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Friday, October 30, 2015

Bring Back Trick-Or-Treat, You Stingy Nonparticipants

In October 2014, Emily Yoffe, advice columnist "Dear Prudence" who takes questions on "manners, morals, and more" for Slate online magazine published this letter from a reader ...

Dear Prudence,

"I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more 'modest' streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas.

"I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?"

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

 (Emily Yoffe. "Monster." Slate. October 28, 2014.)

Prudence answered with the following:

"In the urban neighborhood where I used to live, families who were not from the immediate area would come in fairly large groups to trick-or-treat on our streets, which were safe, well-lit, and full of people overstocked with candy.

“It was delightful to see the little mermaids, spider-men, ghosts, and the occasional axe murderer excitedly run up and down our front steps, having the time of their lives.

“So we'd spend an extra $20 to make sure we had enough candy for kids who weren't as fortunate as ours.

“There you are, 99, on the impoverished side of Greenwich [Connecticut] or Beverly Hills, with the other struggling lawyers, doctors, and business owners. Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks."

I have heard this same attitude about trick-or-treat night many times. And, yes, Halloween for the 99 Percent person, trick-or-treat is a "free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?" And my opinion is that it is wonderful. It is the one colorful tradition in which we actually acknowledge and interact with all human beings -- young and old, rich and poor -- as they come to our doors in the spirit of celebration. I believe we should be happy to share without judgment.

On this one evening of the year, wide-eyed children dressed in creative costumes thrill to finding simple treasures of candy treats. If you can afford the "good stuff," shower them with this special attention. You are not contributing to begging or flaunting opulence when you hand out treats; instead, you are making memories that last a lifetime for those young, impressionable hearts.

When I was a kid, we always knew where the best treats were, and we couldn't wait to ring the doorbells of those with the best goodies. These offerings were special gifts that my friends and I still recall. In fact, we still marvel at the generosity of those who had the assets to provide the great treats. So, in a way, I do think trick-or-treat is a "social service" -- it is a enjoyable assistance that helps bind us all together.

And, if people choose to view it as a "charity" (as does 99 Percent), at least they can control exactly where their donation goes unlike their gifts to so many other so-called charities that send very little of the money to the appreciative and the needy. I think the conversation, the interaction, and the fun are paramount also -- it's an obligation of us givers and diametrically opposed to silently handing out candy and treating the kids as if we hate to participate. It's fun to compliment the kids on their costumes and to find ways to celebrate with them.

Are you sore about "paying taxes for social services" like 99 Percent? And, you want to take it out on little kids observing trick-or-treat? Come on. We are talking about spending within your means and sharing. No one is expecting people to bust their budgets on treats for Halloween.

However, this year, on my one-block street of 26 houses, only about 5 or 6 families handed out treats. This trend of fewer participants has been growing rapidly. In the not-too-distant past, nearly everyone participated according to their available resources. What do I think causes noncommittal? I think many people don't hand out treats because they don't really care. They have become more distant, more judgmental, and even bitter of these young strangers for some very questionable reasons. In accepting common excuses for not treating, they have actually forgotten the big thrill trick-or-treat gave them as youngsters.

More and more, Halloween is becoming an adult holiday. In 2014, costumes, candy and decoration sales estimates topped $7.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Adults now spend more on costumes for themselves than on costumes for children. Adult costume sales have reached $1.38 billion, compared to 1.06 billion for kids, according to NRF estimates. People actually spend $350 million on pet costumes.

Bars and liquor stores experienced estimates of an average rise of nearly 30% in alcohol consumption during Halloween. Arthur Shapiro of AIM Shapiro & Associates, a marketing firm that specializes in the alcohol industry, says “Aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is the holiday where retailers take in a lot of customers. New Year’s Eve is the big one, obviously, but Halloween has reached the point where it’s become a big holiday for adults.”

Another growing business is popup haunted houses, haunted mazes and other live-action Halloween amusements, which are expected to rake in $300 million a year, according to the Haunted Attractions Association. Eslich founded the Factory of Terror in Canton, Ohio, which is listed by the Guinness World Records as the longest walk-through horror house in the world. "People drive from three hours away to pay the $26 per person to get a fright," says John Eslich, president of the Haunted Attractions Association.

 (Kevin Voigt. "Halloween, once for kids, has become an adult holiday." Christian Science Monitor. October 29, 2014.) 

And, oh my, those adult Halloween costumes. Much has been written about the adult "sluttification" of Halloween. Sexy costumes of all kinds -- Sexy Witch, Sexy School Girl, Sexy Fire Fighter, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Nuns -- all are very popular. It is not fully clear why this trend started, but when Google started tracking costume searches in 2004, “sexy” plus costume was a hot search and they have expanded exponentially.

Laurie Essig, professor of sociology and gender studies at Middlebury College, claims the point of being hyper-sexualized on Halloween is to be sexually pure the rest of the year. Essig says, "In other
words, certain women -- particularly white, middle-class women -- have been afforded the status of being sexually pure and innocent, real ladies. Other women- especially poor women and/or women of color- have been marked as hyper-sexualized and dirty." I shudder to think adult ladies of the '50s and '60s (in my youngest days) would see their first allegiance to Halloween would be to display themselves as "sexy mommas."

(Laurie Essig. "'Sexy' Costumes Are Scary For Halloween." Forbes. October 31, 2012.)

So, I believe as Halloween has "grown up," the holiday has also robbed considerable focus and attention from children while it draws more importance as an observance of an adult celebration. What is wrong with that? Nothing necessarily ... unless you become so stilted, stingy, and critical that you sacrifice the joy and fun of children in the process. Aren't they worth some of that Halloween expenditure? You know they are.

I say bring back the genuine joy of sharing trick-or-treat with kids -- all of them, especially the hordes that invade your neighborhood. Even if you can afford just a token of a treat -- give it up. Many in this crowd of excited little faces need a little attention. Then, rich or poor, and especially you, 99 Percent, will be a more respected individual for at least the hour or two you hand out the goods. Call it "charity," "a social service." Hell, call it "a bribe." Whatever you choose to call your participation, children will simply say, "Sweet!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Thirteen Months Later -- Paul Vernier Without Due Process

Now, thirteen months have passed since local and federal officials executed search warrants at Paul Vernier's properties -- Community Counseling Treatment Services Center in Ironton, Ohio, as well as two facilities in Portsmouth and his home. 

The authorities said they were looking for evidence in a drug trafficking and money laundering case they claimed had been in the works for more than a year. The authorities said Vernier, the owner of all the clinics, and his staff took part in illegal activity including drug trafficking, money laundering, insurance fraud and forging prescriptions.

Yet, to this date, Vernier hasn't been charged or arrested for criminal activities. And, vehicles and other property he owned remain impounded. Authorities ransacked not only the clinics but also his home looking for evidence of crimes. With these serious business intrusions and home invasions, he has become a victim of irreparable damage.

All the while, Vernier has been left to wonder why he was targeted for any criminal activity. Reputable sources say he was a stickler about "dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's" of complicated medical treatment procedures. Since thirteen months have passed without charges, it  seems his supporters are correct about their faith in Vernier as a considerable asset against drug addiction.

I have never heard of a case in which a concentrated local and federal raid yielded no actions after such an overwhelming swarm of aggressive investigation. Something really "smells rotten" about the entire affair. I believe the execution of search warrants against Vernier was politically motivated when some people in very persuasive positions felt their own financial interests were threatened. I think these competitors put pressure upon authorities to rush to judgment with unwarranted actions because of their own selfish interests.

