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Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?

Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?

Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?

Author: Justin Mckibben

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself sitting in front of a tough crowd on Capitol Hill for 2 days of questioning that covered various topics about the social media empire. The testimony covered how Facebook influences politics, handles user data, and what steps are being taken to prevent abuse of the massive tech companies international platform.

During the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, the topic came up of drug trafficking, specifically opioid sales, through Facebook.

Is Social Media Enabling Illegal Activity?

The line of questioning concerning opioids came from David McKinley. McKinely is the Republican Representative from West Virginia. On day two of the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about opioid dealers abusing the social media space in order to distribute their drugs. During the conversation, McKinley states,

“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,”

The Congressman went on to ask,

“With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?”

Zuckerberg answered,

“Congressman, I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job of policing on our service. Today the primary way that content regulation works here … is that people can share what they want on the service, and then if someone sees an issue they flag it to us, and then we will review it.”

During McKinley’s comments, he actually shows Zuckerberg with images on a screen that opioids and other prescription narcotics are still actively being sold via Facebook. Later in McKinely’s statements he adds,

“That was just from yesterday. It’s still up. So my question to you is- when are you going to take down these posts that are done by illegal digital pharmacies?”

Zuckerberg replied,

“Congressman, when people report the posts, we will take them down and have people review them.”

When the congressman continued to press Zuckerberg on Facebook taking responsibility for the posts made on the platform concerning illegal drugs, Zuckerberg replied,

“Congressman, I agree that this is a terrible issue and respectfully, when there are tens-of-billions or a hundred-billion pieces of content shared every day… even 20,000 people reviewing it can’t look at everything. What we need to do is build more AI tools that can proactively find that content.”

  • AI referring to artificial intelligence.

This is not the first time critics have called out tech companies for falling short on policing illicit drug sales through their platforms.

In 2011, search-engine giant Google agreed to pay $500 million to the Department of Justice for showing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. consumers. Only a week before Zuckerberg sat down to speak with Congress, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had already called on social media platforms to root out and exterminate the online opioid trade. Gottlieb stated,

“We find offers to purchase opioids all over social media and the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But when it comes to opioids, we haven’t seen meaningful, voluntary actions.”

Some of the posts McKinely flagged to Facebook have already been taken down. However, McKinley still says that Facebook’s internal controls “don’t seem adequate” in regards to detecting and removing illegal drug posts.

Are Zuckerberg and Facebook Responsible?

The biggest theme- whether it came to Cambridge Analytica, censorship of political views, selling consumer data or illicit opioid marketing- was accountability.

The question throughout the testimony is- are Zuckerberg and Facebook responsible?

Some have argued that if Facebook intends to censor things like hate speech or political interference, then they should also be responsible for monitoring and shutting down any illegal activity happening on the website. Some people believe that if drug dealers are posting on social media, their posts should be automatically removed. That is a good goal. Others might even insist that Facebook should report these profiles to law enforcement to help investigate dealers and make more arrests.

But should Facebook be mandated and regulated to enforce these ideas? Moreover, should they be punished when people manage to cheat their system or slip through the cracks?

Many might argue Facebook should not be punished for the posts individuals make. One comparison might be that we do not prosecute cell-phone service providers when their products and services are used in illegal activity. And if we expect Facebook to thoroughly monitor all activity and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities, should cellular services be held to the same standard?

While private phone-calls are a far cry from public posts to the internet, what is the best way walk this line of privacy and security in the digital age?

Is it fair to say that Mark Zuckerberg is himself hurting people because his company is unable to police the hundreds of billions of posts made to their site every day? Or is it true that the company is slacking when it comes to addressing these issues promptly and effectively?

Social media is changing a lot of the way we communicate, and like any other advancement, it can be taken advantage of. One thing is certain; if we want to fight the opioid epidemic we have to put more research into prevention, and more focus and support into safe and effective treatment. Technology can impact drug use, but it can also connect people and help them get on the right path toward recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

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Philippine Drug War: Stigmatic Murder?

Philippine Drug War: Stigmatic Murder?

Author: Justin Mckibben

The War on Drugs in America has definitely proven to have been extremely counter-productive to actually saving the lives of Americans and improving the state of the nation concerning addiction, overdose death and other effects caused by drug use. But even with the destruction it has brought, it is nothing compared to the drug war waging in the Philippines today.

