If you read my blog, follow me on Instagram, or have an ordinary conversation with me you are more than aware of my passion for this great non-profit the Rise N Hope House.
Why now and why this particular cause? I am drawn to the Rise N Hope House because there are so many cracks in our system of government and kids can’t vote or take measurable action to fix them. So it’s up to us – the adults – to do it for them. And this particular crack is contributing to so many of our nation’s gravest
social issues including homelessness, unwanted pregnancies, petty crime, trafficking, and drug addiction.
We Can Break the Cycle with the Rise N Hope House
How? We have 23,000 kids turning 18 every year across the country that are forced out of foster care with most having nowhere to go and little life skills for navigating as an independent, self-sufficient adult.
Chances are if you were placed in foster care one or both of your parents were too. We must fill in this gaping crack with an effective solution to prevent continuing the cycle from generation to generation.
I have been on the front lines in assisting with the launch of this new project through my affiliation as Community Manager of Reveal To Heal. I have spoken with people who experienced the challenging transition of aging out of foster care. That’s why I am urging you to take action today and donate to this brilliant solution.
How Will The Rise N Hope House Be Effective?
The Rise N Hope House will be a transitional home in New Jersey for youth aging out of foster care where they will live in a safe environment rent-free for up to 2 years. There they will receive life skills training by licensed professionals. This will include financial literacy, employment preparation, higher education options, and mental health counseling.
This home can be a model that towns across our state and across the country can imitate and expand upon. Choose your option for participating in this important cause from the buttons below.
This is not a topic we typically think about, much less discuss. But there is a tsunami of kids in foster care in our country. Right now there are 440,000 kids (almost half a million) currently in foster care in the US and more than 8 million worldwide (according to kidsave.org). Did you ever wonder what happens to these children if they don’t get adopted? It’s called aging out of foster care and it isn’t pretty.
Nationally, about 32,000 kids ages newborn – 17 are placed in foster care each year. And New Jersey has a disproportionate amount of the total with more than 3,600 kids currently living in foster homes (that’s more than 10%).
How Children End Up in Foster Care
To be removed from one’s family there has to be some type of neglect or abuse reported to the Division of Youth and Family Services. In turn, they visit the home and if they observe abuse and/or neglect they apply for a court order forcing the child (or in many cases children) to be removed. Often times foster kids shuffle from one foster home to another until they turn 18, at which point they literally age out of the system (termed emancipated). This means the state no longer is financially responsible to provide shelter, food, and other necessary essentials.
I don’t know about you, but at 18 I was definitely not ready to be living on my own as a responsible adult. At that age, I had just graduated high school and all I could think about was how happy I was to be out.
The Facts About Kids Aging Out of Foster Care
Nationally, approximately 23,000 kids age out of the system each year. And since New Jersey has roughly 10% of the total population – that means 2,300 18-year-olds are emancipated without family support, education, and community relationships that help them make successful transitions to adulthood.
Foster care kids typically endure traumatic childhoods filled with abandonment issues, low self-esteem, abuse, and insecurity. And at the tender age of 18, they are expected to magically become self-sufficient adults including finding a job, housing, furniture, and paying their monthly bills. Try paying rent in New Jersey on a minimum wage salary. It’s impossible.
The cold hard facts about kids who are emancipated are:
More than one in five will become homeless after age 18
Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19 (compared to 87 percent of all 19-year-olds)
71 percent of young women are pregnant by 21, facing higher rates of unemployment, criminal conviction, public assistance, and involvement in the child welfare system
At the age of 24, only half are employed
Fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25 (compared to 28 percent of all 25-year-olds)
Try searching for programs dedicated to helping these young adults and you will find only one in the state of New Jersey. But there is one person dedicated to changing that. Octavia Bradley, CEO of a non-profit titled Reveal to Heal. There are many legs to this organization, but a key focus is assisting youth aging out of foster care (as she personally did).
In addition to offering mental health services, workshops, and mentorships to these vulnerable teens, she is now taking a giant step forward with the goal of creating the Rise N Hope House. A first of its kind, it will be a transitional home for youth and young adults aging out of foster care where they can live for free and receive career, educational, and financial consulting as well as mental health services by trained professionals.
Help For Emancipated Youth
As a child advocate and the Community Manager of Reveal To Heal, I am dedicated to helping her see this mission through. I have a leadership role in the first fundraising event for Rise N Hope House. 100% of donations from this special event will go towards the purchase of a home in either Essex or Union County and converting it into a safe haven and life skills training resource.
I am organizing the Rise N Hope House Gala which takes place on September 3oth, 2023 at the beautiful Blue Rose Venue in Caldwell, NJ. The event will feature an art showcase produced by foster care kids, dinner, dancing, live DJ, and a live auction.
While most readers can’t possibly attend the event, please consider digging deep to donate to this worthy cause and help us give orphaned teens a better chance to thrive in the adult world.
Why is living in rural Mississippi like living in a third-world country? It is ironic that the United States of America is the richest nation in the world (by GDP standards) and at the same time has the highest percentage of people living in poverty. According to the US Census Bureau, as of January 2021, 37.9 million Americans lived in poverty, accounting for 11.6% of the total population compared to the 25 leading industrial countries’ average of 10.7 percent.
Living in rural Mississippi is like living in a third-world country because It is the poorest state in the country with almost 20% of its population living at or below the poverty line. The area known as the Delta is one of the poorest communities in Mississippi
and suffered catastrophic loss from the recent tornado that tore through the area. can the poorest county in the poorest state afford to recover? And that brought to mind the painful images and first-hand accounts of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Would Mississippi’s recovery look any different?
