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Palm Beach Post’s Project “Generation Heroin”  Highlights Opioid Epidemic

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Palm Beach Post’s Project “Generation Heroin”  Highlights Opioid Epidemic

Author: Shernide Delva

The Palm Beach Post has made the audacious decision to highlight the silent epidemic of opioid overdoses in its newest project titled “Generation Heroin.” As part of the project, the paper profiled all 216 people who died of an opioid overdose in its coverage area last year. The goal was to draw attention to the magnitude of the addiction epidemic in a way statistic simply cannot do.

The “Generation Heroin” project rolled out last month. The project was motivated by the reporters’ who discovered that many addicts overdose in controversial sober homes where they had gone to recover. When reporters dug further, they discovered the problem was far worse than they ever imagined. Shockingly, in 2015, more people died in Palm Beach County from heroin, fentanyl, or illicit morphine overdoses than in car accidents.

“We felt like we really wanted to make a major impact with this project,” says managing editor Nick Moschella. “We needed to go beyond what many outlets have done—and done well. We thought, how can we really wake up the state and the community to something that is killing a generation?”

In so many news stories, the focus is on the statistics behind the epidemic. Occasionally, there are a few profiles of victims from families who agreed to participate. However, the scarcity of these profiles means more people think it will never happen to them or someone they love.

The Palm Beach Post took a more direct approach. The reporters and editors made the decision to profile all 216 victims who had died from overdoses, regardless of whether they received permission from families.  The reporters and editors divided up all the names and made the difficult calls to family members.

At first, they dreaded the reaction. Fortunately, the responded was more positive than negative.

I expected families to be very angry with me from the moment they picked up the phone,” Beall says. “We found this overwhelming support.”

In the end:

  • Family members of 98 of the victims supported the project
  • Another couple dozen was neutral about the report.
  • Ten asked The Post to pull their family members out of the project, some threatening to sue.
  • Family members of some 70 victims were unreachable, but The Post reconstructed stories from police and autopsy reports.

 

When contacting the families, Engelhardt prepared a standard script before starting the calls.

“We felt we had to get certain things across very carefully and clearly,” Beall says. “If we were leaving a message, we didn’t know who was going to hear it. We were telling them ‘it’s our intent to show these people as individuals and not statistics.’ We felt very deeply that we could be hurting people.”

Palm Beach Post: Not Asking For Permission!

Although the Post was considerate in calling family members, they were not asking for permission. They felt an obligation to print the names of all victims even if family members opposed it.

“The Palm Beach Post did not casually decide to publish the pictures and personal stories of every person in Palm Beach County who died after taking heroin, fentanyl or illicit morphine in 2015,” explained Publisher Timothy D. Burke in a column. “Though most families of those who died and who spoke with The Post expressed gratitude for the decision, it will bring some others pain. But we believe that the staggering toll this epidemic is taking has been largely hidden from public view, and as a result has not been aggressively addressed.”

The decision to post all the victims regardless of permission brings up the issue of journalistic ethics. While the Post can legally publish names and photos of these victims; it could be deemed unethical.

In the end, the story fulfills one of the main components of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. The goal of the story was to minimize harm. While some would argue the story could pose harm to the family of victims, it minimizes harm on a grander scale because it raises awareness of the gravity of the addiction epidemic.

While the post did name the victims, the paper also highlighted what communities are doing to tackle opioid addiction. It also made suggestions on what else should occur, and what Palm Beach County and Florida could be doing to improve these devastating numbers.

Minimizing Stigmas While Exposing the Truth

The stories in the project are heartbreaking and chilling. One addict admits that after his friend had overdosed on heroin, he decided to use the rest of his friend’s heroin first and then call 911. The friend ended up dying.

Many family members were not ready to discuss their loved ones but sent the Post moving written responses. Hearing the stories and devastation from family members were both traumatic for the families and the reporters.

Not long after the project published, a Palm Beach County commissioner pledged to push for reforms to slow the epidemic. The Post is hoping for a greater response in the weeks and months ahead.