Paul Vernier has been denied due process under the law. The constitutional guarantee of due process of law, found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, states that a law shall not be unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.

Due process protects an individual from undue governmental intrusion and harm. This includes protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Due process has frequently been interpreted as limiting laws and legal proceedings so that judges -- instead of legislators -- may define and guarantee fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law, this constitutes a due process violation, which offends the rule of law.

Nothing about the accusations against Vernier are either procedurally fair, reasonable, or natural to justice. Now, he remains a victim of tactics taken by those who used speculation and envy to fuel an unnecessary attack that ruined his business and stole his livelihood. All the while after this intrusive raid, his needy patients have suffered lack of treatment, and, yes, some have even died as a result.

"A license cannot be revoked because a man is redheaded or because he was divorced, except for a calling, if such there be, for which redheadedness or an unbroken marriage may have some rational bearing. If a State licensing agency lays bare its arbitrary action, or if the State law explicitly allows it to act arbitrarily, that is precisely the kind of State action which the Due Process Clause forbids."

-- Felix Frankfurter, Barsky v. Board of Regents, 347 U.S. 442, 470 (1954). 

Paul Vernier, like the redheaded or divorced examples in Frankfurter's case, is a victim of the authorities' arbitrary actions. He was singled out to endure gross mistreatment without sufficient reason. Now, I believe, Vernier must be exonerated of wrongdoing and compensated for his tremendous losses. When the state simply delays justice by refusing to provide ample evidence and stripping a person of his right to a speedy trial, the government is at fault.

In Ohio, under the Ohio Revised Code, speedy trial rights are guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution and the United States Constitution. Both types of speedy trial provisions generally protect a defendant from having charges pending in perpetuity by allowing the defendant to force the State to pursue or dismiss their case.

Ohio's statutory speedy trial rights can be found in O.R.C. 2945.71 and O.R.C. 2941.401. These statutes provide periods of time within which a defendant must be brought to trial. The seriousness of the offense determines how quickly the case must be brought into court, ranging from 30 days for minor misdemeanors up to 275 days for felonies. For statutory speedy trial purposes, the highest level offense for which a defendant is charged determines the time period.

I believe the injury done to Paul Vernier's reputation and the damage done to his property represent the true criminal nature of the raids of over a year ago. He has been a very patient, cooperative man, but surely his dream of saving lives and giving back to make the community a healthier place to live have been unfairly stifled. Impartiality and justice have been ignored by those who continue to leave him in limbo.

It seems to me that a prison does not always have bars that constrict the movements of the detainee. In this case, Vernier has been a prisoner for over a year serving in a lockup outside the confines of steel and concrete. He has been accused and, thus, prevented from operating his treatment services. In doing so, the state has held him as an virtual inmate while denying him access to patients and preventing him from helping so many needy human beings.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Beautiful Vermont and Rural Scioto County -- Predictable Heroin Explosions

Eve Rivait rode her first horse at the age of five. She felt that being on the back of a horse provided relief from the boredom and isolation that, for her, were a dominant part of growing up in Milton, Vermont. As Eve got older she continued her love for horses; she began spending afternoons exercising the herd at Missy Ann Stables not far from her home. Before she could drive a car, Eve was training horses at various barns in the area where seasoned farmhands asked about her knack for taming those with the wildest of temperaments.

David Amsden writes in Rolling Stone of Eve and how the explosion of drugs like OxyContin has given way to a heroin epidemic ravaging the least likely corners of America - like pastoral Vermont.

"Away from the stables, Eve attracted the attention of adults in other ways. Skipping school. Clashing with teachers. Running away from a home where the disintegration of her parents' marriage – her mother worked for Homeland Security, her father as a project manager in construction – had created an environment more toxic than nurturing.

"In 2004, when Eve was 12, she discovered what seemed an easier way to rein in a mind that felt hard-wired to pinball from one extreme to the other. Her grandfather had just died of brain cancer, leaving behind a medicine cabinet stocked with the powerful opiate OxyContin, a substance Eve understood was prescribed by doctors to 'make pain go away.' She swallowed one. The sensation it produced was more seductive than any she had ever felt: Home, she thought. This is home. 'I could be alone with myself,' she says, 'and not freak out.'

"Though it was a private solution to private pain, Eve was far from alone in discovering the pleasures of opiates. By the time she was 18, the same kids who once talked about the thrill of smoking pot were now praising the joys of 'oxys,' not to mention 'vikes' and 'perc-30s,' the street names for Vicodin and the pale-blue 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone.
"Eve was out of high school, renting a room on the outskirts of Middlebury, a picturesque college town an hour south of Milton, when she started dating a boy who taught her that grinding and snorting the pills produced a more potent high. This led to a daily habit, though she never entertained the idea that she was developing a problem. An addict wouldn't be able to keep jobs at multiple stables. An addict couldn't make her rent and car payments on time. An addict didn't rescue a horse from a racetrack, as Eve did.

"By the time Eve's relationship ended, six months later, another opiate was making a comeback. She had been dating her next boyfriend for only a few weeks when she came home to find him preparing to inject a needle filled with heroin into his arm – a sight so jarring it felt like a hallucination. Junkies, she thought, were people in places like the Bronx or Baltimore, not the middle of Vermont.

"But soon more people she knew were shooting up, and Eve's shock morphed into curiosity, heroin's corrosive reputation diminished by the fact that everyone compared it to a drug she'd already tried: 'It's like oxys,' she kept hearing, 'only cheaper.' So one evening, in the fall of 2010, distraught after her boyfriend stormed out in the wake of an argument, Eve took his stash from the bedside table.

"From her experience medicating horses she knew how to use a syringe; how much heroin to put in it, however, was a mystery. She opted for what she thought was a tiny amount – three small baggies of the beige powder. Moments after injecting it into her arm, Eve was on the bathroom floor, semi­conscious and unable to move."

(David Amsden. "The New Face of Heroin." Rolling Stone. April 03, 2014.)

For a short time, Eve hid her habit from everyone close to her as she was attempting to maintain some semblance of normality. She would work at stables and sneak off to corners of the barn to shoot up. Eve eventually felt at odds with herself, and she soon became a young woman desperately trying to remain functional.

Money became a major issue, and Eve ignored bills. She even began stealing checks from her mom. Amsden says, "When she began neglecting her horse, it was becoming evident that she had crossed a line familiar to addicts, in which the point of using has shifted from experiencing a transcendent high to keeping the pernicious symptoms of withdrawal at bay." Eve explains: "The part of my day that I dedicated to doing heroin, to finding and using, became the whole day," she says.

Then, in the late summer of 2012, Eve had just shot up at a supplier's house when the dealer who lived there answered his cellphone, shouting at the person on the other end. From what Eve could determine, he was speaking with a customer who, already in debt, was asking for another advance to keep from getting sick. Eve recalls: "Finally, he said, 'Come by, you'll get what you want.'"

The customer did just that. The dealer let him into the house, pulled out a gun, and shot the addict in the head. Amsden says, "While the floor was scrubbed with bleach, the corpse was wrapped in a tarp, then a carpet, then driven off in a waiting car."