The definition used by the US government to define poverty is not having enough income to meet basic needs. This doesn’t include a new vehicle, smartphone, or computer. It does include a roof over one’s head, food, and other essentials. Doesn’t the picture to right look more like living in a third-world country than in Mississippi?
If you break down the poverty rates by age group, the story is much sadder. According to the Hill, children under the age of 18 have the highest rate of poverty.
Conversley, the lowest poverty rates are for people aged 65 and older. That’s due to the social safety net of Social Security. The poverty rate for children aged 5 and under is the highest at 18% according to The Hill.
Social Safety Nets Lift People Out of Poverty in America
So how did we get here? The increased rates of poverty in Mississippi and the country overall is not a result of unemployment or laziness. It is structural in nature. That means in the majority of poor families both parents are working, but they are still below the poverty line. “Low-wage jobs do not pay enough to provide even a modest standard of living; do not offer adequate benefits to meet the demands of raising children; and leave workers unable to invest in paths to prosperity (like education) or to save for retirement,” according to Oxfam.
The 117th Congress halved child poverty. Specifically, for six months in 2021 (during the pandemic), it lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty by temporarily expanding the Child Tax Credit. It provided $200 – $300 per month per child depending on income, number of people in the household etc.
Even with this proof that social programs can help, Mississippi remains a red state! Meaning its citizens vote largely for Republican lawmakers who oppose social safety net measures. Basically, Mississippians are largely voting against their own self-interest. Further proof reveals the state senate recently voted against expanding Medicaid benefits (part of Obamacare) for the poor. They are only one of 10 states to reject federal funding to do so. That’s why living in rural Mississippi is like living in a third-world country.
Are Missippians aware that 90% of the cost of Medicaid expansion comes from the Federal government? And only 10% comes from the state?
According to the NY Times, Medicaid expansion “would guarantee medical coverage to some 100,000 uninsured adults making less than $20,120 a year in a state whose death rates are at or near the nation’s highest for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and pneumonia.” Death rates are so high because the poor are largely uninsured and don’t have access to preventative care.
Since hospitals are not allowed to turn away patients without medical insurance, many hospitals in Mississippi are going bankrupt and closing at alarming rates. Some tornado evacuees had to travel as much as 50 miles to get to the nearest hospital for critical care.
Living in rural Mississippi more closely resembles living in a third-world country than it does living in the richest country in the world. Rural towns across the country are decreasing in population as new generations leave for better opportunities, leaving behind the elderly. In turn, this creates more economic distress.
Yes, Mississippi residents have poorer access to education, are populated with low-paying jobs, and face continuing racial prejudice. But, politically, those living in poverty in Mississippi, in part, have themselves to blame. They consistently vote for Republican leadership which firmly stands opposed to programs to help the poor.
My advice? The residents of Mississippi need to take a hard stand. Make sure your voice is heard and your vote counted. Get organized, peacefully protest, and most of all listen to the political candidates and find out where they stand on reducing poverty. Then pull the lever for only those who want to end it, because living in rural Mississippi should not be like living in a third-world country.
If you want to support victims of the tornado below are national charities with specific funds set up to provide assistance to the victims of the Mississippi tornado:
One of the non-profit organizations I devote my time to is Reveal to Heal. I use my professional business background to address a wide range of needs the organization has. Reveal to Heal offers a variety of cost-efficient services aimed at individuals and families in need. They provide counseling services, workshops, retreats, a food pantry, and clothing drives. The organization was started and is led by Octavia Bradley – CEO who is a true inspiration.
How Octavia Overcame Many Obstacles to Become a True Inspiration
Octavia grew up in the mid-1980s at the height of the crack epidemic in the Bronx. She lived with her mother a well-known crack dealer and a drug lord. Because of her vocation, she provided Octavia with stylish clothes, expensive toys, and other luxurious items.
At age seven everything turned around when her mother started using her own supply and quickly became a crack addict. Her mother would do almost anything to get money to support her habit and eventually Octavia was placed in foster care where she moved from house to house.
Octavia periodically escaped and naturally became a kid of the streets in many ways replicating her mother’s habits as children with a history of trauma tend to do. For more on the negative outcomes of growing up with Adverse Childhood Experiences read here. She was on a dangerous road.
How Octavia is a True Inspiration Today
With the help of mental health counseling, mentorship, and pursuing higher education, Octavia overcame her traumatic childhood and today holds a Master’s Degree, and is a Licensed Social Worker, working towards a Ph.D. She is highly motivated to help kids who are experiencing similar traumatic childhoods overcome their obstacles and become stable adults who can dream big.
After spending 15 years working as a substance abuse counselor, case manager, and family services worker for the state of New Jersey, she wanted to make a bigger impact on families who have suffered similar traumas and started Reveal to Heal. The name signifies the continuing stigma of seeking mental health assistance in the black culture.
Since its inception just a few years ago, Octavia has expanded Reveal to Heal to include a summer enrichment program, a therapeutic childcare center and, has set a goal to purchase a transitional home for kids aging out of foster care. Kids in foster care age out of the system at the crucial age of 18 and have no place to live. In turn, they often become homeless. Her vision of the transitional home (she calls Rise ‘N Hope House) would offer qualified young adults an opportunity to live for free while receiving mental health counseling, career counseling, and higher education counseling thereby giving them a shot at pursuing a successful life with real purpose. Octavia continues to identify needs in the community and address them with real solutions and that’s what makes her a true inspiration.