How do you feel about the “Generation Heroin” Project? Do you think the Post should have received permission from the families of all victims published? What are your views on the ethics of the project?

Regardless of the reaction, the intention of the project was to raise awareness of how deadly the opioid epidemic is right now.    If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help. Do not become another statistic. Call today.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Drug Testing for Welfare Program Shows Zero Positive Results

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Drug Testing for Welfare Program Shows Zero Positive Results

Author: Justin Mckibben

Drug testing applicants for welfare benefits is not a new concept. Over the past few years several states have attempted similar restrictions on providing benefits to welfare applicants. Each time the programs were initiated they were met with opposition and criticism, but as of later 2015 there were 12 states already with legislation requiring drug tests for welfare, and another 14 had proposed similar strategies. However drug testing for welfare does not have very supportive evidence backing it.

One state conducted a controlled study for implementing such a policy. The studies numbers have shown just how ineffective drug testing for welfare can be. For the last year Michigan tried to enforce its own drug test pilot program for welfare recipients. Guess how many people failed.

Go ahead… I’ll wait…

You guessed it (or read the title of this article) – Zero!

The Numbers of Michigan Drug Testing for Welfare

A while back the Michigan Legislature passed a law requiring the department to implement suspicion-based drug testing for cash assistance recipients. After the law was passed the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) created the Substance Use Disorder Pilot. In the year 2000 an earlier attempt at wholesale testing was ruled illegal in Michigan, but the pilot program was permitted to only drug test those who answers on a questionnaire indicated they might be drug users. The program was set up in three counties.

So, to clarify, not every single person who applied for welfare was drug tested. In fact, these numbers only take into account the people in these 3 counties that qualified for the pilot program.  The numbers show that out of 443 potential candidates for the program:

  • Only 27 were identified as potential drug users
  • 10 of the 27 were exempt from testing because they already been enrolled in some type of treatment resource for drug use
  • Of the remaining 17, only one participant was identified as requiring a suspicion-based drug test, but that case was then closed due to “unrelated reasons”

So what it all boils down to is the drug testing for welfare pilot program did not catch a single person in violation of the policy.

Motivation for Testing

One progressive idea in the Michigan drug testing for welfare pilot is that according to legislation, if a recipient tests positive, it does not mean a loss of benefits. However, the individual must agree to substance abuse counseling, covered by Medicaid. MDHHS Communications Manager Bob Wheaton spoke out in defense of the idea, stating:

“Our primary motivation for doing this is to help people who do have issues, so they can find employment,”

“If we’ve found someone has an issue and needs to undergo treatment, it’s because drug use could be a barrier to future job opportunities that would help a recipient stop relying on benefits.”

This is a somewhat refreshing perspective on the concept. Instead of blocking the assistance, the idea was essentially to make other help available. Still, it does almost sound like blackmail for benefits. So far, there has been no confirmation as to whether Michigan will continue the pilot program.

Should People Drug Test for Welfare?

While several states have enacted their own measures for drug testing for welfare, many have denounced it as a practice that enforces stereotypes. The idea that only poor people are drug addicts or are using government money to buy illegal substances is a very controversial narrative. Yet, several similar programs have seen very similar results, meaning a lot of taxpayers have covered the costs of drug testing for welfare, only to find that the programs have wasted far more money than the states ever would have paid out in benefits. Some of these states include:

  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Tennessee
  • Maine
  • Arizona
  • Florida

One organization’s nationwide analysis determined that in 2015, states spent almost $1 million on drug testing for welfare. To add insult to injury, almost all of them found less than 0.4% of recipients were guilty. In some cases, like Governor Rick Scott in Florida, officials threw away thousands upon thousands more to fight courts to keep their ineffective programs. Luckily, Michigan’s pilot only cost the state $700.

So we ask, should there be drug testing for welfare? If you have social media surely you see people make bold statements about drug testing for food stamps and the like.

