- Posted byon January 31, 2013 at 1:50 PM EDT
In June 2012, National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske visited the Betty Ford Center, one of the Nation’s oldest and most recognized addiction treatment facilities. There he gave remarks to a crowd of leaders in the field of recovery. In the audience were two special guests—Michael Banyard and Federal District Court Judge Spencer Letts. In his remarks, Director Kerlikowske mentioned Banyard’s improbable—and inspirational—journey from crack cocaine dependence and homelessness, to prison, to a successful sentence appeal, to the chambers of a federal district court judge and completion of his GED.
Michael Banyard has graciously shared his story—in his own words—with ONDCP, which we are posting in conjunction with National Mentoring Month. Please find the first installation of Michael’s story below.
I was a young man born in Compton, California and raised by a single loving mother. I made a lot of bad decisions; even though my mother raised me right and worked hard to make sure I always had a roof over my head and food on the table.
Michael Banyard in his youth (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).
Although I had my mom and two sisters, I still felt alone and would play by myself a lot. I was the only male in the house and felt like I was missing a father figure, so I began looking for guidance outside my home.
Obie Chappell, Michael's mother (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).
It was around the age of 12 that my mom started taking me to church. By then, I had already smoked my first joint and had my first drink of alcohol. Around the age of 16, I stopped going to church and went after what I thought I was missing in my life. This led me to a lot of negativity.
My drug and alcohol use got worse, and I became completely detached from school. In 1985, I finally dropped out, and during that same year, I smoked crack cocaine for the first time.
Crack cocaine took my life to another level. I always thought drugs were for fun, but I had no idea it would lead to making me homeless and would have my mind focused on drugs every second of every day. From 1987 to 1995, I ended up in prison five times, and was already in my first four drug programs. Also in that period, I became homeless for the first time. And by 1996, I went back to prison and was convicted of possession and sentenced under the California "Three Strikes" law to a whopping term of 25 years to life.
I was sent to a high security prison called Pelican Bay. While at Pelican Bay, another lifer had one day told me, "You won't feel the life sentence until after your first 10 years." Even though I had been to prison before, I could not see myself behind bars for ten years straight.
After a couple years my custody points dropped, and I became a level three inmate and was allowed to transfer to a lower level three yard. I relocated to Lancaster State Prison in L.A. County.
Michael during his incarceration, facing a 25 year-to-life sentence under California's "Three Strikes" law (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).
While at Lancaster Prison I became the G.E.D. Clerk, and while working one day, I overheard the correctional officer talking to her workers. She said, "The sun rotates, and while the sun is rotating, the earth is rotating around the sun, and while that is happening the moon is rotating around the earth."
When I pictured that in my head I thought to myself, "Whoever is in control of that has the last say on whether I spend the rest of my life in prison."
After work I got on my knees and had a long talk with God. The first thing I felt I had to do was take responsibility for the role I played in my situation. Second, whoever I felt may have wronged me, I had to inwardly forgive them before I could move on.
That inner freedom allowed me, a high school drop-out, to start going to the Prison Law Library and studying for the first time.
Note: This is Part 1 of the Michael Banyard guest blog post series. Read Part 2 here.
- Posted byon January 30, 2013 at 3:28 PM EDT
Americans are well aware of the dangers associated with drunk driving. Thanks to a public awareness campaign spanning decades and driven by a spectrum of government and private organizations, both public perception and the criminal justice system have moved to decrease the rate of driving under the influence of alcohol.
However, drugged driving is now emerging as a growing problem in America. ONDCP, in partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies, has been working to raise awareness about—and prevent—drugged driving.
We are encouraged that last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that drugged driving is one of its advocacy priorities for 2013. From the NTSB website:
More people die on the highways than in any other mode of transportation. In fact, over 90 percent of all transportation-related deaths occur on highways. Unfortunately, the substance-impaired driver greatly contributes to this average. For example, in 2010, more than 10,000 deaths (30 percent of all highway deaths) involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Over the last decade, 130,000 people have died in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver—20,000 more than the number of seats at the University of Michigan football stadium! According to the 2011 Traffic Safety Culture Index of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, over 14 percent of drivers admit to driving when they thought they were close to or over the legal limit.
