Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Drug Epidemic - Where Are We Headed?


4/15/17

I came across the following interactive graphic in the New York Times’The Upshot” today.  Since 1990, the number of Americans who have died every year from drug overdoses has increased by more than 500 percent. In 2015, more Americans died from drug overdoses than from car accidents and gun homicides combined. When the statistics for more recent years become available indications are they will be worse.

I did a “tour” of every county I’ve lived in over the course of my life.  The statistics are horrifying.  The percentage of deaths in the 15-44 age group due to drug overdoses in 2015 in:

New York
       Nassau County 32%
       Manhattan 17%
       Sullivan 41%
       Ulster 23%
Pennsylvania
       Luzerne 30%
New Jersey
       Somerset 25%
Connecticut
       Litchfield 40%
Maine
       Cumberland 33%
Massachusetts
       Suffolk 32%
New Hampshire
       Hillsborough 46%

I shouldn’t be surprised, but nonetheless, I find the numbers in rural counties particularly alarming.
To do your own tour or to get a sense of the drug epidemic in this country go here:
 


  

  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Children of the Opioid Epidemic

At a small dinner party just recently a friend told us about her brother, a psychiatrist and addiction specialist in the Midwest.  Things have gotten so out of hand there that children requiring care because substance use renders their parents incompetent aren’t being placed directly into foster care.  A clogged, sluggish system only reviews placement options once a week.  In the meantime the children are given “shelter” in psychiatric wards.  Your guess is as good as mine as to which environment is safer: at home with addicted parents incapable of properly caring for them or in a ward amidst minds awry from causes other than drugs.  To compound this lose/lose situation, the children in temporary placement occupy beds needed for children who genuinely require treatment in a psychiatric ward. 

Lose/lose/lose.

I’ve been mulling this situation over ever since I first heard about it.  Today I saw an editorial in The New York Times - Children of the Opioid Epidemic.  You can find it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/young-victims-of-the-opioid-epidemic.html

While going online to locate the Times editorial I came across an earlier Wall Street Journal article, “The Children of the Opioid Crisis,” written by Jeanne Whalen on December 15th.  That reporting brought me full circle back to the Midwest.  You can find that excellent reporting here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-children-of-the-opioid-crisis-1481816178

The Journal article told, yet again, the story of police apprehending overdosed parents in Ohio parked in their car while their young boy was in the back seat.  My friend Jessica Nickel, the awe-inspiring leader of the Addiction Policy Forum, had written an essay about that boy.  For her the story was too close to home.   http://www.addictionpolicy.org/single-post/2016/10/05/The-Boy-in-the-Back-Seat 

Today there is one small, tragic, change of fact in Jessica’s story.  Back in October when she wrote, the statistic was 129 deaths a day due to drug overdoses. More current figures show that the number has risen to 144 a day! Worse, that number is likely to continue to rise before we see a decline.
  
As the addiction epidemic mounts it is clear that we not only have to act on   prevention, first responders, treatment, recovery, law enforcement and the judicial process.  We have to pay prompt and dedicated attention to the recovery of children affected by this crisis.  A compelling component of our recovery as a society is staring us in the face.  The Times reminds us, “There was a big spike in foster care cases during the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.  The government was far too slow to act then, and it is in danger of being dangerously behind the curve again.”  




Saturday, December 10, 2016

WILL TRUMP DELIVER?

At the beginning of this week I wrote Rachel Maddow.  Since the night of the election, I'd been thinking about the relationship between drug addiction and alcoholism and locales where Donald Trump prevailed. I had not considered the suicide rate.  Should have.  Here, in part, is what I wrote to Ms. Maddow:


"If you take a map of those places where Trump scored, or where Trump changed a county from blue to red and then overlaid a map of opioid abuse and drug deaths, I suspect you would find a startling congruence.  I’m suggesting that a significant number of Americans in dire straights have taken to A) narcotizing themselves to relieve the stress they feel and B) voting for Trump as another way to relieve that stress.  Have someone on your staff, or even better you (where you would get the time I cannot fathom – but it’s worth it) read Sam Quinones’s book Dreamland – The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.

It’s no secret that Rob Portman and Tim Ryan both represent Ohio and both have done influential bipartisan work to address the epidemic our country faces.  Hillary Clinton got out in front of understanding the epidemic in New Hampshire and offered the most comprehensive and thoughtful plan to fight addiction.  I’m not sure she caught on to what I’ve come to suspect, addicted America is Trump’s America.
Check it out."

Today, thanks to a friend, I got to read this article by James Hohmann.  As I said to Rachel Maddow, "Check it out!"



