillbillies”. It’s a short hop from Oxycontin and Opana to heroin. Oxycontin is expensive. Heroin is cheaper and more available and more pure than it has ever been. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an example but here in Orange County where I live, we lose 1 to 2 young people per week to narcotics. The toll from alcohol addiction shows up in the hospitals and police statistics. The toll from these addictions and others such as sex or gambling addiction show up in divorce rates and broken families and repetitive behavior from generation to generation.

The world is facing a crisis of addiction. In Iran, in Afghanistan and in the West and even in China.

20% of our population is susceptible to addiction according to the statistics. The National Institute on Drug Abuse data indicates that 50% of addicts have experienced childhood trauma. Close to 90% of young addicts start with pot and alcohol. If one wishes to add in adult trauma, the numbers increase even more. Veterans returning home with PTSD reach for a bottle or a joint or something more and once they are hooked, the monkey is well and truly on their back same as with all other addicts.

It doesn’t want to let go. It is there for the duration. Alcoholics Anonymous has pointed this out since 1935. A gentleman named Rowland H. visited Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst, who told him that the case was hopeless from a medical treatment perspective. Jung directed Rowland H. to the Oxford Group, who were dedicated to recreating the spirit of the first Christians. They were founded on the Four Steps and the Four Standards, the predecessor to every 12 step program today.

Addiction is powerlessness. It is physical and it is spiritual and it is biochemical and neurological. You cannot run from it just as you cannot run if you are infected with HIV. In fact, the recovery rate from HIV is better than that of some addictions. Addiction is not a choice.

Addicts are often filling a psychic or spiritual hole. They are often damaged goods long before that first toke or sip or pill at a party. Others become addicted in more traditional forms. An athlete is injured and begins to use painkillers. A veteran does the same. Slowly the drug hijacks the body and the soul. I have met all of these types. They are our children and neighbors and co workers and friends and even go to the same churches and schools and jobs. There are functional and non functional addicts, but in the end they are all non functional since they usually die long before they should have.

The drugs themselves are ruthless. Heroin, cocaine, and meth can all grab a soul in just a few days. And then Satan owns their soul until they can crawl back to normalcy. Addicts often believe they can handle it at the outset; that they are in control. But the statistics say otherwise.

The illness of addiction is often linked to our dysfunctional mental health system and is certainly wrapped up in our penal system. Over 50% of the prisoners in the Federal system are there for drug offenses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health over 50% of all prisoners in our penal system have mental health issues. What is the overlap? 30%? 50%? More?

Fr. Don Calloway is a Catholic Priest. He wasn’t always. He was an addict when he was young. He was in rehabilitation and the doctors, the best in the field, told him that he had a 3% chance of recovery. He was stunned. He said to himself “They are telling me that I have a 3% chance of recovery? With all of the best minds and years and years of experience they say only 3% of opiate addicts will recover? They’re doing it wrong!”

We, as a society, are doing it wrong. As a society we do not wish to credit faith and moral guidance as key elements of recovery and yet time and again these have proven to be the keys. It is a constant process. It is not easy. But just as a HIV infected patient or a diabetic can keep death at bay, so can addicts. Addicts also have a disease of the soul. All of the symptoms and the root causes must be addressed.

But we have to begin to view the problem from a new perspective. With compassion and empathy and respect. Just as the Catholic faith teaches to condemn the sin, not the sinner we must begin to do the same. The addiction must be viewed separately from the person.

Treatment, sober living and living with relapses are all a part of recovery. Continual reinforcement is necessary, even years later. Perhaps especially years later as in the case of Mr. Hoffman. Mental health related issues are one of the scourges of our times. But we can do better. The solutions are there if we wish to seek them out. Neuropsychology, Neurology, Metrology and other sciences are pushing the boundaries back on our understanding of the brain. We have always known the source for the understanding of the soul.

We can do this. But first we must rethink our strategies of dealing with this scourge.

Overtaken 2

Last night I spent the evening with a bunch of speed freaks, junkies, pillheads, and other addicts.Or at least they were at one time as many of them will tell you.  And no one was getting high. And the message was one of love and hope. It was the premiere of the movie Overtaken 2, a 28 minute film about how addicts have recovered and are recovering from their addiction.

