South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

Only days after the horrific South Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we must take a hard look at the mental health debate, and why mental health should always have been a priority.

It seems like just yesterday I wrote about last year’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas and emphasizing how critical it is that mental health support and awareness be a serious and key focus of this conversation. The school where this tragedy took place is a mere 37 miles from where I sit and write this today. I lived within a 20-minute drive of the building for over 3 years. Now, with only a month and 15 days into 2018, we already up to 19 similar acts of terrible violence.

On Wednesday, February 14, Nikolas Cruz entered the high school in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 rifle and took the lives of 17 people, wounding over a dozen others. This is America’s deadliest school attack in 5 years, perpetrated by a lone 19-year-old gunman with a reputation for disturbing behavior.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump included in his statement about the South Florida school shooting that there were “so many signs” the suspected shooter was “mentally disturbed.” But should mental health be our own focus?

It is extremely difficult to find answers to this complex problem. So what action should we take to change?

The Mental Chaos of Nikolas Cruz

Authorities have confirmed that Cruz was previously expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary issues. Reports from the school indicate Cruz as a potential threat who demonstrated a fixation on guns. This obsession can be seen on full display through the photos suggested to be pulled from Cruz’s social media accounts.

Reports said that teachers, classmates and even strangers were concerned about Cruz. One teacher apparently reported that administrators sent an email last year saying that Cruz was not allowed to carry a backpack on campus. Cruz’s adoptive father died a few years ago, and his adoptive mother, who was one of the only people the teen was ever close with, died around Thanksgiving. The orphaned 19-year-old had been living at a friend’s house, with some suggesting he was showing signs of depression. Some former friends have even said they cut ties with him after saying he liked to shoot animals. Classmates claim he used to sell knives out of a lunchbox in the school and even threatened students with violence.

Cruz had been suspended more than once before being expelled, for fighting and having bullets found in his backpack. While he had no criminal history prior to this appalling act of violence, he lived a troubling and chaotic life.

What was being done?

Failing to Catch Red Flags

While it is unfair to say there were no actions taken, those actions failed to put a stop to this tragedy. The Washington Post reports that Cruz had been getting treatment at a mental health clinic, but had stopped after less than a year. Some are insisting that not enough was done to try and address the many obvious issues shown in Cruz’s past. Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender in Broward County, states,

“Every red flag was there and nobody did anything. When we let one of our children fall off grid, when they are screaming for help in every way, do we have the right to kill them when we could have stopped it?”

Even the FBI admits to receiving a warning about this individual and failing to act. With so many indications that Cruz was a threatening, violent and unstable individual it is deeply troubling that not only did he slip through the cracks of any efforts to curb mental health-related issues, but he was able to obtain a variety of weapons. Despite the many red flags, Cruz’s background wouldn’t disqualify him from purchasing the rifle he used in the shooting.

The Mental Health VS Gun Rights Debate

The biggest debate we see after each one of these terrible atrocities is that familiar blame game;  Is it a ‘guns’ issue or a ‘mental health’ issue? Without picking a side, I’ll try to acknowledge a lot of the concerns. For example, there is an enormous amount of data showing that the rates of mental health disorders in the last few decades has increased at astonishing rates. Every year the mental health of our nation is dwindling. So is this the answer to the riddle? Some seem to think so. Others- not so much.

The current federal law already denies the sale of firearms to anyone who is considered “adjudicated as a mental defective” by a lawful authority or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. It also allows for states to create stricter restrictions. Some states have taken advantage of this and enacted legal channels for stripping firearms away from gun owners flagged as potential threats. However, some do not think this is enough. Others have even gone as far as directly linking mental health to gun rights.

  • In Hawaii, a person diagnosed with a mental disorder may not own a gun without clearance from a doctor.
  • California firearm owners can be disqualified from gun possession for five years if involuntarily confined to psychiatric care for 72 hours and deemed by medical professionals to be dangerous to themselves or others.