Please click here and read the entire Rolling Stone article:

Familiar Path to Heroin Addiction

Around 2010, America began a vigorous push to close the pill mills where doctors without ethics were known to write tons of prescriptions under dubious pretexts to make their fortunes. Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, was pressured to reformulate the drug -- first marketed to doctors as "virtually nonhabit-forming" with slogans like "the one to stay with" -- so the pills would turn into a gelatinous substance when crushed, making it difficult to condense the drug's 12-hour release into a single hit by snorting or injecting it. ("Gummies," they are called on the street.)

While these combined efforts led to a sharp decline in availability, they also grossly inflated the prices for black-market pharmaceuticals and didn't eliminate the fact that a handful of billion-dollar pharmaceutical giants had unintentionally created "gateway" drugs to heroin of extraordinary persuasiveness – each one given the reassuring stamp of approval by the FDA.

To the cartels in Mexico and South America in the business of supplying the U.S. with the bulk of its heroin, a drug derived from the seeds of poppy plants grown primarily in Afghanistan and Mexico, the clampdown on pharmaceutical exuberance presented an opportunity of unprecedented scope: Heroin, a drug that had been a hard sell for a generation, could now be promoted to the scores of Americans like Eve who had gotten a taste of opiates – with the market for potential customers larger and more diverse than ever. Increased demand created lower prices, and today 77 percent of recent heroin users say they switched to the drug after first trying prescription painkillers.

Filling the Void -- Here We Go Again

Now white heroin has arrived; it is a cheaper, purer blend of the narcotic than predecessors such as Mexican black tar or Colombian brown. At around $15 a pop, the street drug is a bargain.

"What we're seeing in the 21st century is that drug abuse is more addictive and more deadly than other, previous periods," said James Hall, a drug abuse epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University. "This is just beginning."

Since the 1970s, heroin has been widely regarded as an inner-city or fringe issue far from the middle-class mainstream. This is changing. "The demographics are totally different," Hall said. "The new heroin population is whiter. It's not inner city; it's suburbia."

(Michael Van Sickler. "After pill mill crackdown, heroin fills a void."
Tampa Bay Times. May 16, 2014.) 

Scioto -- A Major Part of the National Picture

Here, the pill mills in Scioto County -- where once there were more than a dozen such clinics -- caused an unparalleled health epidemic and created regional collateral damage, feeding addiction and crime in surrounding counties and states that lacked the clinics but not the people they served. "I would describe it as if a pharmaceutical atomic bomb went off," said Lisa Roberts, a nurse for the health department in Portsmouth.

All ages were affected by the illegal distribution. In late January 2010, police were called to Valley Middle School where a junior high school girl had been caught with a plastic bag full of hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller. She had found the drugs at home and, with a fellow student, was distributing them to other classmates. The youngest of the group was in the seventh grade.


The prescription drug problem took its toll in numerous ways: including widespread addiction, high overdose deaths, spiraling hepatitis C rates, a thriving pill-based underground economy, and nearly one in 10 babies born addicted to drugs.

The overdose mixture became common enough that locals even gave it a name -- the Portsmouth Cocktail -- for the lethal combination of opiates, sedatives and muscle relaxants that brought the coroner's van.
Clinic owners like George Marshall Adkins claimed their businesses had safeguards against alleged abuse. "To my knowledge they ran the place in accordance with the way they were supposed to," said attorney Mike Mearan, of Portsmouth, about his client's pill mill.

(Andrew Welsh-Huggins. "Documents: Ohio 'pill mill' was corrupt drug den."
Fox News.

Of course, this was not true. The pill mill players knew exactly what illegal practices they followed, but cared only about profit. The opioid pain pills supplied by the mills were the major factor in recent heroin addiction, and it seems the move to the illicit substance was inevitable... certainly predictable.

Columbus is less than 100 miles from Scioto County. Its central location between border crossings -- the Mexican border, Miami, Detroit and New York -- has made it a hub for foreign drug traffickers. Multikilo shipments arrive daily, some worth more than $1 million, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Hunter, who serves on the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force for Ohio’s southern district.

Dealers reap profits of double or triple the wholesale value while keeping street prices well below prescription pills’ in an effort to attract new users. Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, said dealers generally target teens and young adults, most of whom start with prescription pills and graduate to heroin.

“What remains is a population of individuals who have gotten addicted to opiates, and their preferred drug is no longer available,” said Joan Papp, medical director for Project DAWN, an Ohio Department of Health program aimed at distributing the overdose-stopping drug Naloxone. “The heroin market really just took over.”

(Ian Kullgren. "Pill crackdown opens door to heroin in suburbs."
The Columbus Dispatch. August 4, 2013.)

Whether you live in Milton, Vermont, or in Scioto County, Ohio, you are faced with a continuing opiate scourge that has largely morphed from its beginnings in the prescription pill mill operations to the thriving heroin trade.

Here is an example of an arrest by state, local, and federal officials that occurred in May, 2013:

Authorities charged 18 drug-trafficking suspects with possession of and intent to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin. The suspects were involved in a conspiracy to move heroin from Dayton to Portsmouth that continued for two years primarily because there’s a better market for it in the Scioto County.

Of those charged, nine people were from Portsmouth, eight were from Dayton and one was from Lancaster.

(Danae King. "18 charged with taking heroin to Portsmouth."
The Columbus Dispatch. May 24, 2013.) 

And, here is information about one more arrest in July, 2014:

The Southern Ohio Drug Task Force reported 22 people had been indicted as part of a drug operation with ties to Portsmouth and Columbus. The indictments came after an 18 month investigation. Officials say some of those facing charges are part of the 22nd St. or Deuce Deuce Gang in Columbus.

Charges ranged from Felony Drug Trafficking to Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity.

The following people were arrested over the weekend by Portsmouth police, Scioto County deputies, Columbus Police Special Services Bureau and other law enforcement:

Andre J. Gilliam, 28, of Gilbert St. Columbus
Orlando Smith, 28, of Dancer Place Columbus
Keluan J. Skinner-Byrd, 19, of Lamarque Court Columbus
Vernita S. Williams, 29, of Dancer Place Columbus
Brittanee M. Baker, 23, of Payday Lane Columbus
Darrin “Bert” Thompson, 43, of 5th St. Portsmouth
William L. Armbrister, 66, of 5th St. Portsmouth
James D. Young Sr., 52, of Scioto Trail Portsmouth
Carrie M. Young, 48, of Scioto Trail Portsmouth
Patricia D. Charles, 42, of 7th St. Portsmouth
Stephanie S. Nuckols, 34, of 8th St. Portsmouth
Robert “Bo” Clemens, 58, of Franklin Ave. Portsmouth

Seven people were already in jail when the indictments came down.

Thomas Smith, 26, of South Ohio Ave. Columbus
Ronald E. Fields, 21, of South 22nd St. Columbus
Courtney L. Anderson, 26, of South 22nd St. Columbus
Jason J. Turner, 26, of Berkeley Rd. Columbus
Troy A. Hines, 31, of Woodrow Ave. Columbus
Charles E. Sadler, 32, of Scioto Trail Portsmouth
Teresa G. Mosley, 43, of Scioto Trail Portsmouth, Oh.

Authorities are still looking for three individuals who have been charged.

Kelvin L. Hayden, 31, of Petzinger Rd. Columbus
John W. Kullum II, 33, of Rosslare Harbor Drive of Pickerington
James D. Young Jr.,29, of Scioto Trail Portsmouth

("22 People Indicted As Part Of Columbus To Portsmouth Drug Ring.
10 TV Columbus. July 28, 2014.)

