Saturday, December 16, 2017

"Nobody builds walls better than me."

On December 6th and 7th I was at an Opioid Symposium sponsored by the Health and Human Services Department.  Its title was “Connecting Data to Save Lives.” The Symposium was followed by a Code-A-Thon, a 24 hour event which brought teams of select invitees from all over the United States to develop data-driven solutions to the opioid epidemic using big data, machine learning, and technology. The Code-a-Thon teams participating in the overnight event searched for ways to improve access to treatment and recovery services and for ways to better identify at-risk populations for early and effective intervention using a huge database provided by HHS.  In short, they were using evidence and science-based methodology to help improve outcomes for an epidemic that threatens a vulnerable population of our citizenry. Learn more about the event here:


The Center for Disease Control is a part of the Health and Human Services Department.  I am baffled by the Trump administration’s ban on the CDC using the words or phrases “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

According to the Washington Post, senior CDC officials gave policy analysts the list of words during a meeting Thursday in Atlanta and told them they could not use those exact terms in any official documents being prepared for the 2019 budget being put together next year.


“Nobody builds walls better than me.” – President Donald J. Trump

In the past year I’ve written and said in more than one speech, “…in our common battle with addiction our biggest obstacle is a wall. It is the wall of stigma that hems us in and blocks the path toward long overdue change. It is a wall constructed of bigotry, discrimination, judgment, ignorance, shame, and fear. It is our responsibility to sound a clarion call, over and over, louder and louder, longer and longer, until – like the Biblical Joshua – we bring that wall tumbling down. Tumbling down to reveal an enlightened path of compassion on the other side, a path that becomes a road to recovery for all.”

Despite all the talk from the White House the President has done far more to reinforce the wall of stigma than he has to build a path of compassion. He is a disease out of control.  There are good people in government who want to make lives better.  People working to make lives better.  I’ve seen them in action.  There are clearly talented, willing citizens who want to assist.  We cannot, must not, let an ill- tempered, ill-advised braggart divide us or separate us from those who would help us heal.         



Friday, December 1, 2017

2017 Activity Summary


We’re proud to share what we done in the past year to honor the mission of the Where There’s A Will Fund. The Fund made its first distributions this past year.  Four groups we have  worked with closely were the beneficiaries.  Go to their websites to learn more about their good work. 

Addiction Policy Forum 
                                  
                       
Facing Addiction
                                               
          
Friends of Recovery  - New York


Partnership for Drug-Free Kids 
                       


We continue to work on our own:

Testimony
Margot and Bill joint testimony before Congressional Committee on Combating the Opioid Epidemic 2/28/17    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DVJrcZvqlQ&t=6s

Writing
Margot’s Letter to the Editor of The New York Times  http://nyti.ms/2xpa1QT

Two essays published in Addiction Unscripted
An essay in The Episcopal New Yorker
An essay in Motherwell - http://bit.ly/2xFS5gn
An essay on Partnership for Drug Free Kids Parent Blog  11/10/17

Partnership for Drug Free Kids Parent Blog 
5/11 – “The Insurance and Treatment System Failed This Family.
                Now They’re On A Mission To Help Others.”
6/13 – “9 Stories of 9 Inspiring Dads”

Speaking
International Overdose Awareness Day/Fed Up Rally
Morningside Park – Hurleyville, NY  8/31/17

Rachel Carson High School, New York City  10/11/17
Sponsored by the ’Mentor Foundation

Radio

Guest spots on WJFF 90.5, Jeffersonville, New York

Theater/Improv/Play Workshops

BIGVision - 3/17 & 10/17



Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Staff Workshop 11/29/17

Conference

HHS/Medicine X Opioid Design-a-thon Workshop - Presenter and Participant
Washington DC 12/5,6,7/17

http://opioidsymposium.org

Awards

Addiction Policy Forum
Bill recognized as a “2017 Advocate of The Year”

Caron – Greater New York Service Awards
An “Unsung Hero Award”

Caron's generous citation read: “Bill Williams is a father who lost his son to addiction, but his loss has driven him to passionately help others in need of hope and understanding. Since the death of his 24-year-old son, William, Bill works tirelessly to fight the stigma associated with substance use disorder by sharing his story to help others and speak to the desperate need for change. Current laws and societal patterns obstruct the recovery process for many, and Bill has worked with lawmakers, medical professionals, law enforcement, addiction researchers, community organizers and lobbyists to fight for change. He works with the Addiction Policy forum and Friends of Recovery New York to help bring about imperative changes in law. Bill also teaches theater and improv classes for BIGVISION, showing those recovering from addiction that they can find meaning, release and calm through the fun and joy acting and improv provides. His essays have appeared in publications for the New York Times, “Nora’s Blog,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, The Partnership for Drug Free Kids, Phoenix House, Freedom Institute, Medium, and Addiction Unscripted.com. Bill is an inspiration to all, showing how grief and loss can be transformed to benefit the lives of others.”





Saturday, September 30, 2017

FORE!

“So, Mr. Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives. After all, that is one of the founding principles of the United States of North America. If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.”

Those words could be from the parent of a child with substance use disorder in Manchester, New Hampshire; Louisville, Kentucky; Akron, Ohio; or so many other places in our country where millions need government action.  The pockets of this country where our former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the commission headed by Chris Christie have each outlined, redundantly, paths forward in the fight against the opioid epidemic that takes 144 American lives daily.

Instead they are the words of San Juan’s brave, heroic, mayor and leader, Carmen Yulin Cruz.  Not only has he failed to implement relief in a timely and effective fashion, our president prefers Twitter to chastise another politician, a Puerto Rican, a woman who has spoken truth to his power. 

Mayor Cruz said, “…when it comes to saving lives we are all part of one community of shared values.”  She was, alas, wrong.  Some of our citizens live on islands.  Islands surrounded by lots and lots of water, or lots and lots of stigma. Islands whose shared values have not reached the shore of Trumpland. 
Is Mr. Trump part of our community of shared values?  Is he preparing even overdue action for what lies ahead while he plays golf in Bedminster, New Jersey (a state that lost 1901 lives to opioids last year) today?

What lies ahead for these and other crises?  Fore! 



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.