April 4, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers. Today’s Daily highlights people and groups working to reduce fentanyl overdoses and police shootings of mentally ill people. R&B singer Kem Owens releases a memoir about his journey to overcome homelessness and addiction in Detroit. And what is happening with the opioid settlement cash?

Plus: Roland Griffiths, a pioneer in the study of psychedelics, faces the ultimate trip — death — with curiosity and gratitude.

States’ secrecy around opioid settlement cash from drug companies is troubling

Over the next 15 years, drugmakers and distributors will send more than $50 billion to state and local governments in settlement funds for their role in the opioid crisis rocking the nation. NPR reports that about $3 billion has already been sent out to thousands of governments since last spring. Citizens want to know how the money is being spent, and the trouble is, some state governments aren’t being very forthcoming with information.

Why? With few reporting requirements, some officials either haven’t filed paperwork with details about what’s being done with the money or don’t care to share it. States must spend at least 85% of payouts on addiction treatment and prevention, but they only have to submit proof of how the 15% unrelated to the drug crisis is spent. Further, what counts as addiction treatment and prevention varies widely, depending on state politics. According to the article, it can mean the difference between opening more substance use treatment sites or investing in police cruisers. 

It’s frustrating for organizations that are working to halt the crisis and families mourning loved ones lost to addiction. Marianne Sinisi of Pennsylvania said the settlements are “blood money” that ought to be used to prevent other families for experiencing her grief. Sinisi’s 26-year-old son, Shawn, died from an overdose. “They want to look at you as this angry parent who lost a child,” she said, “rather than a concerned citizen who wants to see a difference made for other mothers, fathers, and their children.”

Michigan’s Opioid Advisory Commission echoes that sentiment, having not received much detail on how their state has spent the $39 million it’s already received. Its members expressed disappointment in a report on the issue, demanding better. “Timely and transparent reporting … is an ethical responsibility,” they wrote.

New Mexico: What will it take to get a non-violent response to mental crisis calls?

Unlike Las Cruces police, which began their alternative response program last year after the fatal police shooting of an elderly grandmother with dementia in the throes of a mental health crisis, the Albuquerque Police Department has deployed some version of crisis intervention teams since the 1990s. Unfortunately, their presence has not had the desired effect. According to this report from Searchlight New Mexico, republished by MindSite News, the APD remains one of the nation’s deadliest squads, despite operating under a federal consent decree and monitoring for excessive use-of-force allegations since 2014. Back then, the consent decree mandated that 40 percent of APD officers be trained in “enhanced crisis intervention.” 

By 2020, things hadn’t improved much. That’s when two officers trained in advanced crisis intervention shot and paralyzed 26-year-old Max Mitnik, who was experiencing a schizoaffective episode. It took just two weeks for Mayor Tim Keller to launch a new city department, Albuquerque Community Safety, though he told Searchlight that ACS was not created to reduce police shootings.

Fast forward to the present: The APD killed 10 people last year, including at least four people who were in a mental health crisis last year, according to Searchlight New Mexico. Meanwhile, the ACS works with the city’s police and fire department from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm each day to answer low-risk 911 calls for mental health emergencies, homelessness, and overdoses. Read more here.

Minnesota: Working  to reduce stigma around fentanyl test strips and naloxone

Fentanyl test strips work. Used to detect fentanyl that’s been mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine or meth, they’ve been approved for legal use in Minnesota since July 2021, with lawmakers calling them an effective tool to reduce deaths from fentanyl overdose. Still, there’s a stigma around them that gets in the way of saving lives, advocates told The Minnesota Post

Harm reduction, which includes test strips and overdose-reversal drugs such as naloxone, is key in guiding people toward recovery, said Justin McNeal, a director at the Minnesota Recovery Connection. It’s also life-saving. “I’ve done trainings where people think that reversing an overdose or testing your drugs is enabling a person, but reversing an overdose is just allowing someone to live,” he said. In St. Paul, the Steve Rummler HOPE Network, a nonprofit devoted to opioid overdose prevention and advocacy, puts fentanyl test strips in their overdose prevention kits, along with a QR code that allows people to discreetly request more.

In other news…

20 years ago, Kem Owens became an R&B sensation when his debut album, Kemistry, was re-released by Motown Records. Almost overnight, he rose to wealth and stardom. But 13 years before that, Owens battled addiction and homelessness in Detroit. “I’ve gone from being a painfully shy kid bent on self-destruction to someone who performs original songs in front of an arena overflowing with appreciative fans,” he said in the pages of his memoir, Share My Life, released today by Simon & Schuster. Owens spoke with the Detroit Free Press about the book and his journey.

Roland Griffiths, 76, has dedicated much of his life to studying how psychedelics can treat depression, addiction, and psychological distress. Today he faces near-certain death by Halloween, having been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. It inspired him to found an endowment at Johns Hopkins to fuel further study of psychedelics, but this time the focus is on how the drugs can “increase human flourishing,” Griffiths told the New York Times

“We all know that we’re terminal, so in principle we shouldn’t need this Stage 4 cancer diagnosis to awaken. I’m excited to communicate, to shake the bars and tell people, ‘Come on, let’s wake up!’” he said. “We should be astonished that we are here when we look around at the exquisite wonder and beauty of everything…that we have another day to explore whatever this gift is of being conscious, of being aware… That’s the deep mystery that I keep talking about. That’s to be celebrated!”

Social media giants TikTok, ByteDance, and Meta face more lawsuits for their impact on mental health. This time, the state of Arkansas is suing the companies for violating their Deceptive Trade Practices Act, CNN reports. The state is seeking millions, potentially billions, in fines. The action comes after school districts and counties in 5 other states already sued the social media behemoths for their addictive nature. “We have to hold Big Tech companies accountable for pushing addictive platforms on our kids and exposing them to a world of inappropriate, damaging content,” said Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a statement announcing the lawsuits.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...