Ithaca, Opioids, and Trump

Ithaca and Tompkins County are among the American localities severely affected by the opioid crisis, prompting intensified efforts by local officials. Overdoses are a common occurrence, and authorities report an average of 15 drug-related deaths a year since 2011. In 2016, the number skyrocketed to 21, compared to two deaths in 2007.

President Trump put a welcome spotlight on the opioid crisis this week, declaring it a “public health emergency” and describing it as a plague that has spared “no part of our society, not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural.” At least 64,000 Americans died of overdoes in 2016, driven, Trump said, “by a massive increase in addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids.”

ithacavoice

Trump said he was “directing all executive agencies to use every appropriate emergency authority to fight the opioid crisis,” but was short on specifics, mainly rattling off various steps that the federal government had previously taken.

Moreover, Trump’s diagnosis of the crisis and prescription for its cure seemed wide of the mark. His speech focused on blaming foreigners—Chinese and Mexicans—for sending illicit opioids into the country, and on criminal gangs for pushing them on America’s streets. (A key part of Trump’s future plan, he said, is a “massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place.”)

Trump made no mention of two factors that experts increasingly see as fueling the addiction epidemic—pharmaceutical companies pushing legal opioids, and a national mental health crisis in which people desperately seeking relief from depression and anxiety find relief in opioids.

The Atlantic’s Alana Semuels reported in June:

“Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a handful of pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson. The lawsuit accuses the companies of spending millions on marketing campaigns that ‘trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.’ The companies, the lawsuit alleges, lobbied doctors to influence their opinions about the safety of opioids, ‘borrowing a page from Big Tobacco.’

“The lawsuit follows similar recent lawsuits in Illinois, Mississippi, four counties in New York, and Santa Clara and Orange Counties in California. Last month, the Cherokee Nation filed a lawsuit against distributors and pharmacies in tribal court over the opioid epidemic. In January, the city of Everett, Washington, filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, alleging that the company knew the drug was being funneled into the black market but did nothing to stop it.”

Also in June, the Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein reported on a study by researchers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the University of Michigan that linked greater opioid use and mental health disorders. The researchers concluded that 51.4 percent of 115 million opioid prescriptions written annually in the United States were given to people with anxiety and depression.

“Those patients may have some form of physical pain, said Brian Sites, a professor of anesthesiology and orthopedics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, who led the study team. But their mental condition may cause them to feel that pain more acutely or be less able to cope with it, leading to increased requests for something to dull it.

“Pain that ‘you may report as a two out of 10, someone with mental health disorders — depression, anxiety — may report as a 10 out of 10,’ Sites said in an interview. In addition, opioids may improve the symptoms of depression for a short while, he said, with patients who experience that then asking for continued refills.

“As a result, doctors trying to be empathetic to their patients’ complaints may tend to overprescribe opioid painkillers, he said. About half of all opioids are prescribed by primary-care physicians, who also manage most routine anxiety and depression.”

Trump’s declaration of a “public health emergency” did not involve the release of emergency federal funding, but the White House indicated that the president would soon ask Congress for additional funding to combat the opioid crisis. Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, chaired by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, will hand Trump its final report and recommendations next week.

The New York Times quoted experts saying that an effective policy to fight the crisis will cost billions of dollars:

“Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, said that no emergency declaration would do much to alleviate the impact of opioids without a substantial commitment of federal money and a clear strategy for overhauling the way the country treats addiction.

“‘What we need is for the president to seek an appropriation from Congress, I believe in the billions, so that we can rapidly expand access for effective outpatient opioid addiction treatments,’ Dr. Kolodny said in an interview. ‘Until those treatments are easier to access than heroin or fentanyl, overdose deaths will remain at record-high levels.’”

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state hard hit by the opioid crisis that Trump singled out in his remarks, called for pharmaceutical companies to pay. CNN reported:

“‘This is a business plan. They are liable,’ Manchin told CNN’s Jake Tapper on ‘The Lead’ when asked if he believes the pharmaceutical industry needs to be found legally liable in some cases for the prevalence of opioids in the United States.

“Manchin added that the companies that supply opioids should be charged fees for the drugs they produce and for having inundated the market with the highly addictive drugs.

“‘This is what’s caused it. Can’t we at least charge the pharmaceutical companies one penny per milligram for every opiate they produce?’ Manchin added.

“‘Every state’s been affected,’ he said of the crisis. ‘I’m ground zero, West Virginia, more deaths per capita, more people addicted per capita.’

“‘This is like fighting a war,’ Manchin said about the need for funding. ‘You’ve got your soldiers on the front line fighting … (but) your guys on the front line run out of bullets.’”

Chart: From the Ithaca Voice, October 13, 2017

Ithaca Is Magic

It’s here, Wizarding Weekend kicks off on Friday! All you can say is Wow! This is one of the spookiest Halloween festivals out there. For three days, downtown Ithaca is jammed with witches and black cats, owls and dragons, magicians and potion makers, in one great magical community celebration.

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The chance to show off your Halloween get-up starts with the Costume Parade at 3 p.m. Friday from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) up to the Commons. Afterwards, stores in the Commons, Press Bay Alley, along Aurora and Cayuga streets, and inside Dewitt Mall are welcoming trick-or-treaters.

Throughout the weekend, there’s a City of Magic Ball, a myths-and-legends flashlight tour of city streets, a magical artifact scavenger hunt, non-stop entertainment at the Bernie Milton Pavilion, Quidditch matches behind Press Bay Alley, magic classes at the Tompkins Public Library, and much more.

View the program and download a map of the festivities. Click here for a full schedule of events at wizardingweekend.com.

We love the story of how Wizarding Weekend came to be:

When the Whomping Willows that line the Cayuga Lake Inlet were turning gold with autumn, a magical festival was born in Downtown Ithaca. Gabe, an employee at Boxy Bikes and his younger brother (Aiden) hatched the idea to transform Press Bay Alley into Diagon Alley for trick or treating; of course, everyone at Press Bay Alley loved the idea, as it is already a place filled with whimsy and wonder.

What no one knew at that time was how inspiring the idea would be! Within days the event went viral online and thousands of people RSVP’d. This was not going to be a quaint trick or treat for a few dozen kids: families and fans from hours around wanted to come to Ithaca for a magical escape.

Quickly, Darlynne Overbaugh, Bill Overbaugh, Laurence Clarkberg and John Guttridge got to work. They brought Cornell University’s Raptor Club, a Ford Anglia, and myriad vendors, performers and volunteers to downtown Ithaca–all with only days to sculpt a truly magical world, because by this time, national news outlets had picked up the story. More than 8,000 people were planning to attend.

When the big day arrived, no one quite knew what would happen. People arrived in outlandish costumes, their enthusiasm and their love of Harry Potter creating a community instantly. Local business owners rolled with the situation creating interesting products for guests to purchase. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance and volunteers pitched in to help. Wizarding duels, dragons, magic, owls, wizard chess, and wands truly enchanted Press Bay Alley for a day. Visitors received acceptance letters to Hogwarts, found their Houses, traversed the downtown in search of Horcruxes, and teams fought it out in a bicycle-based Quidditch bout. Downtown Ithaca was giddily transformed into a magical world.

In the end, it was the imagination of people who brought out the magic in Ithaca. In 2016, we tapped into this same magical force of nature and 10,000 people attended a full weekend of ticketed events and one day street festival.

Based on the growth and the continued love of all things magic, the Wizarding Weekend Executive Planning Committee has renewed their resolve to  continue this festival for 2017. Instead of focusing on Harry Potter, Wizarding Weekend will celebrate all things magic in a family friendly way every Halloween weekend, until people stop coming or the organizers exhaust themselves.

Even Polo Players Get the Blues

Cornell University’s Varsity Polo Team is an outstanding example of how each one of us can play a vital role in promoting mental health. For the fifth year in a row this Saturday, October 28, the team is playing a benefit match to raise awareness and collect donations for suicide prevention.

2017_Benefit_Match_Poster

The fitting tagline for this year’s benefit match is “Even Polo Players Get the Blues.” Members of the Cornell equestrian team created the annual event in memory of Sue Knight (’81), captain of Cornell championship teams in 1980 and 1981. Knight died by suicide after a long battle with depression in early January 2013 at age 53.

“This cause is especially important to Cornell polo team members both past and present as we lost a beloved former women’s team player and team captain far too soon,” said Anthony Condo, Jr., a Cornell volunteer coach. “In short, it is real close to home for so many of us.”

The benefit match is a day of weekend fun, with spectators taking in the match, watching a demonstration of polo skills, and meeting members of the Cornell team. The event starts at 2 p.m. at the John T. Oxley Equestrian Center in Ithaca. Parking and admission are free.

Donations collected will be directed to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national organization devoted to new research, educational programs, advocacy for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss.

Click here to make a donation to AFSP anytime.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

Cornell polo team members

Caption: Cornell polo coaches and team members celebrating an Amateur Cup victory, August 2017.

2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Coloring Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2nd Annual Ithaca Cupcake Coloring Contest! (And thanks to the team from Alternatives Federal Credit Union for running the event!)

1st Place (tie)

Caroleena Auge

Joumii Bard

 

2nd Place (tie)

Madelyne Myers

Elbie Rydzik

 

3rd Place

Olivia Phillips

 

1-Caroleena

Caroleena Auge—1st Prize

 

1-bard copy

Joumii Bard—1st Prize

 

2-MadelyneMyers

Madelyne Myers—2nd Prize

 

2-ElbieRydzik

Elbie Rydzik—2nd Prize

 

3-OliviaPhillips

Olivia Phillips—3rd Prize

Students and The Sophie Fund

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week at Cornell University, but for some college students in Ithaca, it’s seems like every week is mental health week. In a good way!

The Sophie Fund is privileged to partner on a host of projects with student organizations at Cornell and Ithaca College. Active Minds at Ithaca College, and Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter and Phi Sigma Pi at Cornell all played vital roles in the 2017 Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Commons on October 14.

APO-PSPVolunteers from Cornell University’s Alpha Phi Omega–Gamma Chapter and Phi Sigma Pi

Besides volunteering to register contestants, inventory the cupcake entries, participate in preliminary judging (okay, hard work!), and clean up the Bernie Milton Pavilion afterwards, students participated in a related fundraising effort for suicide prevention. In one week alone in September, APO Gamma collected more than $500 in donations. APO Gamma also delivered excess cupcake entries to the Friendship Center at the Ithaca Rescue Mission for the homeless.

Speaking at the cupcake awards ceremony, Winnie Ho, vice president of service for APO Gamma, said that working for mental health causes was one of her fraternity’s top priorities. Here’s what she had to say:

“I’d like to take this time to talk about the partnership that we have developed with The Sophie Fund over the past year. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of our chapter to get involved in all the mental health opportunities that exist in this town.

“For us, service remains one of our most important cardinal principles. We’ve seen an overwhelming response from many of our brothers to support for opportunities within APO and other opportunities outside of APO to serve and support their friends, their loved ones, and their community.

“At Cornell it is Mental Health Awareness Week, and APO Gamma is hosting many events, and so are many other student organizations. Which helps prove the point: anyone can get involved in mental health. You can start by asking yourself, asking your friends, taking care of the people around you. You don’t need to organize anything enormous to start improving the mental health of other people. Thank you so much for coming out today. Happy cupcakes!”

DSC_8712 copyWinnie Ho of Cornell University’s APO Gamma Chapter

Cooper Walter, president of Cornell Minds Matter, staffed a table at the cupcake contest to engage contestants and passersby on mental health issues. During the awards ceremony, he issued a special appeal to young people in Ithaca. Here’s what he had to say:

“In the couple minutes we have here today, I want to talk about mental health and young people. College age—18 to 24—is a pivotal turning point for everyone’s lives. It is at that age that most of the mental health disorders onset. And it is the age that we build the life skills and the coping strategies that set us up for success.

“At Cornell, 25 percent of all students have a mental health disorder, but only 30 percent [of those] seek help. I want to challenge every one here—especially the young people—to take a moment to engage with mental health. Ask yourself, ‘What does mental health mean to you?’ ‘What is your mental health?’ ‘How can you improve it?’ ‘And what are you going to do—today—to advance mental health and make your life better.’

“I also challenge you to take a moment to engage with your peers. Many friends are struggling with their mental health, or can improve their mental health, but aren’t thinking about it. Today, when you talk to your friends, ask them: ‘How are you doing?’ But don’t just take ‘Oh, I’m good,’ or ‘I’m fine,’ at face value. Ask them, ‘Are you struggling with anything?’ ‘Can I help you in any way?’ ‘Is there anything you’d like to discuss?’

“If we take these small steps, considering what mental health is to us, and reach out to our friends to help them engage with mental health, we can set ourselves up for a successful life, and successful health.”

DSC_8709 copyCooper Walter of Cornell Minds Matter

CMMCornell Minds Matter at the Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in the Commons

PSPVolunteers from Phi Sigma Pi

APOWinnie Ho and Ivan Rios of APO–Gamma

APO Buttons 092517APO–Gamma brothers collecting donations for suicide prevention in Ho Plaza

AM-greenstar2Members of Active Minds at Ithaca College collecting donations for suicide prevention at GreenStar Natural Foods Market