AbledWarriors-American-Veterans-Disabled-For-Life-Memorial

POSTED ON October 6th  - POSTED IN AbledPeople, AbledWarriors
AbledWarriors banner shows a disabled veteran with an amputated leg standing with a crutch while saluting against the backdrop of the curve of the Earth seen from space with a sunrise glowing around the veterans silhouette and a global map showing as a partially dissolved backdrop.
Abled Warriors post banner shows sketches of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial dedicated on October 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. A stone wall bears the name of the inscribed into it in the background while we see two men observing an eternal flame in the granite star centerpiece of the memorial while we see the left profile of an Armed Forces officer and another man in the center foreground looking off to the left. Someone in a wheelchair is sitting further to the left, looking at the reflecting pool. The headline reads: AbledWarriors: American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial: The Dedication.

THE MEMORIAL

Photo from the Disabled Veteran's Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. shows an area view of the site for the American veterans Disabled For Life memorial in Washington, D.C. The United States Capitol building is seen in the background.

Through the juxtaposition of granite and glass, The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial conveys a combination of strength and vulnerability, loss and renewal.

At this sacred spot, all of us—sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, wives, husbands and friends—have the opportunity to learn the important lessons of courage, sacrifice, tenacity, loyalty and honor by bearing witness to the experiences of our heroes who are disabled.

The focal point of the Memorial is a star-shaped fountain, its surface broken only by a single ceremonial flame. A grove of trees stands sentry beside the reflecting pool, signifying the persistence of hope.

Dedicated to both the living and the deceased—a setting for coming together or quiet meditation—the Memorial holds a special place in the hearts of all Americans, and serves as a never-ending reminder to all of the cost of human conflict.

(Source: The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial)

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THE HISTORY

17 Years In The Making

 

AbledWarriors photo shows philanthropist Lois Pope with Former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the late Jesse Brown.

 

It all began in 1997. Lois Pope, a prominent philanthropist with a strong interest in veterans’ causes, contacted Jesse Brown, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Clinton Administration. In turn, Jesse put Lois in touch with Art Wilson, National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans.  Lois indicated that she wanted to sit down with Art to discuss the many issues facing disabled veterans and their families.  During their initial meeting, Lois mentioned that she had noticed all the different memorials around the city.  She then asked Art the question that became the inspiration: “Where is it in Washington D.C. that we honor disabled veterans with a memorial?” Art’s answer: “There isn’t one.” Lois’ response: “We need to change that.”

Several months later Jesse, Art and Lois met together to discuss the idea of honoring disabled veterans with a memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial would be designed to pay tribute to all disabled veterans, past, present and future, who have served or will serve in our nation’s military forces.  Knowing they would need authorization from Congress in order to build a memorial, they formed a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, and The Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. was born. The initial volunteer Board of Directors of the Foundation included Lois Pope, Chairman, and  Art Wilson, President,  and two additional volunteer members who were brought aboard for their tireless advocacy and leadership on veteran issues: from California, Ken Musselmann, Director; and from South Dakota, Gene Murphy, Treasurer. Secretary Jesse Brown was the Foundation’s first Executive Director.

All memorials in Washington are subject to the rigid standards of the U.S. Commemorative Works Act [40 USC Chapter 89 – National Capital Memorials and Commemorative Works]. Because the Act limits commemorative works honoring “… individuals or groups of individuals … until after the 25th anniversary of the death of the last surviving member of the group,” this Memorial, which specifically included living disabled veterans, required a special amendment to the Act.  The Act proscribes a rigorous process – “24 Steps for Establishing a Memorial in the Nation’s Capital” – which begins with authorization by the U.S. Congress.

After establishing the Foundation, Lois, Art and Jesse worked together to draft legislation to present before Congress. The final draft was introduced to Congress in October of 1998, and co-sponsored by Senators John McCain (AZ) and Max Cleland (GA), and Representatives Sam Johnson (TX) and John Murtha (PA). It requested that Congress “authorize the DVLMF to establish a memorial on Federal lands in the District of Columbia or its environs to honor veterans who became disabled while serving in the U.S. armed forces.”  Lois, Art and Jesse made numerous trips to Capitol Hill to promote the Memorial mission with legislators, and everyone they met with had the same response: they embraced the idea and were committed to getting it moved through committee and approved. Finally, on October 24, 2000, it was signed into law by President Clinton and became Public Law 106-348.

