. . . the right care at the right time


Blog posts with a category of Teens.

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The drug world: taming a wild frontier


Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

As a collegian in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and therefore a 40-plus year observer of drug use and abuse in America, I can’t help but reflect with amazement on the changes I’ve seen. It’s as if the drug world has turned upside down:

  • Marijuana has gone from “Reefer Madness” to being viewed by many as a miracle drug that appears to be rapidly on its way to full legal status, treating many things, like epileptic seizures in children
  • Heroin has gone from an urban ghetto drug to rampant and deadly use in affluent suburbs
  • Opium has gone from a rarely seen substance, to its prescription opioid derivatives sitting in bowls for the taking in NFL training rooms as well as becoming the number 1 source of American drug addiction and death
  • Doctors, not drug dealers, are the now the most prolific narcotics distributors in America

Across America, drug overdoses now kill more Americans drugsthan guns or cars do. According to a recent New York Times editorial, this stems from the mid-90s when pharmaceutical companies argued that doctors were under-treating pain and aggressively marketed opioids like OxyContin.

Even after executives of the company that made OxyContin pleaded guilty to a variety of criminal charges, profits still rolled in, and many users who could no longer get or afford prescriptions for it turned to heroin, which is cheaper and produces the same effect.

Here are a few examples of the non-recreational variety:

  • A.D.H.D drugs, often unnecessarily prescribed, are an $11 billion a year industry
  • Antipsychotic drug prescriptions for children have grown 7-fold in the last 20 years
  • Johnson & Johnson registered $30 billion in sales of Risperdal before paying a $2 billion penalty for deceptively marketing its dangerous side effects for children

It goes without saying, of course, that prescription drugs are literally lifesavers. And when wonderful medications aren’t curing malaria, lowering cholesterol or blood pressure and preventing heart attacks, antipsychotic drugs are also helping millions of people of all ages with mental illnesses to lead productive, happy lives.

That’s why solving this problem is so difficult, and to solve it we have return to our core principles and values about how prescription medicines should be used. When New Oakland’s founder, the late Dr. Ismail Sendi, opened the doors to the first of New Oakland’s now seven locations in the early 90’s, prescribing anti-psychotic drugs to children was viewed as a very delicate matter. According to Harvard psychiatrist and former director of the National Institute of Mental health, Dr. Steven Hyman, “Children, because their brains are still developing, are not just small adults.”

As Dr. Sendi continually reminded us, a deep and thorough mental health diagnosis the only way to bridge the potentially deadly gap between the right medication and unnecessary over-prescription or the wrong prescription.

Today, New Oakland medical director, Dr. David Harris, carries on that essential philosophy.“We treat each patient and family individually after our extensive diagnostic procedures,” says Dr. Harris.  “Our team of doctors, psychiatrists, social workers and therapists determine what the best course of treatment might be and whether medication needs to be part of the solution.”


In respect and deference to Dr. Sendi’s example, New Oakland continually strives to be a standard bearer of proper procedure, always putting the patient’s health and safety first when it comes to prescribing medications.

It’s because in a rapidly changing landscape for both the proper use and abuse of medications, rigorously following that philosophy can often be of life and death consequence.

Save the children: regulate smartphone use

Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

Actual texting exchange with my now 20-something daughter, Alison, a few years back:

Me: I’ve been calling you and get no response.

Alison: Dad – you’ve left me 2 VMs. I’ve asked you not to! Text or email me only. I don’t have time to answer my phone. Only call me in an emergency.

Me: But since you’re too busy to answer your phone, does that mean I have to text you to tell you that it’s an emergency and I need to call you?

Weren’t cell phones invented to make calling mobile and convenient? Now, with many young people, using a phone for its original intent has become smart2taboo.  Cell phones are instead for taking pictures, watching TV, videos and movies, playing video games, listening to music, checking social media and texting — and it’s contributing to a lack of empathy and an escape from the real world of human interaction.

smartCommon Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology reports that on any given day teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment.

Nine hours!

That’s more time than they sleep, and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers. And the nine hours does not include time spent using media at school or for their homework.
James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media writes, “It should be a wake-up call to every parent, educator, policymaker, business person and tech industry person that the reshaping of our media tech landscape is first and foremost affecting young people’s lives and reshaping childhood and adolescence.”

The 170 psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists at New Oakland will attest that fostering empathy is critical in the development of healthy young people.  Kids’ ability to feel for others affects their health and happiness. Empathy activates conscience and moral reasoning, curbs bullying and aggression, enhances kindness and peer inclusiveness, reduces prejudice and racism, promotes heroism and moral courage and boosts relationship satisfaction.

According to Steyer, “Communicating via mobile devices gets in the way of empathy. Texting is so much less empathetic than having a conversation in person and looking somebody in the eye and having physical or at least a verbal presence with them.”

Add in the issues of digital addiction and the attention and distraction implications that come with mobile devices and “empathy is really, really under siege,” says Steyer. “That’s a huge issue in terms of society and human relationships and how young people are evolving in a social, emotional context. More research is needed.”