Time will tell on whether Trump delivers anything of substance to people with these afflictions in these afflicted areas.  It will already be too late for those who have completed suicide.  Will he and his team recognize that our environment is threatened not only from the outside, but from our insides and from what we put inside ourselves?  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Action Is Eloquence

December 2nd is, sadly, the fourth anniversary of William’s death.  At his memorial service Elizabeth, Margot and I made the following pledge:  “We promise to do everything in our power to educate and inform people about drug abuse and its prevention, to provide ever more enlightened treatment for addicts, to help make treatment options for addicts more readily available, and to remove the stain of shame surrounding this disease. “  The eulogy concluded with a quote from Shakespeare, “Action is eloquence.”

We have worked diligently in the past four years to honor our pledge.  We have had the loving support of friends and family.  We have met many others who have suffered loss as we have.  We have met and been supported by new friends who are strong advocates for addiction education, prevention, treatment, recovery, criminal justice reform, research, and fighting the stigma surrounding the disease.  Eloquent all.

Since the founding of the Where There’s A Will Fund we have let the fund grow while we’ve attempted to identify those organizations whose work we believe has the most informed impact in the fight against addiction. This year, for the first time, we have made some modest grants from the fund.  As I wrote to each organization yesterday, “Our means are finite, our gratitude for you and your work boundless.” Because of the generosity of so many of you we have been able to recognize:

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

The Addiction Policy Forum

Facing Addiction

Friends of Recovery – New York

I encourage you to go online get a sense of the fine work these people do.

You can go here to get a sense of some of our work - our testimony before the House Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic: Families Impacted by Addiction  5/18/16

 
Our hope is to continue to be able to support these organizations as generously as possible in the future.  We will continue to work with them, advising, speaking, writing, participating in conferences and workshops, all the while benefitting from their wisdom and guidance.  We will always remain alert for new opportunities to recognize outstanding organizations. 
   
For those of you who feel so inclined you may support the Where There’s A Will Fund by contributing to:
                                                             Community Funds, Inc.
Fbo The Where There’s a Will Fund

The New York Community Trust
909 Third Avenue
New York, NY  10022


Thank you all for your support in all its forms.  Action remains eloquent.


    


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hallelujah!

A month ago I read an article in The New York Times by Michael Paulson, ‘Hamilton’ and Heartache: Living the Unimaginable.  It told the story of Oskar Eustis, director of the Public Theater in New York City, who lost his sixteen-year-old-son Jack two years ago.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/theater/oskar-eustis-public-theater.html   Part of the article read:
“An MP3 arrived by email, hours after Jack’s death.  It came from Lin-Manuel Miranda, a new arrival to the Public fold.  It was a demo recording of “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the song from “Hamilton” describing Alexander Hamilton, and his wife, Eliza, as they grieve the death of their 19-year-old son, Philip:
‘There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down.’

“There is nothing you can say,’ Mr. Miranda recalled thinking. “And yet, I had a song about this. So I wrote to him saying, ‘If this is useful, then lean on it, and, if not, delete this email.’”

“Mr. Eustis and his wife found it useful. “Every line of ‘Quiet Uptown’ feels like it’s exactly correct to my experience,” Mr. Eustis said. “It was the only music we listened to for a long time, and we listened to it every day, and it became a key thing for the two of us.”

Earlier this fall my wife, Margot, and I had the sublime opportunity go to “Hamilton”.  We’d listened to the recording beforehand to familiarize ourselves with the show.  We remained unprepared, however, as “It’s Quiet Uptown” and the performance surrounding it moved us to tears.  Like Alexander Hamilton, like Oskar Eustis, we have experienced “the suffering too terrible to name”, the death of our son, William just after he turned 24.  We’ve had to “push away the unimaginable”, we know the just wanting to “swim down.”  I reacted the way Oskar Eustis and his wife did, listening to the same music every day, listening to it for a long time.
   
In the early afternoon of December 2nd, 2012, Margot, our daughter Elizabeth Hope, and I were squeezed into a small hospital room around the bedside of our son and brother William.  We’d spent the prior six weeks at his bedside, hoping for a miracle recovery; a brain deprived of oxygen after his heart had stopped beating for too long.  His heartbeat was restored by EMS personnel. Over the course of those six weeks, however, his damaged brain continued to wither.  His heart labored on as other body systems began to suffer from the stress they’d endured.  The end imminent, William was on morphine to guarantee he would suffer no pain.   The irony that a morphine derivative, heroin, had initially caused William’s heart to stop beating long enough to set off the sequence which would end with his imminent death was not lost on us.