And the beat goes on and on and on ....

Saturday, October 17, 2015

High THC Weed In Ohio -- A Real Reason To Vote "No" on Issue 3

"According to the Washington Post, most of the marijuana in the U.S. is of the high-THC variety, and the average strength of weed that federal authorities have seized over time has risen. The Post noted that many retailers in Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legalized, sell strains of weed that contain 25 percent THC or more. The newspaper likened today’s weed to 'prohibition-era moonshine.'”

("Smoking high-potency marijuana may cause psychiatric disorders." February 17, 2015.)

I recently attended a presentation in Huntington, West Virginia by Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. During the question/answer session of the event, a young man asked Quinones how he felt about legalization.

When explaining his position on legalizing marijuana, Quinones answered that a possible compromise would be to limit the potency by voting for legalization of pot with a low THC content. He used an analogy to alcohol and the difference between 6% beer and much higher proof alcoholic spirits to emphasize the effect of the apparent intoxicating effects.

This was the first time I had heard of such a proposal to legalizing marijuana. The more I thought about it, the more sense this simple compromise made to me. Let me explain why I think legalization without specific controls is dangerous and why I have since have found Quinones's idea to be a more responsible solution than no-holds-barred legalization.

Thinking About THC

The intoxicating chemical in marijuana is tetrahydracannabinol, or THC. While a handful of growers are finessing strains to provide a medical benefit without the high, the majority aim to push THC content as high as it will go according to government data. Most people want pot to simple get high.

The most potent strains have a THC content of around 25%, according to testing commissioned by the organizers at High Times magazine. But at the University of Mississippi, in a laboratory that tracks the potency of marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officers, they've found even higher levels -- as high as 37%, according to Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, the director of the Marijuana Potency Project.

Since 1972, ElSohly says, the average THC content of marijuana has soared from less than 1% to 3 to 4% in the 1990s, to nearly 13% today.

"You really have to be careful," he says. "The danger of this high-potency material is not with the experienced marijuana smokers, but young people who really don't know what they're smoking. They don't know what to expect, and before they know it, they've inhaled too much."

(Caleb Hellerman. "Is super weed, super bad?" CNN. August 09, 2013.) 

Of course, for most people, getting "altered" is the whole point of ingesting marijuana. They seem to be breaking any envelope to get higher and higher. A growing number of young people are giving up joints and even Cannabis Cup-quality buds to get high inhaling the smoke from concentrated oils with a THC content of 50% or more.

Virtually everyone knows the risk of overdose with marijuana is far less serious than with cocaine or heroin. But certain behaviors -- like driving -- can be deadly if you're acutely intoxicated.

"The risk is not that you'll stop breathing or that you'll die," says Dr. Julie Holland, a psychiatrist in New York who studies the history and science of cannabis. "The risk is that you'll become very altered and disoriented, and you can get anxious and panicky in that situation."

The only cure is a few hours of waiting, and reassurance.

Visits to the hospital related to marijuana are more frequent than many suspect. More than 455,000 patients entered emergency rooms with marijuana in their system in 2011, a 19% increase from just two years earlier according to government statistics.

The figure represents all patients with marijuana in their system, whether or not the ER visit is related to the drug. But most experts agree that along with showing an increase in usage, those numbers also indicate an increase in marijuana-related problems.

"There's an increase in psych admissions," says Dr. Stuart Gitlow, a psychiatrist who estimates that upwards of 1 in 100 people using high-THC marijuana experience psychotic symptoms. As president of the American Society for Addiction Medicine, Gitlow also worries about the long-term impact.

(Caleb Hellerman. "Is super weed, super bad?" CNN. August 09, 2013.) 

THC In Colorado?

The THC content found in Colorado marijuana is considered to be the highest in the world, so residents there believe keeping these products out of the hands of Colorado youth is more important than ever.

There, Fresh Baked, which sells recreational marijuana in Boulder, offers “Green Crack” with a THC content of about 21 percent and “Phnom Penh,” with about 8 percent. The level in a concentrate called “Bubble Hash” is about 70 percent; cartridges for vaporizers, much like e-cigarettes, range from 15 to 30 percent THC. says while there is irrefutable research on how marijuana at 2-5% THC levels permanently impacts the developing brain, there has yet to be any research conducted on what the specific health and safety implications are for youth, or even adults, from consuming marijuana at the THC levels (ranging up to 90%) of the marijuana being sold today.

Smartcolorado claims the confusion over the type of marijuana sold in pot shops and the marijuana used to make “Charlotte’s Oil” for kids suffering from uncontrollable seizures only serves to cloud two very different and important issues. The marijuana used to help children with seizures contains almost no THC but is high in CBD (Cannabidiol), the chemical believed to contain medicinal properties.

Smartcolorado contends it is extremely unfortunate when the health and well-being of one group of children is inappropriately used to prevent us from protecting the rest of Colorado children and teenagers.

("The Potency." 2015) 

Actual Studies To Consider

Though proponents of marijuana legalization claim it will be useful to stimulate appetite, quiet pain, soothe anxiety, and even reduce epileptic seizures, research on the drug is very tightly restricted, so few reliable studies have tested these medical claims.

Studies do support the fact that short-term use of the drug impairs thinking and coordination. In long-term studies, teens who smoke marijuana have exhibited lower IQs later on, as well as suffering structural differences in their brains, though scientists debate whether this is an effect of the drug or a result of habitual pot smokers seeking out less intellectually stimulating pursuits.

Still, evidence of long-term effects is building. A study released in 2012 showed that teenagers who were found to be dependent on pot before age 18 and who continued using it into adulthood lost an average of eight I.Q. points by age 38. In 2013, Dr. Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s medical school, and his colleagues also saw changes in the nucleus accumbens among adults in their early 20s who had smoked daily for three years but had stopped for at least two years.

They had impaired working memories as well. “Working memory is key for learning,” Dr. Breiter said. “If I were to design a substance that is bad for college students, it would be marijuana.”

(Abigail Sullivan Moore. "This Is Your Brain on Drugs.
The New York Times. October 29, 2014.)

Marijuana use has been linked to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, according to NIDA. While studies may differ about whether causes these illnesses, most conclude use can make them much worse.

In fact, a recent study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry has linked smoking strong, high-potency marijuana to an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders.

Study authors from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, analyzed about 800 people ages 18 to 65. According to a news release, at the beginning of the study, 410 of those patients had reported a first episode of psychosis and 370 healthy patients were used as a control.

After examining their marijuana use, researchers observed that compared to those who never smoked, study participants who tried the stronger variety of marijuana had a threefold increased risk of developing psychosis. Those who used the potent pot every day had a fivefold increased risk of developing psychosis.

“Skeptics still claim that this is not an important cause of schizophrenia-like psychosis. This paper suggests that we could prevent almost one-quarter of cases of psychosis if no one smoked high-potency cannabis,” senior researcher Sir Robin Murray, a psychiatric research professor at King’s College, said in the news release.

("Smoking high-potency marijuana may cause psychiatric disorders." February 17, 2015.)

Abigail Sullivan Moore also reported that high-THC marijuana is associated with paranoia and psychosis, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Concerns over increasing potency, and rising usage among the young, is giving new urgency to research.

“We have seen very, very significant increases in emergency room admissions associated with marijuana use that can’t be accounted for solely on basis of changes in prevalence rates,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a co-author of the THC study.

