Mind and Body

Sharing some good news, not just outrage

You read it here first: the recovery community in Rhode Island received a three-year, $450,000 federal award to expand the use of peer recovery coaches in the state

Image courtesy of Richard Asinof

On Friday, Oct. 27, sociologist Shannon Monnat will deliver a talk at Rhode Island College, entitled, "Landscapes of Despair: A Demographer's Take on Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Mortality."

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/16/17
All too often the good news around drug prevention efforts by the recovery community, news that is not being driven by elected officials, gets lost in the noise. You heard it here first: RICARES received a three-year, $450,000 award to support the expansion of peer recovery coaches in Rhode Island.
How will Shannon Monnat’s talk about the landscapes of despair and the connection of economic distress become part of the conversation by elected officials and agency executives in Rhode Island? When agency officials talk about addressing stigma, does that include the stigma of being incarcerated for drug offenses? Who will lead a stronger push for corporate liability, holding drug manufacturers and drug distributors accountable for their role in the overdose epidemic, similar to what happened with the tobacco industry? Will voters hold the members of Congress most responsible for gutting the enforcement capabilities of DEA to account in the 2018 elections, including Republicans Rep. Marcia Blackburn of Tennessee, who is running for the Senate, and Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania?
As we move into the 2018 political season, the question of how to measure the success of Gov. Gina Raimondo and her Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention remains an under-discussed subject by the news media.
When the Governor first took ownership of the Task Force action plan in May of 2016, she boldly said at the time that the goal was to prevent the loss of life and to reduce by one-third the number of overdose deaths, from 257 confirmed deaths in 2015 to 171 deaths by 2018.
But, as the epidemic changed, with fentanyl becoming an increasing factor in the number of overdose deaths in Rhode Island, the numbers grew in 2016 to 336 confirmed deaths. The exact total for the number of confirmed OD deaths for the first six months of 2017 remains unclear; the R.I. Department of Health website puts the total at 157; other sources say that the number is 172.
Despite the good work by members of the task force and community advocates, the question remains: does the state need to adopt a different strategy more focused on harm reduction, including the establishment of safe injection sites with the availability not just of Narcan but fentanyl testing strips to identify fentanyl in the illicit drug stream.
As Anne Case and Angus Deaton wrote in a recent op-ed published by The Washington Post, “We suspect that deaths of despair among those without a university degree are primarily the result of a 40-year stagnation of median real wages and a long-term decline in the number of well-paying jobs for those without a bachelor’s degree. Falling labor force participation, sluggish wage growth, and associated dysfunctional marriage and child-rearing patterns have undermined the meaning of working people’s lives as well.”
The talk by Shannon Monnat provides an opportunity for engaged conversation around the landscapes of despair in Rhode Island, based on the actual demographic numbers.

PROVIDENCE – In our lives, the speed of the news treadmill keeps getting ratcheted up, stoked by social media enterprises, with calculated algorithms to exploit our fears, translating the desire to share emotional outrage into click bait, pumping up the volume of clicks and ratings to sell advertising.

Mayhem, lethal car accidents, mass shootings, murders, devastation from hurricanes and wildfires, corruption, and racial conflict: yeah, there is an algorithm for those on Twitter and Facebook.

The desire is to create a ravenous hunger for outrage and then fill it with the vicarious thrill of human tragedy – much like the promise of those ubiquitous ads selling fast foods, soft drinks, and pharmaceuticals.

Step right up, everyone’s a winner, bargains galore, as Tom Waits once sang.

We often react and respond in anger: there is always someone else to target, to point the finger at, and blame for our own pain and discomfort. Call it a kind of displaced anger therapy.

[The Russians, it appears, were master manipulators during the 2016 Presidential elections, employing ads and bots on Twitter and Facebook to exploit those divisions to aid in President Donald Trump’s election.]

The manipulator-in-chief, President Donald Trump, has become a maestro of distraction, disruption and divisiveness, playing the keys on his Twitter account as a kind of Liberace playing “Chopsticks” at Carnegie Hall. In turn, the news media often behaves a bit like Pavlov’s dogs, drooling whenever the President sends out a tweet.

Holding his thumb and first finger together, President Trump often implores the public: “Believe me.” It appears to be a “tell,” as a high stakes poker player might describe it, of when he is not telling the truth.