The statistics for drugged driving are no less concerning. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 10.5 million people age 12 and above admitted to driving while impaired by illicit drugs. And among drivers fatally injured in 2009 who were tested for drugs and for whom results were known, one-third tested positive. From 2005-2009, the proportion of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for illicit drugs rose from 13 to 18 percent. The battle against substance-impaired driving is far from over.
- Posted byon January 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM EDT
Addiction is a chronic disease that can be successfully treated. We need to look no further than the millions of Americans who are in long-term recovery today from drug and alcohol addiction to see that recovery is possible. Still, there remains some cynicism about the efficacy of drug treatment, and some people claim that the chances of treatment succeeding are very low. In actual fact, relapse rates for drug-addicted patients are about the same for other chronic illnesses.
According to the National Institutes of Health:
“Does relapse to drug abuse mean treatment has failed?
No. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms occur) for drug addiction are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma27, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment failure. For the addicted patient, lapses back to drug abuse indicate that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.
Source: JAMA, 284:1689-1695, 2000
Relapse rates for drug-addicted patients are compared with those suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Relapse is common and similar across these illnesses (as is adherence to medication). Thus, drug addiction should be treated like any other chronic illness, with relapse serving as a trigger for renewed intervention.27
- Posted byon January 25, 2013 at 10:43 AM EDT
More than 500 leaders from the law enforcement, prevention, and treatment communities gathered in Washington, D.C., last month for the 2012 National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Conference. For two days, a diverse group of speakers addressed the conference on a number of topics, including: the effects of marijuana use on the brain, the importance of intelligence-led policing, and the need for the prevention and law enforcement communities to further their already strong partnership.
Hall of Fame baseball star, Cal Ripken, Jr., kicked off the opening reception on December 12th with remarks about the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, which seeks to provide positive influences for youth in disadvantaged areas. In addition to Senator Max Baucus and Representative Jo Ann Emerson, several leaders in the prevention and law enforcement communities addressed the group, including Dr. Robert DuPont; Dr. Doug Marlowe; Commander Melvin Scott of the Washington, D.C. Police Department; Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI Executive Assistant Director Rick McFeely; and INTERPOL Washington Director Shawn Bray—as well as award-winning New Yorker journalist Patrick Keefe and former NFL linebacker Ken Harvey. At the annual HIDTA Awards Banquet, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske delivered remarks. In his remarks, Director Kerlikowske provided an update on several ONDCP initiatives and reiterated the Obama Administration’s third way approach to drug policy—a path that balances public health programs, law enforcement, and international partnerships.
In all, 21 task forces and 10 individuals were recognized for their outstanding performance in their effort to reduce drug production and trafficking in the United States. The Washington-Baltimore HIDTA, under the leadership of Director Tom Carr, was selected as HIDTA of the Year.
For information about the HIDTA program, click here.
- Posted byon January 22, 2013 at 2:42 PM EDT
On Saturday, Jan.19, Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction David Mineta, and ONDCP staff joined the Baltimore City Mayor’s office, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc. (BSAS), Rep. Elijah Cummings’ staff, and the Baltimore Recovery Corps’ Peer Recovery Advocates (PRA) to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and answer President Obama’s call to serve in the community on the National Day of Service.
The Director honored members of the Recovery Corps' Peer Recovery Advocates who are working to build stronger communities across the City of Baltimore by providing services and supports to people seeking or in recovery. Following his remarks, the Director presented certificates of appreciation to the advocates and to five individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in helping Recovery Corps members support sustained recovery in the community. The Recovery Corps program is “designed to provide men and women in recovery from substance use with opportunities to ‘give back’ through volunteering to serve as peer-recovery support advocates.” It was launched in spring 2011 as part of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s stepUP! Baltimore volunteer initiative.
After the gathering, Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction Mineta and staff participated in a community clean-up in the Hollins Market and Washington Village neighborhoods, which surround the University of Maryland treatment facility.
President Obama and the First Lady have asked all Americans to serve their communities not only on National Service Day, but throughout the year. To find a service project near you, visit www.serve.org.
- Posted byon January 17, 2013 at 4:01 PM EDT
“Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” — Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 21st, our Nation will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day coincides with the Presidential Inauguration, and the President is calling on all Americans to join him in a National Day of Service on Saturday, January 19th.
Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction David Mineta, Deputy Director for State and ONDCP staff are answering the President’s call to action this Saturday. Together with Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc. and the Baltimore City Mayor’s office Director Kerlikowske will honor the Baltimore Recovery Corps’ Peer Recovery Advocates (PRA) for their outstanding volunteerism and join them for a community clean-up in Baltimore.
The members of the Baltimore Recovery Corps are recruited from people who have at least two years successful recovery from a substance use disorder and seek to use their experience to serve others. They coach and mentor people in or seeking recovery and help them access the services they need, find and maintain housing and employment, and connect to a community of recovering peers who can help them in their journey to sustained recovery.
We are inspired by the work of the Baltimore Recovery Corps and encourage all Americans to get involved in service projects that matter to them and their communities. To search by zip code for a service opportunity near you, go here.
- Posted byon January 15, 2013 at 4:05 PM EDT
In 2012, synthetic cathinones—better known as “bath salts”—made international headlines as reports of deaths and grave injuries related to this family of drug emerged. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the term ‘bath salts’ refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant.”
These reports drew widespread attention to the severe public health and safety risks associated with “bath salts.” In response to increased awareness about these drugs—and to ensure the American people had access to credible, scientific information about the drugs—earlier this month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a “DrugFacts” page on these substances. You can learn more about “bath salts” by visiting NIDA’s web site on synthetic cathinones.
Complementing this new resource is the December 4, 2012 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that shows an alarmingly high number of emergency room visits related to another family of synthetic drugs, synthetic cannabinoids (sometimes referred to as “synthetic marijuana”). In 2010, an estimated 11,406 emergency department (ED) visits involved a synthetic cannabinoid product. Three-fourths of these ED visits were patients aged 12 to 29—78% of whom were male.
As we learned in data released this month from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study, which reports on drug use and attitudes among teens across the country, synthetic cannabinoids are the second most used drug among 10th and 12th graders after tobacco and alcohol. As we continue to confront the public health challenge of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, we encourage parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and other adult influencers to learn about the health risks of these drugs and share that information with the young people in their lives.
- Posted byon January 8, 2013 at 11:57 AM EDT
I'm Devin Fox, and I am a person in long-term recovery. I'm a young person, a gay man, an activist, an advocate, a son, a brother, an employee, an executive director, a social worker, and–most importantly–a human being. To me, being in recovery means being free from drugs and alcohol. In November 2012, I celebrated 4 years of continuous recovery, with all of its ups, downs, and even boring days.
I strive each day to live to my greatest potential and to reach for a life focused on being the best that I can be. My life was not always so solution-focused however. Although my story is not entirely unique, it’s unusual enough to make me feel special.
Those who have known me for a while know I have been an activist and an advocate since grade school. I have an innate ability to gauge a roomful of people's concerns and then clearly articulate those concerns to the most likely person, persons, or system that can bring about some type of effective change. This ability has enabled me to help support young people in recovery as together we seek to make our voice heard in a Nation caught in the grips of a mentality that revolves around the problem of addiction. Instead of this fixation on addiction as the problem, it is time to focus on the solution of a person’s own identified recovery and how we as a whole can support that effort.
Like many others, I suppose, I often feel as if I am focused on how to live only one "life" at a time. The mixing of roles and worlds into one individual can be tricky and most certainly frustrating. As I continue to progress in my recovery, I am discovering and learning to accept my own complexity – the multiple sides of my personality that make me who I am.
On one side is Devin the advocate, a well-informed, well-groomed, well-maintained machine. Devin the advocate lives for the "cause." This Devin can move with ease through crowds because his intentions are almost always well-meaning and his actions thoughtful and appropriate.
Devin the person-in-recovery is just about everything except a machine. This includes the good (which I will gladly disclose here), the bad (I'll think about it), and the ugly (please!). You see, Devin-in-recovery can hide behind Devin-the-advocate. My asset of being an effective advocate and activist has the potential to overrule the necessity to focus on a personal life of wellness and recovery. This awareness of how closely my assets and my defects are connected helps me live in the moment and be the most effective agent for change that I can be.
My life often becomes chaotic and overcome with the pressures of work, business meetings, and conference calls. In a sense, it’s not much different from the seminars, recitations, and homework I left at Rutgers last spring. When I become unbalanced and afraid, I grasp onto my "causes." I cling to their truth and take it as my own. I revel in the injustice and emerge with chest puffed, cape billowing, and the ugly sword of truth unsheathed. The wonderful outcome is that today my “cause” has become my personal mission in life.
I find joy in helping others and fulfillment in spreading a message of hope to any who will listen or will join me in experiencing it. For me, young people in recovery finding a voice in a world that has been deaf to our input is more than a “cause.” This movement is not something I hide behind. I stand proudly beside it and acknowledge it belongs to me, you, and everyone who wants it. This movement is life. This movement is recovery. This movement is the solution.
This is my truth. It is just a small piece of the multi-faceted human being that I am, and a snapshot of how recovery shapes my life and my work. The steps that I take on a daily basis to help me heal and grow into the best man that I can be are simple, and they often rest on my decision to show up for my life one day at a time. The result of my choosing a new way of thinking, and therefore a new way of life, is a freedom that cannot be felt or fully understood by simply reading about it in this blog. To those in recovery and struggling against the tyranny of addiction to alcohol or other drugs, I say this: Go experience this freedom yourself. Embrace it, own it, and then share it. Our personal recovery stories are our asset today not our defect.
- Posted byon December 27, 2012 at 4:23 PM EDT
The Holiday season is a time for celebrating with family and friends, but these celebrations often include alcohol. This can pose a special challenge for people in recovery, who may feel tempted or even pressured to drink. This is particularly true of New Year’s Eve, when the social expectation to consume (and over-consume) alcohol may seem nearly overwhelming.
Fortunately, many recovery organizations, including Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery, host sober New Year’s Eve celebrations. These celebrations often include peer support meetings as well as food, games, music, and dancing. They are a great way for those in recovery to celebrate the season in a safe space away from the temptation to drink or use drugs. Most of these events are free, but some have a nominal cover charge.
For those who aren’t near an in-person event, there are several virtual options where you can meet online with others in recovery and ring in the New Year via the Internet.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s Recovery Branch has assembled a list of sober New Year's Eve events by region. This list is by no means comprehensive. If you would like to find additional events near you, please contact a nearby Alano or Recovery Club, which often sponsor sober New Year’s Eve events. See a partial listing of U.S. clubs. Also, you can check to see if a member of the Association of Recovery Community Organizations is near you and will be sponsoring holiday events.
- Posted byon December 21, 2012 at 6:49 PM EDT
This time each year can be stressful for anyone, but the holidays present a special challenge for people recovering from a substance use disorder. Those in long-term recovery typically are adept at navigating the minefield of temptation at holiday social gatherings. But many of those in their first year of recovery, their friends, and family members wonder how best to celebrate the holidays safely, comfortably, and joyously.
If your festivities will include someone with a year or more in recovery, you may simply want to ask if there is anything you can do to make the holiday better for them. They may want to bring a friend who’s also in recovery. They may have beverage preferences or want the flexibility to step out for a short while, either to attend a mutual aid meeting (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery), make a call, or get some fresh air.
The holidays may come with expectations, such as shopping, travel, cooking, and multiple social gatherings. People in early recovery are often experiencing difficult personal or financial circumstances while at the same time trying to learn to live without the substance that had become central to their lives. While the holidays are a time to celebrate family and good cheer, they are also a time when other feelings can be heightened. Such feelings can include a sense of loss about a deceased family member, or feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, shame, or guilt about the past on the part of the recovering person, other family members, or both.