The truth is results in numerous sections of the nation suggest there isn’t a correlation between drug use and being on government assistance. The statistics simply do not exist to support this prejudice. People can pretend to be better than, but they are missing the facts; that the government has already wasted a lot of everyone’s money trying to prove their point, and they were wrong.

Drug testing for welfare is another way that stigma has prevented progress for many struggling to overcome addiction. However, offering treatment seems like a good resource to offer. Safe and effective treatment can make all the difference, and too many people have to go without such treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now!

The Genetic and Psychologocial Science in Each of the 12 Steps

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The Genetic and Psychologocial Science in Each of the 12 Steps

Author: Justin Mckibben

Here we are going to discuss some expert opinion on the molecular neurobiological aspects of each of The 12 Step Program.

Understanding of the neuro-molecular biological keystones of The 12 Steps may actually be an important step toward sobriety for some, especially those who rely heavily on the tangible logic of scientific reasoning. To understand and embrace principles of molecular neurobiology could ultimately lead to a better quality of recovery from addiction.

  1. Step 1- We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.

There is science behind the “powerlessness” of the first step. Admitting personal powerlessness over addiction is actually supported by the mechanisms involved in the neurobiological circuits of our brain. Stress and the toxic-effects of the drugs themselves induce changes in brain functions such as:

  • Neuroanatomy
  • Neurophysiology
  • Neurochemistry

These changes create:

So scientifically it is very true that the individual is powerless. The substances themselves continually short out the circuits in the brain that are meant to give people control. The recipe requires genetic predisposition and environmental elements, but everyone is technically susceptible depending on these variables.

  1. Step 2- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Breaking down the wording of the step one could infer:

  • Sanity- sound judgment
  • Insanity- repetitive behavior despite the harm

Poor judgment, or “insanity,” could be a cause of unusual substance seeking behavior despite risk of harm. These decisions are made worse by environmental factors including:

  • Drug availability
  • Non-nurturing parents
  • Social-economic burdens
  • Stress

The individuals sanity also may be impacted by their relationship with a “power greater than themselves.”

In this case, let us look at relapse. The prefrontal cortex and cingulate gyrus are critical areas involved in relapse regulation. Impaired neurochemical functioning of these regions obstruct recovery and induce relapse, typically due to:

  • Genes
  • Toxic substances
  • Toxic behaviors

Understanding the molecular biology of the brain reward system highlights the importance of positive input from a fellowship such as the 12 Steps offer. Positive input from peers can offset unwanted gene expression. Ultimately, this can enable an individual to achieve a state of sanity and make right choices. The power greater than yourself can simply be the environmental element of your recovery.

  1. Step 3- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Will-power is extremely difficult to regulate in individuals born with a compromised reward system and low levels of endorphins. Will-power is based on both the interplay of genes and environmental elements in society, such as stress or shock. Early stress can cause substance use disorders in adult life as seen with epigenetic effects on Glucocorticoid receptor express.

Because the hard wiring of our brain’s reward circuitry is so difficult to override, it only makes sense the recovering addict  seems obvious to look for reward outside of our genome. So in this step, the idea is to turn that focus away from drugs and toward something such as the fellowship or a spiritual path.

  1. Step 4- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Fearless moral inventory must include the drug of choice and other Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) related behaviors. A particular drug or behavior is not the only element of an addiction, it includes a range of observable characteristics resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment..

However, the inventory cannot be labeled as “right” or “wrong” because it their own evaluation of self. To understand that there are genetic and environmental aspects to addict means to understand that blame and guilt are not conducive to true self-appraisal.

  1. Step 5- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

This step involves open reflection on our issues with using drugs. This includes the toxic effects of recurrent exposure to these substances on our minds and how that translates into our actions that impact others.

The damage of drugs on the brain’s reward networks is very physiological, and these physiological changes can result in psychological effects such as anxiety or aggression. By evaluating the inventory we have taken, we can consider the “nature of our wrongs” as being the psychological deterioration caused by drugs.