Did I mention she is also married, a mother of five, has written a book (available on Amazon), and does appearances and podcasts? Her drive and determination push the boundaries of how one person can truly make a positive impact on an entire community. She is a true inspiration. And personally, I find her problem-solving skills, leadership, and creativity to be contagious.
How are you helping to make your community a better place? For ideas on how to get involved use the resources provided below. Together we are powerful and hopefully, we can be a true inspiration to all.
Reveal to Heal – there are a number of ways to get involved. Follow the link provided and find out how you can help.
Volunteer Match – a nonprofit that matches your skills and interests with local charities. Once you sign up they email opportunities that match your profile.
Court Appointed Special Advocate – a national program advocating for kids in foster care in each state. Follow the link to see how to get involved in your area.
It’s hard to imagine, but newborn babies are placed in foster homes if the baby tests positive for drugs or the biological mother has a history of abuse or neglect. With the opoid crisis the numbers are climbing. Probably due to my own tumultuous childhood (read about it here), I am a strong advocate for babies in foster care. I advocate for them by being a Court Appointed Special Advocate of Essex County, NJ.
It is astounding to know that last year, nearly 1,000 children in Essex County (11,000 in the state and 400,000 nationwide) were placed in foster care, according to CASA’s statistics. These children ranging in age from birth to 21 months were removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Nearly all of the children CASA of Essex County serves come from families living at or below the national poverty line.
The CASA volunteers’ sole role is to represent the best interests of children who are placed in foster care. We ensure they are living in a safe environment by doing home visits, speaking with their pediatricians about their level of care, as well as with their teachers, and guidance counselors. And we report everything we find to the judge at the hearings.
It is immensely gratifying work and I get great satisfaction from it. But, because there is a growing number of babies in foster care (in part due to the opioid epidemic in Essex County), they initiated a pilot program called the “Safe Babies Program.” I was assigned an 8-month baby who was taken from their mother at birth because she tested positive for heroin and falls under the Safe Babies Program. The goal is to stay much closer to the baby than those CASA volunteers assigned to children who are 3-18 years old.
Instead of doing a home visit once every three months, we do them every month. Hearings are also once per month instead of once every three months. The idea behind this program is to put in place additional safeguards since a lot can change in one month in the life of babies in foster care.
Luckily, my baby is a sweet constantly cooing irresistible red-headed green-eyed beauty. She is placed in a loving, beautiful home, she is quite attached to her foster parents and they hope to be able to adopt her. But it hasn’t been decided yet.
Typically, the biological parents have 12 months to prove they are capable of providing a safe environment before any long-term decisions are made. In my case, the biological mother lives alone in an apartment, is unemployed, receives federal assistance, and has been addicted to heroin since the age of 13 (she is now in her early 30’s). Her mother died of an opioid-related overdose and she has chosen to give up 3 other children for adoption. But she is highly motivated to make this one work.
The baby is now 9 months old and the biological mom has reached each milestone mandated by the court including outpatient rehab treatment, twice weekly visits with the baby, passing drug screens, and will be going inpatient this week. Like with all foster cases, the overriding hope is to return the baby to the biological parent (no father has been identified).
While we root for mom, I can’t help but wonder what the long-term effects of taking this baby away from its foster home — the only home she’s ever known? Detachment Disorder is just one of the many psychological effects she can suffer as a result. For a better understanding, view my blog on the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
The foster home is filled with siblings, has 2 playrooms, age-appropriate toys, lots of love and the schools in the area are top-notch. Whereas, the mom lives in an apartment, in a lower-income area where schools are questionable.
But the most important obstacle to getting the baby back to her mom is the mother’s battle with opioid addiction. The statistics on recovery are discouraging. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin users’ relapse rate is nearly 80%. That can mean 1 slip or a lifetime of continued abuse.
I know firsthand how hard it is to kick an opioid addiction. My son struggled with it for 7 long years and we were fortunate enough to be able to provide him with the very best care. Unfortunately, he succumbed to it and passed away 6 and a half months ago from an accidental Fentanyl overdose (read about it here).
I truly hope this biological mom gets well and she can be a shining example for all babies in foster care, but I have to admit I am somewhat skeptical. I’m interested in your thoughts. Please comment below
It’s been a long six months since my son died from a fentanyl overdose. And while writing about is challenging, I continue to advocate about it so it doesn’t happen to you. Please view my recent posts about Fentanyl here and here.
CNN recently aired a town hall meeting titled America Addicted – The Fentanyl Crisis. It was both informative and emotional. They represented all sides of this scourge from doctors, sociologists, and the DEA Administrator to parents who lost their kids from Fentanyl overdoses.
How Much Fentanyl Is There?
The DEA released new numbers regarding seizures of Fentanyl. In 2022 12,000 pounds of Fentanyl were seized by the agency and so far in just 2 months of 2023 they have already seized 14,000 pounds (that’s more than three times the amount). Last year one seizure in South Carolina included enough Fentanyl to kill the entire population of the state. Obviously, our country’s efforts to combat the supply are clearly failing.
The Fentanyl Trail
So how does it get here? Tracing the manufacture and sale of the drug reveals the precursor drugs are made in labs in China (and their government is well aware and does nothing to sanction them). The labs ship the precursor drugs to Mexico where they are transformed into either pills that look exactly like a prescription drug (like Oxycontin, Adderall, Xanax, Ativan etc.) or powder form to mimic cocaine, heroin, or Methamphetamine.
What You Need to Know so You Can Help Your Kids From Overdosing
The cartels have gotten very sophisticated in their ability to sell the drug globally. They target teens on the internet using fake social accounts. They befriend kids for a while before trying to sell them the lethal drug (no more than the size of a pencil point is needed to overdose). Many kids overdosed last year by unknowingly purchasing the drug on platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Snapchat, and Instagram. In essence, the Mexican cartels purposely murdered our children. The DEA says these sites do not allow any outside auditors or other security teams to review their technology to detect and shut down the fake accounts that sell them.
According to Ann Milgram – the DEA Administrator, this is a new drug crisis unlike any other we have seen in the past. Cartels used to sell illicit drugs like cocaine and marijuana – which teens knowingly experimented with. Now they are purposely out to murder them.
How My Son Died From an Accidental Fentanyl Overdose
My son was in a Methadone program for the last two years of his life. It worked really well in helping him combat his Substance Use Disorder. But, during those years the drug supply drastically changed, and when he had a “slip” (which is extremely common during recovery) he died from an overdose of Fentanyl.
In his case, he bought it on the streets of Newark, NJ (about a 15-minute drive from our suburban community) where young dealers stand on many street corners knowingly selling lethal doses of Fentanyl under the pretense that is another drug. We’ve seen it with our own eyes and it is frightening. And if we know who and where they are, don’t the police have an obligation to arrest them over and over until they scare them out of the business?
This is essentially a national healthcare crisis for kids and parents. That’s why every arm of the government from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the National Institute of Health and the Health and Human Services Agency must pool their resources to keep our kids alive. This is not a political issue, a race issue, or a sociological issue. Fentanyl-related deaths cross all parties, colors, and socio-economic groups.
Don’t Let it Happen to You
Here are some very practical measures you can take to make sure this doesn’t happen to you:
Make sure your teen has Narcan (a nasal spray that reverses overdoses) on them at all times. In most states, it is sold over the counter at a drugstore. While it won’t save their own life because once a person is overdosing they won’t be able to use it, it could save a friend’s life
Make sure your child’s school has a plentiful supply of Narcan on hand and that kids are aware of how to access it.
Reinforce to your son or daughter that if they are having problems with anxiety (or any other mental health issue) they know to come to you for help rather than self-medicating by purchasing a counterfeit pill online.
Look for signs of opioid addiction in your kids (dilated pupils, red eyes, slurred speech, craving sugary foods, and listlessness) and make recovery options available.
Educate your kids about the very real dangers of innocently experimenting (as teens will do) with any pill or powdery substance at a party, a friend’s house, and especially from the internet.
If you know someone who died of a Fentanyl overdose, you can have their picture posted on a wall at the DEA in their latest exhibit titled “Faces of Fentanyl.” Send their name, date of death, and attach a picture to email@example.com or add a pic to any social accounts you have with the hashtag #JustKNOW and they will add it to the wall.
Remember when you were in grade school there was always a kid(s) who continually spoke out of turn, was absent a lot, or just generally misbehaved? While it tested our patience, that kid didn’t have a choice. His behavior was likely the result of having Adverse Childhood Experiences in his home environment. It has been scientifically proven that; Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are the leading cause of health and social problems in our nation.
Instead of blaming and repeatedly punishing the child, like teachers and guidance counselors do or politicians who say, “the breakdown of the family unit is the reason for the turmoil in our society,” we need to dig deeper to better understand the reasons for their behavior.
Simply put, we need to use the research to help children and families to resolve the underlying reasons for their behavioral issues. And thanks to the long-term studies of ACEs we have the scientific proof that accounts for them and how best to resolve them.
The adverse Childhood Experiences Study was first published in 1998 and included 17,000 respondents across cultures, communities, and various economic levels. The study provides insight into how repeated trauma affects not only the individual but whole communities.
Adverse Childhood Experiences – The Study
You know the expression kids are like human sponges? That’s because their brain is rapidly developing more during childhood than at any other time of life.
Nature Vs Nurture
As parents, we wrestle with the impact we have on our kid’s behavior and personalities. When they behave well we like to take credit (attesting to our ability to properly nurture them). When they exhibit poor behavior we like to say they were born this way (nature). For the first time, the ACES study proves that the nurture portion has more impact on the brain than previously thought.
That’s because we are not born with hard-wired brains. A child’s experiences early in life are important building blocks for brain development. While genes (nature) determine the basic blueprint for the brain, environmental influences fine-tune how the brain works and determines which brain connections get used. Connections that are used often grow stronger and more permanent, whereas ones that do not get much use fade away. So we now know that a child’s environment physically changes the structure of the brain.
For example, a child that experiences severe stress will have poor development of its prefrontal cortex and the hypothalamus – the areas of the brain responsible for logical thinking and memory.
There are 3 general categories that ACES fall into:
When stress is frequent, chronic, and uncontrolled it adversely impacts a child’s brain development with the secretion of increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This part of the brain gets overly activated and the child responds to potentially dangerous situations with the “fight or flight” instinct. The child is left with high anxiety levels that can lead to lifelong issues with learning and behavior.
According to Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, “childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. She explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.”
As a survivor of repeated childhood trauma, I can personally attest to the long-term effect it has had on my mental health. I’ve been able to overcome much of my adverse childhood experiences by changing my brain structure – using a combination of modalities including psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, meditation, yoga, and consistent exercise. View my personal journey here.
Dr. Burke also says, “Toxic stress during childhood can affect the processing of sound, development of verbal language, perception of social cues and facial expressions, and the ability to coordinate movement or to integrate rational ideas when in a highly emotional state.”
“Toxic stress can also affect brain interaction with body systems and lead to disease, disability, and social/relational problems throughout the life course. But childhood times are also windows of opportunity for building resilience – after all, the developing brain is sensitive to all kinds of experiences.”
Epigenetics – Passing Down the Genes
Generally, a child that grows up in a home with repeated ACEs is likely to have parents who grew up in similar adverse circumstances. It is passed down from generation to generation and is termed “Epigenetics.” Epigenetics is an emerging area of scientific research that shows how environmental influences—children’s experiences—actually affect the expression of their genes.
The epigenome can be affected by positive experiences, such as supportive relationships and opportunities for learning… or negative influences, such as environmental toxins or stressful life circumstances.
Experiences very early in life, when the brain is developing most rapidly, cause epigenetic adaptations that influence whether, when, and how genes release their instructions for building future capacity for health, skills, and resilience. That’s why it’s crucial to provide supportive and nurturing experiences for young children in their earliest years.
ACEs plus Epigenetics combine to create entire communities with health and social problems in our nation. Instead of blaming victims who exhibit these issues, we can help people who have experienced repeated trauma, neglect, poverty etc. to overcome their behavior and health problems that will also positively affect entire communities as well.
Solutions to the Leading Cause of Health and Social Problems in Our Nation
The first step in making significant change is to educate parents, teachers, childcare providers, and pediatricians about the science and provide them with the skills to use instead of using purely punitive measures. You can’t punish trauma out of a child.
Services such as high-quality health care for all pregnant women, infants, and toddlers, as well as support for new parents and caregivers can—quite literally—affect the chemistry around children’s genes.
Supportive relationships and rich learning experiences generate positive epigenetic signatures that activate genetic potential and can help cure the leading cause of health and social problems in our nation.
To learn more about ACEs and ways to combat them refer to the following resources:
Some of the most disturbing recent statistics about overdose deaths in this country are the dramatic increases among Black and Hispanic populations. At the same time, overdoses have steadily decreased in the white population (who still account for the majority of deaths). Underserved communities have less access to treatment – which is insanely expensive. That’s why I support the work Prevention Links (and other non-profits like them) which is making addiction recovery accessible to all.
Addiction Recovery is Big Business
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, the average cost of an inpatient 30-day recovery program is $9,766. For best results, patients should stay for 90 days which would cost $29,298. And there’s no guarantee it will work. The data shows that 40-60% of patients will relapse. In total, drug rehabilitation generated $10.1 billion in 2022.
Addiction Recovery Accessible to All
Prevention Links is a private non-profit organization that is more than 50 years old and takes a leadership role in the prevention of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and related issues. Essentially, it makes addiction outpatient recovery accessible to all. This means all services are freeto substance abuse victims and their families – making addiction recovery accessible to all.
It is a critical service since accessing inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and medication treatment are all incredibly expensive. Most addicts in underserved communities do not have medical insurance or Medicaid which is not accepted by most recovery programs, psychologists, and psychiatrists anyway. That’s why it is such an essential resource.
Right up front in the Permanent Links mission statement, it says, “At Prevention Links, diversity, equity, and inclusion are foundational to the work we do. The heart of our mission is to shape healthier, stronger communities. We recognize the rich diversity of the communities we serve and reflect it: in our services, our staff, and our management. Through our work, we have seen the negative impact that inequities and overall lack of inclusivity have on our communities. We acknowledge this ongoing injustice individuals face in their everyday lives and we commit to actively fostering change .”
Permanent Links can make addiction recovery accessible to all because it is funded by State grants, Federal grants, corporate donors, and individuals. They now have centers in 4 locations in New Jersey and even created the first sober public high school. They offer numerous evidence-based programs for those with substance abuse disorders and their families. There are several different programs that are an alternative to the 12 Step Program. While the 12-step Program can be effective, there are many users who don’t find it helpful.
The Importance of Family Support and Understanding
How families cope with their child’s substance use disorder can make all the difference. That’s why Prevention Links meshes individual counseling and peer support with family and group support. As parents, our reactions, language and support are critical to minimizing the shame the user experiences bringing them closer to the family. It also helps to share experiences with peers so parents don’t feel alone and ashamed. Believe me, I wish I knew about this resource when I was going through my son’s opioid addiction for seven years.
If you appreciate Permanent Links’ mission to make recovery accessible to all you can donate and/or volunteer your time to help get more services to those in need. You can donate to my son’s memorial fund here. Or find out more about volunteering here.
I hope those of you or someone you know who are currently battling this disease, owill join the fight today.
One day before 14-year-old Alexander Neville entered a substance abuse treatment facility he took one last oxycontin pill he purchased on Snapchat. Unfortunately, the pill was pure Fentanyl and he overdosed. With 858,00 deaths so far this year, our government needs to focus on Fentanyl overdoses.
This story should set alarm bells for all parents of teens across the country. I’m not sure which is scarier the fact that teens can purchase illicit drugs on social media or that the drugs they buy are marketed as being something other than Fentanyl.
Drug dealers target teens on social media, pretending to be just another teen. They develop close relationships with them over time so they can manipulate them in all kinds of ways. This includes convincing them to send nude photos, potentially meeting and physically abusing them as well as sell them drugs that can kill them.
Fentanyl is made in labs in Mexico and China and comes in through border towns in the US. Fentanyl is now the number one drug the Cartels are smuggling into our country and it is deadly (see Fentanyl Overdoses Are Killing Our Children here).
Drug Use Remains Stable – But Overdoses Are Skyrocketing
According to the Los Angeles Times article (pictured above), “drug use among teens ages 14 to 18 remained relatively stable between 2010 and 2020, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” But, The Times also reports the number of overdoses is skyrocketing. Teen fentanyl-related deaths more than doubled, from 253 in 2019 to 680 in 2020 to 884 deaths in 2021.
In 2020, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Gang and Narcotics Division seized about 117,000 fentanyl pills, Det. Art Stone said. That number ballooned to 858,000 pills in 2021. So far this year, nearly 3 million fentanyl pills have been seized, Stone said.
Overdoses and abuse of prescription drugs have decreased percipitously since the government cracked down on opioid pain relievers in 2016. However, overdoses have risen dramatically because teens are known to experiment with drugs, but have no clue what is in them. Pills like Adderall and Ritalin are known to be helpful for increased concentration which is ideal around exam time. But often these teens receive a pill made with Fentanyl instead. Some kids are searching for something to ease their anxiety and buy what they think is Xanax which turns out to be Fentanyl.
Our Government Needs to Focus on Fentanyl Overdoses
We need our government to focus on Fentanyl overdoses and towards that goal I am proposing a national task force solely focused on this crisis. The task force needs to stop/slow down the Cartels from smuggling it into our country and provide better education to teens about the drug and how it gets marketed.
To make this change I urge you to write or call your Congressman and/or Senator and plead for these ideas to be put into effect. Below is a sample letter you can download and use if you so desire.
To make it easy to reach out, you can find out who your congressman is by clicking here and then click on the contact button at the top of the page. For your convenience, I’ve also provided all the house reps by district for all of New Jersey, and most of New York State (since these are the areas where most of my readers reside):
Together we can fight to slow down/end this massacre of our children. Without your help, we will watch at least another 858,000 teens die in 2023. Please make your voices heard.
Update on Advocating For More Government Involvement:
Since I wrote this piece two days ago, I called my congressman’s office about the need to do more about the skyrocketing deaths of teens from Fentanyl. They got right back to me and I will be meeting with them shortly. I just found out a new statistic that you can inform your teen about. Fentanyl is now in 97% of the drug supply in the US. They use it in a pill format (i.e. Ritalin, oxycontin etc.) and in powder formats (i.e. cocaine and heroin). Remember it’s 10 times stronger than Morphine and just taking 1 pill or 1 snort is enough to overdose. Together we can fight to slow down/end this massacre of our children. Without your help, we will watch at least another 858,000 teens die in 2023. Please make your voices heard. Call Your Congressman Now!
It’s been a long six months since my son died from a fentanyl overdose. And while writing about is challenging, I continue to advocate about it so it doesn’t happen to you. Please view my recent posts about Fentanyl here and here. CNN recently aired a town hall meeting titled America Addicted – The Fentanyl…
Every15 minutes at least one person dies of a drug overdose in this country. From April 2020 to April 2021 (the most recent data available) The Center for Disease Control estimates over 100,000 people died from overdoses. That number is up from 76,000 in 2020. Two-thirds of those deaths were from the synthetic opioid called Fentanyl. Teens and young adults are known to experiment with drugs and alcohol — it’s almost a right of passage. But now, they are unknowingly consuming a drug called Fentanyl and fentanyl overdoses are killing people by the thousands.which is killing people by the thousands.
According to CNN, adolescent overdose deaths in the United States more than doubled from 2010 to 2021, jumping from 518 to 1,146 deaths annually. The good news? Drug use has substantially decreased among teens. But when they experiment with drugs like Adderal, Xanax or Oxycodone from a dealer, they are likely taking Fentanyl instead. And that’s why Fentanyl overdoses are killing people by the thousands.
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used for medical purposes for patients in severe pain post-op.
But now it is being produced in labs in China and smuggled in through Mexico to the United States. Cartels distribute Fentanyl by the kilogram. One kilogram of fentanyl (approximately 2 pounds) has the potential to kill 500,000 people. Most drug users don’t know they are taking something mixed with Fentanyl so they take a normal dose and end up dying.
This year Florida has had more Fentanyl-related deaths than any other state. To help combat this, they are providing Harm Reduction services right at Fort Lauderdale Beach where many Spring Breakers go to party. They have a mobile unit on-site in case anyone overdoses from Fentanyl. Plus they are distributing kits with Narcan – a drug that can prevent a patient from overdosing if given early enough.
Fentanyl-Related Deaths Don’t Discriminate
Fentanyl-related deaths cross all races and socio-economic groups. In just the last few years we lost a lot of well to do, writers, musicians, and actors from fentanyl overdoses:
Preventing Fentanyl From Killing More People
In addition to the occasional user, opioid addicts are dying in droves from Fentanyl. In San Francisco, in 2021 there were twice as many Fentanyl overdose deaths as Covid deaths, most of whom were heroin addicts. Addicts use Fentanyl knowingly and unknowingly. The knowing group uses it because it is cheaper than heroin and a little goes a long way. Unknowing users don’t know that it is mixed in with either the pill they dead. We need to better educate occasional users as well as addicts about the high risk of Fentanyl overdoses.
One group that is doing a great job of advocating for those at risk is The National Harm Reduction Coalition, a non-profit organization solely committed to preventing overdoses. Instead of being judgemental or shaming users, they treat them with humanity. The Harm Reduction volunteers are there to help keep the addict alive. Some of the critical services they provide are:
Narcan Distribution – a drug in nasal spray or injection form that reverses the effects of an overdose if administered during the actual overdose. Police and EMS workers now carry it on hand.
Needle Exchanges – dirty needles can cause abscesses (serious bacterial infections) amongst other problems for the addict because they use the same needle over and over to save money. Needle exchanges allow the addicts to turn in their used needles for new ones.
Distribution of Fentanyl test kits – so the user can test the levels of Fentanyl in the drugs he buys.
Political Action – New Jersey just passed The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) which decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions. Treating addicts like criminals instead of treating them with dignity does nothing to stem the problem. It makes them self-isolate, which only perpetuates the addiction.
Let’s Fight to Keep the Influx of Fentanyl
While almost every young person experiments with drugs the consequences have never been higher. While 90% of adults will never get addicted in their lifetime, we treat the 10% who do like criminals. Instead of using punitive measures to curb the use of drugs, it should be treated like the mental health issue it is (like eating disorders). Our jails are filled with non-violent drug addicts who would be much better off getting therapy and medication instead of losing their rights as a citizen. Incarcerating an addict is like jailing a person who has diabetes without providing them with insulin. It is the absolute opposite approach to remediating their addiction.
Even today, with all of the science to the contrary, there is still a drug possession arrest happening in the US every 23 seconds. Some states (like New Jersey) have revised the statutes so simple possession is no longer a crime. While most people think decriminalization would increase usage the facts prove just the opposite:
Millions of people would no longer be arrested, (re)incarcerated, deported, and burdened by criminal records
It would free up law enforcement for more serious offenses
Prioritize health and safety over punishment for drug users
Stop the illegal importing of Fentanyl
Prevention of More Fentanyl Related Overdoses
As parents, we need to get the word out to our children about the lethal dangers of taking Fentanyl before it is too late. The teens think they’ll be safe because they are buying a prescription drug like Adderall, Oxycodone, or Xanax. Instead, they are buying a synthetic pill manufactured by Mexican Cartels. A 14-year-old in Connecticut took 1 pill (thinking it was Oxycodone) and it had enough Fentanyl in it to kill 4 people. He bought it off of Snapchat.
How about the 4 West Point cadets who went to Spring Break in Florida and overdosed on what they thought was Cocaine, but it contained Fentanyl? Two are currently on ventilators. What you can do to save your kid(s):
Talk to your teenagers (as young as 12) about the risk factors inherent in buying street drugs or drugs off the internet
Tell them what Fentanyl is, how it is likely mixed into whatever drug they are buying, and its effects on the human body
Provide them with literature about the dangers of Fentanyl
I hope the urgency of this issue motivates you to stand up for drug users and addicts, recognize the disease for what it is, advocate to fund more resources for treatment, and most of all treat them with dignity.
If you or someone you know is addicted to drugs they can call the 24-hour National Help Hotline at 800 662-4357.
Ways to Get Involved
You can volunteer, donate money or help get the word out about Fentanyl through these 3 and many other organizations:
Boy, the shit has hit the fan on this issue. I can’t believe in 2022 the supreme court overturned a hard-fought battle to make Roe V Wade a national law in 1973. Abortion has now been legal for 49 years. But this past summer, the Supreme Court voted to overturn it nationally and send it bake to the states to make their own abortion laws. That’s WhyRoe V Wade is such a big deal. So why are we considering taking a giant step backward in this modern era?
The answer is twofold – the first is men and their power base and their need to control women. The second is the conservative Christian’s view about when life begins. Can you imagine if the situation were reversed and we were debating whether men should have the right of agency over their own bodies? It would never happen. That’s why the Roe V Wade ruling is such a big deal.
If we look at the statistics, while abortion initially increased substantially right after Roe V Wade was passed in 1973 – 1980, since then (from 1981 through 2017) the abortion rate fell approximately in half, according to the Center for Disease Control. In the 1970s, the conservative movement peddled unfounded fear that if abortions were to become legal it would be used as a birth control method and abortion rates would soar. unfounded.
Why Roe V Wade is Such a Big Deal:
Anti Abortionists – I refuse to call this group “pro-lifers” since the other side isn’t “pro-death.” Anti-Abortionists are composed of a minority of Christian religious right activists. They believe that life starts at conception. That’s what their religion teaches them. So, they don’t believe abortion should be legal at all even in cases of rape and incest because it goes against their religious beliefs. But we are a country of diverse religions, many of which do not share this belief.
Additionally, our country was founded on key democratic principles, one of which is the separation of church and state. Overturning Roe V Wade for religious reasons removes the separation of church and state and could lead to other religious beliefs dictating laws like gay marriage. That’s why overturning Roe V Wade is not only a big deal but a huge one.
Pro-Choice – This side is the majority of voters who believe that according to a recent poll by Reuters of 998 voters (since the Supreme Court’s ruling was leaked), “52% of respondents said it should be legal in most or all cases, while 40% said it should be illegal in most or all cases.”
This group is backed by the constitution’s 14th amendment. The amendment was primarily added in 1868 to provide civil rights to black/minority people. But it also includes the clause “the right to privacy without any government interference.” So Pro-Choice advocates and the Supreme Court from 1973 onwards believed women were solely responsible to make the decision to abort a private matter.
