Watch a video of my prison and opioids play "Streets Like This," performed by actors who have all dealt with incarceration

In 2018, I was commissioned by Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to help devise and write a new play based on their ReEntry Theatre Program — a free arts initiative for people who've experienced incarceration and/or drug rehabilitation. The program participants developed the raw material through theatre games and writing exercises, which I then took and transformed into a full-length script.

Streets Like This originally ran for 3 sold out performances in May 2018, featuring a cast of program participants, whose personal stories of addiction and incarceration inspired the script. The people involved in this show from the start have gone on to make some tremendous policy changes for social services and criminal justice reform in Tompkins County, New York, and decided to remount the show again this spring.

Then the COVID-19 outbreak happened.

But the cast and company got together one last time and filmed their production without an audience. It's streaming now for free between April 30 and May 17, 2020; and since they can't raise any money through ticket sales, they're hoping the video will bring in some donations so they can keep this program going.

Working on this play and getting to know these actors was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me, and I know it's had a positive impact on their lives, too. I hope you'll check it out, and if you're feeling generous, throw some money their way so they can keep doing good work in changing the ways our society deals with addiction and incarceration. Read the rest

Leaks reveal how the "Pitbull of PR" helped Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers ignite the opioid crisis

Propublica has obtained a tranche of leaked internal communications between the Sackler family's Purdue Pharma, makers of the lethal opioid Oxycontin, and Dezenhall Resources, known as "The Pitbull of Public Relations," whose previous client roster includes Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, Exxon and other "beleaguered corporations," who masterminded a "blame the victim" strategy that apportioned responsibility for Oxycontin's mounting death toll on the people who became addicted to it -- not the Sacklers and Purdue, who falsified science, bribed doctors, and made billions from an epidemic that has now claimed more American lives than the Vietnam War. Read the rest

A small city mayor explains why safe drug injection sites are so effective

In my experience, people either immediately recognize the name of Harris Wittels, or they don’t at all. And that’s precisely what makes the comedian and former Parks & Rec writer’s death from addiction in 2015 that much more tragic.

4 years later, Wittels’ sister, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, has launched a new podcast series called “The Last Day” that explores the ongoing opioid epidemic in-depth and with astounding empathy. While many people have been affected by this problem, the solutions aren’t so readily apparent. Or, if they are, there are still stigmas around them that make it difficult to enact them on a larger enough scale.

In the 7th episode of the podcast, Wittels Wachs speaks with Svante Myrick, the 32-year-old politician who just won his third term as mayor of Ithaca, New York. Myrick speaks passionately and candidly about his own family’s history with addiction, and also about the potential benefits of safe injection sites—supervised spaces where people can go and freely use the drugs to which they are addicted. The idea is understandably controversial, particularly if you subscribe to the negative stereotypical assumptions about drug users. But, as Myrick explains, these safe injection sites have been shown to reduce deaths as well as crime.

If this sounds contradictory to you, well, then, I would suggest you listen to the podcast episode:

7: 20,000 Fewer Funerals

I’ll be honest: I’m not being completely objective here. My friend Matt overdosed and died in 2016. My wife also runs a professional theatre company in Ithaca, where Svante is mayor—and in 2018, I wrote a play about opioid recovery that was devised in collaboration with people in the Ithaca area who were transitioning out of prison and rehabilitation programs. Read the rest

Texas' new cannabis laws screw PTSD sufferers. Again.

Back in 2015, the great state of Texas passed The Compassionate Use Act, making the use of cannabis for medical purposes totally cool... in a small number of instances. Only those with epilepsy are allowed to use the plant's properties to ease their symptoms and the cannabis that they're allowed to use must contain minuscule amounts of THC. This left Texans who'd like to turn to cannabis to help ease their way out of opioid use or deal with chronic pain, to saddle up and move to a less restrictive state or risk being arrested. Recently, the state's lawmakers looked to reforming the restrictive act, Once again, too small a group of folks wound up being told that they're cool to roll with a bit of cannabis in their lives. One of the biggest groups excluded: individuals suffering from PTSD.

From The Texas Observer:

Activists say opposition to cannabis reform is partially based on fearmongering over alleged dangers of marijuana by Republicans and law enforcement officials, a powerful group at the Lege. False claims and junk science often go unchallenged in a vacuum created by the lack of research into cannabis. (Marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug is a significant barrier to studying the plant’s uses.) For three sessions, the Rural Sheriffs Association of Texas has peddled its report that falsely claims pot lowers IQ scores, is addictive and increases criminality. In March, Plano Police Sergeant Terence Holway told lawmakers in a committee hearing that “all drug addicts … started with marijuana.”

Read the rest

John Oliver tackles the Sacklers: the litigious, secretive billionaires whose family business engineered the opioid crisis

The Sacklers (previously) are a reclusive, super-secretive family of billionaires whose fortune comes from their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Oxycontin, the drug at the center of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed more American lives than the Vietnam war, with the death-toll still mounting. Read the rest

The billionaire family who profited off the opioid epidemic are finally facing legal reprisals

The Sackler Family (previously) are a family of self-styled philanthropist billionaires who have been largely successful in their campaign to whitewash their family name by giving away a few percentage points off the profits they earned from deliberately creating the opioid epidemic by tricking and bribing doctors to overprescribe Oxycontin, falsely claiming that it was not addictive, and promoting the idea that any doctor who left a patient feeling pain was engaged in malpractice. Read the rest