  1. Step 6- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Many would argue that technically our character is shaped by genetic (evolutionary) forces far outside our individual control. So in that mindset it is not necessarily within our ability to change who we are genetically speaking. So, wouldn’t it be up to something greater than us, be it a ‘God’ or our own evolution of perspective, to remove the character traits that do not serve us?

With that said, our environment may influence how we have developed our responses and attached meanings to circumstances. Achievement of step 6 requires:

  • Deep character analysis
  • Painful realization
  • Ability to dissociate the present self from the past self

By rethinking in terms of the “wrong” or “right” of an individual act, we can leave behind our attachments to actions or behaviors and offer up our character defects to the province of a higher power.

  1. Step 7- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Humility is accompanied with gratitude and grace. Spiritual faith and humility challenge someone to accept that good intentions and honest effort alone will not always be enough to succeed. This could lead to chronic depression and relapse, especially with genetic predisposition.

However, the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions together ask the person to believe that evil, injustice and cruelty will not necessarily always win either.

Humility and faith are not necessarily synonyms for passivity. They actually support the belief that our shortcomings can be removed by our willingness to believe that things can work out. Positive feelings translate to positive epigenetics in the brain, enhancing the chances of removing our shortcomings by expressing more effective and positive genes.

  1. Step 8- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Behind part of this step is the old saying “water seeks its own level,” because it may be an effect of a genetic association. People often seek friends who not only have similar characteristics, but similar genotypes.

So by making amends which may eliminate certain friends that would not be conducive to recovery, an individual is truly going against the genetic grain on a molecular neurobiological level.

A form of happiness is that people exist in comfortable networks of social collectives. So as we reach out to those we have hurt to amend our relationships and our character, we reconnect with a new source of happiness.

  1. Step 9- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

In Step 9, the achievement of making amends is subject to correlations among:

Relationships and happiness are based on neuronal hard wiring. So overcoming relationship issues is both an arduous challenge and a clear answer to achieving healing.

The degree to which someone can make amends is crucial to a healthy recovery. This is partly because mending of relationships is a gateway to the attainment of happiness. Making amends can also activate a natural release of dopamine in reward centers of the brain.

  1. Step 10- Take personal inventory and admit to being wrong

Step 10 is the maintenance for Steps 4 and 5. It continues the practice of taking personal inventory in the 12 Steps to evaluate the self. It is important that addicts realize that depending on their genetic risk taking inventory and feeling good about the self-appraisal is a temporarily “dopamine fix”.

Beyond just having the ability to keep yourself in check and have a positive impact, when addicts continue to “work the steps” on a daily basis it also gives them a primary source from which to replenish dopamine in the brain.

  1. Step 11- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Meditation and prayer, as suggested in step 11, increases the release of dopamine at the synaptic level. Applying the process of step 11 on a daily basis will also offset the genetically induced “hypodopaminergic brain function” by continuing to release dopamine in the synapse.

Increased dopamine will result in a subsequent proliferation of dopamine receptors, even in those with the most sensitive predisposition. The increase in D2 receptors translates to enhanced dopamine function, which will ultimately promote:

  • Greater confidence
  • Better comprehension
  • Stress resistance

Looking outside the 12 Steps, most who study spirituality know the positive effects of prayer and meditation on the brain.

  1. Step 12- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Here it says that working all the steps can allow an individual to have spiritual awakening. For some, one of the most fulfilling experiences they can have is sharing emotions with others. This experience itself and the impact may be decided by the synthesis and release of the brain chemical oxytocin.

Oxytocin is an important human bonding neuropeptide. However, independent of personal genetic makeup, alcohol and opiates significantly impair the synthesis and release of this chemical. So it is important to take advantage of this opportunity to create positive emotions while establishing connections.

So, by carrying the message and sharing experience we can bond further in our recovery, which helps us to rewire the brain with expressions of positive genes while also letting us detach from old meanings and produce more dopamine. All in all the 12 Steps have a pretty decent formula for working with the science of the brain to recover from a pattern of destruction.

