Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Image of the Ideal Life

I am sure that most of us have dreamed about what the perfect life would look like.  Maybe we have done that with a friend or significant other around the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?”  I think most people do subscribe to the belief that money does not buy happiness, but boy it would be fun to see if it could!  The reality for all of us is that life is a combination of ups and downs, good times and bad.  All of us are going to experience struggles in one form or another, and hopefully we are all able to experience life’s joys as well.  However, today there seems to be a new force at work, with social scientists and mental health professionals expressing concern that we are living in a world where we are creating an unrealistic expectation of life, and it is being provided to us — especially young people — through social media.  Some refer to this as creating a “fake life” that ultimately leads to significant mental health issues for some.

I am an regular Facebook user.  In my life I have lived in a number of different communities and worked in five different school districts.  I have a lot of friends that I rarely see, and until Facebook, had lost track of.  I’ve had my negative moments on Facebook, and in fact, “banned myself” for four months after the 2016 election because of all of the negativity that was being posted, me included.  I was falling into it and was not a real happy person.  That said, today I check it out at least once a day.  I am sure many of you do the same.  While Facebook is not the social media platform of choice for young people today, there are still many that use it, or at least browse through it.

So what’s the problem?  Have you seen many people post “bad” pictures, or share about the crappy things about their life? Sure, there a people that share out about loss or bad things that happen to them, but that’s not what social scientists are concerned with.  Most of us share out about the great things that have happened to us.  We put up pictures when our kids do something impressive, and brag a little in the comments we add.  When we take trips we show all of the cool things that we have done.  In essence, we have sanitized our lives, creating a snapshot of a beautiful perfect life.  We show ourselves in a positive light creating an image that all is good.  An example of this that went indescribably wrong was the Watts family in Colorado, who friends and family believed lived a beautiful, happy life, in large part due to what mom Shanann posted on social media.  She covered up the financial disaster the family faced, as well as all of the other negatives the family faced.  When she was murdered by her husband, along with their two children, people were shocked, in large part because they had no idea about all of the problems the family was facing. 

Young people that are computer savvy have taken it to another level, often exaggerating and creating unreal or artificial images of their life.  They use Photoshop to enhance images, both literally and figuratively.  Whether they literally “touch up” photos to make them look better, or simply self-edit what they post, the images they present are not accurate.  This has a negative impact not only on themselves by denying reality, but it also impacts others who see these “perfect lives” and determine their life does not measure up.

So what are we to do?  We adults have experienced life’s ups and downs, and most of us acknowledge that painting an unrealistic picture of a “perfect life” could have a negative impact on a young person.  Heck, it had a negative impact on the young mother of two mentioned above!  A good starting spot is to have direct conversations with our kids about our own life, the difficulty we have had and how we persevered and overcame the tough times.  We also need to talk about the good times and put into perspective what really made those times good.  Another conversation we can have is to sit down with our son or daughter and discuss a person that both of you know well.  Talk about what you know about them, the good and the bad.  Then pull up their Facebook page or Instagram posts and discuss whether they tell the whole story.  It become obvious that most people post about their best days, not their common old ordinary ones.

As we raise our kids there are common themes that we try to stress with them, most often connected to core values that we hold as parents.  We do need to sprinkle in conversation that points out life can be hard and disappointing.  We have done a disservice to our kids proclaiming that “all we want for them is to be happy.”  Happiness is often very difficult to attain!  Life throws tough things at us that are not going to make us happy!  We also need to stress that life does not revolve around you.  Many kids have a strong sense of self-importance.  The sooner they understand that it is not all about them, the better.  And finally, somehow we have to get the message across totem that they cannot live life in constant comparison to others.  All of us know that we can never measure up to some people, and now in the social media world, that “fake world” created by some is certainly unattainable.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Opioids: The Scourge That Is Comin

I have lived long enough that I have seen various “drug eras” come and go, often decimating families, communities, cities and other institutions, not to mention killing and destroying the lives of millions of individuals in our country.  I was a young child in the ’60’s but was well aware of young people experimenting with weed, LSD, and a variety of other things, and had an extended family member that did a pretty good job of messing up his life due to his addictions.  I remember reading about the horrible experiences people were having with heroin, particularly when they were trying to shake the monkey and get off that drug that controlled their lives.  The cocaine-obsessed party culture of the 1980’s followed by the crack epidemic established some of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world that still have to be reckoned with.  And now, we are seeing parts of our country once again battling a vicious foe.  In March of 2017 the governor of Maryland declared a State of Emergency because of the toll it was taking in that state.  In Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Ohio the rate of death by overdose is climbing at a never before seen rate.  Nationally, the present epidemic has the highest opioid death rate ever with an average of 10.3 per 100,000 dying because of the drug.  We don’t hear much about it in Iowa, but within the past year, recorded incidents of opioid overdoses have taken place in northeast Iowa and in Fayette County.

The crazy thing about this plague is that in large part most people get addicted to opioids by using it legally.  According to the U.S. Surgeon General, this crisis started with the over-prescription of powerful opioid pain relievers in the 1990’s, and shortly after that, they because the most prescribed class of medications in the United States with over 289 million prescriptions being written in 2016.  The most common of the opioid pain killers are oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).  These very potent drugs are far more powerful than an opioid that more people have heard of, morphine.  Two other types of opioid that are getting a lot of attention now are fentanyl and the incredibly dangerous carfentanil, the later being 1o,000 times more potent than morphine!  And of course, once addicts cannot afford or get their hands on the pills they want, they can get a much cheaper opioid on the streets, heroin.

The reality is that these drugs are highly addictive.  With doctors diagnosing about a third of the population with chronic pain in the late 1990’s, drug companies went into overdrive to produce these pain killing drugs.  And, they worked, at least for a period of time.  And since they did work, patients wanted and used them, and gave little heed to their addictive nature.  The problem is that some patients continued to take the medication beyond what their doctor prescribed.  Perhaps it was to continue to minimize pain, or maybe for the euphoric rush that it gives.  Just like heroin junkies in the 1960’s that feeling of euphoria after a hit was something their body craved.

As shared by Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Reinhart at a community meeting held at NFVHS in early 2018, this is a United States crisis as 80% of the opioid produced in the world is consumed by Americans.  Not only that, it is a crisis that is currently centered in the northeast and midwest with the number of deaths related to opioid increasing by 4x since 2000.  In Iowa,  while not quite the crisis as it is in states to the east, it is still dramatic as can be seen from the chart below.

In talking with a friend that lives in southeast Ohio, every week there is reference in the newspaper to another opioid related death.  Towns in that region, as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia have gone broke trying to deal with the economic costs of the crisis.  Medical examiners and coroners in some communities have quit because of the volume of victims that have literally piled up.  In fact, in some areas they have had to resort to commercial refrigerated facilities and even trucks to serve as makeshift morgues.  Just a few weeks ago over 40 people in the same park in Connecticut had to receive medical attention because the synthetic marijuana they had all purchased from a dealer was tainted with fentanyl.

As mentioned above, law enforcement has dealt with opioids in Fayette County.  What is particularly concerning for me is that we have a number of young people in our community that use drugs.  It is a reality, and what I worry about is that someone is going to get something that is tainted with one of these powerful substances and die.  I have heard that different agencies in Iowa are handing out Narcan, a nasal mist used  in emergency situations to block the effects of opioids, so they have it on hand in case they come across someone who overdoses.  It has be pretty serious when steps like this are being taken.