Category Archives: NEPA

Being Afraid of The Police as a Law-Abiding White Woman

I’m afraid of the police. No lie: I’ve been afraid of the police for the past 10+ years due to witnessing police brutality and abuse of power. Over the past few years I have worked on this, but there is still an unconscious response of anxiety when I happen to be in a convenient store and a police officer walks in, or when I’m driving down the road and a cop car pulls in behind me, or when I witness a cop pulling over someone else, or when I have to talk to the police for any reason.

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How is this not frightening to see coming down your street?

This shouldn’t be the case, and certainly one would think that a young white woman wouldn’t have a fear of police… but I do. And the more and more the police forces become militarized, the more and more I worry about abuses of power. My town recently had a “Police Appreciation Parade” and my house sits on the parade route (legit, my town has like 20 parades a year, and they are all in front of my house. I never thought I would hate parades until I moved here). So, the police force in my town has a lot of money that is partially funded by a huge, stinky landfill that you can smell from my back yard (and I’m about 4 miles from it). So the police have a lot of toys. The parade scared the crap out of me. Police vehicle after police vehicle set off all of their freaking ridiculously loud sirens, with officers armed in heavy duty SWAT team armor and heavy duty, scarily huge guns (I’m sorry I don’t know anything about guns. These looked like big machine weapon guns). The alarms were so ridiculously loud, and really scared me, and my poor dog. They weren’t just the regular police siren, but were the alarms that were the high pitch beep and the one that says “This is not a test” and stuff like “Stay in your houses, we are on lockdown”. All I could think about was how re-traumatizing this probably was for veterans and people who have been in warzones. The end of the parade had camouflaged humvees and other war vehicles. The only thing that makes living on a parade route tolerable is the candy thrown to those watching the parade. Needless to say, there was no candy being thrown for “Police Appreciation Day”.

Now listen. I realize that most police officers are good people, people who want to legitimately make the world a better place, and for these people, I can’t express my gratitude. I cannot imagine what it is like going into a job knowing that you could encounter dangerous situations, that maybe this is the day you don’t come home. I also can’t imagine the stress police officers are going through, knowing that now people are watching their every move and the blanket of criticism that has been laid on the police force since Ferguson (well, I mean, really since reconstruction, but Ferguson seems to be the easier chapter to look at for millennials to understand the effects of authoritarian policing and stigmatized racism).

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True Dat

How I’ve dealt with my anxiety of police officers is consciously working on turning this fear into love. When cops pass me multiple times while walking my dog, I wave. I say hello when they’re drinking their coffee in the corner store. And I have a friend who is a police officer, and this helps me personalize police officers and reconfirm my belief that there are many good, hardworking police officers who just want to make the world a better place and improve their community. It’s unfortunate when one bad banana spoils the public opinion of the rest of the bunch, however, I can talk from experience, that after seeing police brutality up close I gained a strong distrust for police. I think this is appropriate though. If the only interaction I have with police is negative, then of course my view of all police are going to be tainted. So when there are police departments that support a culture of racism and authoritarianism, of course people in those communities are going to have a hard time believing that the harmful police methods (ie: stop and frisk) will cease.

Just thought I’d keep it short and sweet. In conclusion: wear your seatbelt and download Waze while driving, and try to think of police officers as your equal, not someone who should be feared. Easier said than done.

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Healthcare is Confusing Part II: The Opioid Epidemic

I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania, an area that has been affected by drug addiction and rampant alcoholicism for as long as I can remember. I personally know more people who have died from drug overdoses than any other type of death. And almost all of these people were under the age of 35 when they died. I lost one of my best friends to a heroin overdose in 2008 when she was only 19 years old and a freshman at Penn State University. I lost a close family member to an overdose in 2011 who left four children and two grandchildren (along with many others who loved her creative and beautiful spark). My response to all of this is: Heroin (and prescription opioids) really suck.