The 12 Steps and similar programs of recovery are all very powerful tools. A holistic treatment program like Palm Partners respects the science of addiction, and many seek help here in order to establish a strong footing to move forward. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

PAARI Program Provides Addiction Treatment for Over 400 People

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PAARI Program Provides Addiction Treatment for Over 400 People

Author: Justin Mckibben

Around the country there is a wave a new and progressive initiatives changing the relationship between law enforcement and drug users. Government officials now lobby in support of such programs, and millions of dollars are being allocated to similar responses to a nationwide addiction epidemic. Probably one of the most famous of these revolutionary programs is one of the first; the PAARI program.

The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) encourages police departments to abandon the old model of arresting and prosecuting people struggling with substance use disorder. Instead, the program encourages police to help people struggling with addiction seek help.

Now we have the first annual report from the PAARI program, and the numbers are pretty impressive.

Taking Pride in PAARI Program Progress  

In the PAARI program first year report the numbers include detailed financial inventory. The 501(c)3 non-profit believes in the transparency of their progress, and is proud of the success to far. Of course, with such a groundbreaking and inspirational initiative, who wouldn’t want to show off?

To update anyone who doesn’t know- the PAARI began in Gloucester, Massachusetts, after the local police department announced on June 1, 2015 that anyone who walked into the police department and turned in either drugs or paraphernalia would not be arrested. The announcement told the citizens that instead any individual willing to seek help would be sent to treatment. This is the response from law enforcement in the wake of a spike in overdose rates in the area.

The report now boasts an amazing impact on the community. In the first year of the PAARI program, just Gloucester Police Department alone helped more than 400 people enter treatment!

Spreading the Message

That 400+ count doesn’t even scratch the thousands more being helped across the country due to the establishment of similar programs. The initial response from the Gloucester community was incredibly enthusiastic. This helped spread the concept of the PAARI program, as they moved to help other police departments implement similar programs. According to the report, the PAARI program helped train 143 police departments in 27 states.

  • Augusta, Maine began training volunteers last November before implementing their own program.
  • This summer Newark, Ohio, began its program. Officials said they felt driven to try something new once they were receiving at least one overdose call per day.
  • According to the report, the PAARI program has partnered with 300 treatment centers in 20 states
  • The PAARI program also secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to help people access the treatment they need.
  • Distributed more than 5,000 doses of nasal Naloxone, the opiate overdose antidote.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this progressive approach. Some still believe that criminal justice is an appropriate response to drug use. Cape Cod, Massachusetts police department chose not to implement their own program because they didn’t agree with diverting the focus away from criminalizing active users. Some still think that shifting this perspective is somehow promoting drug use or giving permission.

Reinventing Police Intervention

Last April the Obama administration praised the Angel Program and PAARI program, siting that they reduced “crime and costs associated with substance use disorders in Gloucester” and rebuilding “trust between the police and the community.”

The first annual report makes a very exciting statement, saying:

“Communities that have joined PAARI have observed as much as a 25% reduction in crimes associated with addiction, cost savings by diverting people into treatment rather than triggering the criminal justice system, as well as an enormous increase in trust from their communities.”

Participants in the program speak in heavy praise of its methods and compassion for those it exists to assist. Even insurance companies contribute to the progress in the direction of compassionate and effective change.

Without question, these numbers are a new hope to so many. Over 400 lives in just one area over a year may have been saved thanks to PAARI. And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point; to protect and to serve all lives? The hope is that more programs like this can shatter the stigma of addiction, while simultaneously bridging the gap between the disenfranchised and the established authority to create a community that is better and brighter for both sides.

Drugs and alcohol have torn apart too many communities. Now the time has come for better treatment options and more compassionate health care. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, do not wait. Please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are not alone.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

How Criminal Justice VS Addiction Recovery Could Change

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How Criminal Justice VS Addiction Recovery Could Change

Author: Justin Mckibben

With the release of the United States Surgeon General report this month came the historical declaration that substance abuse is a public health disorder. While many have insisted upon this perspective in the past, it is the first time anyone holding the office of U.S. surgeon general has made the statement. In this groundbreaking report, Vivek Murthy described substance abuse stating,

“Not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”

This revelation is a long-awaited victory for the countless advocates who have been hoping to change the way the world sees substance abuse and addiction.