“It can only be explained by the fact that current marijuana has higher potency associated with much greater risk for adverse effects.”

(Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Ruben D. Baler, Ph.D., Wilson M. Compton, M.D., and Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D. "Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use." N Engl J Med 370. June 5, 2014.)

It's unclear whether marijuana is a gateway drug to more serious substances. Yet, studies show that people who use marijuana are more likely to later abuse other drugs. But scientists aren't sure of the reason. It's possible that marijuana, like alcohol and nicotine, "prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs," Volkow wrote.

Higher potency may simply accelerate addiction. “You don’t have to work so hard to get high,” said Alan J. Budney, a researcher and professor at Dartmouth’s medical school. “As you make it easier to get high, it makes a person more vulnerable to addiction.” Among adults, the rate is one of 11; for teenagers, one of six.

(Abigail Sullivan Moore. "This Is Your Brain on Drugs.
The New York Times. October 29, 2014.)

The effects of chronic marijuana use on the brain may depend on age of first use and duration of use, according to researchers at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas.

In a paper published November 10, 2014, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers for the first time comprehensively describe existing abnormalities in brain function and structure of long-term marijuana users with multiple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. Findings show chronic marijuana users have smaller brain volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a part of the brain commonly associated with addiction, but also increased brain connectivity.

“To date, existing studies on the long-term effects of marijuana on brain structures have been largely inconclusive due to limitations in methodologies,” said Dr. Filbey. “While our study does not conclusively address whether any or all of the brain changes are a direct consequence of marijuana use, these effects do suggest that these changes are related to age of onset and duration of use.”

So, in conclusion, I come back to the remarks by Sam Quinones. As I consider Issue 3 in Ohio sponsored by a group named Responsible Ohio that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the Buckeye State, I believe the proposal is not at all "responsible" in that it opens the door for high-potency cannabis.  

The easy availability of high-potency marijuana poses too many health risks to the general public. Proponents want to deny this, and they portray pot as a non-addictive, safe substance that will be used legally only by responsible adults. Although the comparison is "apples and oranges," I have heard Purdue claim this about a painkiller than caused a national health epidemic -- OxyContin.

In no way am I suggesting legalized marijuana has the same potential for destruction as the aforementioned prescription opiate. I am saying present research confirms marijuana high in THC is a dangerous product for recreational consumption.

You may consider the comparison to the alcoholic content of beer and liquor to be a false analogy; however, voting "yes" for Issue 3 will open the door for yet another vice -- like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes -- that offers little value other than getting wasted to those who seek the strongest substance to accomplish the deed.

Why not vote down Issue 3 and make better proposals that limit THC ... even if you support recreational pot? Think about it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Big Pharma and the FDA: An Unholy Marriage

As the presidential debates heat up and the nation listens to the candidates voice their opinions on domestic and foreign policies, one grievous omission stands out. The failure to have a sustained political dialogue about the American health epidemic due to the abuse of opioids, a group of drugs that includes heroin and prescription painkillers, makes one wonder just how much the federal government supports immediate action to combat the disease of addiction. Does the government even believe drug abuse is one of the most important issues facing the country.

The abuse has had a devastating impact on public health and safety in the United States.

America has become a place where pain is unacceptable. The lack of tolerance for accepting any pain has created a society dependent upon powerful prescription pain relievers for the slightest ailment. The number of prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone products) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) and 81 percent for oxycodone (e.g., Percocet).

It is estimated that 2.1 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin. There is also growing evidence to suggest a relationship between increased non-medical use of opioid analgesics and heroin abuse in the United States.

(Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. 2013.)

The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has soared in the United States, more than quadrupling since 1999. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 110 Americans, on average, died from drug poisoning every day in 2011. Prescription drugs were involved in more than half of the 41,300 drug poisoning deaths that year, and opioid pain relievers were involved in nearly 17,000 of these deaths. There were about 4,400 drug poisoning deaths involving heroin. Drug poisoning deaths even outnumbered deaths from gunshot wounds or motor vehicle crashes.

("National Vital Statistics Report." National Center for Health Statistics/CDC. June, 2014.)

Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem. Besides the drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, there has been a greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and the aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.  These factors together have helped create the broad “environmental availability” of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular.

In his book Crony Capitalism in America 2008-2012, Hunter Lewis exposes the incestuous relationship between government and the drug industry. Lewis, who serves as president of ANH-USA’s board of directors, has written nine books on moral philosophy, psychology, and economics, including the widely acclaimed Are the Rich Necessary?

Lewis describes a system known as "crony capitalism" as political favors in exchange for money.Chapter 15 is titled "Big Pharma and FDA: A Marriage Not Made in Heaven." Here is an excerpt:

"The drug industry at one time was called the patent medicine industry. This is still the more revealing name. Drug companies devote themselves to inventing non-natural molecules for use in medicine. Why non-natural? Because molecules previously occurring in nature cannot, as a rule, be patented. It is essential to develop a patentable medicine; only a medicine protected by a government patent can hope to recoup the enormous cost of taking a new drug through the government’s approval process.

"Getting a new drug through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not just expensive ($1 billion on average). It also requires having the right people on your side. Drug companies know that they must hire former FDA employees to assist with the process. They also hire leading experts as consultants, some of the same experts who may be called on by the FDA to serve on its screening panels. Direct payments must also be made to support the FDA’s budget.

"All these financial ties encourage a “wink and a nod” relationship between researchers working for drug companies and regulators, who are often the same people, thanks to the revolving door. As the Economist magazine writes:

"'Pharmaceutical companies bury clinical trials which show bad results for a drug and publish only those that show a benefit. The trials are often run on small numbers of unrepresentative patients, and the statistical analyses are massaged to give as rosy a picture as possible. Entire clinical trials are run not as trials at all, but as under-the-counter advertising campaigns designed to persuade doctors to prescribe a company’s drug.'

"The bad behavior extends far beyond the industry itself. Drug regulators, who do get access to some of the hidden results, often guard them jealously, even from academic researchers, seeming to serve the interests of the firms whose products they are supposed to police. The French journal Prescrire applied to Europe’s drug regulator for information on the diet drug rimonabant. The regulator sent back 68 pages in which virtually every sentence was blacked out. . . .

"Medical journals frequently fail to perform basic checks on the papers they print, so all sorts of sharp practice goes uncorrected. Many published studies are not written by the academics whose names they bear, but by commercial ghostwriters paid by drug firms. Doctors are bombarded with advertising encouraging them to prescribe certain drugs...

"What the Economist calls 'bad behavior' also spills over from the medical world to the financial world. Just since 2008, 75 people have been charged with trying to profit from inside information about drug approvals or company mergers related to patentable drugs. One of them, an FDA chemist named Cheng Yi Liang with access to the Agency’s approval database, pleaded guilty to insider trading on 25 companies for a total gain of $3.78 million over five years. Others with larger resources to invest have made much larger sums. Rod Rothstein, the US Attorney for Maryland who helped prosecute the FDA case, has noted that 'healthcare is particularly attractive to criminals because so much turns on government regulatory approval.'

Dr. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma, summarizes the entire drug approval process as follows: '[It] is broken. . . . The people you should have been able to trust to fix [the]problems have failed you.'

