BREAKING: Study says cannabis effective at treating nerve pain

Photo courtesy Pixabay

Research published today in Annals of Internal Medicine shows that cannabis is effective in combatting neuropathic pain, the type suffered by people with multiple sclerosis, HIV, diabetes and possibly some forms of fibromyalgia.

It’s a noteworthy conclusion given that cannabis is still scheduled as an illegal, class I controlled substance by the federal government, with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” to use the DEA’s own words.

Also today, Annals published research about cannabis and PTSD, although it essentially concluded nothing.

Despite the federal law, medical cannabis already is legal in more than half the states in America, with the above-mentioned conditions and chronic pain listed as qualifiers in many of those states.

“Investigators’ conclusion that there exists clinical evidence supportive of the efficacy of cannabis in the mitigation of neuropathic pain is consistent with both prior reviews and with the anecdotal reports of patients, many of whom are seeking a safer alternative to the use of deadly opioids, and it is inconsistent with federal government’s classification of the marijuana plant….” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement to DavidHeitz.com.

NORML is a Washington-based marijuana advocacy group.

The research was published as part of a three-article package on cannabis that went live on the medical journal’s site at 5 p.m. Eastern on Monday.

Annals of Internal Medicine is published by the American College of Physicians, a tenet of the mainstream medical establishment. I attended the American College of Physicians Internal Medicine Meeting in San Diego in May, as a member of the credentialed news media.

The other articles published today in Annals concluded that there is not enough evidence to know whether cannabis is effective in treating PTSD (but that new information will be coming soon) and advised doctors that “the horse is out of the barn,” regardless.

Research cannabis looks like grass clippings

While the study found only “limited evidence” of cannabis’ efficacy on neuropathic pain, it’s important to understand that the cannabis being used for medical research is incredibly weak and not remotely representative of what’s available on the market to medical cannabis patients.

Because of the arcane federal law that classifies cannabis as being more dangerous than crystal meth or heroin, researchers at academic institutions studying the medicinal effects of cannabis on people must obtain the plant from the federal cannabis garden at the University of Mississippi.

This garden grows remarkably weak strains of weed with THC levels topping out at 8, 10, maybe 13 percent, depending on which reports you want to believe. Most cannabis available in medical dispensaries these days has THC levels of around 20 percent. Some have THC levels as high as 30 percent as far as flower goes and, with concentrates, THC levels can go into the 80 percent range and higher.

The weed out of the Mississippi garden is so vile that one researcher recently alerted the Washington Post. You can read here how PTSD researcher Sue Sisley got some nasty, moldy bud. After determining the mold levels would not be toxic to patients, she decided to use it anyway. It’s not like she has any other choice.

Read the Washington Post story for yourself and get a look at the nasty government “grass clippings” by clicking here.

I asked Armentano if he could fill me on the latest regarding the federal government’s ditch weed garden at the University of Mississippi. He sent me this link.

 To the federal government’s credit, the ditch weed garden is evolving to include high CBD strains. Once upon a time, it grew only one nasty strain instead of five nasty strains.

The link is hilarious. The feds charge researchers $10.96 for a “marijuana cigarette.”

It could be worse. A “placebo cigarette” will set you back $13.94!

“Obviously, these products do not represent the broad scope of actual cannabis-based products that patients are using in the real world — a point that has been raised frequently by critics,” Armentano wrote in an email to me. “You are correct that any cannabis administered as part of a FDA-approved trial must be provided by the University of Mississippi.”

And yet, I bet when the 5 p.m. news reports the medical research coming out in Annals tonight they aren’t going to explain that the weed used in those studies is nothing like the medical cannabis available to people treating themselves for pain or PTSD.

The garden also completely ignores the science of terpenes, compounds in the plant that vary by strain and have medicinal qualities as well as an aromatic effect. You can learn more about terpenes by clicking here.

 One wonders where the government even gets the seeds to produce the funky cannabis like what they dispense to medical researchers.

The truth is in our stories: Cannabis is saving lives

The Annals pain study actually was a review of research already published. It analyzed 27 chronic pain trials.

Its official conclusion: “Limited evidence suggests that cannabis may alleviate neuropathic pain in some patients, but insufficient evidence exists for other types of chronic pain.”

It then adds the always scary-sounding, “Among general populations, limited evidence suggests that cannabis associated with an increased risk for adverse mental health effects.”

To the researcher’s credit, the flaw in the research that renders much of it null and void in my opinion is listed: “The cannabis formulations studies may not reflect commercially available products.”

We know anecdotally, overwhelmingly so, that millions of Americans are effectively treating their pain with cannabis. Opioid overdose deaths are down in states where medical cannabis is legal. Fewer painkillers are being dispensed.

As I left the dispensary this morning, a woman shared with me how she ended up being hooked on fentanyl after a surgery. Now, with her medical cannabis card, she is off opioids completely.

Just as I am completely off benzodiazepines for my PTSD. You can read about that here.

Last week I wrote this blog post about how cannabis should be used to treat addiction. I have pinned the post to the top of my Facebook page. The conversation is so lively I can’t even keep up with it. The number of new likes to my Facebook page just this week, since I have written that piece, is well in excess of 300.

I also have been inundated with emails of personal stories. Just this week, two veterans receiving VA medical care informed me they have been put on notice for their illicit cannabis use. Both have been told if they “drop” (the VA urine tests veterans) for cannabis again, their medications will be revoked. One is on benzodiazepines for anxiety; the other is on opioids for pain.

This is shocking. Abrupt discontinuation of these highly addictive medications may result in death. And again, medical cannabis is legal in more than half the states.

You can read the VA’s medical marijuana policy here.

Medical establishment’s blessing would expedite cannabis availability

The medical cannabis blessing from the mainstream medical establishment would be an important first step toward getting insurance companies to pay for the treatment. That would make it more widely available.

But the establishment isn’t going to do that without further, more rigorous clinical trials. Expensive trials…where researchers are required to use government grass clippings.

“While more rigorous clinical trials of longer durations are arguably warranted, call for such trials should not overshadow the reality that tens of thousands of patients in the US are presently using therapeutic cannabis to safely and effectively address various hard-to-treat conditions, including chronic pain and post-traumatic stress — which is why well-respected advocacy groups like the American Legion and AMVETS are lobbying in support of greater patient access to marijuana,” Armentano said.

“Further, it must be acknowledged that the longstanding politicization of the cannabis plant, and its ongoing schedule I status, has greatly impeded researchers’ ability to conduct the sort of robust, large-scale, prolonged clinical trials that are typically associated with eventual FDA drug approval. Such trials are typically funded by private pharmaceutical companies seeking market approval, whereas cannabis research must be funded by academic institutions. These institutions possess limited funds and they are not in a position to — nor are they seeking to — attempt to bring the drug to market.”