We held William, caressed him and kissed him until he left us.  Moments later Elizabeth pulled out her cell phone, laid it near William’s head and played a song.  We’d played lots of music for William during those six weeks, especially anything by his favorite, Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Sometimes we’d sung to him, including “Happy Birthday” on November 18th, toward the end of the ordeal, as he turned 24. The song was new to me, Antony and the Johnsons' “Thank You For Your Love.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-Xdm5yS6PY I heard it and asked Elizabeth who the artist was and if she would play it again.  When we arrived home I found the song on You Tube and began playing it repeatedly.  I explored a bit and came across Antony’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will”. Instantly an old favorite, Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” compelled me. I listened to it over and over and over, lying in bed with my laptop, listening first to a gravelly Leonard Cohen himself singing it, then testing the renditions of all the artists I could find.  Sampling them all to distinguish comforting subtleties.  Listening obsessively, interrupted only by sporadic returns to “Thank You For Your Love.”  Ultimately soothed by repetitions of K.D. Laing’s rich offering, my ritual continued in the two weeks leading up to William’s memorial service.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_NpxTWbovE  I have no memory of when the rite tapered off.  I do know that I come back to the music when I need to, even finding something about the hateful embrace of heroin in all of Cohen’s lyric, most especially: “… love is not a victory march.  It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.”

Oskar Eustis’s description of his experience had, and has, a visceral similarity. “For me, the beautiful thing about ‘Quiet Uptown’ is, it serves a ritualistic function — it takes us into the grief, and then it takes us out of it,” Mr. Eustis said. “And there’s nothing, there’s no other ritual that I know of, that can do that for me.”
For me the music takes me back to that moment when hope for William flickered, even though I knew he was gone.  Death arrived before hope’s exit.  As Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, “We push away what we can never understand, we push away the unimaginable.” Somehow the chance to say, “Thank you for your love,” the celebration inherent in the word “Hallelujah” gets me into and out of, or at least a bit further removed from, the grief that is always a part of me.

For four years now a prolonged six-week anniversary of events darkens even more the fall season of gathering darkness.  This year the struggle and the ritual have been heightened by Leonard Cohen’s death.  “Hallelujah” has sprung forth from Kate McKinnon, a children’s choir, Facebook posts in honor of Leonard Cohen.  Is it quiet now where we live uptown on New York’s Upper West Side?  At the least, perhaps calmed by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnificently comprehending song and an unknown, now discovered bond with Oskar Eustis.

This November 18th there will be a “Hallelujah” for our lost boy/man, as Elizabeth, Margot, and I continue “working through the unimaginable”, sorely missing our moment to sing “Happy Birthday” to William.   




Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Letter to Lorne Michaels - International Overdose Awareness Day

I sent the following letter to Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live.  In April SNL aired an offensive parody of a commercial for a product called "Heroin AM".  I wrote Mr. Michaels and informed him of my displeasure at the time.  I received no response.  I will continue to pursue him until such time as I receive a proper response.  Here is the letter I wrote for International Overdose Awareness Day.





William H. Williams
220 West 98th Street
Apartment 5-A
New York, NY  10025


August 31, 2016


Mr. Lorne Michaels
Saturday Night Live
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112


Dear Mr. Michaels:

On April 17th of this year I wrote to you expressing my dismay over SNL’s ill conceived “Heroin AM” satire.  Here is the link to what I posted on my blog to help refresh your memory:


I was not alone in my disappointment, as you must be aware.  My friend Marcia Lee Taylor, President and CEO of Partnership for Drug Free Kids wrote you, along with many others, including numerous readers of my blog.  That blog piece continues to attract attention daily.  As of this writing, there have been 21,685 hits. Clearly you struck a raw nerve.  Nor has the pain subsided. 
Why do I write you now?  August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day.  It seems an appropriate day to remind you that the epidemic, which kills 129 Americans daily, has not diminished.  If anything, it gets worse.

As I’ve reflected with friends wiser than I on my initial letter to you, I’ve tried to come up with a more positive message. I was struck by something Ms. Taylor wrote you:  “…we don’t need parodies, we need solutions and resources. We need influencers like you, who have worked side by side with people affected by addiction, to join us in insisting that attention be paid, and resources devoted to preventing and healing this disease.”

In honor of your SNL colleagues who have succumbed to addiction, in honor of my son William, I ask that you and I find a time when we might meet to discuss solutions and resources.  I write in the hope that together we might help direct the proper and necessary attention to preventing and healing this disease. 

Without such attention the disease and the epidemic will not go away.  Please understand that my goal is to be positive and productive; the time for me to scold you is past.  The time to act is before us.  I can be patient.  I am persistent.  You need to know I’ve spoken before three Congressional committees, once before a U. S. Senate Addiction Forum, and addressed scientists and administrators at the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the invitation of its director, Dr. Nora Volkow.  In addition I’ve spoken to community groups and schools.  I will not rest until we have effected change in the battle against this disease.  I will not rest until I have had a chance to engage you in this endeavor.  

I am happy to come to you at a time and place most convenient for you.  I look forward to your response.  Said response would be the best personal outcome I could imagine as a result of International Overdose Awareness Day.

Respectfully yours,




Bill Williams


Cc:       Stephen B. Burke
            Marcia Lee Taylor   

        

Monday, August 8, 2016

Father First, Activist Second

I'm pleased to have this essay selected as a "Staff Pick" for Addiction [Unscripted]  Go to the link; read, comment, and share.  Thanks.

http://bit.ly/2aVjdxC