Wednesday, December 14, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In today’s edition, a look at a rarity: a New York City hotel converted into supportive housing. During his campaign, Mayor Adams promised there will be lots of them. Plus: Can virtual reality enhance psychedelic therapy? Tips for countering depression during the holidays. And more.

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How a Brooklyn hotel became supportive housing for 500 households

Last year, when he was running to be mayor, Eric Adams said 25,000 hotel rooms that had been closed during the pandemic could be reopened as supportive housing to address homelessness in New York City. The New York Times introduced readers to the only building that has made that conversion since the pandemic began. Once a hotel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the 30-story highrise at 90 Sands Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn, now provides almost 500 units of affordable housing – complete with on-site mental health services – for people who formerly were homeless.  

For more on supportive housing in New York, read MindSite News’s story here.

“This is not an institution,” said Brenda Rosen, the president and chief executive of Breaking Ground, developer of 90 Sands. “This is an apartment building with a lease and a key.” The building has room for 305 formerly unhoused people whose rent will be capped at no more than 30 percent of their income. Rents in the remaining 160 units will be restricted and range from $537 to $2,132 a month for studios and one-bedrooms. That’s in a neighborhood where the median rent is nearly $5,800 a month.

Many factors – zoning, land use issues, opposition from a hotel workers union – have blocked other such conversions, even though the cost of operating a supportive housing complex is far less than operating temporary shelters. Eric Rosenbaum, president and CEO of homeless services group Project Renewal, said his agency spent almost $52,000 in 2021 to keep a single adult in a shelter, but only $26,000 in supportive housing.

For George Karatzidis, who moved in just last month, supportive housing has been a godsend. “This is why I’m alive,” he said. Beyond social support, the apartment also offers residents a gym, computer lab, bike room and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of Manhattan and the East River.


Can virtual reality help boost the therapeutic impact of psychedelics?

As psychedelic-assisted therapy grows, a pair of Australian researchers has begun to take a closer look at how to better help people retain the profound insights and emotions they experience during a trip, a process called integration. Because no matter how transcendent, some people lose memories and insights after their trip. Enter virtual reality. 

“Patients feel emboldened to speak freely and comfortably when they’re encased within a cocoon which is a manifestation of their own mind,” Prash Puspanathan, cofounder of Enosis Therapeutics, an Australian startup developing virtual reality to be used with psychedelic psychotherapy, told Mashable. Patients use his product, AnchoringVR, at the tail end of their psychedelic experience, constructing their own world with audio and visual elements. 

They could choose to sit by the sea and interact virtually with a rock they label as a trauma and then throw it into the waves to be done with it. A star plucked from the sky might be paired with an audio recording of a feeling that emerged during the trip. Margaret Ross, a clinical psychologist who sits on the Enosis clinical advisory board, said AnchoringVR helps patients who “don’t understand how much emotional work it takes to make those changes long after a psychedelic has worn off.”

Enosis plans to demonstrate AnchoringVR’s effectiveness through clinical trials aimed at proving the program is at least as effective as standard integration practices like meditation and journaling.


Drug wholesalers cutting some indie pharmacies’ access to controlled mental health drugs 

Patients who are prescribed a combination of stimulants and sedatives for conditions like anxiety and ADHD may have a difficult time getting their prescriptions filled by non-chain pharmacies. Independent pharmacists in five US states told Reuters they’d been told by the three main US drug wholesalers that they’d be cut off from all controlled substances because they’d filled prescriptions of both stimulants like Adderall and sedatives like Xanax to the same patients. That combination has been identified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a red flag.

Although neither drug is an opioid, they are classified as controlled substances because of their high risk of addiction and abuse. The wholesalers’ action is a response to a $21 billion nationwide opioid settlement affecting AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health, Inc., and McKesson Corp. 

“This is detrimental potentially to many patients who have comorbid anxieties along with ADHD, or sleep issues along with ADHD,” said Matthew Goldenberg, president-elect of the Southern California Psychiatric Society. “I think it’s a trickle-down effect from the opiates.” The widespread impact appears to be a result of an overcorrection in the algorithm drug wholesalers changed to better monitor the distribution of substances with a high potential for addiction and abuse.

It’s harming smaller pharmacies like Ken’s Sunflower Pharmacy in Kansas. Al Harris is a lawyer working on their behalf. “My client is not diverting oxycodone under the streets,” said Harris. “He’s a small pharmacy, and they can crack down on him with nearly no financial detriment to themselves.”


Maintaining stable mental health, when it’s hard, during the holidays

Holidays can be a time of laughter and joy for many, but for others they can trigger loneliness and depression. The South African news site, News 24, republished five tips on how to cope from Discovery Health. 

1) Be intentional about making plans to be around others during time off work and school, and from your normal routine.

 2) Identify two to four people who will answer when you call if sadness gets too overwhelming. 

3) Plan something silly or fun – it will promote the release of dopamine, your body’s natural “happy” hormone. 

4) Exercise. Study after study shows the endorphins released when you’re done make a difference. 

5) Put your energy into showing up for someone or something you believe in, perhaps doing volunteer work. 


In other news…

As research on psychedelics continues to support their medicinal use, some companies are now able to buy insurance to cover their costs for employees. That benefit is being offered by Enthea, the first and only health plan benefit administrator for psychedelic healthcare. “We’ve found something that could potentially transform the way we treat mental health. And yet, most Americans won’t be able to afford this,” Sherry Rais, Enthea’s cofounder and CEO, told Lucid News. “Addressing that equity crisis is Enthea’s mission.” 

Real people employed by the government have played a role in the 1,550 executions carried out in the US over the past 50 years. An NPR reporter Chiara Eisner interviewed 26 current and former workers who collectively had been involved in 200 executions. She talked about the toll this work has taken on their mental and physical health on Up First. It’s a 31-minute listen.


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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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.