"Although the costs of drug approval keep growing, along with the related corruption, the financial payoff for those ultimately winning approval can be astronomical, because approval also brings with it a government-protected monopoly. Only FDA-approved drugs can be prescribed within government programs such as Medicare. Doctors may prescribe unapproved substances outside of Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veteran’s Administration, but by doing so risk losing their license to practice. Some approved drugs may be priced as high as $500,000 per year per patient.

"Sometimes the FDA or other branches of the federal government deliver opportunities to drug companies, not just protect them from potential competition. For example, federal researchers may develop a chemical which is then licensed to a friendly drug company. Or federal agencies will pay for drug research, or hire drug companies to conduct research. For example, laboratories at the National Cancer Institute are operated by SAIC Inc., a Defense Department contractor which is not a drug producer, but which is a major player in the drug industry, with funding from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The same company operates the government’s vaccine production facilities...

"In effect, then, drug companies are not really private companies competing in an open market. They are government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) not unlike Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and the big Wall Street banks and firms. It should not be surprising, therefore, that drug companies spend millions on political lobbying and campaign contributions. Many politicians rely on these campaign contributions and thus have a vested interest in maintaining the drug cartel, even though needlessly high drug costs contribute to soaring medical costs...

"The federal government is very careful to avoid charging any leading pharmaceutical company with criminal misconduct, because conviction under current federal law would terminate purchases from that source, and the government is too closely integrated with the drug/vaccine industry to allow that to happen. Thus, when Merck was found to have misled about its painkiller Vioxx, alleged to have caused at least 55,000 deaths (some estimates are much higher), the settlement with plaintiffs reached $4.9 billion. But Merck continued partnering with and selling to government without any interruption or even question."

(ANH-USA. "Big Pharma and FDA: A Marriage Not Made in Heaven."
Alliance for Natural Health. October 15, 2013.)

Sidney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, speaks of the too FDA too-cozy relationship the FDA has with the industry it regulates:

"The pharmaceutical industry's influence gets exerted in a number of ways. One, starting 10 years ago [with the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA)], the influence was exerted by their directly funding, paying cash right up front, for FDA review. So in many ways, the FDA started looking upon the industry as their client, instead of the public and the public health, which should be the client.

"A second way in which the industry influence occurs is by having leaders in the drug division who are spineless and gutless, and who don't like controversy. I have heard over and over again, directly from these people, 'Why can't this be settled on a scientific and medical basis?' They don't like to take on the very awesome forces of the drug industry and a lot of its indentured servants, so to speak, in academic medicine. So the attitude by the leaders there [is], 'avoid conflict' -- and avoiding conflict means doing what the industry wants.

"A third way in which the industry's influence has been allowed to grow considerably is the absence of congressional oversight. Up until 12 years ago, whenever the FDA would make a mistake -- such as the series of mistakes they've made in the late 1990s -- there would be a congressional hearing. They would have to explain to the legislative branch of the government what went wrong. They would be -- properly, and in the best public health sense -- on the defensive to try and explain what went wrong."

("How Dependent Is the FDA?" Frontline. PBS. Posted first 2003.)

Raymond Woosley, M.D., who was considered as a candidate for the Food and Drug Administration's commissioner position, says "the drug industry didn't want someone like myself, who was going to focus on toxicity and side effects." He didn't get the job, and Woosley explains his understanding of why: "It became clear that anyone who had focused on drug safety couldn't make it, just like people who had come right out of industry couldn't make it. Too far on the extremes to be acceptable."

Woosley believes the budgets of the FDA are determined by lobbyists who call for money to be spent in certain ways. He claims no one is lobbying for safety. Woosley says, "The pharmaceutical industry doesn't lobby for safety. They lobby for rapid review, rapid access to the marketplace. They haven't lobbied for drug safety; no one has. There are groups, consumer groups, that have spoken out, but not with a uniform voice. Large constituencies haven't joined together to say, 'Stop the harm.'" 

Wendell Potter, former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower, reports that the pharmaceutical industry spends the most each year to influence lawmakers, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012, according to To get some perspective on just how big that number is, consider that oil and gas companies and their trade associations spent $1.4 billion lobbying Congress over the same time frame while the defense and aerospace industry spent $662 million, a fourth of the total spent by Big Pharma.

(Wendell Potter. "Big Pharma's stranglehold on Washington."
The Center for Public Integrity. February 11, 2013.)

The opioid epidemic (which includes the skyrocketing heroin addiction numbers) can be directly attributed to Big Pharma with players like Purdue and to the criminal policies and collaboration of the FDA. Unless we, as voters, demand our politicians devote considerable time and effort to changing the political face of America as it pertains to drugs, we will be at the mercy of legalized greed and addiction that rips the threads of our culture.

Understanding the nature of lobbying, testing, marketing, and distribution is vital to combatting drug addiction -- not just some, but all opiate drug addiction. The supply and demand -- be it for prescription drugs or illegal drugs like heroin -- is interrelated by both the composition and strength of the substances. And, yes, I believe the FDA and Big Pharma care little about safety when astronomical profits drive the system. The public stigma associated addiction actually contributes to the lack of concern for change as does America's insistence on a life free of pain.

I'm asking ... no, I'm begging ... people to demand much more attention to drug addiction. To change the stranglehold of opioid addiction requires that we elect people who will force change in government. From the concept of pain relief to the collaboration of big businesses and the federal government, we must evoke new and better strategies to deal with real-world chemical dependency. Maybe one place to begin a serious dialogue is in the presidential candidates debates.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Poor Health and Well-Being in Scioto -- "Physician, Heal Yourself"

It is well-publicized that Scioto County is one of most unhealthy counties, if not the most unhealthy county in the State of Ohio. According to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps -- a well-accredited source that uses data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Division of Behavioral Surveillance Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice -- Scioto County has held this dubious distinction of being extremely "unhealthy" for many years.

The County Health Rankings measure the health of nearly every county in the nation. Published online at, the "Rankings" help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live.

The "Rankings" look at a variety of measures that affect health, such as high school graduation rates, access to healthy foods, rates of smoking, obesity, and teen births.

Based on data available for each county, the "Rankings" are unique in their ability to measure the overall health of each county in all 50 states. They have been used to garner support for local health improvement initiatives among government agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, business leaders, policy makers, and the public.

Counties receive two ranks: "Health Outcomes" and "Health Factors." Each of these ranks represents a weighted summary of a number of measures.

* Health outcomes -- including evaluations of tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, access to care, quality of care --represent how healthy a county is.

* Health factors -- including assessments of education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety, air and water quality, housing and transit -- represent what influences the health of the county.

In Health Outcome Ranks, Scioto ranks 88 (last in Ohio) based on an equal weighting of length and quality of life.

In Health Factors Ranks, Scioto ranks 86 (third from last before Meigs and Pike) based on weighted scores for health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.

(Bridget Catlin, PhD, MHSA. Amanda Jovaag, MS. Julie Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN. Patrick Remington, MD, MPH. "County Health Rankings and Roadmaps: Ohio." Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. 2014.)

How About Well-Being In General?

Of course, health is likely the most important factor in a person's well-being. Well-being matters because it effectively reflects not only health, but also employment, education and the local environment.

A recent Gallup study (2013) found that the well-being of Americans hasn't improved in many years, and, in fact, it has even shown slight decline. While national figures remained flat overall, the ranks of the states with the highest well-being scores changed considerably.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which interviewed more than 176,000 people from all 50 states last year, measures the physical and emotional health of Americans across the country. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the more than 50 metrics comprising the six broad categories Gallup used to identify well-being.