Along with this statement, there comes a conversation about how to shift the strategies used to address addiction. Along with that comes the possibility for vast change and reform in the realm of criminal justice. How big is the impact of criminal justice on the addiction issue, and how could a change in perspective change everything?

Current View of Criminal Justice

The big thing here is that for years people have pushed for the world to see substance abuse and addiction as a health issue, both physical and mental. Changing the view from stigma and punishment to treatment ultimately means giving people struggling a better shot at recovery.

The failed War on Drugs has definitely put addiction and substance abuse in a place it doesn’t necessarily belong. Murthy’s report provides an update on drug and alcohol users in the country. According to its figures, in the last year alone:

  • About 48 million Americans used or abused illegal or prescription drugs
  • 28 million drove under the influence
  • 21 million Americans currently suffer from addiction (substance-use disorder)
  • Out of an estimated 2 million inmates in the nation, 65% “meet the criteria for substance-abuse addiction” according to a new study
  • According to thePrison Policy Initiative, over 300,000 inmates currently in state and federal prisons are for convictions related to drugs.

These statistics place a severe strain on the criminal justice system far beyond federal prisons.

  • Local and county jails have held thousands of these same individuals
  • Tens of thousands lost driving privileges due to drunk driving
  • Millions served time and were put on probation
  • Millions became repeat offenders and cycled back through the system

The long and short of it is that in fact, the current system is not anything close to fixing the problem. And at $442 billion dollars spent annually on health-care and criminal justice for substance-use disorder, that is a VERY expensive failure to repeat over and over.

Reforming Criminal Justice

There are many variables that come into play when you discuss reforming criminal justice to be more effective for helping addicts. Some of these include:

  • Ending the tactic of using fear of prison to keep people “in line”
  • Reforming treatment programs through criminal justice system that rely on harsh penalties
  • Ending unnecessarily punitive federal sentencing guidelines

A hard truth is the criminal-justice system is often the first to be in contact with struggling addicts. Thus many people only receive treatment once they are already involved in the criminal justice system, which often locks them into a cycle of failed attempts to clean up and repeated arrests.

Many would say it would be ideal to not have addicts and those battling substance abuse go through the criminal justice system at all; specifically for non-violent, drug-related offenses. They would rather individuals be directly diverted to a system that relies on medical and therapeutic rehabilitation.

Playing Politics

The fact remains; even if state and federal governments begin addressing addiction as a health crisis, any reforms to the existing criminal-justice system will come with their own burdens. This kind of power-shift would have instantaneous economic effects due largely to institutional competition. The massive industrial prison system that has thrived for decades would of course fight to keep its funding if the government tried to divert those funds to healthcare programs.

The surgeon general’s report is a refreshing perspective and a much needed statement. But there is still money to move and the need for playing politics. Despite the fact that most believe mental health and public health institutions are better suited to treat addiction than prisons, some say they do not have the seniority or the political juice to make a claim on the resources to do so.

In the end, setting up an approach on the state or national level that would send addicts to treatment instead of jails and prisons would be an enormous task that we cannot logically expect to happen all too soon. Yet, there is hope. Many states now have more compassionate and treatment-based programs with law enforcement. Crisis-intervention training and other methods have reduced arrests and housing costs in many areas. It does make a difference.

The real difference to reforming the criminal justice system will come when more officials recognize that substance abuse and addiction are health issues and not moral ones, especially officials at the federal level.

Never forget that every day we all have the chance to influence change. Maybe we can’t change the criminal justice system over night, but we can make decisions that make a difference. Understanding addiction and fighting back is a victory itself. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call our toll-free number now to speak with an specialist. We want to help.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

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