New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is gaining international notoriety for his approach to drugs and addiction… but not in a good way. Duterte campaigned hard on a no-nonsense approach to crime. Today the full force of what this actually entails is incipient, and it is not pretty.

So is this kind of militant approach to dealing with drugs and their dealers a new level of “tough love” or is it outright stigmatic murder?

Picture Tells 1,000 Words

At first having a strict and unyielding strategy to fighting drug dealers and addicts seems pretty common. Some in America have insisted we need to be harder on criminals. Others have even said we should be charging dealers with the murders of addicts who overdose, and this has been met with a great deal of controversy.

Now shocking photographs that are being published in local and international media outlets depict suspected drug dealers dead or captured in the most inhumane ways. Images show people bound hand and foot with their shirts soaked in blood, faces sometimes covered in duct tape, wearing crude signs proclaiming their alleged crimes.

Public executions are now the norm in the Philippine drug war. So one must ask- how did it get this far?

Warnings Were There

Despite the blatant disregard for due process, part of Duterte’s appeal to the electorate is his tough on crime attitude. Duterte has on several occasions openly alluded to the idea that in this drug war he doesn’t oppose his police force killing suspected criminals. But what is worse is that he also alludes to a kind of vigilante justice.

In a nationally televised speech in June, Duterte told citizens,

“If (a criminal) fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him… Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun … you have my support.”

The insanity of it all is there are countless cases of people murdered in the street by unidentified gunman and labeled drug dealers. Despite the fact that possibly innocent people are dying, he is doubling down on the policy.

However, his administration and police deny the support of vigilante justice. THIS is the madness we are seeing unfold! In one breath Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Secretary Martin Andanar said-

“We do not condone these acts,”

Yet, in pretty much the same breath, President Duterte himself says-

“It’s a war, not a crisis. Why should these people live?”

The PNP (Philippines National Police) Chief Ronald dela Rosa claims he will aggressively fight vigilantism, yet these killings are happening every day in this drug war! The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “Kill List” stands as one of the most accurate records of the killings of suspected drug dealers by police and vigilantes, stating:

  • Between the day Duterte assumed office, June 30, and August 1 there have been 465 deaths
  • Philippines police say at least 239 drug suspects were killed in the three weeks after Duterte’s inauguration

Injustice

Probably one of the greatest injustices here is that stigma is circumventing logic in order to dictate policy. It’s the view that drug abuse and addiction, which are a common element of the drug trade, are moral failings. It tells us that all drug dealers and addicts are bad people.

There are seriously so many things wrong with this story I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll elaborate on two specific concerns.

  1. Not everyone who dies is a (proven) dealer

Let’s just pretend that a death sentence for a dealer even made sense. Even if that were the case, a trial should be absolutely mandatory. However, this whole thing has turned into the Salem witch trials. Anyone can be accused of being a dealer and end up dead with no evidence.

Those who are accused and turn themselves in can still face severe punishments if they cannot prove their innocence. It is almost like saying anyone who fits the description can be shot on sight as long as it can be justified later with hearsay…

(… awkward silence…)

Something else that goes overlooked it seems is that gangs can use this to their advantage for eliminating competition without consequences. Gang members can openly kill their rivals and claim it is a community service!

  1. Many dealers are addicts

Remember, when looking at the drug trade, street-level dealers especially are often addicts. So in many cases you may have a young man or woman who has been hopelessly addicted to drugs and is helping sell drugs to support his habit. They get caught on the street and they get killed instead of being given prison, or any chance to change.

Worse- it’s not the police that kill them; it’s their next door neighbor! Stigma will brainwash people into believing that every drug dealer is out to poison people and reap the rewards. The truth is frequently a very different reality.

Look at the way the drug war in the Philippines is evolving into a no-mans-land; at taking the law into your own hands based on speculation and fear-mongering. If we learn anything from this example, it’s that human rights should not be a casualty of a drug war. Innovative and compassionate harm reduction and treatment options are how progressive politicians are trying to save lives here at home. There are always better solutions for substance abuse and addiction. For anyone who is looking for a solution of their own, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

  

Florida Police Arrest Drug Dealers by the Dozens

Florida Police Arresting Drug Dealers by the Dozens

Author: Justin Mckibben

Talk about a power-move… these might just be the kind of game-changers we need to see more of in America.