Gallup-Healthways calculated a national well-being score as well as one for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being.

In generating the rank, Gallup combined six separate indices, measuring access to basic needs, healthy behavior, work environment, physical health, life evaluation and optimism, and emotional health.

In addition to the index, 24/7 Wall St. considered data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey, including median income, poverty levels, and the percentage of adults with a high school diploma or higher.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24/7 reviewed state unemployment rates as of December 2013. They also reviewed 2010 statistics for life expectancy at birth and deaths from heart disease, as well as 2011 data on prescription drugs, published by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. We also considered state violent crime rates in 2012 from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report Program.

Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, said a strong economy and a healthy, educated workforce can improve well-being, just as high well-being may also influence further development. Because these relationships appear to exist, "there's a lot of things that employers or communities can do structurally, culturally, legislatively, that can positively affect change around well-being," Witters added.

The Gallup-Healthways survey found in states with high well-being scores ...

* Residents were less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise regularly and learn new things every day.

* These states also enjoyed the positive outcomes of such behaviors, including lower obesity rates and other common health problems.

The opposite was generally true for states with low well-being ...

* Residents were more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles or limited access to basic necessities.

* Residents tended to feel physically and emotionally unhealthy.

* Residents were among the most likely in the nation to suffer from health problems such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as obesity.

* Broadly, residents in these states did not feel they were thriving.
* The states with the lowest well-being typically had very low median household incomes. Having a stable income is important because it enables people to access basic needs such as healthy food, clean water, medicine and health care.

In a nation of 50 states and in a state of 88 counties, residents of Scioto County, Ohio, are among the very lowest in matters that influence well-being. This can be interpreted to mean that residents of Scioto County are some of the most miserable people in America.

The Gallup-Healthways survey found that Ohio ranked as the 5th lowest state for well-being, trailing only Alabama (4), Mississippi (3), and our Appalachian neighbors Kentucky (2), and West Virginia (1).

Ohio's "Well-being index score" was 64.2 on a scale of 0-100. (West Virginia ranking last had an index of 61.4.) Life expectancy was 77.8 years (13th lowest), percent obese was 30.9% (8th highest), median household income was $46,829 (17th lowest), and percent with high school diploma was 88.8% (25th highest).

So, according to the research, despite its low well-being score, Ohio stands out from other low ranking states because it doesn't exhibit many of the elements often present in those states. For one, Ohio's median household income of $46,829 in 2012 was higher than most states with low well-being scores. Similarly, its residents had better access to basic needs than residents of other low well-being states.

So, why is the Buckeye state so poor in well-being?

Gallup-Healthways found Ohio residents generally had low evaluations of their lives, trailing only West Virginia and Kentucky by that measure. Just 49.3% of respondents stated they were thriving in their lives last year, one of the lowest proportions in the nation. Relatively few respondents indicated they had a learning experience within the previous 24 hours, and residents were among the most likely in the U.S. to have felt angry that day. This contributed to Ohio's low ranking for emotional health.

(Ashley C. Allen, Thomas C. Frohlich, and Alexander E.M. Hess. "Report: The most miserable states in the USA." 24/7 Wall St. February 27, 2015.)

The poor condition of health and well-being in Scioto County is currently being addressed by a group of dedicated, hard-working executives and individuals of the Scioto County Health Coalition. Their tireless work must be bolstered by the support and action of the citizens of our county to effect higher rankings. What could be more important to the future safety of our county than raising our rankings of health and well-being?

When we consider the low esteem that so many of us hold for our county, we see indifference and inaction ruling the day. Nothing will significantly change in a population content to accept "below par" for the norm. It is not enough for us to accept the beautiful natural environment in which we live as the only positive factor for a healthy life. We need an immediate reality check accompanied by a healthy attitude adjustment.

I believe first we must change our own individual attitudes from a state of depressed acceptance into a belief that building new and positive visions -- no matter how small the improvement -- will raise the well-being of all. Instead of deploring negative conditions and simply "treading water" in a current flood of despair, we must use our energy to swim against the current one stroke at a time.    

Our county is home to high cancer rates, enormous addiction rates, staggering poverty, and low employment opportunities. But, we must consider these things as recognizable symptoms of what is likely our biggest malady -- our own rigid insistence that some outside force is going to enter our county and instantaneously transform our well-being. We think we are going to wake up one morning and win the Cure-all Economic and Social Lottery to become benefactors after simply riding out the storm.

In reality, our "dependent" malady lingers and becomes chronic because we, ourselves, have allowed it to breed an unsubstantiated confidence that faith and mere hope will solve what is terribly wrong with our well-being. 77,258 people who actively fix themselves can be the cure that makes our county healthy, confident, and strong. We must look within each of our selves to find changes that benefit our individual well being.

I will apologize before I say this -- I'm sorry that this evaluation will ruffle feathers. But, here goes. This is how I see it:

* Too many people here are comfortable with their ignorance. They must read, think, and learn more to better educate themselves and their loved ones. Old-fashioned, cerebral activities need to be valued and carried out by all. The citizens need to expose themselves to a wide range of educational opportunities and realize that their increasing their mentality is the equal opportunity to betterment. They must dedicate themselves to lifetime learning and always be open to change.

* People must stop addictive vices, begin to act as role models, and encourage others to live sober, industrious lives within healthy moderation. Drinking, taking drugs, smoking, being dependent upon any artificial means of happiness lead to poverty, joblessness, criminal activity, health problems, social problems, addiction, and many other negative outcomes.  

* Just because citizens have the right to do things doesn't release them from their moral obligations to their communities and their manners for friends and neighbors. Too many want to do everything they view as their freedoms at anytime and at anywhere. When personal rights come into conflict with social graces, more people should choose compassion and caring for others.  

* Far too many people refuse to listen these days, preferring to anger instead when confronted with an opposing opinion. The lack of cooperation between the rich, the middle class, and the poor is appalling. In days past, so many potential problems were solved when caring people simply pushed up their sleeves and worked together. This is impossible in a social system that relies on political cronyism and Good Old Boy power and control.

* Before folks are bestowed with the good job, the beautiful house, the loving spouse and family, and the security of their precious freedoms and liberties, they must realize that schemes and scams and criminal accumulation of coveted resources build hollow American Dreams. No human owes someone else absolute comfort or assurance. These things are earned through the hard work and the love proffered by each individual. Even when riches are not attained, each person has strict obligations to better his or her community for as long as they live.  

* The "I think I can mentality" has to become a strong, personal belief. Of course, everyone must rely upon others for essential assistance; however, the old cliché of "Nothing worth having comes easy" is a daily reality to successful, happy people. And, the beauty of this reality is that people most respect those who overcome tremendous odds to thrive. How many people in Scioto County must do just that -- overcome the odds through perseverance to achieve well-being? My guess is numbered in thousands. This accomplishment creates the greatest God-given intangible known: Integrity at the core of the human will.    

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trump Flipflops On Gun Violence: "Stuff Happens"

"On 'Meet the Press' on Sunday, Donald Trump explained that there was no sense in even tinkering with our gun laws. 'You know, no matter what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn’t matter. You have people that are mentally ill. And they’re gonna come through the cracks,' he told Chuck Todd.

"His comments on 'This Week' were similarly fatalistic. 'No matter what you do, you will have problems and that’s the way the world goes.'

