Everett Families, Doctors And First Responders Work To Combat Spike In Overdose Deaths

Struggling to find resource for her son as he battled his heroin addiction, Patti Scalesse decided to start the group Everett Overcoming Addiction. It brings together parents and patients who are learning to manage  substance abuse disorder. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Struggling to find resources for her son as he battled his heroin addiction, Patti Scalesse decided to start the group Everett Overcoming Addiction. It brings together parents and patients who are learning to manage substance abuse disorder. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Patti Scalesse says she never saw it coming. Even when she found a syringe cap in her car three years ago and called her son, Francis Kenney, to tell him not to let his friends get high in her car. When Kenney then told her they needed to talk, Scalesse never expected to hear that her boy was addicted to heroin.

“Not my kid, my kid would never use drugs, he was a Marine,” Scalesse remembers thinking. “Well guess what, he did.”

Kenney, then age 21, was discharged from the Marines with a prescription for pain medication. Within a year of his release, Scalesse says, he had switched to heroin and was asking her for help.

“I thought, OK, I’ll pack him a bag, give him a pillow, bring him to detox, five days later he’ll be home and everything will be OK. No one tells you that the next two to three years of your life is just pure chaos.”

– Patti Scalesse, speaking about her son's battle with addiction

They met in a park, down the street from a pizza joint where Scalesse learned her son routinely went into the bathroom to get high. Scalesse absorbed the shock and started figuring out how to fix the problem.

“I thought, OK, I’ll pack him a bag, give him a pillow, bring him to detox, five days later he’ll be home and everything will be OK,” she says with a dry laugh. “No one tells you that the next two to three years of your life is just pure chaos.”

Chaos, because Kenney relapsed several times, and Scalesse realized she didn’t know what to do.

“I went to the police station and city hall to see what sort of information I could get to get my son some help. Nobody had anything. They gave me a 1-800 number with a Post-it note,” Scalesse says.

So she started a group, Everett Overcoming Addiction, that brings together parents and patients who are learning to manage this chronic illness. Her son, now 24, spoke at a rally. Kenney has been off heroin for 10 months and has a job. But as Scalesse was building a website, planning events and reaching out to other families, the disease hit her family again.

“My nephew was just 17,” Scalesse says, sighing. “We did not know he was using, and we got the call that he had died.”

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Mass. Revises Up The Number Of Opioid-Related Deaths In 2014

OxyContin pills are arranged at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. in this 2013 file photo. Opioid drugs include OxyContin. (Toby Talbot/AP)

OxyContin pills are arranged at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. in this 2013 file photo. Opioid drugs include OxyContin. (Toby Talbot/AP)

The announcement, in late April, stunned many: that last year’s number of opiate overdose deaths in Massachusetts had topped 1,000. Now the state Department of Public Health has revised that estimate — and it’s even worse than initially reported.

Now, 1,256 is the latest estimate of men and women whose deaths last year are attributed to a fatal dose of heroin or an opioid-based painkiller. That’s nearly four people a day statewide. Two dozen cities and towns had 10 or more overdoses (see the table at the bottom of this post). Some municipalities saw a three- or fourfold increase in overdose deaths, as compared with 2013.

CLICK TO ENLARGE. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

CLICK TO ENLARGE. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

“When you are in an epidemic and crisis — which is what we have labeled the opioid deaths in the commonwealth of Massachusetts — the numbers will increase until such time that our efforts at intervention, prevention, treatment really start to take hold,” Marylou Sudders, the state health secretary, told WBUR in an interview.

Added Gov. Charlie Baker in a statement: “[W]e are fighting this disease with every approach available including better analysis of where and why people succumb to the disease.” Continue reading

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Summer Listening From The Checkup: High Anxiety, Revisited

Summer is supposed to be a happy time, right? But for many, it’s a very anxious time — particularly if you suffer from fear of flying and a long-distance vacation looms, or from intense parental anxiety as your children range farther off than usual.

So, for your summer listening pleasure, we offer you this favorite episode from among the best of The Checkup, the WBUR/Slate podcast: It explores three different aspects of that incredibly common (especially among CommonHealth co-hosts) psychiatric disorder: anxiety.

First, we get into Rachel’s fear of flying and how she (sort of) overcame it. For a fuller story, she wrote about it here, but the saga continues.

Then, we speak with Harvard Medical School’s Mohammed Milad about his research on an intriguing hormone-based hypothesis that might help explain why so many more women suffer from fear and anxiety disorders than men. For more, see Rachel’s full interview with him: “Why Do So Many Women Have Anxiety Disorders? A Hormone Hypothesis“.

And finally, we talk about parental anxiety and how we can try to manage it better through mindfulness techniques, featuring a recent book on the topic — “The Mindful Way Through Anxiety” — by Suffolk University professor Sue Orsillo. For more, the book’s website is here, and a sample chapter is here.

Elderly And Drugged: Far More Psych Meds Prescribed To Old Than Young

Evidence suggests that anti-anxiety medications like Xanax increase the risk of falls in older adults, which can cause a cascade of problems. (johnofhammond/Flickr, with edits by WBUR)

Evidence suggests that anti-anxiety medications like Xanax increase the risk of falls in older adults, which can cause a cascade of problems. (johnofhammond/Flickr, with edits by WBUR)

By Nell Lake
Guest Contributor

Are we over-treating the elderly with psychiatric drugs?