Even though it is an amazing place for living in recovery, also considered the recovery capitol of the country, South Florida has seen its fair share of trouble in paradise. With an opiate epidemic that has gripped every part of America, even this beautiful community has a population of drug dealers and users, but Florida police are cracking down hard.

As someone who lives here in South Florida as a transplant from the Midwest and an active member of the recovery community it brings a great deal of satisfaction to see the area I now consider my home-away-from-home become a better place.

The last couple months there has been reason to celebrate some of the efforts put forth by law enforcement to make these cities safer. With stories in the news about how bad it gets out there, I figured it would be good to highlight two very recent stories of how police have made massive strides in the right direction when it comes to cutting off influence of the drug dealers in their neighborhoods.

Operation Street Sweeper- Delray City Arrests 28

At the end of April the story broke that police in the city of Delray Beach, Florida had arrested 28 suspected drug dealers in only 10 days as part of an undercover operation. One of the most recent arrests made was that of a man who carried a gun that reports said was called the “cop-killer.” This weapon carried condensed rifle bullets powerful enough to pierce bullet-proof vests, and police are happy to have this dangerous handgun off the streets.

The weapon was traced back to 32 year-old Gerald Petion, who was arrested Sunday evening on charges of:

  • Possession and sale of heroin
  • Possession of a weapon by a convicted felon

Apparently authorities state that Petion had actually left behind his gun during a police chase two weeks ago.

Delray Beach police began “Operation Street Sweeper” in February with the intention of getting drug dealers in this beautiful South Florida area out of the community. Controlled sales with known drug dealers were repeatedly staged by undercover police officers over the course of months in order to conduct a thorough investigation that lead to these arrests. Police obtained the warrants for these arrests in early April and tracked down many of the dealers, but some are still at-large.

Having arrested over 2 dozen alleged drug dealers in less than 2 weeks time is an impressive move sure to make a heavy impact on the drug traffic in the area. Most of the men and women busted by police were selling heroin, although some sold cocaine and prescription pills.

Operation Dope Death- Boynton Beach Busts 13

Boynton Beach police say an operation they labeled “Operation Dope Death” has helped them dole out a major victory over drug dealers in their community, claiming that this operation lead to:

  • Arresting 13 suspected drug dealers
  • Confiscated 62 grams of heroin
  • 5 grams of cocaine
  • 4 grams of marijuana
  • $4,300 cash
  • 8 cars
  • 1 gun

Police say the month-long investigation came after the rising number of calls in response to drug overdoses in the city so far this year, with more than 2/3 cases involving heroin and 5 ending in tragic deaths.

Out of the list of suspected drug dealers involved in the arrest, several were given multiple charges and suspected of dealing in multiple substances that are all controlled and dangerous.

10 have been booked into the Palm Beach County Jail since Monday, and there was even a 17-year-old suspect arrested and charged with the sale of heroin.

With these two substantial operations the police departments in South Florida are working towards dissolving a huge segment of the drug trafficking in the area, and hopefully as the community sees this more resources will come together to make moves toward even more change. It will take time, but it appears possible to level the playing field in more ways than one.

Paradise is nowhere near lost, but it will take work. The same is true for the lives of those impacted by addiction. Even in the darkest times having a willingness to move forward can save lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

Should Convicted Drug Dealers Be Denied Welfare Forever?

 there is already a lot being done in defense of nonviolent drug offenders to reform the way we reprimand them.

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Drug dealing is not as glorified or malicious as it often seems made out to be in music videos and movies, and the stereotypical drug dealer archetype is not always what you see when you have actually been there and done that.

I sold some drugs in my day, and some of my main suppliers were suburban house moms often supporting a few children close to my age at the time. That is the opposite of what stigma will tell you, and while it does not matter how different our race or age or upbringings were, we faced a lot of the same struggles, including addiction.

Taking all this into account, along with several other elements I will get into later, the idea of denying all convicted drug dealers access to welfare benefits on top of their prison sentencing seems a little intense… and a little unconscionable. There is already a lot being done in defense of nonviolent drug offenders to reform the way the system reprimands them, yet it appears some politicians feel it is necessary to deny welfare to convicted drug dealers, and they may soon make it a law.

Yes. This is probably my next ‘flag ship article’ in the war against addiction stigma. Shall we?

Looking at the Legislation

Republican State Representative Mike Regan sponsored this new legislation in Pennsylvania designed to make it so individuals convicted of drug distribution crimes would be restricted from qualifying for welfare… indefinitely!

Now this isn’t for every drug offense. Drug dealers convicted of felony offenses are the primary target, while summary or misdemeanor crimes would not constitute the same restrictions.

Mr. Regan said.

“This legislation, I’m not trying to be hardhearted. I’m trying to preserve the funds that are not infinite for those that are truly in need.”

Some are worried the qualifying amount of drugs is low; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) notes that if you sell 2 pounds of marijuana it constitutes a felony with incarceration of up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

2 pounds is a lot, but to anyone who has seen 2 pounds of marijuana in real life they know it doesn’t exactly put you at Escobar levels. It is definitely enough to assume you are a dealer, but I’ve known high school kids to keep more than that in their mom’s basement.

When taking a closer look this is not necessarily a huge step from what the current policy already is, which many insist is enough to deter people from taking advantage of the system. The Department of Human Services already requires welfare seekers who have been convicted of drug felony charges to comply with drug testing to be eligible for these benefits. Florida Governor Rick Scott had tried to implement a similar restriction, but eventually gave it up for results that did not justify its budget.

Regan did say he is not opposed to amending his proposal. Replacing the lifetime ban from welfare assistance with a 15-20 year ban is not completely off the table, and other negotiation can probably be made before signing it into law.

The debate is coming to a head sooner than later, since the bill already passed the House Health Committee with bipartisan support. Now, the Republican Party is hoping for a victory as the bill heads to the House floor, perhaps as early as this week!

Adamant Opposition

Opposition stands strong as Democrats and outside organizations have voiced several concerns, most driven out of the fear the bill could have counterproductive and adverse effects on recovery efforts, not just for individual offenders but the recovery of the system as a whole.

Though Regan is trying to sell this one in terms of fiscal responsibility – and there’s an argument there. The financial questions are important, such as:

“What should be the limits of the public’s generosity?”

“In a time of diminished resources what should be the parameters for those resources for public assistance?”

Half the people reading this might say,

“Why should law-abiding citizens pay to take care of convicted criminals?”

The intent of Regan’s proposal here may be to target major drug dealers. But in my personal experience and opinion, considering a lot of drug dealers have evolved from an individual with their own addictions or a desperate need to supplement income (or both) this would only further exacerbate and perpetuate the destructive cycle of prisons, poverty and drug abuse.

Sure, not every drug dealer does it for these exact reasons, but plenty do, and this kind of law will leave them little alternatives for hope.

Lack of education and opportunity in some communities often becomes a motive, and some say these circumstances in some areas have only gotten worse due to the war on drugs. If someone is caught and sent to prison it’s hard enough already to find honest and stable work. Add a criminal record and forcing them to forgo their welfare assistance seems like it would only create more of a need to revert to dealing again.

Like breaking someone’s legs and telling them to move a mile… without using their arms.

Why would we need to keep kicking someone while their down, especially when we toss them back out into society and tell them to pick themselves up again?

Is it practical to keep punishing people while expecting them to reform themselves? Is it effective to drag people in and out of the criminal justice and prison system to “teach them a lesson?”

Has it worked for us so far?

That is all this writer’s opinion, but in all honestly I think most would agree that a better answer would involve actively treating and supporting the rehabilitation of individuals with drug issues. If we can’t show compassion, we can’t expect any change.

With the toll of the war on drugs being costly on both sides of the fight, how can we improve upon the ideals set forth to fight addiction and drug abuse? We all have a roll in this war, and as part of this culture we all have a chance to help this nation survive this fight. For some it is as simple as choosing to recover rather than suffer, and Palm Partners is a place to begin that transformation. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Where in the World Does the “Dark Web” Deal Drugs?

Where in the World Does the “Dark Web” Deal Drugs?

Author: Justin Mckibben

I have been writing a lot lately on the dangers we are now facing as a society in this digital age. The “Generation D” faces a lot of issues that are unique to this time-period, as more and more technology develops. Websites and even Instagram accounts are used to sell drugs, and now there has been some effort to trace which nations deal most in what.

The infamous “Dark Web” also called the “Deep Web” is the like the Amazon.com or Ebay.com for illicit goods, accessibly only through backdoor software and encrypted networks, where your skilled hacker and other tech-smart individuals can get their hands on all types of illegal merchandise, and have it priority mailed with total anonymity.

What is the “Dark Web”

The first time many people heard of the infamous “Dark Web”, which is the entire area of the Internet compiled of sites that cannot be accessed via standard search engines, and requires a little more skill, was when “Silk Road” was taken down around a year ago. “Silk Road” was at the time history’s most notorious online flea market for illegal substances, and apparently an estimated $1.2 billion business model. The illusive internet drug kingpin who ran it went by the name “Dread Pirate Roberts“, who eventually was revealed to be Ross William Ulbricht. This 29-year-old University of Texas graduate allegedly responsible for mass amounts of online drug trafficking plead not guilty to several charges last month and is due to stand trial this coming November.

Through sites like these people can find everything that would otherwise be a bit of a bother to get ahold of. You can get something as simple as a fake ID, or even guns, but the most common currency here on the cyber-marketplace is drugs. Since the “Silk Road” was dismantled by the FBI last year, many people expected the digital drug market to die off. Unfortunately new internet market-places have stepped in to corner that market. With names like “Silk Road 2” it seems they definitely intended to fill the gap, but they will be looking at the same kind of crackdown once the site is infiltrated. While dealers remain anonymous, so far that has not proven to be to foolproof.

National Statistics

Though drugs on the “Dark Web” are sold anonymously, Vocative.com found a way to remarkably sort and categorize each drug dealer through the locations from which items are shipped, which allowed them to compile some graphs which illustrate which countries many of these narcotic products originate in, and which countries have more of a reputation for specific substances as far as this market goes.

Now these numbers are not exact, and the statistics do not include all of the other illegal drug deals happening off of the internet around the world. This is not meant to show who should take the most credit, but it does raise an eyebrow as to how this type of trade is effective in several different countries, and in which nation are websites like these taken advantage of most.

What Countries Sold What

Again, this data is not absolutely complete. First one has to keep in mind these numbers are made assuming each online vendor is being truthful about where he or she is shipping from, and that’s impossible to double-check. Second, the numbers show the number of listings, not sales. So for example if one “Dark Web” drug dealer may actually have 100 listings but 0 sales, while another might have one listing and 100 sales.

The Netherlands turns out to be the number one seller of MDMA, with Germany close behind.

MDMA- number of listings

  • Netherlands- 470
  • Germany- 211
  • USA-151

Athough Amsterdam is known for pot, it seems Uncle Sam is still on top of the marijuana game because the Unite States is shipping more than twice as much marijuana as its nearest competitor.

Marijuana- number of listings

  • USA- 935
  • Germany- 478
  • Netherlands- 313

As if we need another reason to be #1 America is also first place for shipping LSD, the UK struggling to keep up.

LSD- number of listings

  • USA- 294
  • United Kingdom- 226
  • Germany- 181

America also has bragging rights for shipping the most cocaine with the Netherlands not far off our heels.

Cocaine- number of listings

  • USA- 315
  • Netherlands- 258
  • United Kingdom- 174

With these kinds of drug dealers free to act on their own ventures unchecked for a time, there is no real way of tracing every deal and every package shipped, which is probably what continues to make this issue one that is most disconcerting. If we cannot even begin to trace the drugs back to their original nation, how will the authorities ever trace the dealers? Then again it would not be the first time online dealers got clever, got confident, and then got caught.

 In any nation, anyone can be affected by the disease of addiction. Illicit drugs can be found in every corner of any country, some drugs more often than others, but addicts suffer the same across the board. Global awareness and effort is being made to try and make a change, but in the life of an addict there may not be much time left. There is a way to save your life, and you don’t have to cross the world to do it. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone. 

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