"When host George Stephanopoulos noted how uncharacteristically can’t-do this attitude was for Trump, the latter insisted: 'Now, George, I could say, oh, we’re going to do this and that and it’s never going to happen again. You have sick people in this country and throughout the world, and you’re always going to have difficulty.'"

(Catherine Rampell. "On guns, Trump finally meets his Kryptonite."
The Washington Post. October 06, 2015.)

As Catherine Rampell -- writer, winner of the Weidenbaum Center Award for Evidence-Based Journalism, and Gerald Loeb Award finalist -- notes, here is a presidential candidate who claims he has the solution to every problem facing the nation, yet "on this issue, and this issue alone, Trump is -- like every other Republican contender -- strangely passive."

Rampell understands that although Trump claims he is unrestrained by special interests, it is evident he answers the question about gun violence "paying  obeisance to perhaps the most powerful special interest in the country, the gun lobby (from which he seems to have cribbed his own gun policy proposals)." Trump's position mirrors many of the National Rifle Association’s talking points.

Did you know that Trump has not always spoken so strongly in favor of guns or the Second Amendment?

During his bid for the Reform Party nomination in 2000, Trump had what seem like much more reasonable views on gun ownership. In fact, in his book, The America We Deserve, Trump laments the Columbine shooting and says “anyone could feel that it is too easy for Americans to get their hands on weapons. But nobody has a good solution.”

He also criticizes a fairly common Republican position on guns, calling for a ban on assault weapons and longer waiting periods. Trump writes:
“This is another issue where you see the extremes of the two existing major parties. Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed…The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions. I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today’s internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.”
(David Matthews. "Donald Trump was not always such a strong supporter of gun ownership.
Fusion Media Network. Yahoo - ABC News. October 05, 2015.)

Donald Trump's flipflopping has some sites like Gun Sources asking questions like this: "So which Trump would actually show up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if elected?"

Guns and Problems -- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Roxanna Green, whose child was killed two years ago, appeals directly to the camera: "My 9-year-old daughter was murdered in the Tucson shooting. I have one question for our political leaders: When will you find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby?"

Standing up to the gun lobby is seen by gun control advocates to mean not only banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, but restoring some teeth to the ATF.

(Brian Naylor. "Gun Control Advocates Say ATF's Hands Have Been Tied."
National Public Radio. January 08, 2013.)

"The restrictions on ATF are absurd," says Jon Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "They're not allowed to use computers in doing their trace work. They're not allowed to do more than one spot inspection on a gun dealer."

Other gun law issues faced by ATF agents include the following:

Congress refuses to allow a centralized gun database, so tracing a weapon used in a crime means a lot of legwork.
Former ATF agent William Vizzard says, "They have to contact the manufacturer or importer, who tells them, 'Oh, on July 14, 2009, we shipped that gun to Buckeye Sporting Goods, a wholesaler.' Then you contact Buckeye Sporting Goods, and they say, 'Oh, yeah, we received that gun four days later and we shipped it out to Billy Bob's Bait and Tackle Shop.' Then you go to Billy Bob and you say, 'OK, what do your records say?' "

* The lack of gun-trafficking statutes hampers charging those suspected of supplying guns to criminals.
"It's very frustrating when you see people that you know are criminals and buying guns for the criminal element, and you don't have ... a statute to prosecute them under,"  Bouchard says. "You have to be creative and try to make other statutes fit."

* Advocates believe the ATF should be allowed to inspect firearms dealers more than once a year, and that dealers should be required to keep track of their inventory.
Jon Lowy of the Brady Center says that more than 100,000 guns are missing from dealers' shelves.

According to Bouchard, "There's a great likelihood that most of those guns were sold off the books to criminals. (An) easy way to fix that is to simply require dealers to do an inventory every year of their stock. ATF is prevented from even requiring dealers to do that. That makes absolutely no sense."

So, Mr. Trump, I believe saying "No matter what you do about gun laws, you will have problems" is a copout and a sign you have sold out your personal convictions to the gun lobby. All of your blustering about every other politician except you being controlled by special interests, lobbyists, and donors is bullshit braggadocio coming from your own mega-egotistical mind. Indeed, you are a "puppet" grandstander.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Arming Yourself with Guns or with the "Armor of Light"?

On June 24, 2015, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley urged his colleagues on the floor to break the silence, stop the violence, and start the conversation about the gun violence epidemic in America.

Citing horrific tragedies at Charleston, South Carolina; at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard; at Sandy Hook Elementary School; at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin; at a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona; at Fort Hood in Texas; at Virginia Tech; and at other places, Quigley asked, "When will enough be enough?"

Quigley continued ...

"When will we stand up and say: we may not be able to stop every crime, but we can stop some of them and at least minimize the damage of others?

"When will we realize and acknowledge that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries?

"When will we finally be able to have a national discussion about gun violence?"

(Mike Quigley. "Starting a Conversation on Gun Violence."
Speech U.S. House of Representatives. June 24, 2015.)

Like Quigley, I acknowledge no single law or set of laws can prevent every act of gun violence. It is impossible to stop every shooting. America needs much more -- a change in culture to influence criminal actions and violent behavior. Yet, oftentimes changing our culture begins with changing our laws. By enacting reasonable, middle-ground reforms, we can make a difference.

The congressman believes we must consider these actions that will reduce the frequency and deadliness of gun violence:

* We can make it more difficult for would-be assassins to access guns.

* We can ensure every gun in America is purchased after a background check, rather than only 60 percent of guns as is currently the case.

* We can crack down on the flow of illegal guns onto our streets by improving gun trafficking data.

* And, we can reduce the fatality rate by banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines that are designed exclusively for killing dozens of people at once.

Nothing can happen without a meaningful, purposeful conversation. Right wing, left wing -- conservative, liberal -- gun advocates, anti-gun advocates: our government must bring all of these groups together to find new, feasible actions that lead us once more to a kinder, gentler United States.

Put On the Armor of Light

"The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light."

(Romans 13:12)

The Armor of Light is Abigail Disney’s directorial debut. The film is set for release October 30, 2015. It follows the journey of an Evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. 

The film tracks Reverend Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life.  Reverend Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his long-time friends and colleagues who warn him away from this complex, politically explosive issue.

Along the way, Rev. Schenck meets Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager who was murdered in Florida and whose story has cast a spotlight on “Stand Your Ground” laws. McBath, also a Christian, decides to work with Schenck even though she is pro-choice. Lucy is on a difficult journey of her own, trying to make sense of her devastating loss while using her grief to effect some kind of viable and effective political action—where so many before her have failed.

Armor follows these unlikely allies through their trials of conscience, heartbreak and rejection, as they bravely attempt to make others consider America’s gun culture through a moral lens. The film is also a courageous look at our fractured political culture, and an assertion that it is, indeed, possible for people to come together across deep party lines to find common ground.

Watch the trailer for the film by clicking here:

2015 honors include -- Tribeca Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, Hamptons International Film Festival, AFI Docs Official Selection.

A Place To Start the Dialogue

As complicated as the matter of gun violence really is, people still seek short, direct answers. Jonathan Stray -- freelance journalist, former editor for the Associated Press, and instructor of computational journalism at Columbia University -- offers this article in the Atlantic Monthly for a short summary. Perhaps, it is a starting point for readers interested in stopping gun violence.

Stray's article is titled "Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers)" and it was printed February 4, 2013.

Click here to read the full Atlantic article: