Legalized Pot: Are Individuals With Mental Illnesses At Greater Risk Of Harm?

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(Photo11: Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

(2-19-19) Marijuana and mental illnesses. Does smoking weed put persons with mental illnesses at greater risk of harm? D. J. Jaffe, author of INSANE CONSEQUENCES,  wrote this recently in USA Today. I’ll be curious to read on my Facebook page about your experiences and opinions.  

Marijuana needs warning labels like tobacco for associated mental, physical health risks

The situation is similar to when cigarettes first became extensively marketed; health risks were known but not disclosed, driving disease and deaths.

In his inaugural address on Jan. 1, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, like other governors, announced that he will push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, but he said nothing about what he will do to mitigate the health risks. Before legislators legalize marijuana, they should require bold and direct warning labels to be placed on the packaging as is done with tobacco products. If the states fail to act, then the Food and Drug Administration should step in and require it.

In early 2017, after exhaustive review, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that there are significant health risks associated with using cannabis and cannabinoids. Yet none of the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana, or the 10 states that have legalized recreational use, gives adequate warnings of those risks.

The situation is similar to when cigarettes first became extensively marketed. The health risks were known but not disclosed, leading to disease and lives being lost. In addition to appearing on the packaging, the warning labels should be displayed prominently wherever the product is sold, in advertising and in mandated public service announcements funded by the marijuana industry.

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Benefits of Bipolar? Ha! Gabe Howard Describes His Life Living With Bipolar Disorder In Compelling First Book:


(2-12-19) Gabe Howard, a contributor to my blog and someone living with mental illnesses whom I admire, has published a collection of his thoughts and writings in a new book entitled: Mental Illness Is An Asshole And Other Observations. 

In two to three page essays he writes about such everyday topics as “How To Handle A Teen’s Dramatic or Manipulative Suicide Threat,” “My Mom Doesn’t Understand What It’s Like To Be Openly Bipolar,” “Integrity in the Face of Adversity,” “How do I Make My family Understand Depression?” and “Why My Spouse Doesn’t Resent Me For Having Bipolar.”

Gabe’s knowledge comes from his lived experiences, which he shares with a wonderful blend of seriousness, humor, poignancy and insights. While everyone is unique, Gabe’s book helped me better understand my own son and others living with mental illnesses, and I am grateful for that.

Gabe was kind enough to allow me to reprint his essay:

The Benefits of Bipolar Disorder by Gabe Howard 

I am often asked, both in person and online, about the benefits of bipolar disorder.

This isn’t an ignorant question. The media is filled with examples of mental illness making people better detectives, artists or creating other ‘super powers.’ The people who ask this question are varied, as well. Family and friends, the inquiring public, and even people living with bipolar disorder all want to know the upsides of this illness.

And it’s a very easy question to answer:

There aren’t any.

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Wearing Racist Blackface Makes National News, So Should Stigmatizing Americans With Mental Disorders

pete earley on dr. phil

(Photo: Robert Sebree for USA WEEKEND)

(2-8-19) From My Files Friday: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and our state’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, are in political trouble because they wore “blackface”  which invokes our racist and painful history. Whenever outrage about an abusive slur or hateful action by a public figure gains national attention, I think about everyday slights that I hear, read or see about individuals with mental illnesses.  Even professionals have engaged in hurtful, stigmatizing speech as this Op Ed that I wrote for USA Today in July 2013, shows.  (Postscript: Dr. Phil never apologized.)

Dr. Phil insults the mentally ill: His remark that the insane ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon’ stigmatizes people.

“You won’t believe what Dr. Phil just said on his show,” my wife, Patti, told me. “He said insane people ‘suck on rocks and bark at the moon.’ “

“Dr. Phil said what?” I replied.

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$3 Million Settlement: Possible Presidential Candidate Terry McAuliffe and Current Virginia Attorney General Both Deserve Criticism For Their Handling Of Horrific Inmate Death

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring dropped the ball in handling of inmate’s horrific death

(Thank you for your support. My blog reached an average of 191,000 readers nationally last month.)