With the law in place, the Foundation focused on the vital challenges of the “24 Step” process:

  Create broad public awareness of the Memorial and its mission;

  Develop fundraising programs to secure the necessary financial support from individuals, corporations and organizations (Public Law 106-348 specifically stated that no Federal funds would be provided for the Memorial);

  Select a site for the Memorial;

  Convene a Design Competition and select the Memorial designer.

Over the ensuing years, the Foundation successfully executed each of the “24 Steps” leading to the planned dedication of The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in October 2014. After dedication, the Memorial will be transferred to the National Park Service with its mission fulfilled.

 

(Source: The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial)

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THE DESIGN


AbledWarriors photo shows one of the early ink pen sketches of the design concept for the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial designed by Michael Vergason of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. It shows part of the outside wall and the ceremonial flame in the center of the granite star.

It’s not very often that an architect has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in a prominent, public setting. But that is precisely what happened to Michael Vergason, of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, based in Alexandria, Virginia.

On Veterans Day in 2002, the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation launched a design competition for The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Twenty renowned architecture and landscape architecture firms were invited to participate. Michael Vergason Landscape Architects was selected the following July, based on the design concept that is now coming to life within sight of the U.S. Capitol.

Vergason, whose work can also be seen at the National Cathedral, the U.S. Supreme Court, Monticello, the U.S. Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and his alma mater, the University of Virginia, envisioned a hallowed place amid the bustle of the surrounding Washington streets. His design was meant expressly for its audience – disabled veterans, their loved ones and caretakers – who would now have a place for commemoration and quiet reflection within a grove of trees framed by granite and glass walls, punctuated by a ceremonial flame and a reflecting pool.

This approach to design is a hallmark of Vergason’s firm. Every project is process driven, beautifully detailed and seamlessly integrated into existing conditions, deriving inspiration from the uniqueness of a place and defining the salient characteristics throughout the seasons. Founded on the belief that landscape is a poetic, humanizing discipline responding to the fundamental human need for connection to the surrounding world, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects designs lasting places through the creative and rigorous study of the site and its context.

Given this guiding philosophy, the Memorial’s physical and symbolic centerpiece is a star-shaped fountain, embedded into a broad reflecting pool. Used throughout American history to honor, recognize, reward and represent our highest aspirations, this strong focal point structures the site. At its center, the ceremonial flame – the fire – embodies the elemental forces of injury, loss and renewal, and emerges from the water as a reminder of the hope that springs from perseverance in the face of adversity.

And then, standing sentry-like alongside the reflecting pool, are a grove of trees to provide dappled shade and comfort along the Memorial’s main paths. These paths are lined by the glass and granite walls of Vergason’s design, each representing the strength and fragility of the human spirit.

Experienced all together, these elements create a unique and respectful setting to reflect on – and honor – the great sacrifices of America’s disabled veterans…yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Read more about the design elements at the following links:

ARCHITECTURE
ENGINEERING
INTERPRETIVE CONTENT
GLASS PANELS
BRONZE SCULPTURES
REFLECTING POOL
CEREMONIAL FLAME
LANDSCAPING
STONE INSCRIPTIONS
PROFILES

 

(Source: The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial)

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THE MEANING

The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial will mean many things for many people, especially the individuals personally touched by disability, their comrades and their families and friends.

These short summaries are excerpted from longer recollections by three members of the Board of Directors of the Disabled Veteran’s Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. You can read their full essays by clicking on this link.

 

Dennis Joyner – Secretary | US Army, 9th Infantry Division, Bronze Star and Purple Heart

Mr. Joyner served in the U.S. Army, 9th Infantry Division, in Vietnam. While on patrol in June 1969 in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, he became a triple amputee due to a land mine explosion.

What the Memorial Means to Me

Finally, a Memorial that will recognize and remember the lives of pain and suffering that I and my fellow disabled veterans have had to endure.  A Memorial that stands to honor the sacrifices forced upon my parents, my wife and my children.  A Memorial that will remove those haunting words I relive every day that I screamed on the jungle floor of the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, “Let Me Die,” as I visualized the loss of both my legs and my arm.  Finally, a sense of satisfaction knowing what I gave, and my family and I continue to give, will be forever remembered.

REMEMBER….the sound of my cries and visualize the loss of both of my legs and my arm as I lay wounded on the jungle floor in South Vietnam.

REMEMBER….the sound of my mother and father’s hesitant footsteps on the wooden floor of the Army Hospital the first time they came to visit me.

REMEMBER….the pain and suffering that I and so many other disabled veterans endure for our FREEDOM.

REMEMBER….as you stand view the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial, we did it for you.

Finally, a Memorial that provides me a place to reflect back on my life as a disabled veteran.

Hearing my mother so often talk about the fear she had within as she walked through the hall of Valley Forge Army Hospital on her way to see me for that first time after losing my legs and arm. Being told how my father angrily responded that I would be fine after a friend told him it was a shame what happened to me.  And after being excited to receive artificial legs at age 21, only to later realize I would be more mobile living my life in a wheelchair.  And what did my adult son mean when he told my wife to keep an eye on our daughter because being my father’s child is not easy?

Yes, this is my Memorial for me to reflect and remember my life as one who gave three limbs defending the freedoms we so dearly cherish and for all those who live it with me.

It is a Memorial that will provide those whose lives haven’t been affected by the ongoing consequences war causes to understand that war, for some, lasts a lifetime.

Click here to read Mr. Joyner’s full essay

 

Diane Musselmann – Director | Widow of Kenneth G. Musselman – Director, U.S. Army, Co. B 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, and received both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Kenneth Musselmann served with the U.S. Army Americal Division in Vietnam where a land mine explosion and gunshot wounds resulted in the amputation of both his legs.

What the Memorial Means to Me

This Memorial means reaching a dream of Kenny’s.  It means remembering all the sacrifices that so many have made and have gone unnoticed by our country.  Soldiers are injured and life goes on, except, life is never the same.  Whether you can see someone’s disability or not, the pain never leaves.  The day the Memorial is dedicated, my family and I will be there to represent Kenny and stand for him.  I know he will be standing proud, too.

Click here to read Mrs. Musselmann’s full essay

 

Roberto “Bobby” Barrera – Director |  U.S. Marine Corps, Purple Heart Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.

Mr. Barrera enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in February 1969 and while serving in Vietnam, he was seriously burned when enemy forces exploded a 500-pound land mine beneath his armored personnel carrier.

What the Memorial Means to Me

The Memorial is a direct reflection of my journey of the last forty-four years.  Initially, I asked a question common to many disabled veterans, “Why me God?”  I experienced a lot of anger at not having an answer to that question.  I suffered.  My family suffered.  I needed some purpose as to my existence.  Through love and compassion my anger was transformed into hope.  That hope became a spirit of service.  Through service to others I found my purpose in life.  This Memorial is my country’s gift to me, a gift of that same love and compassion that nurtured me and carried me during the darkest period of my life.  This Memorial is a reflection of who I am today.  It is a Memorial of healing.  It is a Memorial of hope.  It is a Memorial of service, a Memorial of my service to my country.

Click here to read Mr. Barrera’s full essay

AbledPeople link banner shows a photo of philanthropist Lois Pope standing with her hands behind her backs she stands between the reflecting pool and a glass panel that features a photograph of a soldier and a quotation at the new American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington , D.C. The headline reads: AbledPeople: Lois Pope: A 16 year quest to honor disabled veterans and a champion of 'Life' at 81. Click here to go to the post.
AbledWarriors photo shows a wide shot of the invited audience looking across the star-shaped fountain at the VIP stage where Lois Pope and Art Wilson and other members of their Foundation listen to President Obama's remarks at the dedication of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington DC.

The ‘Force Majeure’ Behind The Memorial

There are two chance encounters that planted the seeds of what later germinated into the inspiration for The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial.

The first occurred in the 1960’s when Lois Pope, a former Broadway singer and TV Commercial model, visited injured Vietnam War veterans recovering at a hospital in New York, and when she reached out to take the hand of a wounded soldier as she sang ‘Somewhere‘ from ‘West Side Story‘, she discovered he didn’t have one. It was a stark, shocking moment that brought home the horrors of war to a young woman who described herself as ‘naive’ and ‘clueless’ up ’til then.

The second occurred many years later as Lois Pope visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., when she observed a disabled veteran in a wheelchair. She asked a park ranger where the memorial for disabled veterans was. “There isn’t one”, he answered.

Those two chance encounters combined to set in motion what would become a 16 year journey to make the Memorial a reality.  Mrs. Pope and her Foundations, established from her inheritance after the death of her husband Generoso Pope, Jr., the founder of the National Enquirer,  contributed over $10 million to the project and helped to raise another $80 million to underwrite the costs of getting legislation approved, and then designing and constructing the Memorial.

These many years later, her determination culminates in today’s dedication and she hopes the Memorial provokes “thinking and thanking” and that its location, close to the Capitol Building, makes lawmakers “think twice” about the human cost of war.

Read more about this dynamic 81 year-old’s zest for life and her other philanthropic efforts at The Lois Pope Life Foundation and soon in our upcoming AbledPeople profile of Lois Pope.

President Barack Obama, left, is presented a plaque by philanthropist Lois Pope, right, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, during the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial dedication ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. President Obama paid tribute to disabled U.S. veterans on Sunday, pointing to the dedication of a new memorial honoring those severely injured in war as a symbol of the nation's perseverance and character. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Barack Obama, left, is presented a plaque by philanthropist Lois Pope, right, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, during the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial dedication ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.

President Obama paid tribute to disabled U.S. veterans on Sunday, pointing to the dedication of a new memorial honoring those severely injured in war as a symbol of the nation’s perseverance and character.

(Photo:wwlp.com/AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Lois Pope addresses the 2014 Disabled American Veterans & DAV Auxiliary National Convention

AbledWarriors banner reads: The Dedication Ceremony

President Obama Dedicates New Memorial To Disabled Veterans

(WASHINGTON) U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to disabled American veterans, living and deceased, from all conflicts as he participated in the dedication of The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. .

“America . . .”, he told the audience of over 3,000 people – many of them wounded and disabled veterans, “if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country, a country that never quits, look at these men and women.”

The President said the memorial would commemorate two centuries of Americans who have stepped forward to serve, leaving loved ones behind, and who returned home forever altered by war.

Mr. Obama said, “This memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under. If we are to truly honor these veterans we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let’s never rush into war, because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives. “Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary.”

The dedication, Sunday, October 5th, was the culmination of 16 years of lobbying, fundraising and bureaucratic maneuvering by philanthropist Lois Pope, the late former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown and former CEO and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans organization Art Wilson. Mrs. Pope contributed $10 million of the more than $80 million raised  and started a Foundation to shepherd the Memorial through the daunting evolution from an idea to a U.S. law enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and, ultimately, the finished site comprised of stone, glass, bronze, symbolic trees and a granite star- shaped fountain with a ceremonial flame and reflecting pool.

It is located behind the U.S. Botanic Garden near the Rayburn House Office Building with a kitty corner view to the U.S. Capitol Building as seen in the following watercolor rendering by the firm of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects in Alexandria, Virginia, which submitted the chosen design.

AbledWarriors photo shows a watercolor rendering by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects of their design for The American veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. The watercolor is done as an aerial view of the site with the U.S. Capitol building in the distance in the top right corner. The site is a rectangular space with a fountain in the shape of a granite star and a reflecting pool bordered on one side by stone walls with various inscriptions and etched glass panels with bronze sculptures surrounded by a grove of trees.

Disabled Veterans Advocate, Actor Gary Sinise Speaks At Memorial

(WASHINGTON) You may know him best for his indelible portrayal of disabled veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, but in real life, actor Gary Sinise has used that ‘claim to fame’ as a springboard to be an outspoken advocate of veterans’ issues.

In his most recent role as National Spokesman for The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial, he has traveled from coast to coast across the United States raising awareness about the Memorial and helping to raise funds.

Today, Sunday, October 5, 2014, his efforts, and those of the Board of Directors of the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation saw the fruition of their efforts at the dedication of the Memorial.

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AbledWarriors Photo shows a photograph of two of the panels from the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. . A photo of a soldier comforting a wounded comrade is etched into the glass while a braze sculpture outline of a solider in full battle gear walking in a crouched position is seen in the background.
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AbledWarriors-Photo-Invites guests and veterans are seen behind a flame from a pool as they listen to President Barack Obama speak at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial dedication ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.
AbledWarriors Photo: Watercolor rendering of an aerial view of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial
AbledWarriors Photo: Aerial view of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial
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THE HISTORY OF THE MEMORIAL

This video was produced as an overview of the 16 year journey to bring the tribute to fruition, and, as an invitation to the official dedication ceremony of October, 5, 2014.

AMERICAN VETERANS DISABLED FOR LIFE MEMORIAL 

This video was produced to raise awareness about the proposed Memorial and to solicit donations to help with the funding of it.

GARY SINISE CHAMPIONS THE MEMORIAL ON ‘FACE THE NATION’ 

This video was produced in August as actor Gary Sinise, the official spokesman of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial is interviewed for the CBS program ‘Face The Nation’.

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AbledCoping-Heroin-vs.-Philip-Seymour-Hoffman

POSTED ON February 5th  - POSTED IN AbledCoping
AbledCoping Banner shows a silhouette of 5 people standing side-by-side with upraised linked hands against a glowing yellow-orange sunrise seen over the curve of the Earth from space with the AbledCoping logo at the top center of the banner.
AbledCoping Post Banner shows a double exposure black and white photo of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman facing forward and then looking to his right. The headline reads: AbledCoping: Addiction: Heroin versus Philip Seymour Hoffman . . . A tragic and Final Fade To Black.

The Sad Downward Spiral Following A Relapse And A Domestic Split

UPDATE: February 5: Police Make 4 Arrests in Hoffman Investigation

 

Three men and a woman have been arrested in New York City’s lower Manhattan area, and a search of three apartments found 350 bags of heroin.

 

The New York Times confirmed the suspects as Robert Vineberg, 57, who lives at 302 Mott Street in Apt. 38  where the majority of the bags of heroin were found was charged with drug possession and criminal use of drug paraphernalia. Max Rosenblum, 22, and Juliana Luchkiw, 22, who live together in Apt. 27 at 302 Mott Street, were also each charged with drug possession and criminal use of drug paraphernalia.  And Thomas Cushman, 48, who was in Apt. 21, was charged with drug possession.

 

TMZ.com is reporting that police got a tip from a heroin addict who claims to have shared a deal with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The site also reports that sources have told them Vineberg, under his stage name – Robert Aaron – has played saxophone for Mick Jagger, Amy Winehouse, Wyclef Jean, Tom Jones and David Bowie.

 

AbledCoping photo shows an album cover of Robert Aaron titled Trouble Man - which shows Aaron wearing a fedora hat and a leather jacket in the middle of a street at night. He has dark brown hear and a mustache. His real name is Robert Vineberg and he has been arrested after being found in his apartment with a stash of heroin bags suspect in the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

 

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News is shedding some light on Hoffman’s final days, reporting Hoffman showed up in search of moral support at the 8:30 p.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meeting Jan. 26 near his West Village apartment. Dressed in a heavy dark coat, dark jeans and boots, Hoffman was a familiar face at the storefront on Perry St. where he had been coming to meetings for 25 years. But he hadn’t been by in a while.“It’s good to see you,” another regular, 53-year-old Jose Torres of SoHo, recalled telling Hoffman.“He was doing fine at the moment. He didn’t look drunk or high or anything like that.”