However, legal experts also warn that it isn’t as simple as identifying people with mental disorders. According to Fredrick Vars, a law professor at the University of Alabama,

“By and large, the people who engage in these horrific events don’t have obvious major psychiatric issues,”

Dr. Rozel, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He states that these broad restrictions based on a psychiatric diagnosis risk depriving hundreds of thousands of law-abiding people of their gun rights. Rozel goes on to say,

“Fundamentally, that’s the problem with focusing on the mental-health issue.”

According to a study by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education in 2004, conducted after the attack at Columbine High School, surveyed “targeted school violence”:

  • Only 1/3 of perpetrators had ever received a mental-health evaluation
  • Fewer than 20% of that 1/3 had been diagnosed with mental health or behavior disorder before the attack

The President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Jessica Henderson Daniel does not agree with automatically assigning the label of mental illness to school shooters. She and other experts believe such rhetoric oversimplifies the complex problem of mass violence while also stereotyping those who struggle with mental health disorders.

“Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness.”

A senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said in an interview that invoking mental illness in the gun-control debate is often more political than helpful to those who actually struggle with mental health issues. Many see it as a means to draw attention away from any discussion on gun control. So is it really that far-fetched to even consider an honest and thorough examination of how we might improve policies surrounding access to guns?

After all, American has more mass shootings than any other developed nation, and not even by a little. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur tripled since 2011.

From 1982 up to 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days.

Then, between 2011 and 2014 that rate has accelerated to at least one mass shooting every 64 days in the United States.

Realistically, it is fair to question the idea that this is simply a mental health issue. It may be a piece of the problem. Yet there is so much more that needs to be addressed in order to work toward a future without this kind of senseless violence.

What Can Be Done For Mental Health?

The sad thing is, we should never have waited for any acts of violence to make mental health a priority. A wide spectrum of issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder are all very serious and very damaging conditions. Countless Americans still struggle and don’t even know it, or don’t have access to care.

Many argue that the way lawmakers are changing healthcare is making it harder for people to receive mental health services. So with all that has happened, will mental health truly become the priority everyone says it will be? Thursday President Trump promised to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” while speaking in regards to this tragic incident. But how will these words be followed by action? The president’s current budget actually includes massive cuts to mental health resources, so will these resources be given new priority?

For trauma survivors, there is a whole other element to providing mental health support resources. Horrific incidents like this recent shooting create shockwaves throughout the community and impact the mental health of innumerable others. Students, families and friends, teachers and other officials like law enforcement are all exposed to a new level of unimaginable pain and suffering. We must also make their mental health a priority. But we need to stop waiting until something unspeakable happens before we worry about our nation’s mental health.

Our hearts break for all of our neighbors here in South Florida who are suffering. No matter what we do, be it changing our mental health care or any other policies concerning guns, we MUST DO BETTER!

If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma, depression, or any mental health disorder please seek help. If you struggle with substance use disorder, drugs or alcohol is not the answer. There is real help out there. Please call toll-free now.

  CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

First Delivery of Medical Cannabis in Texas Made to Child With Epilepsy

First Delivery of Medical Cannabis in Texas Made to Child With Epilepsy

Last Thursday, over two years after Republican Governor Gregg Abbott signed the law to legalize the sale of specific cannabis oil in Texas for intractable epilepsy, the first legal delivery in the state was made.

Many medical cannabis advocates are calling this a historic moment for the Lone Star State, as it could be the catalyst to usher in a new era of drug policy as it relates to medicinal alternatives.

The First Delivery

The first recipient of medical cannabis oil in Texas was a school-aged child. A spokesperson for the company told reporters that it could not disclose which city the patient lives in, but did share how the delivery was made.

Current regulations dictate that only a social worker or nurse can deliver the medical cannabis product to a patient or the patient’s caregiver. In the case of Texas’s first delivery, a nurse transported the oil to the patient’s home. The nurse also showed the patient how to use it.

The first delivery was made by Knox Medical, a dispensary in Schulenburg. José Hidalgo, the founder, and CEO of Knox Medical stated,

“For Texans suffering from intractable epilepsy, the wait for medical cannabis is finally over. This is a historic day for Texas and we will work tirelessly to uphold the trust and responsibility the state has placed in Knox Medical.”

Notably, less than 1% of the population of Texas suffer from intractable epilepsy. But still, that comes out to roughly 160,000 people.

Texas Medical Cannabis Law

At this point, there are only three licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in the state of Texas. These facilities were allowed to be opened following the 2015 Texas Compassion Use Act. But the programs are run by the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, Texas has not been as open with their medical cannabis movement as other parts of the country. As of now, state law scarcely allows for the sale of medical cannabis oils. The only oils to be sold are those that meet requirements:

  • Low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC.
  • High levels of cannabidiol, a non-euphoric component known as CBD that is used to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions.

And patients themselves have to meet very specific criteria. A person only qualifies if:

  • They are a permanent resident of Texas
  • Have been diagnosed with intractable epilepsy
  • Must have tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them ineffective
  • Qualified physician has determined they would benefit from medical cannabis
  • Have a second qualified physician agree with the assessment that they would benefit

Qualified doctors must be listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas.

Needless to say, Texans won’t be rushing out to dispensaries anytime soon to stock up on medicinal marijuana. State officials seem to have a very precise mission in mind when it comes to allowing for this treatment to go forward. Still, some medical cannabis supporters are happy with the direction. So how do products like medical cannabis and CBD oil impact those trying to recovery from addiction?

Legalization and Recovery

In the world of recovery from drugs or alcohol, the idea that marijuana legalization is becoming more widely accepted may seem tempting to some. Others seem to believe legalizing marijuana invites more hard drug use. What does it really mean for the recovery community or people struggling with addiction?

Legalizing a drug and having it readily available may be tempting, but it’s not as if it isn’t already done everywhere with alcohol. Almost any store you walk into is stocked with booze and plastered with adds to try and sell cigarettes. People in recovery from addiction are already exposed every day to some of the most dangerous drugs in the world because they are legal.

When we talk about legalization of marijuana, we want to remind people that for many struggling with substance use disorder the issue is not the specific chemicals you are using. Addiction is far more complex, influencing the mind while terrorizing the body. A drug is not suddenly any safer or better for you because it is becoming socially acceptable or legal.

It is important to find a middle ground. We can support those who benefit from new modalities while offering effective treatment opportunities to those who struggle. However, it is also important to offer experience and education for those who truly struggle with chemical dependency and everything else that comes with substance use disorder. It may seem easier to justify using marijuana for some people. But people should also know that marijuana abuse is a real risk. Substituting one drug for another is probably not the best option for some habitual drug users.

Medicinal and recreational marijuana reforms may be changing the way that the law dictates drug use for some, but for the addict or alcoholic, the risk can be far greater than they expect. Part of comprehensive and effective recovery is understanding how drugs affect people differently and learning how to make the best decisions for your health and your future. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

China and America Team Up to Take On Opioid Trafficking

China and America Team Up to Take On Opioid Trafficking

This month, Chinese and American officials are talking about new, combined efforts at combatting opioid trafficking. One spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry was quoted saying that the country is-

“…ready to work with the US to enhance our cooperation in this field.”

Back in August of 2017, we wrote about how China has been singled out by many in America as the main source of synthetic drugs like fentanyl getting into the country. Drug dealers online have been able to order shipments through websites hosted in China, making everyday package carriers into unknowing drug smugglers across the US. According to reports from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seizures of fentanyl arriving by mail have increased drastically in the last few years:

  • In 2011, 0.09 kilograms of fentanyl were seized by mail
  • In 2016 is rose to 37 kilograms

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, had said he firmly believed that China would be teaming up with the United States in order to end the spread of fentanyl trafficking.

Now it seems those predictions are coming to fruition, as China has announced that it intends to work with the United States to fight illegal shipments of opioids. This comes following a congressional investigation that unearthed the secret to how opioid manufacturers have exploited inadequate safeguards in the U.S. Postal System.

So how will China and America team up?

Searching for Fentanyl Sales

One of the key elements of the issue is the way packages get into the United States. Recently, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs investigations subcommittee launched a probe that revealed a troubling reality. You can find information from the probe in a January 24, 2018 congressional report.

According to the report, an advanced electronic data system (AED) commonly used to identify suspicious packages only captured information on around a third of all international packages. So what does that add up to? Well, those numbers leave more than 318 million packages unscreened! That paves a very clear path for Chinese opioid manufacturers to ship lethal synthetic substances to individuals all across America.

The probe also provides details of just how easy acquiring fentanyl from Chinese manufacturers can actually be. Subcommittee staff told reporters that by simply conducting an internet search using the phrase “fentanyl for sale,” they found six “very responsive” sellers in China. Ultimately, investigators were able to identify:

  • 500 online transactions involving fentanyl
  • These transactions represent an estimated value of $776 million
  • Can trace at least seven deaths from fentanyl in the United States to Chinese sales

To make matters worse, drug traffickers have been using each country’s own postal services against them. This major loop-hole in shipping has made a profound contribution to fentanyl trafficking.

Going Postal on Drug Traffickers

The investigation also reports that fentanyl distributors will push for investigators to pay for delivery through Express Mail Service (EMS). EMS is an international shipping method that utilizes each country’s own postal system to deliver packages. Part of the EMS network includes the U.S. Postal Service.

In an email to an investigator, one drug distributor wrote:

“Guaranteed delivery only via EMS, other shipping methods will not be guaranteed.”

Investigators claim that the EMS is the preferred method for shipping opioids into America. This is because the Postal Service failed to implement an AED system that would alert U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents about suspicious international packages. International fentanyl traffickers know how to manipulate and maneuver the postal systems. Those with the investigation also point out that surcharges are deterrents to send shipments through other delivery services such as:

  • FedEx
  • DHL

This is due to the greater chance that packages will be detected. Sadly, the Senate report shows that it saw no significant improvement in collecting data on packages in 2017. However, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) said that it has made the collection of this electronic data a priority.

China and America Teaming Up

Team USA

In a statement to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee, Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman said that in 2016 nearly 60% of all overdose deaths in Ohio were related to fentanyl. Portman emphasizes the need for more action to stop the flow of fentanyl by stating,

“The vast majority of illegal fentanyl is purchased online from labs in China and then shipped to the United States through the mail. The federal government can, and must, act to shore up our defenses against this deadly drug and save lives.”

A USPS spokesperson said that the agency is working “…aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States,”

A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said it will “…continue to work with our government and private-sector partners to improve the efficiency of information sharing and operational coordination to address the challenges and threats…” of international narcotics smuggling.

Team China

We should note China still isn’t entirely sure that they are the major supplier of fentanyl to the US. In fact, Chinese officials have repeatedly pushed back against assessments like the one made by Senator Portman. In a press conference in December 2017, National Narcotics Control Commission official Yu Haibin said that there was-

“…little evidence showing China was the source of much of the chemicals used in the production of the powerful opioid fentanyl.”

However, it seems that China will be working toward a unified effort against fentanyl with America. Speaking on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesperson Hua Chunying said that,

“Anti-drug coordination is one of the highlights of China-US law enforcement cooperation,”

Chinese officials are already working to curb sales of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs in their country. At the moment there may still be some indiscretions about China’s willingness to accept responsibility for the majority of fentanyl trafficking into America. Still, the fact that both countries have politicians advocating for cooperation against the common enemy might be a good indication of a more hopeful future in overcoming fentanyl.

If we are going to overcome the opioid epidemic, we will have to work together to face the issue at every level; whether we are taking on trafficking, breaking the stigma, or developing better opportunities for addiction treatment and recovery resources. Palm Healthcare Company is proud to work with people from all over America to help them overcome their own substance use. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Pin It on Pinterest