Some good news
Amidst all the noise and distortion, here is some good news that has occurred far below the radar screen, unreported by the news media and not yet trumpeted in a news release by the Governor’s Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] recently notified the Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery, or RICARES, that it had won a competitive award for a three-year, $450,000 initiative as part of the federal Recovery Community Services Program-Statewide Network, according to Ian Knowles, project director of RICARES.

The purpose of the grant is to strengthen the state’s recovery community organization and to develop a statewide network of recovery stakeholders as key partners in the delivery of recovery support services, Knowles told ConvergenceRI.

Under the grant, RICARES will serve as the project lead in helping to support peer workforce development in Rhode Island. These activities include: integration of peer recovery supports into integrated primary and existing behavioral health care services; and the targeted expansion of the availability of addiction peer recovery support services into Bristol and Washington counties.

Translated, the recovery community will be the driver of expanding the availability of peer recovery coaches and supports in Rhode Island, a bottom-up approach.

This is the third major initiative now underway in the past year under the leadership of Monica Smith, the executive director of RICARES, according to Knowles. RICARES is currently partnering with the Parent Support Network of Rhode Island and with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Rhode Island to deliver ongoing trainings for the R.I. Certification of Peer Recovery Specialists. In addition, the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals recently awarded the contract to administer the R.I. Recovery Housing Certification for transitional housing for persons in recovery from addiction that operate under the standards of the National Association of Recovery Residences.

Translated, the recovery community in Rhode Island is becoming a constituency of consequence when delivering peer recovery and transitional housing services.

Some good reporting
The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” teamed up for an investigative report published on Sunday, Oct. 15, detailing how Congress, in response to a targeted lobbying, significantly weakened the Drug Enforcement Agency’s capability to pursue drug companies.

“In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets,” the story began.

“A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills,” the story continued. [See link to story below, “The Drug Industry’s Triumph over the DEA.”]

Here in Rhode Island, a new group, Prevent Opiate Abuse, is being organized, with the goal to create an effective lobbying, public relations and stakeholder education and outreach effort focused on curbing the opioid epidemic facing Rhode Island by preventing addiction at the source.

“We aim to make Rhode Island among the nation’s leaders in this area in order to prevent ruined lives and senseless deaths,” according to two-page description handed out at a recent fundraiser held on Oct. 12 in Providence. The initial goal is to raise some $50,000 to support those efforts, focused on significantly reducing the abuse of prescription opiate-based painkillers.

The effort is being led in part by Josh Rosenthal. Prevent Opiate Abuse’s campaign activities are being led by local political consultant Rob Horowitz.

The group said that it was planning a faith-based forum with religious leaders sometime this fall.

How exactly the new group is coordinating its efforts with state agencies and elected officials is not clear, although there appears to be some ongoing communication around specific legislation enacted by the R.I. General Assembly.

How the emphasis on limiting prescription painkillers fits into the growing presence of fentanyl-related deaths, which now comprise more than 50 percent of all overdose deaths in Rhode Island, is also unclear.

What role the new group would play within the current landscape of prevention efforts within Rhode Island has not yet been defined, but it appears that Prevent Opiate Abuse seeks to find common ground, expanding the prevention efforts.

Knowles of RICARES said that he was unaware of the new group, but said that he had conversations with Rosenthal’s brother, John, who is the founder of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, originally founded to support the Gloucester, Mass., police department’s angel program, which has spread throughout the country but not yet to Rhode Island. Knowles said that he found Rosenthal to be very credible and authentic.

Some good conversation
On Friday morning, Oct. 27, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., at Alger Hall at Rhode Island College, ConvergenceRI will host a talk by Shannon Monnat entitled, “Landscapes of Despair: A Demographer’s Take on Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Mortality.”

Monnat is the chair of the Lerner Chair for Public Health Promotion at Syracuse University, where she is an associate professor of Sociology.

Following her talk, a response panel will engage with Monnat, including: Holly Cekala, consultant and advocate, long-term recovery; Sen. Joshua Miller; Ana Novais, executive director of the R.I. Department of Health, and Traci Green, epidemiologist.

WPRO’s Steve Klamkin will serve as emcee. The talk is being sponsored by The Rhode Island Foundation.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration can be done through Eventbrite.

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