In the Annals editorial accompanying the research meta-analyses, Dr. Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville writes, “Although several well-designed trials are under way to address (treating pain and PTSD with cannabis), to some degree the horse is out of the barn – and unlikely to return. Even if future studies reveal a clear lack of substantial benefit of cannabis for pain or PTSD, legislation is unlikely to remove these conditions from the lists of indications for medical cannabis.”

Any medical cannabis patient with PTSD or chronic pain – and I suspect those two conditions make up most of us in many states, if not nationally – will tell you not only is it effective, it’s highly effective.

The Pharma medications for those conditions – benzodiazepines and opioids — churn out addicts and alcoholics (benzos are booze in a pill) every day. In the midst of a national opioid crisis, why aren’t the feds declaring pot legal as part of a national addiction emergency?

I bet that would solve Trump’s popularity problems quick. An executive order legalizing cannabis!

I’m going to end with a final quote from the Vandy doctor who wrote the editorial. I’ll warn you…it’s insulting. But I’m using it, and I’m ending with it, because it’s so incredibly ridiculous and out of touch with the realities of people suffering from pain and addiction that I hope it gets blasted around social media far and wide.

“As Nugent and colleagues note, patient characteristics associated with clinical response to cannabis products for pain are unknown,” Patel writes. “Another, more controversial explanation may be the complexity of chronic pain, with interrelated behavioral, emotional, and cognitive domains.

“Perhaps cannabis decreases the clinical effect of chronic pain in some way not readily operationalized by traditional pain rating scales. Of course, it’s also possible that cannabis’ effects on perceived pain are simply not robust, and such catch-all diagnoses as pain to justify legal access to cannabis may be overused.”

At the end of the day, the people of this country are only going to tolerate the mainstream medical establishment’s delusional “reefer madness,” to use the words of Berkeley medical researcher Amanda Reiman, for so long.

Grass clippings, folks.

Follow David Heitz on Facebook at @DavidHeitzHealth and on Twitter @DavidHeitz

‘Green Room’ fast becoming my favorite in the house

Through the years, I’ve had friends who designate rooms of their homes “Green Rooms.”

You can imagine where the namesake comes from. After all, I have just rebranded my site, “Mental wellness, sober living and medical cannabis. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

I might drop the second sentence. I mean it in a good way, but it sounds like I’m poking.

I also thought about “Cannabis and Recovery. Every day.” In fact, I declare that one mine, too!

At any rate, my friends with ‘Green Rooms’ always have made me, well, green with envy.

Once decorated with Bozo, two twin beds

This used to be my bedroom.

Book preview: Dad and I reclaim the property

Picture it: Rock Island, Ill., 1974. Me and my brother crammed into this room with two twin beds. Bozo the Clown curtains and bedspreads. I was 4; my brother, 13.

Lucky him. He moved to the cellar when mom and dad built the room addition in 1976 and semi-remodeled the basement, and this became my bedroom.

It had been closed off for a very long time. I never really used it. I never really slept when dad was here. I always was chasing after him. When he went into the facility, I started sleeping on the couch. Finally, I moved into his old room.

The room became a junk collector.

Room a gratitude reflecting pool

The real reason I am writing this column is that I glanced in here and just thought, “Wow, I love this room. I am so grateful for so many things.”

It’s a nice distraction when you are upset about something to focus on your blessings. We all have them. If you dig deep you can always find one uniquely yours – whatever helped you get through the day, be it a cup of coffee or a call from a friend.

Imagine the day without that one thing.

Maybe it was as simple as buying a head of lettuce for 39 cents.

Read more: Here’s why we need education, not misinformation, about medical cannabis

Maybe it was a warm bed, or a cool one.

I used to get so mad when people talked to me about gratitude. But it really does work. Trust me.

Meaningful items bring about serenity

I love the items in the room. An old friend stopped by a few months back. I could tell he was exasperated that I remodeled the house but mostly have the same old stuff. I like my stuff.

The desk is a table that I bought at Ikea in Carson, Calif. in 1993. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, then someone else wanted it. It was the last one, so I bought it.

That plant was given to me by my next-door-neighbors – the ones in the home the plant is facing, fact. They gave it to me when dad died. It is growing by leaps and bounds. I call it my Jack and the Beanstalk plant.

The Oriental-style lamp was a Goodwill find — $7.77. The cool wastepaper basket? It was expensive, even on sale, and from Target. I’m embarrassed to say what I paid for it. But I love it in the room!

The same goes for the kitschy LED lamp. Target. Not cheap. And on sale. But so cool!

AIDS LifeCycle T-shirt reminder of important work

The T-shirt draped over the wooden bar stool was sent to me by the Los Angeles LGBT Center when I covered AIDS LifeCycle the second year. They are wonderful people there. My HIV reporting has been an extremely important part of my medical writing career and where it all began.

Read more: Sharing my personal relationship with HIV as I ready for AIDS LifeCycle

I can’t wear the T-shirt because it’s a – now, I’m serious – extra small.

Seriously, Gil Diaz?! 😉

Finally, there’s a little man laying out in the sun underneath the LED lamp. That came from a dear old friend long, long ago.

Longtime friend.

I think my Green Room is the grandest of all.

Do you have a Green Room? Tell me about it!

Read more: My portfolio of paid work on infectious diseases/public health topics

Testimony supporting Strategic’s plan to build Bettendorf psychiatric hospital

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(Image courtesy Pixabay)

The Iowa Health Facilities Council will consider the application of Strategic Behavioral Health of Memphis, Tenn. to build a psychiatric hospital in Bettendorf during a public hearing Thursday in Ankeny. Here is my submitted testimony to the council in support of the hospital.

June 16, 2017

Health Facilities Council

c/o Becky Swift

Iowa Department of Public Health

Lucas State Office Building

321 E. 12th St.

Des Moines, Iowa 50319

I submit this letter in support of Strategic Behavioral Health today as a former patient of the Robert Young Center, an advocate for the mentally ill, a person in recovery, and a health care journalist and branded content writer.

I even was offered the corporate writer job at UnityPoint (then Trinity) in 2002. I had many wonderful meetings and interviews through the years with David Deopere and Bob Lundin, who I both admired. I worked at the Quad-City Times from 1986 to 1992 and again from 2002 until 2010, when I quit to care for my elderly father. He died of behavioral-variant frontotemporal degeneration almost two years ago. BvFTD is a disease that takes a staggering toll over time not only on the patient, but also on the people around them. My dad received disability Social Security in 1984 at the age of 46 and lived until almost 78.

He also was a patient at Robert Young Center for many years and never made it secret how he felt about them either, but I won’t repeat the words he used.

Today I need to share my story, and we need to address the broken mental health care system in the Quad-Cities once and for all. Why we are even debating this is extremely disturbing in the light of the mental health care crisis here. That hospital could have been built by now and would already be helping people.

On May 6, 2015, I was “arrested” at Amber Ridge Memory Care in Moline, where my father lived, on no charges at all. I never was charged with anything, but they told me my offense was raising my voice.

When they booked me, I refused to sign something regarding an assault charge, as I did not assault anyone. They therefore threw me in the “suicide” cell for two days. By law, you can keep someone two days if they are suicidal.

Not more than two hours later that day a nice young woman from Robert Young Center showed up at the cell window. She was wearing proper identification and such. She asked me what happened. I explained I was involved in a criminal investigation (that indeed has produced fruit) and that I was frightened because I thought I saw a “bad guy.”

Ironically, I had just been diagnosed by an RYC clinician with PTSD a few days before. But my PTSD has been chronic and lifelong due to growing up in a violent home. It’s not just the result of the events of the past several years.

To make a long story short, the RYC clinician who showed up at the jail said she would get me released, repeatedly affirming, “You clearly are not suicidal.”

I would love for someone to ask that woman about her visit with me. RYC told me no record exists of her visit.

My understanding is that RYC does not create a medical record unless there is a bill attached. That’s why the record does not exist. How can this be legal? Especially when the mental health professional says you don’t belong in the jail, so they are holding you in violation of a “suicide” statute that allows them to keep you without charges.

Add the layer of being an informant in a criminal investigation, and boy does it stink. Stinks bad.

I plan to write a book about all of this soon and already have heard from interested publishers/documentary filmmakers.

When I was released, I was taken to the crisis center at UnityPoint in Rock Island. There, I was treated horribly by the emergency room doctor. I filed several written complaints about the entire incident. UnityPoint ended up forgiving the portion of my bill that Blue Cross Blue Shield did not pay, and not for financial reasons.

I actually was readmitted to the hospital a second day, taken by ambulance from the grocery store when I suddenly had a horrible panic attack and literally felt like I was going to have a heart attack. The bill was $1,800 total that BCBS did not pick up. I am very grateful that they forgave the bill.

My records from the stay are wildly inaccurate. For a day, they were “missing.” The patient advocate helped me get them. When I went to pick them up, they only wanted to give me the top page. I said that was not acceptable and laid down a credit card to pay for the whole thing. The clerk said, “Just give me what’s in your pocket” and discounted the rest and gave me the entire file.

The form letter regarding the bill forgiveness was slightly different from others, I have been told by former RYC employees. The first sentence said they certainly try to treat everyone with dignity and respect, or something along those lines.

Today, I am writing stories about addiction and recovery and improving outcomes for the elderly for two Fortune 500 healthcare companies. I am indeed a very blessed man; thanks to the excellent mental health care I receive twice a week at Southpark Psychology. I also am on a medication regimen I have been prescribed by a GP, as quite frankly I do not trust any of the psychiatrists here. Even if they are qualified they don’t have enough time to make a good diagnosis anyway. At either hospital/mental health center on either side of the river.

I attended my first American College of Physicians conference this year in San Diego. It was extremely exciting. Despite all that life has thrown me, today I am successful and healing.

I should have been taken to a psychiatric hospital May 6, 2015, like the one Strategic Behavioral Health wants to build. I never should have been jailed on no charges at all.

Many thanks,

David Heitz

Rock Island, IL 61201

What is EMDR and why am I undergoing this unusual mental health treatment?

Editor’s note: I dropped out of EMDR after only a few sessions. I did not trust the therapist, who seemed to be trying to put words into my mouth. She also wanted me to abstain from medical cannabis two days before each session, which I deemed a wholly unreasonable request. Finally, if you are the victim of a violent crime, they will throw out your testimony if your memories vis a vis the crime are tampered with via EMDR. We never got past my childhood Florida trip, when my morbidly drunk dad threw the empties into the flatbed of his truck with no AC as we barreled down the interstate.

This was going to be the blog that “kicked butt and named names,” so to speak.

But after seeing Dr. Lash at Southpark Psychology a couple of times, I don’t feel the need to do that.

Besides, if I gave everything away now, nobody would buy my book. So maybe I will only give away a little bit.

I have begun a mental health treatment known as EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It took me a long time to decide whether to do this. Because my trauma involves being the victim of multiple crimes – at least I considered them crimes and reported them to authorities – I wasn’t sure whether it would be a good idea to tamper with my memories.

In a nutshell, once you have this done, if you ever are called to testify about a crime, they essentially declare your testimony null and void.

That’s fine with me. I’m never going to be called to testify about anything anyway because the people who hurt me clearly are untouchable.

What is EMDR?

What is EMDR, you ask?

It’s different. Click here to get the full explanation from the EMDR International Association.

From the website:

“Processing does not mean talking about it. Processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be digested and stored appropriately in your brain.

“That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned, and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and able to guide you in positive ways in the future. The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded.

“Negative emotions, feelings and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are pushing you in the wrong directions. The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions.”

Can you see why I signed up?

The treatment, I think, is more important than the process, which is intense and a bit unusual. It’s difficult for people like myself not to rant, but that’s not how this works.

The process involves following LED lights in such a way that it literally frees your brain so that you can look at things differently.

It may sound strange, but scientific research has proven the efficacy of this treatment.

Dr. Lash speaks passionately about how she got into EMDR. She was at the APA Convention in New York City and EMDR founder Francine Shapiro was giving a presentation that had spilled outside of the ballroom.

This was back in the 1980s, and Dr. Lash pushed her way inside as opposed to being content to just listen in the overflow, where a monitor and speaker also had been set up.

I am incredibly grateful to have access to this kind of treatment, especially in the Quad-Cities, where mental health services are abysmal for most people.

Check out my portfolio of paid articles about mental health

Story about jail heat gets me steaming

The trigger that pushed me over the edge and caused me to see Dr. Lash is the story making the rounds lately about the Rock Island County Jail’s broken air-conditioning system. Check out Chris Minor’s report for WQAD-TV 8.

These worthless politicians for decades have been irresponsible and corrupt with taxpayer funds. Now the county is broke. There are still almost 30 members on that board and they have repeatedly demonstrated their incompetence to the taxpayers.

All of them, as far as I’m concerned.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for them that they have opened themselves to litigation? They’ve done it repeatedly. It would be interesting to know just how much they’ve paid out in settlements in just the past 10 years, actually. I chose not to go that route and share my story instead.

I was held two years ago in that jail, stripped naked in solitary confinement, on no charges at all. My story never has changed one bit.

You can read about it here.

And here.

Despite GPS evidence and phone calls by pastor, no justice

I essentially want to re-process what happened inside the jail to create a different reality. It’s so haunting I need it wiped from my memory.

While my story of what happened inside the jail is extremely complex, several damning facts have emerged that those close to the case understand adds much credibility to my entire story.

If anyone in authority cared about what happened to me in the Rock Island County Jail, they would have called my pastor by now to confirm what we know to be true: She called my phone at least twice while I was held in the jail on no charges at all, and a Spanish-speaking person answered.

Check out my paid portfolio of addiction/recovery reporting

We also know from the GPS history of my phone that it left the jail. You can see it for yourself in my blog post regarding what happened in the jail.

Why was the phone on, why wasn’t it in a locker, and how can anyone think anything about my story doesn’t ring true with these two pieces of evidence alone?

I don’t mean to put the pastor in a bad situation, but look what I have been put through. To say or do nothing is not the right thing to do.

Check out my paid portfolio of reporting on matters of public health

She ministers to pillars of the Rock Island County establishment, including a Rock Island County board member who I also have known quite well for many, many years.  The board member not calling to apologize to me on behalf of the county is wacked as far as I am concerned.

But again, all of them are worthless as far as I am concerned. The entire county government is a systemically corrupt malaise from the view I have.

Disgraceful county owes me, pastor apology

The pastor has been a wonderful person to my entire family, a faithful spiritual adviser, and trusted friend. The entire county board should apologize to her, too, as far as I’m concerned. For multiple reasons.

To the best of my knowledge, they have done absolutely nothing about any of this but stick their heads in the sand.

Some people actually say I should take personal accountability for what led to me being taken to that jail.

To them – and there really are only a handful of dishonest people who still are trying to play that card – I suggest they take care of the heaping pile of stink on their own side of the street, and not worry about people who have finally challenged their rapidly crumbling influence.

I could play the victim and succumb to the terror of what happened the two days I was held inside that filthy, incredibly unprofessional, God-forsaken jail. Some would say I have, but I don’t buy that. Someone playing the victim would have done just that and kept their mouth shut.

I’ve shared my story with the proper authorities. Now, I’m doing EMDR.

And I have faith it’s going to help me rewrite the history of how the trauma I experienced inside that jail affects my life from this day forward.

Besides, my story already has a happy ending.

Still healing from trauma, NYC book trip benched for cannabis country

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I’m just not there yet.

And that’s why I postponed my trip to New York City, where I was going to meet with book publishers and get some mentoring for my upcoming novel/tell-all/screenplay. Heck, it could even end up being a sci fi flick. I have no idea.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night, giggling about how I could portray the vixen if I were to give it a sci fi tint. Could be great fun.

So, who knows.

Also, while I’m not feeling so hot this past week or so about life here in the Quad-Cities, overall things have improved tremendously in terms of my outlook about that. But understand: All the money and material things in the world – even your childhood home – do not fix the pain a person feels when people you trusted violate it. People you thought were there to PROTECT you, not HARM you.

Such people are creepy.

So, I’m trying to forget. Writing a book about all of it isn’t going to help right now, when I finally feel like things are turning to a degree of normalcy.

I’ll say this as a book teaser: I truly believe the corruption problem is so bad where I live, that before it’s all over with, even if it takes three years, half a dozen politicians and public officials from this region will be in prison. And I’m not just talking about my personal experience or my knowledge garnered from years in the news business in the Quad-cities. There are LOTS of people who have had experiences like me. And we are connecting, let me tell you.

And, yes, we ARE called “victims.” Officially.

Lengthy, expensive process applying for Medical Cannabis Card

Now, where I won’t play the victim is in the truth that I have been sliding back down the alcohol slope. So that is why, today, in part, I just landed in…(drum roll, please, cue “Rainbow Tour” chorus)….DENVER!

Indeed, the mile-high city. And of course I’m going to get high. Well, not high, I’d rather say “treated.” In a very serious, controlled manner with strains specifically used to treat chronic PTSD. That diagnosis recently allowed me to apply for my Illinois Cannabis Card after consulting with my therapist, my doctor, and a physician in Chicago. I had two visits with the Chicago physician, who reviewed records provided by my therapist and doctor in the Quad-Cities.

It’s an expensive process. The card, valid for three years, was $300 in and of itself, paid to the state. There also are fingerprinting fees, and of course all the doctor’s fees.

The Chicago doctor spent quite a bit of time with me and asked several questions before qualifying me. He enjoyed hearing about my trip to the American College of Physicians conference in San Diego last month and said he went to it a few years back.

He also was glad to see I have had 100 psychotherapy sessions and continue to be in therapy, now for two years. I get professional psychotherapy for an hour twice a week at SouthPark Psychology in Moline.

While SouthPark Psychology does not take Medicare/Medicaid, I urge anyone with any sort of struggle to seek out their therapists if they have private insurance or can afford to pay out of pocket (which I did for a long time, and considered it money well spent). The place offers a level of mental health care that is just miles above the “big two” in town. I feel sorry for people who “give up” on getting better due to the poor care they receive from substandard Quad-City healthcare providers.

The dishonesty from hospital officials over the proposed Bettendorf psychiatric hospital is appalling. They are denying sick people who need immediate care, and they should be fined by a government agency.

Or, let the free market fix it — give people more choices. The local hospitals’ crafted, nonsensical explanations for opposing this hospital is not fooling one. single. person. Not one. Well, maybe their employees, who I’m told are bullied to support the propaganda.

I understand the hospitals are in a bind due to the state of Illinois not having a budget in nearly two years. That’s not the free market’s problem, nor is it the problem of people suffering from mental illness. They deserve choices in healthcare and the best healthcare they can find.

Shame on both local hospitals.

‘Marijuana maintenance’ kept me sober first year

I have been writing about medical marijuana since way back in my Healthline days. In the beginning, I was very much on board with it. For my first year of sobriety, I did do what is known as “marijuana maintenance” for 9 months after 90 days completely sober from everything but caffeine. But then I quit the marijuana, too.

At first, I feigned for it. Then I got over those feelings (because don’t kid yourself, marijuana IS addictive) and I especially enjoyed having clear lungs and a sharper mind. That said, I was getting some medical marijuana off the street during that year that did not make me the least bit high, dull my sharpness or cloud my mind. What it did do was turned my mind down to a normal level, allowed me to focus and just sort of surrounded me with quiet, if that makes any sense. I would love to find that exact strain again.

The problem with getting marijuana off the street, beyond the legality part, is that you just don’t know what you’re getting. All these different strains of marijuana are like pharma drugs, in a way. You’re not going to give an upper like Ritalin, for example, to a kid with a heart condition.

Marijuana and mental illness in general really don’t seem to go well together, research has shown. And yet most every state that has approved marijuana medicinally for PTSD, which is technically a mental illness.

I have a contact in Maine, Dr. Dustin Sulak, who is sort of “the national authority” on medicinal marijuana. I have interviewed him several times and he is very knowledgeable. He created a website called Healer that I wrote about not too long ago.

Taking a cue from fellow PTSD sufferers, addressing booze issue

Between my Facebook groups and all my recent traveling, I have met so many people with PTSD who are saying they have found relief with medicinal marijuana and are thrilled to be off the benzos.

The benzos. Yes. I’ll be thrilled to be off them, too. They’re just harsh. And sometimes I wonder if they led me back to booze, as they are alcohol in a pill, after all. PTSD and alcohol notoriously are a common, horrible mix. Like “throwing gasoline on a fire” a cop told me once.

I’ll end with a little something about my drinking. While I did get back on the wagon when I returned from Florida, I fell off it again in Savannah, Ga., and again in San Diego. And then I took the bold move of going to bars a few times in the Quad-Cities and even buying beer and Rumplemintze for at home.

We’re talking full-blown booze relapse. Who am I kidding.

And I’m done. Day 1 of sobriety began at midnight this morning. I always said I don’t believe in “turning back the clock to zero” on sobriety after a relapse – I did have almost three years of sobriety after all – but the fact is, I need to look at the booze as the ugly problem it is.

I make it no secret I’m not a fan of AA, but that’s mostly because I don’t like the meetings. There’s a lot of brilliance in the Big Book. And I always said, I NEVER had a moment’s hesitation with step one: I am powerless over alcohol.

At least once I drink it. So, I can’t.

How about some prayers that I make it all the way through my Denver trip without even taking a sip? I think it’s going to be easy in cannabis country and there should not be any excuse for it to happen even once.

I can do this. Again.

I’ll keep you posted, and I’m going to be completely honest about it.

‘Killer Lesbians’ describe PTSD from spending years locked up

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This piece originally was published on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

It was intended to be a fun night out on the town for the seven Jersey women of color – a night in the West Village of New York City.

They enjoyed being around other gay people while visiting the neighborhood of the historic Stonewall Inn, the birth of our nation’s gay rights movement. But as the documentary “Out in the Night” shows, it ended up being a night filled with harassment, violence, and trauma that endures to this day.

The documentary by filmmaker Blair Dorosh-Walther can be purchased on DVD by clicking here.

As these women strolled along that summer night in 2007, the last thing they expected was for an older black man to get up in their face and talk filthy – especially not in the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

But that’s what happened. When the man first said, “I want that,” tiny Patreese Johnson thought that he simply wanted a drink of her friend’s Pepsi. Sitting by a fire hydrant, he looked a little down and out.

Patreese had seen her share of struggle – her brother was caught up in a gang fight when she was 11 and then shot dead by police at the age of 17, caught in the crossfire.

But when the man pointed at her crotch and said, “I want THAT!” and followed by “D-ke B-tch-es” and “I’ll f— you straight and put my d— in you’re a–,” they had enough.

Renata Hill, another of the women, had been raped by her mom’s husband when she was a child. She wasn’t about to listen to all of that.

Ultimately, the man laughed at the women, struck them, and a fight ensued. In fact, he pulled out Renata’s dreadlocks, leaving her weaves on the concrete and her scalp a bloody mess.

And ultimately, the women defended themselves. Patreese, who carried a small knife for protection at the plea of her brother Anthony, stabbed the man.

Black, female, gay: Marginalized to the edge of the margins

Black. Female. Gay. Three demographics in this country that have been marginalized for years, all rolled into one. Even in New York City, many people still don’t get it.

“Lesbian Gang-Stab Shocker” screamed on headline. “Hated by Lez Gang” read another. “Killer Lesbians,” yet another.

But the headline that really ticked of Dorosh-Walther? “Man is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger,” read a story on an inside page of the New York Times.

To borrow a phrase from one of my dearest departed gay friends, the headline “blew her skirt up.” It wreaked of ignorance, and added insult to injury appearing in a newspaper of authority such as the New York Times. That’s when Dorosh-Walther knew she wanted to tell these women’s story.

But as a white woman, she wanted to make sure she could tell it right. “You want to make sure you tell the story accurately through the lens of the person or people who experienced it,” she told me.

I spoke with Dorosh-Walther, Patreese, Renata, Venice brown and Terrain Dandridge (the other two women who went to prison) on a conference call for about 45 minutes. Dorosh-Walther was excited to have the movie reviewed on a health website.

Some of the key takeaways from the film ought to be an understanding of what years of harassment and trauma can do to someone, or a group of people. It’s also important to remember that being locked up in a penitentiary forever changes people. Indeed, it leaves many prisoners with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And then what happens when a person gets out?

“When people are released from prison, they give you a bus pass to get on the bus, or the subway,” Dorosh-Walther said. “They have no support, no family, a one-way ticket…you’re going to put them on public transportation? You’re putting everybody else in jeopardy. This is a public health issue.”

Nuns take in ‘damaged goods” ex-felon

“After going through all of this, and you’re done with your time…you’re damaged goods, and you’re being thrown back into a brand-new world,” explains Renata. “You’re thrown into a cage. You’re separated from those you love and care about. You have no support system. You’re paid a few cents per hour. They control you, belittle you, verbally abuse you, some physically abuse you.”

When Renata was released, she was taken to a shelter in New York City run by nuns.

“I had to stay in New York, and I’m not from New York. I never went to New York, unless it was to go to the village,” she explained. “I had no family support.”

Renata said she was extremely grateful for the transitional housing provided by the nuns, because some people don’t get any transitional support at all. On the other hand, being black and being a lesbian – a lesbian who speaks earlier in the film about wearing a dildo when she goes out into the village – it’s not difficult to understand the discomfort she felt.

“Simple things, like going to the corner store…I couldn’t do that,” Renata said. “In some ways, I still felt stuck in the same place. I had to go to parole. I had to enlist in a drug program, even though I never did drugs. I had to pi—in a cup while they watched me.”

When asked how she got past feelings of anger and self-pity that must have been going through her mind, not only in prison but afterward too, Renata’s answer was simple: “What kept me going was knowing I had to get my son back.”

Renata missed several years of her young son’s life while she was a locked-up single mother. When she was released, she learned she had lost custody of T.J., who had been put into the hands of the state of New Jersey.

“I had to look for a job, and when I looked for a job, with a felony…I never even was given a chance to explain my situation,” Renata said. “When you get out of prison, where is the help? Where is the toolbox?”

A frightening experience for a femme

“In prison, you have to develop a certain type of thinking to survive,” Patreese said. “Everything there works different.”

Tiny, femme and poetic, Patreese served more time than any of the women…almost eight years. She looks about as threatening as a church mouse, and she readily admits that being in prison messed with her head.

“I said, ‘Am I going to take these meds?’ Some of these people deserve to be in a mental health hospital,” Patreese recalled of being medicated in the prison. “But as I found out, they were giving the meds to me anyway, and I didn’t know it. They gave them to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to talk to somebody. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I should just take the meds just to get through day to day.’”

Almost two years after her release, she still struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. “Our mental health should be a priority when we get out. It’s really hard when you’re trying to transition back to society. When I’m lost, I’m even scared to ask for directions. There are no resources for us.”

Dorosh-Walther agreed. “This is a public health issue. Mental health is something we’ve never put enough resources into. Mental health, far down the line after release…is a lasting issue.”

When Patreese and the others were convicted, one headline read, “Guilty Gal Gang Weepy Women” while another proclaimed, “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty.”

How to get past injustice? Baby steps

“When you come out, you come out with ‘institutionalized thinking,’” Patreese said. “It’s something similar to PTSD. You end up getting changed by the system.”

The fact that people in that condition often end up being sent out the door with no support network at all is “absurd,” Dorosh-Walther said. “If there is nothing to transition you to live in the outside world…. or only a tiny fraction of services…how are you even supposed to get housing?”

As a journalist, I often get caught up in anger and a relentless drive to spread the truth whenever I see an injustice. I do it whether the victim is someone else, or, has been the case a couple of times in stories I will describe in my upcoming book, myself.

How do you get past it, I asked the women again and again?

Finally, Dorosh-Walther answered for them.

“You don’t really have time to comprehend the injustice and the pain,” she said. “There are hoops to jump through over and over and over again. You’re court-ordered into a shelter, for example. They are not going to make anything easy. It’s just piled on, piled on and piled on, and at some level you’re in survival mode and you’ve got to keep moving forward.”

The women said being able to tell their story via the film has helped them heal a great deal.

I can relate to that.

“It’s baby steps,” Terrain said. “There are moments it feels good, like we can celebrate. Other moments we’re still struggling.”

And I can relate to that, too.

‘Killer Lesbians’ in PBS Movie Open Up About Trauma, PTSD, Mental Health

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Originally published June 19, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.

By David Heitz

It was intended to be a fun night on the town for the seven Jersey women of color – an evening in the West Village of New York City.

They enjoyed being around other gay people while visiting the neighborhood of the historic Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of our nation’s gay rights movement. But as the POV documentary “Out in the Night” shows, it ended up being a night filled with harassment, violence and enduring trauma.

The PBS documentary by filmmaker Blair Dorosh-Walther will air Monday, June 22, at 10 p.m. EST on PBS. Check your local listings. The film will stream online for a month thereafter.

In my view, “Out in the Night” illuminates public health hazards that are getting worse every day.

As these women strolled along that summer night in 2007, the last thing they expected was for an older black man to get in their face and talk filthy – especially not in the West Village.

But that’s what happened. When the man first said, “I want that,” tiny Patreese Johnson thought he simply wanted a drink of her friend’s Pepsi. Sitting by a fire hydrant, he looked a little down and out.

Patreese had seen her share of struggle – her brother was caught up in a gang fight when she was 11, shot dead by police at the age of 17, caught in the crossfire.

But when the man pointed at her crotch and said, “I want THAT!” and followed with “D-ke b-tch-s” and “I’ll f— you straight and put my d— in your a—,” they had heard enough.

Renata Hill, another of the women, had been raped by her mom’s husband when she was a child. She wasn’t about to listen to all of that.

Ultimately, the man lunged at the women, struck them, and a fight ensued. In fact, he pulled out Renata’s dreadlocks, leaving her weaves on the concrete and her scalp a bloody mess.

And, ultimately, the women defended themselves. Patreese, who carried a small knife for protection at the plea of her brother Anthony, stabbed him.

Black, Female, Gay: Marginalized to The Edge of The Margins

Black. Female. Gay. Three demographics that in this country have been marginalized for years, all rolled into one. Even in New York City, many people still don’t get it.

“Lesbian Gang-Stab Shocker” screamed one tabloid headline. “Hated by Lez Gang” read another. “Killer Lesbians” yet another.

But the headline that really ticked off filmmaker Dorosh-Walther? “Man is Stabbed in Attack After Admiring a Stranger” read an inside page of The New York Times.

To borrow a phrase from one of my dearest departed gay friends, the headline blew up her skirt. It wreaked of ignorance, and added insult to injury by appearing in a newspaper of authority such as The New York Times. That’s when Dorosh-Walther knew she wanted to tell these women’s story.

But as a white woman, she wanted to make sure she could tell it right. “You want to make sure you tell the story accurately through the lens of the person or people who experienced it,” she told me.

I spoke with Dorosh-Walther, Patreese, Renata, Venice Brown and Terrain Dandridge (the other two women who went to prison) on a conference call for about 45 minutes. Dorosh-Walther was excited to have the movie reviewed on a health website.

Some of the key takeaways from the film ought to be an understanding of what years of harassment and trauma can do to someone, or to a group of people. It’s also important to remember that being locked up in a penitentiary forever changes a person. Indeed, it leaves many prisoners with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

And then, what happens when the convicted gets out?

“When people are released from prison, they give you a bus pass to get on the bus, or the subway,” Dorosh-Walther said. “They have no support, no family, a one-way ticket … you’re going to put them on public transportation? You’re putting everybody else in jeopardy. This is a public health issue.”

Nuns Take in ‘Damaged Goods’ Ex-Felon

“After going through all of this, and you’re done with your time … you’re damaged goods, and you’re being thrown back into a brand-new world,” explained Renata. “You’re thrown into a cage. You’re separated from those you love and care about. You have no support system. You’re paid a few cents per hour. They control you, belittle you, verbally abuse you, some physically abuse you.”

When Renata was released, she was taken to a shelter in New York City run by Catholic nuns.

“I had to stay in New York, and I’m not from New York. I never went to New York unless it was to go to the village,” she explained. “I had no family support.”

Renata said she was grateful for the transitional housing provided by the nuns, because some people don’t get any housing support at all upon their release. On the other hand, being black and being a lesbian – a lesbian who speaks earlier in the film about wearing a dildo when she goes out into the Village – it’s not difficult to understand the discomfort she felt.

“Simple things, like going to the corner store … I couldn’t do that,” Renata said. “In some ways, I still felt stuck in the same place. I had to go to parole. I had to enlist in a drug program, even though I never did drugs. I had to pee in a cup while they watched me.”

When asked how she got past feelings of anger and self-pity that must have been going through her mind, not only in prison but afterward, too, Renata’s answer was simple: “What kept me going was knowing I had to get my son back.”

Renata missed several years of her young son’s life while she was a locked-up single mother. When she was released, she learned she had lost custody of T.J., who had been put into the hands of the state of New Jersey.

“I had to look for a job, and when I looked for a job with a felony … I never even was given a chance to explain my situation,” Renata said. “When you get out of prison, where is the help? Where is the toolbox?”

A Frightening Experience for a Femme

“In prison, you have to develop a certain type of thinking to survive,” Patreese said.

“Everything there works different.”

Tiny, femme and poetic, Patreese served more time than any of the women – almost eight years. She looks about as threatening as a church mouse, and she readily admits that being in prison messed with her head.

“I said, ‘Am I going to take these meds?’ Some of these people deserve to be in a mental health hospital,” Patreese recalled of being medicated in the prison. “But as I found out, they were giving the meds to me anyway, and I didn’t know it. They gave them to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to talk to somebody. Then I thought, ‘Maybe I should take the meds just to get through day to day.’”

Almost two years after her release, she still struggles to put the pieces of her life back together. “Our mental health should be a priority when we get out. It’s really hard when you’re trying to transition back to society. When I’m lost, I’m even scared to ask for directions. There are no resources for us.”

Dorosh-Walther agreed. “This is a public-health issue. Mental health is something we’ve never put enough resources into. Mental health, far down the line after release, is a lasting issue.”

When Patreese and the others were convicted, one headline read, “Guilty Gal Gang Weepy Women,” while another proclaimed, “Lesbian Wolf Pack Guilty.”

How to get Past Injustice? Baby Steps

“When you come out, you come out with ‘Institutionalized thinking,’” Patreese said. “It’s something similar to PTSD. You end up getting changed by the system.”

The fact that people in that condition often end up being sent out the door with no support network at all is “absurd,” Dorosh-Walther said. “If there is nothing to transition you to live in the outside world … or only a tiny fraction of services … how are you even supposed to get housing?”

As a journalist, I often get caught up whenever I see injustice.

How do you get past it, I asked the women again and again?

Finally, Dorosh-Walther answered for them.

“You don’t really have time to comprehend the injustice and the pain,” she said. “There are hoops to jump through over and over and over again. You’re court-ordered to a shelter, for example. They are not going to make anything easy. It’s just piled on, piled on and piled on, and at some level you’re in survival mode and you’ve got to keep moving forward.”

The women said being able to tell their story via the film has helped them heal a great deal.

“It’s baby steps,” Terrain said. “There are moments it feels good, like we can celebrate. Other moments, we’re still struggling.”

Medical establishment argues for gun control: DavidHeitz.com longform report

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Second Amendment rights advocates can finally rest assured that Hillary Clinton won’t be coming for their guns anytime soon.

But the medical establishment may be.

In a massive, unprecedented report on gun safety research, JAMA Internal Medicine this morning published some exhaustive commentary, analysis and research about gun safety. They posed questions including:

Should the medical community have a right to counsel patients about gun safety?

With access to guns a proven driver of suicide, why aren’t we doing more to stop it, and how can we get laws changed to make it easier for us to do that?

What has been the result of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law?

“Firearm violence in the United States has continued unabated,” JAMA writes in an editorial leading off the series.  “In June 2016, a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. As of October 15, 2016, Chicago had recorded more than 570 homicides this year, levels not seen since the 1990s. Shootings in which four or more people are injured or killed (including shooters) occur almost daily.”

Yet after reviewing their research, the oft-heard argument, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” still holds true. That’s not to say some of their findings regarding suicide prevention don’t make for solid arguments for physicians being able to counsel those at risk of hurting themselves.

“This series follows from the belief that if the United States were to implement a coordinated and sustained public health, research, and law enforcement commitment to prevent firearm violence, many lives would be saved,” JAMA writes in the editorial. “In 2014, firearm injuries were responsible for about the same number of deaths in the United States as motor vehicle crashes. Although deaths from motor vehicle crashes have substantially decreased since 2000, deaths from firearm injuries have substantially increased, mostly from suicides.”

Accounting for 33,599 U.S. gun deaths in 2014

The grisly death-by-firearm breakdown goes like this:

Suicide: 21,334

Homicide: 19,945

Unintentional: 586

Legal intervention: 464

Undetermined: 270

For a total of 33,599 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2014.

“In a research letter, Alcorn documents the reasons and consequences of the low number of studies about firearm injuries and gun violence in the United States,” the editorial argues. “From 1985 to 1999, publications increased markedly. Soon after the 1996 ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s funding for such research, publications plateaued at about 90 articles annually through 2012. In 2013 and 2014, publications increased again after the mass shooting of school children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In December 2012.”

Federal funding of ‘gun control advocacy’ research banned

In a systematic review of firearm laws and firearm homicides published as part of today’s JAMA report, Dr. Lois Lee and colleagues from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan of Public Health essentially find inconclusive data regarding whether stricter gun controls stop people from killing one another. Essentially, there is no “magic bullet” for stopping the bloodshed.

“In the aggregate, stronger gun policies were associated with decreased rates of firearm homicides, even after adjusting for demographic and sociologic factors,” the authors concluded after evaluating 34 articles published from 1970 to the present in PubMed, the nation’s medical research database. “Laws that strengthen background checks and permit-to-purchased seemed to decrease firearm homicide rates. Specific laws directed at firearm trafficking, improving child safety, or the banning of military-style assault weapons were not associated with changes in firearm homicide rates. The evidence for laws restricting guns in public places and leniency in gun carrying was mixed.”

The authors called for better research and more funding for such research, as did the accompanying JAMA editorial. “Given the 19,000 deaths from firearm homicide each year, many of which are preventable, it continues to be a national shame that the United States does not fund sufficient robust research to inform this public health imperative and establish which types of firearm laws work. Since 2012, federal law has banned all Department of Health and Human Services agencies, not just the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using funds ‘in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.’ This vague language continues to have a negative effect on federal funding of firearm injury and gun violence research. Some states, local governments, and private philanthropists try to fill the void.”

An analysis of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense law

In an original investigation published as part of the firearm series, researchers from University of Oxford, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, examined whether Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law had an impact on homicides

I’m curious whether the study’s conclusions take into consideration that homicide is a legal term. If so, then its claim that firearm-related homicides went up by 31.6 percent monthly (homicides in general went up 24.4 percent monthly) implies that the shooters all were convicted of murder, as opposed to some of them being found not guilty under the self-defense clause. That was not immediately clear to me.

While I do not want to trivialize any loss of life, it is important to know whether self-defense was legitimately used. Only the court system decides that, and the court system was not specifically referenced in the piece.

“Throughout the United States, the application of lethal force as a means of self-defense is governed by criminal law,” the authors wrote. “Since the colonial era, it has been an individual’s ‘duty to retreat’ from perceived threats before resorting to any use of force.”

Florida’s law removed that “duty of retreat” when a threat is made on a person’s property, as almost half the states have. Florida’s law went further and removed “duty of retreat” when threats are made in public places.

“Advocates of the laws suggest that the increased threat over retaliatory violence deters would-be burglars, resulting in fewer intruder encounters,” the authors wrote. “Critics are concerned that weakening the punitive consequences of using force may serve to escalate aggressive encounters. They also argue that these laws may exacerbate racial disparities in homicide where threats motivated by racial stereotypes produce unnecessary fatalities.”

The authors admitted their study has several limitations. “Circumstances unique to Florida may have contributed to our findings, including those that we could not identify … Finally, there has been considerable debate over the potential of the Florida law to deter crime and improve public safety. Our study examined the effect of the Florida law on homicide and homicide by firearm, not on crime and public safety.”

The role of physicians in preventing firearm suicides

Perhaps the strongest arguments made in the JAMA firearm series are for finding ways to better prevent firearm owners from committing suicide. Ironically, states with some of the strictest gun control laws have created a situation whereby it is difficult to transfer ownership from a suicidal person to someone else, even temporarily.

In a “Special Communication” in the JAMA series published by Alexander D. McCourt of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues, policies in Maryland, Colorado, and California are examined. All take different approaches to firearm transfers.

“In the United States, suicides account for 63 percent of firearm deaths, and self-inflicted firearm injury is responsible for half of all suicides,” the authors write. “Firearm suicide affects nearly all age groups. In 2014, there were 929 suicides by firearm among person aged 10 to 24 years, 9,612 for those aged 25 to 54 years, and 9,277 for those aged 55 and older.”

The letter makes the case that some individuals experiencing psychological distress can be talked into giving up their guns, at least temporarily, although the public health experts admit no data is available to back up this claim.

“Reducing access to firearms and other lethal items is a recommended, evidence-based practice to prevent suicide,” claim the authors. “In the case of a firearm owner at elevated risk of self-harm, the recommendation would be to temporarily store the gun away from home or store it locked in such a way that the at-risk person does not have access at least until the mental health crisis has resolved.”

While many doctors’ organizations have encouraged their members to talk to patients about gun control when appropriate, many admit they choose not to.

“Universal background checks before firearm purchase are effective public health measures, but should be supplemented with specific protocols for temporary transfer of firearms from the home and for storage,” the authors recommend. “Protocols for temporary transfer may help to reduce the risk of other forms of firearm violence, including intimate partner violence situations where the firearm owner can be persuaded to voluntarily remove a firearm from the home.”

The authors recommend “incorporating and improving on aspects of Colorado’s exemptions to background checks” to include:

  1. “Clear statutory provisions that allow for temporary storage by federally license firearm dealers, law enforcement, officials, family members and friends.”
  2. Allow period of transfer to last at least 14 days or longer if recommended by a physician or mental health professional. Make sure children or any other unauthorized user cannot access where the firearm is being held.
  3. “Limit the liability related to these temporary transfers to instances of gross negligence or reckless behavior by the person who transfers the firearms.

“Efforts to educate physicians and the public should carefully explain these provisions to allay fears about potential liability associated with the temporary transfer of firearms from the home and to encourage transfers for suicide prevention,” the authors conclude. “Public health professionals and firearm organizations should collaborate to develop tailored and effective messaging that is acceptable to physicians, mental health professionals, and the public. Policy changes should also be evaluated to assess whether they have the intended effect of reducing firearm suicides.”

Reducing gun violence: Compromises that have worked

In yet another JAMA viewpoint in the series titled, “Reducing Suicides Through Partnerships Between Health Professionals and Gun Owner Groups – Beyond Docs vs. Glocks,” the authors from Harvard Injury Control Research Center says that in some states firearm retailers have been part of the solution.

“In New Hampshire, where over 85 percent of firearm deaths are by suicide, a group of firearm retailers, gun rights advocates, public health and mental health professionals began meeting in 2009 to examine the role gun shops might play in reducing suicide,” according to the piece. “The New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition’s first products were posters and brochures aimed at gun shop customers that promoted the ‘11th Commandment of Firearm Safety:’ Be alert to signs of suicide in friends and family and help keep firearms from them until they have recovered. Materials suggested options like temporarily storing guns away from home (i.e. with a friend, if local law allows, at a self-storage unit or at a gun shop), or keeping the guns at home under new lock and key that the vulnerable person has no access to until they have recovered. Unannounced visits at all 65 independent gun shops in the state found that 48 percent were displaying at least one of the materials, a good uptake for information on a topic as difficult as suicide.”

For the record, I never have been a fan of guns and I do not own one. In fact, I can’t even imagine owning one, even though I have been the victim of violent crime more than once.

But I have come to understand in recent years why people should have the right to bear them in matters of self-defense. And it is a fundamental right granted to us by our forefathers, so any attempt to restrict it in even the slightest of ways should be made with great caution, particularly in an uncertain nation    and an uncertain world.

Study: Depressed people with HIV at greater risk for heart attack

HIV Church

We’ve known for quite some time that for a person living with HIV but treating it with modern antiretroviral therapy, a heart attack is a much greater threat than an opportunistic infection.

And now we know that when you put depression into the mix, the heart attack risk is even greater.

While the findings aren’t surprising because they mirror a link between depression and heart attack risk in the general population, the paper published online this morning in JAMA Cardiology is cause for concern. That’s because people with HIV already are at far greater risk of having a heart attack than the general population, due in part to the heightened state of inflammation HIV causes in the body.

“Our findings raise the possibility that, similar to the general population, major depressive disorder may be independently associated with incident atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in the HIV-infected population,” the authors wrote. “Considering the dearth of research in this area, future epidemiologic and mechanistic studies that include women and non-VA populations with HIV are needed.”

Researchers from Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University followed more than 26,000 HIV-infected veterans without cardiovascular disease at baseline (1998-2003) participating in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Aging Cohort Study from April 1, 2003 to Dec. 31, 2009. At baseline, 19 percent of them suffered from major depressive disorder as classified by the International Classification of Diseases codes.

“We report novel evidence that HIV-infected adults with major depressive disorder have a 30 percent increased risk for acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack) than HIV-infected adults without major depressive disorder after adjustment for many potential confounders,” the authors wrote.

Depression a problem among people with HIV

The findings are troubling because not only is heart disease far more prevalent among people with HIV than in the general population (one study showed that the risk is increased by 50 percent), so is depression.

Read more: My report for HIV Equal on a “PrEP Against Heart Disease” being studied now among people with HIV

Two years ago, I wrote a story for Healthline News headlined, “People with HIV Suffer from Depression Caused by Pain, Shame, Substance Abuse.” You can read the story by clicking here. I don’t think I ever have received more email from readers than I did for that story, mostly thanking me for bring me the issue to light. People with HIV run twice the risk of depression than the general population, studies show.

Many people with HIV simply are getting older, and older Americans are at greater risk for depression even without a chronic illness. Older people are at greater risk for heart attack, too.

The mean age among people with HIV with major depressive disorder in the Vanderbilt study was 48. The mean age among those without depression was 47.

“It is possible that the presence of major depressive disorder further exacerbates the persistent inflammatory and coagulatory activation already present in HIV, resulting in higher cardiovascular disease event rates,” the authors wrote. “Potential behavioral mechanisms underlying the major depressive disorder incident CVD association are poor health behaviors (eg. smoking and sedentary lifestyle and treatment non-adherence).”

Studies have shown that people who are depressed are less adherent to their HIV medication.

It all adds up to a deadly mix for people with HIV who aren’t taking care of themselves. The authors hope their study stimulates new research for depression treatments among people with HIV.

Read more: My Healthline News report on why people with HIV must stop smoking