Why Roe V Wade is Such a Big Deal
If abortion were to become outlawed in the US, we would be joining only 24 third-world countries with this law. This includes; the Dominican Republic, The Congo, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Jamaica, Laos, Madagascar, Malta, Nicaragua, Senegal, Sierra Leon and the Palestinian Territories. Conversely, abortion is legal in Canada, most of Europe, Australia and Russia.
My Opinion on Why Roe V Wade is Such a Big Deal
It’s frightening to think that individual states are now responsible to decide on the legalities associated with abortions in their states. It’s no surprise that blue states are shutting down clinics and outlawing all abortions, even if the mother was raped or is in danger of losing her life if she gives birth. I am not a Christian, so I don’t share their religious beliefs about life beginning at conception. But they are actually valuing the life of the fetus over the mother. What kind of religion does that?
Just like many other laws in this country, just because something is legal doesn’t mean you have to participate. Simply put, if you don’t believe in abortion – don’t have one. But should your religious beliefs govern the many thousands of Americans who believe differently? It’s a lot like the gun control debate. Personally, I would never own a gun, but they are legal. So, if you want one, by all means, go get one.
It may or may not be right for me to have an abortion, but I don’t think I should have an opinion on whether you should be allowed to have one or any number of personal decisions about how to live your life.
The idea of a religious belief becoming law in a diverse and democratic country like the United States makes the Roe V Wade debate a very BIG deal.
Whatever side you are on make sure your voice is heard by voting on November 8th, 2022.
Remember the days when your worst fear raising kids was them falling down and skinning a knee? Today parents still fret over innocuous accidents but are much more anxious about the rise of very real threats they have no control over. Threats like mass school shootings, the possible turnover of Roe V Wade, and the huge number of adolescent drug overdoses. These are some serious reasons for parents to feel more fearful than at any other time. Taken together, parents are having a healthcare crisis.
And they (and their children) need our help if they are going to make it through with their mental states intact.
Parents Healthcare Crisis 1
Mass shootings are a devastating healthcare crisis for parents and their families. And since the number of them is skyrocketing, there is an ever-widening number of people directly impacted by them such as the victims, the victim’s parents, parents of their kid’s friends, teachers, the shooter and his family and friends, the first responders, policemen and women and their friends and family. That’s alot of people in crisis.
According to the Washington Post, “Mass shootings, where four or more people — not including the shooter — are injured or killed, have averaged more than one per day so far this year. Not a single week in 2022 has passed without at least three mass shootings.” If that’s not a healthcare crisis for those parents I don’t know what is. These frightening statistics move the issue from being a political one to a health care crisis because the results are death, extreme depression, and anxiety.
“In 2021, almost 700 mass shootings occurred, a jump from the 611 in 2020 and 417 in 2019. Before that, incidents had not topped 400 annually since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking in 2014.” To date, 256 people have been shot and killed so far in 2022 – not including suicides, murders, gang violence, and all other types of shooting deaths. If each shooting affects approximately 20 people that’s 6,120 in crisis.
The mental health toll on the shooting survivors and their families (more than 14,000 people per year) is so traumatic some say they will never be the same as they were prior to the shooting experience.
In my mind assault weapons should be reserved for the military and police only. No one goes hunting with an assault weapon, nor needs to own them for recreational use. The fact is more people die from suicide by a gun than they do from mass shootings. And the reason is that guns are so accessible and therefore tempting.
Parents Healthcare Crisis 2
Abortions; plain and simple. Since they were legalized in 1973 death by abortion has dropped significantly and the number of abortions performed has dropped significantly as well. According to the CDC roughly 1.5 Million abortions were performed in 1980 and 862,000 were performed in 2017 (the last year the CDC updated the numbers). That’s a drop of about 50%. So fears that abortions would be used as a form of birth control by anti-abortionists are completely unfounded.
Instead, it’s just the opposite. Women having better access to healthcare prevents them from having unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Now they have access to medical professionals to discuss all types of birth control, specifics about abortion, and other choices they can make. You can read about it in more detail here.
Parents Healthcare Crisis 3
Addiction and overdoses. It has been proven that addicts are people with a mental health disease plain and simple. They are not criminals (though they may steal to get enough money for a fix) and they are not people who simply can’t control their impulses. They are mentally ill and require medical, and psychological treatment to effectively combat the disease. You can read more about Fentanyl in my previous post.
Punitive measures like jail time and fines do not help the addict overcome his/her illness. Instead, we should be thinking about putting harm reduction measures in place (view details here), and training emergency room doctors in the science behind addiction so they can speak to the patient about their options for getting better and recommending appropriate care.
Parents Desperately Need Our Help
In large part being a parent means protecting your children by providing them with a safe environment. But these three catastrophic healthcare crises have become a crisis for all parents. How many parents have kissed their kids goodbye in the morning before school not knowing it would be the last time? Or how many parents gave their teenage son/daughter the keys to the car to attend a party not thinking it’s the last time he/she will need them. 200,000 parents found themselves in this position in 2021. And if you multiply this by several years you are talking about half a million parents trying to move on after surviving their child’s death.
How many daughters will no longer have access to legal abortions and agency over their own bodies? How many will die from trying to undue pregnancies themselves?
These three healthcare crises are having a very negative mental health impact on parents and their children right now. And since parents are the foundation of our families and the bedrocks of our communities we must provide laws and policies in place to prevent more senseless deaths. And we need more crisis centers where these parents and their kids can get the help they need right now. Let’s all support the organizations that are attempting to reverse these patterns (both financially and physically). Let’s all get in the same boat to make life safer for our parents and their kids.
We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines any more. We must change these trends. Here are some resources to both get help and provide help: