Catcher in the Wry
As I stated in the very first entry introducing my blog, my goal is to be a public health advocate, I returned to grad school to earn a Masters of Public Health degree, and the primary purpose of this blog is to promote health and wellness (though I have written on a variety of topics since then). Today I am going to focus on a Washington Post article titled "The drug crisis is pushing up death rates for almost all groups of Americans" written by Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating that was reprinted in The Buffalo News on June 10, 2017.
The article is an in-depth analysis of mortality data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the data and article, "Since the beginning of this decade, death rates have risen among people between the ages of 25 and 44 in virtually every racial and ethnic group and almost all states... The death rate among African-Americans is up 4%, Hispanics 7%, whites 12% and native Americans 18%...After a century of decreases" (due to significant improvements and progress in sanitation, food production, hygiene, medications- especially antibiotics-, surgical techniques, work safety, home construction, etc.), "the overall death rate for Americans in these prime years rose 8% between 2010 and 2015." Furthermore, the geography of this expanding public health problem is growing. "From 1999 to 2010, only seven states showed an increase of more than 10% in the death rates of people ages 25 to 44... but from 2010 to 2015, the death rates increased more than 10% for this age group in 33 states." The primary reasons for this dramatic increase in death rates for relatively young people are drug overdoses, particularly from the present plague of opioids abuse, and alcohol-related deaths.
Josh Sharfstein, director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins University was quoted in this article: "What it reflects is an out-of-control epidemic right now. Its affecting the economy. Its affecting the entire community. This is an absolute call to action for public health."
After teaching science courses at Trocaire College for more than two years, I returned to grad school because I knew my true interest lay in public health. It was my goal to be hired by the Erie County (NY) Health Department, but despite my best efforts, due to factors out of my control, I was turned down several times for a position, much to my chagrin. My passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and good decision-making was also why I volunteered for a Catholic Charities-run program at Canisius High School, my alma mater, to educate students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It is also partly why I wrote my book, The Lost Son: A Rock 'n' Roll Road to Redemption.
For those of you not familiar with my work, it is intentionally written in three parts or "sides" to reflect the Past/Present/Future and Mind/Body/Soul aspects of time and the components of human existence. Part I details my academic rise through high school, college and medical school, followed by the severe anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts I experienced during my clinical training before abandoning my dream of becoming a doctor. Side II chronicles my travels while embarking on a solitary, cross-country trip I took one year after leaving clinical practice- a trek of self-discovery and learning how to live again after the trauma of medical residency virtually sapped all my hope and desire to persist. Finally Side III, subsequent to an intense experience of spiritual and moral reawakening in the Great American West, outlines my future goal of a new career path in public health advocacy- by utilizing all the knowledge gleaned from my personal and professional experiences to educate young people about the dangers of high-risk sexual activity, and drug and alcohol abuse, to reduce unwanted pregnancies, STDs and injuries/premature deaths from substance abuse and suicides.
Three years ago when I was preparing to pitch my manuscript to publishing companies, I wrote a query letter, which outlines what my book is about and why it is so important. However, I never sent out that letter because I met a publisher at a literary event for local authors in Buffalo and was able to make my pitch to him verbally. After going through a pair of beta readers who read the first 50 pages of my manuscript and were impressed enough to recommend my work, the publisher, Mark Pogozidski of No Frills Buffalo/ Amelia Press, agreed to publish my book. But here for the first time in the public realm, is an excerpt from that letter I never actually sent out to prospective publishers:
While this proposed book may be enjoyed by a general audience, it is written primarily for young adult readers. Adolescence is a time of tremendous growth, not only a stage of transformative physical and hormonal changes, but also the period where youths develop personal independence, form their distinct identity, and make the often difficult transition to adulthood. Teenagers have always endured “growing pains,” but the pitfalls of our ever more complex, technology-driven culture has increased their vulnerability to the temptations of high-risk sexual behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal ideations. I believe it is critical that adolescents learn proper moral conduct and good decision-making skills so as to avoid the harmful consequences of youthful indiscretions, complete the advanced level of education required by today’s ultra-competitive global economy, and fulfill their potential to become productive citizens.
The most recent estimated economic cost of drug and alcohol abuse, which usually begins during adolescence, related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare in the U.S. is $428 billion (National Institute on Drug Abuse). The teen birth rate, while steadily declining since its peak in 1991, is still three times higher than the average of other developed nations (UNICEF). Even more troubling, 40.8% of all births in 2010 were to unwed mothers (rising to 53% of all Hispanic births and 73% of all African-American births). Numerous studies have shown that children raised by a single mother in the absence of their biological father are at increased risk of many social ills, including poverty, failure to complete high school, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and teenage pregnancy perpetuating this dire cycle upon the next generation. AIDS is not the death sentence it was in the 1980s, but in recent years 45,000 to 50,000 new HIV infections have been contracted annually in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relegating hundreds of thousands of Americans to a lifelong daily cocktail of expensive meds with several significant side effects. And in 2010, 4,600 American youths age 15-24 took their own life (CDC) and 15.8% of middle school and high school students seriously considered suicide (2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey). Consequently, U.S. students, and the American population in general, fare far worse than other industrialized nations on many international standards of education and public health. In light of these woeful stats, I declare a cultural sea change is required if the U.S. is to maintain its long-standing economic might and worldwide status as the pinnacle of democratic societies.
In light of the Washington Post article and CDC data, it is clear the problem of avoidable deaths in the prime age range of 25-44 continues to grow worse in the U.S. My three-year old, never-read letter is just as significant today as when I wrote it, and the knowledge shared in the latter chapters of my book appear even more prescient and critical to my target audience. Thus, for both selfish reasons and the sake of public health/American society, I implore readers to purchase and read a copy of The Lost Son: A Rock 'n' Roll Road to Redemption and adopt a healthy lifestyle.