A CNN Special Report, “#Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens,” is a first-of-its-kind study on social media and teens. Fittingly it’s on CNN.go, a mobile app. But that doesn’t make its findings any less upsetting.

Here are a few comments from the CNN report:

  • “I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It’s really bad,” said Gia, a13-year-old. “I literally feel like I’m going to die.”
  • “When I get my phone taken away, I feel kind of naked,” said Kyla, another 13-year-old.

It’s why a typical 13- year-old checks social media 100 times a day.

So as not to feel disconnected, or “naked,” the phones are on when they do their homework, a huge deterrent to concentration and learning.

“Teenagers think that multitasking during homework doesn’t affect their ability to learn and … we know it does,” says Steyer, citing studies such as one at Stanford, which found dramatic differences in cognitive control and the ability to process information between heavy media multi-taskers and light media multi-taskers.”

I know that our laws and values about personal responsibility would never allow it, but if it were up to me, I’d regulate teen smartphone use like we do tobacco, alcohol and soon, marijuana. Bring back the flip phone because until 18, a phone is for talking and emergencies. If you want to take pictures of yourself all day, which teens are also obsessed with doing, then carry a camera.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just kids. Almost every time a light turns from red to green, I honk at the unmoving car in front of me and yell, “Get off your damn phone!” (Or something worse than that.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to text Alison to tell her something important so that maybe she’ll have time to call me later.

Why I hate Coca-Cola

FCBK-1By Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

My mom, Lillian Zaret, wasn’t perfect, but in certain areas she really knew her stuff. In my 18 years under her roof, she never brought a bottle of Coca-Cola into the house. “It’s junk – all sugar” she’d say. “Tab” was Coca-Cola’s precursor to Diet Coke which came along in the early 80’s. Tab didn’t make it into my fridge either. “Artificial sweeteners are poison,” she’d growl.

Right again, Ma.

Let’s face it. Coke and its many carbonated cousins contain no nutritional value. The sugary ones are stuffed with bad, unneeded calories and help foster obesity. Peer-reviewed scientific studies seem to indicate the “diet” ones seem to do no better in the long run.

But the main reason I hate Coke today is its deceit and influence peddling. At New Oakland, our passion for good mental health starts from the premise that, after all, mental health — for individuals or society as a whole — begins with good health. And we tend to get particularly outraged when anyone — companies, government — tries to distort the truth about what matters when it comes to good health.

And yet, take a look at an article from this week’s New York Times this week that’s titled, “Coke Spends to Sugar Coat Science.”

It documents how, in just the last five years, Coca- has handed out $120 million in grants to organizations supposedly dedicated to children’s health. In exchange for cash, these organizations obscure how truly awful sugary beverages and sugar-laden foods are for children.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The article shows how Coke is copying the tactics of tobacco companies in the 50’s and 60’s — who paid off doctorssgar1 to endorse highly addictive and deadly cigarettes as good for your health while glamorizing it in advertising as cool and sophisticated.

So, shame on Coca-Cola. But it’s also shame on the organizations that are only too happy to take Coke money, including:

  •  The American College of Cardiology ($3.1M)
  • The American Cancer Society ($2M)
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians ($3.5M)
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ($1.7) and
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics ($3M)

These are organizations that claim to share New Oakland’s commitment to health of all kinds — mental, physical, nutritional — and to the importance of unbiased scientific inquiry and education about what contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

When the American Academy of Pediatrics needed funding for a website to promote children’s health, it turned to Coke. In exchange for $3 million over 6 years, the group praised Coke on its website as a “distinguished” company for its commitment to “better the health of children worldwide.”

Now under pressure for allowing Coke to buy its influence, the Academy will end its relationship after 2015 saying, “We no longer share the same values with Coca-Cola.” Dr. Arnold Matlin, a retired NY pediatrician led the fight against the Academy’s illicit relationship with Coke. “Coca-Cola is bad for children,” Matlin wrote. “And the AAP should never accept sponsorship from Coke or any company that makes sugar sweetened beverages. It’s obscene.”

In 2013 when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban sugared sodas bigger than 16 ounces, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Hispanic Federation both sided with the beverage industry in a lawsuit against him even though minorities have disproportionate rates of obesity. Guess why? Each had accepted about $500,000 from Coke.

New Oakland has only one goal, and that is to positively influence the mental and physical health of the thousands of children it deals with yearly. We’re not saying kids should never drink a Coke, eat a donut or devour a piece of birthday cake. But too much sugar leads to much more than just obesity. It also contributes to:

  • Rotting teeth
  • Overloading the liver
  • Insulin resistance leading to Type II diabetes
  • Higher risk of cancer
  • Higher levels of cholesterol leading to heart disease
  • Greater dopamine release in the brain leading to sugar addiction

Sugar is added to many other food products besides soda. But each 12 oz. Coke has 35 grams of sugar, 30% more than what an entire, safe daily intake should be.

My mom has been gone almost 20 years and I’m grateful for the stance she took against sugar when there wasn’t any research to back her gut instincts. I just wish more modern day moms would take her lead. And I hope any modern day organization whose mission is to advance children’s health will think twice about taking money from a company whose products essentially do the opposite.

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