That’s the natural question arising from a recent report that found adults over 65 are receiving psychotropic medications at twice the rate of younger adults. The study, published in this month’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, also found that elders are much less likely to get their mental health care from psychiatrists or to receive psychotherapy.

What’s the problem? First, psychotropic drugs generally pose greater risks to the elderly than they do to younger patients, and non-drug approaches, from therapy to meditation, may be as effective as psychotropic medications for some seniors’ mental disorders, without the risks.

The findings suggest that physicians and insurers should reassess psychotropic drug use among the elderly, says lead author Donovan Maust, a geriatric psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

Maust’s team used 2007-2010 data from the CDC’s National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and from the U.S. Census to compare the rates at which older and younger adults — those 65 and older, and those 18-64 — get prescribed psychotropic medications during outpatient doctors’ visits. After analyzing more than 100,000 of these doctor visits, and taking into account the fact that the younger population is much larger than the older one, the researchers found that older adults were much more likely to be prescribed psychiatric drugs for anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Researchers also found that these seniors were less likely to receive other types of non-drug treatment for their mental distress.

The importance of all this is fairly clear: The elderly population is booming, and seniors use the health care system more than any other demographic. So, finding safe, effective and appropriate treatments for their mental health problems is critical — for the well-being of a large swath of people, and as a policy matter.

Too Many Meds, And The Wrong Kind?

Psychotropic drugs pose both direct and indirect risks to the elderly: First, the drugs themselves can be dangerous. The American Geriatrics Society lists many psychotropic medications as potentially inappropriate for elderly patients. Continue reading

Summer Listening From ‘The Checkup': Sexual Reality Check, Revisited

We can’t be reminded too often that the fantasies portrayed in bodice-buster novels and porn flicks bear only a vague resemblance to what happens (and how we look) in real life.

So here, as part of our summer-listening revival of the best of our WBUR/Slate podcast, The Checkup, is a favorite, particularly juicy episode, titled “Sexual Reality Check.” It includes surprises about penis size, stories of great sex over 70 and new insights on how both men and women are lied to about their sexuality.

In case you missed other recent episodes: “Teenage Zombies” explored the curious minds of adolescents, with segments on sleep, porn and impulsive choices; “Power to the Patient” looked at ways we can all feel in more control of our health care; and “High Anxiety” included reports on hormones, parenting and fear of flying.

Better yet, don’t miss a single episode and just subscribe now.

New Moms Cite Lack Of Advice From Docs On Key Issues: Sleeping, Breastfeeding

A new study found that about 20 percent of mothers said they didn’t receive advice from their baby’s doctors about breastfeeding or the current thinking on safe placement for sleeping newborns. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

A new study found that about 20 percent of mothers said they didn’t receive advice from their baby’s doctors about breastfeeding or the current thinking on safe placement for sleeping newborns. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

After I gave birth to my kids, I was bombarded with advice from family, bestselling books and even strangers on topics ranging from how to lose the baby weight, when to have sex again and which infant toys boost IQ.

But according to a new, NIH-funded study, many sleep-deprived, hormone-addled new mothers may not be getting enough advice on critical issues from a most important source: doctors and other health care providers.

When it comes to breastfeeding, infant sleep position, immunization and pacifier use, many new moms report they get no advice at all from their children’s doctors — despite medical evidence on the benefits of certain practices, like breastfeeding and placing babies on their backs for sleep.

The new study — published in the journal Pediatrics and conducted by researchers at Boston Medical Center, Boston University and Yale University — found that about 20 percent of mothers said they didn’t receive advice from their baby’s doctors about breastfeeding or the current thinking on safe placement for sleeping newborns. And more than 50 percent of mothers told investigators that doctors did not offer guidance on where the babies should sleep.

(Of course the whole issue of where newborns should sleep is controversial. Official recommendations now say babies should “room share” with parents but not “bed share.”)

The study, part of a larger national effort called SAFE (Studies of Attitudes and Factors Effecting Infant Care Practices), surveyed more than 1,000 new mothers across the country, inquiring about infant care advice they received from different sources: doctors, nurses, family members and the media.

Dr. Staci Eisenberg, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and lead author of the new study, said in an interview that the number of moms who reported no advice from across the board is surprising.

“These findings say to me, ‘Hmm, this is a time to stop and think carefully about how we communicate, and are we communicating in a clear, specific enough way, and are we being heard, especially by new moms — new parents — who are often tired and likely overwhelmed?’ ” she said. “Amidst this sea of information, what are the messages that need to be highlighted and communicated clearly?” Continue reading

‘I Don’t See Any Stigma': Father Fights Suicide In Black Community After Son’s Death

Joseph Feaster Jr. with a portrait of his son Joseph Feaster III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Joseph Feaster Jr. with a portrait of his son Joseph Feaster III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Joseph Feaster Jr. is not a minister. He’s a successful Boston attorney. But for the last five years he’s been doing a lot of preaching about a subject close to his heart.