Early recovery brings reawakened awareness of the harm one caused oneself and one’s family and friends during the course of the addiction. It is also a time when the brain and body are still actively recovering from the effects of addiction. Those in early recovery are relatively new at learning to experience, process, and manage feelings and to function in social situations without the use of a substance. Alcohol or other drugs may have served the recovering person as a social lubricant during the early stages of their use, helping alleviate social anxiety and feelings of not fitting in while simultaneously lifting their guard, making it easier to speak and act spontaneously. The social events of the holidays can be challenging in a number of ways for the individual who is new to recovery.
Fortunately, many in early recovery do well during the holidays. The experience of sharing the holidays with family or friends can strengthen their recovery and reinforce the value of the fuller, more authentic way of life they are entering. The holidays can, in effect, be a time to reconnect and restore. To help foster a positive holiday environment for those in recovery, please keep in mind the following:
Tips for celebrating the holidays with family or friends in early recovery:
You are not responsible for your guest’s recovery, even if that guest is your child, sibling, or parent. Behind the scenes orchestration to “help” the recovering person through the event can sometimes be unhelpful. Instead, reach out to him or her to see if there’s anything you can do to help the event go smoothly. If you do, be ready and willing to accept “No, thank you” as the answer.
Ask yourself if you and your family are ready to celebrate the holiday with the recovering person. Are there unresolved hurts or resentments that could make the holiday difficult for all? Does your family understand addiction and embrace recovery or is the topic shrouded in shame, an “elephant in the room”? Addiction affects not only the addicted individual, but the family as a whole. Denial or shame around addiction, if not appropriately addressed, can make the holiday difficult for the family and risky for the recovering person. So, it’s worth asking: Are you and your family ready?
Ask your friend or family member if they are comfortable taking part in the celebration this year. Make sure they understand that it is perfectly OK to miss the celebration if that is what is best for their recovery. Their recovery comes first. It’s better to miss them this time around in order to increase the likelihood that they will be alive, well, and able to participate in future events. Think of it as an investment that will pay dividends.
If you will be serving alcohol, check to see if your invitee is comfortable with that. Note, even if you’re willing to host an alcohol-free holiday event, your family member or friend might not be comfortable attending if alcohol is not served simply because he or she is present.
Ask if they’d like to invite someone or invite others who do not drink. Regardless of whether alcohol is served or not, the recovering person may want to invite a recovering guest. If you’re serving alcohol and have family members or friends who are in recovery or who do not drink, you may want to ask your guest if he or she would like you to invite them so that there will be other non-drinkers with whom to socialize.
Ask what kinds of beverages they would like to have. While non-alcoholic “mocktails” may seem like a good idea—and many in recovery do enjoy them—they may actually be a trigger for some people in early recovery, either because they visually remind the guest of cocktails or because they remind the individual that he or she can no longer drink. Despite all the pain and aggravation that alcohol and drugs may have caused the recovering individual, giving them up can result in a powerful sense of loss. Beverages such as hot spiced cider, hot cocoa, iced or hot tea or coffee are often welcomed. Some people in long-term recovery drink so-called “non-alcoholic” beer and wine. If this works for them, it is of course perfectly acceptable. It should be noted, though, that these beverages generally do include small amounts of alcohol. For people in the early stages of recovery from alcohol addiction, these beverages should be avoided.
Provide time and space to step away from the group, if needed. Being able to take a walk, relax in a quiet room, step away to connect by telephone with another person in recovery, attend a mutual aid meeting, or gracefully depart early can be very important to a person in early recovery.
Listen to them. If they don’t want any special steps taken to accommodate them, and both you and they are comfortable with them taking part this time, then simply go ahead.
Tips for individuals or families in early recovery:
Have a plan for the holiday, including mutual aid meetings and calls to sponsor, mentor, recovering peer, counselor, clergy or others central to your recovery.
Identify risk factors that should be avoided and know how you will respond if they’re encountered.
Know your signs of potential relapse and take steps to address them.
Stay in touch with your key supports, such as counselors, sponsors, mentors, or recovering peers.
Keep it all in perspective: Nothing that happens, no matter how painful or unpleasant, is worth giving up one’s recovery.
If relapse does, occur, don’t delay acting out of shame or guilt. Get help immediately. There is still an opportunity to build on the progress you’ve made.
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