(2-4-19) Richmond Virginia attorney Mark J. Krudys has accomplished what local, state and federal officials declined to do.

He has made the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, its former in-house health care provider, and the state accountable for the horrific death of Jamycheal Mitchell, the 24-year-old Virginian who suffered a heart attack in 2015 after being starved while waiting 101 days in jail to be sent to a state mental hospital. Mitchell had a serious mental illness and was jailed after allegedly stealing $5.05 of snacks from a convenience store.

Krudys agreed to settle the wrongful death suit that he’d filed on behalf of the Mitchell family for $3 million. None of those involved admitted wrongdoing but the size of the settlement in conservative Virginia speaks volumes.

Sadly,  two prominent Virginia politicians have escaped unscathed.

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who reportedly is considering a run for president, and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who is running for governor in 2021, should be publicly pillared.

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Fairfax County Making Progress With Mental Health Dockets: Sheriff Kincaid Launches New Alcohol/Drug Treatment Program Inside Jail. Bravo!

(1-30-19) Great news for residents of Fairfax, Virginia, where I live. We are well on our way to getting an authorized mental health docket and our local adult jail has started an innovative alcohol/drug treatment program to help inmates kick their habits.

Fairfax District Court Judge Tina Snee announced during a community meeting that 160 cases had been heard since August 2018 in a speciality docket that is being used as a pilot program pending Virginia State Supreme Court approval of a  mental health docket. Judge Snee said she hopes that approval will enable a de facto mental health court to begin reviewing cases in April 2019. (You can’t call them courts in Virginia, only dockets.)

The pilot has helped Judge Snee test what works and what needs improvement. Casey Lingan, the chief deputy Commonwealth Attorney (prosecutor) assigned to the docket, said that holding hearings on Friday afternoons was problematic because many of the mental health and housing services that defendants might need can’t process the court’s orders late on a Friday, leaving defendants without much needed help over weekends. He suggested moving the hearings to Wednesday mornings.  Marissa Farina-Morse, the Community Services Board rep  (CSB’s provide mental health services in Virginia), said she obtained a cell phone to a defendant after he complained about not being able to reach court officials, to whom, he was supposed to report or speak to case managers responsible for helping him. She was surprised at how useful that cell phone proved to be. Dawn Butorac, the chief public defender, commented about how useful peers had proven to be in helping defendants transition from court into treatment.

None of these observations will surprise those of you who live in localities that have been operating mental health courts for years. But these practical discoveries in Fairfax will certainly help make a docket successful. Such talk reminded me of how communities had to find ways for the police to drop off individuals at mental health centers as quickly or faster than they could at a jail – otherwise officers took the easier route. I remember Fountain House President Kenneth J. Dudek telling me months ago how issuing cell phones to clients helped them better manage their recovery.  At first, everyone assumed those cell phones would get lost or sold/traded/pawned for drugs and alcohol. But that simply didn’t happen. Instead, case managers were able to keep in better touch with their clients, clients could make appointments, and most importantly, families could communicate with their loved one.
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This Is My Brave Film Being Revealed Thursday In Washington D.C. Area

(1-28-19) Inspiring stories of recovery offer others hope.

I was delighted to be Jennifer Marshall’s guest last week when she was named one of ten Washingtonians of the Year.

Jennifer is the driving force behind the non-profit This Is My Brave, which gives persons with mental illnesses a platform for sharing their poignant stories of recovery. Jennifer and my son, Kevin, first met when both of them were in group therapy and, as regular readers of this blog know, I frequently cite Jennifer as an example of how one determined individual can have a huge impact for good.

This is another big week for This Is My Brave.

This Thursday, January 31st, the non-profit will be previewing a mini-documentary in the Washington D.C. area about its mission.

Kevin and I will be there so be certain to attend and say hello if you live in the DMV.

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