While the world of cinema was shocked by the sudden news that acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead Sunday morning, February 2nd, with a syringe in his arm and dozens of bags of heroin and needles littering his West Village apartment, many reports have said his family and friends were not. Horribly saddened yes, but not surprised.

 

The Oscar® winning actor, once the darling of movie critics, had now become fodder for the tabloid press as Hoffman’s struggles with substance abuse and addiction became the top tending topic across social media and photos of his spiral downward splashed across media sites like a tidal wave. 

 

AbledCoping photo shows a screengrab of the Daily Mail online website showing headlines and photos related to the death of actor Philip Hoffman, including photos of him with his partner at an awards show, the actor sitting drunk and passed out on a flight, and a photo of him with his son at a basketball game. Accompanying text suggests he was thrown out of the family home after relapsing into drug use after a stint in rehab earlier in 2013.

 

Police are trying to locate surveillance camera recordings from an ATM machine in a nearby grocery store where witnesses have said they saw Hoffman withdrawing money and appearing to purchase drugs from two men who looked like bicycle couriers. The same witnesses say the actor looked pale, disheveled and sweaty.

 

Dr. Harris Stratyner, Clinical Regional Vice-President of Caron Treatment Centers, who did not treat Philip Seymour Hoffman, speaks about addiction to a number of media newscasts and programs, and says that the actor’s death reaffirms that substance abuse and addiction is a life-long disease. 

Reasons For The Dangerous Surge In Heroin Use

 

Fatal heroin overdoses in the United States rose from 1,879 annually in 2004 to 3,038 as of 2010 according to the latest data from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). And according to a UN study last November, opium poppy cultivation (the plant heroin is derived from) in Afghanistan is up by 36% and the resulting opium production rose by 49%.

 

We may be winning the war on terrorism but we’re losing the war on drugs. The map below from the UN’s World Drug Report 2012 shows the use of opioids – mainly heroin, morphine and non-medical use of prescription opioids – remains dangerously high.

 

AbledCoping-Map from the United Nations World Drug Report 2012 shows countries in different colored shading related to the use of opioids - mainly heroin, morphine and non-medical use of prescription opioids remains dangerously high. Use in the United States is shown at the highest ranked level of up to 1% of the population aged 15 to 64, the same ranking as Australia, Mexico, Russia and some countries in the Middle East. Click here to go to the .pdf version of the report.

 

One of the alarming trends law enforcement officials have observed is the transition from prescription medications to heroin. A recent study found that 80% of people who tried heroin for the first time had previously been using prescribed meds. 

 

Price may also be a factor, especially in the face of a widespread crackdown on the abuse of painkillers such as OxyContin – it’s cheaper to buy heroin, but the problem with street heroin is that you don’t know what it’s being cut with. That ignorance has caused fatal results on the U.S. East Coast last year and again over the past few months because of heroin doses spiked with a cancer painkiller of last resort – a synthetic morphine called acetyl fentanyl.  It has been confirmed as the cause of death in 19 of 22 fatal overdoses in 13 days in Rhode Island, 22 deaths in Pennsylvania and 5 deaths on Long Island just last month.

 

Police officials have said, off-the-record, that samples of heroin found in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s apartment didn’t show any traces of the fentanyl. Investigators did find buprenorphine, a drug used to treat heroin addiction. 

 

Addiction specialists, in sudden favor with the 24 hour cable news factories, say Hoffman’s heroin use seems to follow an all-too-familiar pattern seen in other addicts with financial means who’ve built up a long-term tolerance to heroin and stockpile the drug because they can tolerate up to two bundles, or about 24 packets, per day, often needing to shoot-up every few hours to reach the same ‘high’.

 

Police found over 70 packets of heroin in Hoffman’s apartment and other drug paraphernalia along with a muscle relaxant and blood pressure medication. Some of the packets were stamped with the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Spades, the latter a brand not seen on the streets since 2008 in Brooklyn, suggesting Hoffman had, indeed, stockpiled it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Didn’t Have to Die

 

That headline is the claim of Maia Szalavitz, author of Born For Love: Why Empathy Is Essential – and Endangered, and a neuroscience journalist for Time.comShe writes: 

 

Opioid drugs aren’t only killing celebrities— poisoning deaths, most of which are due to drugs, have actually overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., responsible for nearly 40,000 fatalities annually. But those numbers don’t need to be so high.

 

Although preventing opioid addiction is difficult, preventing deaths from it is far simpler. The majority can be avoided with simple measures — such as knowing the signs of overdose and keeping a nontoxic antidote available in first aid kits— that the U.S. has been slow to adopt.  The stigma of addiction and the lack of organized advocacy for affected people have been the biggest barriers to change.

 

Whether it’s a heroin addict who has relapsed, a toddler who gets into grandma’s oxycontin, a granddad who drinks and takes the wrong pills or a teenager who tries these drugs in a dangerously high dose, there are ways to prevent these individuals from becoming victims of an overdose.

 

1) Be an active witness

 

While people tend to imagine that overdoses primarily occur when drug users are alone, in fact, at least half of them happen in the presence of others. In England, for example, 80% of users who overdosed did so while with others and 54% had also witnessed others who had OD’d.  A study in New York similarly found that 57% of over 1,000 crack and heroin users had personally witnessed at least one overdose.  A Rhode Island study revealed that 35% of opioid users had overdosed at least once themselves and two-thirds had seen someone else do so.

 

While we don’t know whether anyone was with Hoffman when he injected the drugs that likely killed him, if he was not intentionally seeking suicide, it’s possible that someone might have been with him at some point during the one to three hours it typically takes for opioids to kill. And if his injection was witnessed and that person had known the signs of overdose, the actor would have had an excellent chance of surviving.

 

2) Know the signs: Don’t let them sleep it off

 

While it’s not clear whether Hoffman had company when he stopped breathing, he could only have been saved if those nearby had known the signs of overdose and intervened.

 

If someone has taken any kind of depressant drug— including alcohol, benzodiazepines like Xanax or Ativan or painkillers— and they seem to be breathing unusually slowly, letting them “sleep it off” could be fatal.  These drugs are far more likely to be lethal when taken together than when taken alone. In fact, most opioid overdoses actually include a combination of other drugs, including alcohol and anti-anxiety medications, that further depress breathing to dangerously low levels.

 

If someone has taken these drugs and starts “snoring funny,” or seems to have a bluish tinge to their skin and will not respond when you try to wake them, it’s a medical emergency. Call 911 and then start CPR with rescue breathing.  Although chest compressions can be used without rescue breathing for heart attack victims, this does not work in case of overdose— what kills them  is a lack of oxygen, so rescue breathing is imperative.

 

3) Know about naloxone

 

Although opioid overdoses typically take several hours to kill, once breathing has slowed past a certain point, it takes just seconds for the lack of oxygen to damage the brain irreversibly.  But there is an antidote that if used before this point — even when the opioids are mixed with other drugs— that can instantly reverse what excessive amounts of the drugs can do, typically reviving victims in seconds.

 

That drug is known as naloxone (Narcan). The government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is currently distributing an “Opioid Overdose Toolkit” [PDF] to encourage communities to learn about overdose symptoms and increase its availability.  If you have an addicted family member or know someone at risk for overdose, the kit provides information on how to get it.  Naloxone is nontoxic and cannot be abused— in fact, it causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms so there is little likelihood it would be misused, and even less chance it would encourage more drug use as an overdose “safety net.”

 

Read Maia’s full essay @Time.com

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Where can a person with no money and no insurance get treatment?

You can use the “SELECT SERVICES” button from any of the search pages and check the boxes for “sliding fee scale” and “payment assistance.” Then call the facilities to determine their policy.

You can contact your State Substance Abuse Agency. You may also call one of the Referral Helplines operated by SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment:

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People access drug treatment in a variety of ways.

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