“My ministry right now, because it’s even more personal — it involves my son — is around mental health,” Feaster says. “And if I can help the next person to understand it, to get through it, that’s my being.”

His son carried his name and was thereby Joseph Feaster III. He died by suicide in 2010, at the age of 27.

His death came at a triple-decker on Elmore Street in Roxbury, not far from Dudley Square. That’s where he had lived most of his life — first with his parents and sister, and then renting an apartment from his father.

His father recalls lots of times going with Joseph to Horatio Harris Park, less than a block from the family’s home. The elder Feaster doesn’t remember any signs of mental illness in his son as a child.

“No, not at all. I mean, he was a happy kid,” Feaster recalls. “He played here. He climbed the structures here. He would be with his sister and her friends. And he had a great smile.” Continue reading

‘It's No Longer Dark': Suicide Attempt Survivors Share Messages Of Hope

Mary Esther Rohman tried to take her own life many times when she was younger. But now, she's in a very different place. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Mary Esther Rohman tried to take her own life many times when she was younger. But now, she’s in a very different place. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Mary Esther Rohman, of Belmont, knows what it means to hit rock bottom — or worse. As she describes it, the bottom fell out. “They wanted to lock me up in a state hospital and throw away the key as being incurable,” Rohman recalls.

She tried to kill herself many times starting in her late 30s. But thanks to the right depression treatment, self-motivation and a sweet twist of fate, at the age of 67, Rohman is in a very different place.

“When I was 55 I met my soulmate, and I’m so happy!” Rohman says. “You never can tell what life is going to bring you. You’ve got to wait and see what the next chapter is going to be.”

Craig Miller, of Townsend, also knows the dark place of feeling suicidal. “I always had thoughts of suicide since I was 8 years old,” he says. “I always struggled with depression. I always struggled with mental health issues.”

Miller made several suicide attempts. But he recovered, turning his mental suffering into a force to help himself and others.

“It’s no longer dark, and it no longer hurts. And it’s no longer painful, and it no longer has this power over me that it used to have,” Miller reflects. Continue reading

Boston Moms: Let’s Spend Olympics Savings On Gym And Recess For Kids

(Steven Depolo/Flickr)

(Steven Depolo/Flickr)

By Kate Lowenstein
 and Ramika Smith
Guest contributors

We have a suggestion for how to spend some of the billions of dollars that Boston will likely save by not hosting the Olympics: How about we invest even 1 percent of that into the bodies and brains of our children by ensuring they get ample physical education and recess time?

Instead of spending billions to have elite adult athletes playing sports in our city, we can at least give our own Boston Public Schools kids the chance to run and play here.

Most parents of kids in the city’s public schools assume their children get recess every day, as we did when we were kids, but the reality turns out to be quite different. While the CDC recommends that all children get at least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise every day, and at least 30 minutes of school-time physical activity, many of our schools allow for as little as 20 minutes, if that.

Over the past two decades, accelerated by No Child Left Behind’s focus on testing, the tendency has been to reduce or eliminate physical education and recess. And our school administrators and legislators look the other way without recognizing the overwhelming amount of evidence that shows the significant academic and mental health benefits of these physical activity breaks.

Recess and physical education are as integral to a long school day as are Math, Science, and English.

In January of 2009, the journal Pediatrics published a groundbreaking study of 11,000 third-graders, comparing those who had little or no daily recess with those that had more than 15 minutes of recess per day. The findings show that children who have more recess time behave better in the classroom and are likelier to learn more.

In January of this year, The Boston Foundation released a report: “Active Bodies, Active Minds: A Case Study on Physical Activity and Academic Success in Lawrence, Massachusetts.” The report found that only 15 to 20 percent of Massachusetts children are meeting the 60-minute daily recommendation for physical activity and only 10.2 percent were meeting the school-time recommendation of 30 minutes.

It also underscored what we already know from many other studies; that children in schools that provide an adequate amount of time and opportunity (and encouragement) for daily physical activity, in the form of recess, gym classes and movement breaks, have higher MCAS scores in both math and ELA. Continue reading

Summer Listening At Candy Store Or Salad Bar: Scary Food Stories, Revisited

As summer enters its dog days, you can feel the great gears of the news machine slowing, slowing, slowing, like a locomotive as it pulls into a station. So now seems like a good moment to re-offer you some of the best of our WBUR/Slate podcast, The Checkup, for your listening pleasure on those long car trips and plane rides to vacationland.

In particular, in case you missed this delectable morsel, may we recommend our episode titled “Scary Food Stories”? It features three particular cautionary tales: on kale, chia seeds and sugar. Download it here before your next meal. Or if you don’t, don’t say we didn’t warn you…

In case you missed other recent episodes: “Teenage Zombies,” explored the curious minds of adolescents, with segments on sleep, porn and impulsive choices; “Power to the Patient” looked at ways we can all feel in more control of our health care; “High Anxiety” included reports on hormones, parenting and fear of flying; and “Sexual Reality Checks” examined penis size, female desire and aging.

Better yet, don’t miss a single episode and just subscribe now.