There is no clear answer on what will end this “epidemic”. People are quick to make judgement on what should be done based on their personal worldview, which can be dangerous when forming any opinion. Recently, DAs have been charging people who have provided drugs that caused a person to overdose with homicide and manslaughter. I’ve been hearing the rallying cry crescendo over the past few months- “DEATH TO DRUG DEALERS!”.  In my opinion, although this may dissuade a few people to stop selling drugs, it isn’t the answer. And holding someone responsible (the person who sold the drugs) for the person who overdosed decision is an area that has the potential to create a dangerous precedent. We don’t hold gun owners responsible for people who kill themselves, right? We don’t jail Nabisco executives for those who died from diabetes or other sugar-causing illness, right? Now don’t get me twisted, I don’t think that we should be okay with people selling illegal drugs (or selling legal drugs illegally), but holding them responsible for this epidemic isn’t going to stop it, because it’s not looking at the real problem, the dangerousness of addiction, the availability of opioids, and both the lack of availability for drug and alcohol treatments and effective models to help people live sober lives after they’ve been addicted to drugs.

So what does the opioid epidemic actually look like? Someone only needs to visit the twin cities of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, to see an example of an area affected by addiction. People used to line up at a walk in Ready-Care clinic at 7am in downtown Scranton in order to be the first to get their script for Suboxone, a medicine akin to Methadone, which acts as the bridge between addiction (originally created for treating heroin addiction) and sobriety. The problem with Suboxone is that Suboxone has a high-risk potential for abuse, like all opioids. And, like all opioids in impoverished, rust belt cities, it is easy to get.

A few years ago, one of my friends was struggling with addiction to Suboxone and other opioids. Instead of the constant worry about getting in trouble for buying these drugs illegally, she wanted to get her own prescription for Suboxone. She also wanted to eventually get off of Suboxone, so having her own prescription would hopefully help her start the journey to living life without opioids. I ended up giving her a ride to a different walk-in clinic (about a mile from the one that people used to line up in front of), that appeared innocent and legitimate enough from the outside, but was actually just another pill-mill for those who wanted Suboxone. While in the waiting room, I spoke to a few other patients who were there for their “check up” with the doctor. I was told by one young man who was waiting for his routine check up to get his prescription filled, that all I needed to get a script of Suboxone for myself was to schedule an appointment (if I didn’t have insurance, that would be okay too, because the clinic had really good payment plans) and make sure I had some type of opioid/opiate in my system because they would give you a drug test. As long as your drug test came back showing that you had an opioid or opiate in your bloodstream to prove that you were addicted to an opioid/opiate, then they would start you on Suboxone. Easy as pie.

suboxone found outside my house

Suboxone wrapper I found in my yard. It’s everywhere.

I was in shock. That’s all I needed to do? Just take a Vicodin or Percocet or whatever and bam!- I would have a script for a month for my own Suboxone. This really troubled me. My friend who I brought to the clinic was proof of how easy it was to get a script of Suboxone. That’s all she did- took a drug test that showed she had opioids/opiates in her system and she was all set. No more worrying about buying drugs illegally because now she could buy them legally. No type of psychotherapy or AA/NA attendance was required and her appointment with the doctor lasted less than 10 minutes. It was clear that this Ready-Care only cared about keeping their waiting room packed with drug seekers than actually trying to help these patients dying in addiction.

Now that was a few years ago, and I do know that the clinic where people used to wait in line outside was raided by the FBI and two doctors were charged with Medicaid fraud, conspiracy, theft by deception and insurance fraud for submitting false claims. They also directed unqualified people on their staff to write prescriptions for controlled substances. I guess this is  a start for holding prescribers accountable, but I’m not sure how much that will dissuade other doctors from over prescribing opioids and opiates. And as far as I know, the other clinic where I took my friend is still operating as a pill-mill.

The Center for Disease Control lists the number one group of people most at risk for heroin addiction are those already addicted to prescription pain relievers. We know that people who become addicted to their pain pills turn to heroin when they no longer can get their medication. To personalize this a little- think about all the people who used to wait outside the walk-in clinic I mentioned above that got raided. Once that raid happened, and those doctors were charged with fraud, the people who were dependent on getting their pain pills or Suboxone there had to find a new way to get their drugs- and when the medical institutions won’t provide them, there are drug dealers with heroin that will do the trick.

The Center for Disease Control lists the number one step for preventing heroin abuse by reducing prescription opioid abuse. The CDC calls on doctors to implement better prescription practices. Now this seems pretty logical, right? If doctors know how to better understand pain and treat pain in ways that don’t involve medication, or at least limited use of medicine, then of course the number of people abusing opioids and opiates will drop. However, I have observed that this is a real point of contention for doctors.

Back in May I held a panel discussion about opioid abuse in NEPA, with the focus on speaking about solutions. I had the Scranton Police Chief Graziano, Democratic State Senator for the 22nd District, Senator John Blake, and two direct practitioners who work with opioid and heroin abuse in our area- Doug Albertson and Ricardo Horn. The panel was very well attended, and I was so happy to get so many different people in a room together to talk about one of the biggest issues in Northeastern PA.  However, when the discussion started to move towards prescription practices, an attendee decided to take over the panel and made sure that those in attendance knew his opinion on the matter. He walked right up to the podium, took the microphone away from the professional moderator, and went on a rant for about 10 minutes. What he had to say really opened my eyes to the need for better prescription practices. He was a surgeon who works for a small hospital in rural Pennsylvania. His tirade included blaming the audience, and not physicians, for people abusing opioids (that didn’t go over too well- any “you people”, literal finger-pointed statements don’t tend to bring positive discourse). He went on and on about how doctors aren’t the problem, and that it’s the people who don’t throw out their unused medications who are the real contributors to the opioid epidemic. He went on to say that when patients want opioid prescriptions, he will give it to them, because he can’t risk having a patient fill out a patient satisfaction survey negatively. tBut again, he reiterated, that it wasn’t doctor’s faults for overprescribing pain meds.

I very rarely get mad. I’m a pretty calm person, and my anger has always manifested in sadness or self-destructive behaviors towards myself. But I can say truthfully that when that doctor took over my panel that I worked months on organizing, that I spent countless hours researching the epidemic in order to write the best discussion questions that I could, well, I was really mad. After his initial tirade, he continued to stand at the front of the room next to the panelists until I had to walk up and ask him to sit back down. After I calmed down a few days later, I was able to look back on the experience and saw how this doctor is a perfect example of what is wrong in our medical milieu when it comes to prescription practices. He refused to see himself, and fellow doctors, as adding to the problem in any aspect. He diligently defended himself, although there was no reason to do so- he was never under attack, in front of about 100 people. My theory now is that he needed to absolve himself by taking over my event. And I think this is where the real problem lies. No one likes to be wrong, especially when it comes to a serious issue like opioid addiction. No one wants to take any type of responsibility for being a potential factor that is adding to the problem. This doctor refused to see the part he and fellow doctors played in over-prescribing opioids, and that sucks. I really had to question the ethics of this doctor as well- he was more concerned with getting a positive patient satisfaction survey back than the safety of his patient.

The blame game doesn’t work. The doctor blamed everyone but himself for adding to the opioid epidemic, and I see a lot of doctors and physicians unwilling to look at how it might be beneficial if they changed their prescribing practices. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and that’s a scary fact when we’re talking about people’s lives. There is no easy answer to fixing the opioid crisis, however we must start to be honest about what works and what doesn’t work. This applies to all things healthcare (and I guess, all things in everything). We aren’t going to make any progress in reducing the amount of people addicted to opioids/heroin until we examine to why it’s so easy to get addicted in the first place.

Pill bottle

“You just got your wisdom tooth pulled? Here’s 45 vicodins, make sure you take them with food and fill out a positive patient survey, let me know if you need anymore!”

I think a good place to start to try and figure out how to combat the opioid crisis is what the  CDC recommends- looking at how we prescribe pain pills. One thing that I found very surprising and alarming is the minimal education students receive in med school about addiction. The Association for American Medical Colleges and the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (the accrediting body for Med Schools) have no clear requirement of hours for studying addiction. This is also true for other health provider trainings and education. I recently spoke to a physician assistant student who is in her last year whether she had any training on addiction or working with people with addiction. She told me that she thinks there might have been one lecture on the subject, but she couldn’t remember it. This is a big freaking problem.

We need our doctors and medical providers to understand addiction on a micro level, on a direct-practice level. They need to treat addiction and be aware of the potential for addiction risk in their patients. Medical schools need to increase and mandate hours of learning focused on addiction in their curriculum. Although opioids are obviously a money maker for Big Pharma, my hope is that one day we can treat addiction and pain in a holistic approach. Studies on mindfulness have recently shown how practices like mindful breathing and meditation can be effective for treating pain and in helping guide people towards a life without pain meds and addiction. Teaching patients about the risks of the medicine the doctors are prescribing can also be helpful so patients know what they might be getting themselves into. I hold a hope that one day healthcare in all of its aspects will embrace a holistic approach and look at how integrating the mind, body, and soul into treating pain is more effective than writing scripts after scripts for opioids.

When will any of this happen? When will we see any change? When will the line graph finally show a decline in overdoses and addiction? The answer is, I don’t know. But I think the only thing we can do is hold our prescribers accountable. How we do this is isn’t clear yet. But at least the conversation is starting, and that’s a good place to start.

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Open Letter to Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department

wb township pd

Dear Captain Clark, Officer Godlewski, Patrolman Capparell, and the entire Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department,

I am very concerned about your lack of understanding of why posting a picture of a clothed man asking a topless woman, who is hiding her breasts with her hands, for a high five is in poor taste. I am worried about the character of the police force in Wilkes-Barre Township and am in disgust that by all accounts of the media’s reporting on this, that the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Department refuses to recognize why this type of behavior is unacceptable. I am shocked that you refuse to take in mind how sexually abused victims in your township feel and how their reluctance to report abuse is potentially heightened because of your inability to empathize.

It is not a matter of being “offended” by the meme. It’s a matter of missing the point of why posting the picture in the first place was wrong. It’s a matter of balking at people who disagree and instead of listening to why people are “offended”, offering up only other distasteful and dismissive responses to legitimate concerns. It’s a matter of not recognizing that there already exists a hierarchical relationship between victims and police officers, especially victims of abuse and police officers, that creates burdens to people seeking help.

Police officers are on the front lines in times of crisis and have the heavy and respected responsibility of helping those in vulnerable situations. Rape victims, sexual assault victims, child sexual abuse victims, these are all the types of people who need the services of police officers. Officer Godlewski mentioned in the Citizen Voice article that Facebook may be acting like a deterrent for criminals to commit crimes because they don’t want their faces plastered all over the internet. Well, the content you have been posting recently also acts as a deterrent for a different population, as now I, along with many other people I know and social service providers, do not feel comfortable around or referring abused clients to the Wilkes-Barre Township Police Force. I feel less safe around Wilkes-Barre Township Police Officers.

Your defense that you are not always going to please everyone and that the department’s utilization of social media is an opportunity to humanize the force is, in all actuality, extremely depressing and discouraging. The message you send online is that the Wilkes-Barre Police Department is a frathouse of sexist, chauvinistic, “good ole boys”. Your lack of willingness to listen to the people who saw the meme and expressed their concern is disturbing for the fact that you are police officers- you are the men and women who are supposed to help victims! Not help contribute to stigmatizing sexual assault and abuse victims!!!

I recognize that you have by far one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and I am grateful for your service. Police officers are real life heroes. However, your police force recently has significantly change my opinion about the motivation of police officers and their understanding of victims’ issues. The worst part is, I have a feeling that you will read and ignore this letter or mock it, and won’t take responsibility for your actions. Your lack of apology and dismissiveness towards the situation speaks louder than any social media post.

 

Sincerely,

Chelsea T. Collins

Throop, PA

chelseataylorcollins@gmail.com

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What Happens When You Don’t Get What You Want… ;(

Bernie Waving

AND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII WILLL ALWAYS LOOOOOVVVEEEE YOUUUUUUU

Man oh man, have I been procrastinating processing my feelings about this one: Bernie’s not going to be our president. Only last week did I hang my head as I took down my “Bernie 2016” sign from my front window. Ugh. And the thing is, I knew this going into the campaign. I think many of the Sander’s supporters who were overwhelmed by Sander’s appeal well over a year ago knew that Sander’s probably wansn’t going to get the nomination. He’s anti-establishment, running against the establishment, in a “race” created by the establishment. Every aspect of the presidential run was stacked against him, with the exception of American populism. But even all these truths doesn’t make my bleeding heart burn less when I’m faced with the fact that the man I really believed in isn’t going to be our president.

As the months progressed, and Bernie became more popular and influential, a lot of Bernie supporters thought that this might be enough. That the amazing divine power of social media and grassroots organizing would lead us into the next candidacy with a renewed faith in how our government and politics are run. I did my best to think as realistically as possible, and continued to focus on Bernie’s issues and needs in key states and key areas like Northeastern PA. I knew if I started to buy into the idea that Bernie would be president then I would be greatly disappointed, and maybe I might slack off in my campaigning for him. I can tell you, the first time I think I really cried of happiness over Bernie was staying up until past midnight, waiting to see who won Iowa back in January, because I couldn’t believe how close it was. How the hard work was paying off.

So what now? A lot of people I know are angry at Bernie for endorsing Clinton, but truth be told, he said he was going to do so from the very beginning. He was positioning himself to make sure he could still have influence on the Democratic Platform, and the influence he’s had over it is way more than what I had hoped for last year at this time. Bernie’s given us the MOST progressive platform ever in the democratic party. Even if the democrats don’t follow it, his guidance is there. We are the ones who need to hold our politicians accountable for following it.

He also said he’s not going to run as a third party candidate.  I had written a post about him being Stein’s VP, which was a pipe dream, and a fun thing to think about, but Bernie has integrity. Even though the entire DNC ran a coup against him, he continues to stick to the POLICIES and ISSUES, not what is grabbing headlines. This is admirable. What is even more so, is that Bernie has asked his followers to keep this movement going. And that’s the best thing he can do- and it’s a really big thing! Now that so many people feel EMOTIONALLY connected to politics, we can make a real change.

How does this happen? Well, let’s keep in mind what we do want. Some things that I care about: Cut military funding and stop perpetuating wars in far off lands, redistribute our budget to give more federal money to states for schools and human services, and start to make the transition to a new green deal. Now, that I have some goals in mind, how do we make this happen? Well, if you watched Bernie’s speeches, one of his favorite lines is “Change doesn’t come from the top down, but from the bottom up”.  Local elections are so important. Everything from School Board to City Council, these are the people who are elected to really get something done. It would be pretty naïveté to think that Bernie could have gotten much done (other than appoint true, really, social justice warriors for Supreme Court instead of waify, corporately influenced, democratic titled judges) without the help of electing other REAL progressives in the House, Senate, and at the State and Local levels.

I don’t think Bernie losing was a loss for Bernie supporters. Sure, it’s okay to feel a little disappointed, but now’s the time to stop dwelling on it. Let’s figure out how to use the momentum that was created to continue to strive for REAL change. Bernie did such a wonderful thing bringing issues to the forefront instead of ad-Revenue-debacle-content that we see covered as “the issues” on all mainstream media.

The most important thing we can do is stay together and work towards change. Bernie was the catalyst that got us going, but we’re going to have to be the real soliders that begin to overthrow this corrupt oligarch that is American politics and government, starting from the bottom up.

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How to Vote 101 (Because Sometimes Its Scary To Ask These Things When Adulting)

Fellow Pennsylvanians, tomorrow is our primary. I have been anticipating this day since last year at this time (when Bernie announced he’d be running). Tomorrow is very important. Even if you’re not into politics, which is totally okay, I urge you to go vote if you’re registered.

How can you tell if you’re registered to vote in PA? How about finding where you’re polling place is?  Here’s the link that will tell you all of that. 

Maybe you know you’re registered and where to go already, but you’re nervous because you’ve never voted before. That’s totally okay. I know that it might seem scary and complicated, but it’s not. And if you’re someone who doesn’t like to ask questions to the people working at your polling location, I can guarantee that there are printed directions posted everywhere in the polling place on how to vote.

If you’re still nervous, I’ll tell you what goes down:

You show up to your polling place. You walk in. There will be a table and probably a little old lady sitting there with a signature book. She will ask your name. You’ll tell her. Then she’ll find your name in the book and have you sign it. If this is your first time voting you will need ID- a license, birth certificate, etc.  If it isn’t your first time, you don’t need anything (Although, I bring my ID just in case something fishy happens).  You’ll then get a paper ballot for your registered party and will be told to go to a little booth which has a curtain around it for privacy. Then you fill in the circle of the people you’re voting for. If you don’t know who to vote for for a particular race, say for example the Attorney General Race, feel free to just leave it blank (or vote randomly). When you’re done, there’s a printer looking machine that you feed your ballot into.

Its that easy. Seriously.

If you don’t know who to vote for and are registered as a democrat, I beg of you to vote for Bernie Sanders for US President and John Fetterman for US Senate. If you weren’t planning on voting, please reconsider. It’s one of the things that makes us American and one of the only ways to get our control back as a people. 

trix voting

voting’s really important

 

 

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How to identify heroin usage

After seeing a post about Narcan in Philly schools I thought I should write this blog post. Narcan is basically the antidote for heroin overdosages. If someone is in the state of overdosing, Narcan can block the opiates from continuing damage and can save their lives immediately. I know a few local social service agencies in Scranton now have this miracle drug, along with Scranton PD, at their disposal incase it warrants use. Now schools in Philadelphia are allowed to have their stock of it, which is sad that it is needed, but wonderful that they have access to it.

Northeastern PA has a long history with heroin, and it’s rare that I meet someone who hasn’t had a friend or family member haunted by the drug. I personally have lost a very close friend from a heroin overdose, and have seen lots of people I know lose years of their lives because they’ve been addicted to heroin or in jail.

heroin packet

The heroin in NEPA comes in little stamped wax packets like these here.

I’ve battled with writing this post for a while, but I think it’s needed. I hope no one is upset with me writing this and I’m just going to keep it as short as possible. What is listed here is how I can identify is someone is on heroin:

Some signs of someone on heroin:

  1. Pinned pupils. This means the blacks of their eyes will be small, even if they are in a dark room.
  2. Lower tone of voice when they speak. I don’t know how to describe this in words, but people on heroin often have a low, heavy speaking voice. Also slower speech patterns.
  3. Itchiness, especially an itchy nose.
  4. Slow, heavier breathing.
  5.  “Nodding out”- literally watching someone’s head nod down and stay there, like they’re asleep.
  6. Being overly tired, falling asleep basically everywhere.
  7. Money, jewelry, electronics, dvds, cds, etc. missing.

I know it’s hard to accept that a loved one is possibly addicted to heroin or any drug. But please remember, just because someone is addicted to heroin (or anything) does not make them a bad person. They are not intentionally trying to hurt you or anyone. Heroin rots the mind and personalities. People turn into someone they never thought they could be, and its really scary to see. So if you know someone who you suspect is on heroin, the best thing to do is:

  1. Try to help them get into a treatment center, even if just to detox. Wilkes-Barre General Hospital has a heroin detox.
  2. Contact a local agency to ask for help with dealing with the person. Try best to get them into an inpatient treatment center. Some treatment centers:
    1. Clearbrook– Wilkes-Barre PA
    2. Choices– Kingston, PA
    3. Marworth– Waverly, PA
  3. Get yourself some help. Addiction messes up everyone’s lives, not just the lives of the user. Al-Anon has many NEPA chapters.

 

I hope this is helpful. I hope that if you know someone struggling with addiction that they get the help they need.

 

 

 

 

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