It is both cautionary and hopeful. There is hope. There is a community of recovery. But that community is fragile, underfunded, and facing some very high hurdles. Recovery isn’t easy but there is a deep well of support and love and acceptance.

One of the subjects of both Overtaken and Overtaken 2 has been arrested over 130 times. She has been clean for several years and has built a loving family. Another was an MD in the Inland Empire who began to partake of his own prescriptions and was ready to end it all in the depths of despair. He has now been clean for over 25 years. Cheerleaders, athletes, just plain normal adults and kids, everyone is susceptible. 20% of our population is at risk of addiction. And in a culture of permissiveness, many become addicted.

Here in Orange County, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful places on earth the problem is hidden behind gated communities and the tinted windows of expensive cars and denial. One to two young people die here every week of overdoses. One drug court commissioner works on over 80 cases of juvenile and young adult drug arrests per day. There are both adult and juvenile drug courts at five different Orange County Justice Centers. These numbers don’t include the criminal court system. The people in Drug Court are the lucky ones.

The introduction to drugs in Southern California’s suburbs starts as early as 5th Grade, it seems. Pot is around for those who want it, and the subjects of Overtaken 2 are clear that this is where it started for them. Marijuana may not lead to hard drug usage in many, but in some it is the first step off a very high cliff.

The film is direct. It uses the voices of its subjects, all of them empathetic characters, to show that there is recovery and there is hope if one is willing to accept change and get back on the horse when they fall off. The film doesn’t preach. It doesn’t have to. The stories are powerful enough. And underneath is the message of faith and love and acceptance. In oneself, in ones friends, and in sobriety instead of addiction, and in speaking with so many of them afterwards, in God.

These are our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. Addiction is a terrible thing. It is the monster that takes over the soul. It is a beast that takes control and does evil things as any of these people will tell you. But it is separate from the individual and it is the soul of that individual that can and does survive as is so well depicted.

The production values are excellent despite a shoestring budget as are the sound and editing. Overtaken 2 is an excellent extension of the message of its predecessor and should be valued even more for its message of hope and love.

Overtaken is mandatory viewing in drug courts in 18 states. Overtaken 2 should be as well.

The Death of Old Media?

There have been some major headlines in the past week that have largely been ignored for their meaning by the same denizens of the world they live in. Newsweek has been killed off. The Boston Globe, which was purchased for $1.1 Billion, was sold off for $70 Million by the New York Times, a staggering 93% loss. And just a short while ago it was announced that Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post’s primary newspaper operations for $250 Million in cash.

It is deeply ironic that the Times chose to run a crocodile tears article about Newsweek this morning. But then, the problems and cluelessness at the Times have been evident for many years.

In visual media, CBS and Time Warner Cable are at daggers points over programming fees, the ones that continue to inflate your cable bill as viewers seek refuge with Netflix, Roku and other alternatives.

Tina Brown, the publisher of Daily Beast/Newsweek said “It doesn’t matter how talented you are right now. You used to be judged by your performance, but now it doesn’t matter what you do,” she said. “It is quite a business.”

Except that in each case these media empires have run themselves into the ground. The first step was in alienating huge swathes of the demographic base. A merchant, whether of news or other products, must appeal to the most profitable audience it can in order to survive. In the case of the newspapers the alienation was political in nature.

The newspapers and magazines simply stopped caring about presenting objective news. Their political views seeped from the editorial pages to the hard news sections. It is hard to recover when almost 50% of your potential audience will not purchase your product.

The networks face the problem of poor content and poor return on investment. There are a very few winners but with hundreds of channels, most of those networks are scraping by. And with each of them adding a surcharge onto the customer’s bill, the wheat must eventually be separated from the chaff.

Hollywood is crying the blues as well. Spielberg, Lucas and Clooney decry what Hollywood has become and yet their entire careers have been made on big money productions including some very expensive vanity projects. Salaries for the top talent are still in the $20 Million per picture range but somehow it is the financiers fault.

In a way, the same trends in defining downward we see in industry and commerce we are now seeing in the media. Inferior product is driven by inferior thinking and especially in today’s groupthink bubble, there is a crisis not only of content, but of rational thought.

In the case of each of these media meltdowns the old adage has been reversed. Failure has many fathers and mothers.