How The Daily Show Got It Wrong About Opiates

There seems to be a growing movement that wants to ban all opiates, regardless of the harm it would do to chronic pain patients. Since I’ve been a chronic pain patient for the past fifteen years, I feel I’m a bit better qualified than the Daily Show to say whether or not narcotics help me.

Treating pain is difficult. Doctors have no objective way to tell if someone is in pain, or how bad the pain is – no pain-meter. If they had one, it would be far easier to determine who is simply trying to feed an addiction and who is trying to manage debilitating pain. Doctors have to rely on what their patients tell them.

I’ve been a chronic pain patient for almost a third of my life, now. I’m fortunate. My pain can be controlled, mostly, by a pump that is implanted in my abdomen that delivers a narcotic to my spine. For the last fifteen years, that medication has made my life bearable. Without it I’m sure I would be dead by now. Medication delivered by a pump to the spine is 300 times more effective than oral narcotics, and, at least in my case, resistance has grown slowly. If I was still on oral meds, I’d be taking handfuls of tablets and I would be at risk of not waking up some day.

A study done many years ago, with eleven thousand pain patients, established that it’s hard to get addicted if you simply follow your doctor’s instructions. Out of those eleven thousand patients, fewer than ten became addicted.

An addict is looking for a high, which requires taking the drug differently than pain control does. A pain patient wants, more than anything, to stay ahead of the pain, which means keeping a relatively constant dose of pain mediation in the body. An addict wants the high, which means taking a bunch of meds at the same time, in order to get that feeling of euphoria.

If you know anything about addicts, you know that addiction is a mental illness. An addict that can’t get high one way, will simply find another. We need to research the best ways to treat addiction, and use those treatments, instead of demonizing medications. Otherwise, we’ll wind up making pain patients live in an unimaginable hell, while those bent on self-destruction will simply find another way to pursue their goal.

And if we want to help addicts avoid temptation, perhaps we should start with the legal drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. Of those, only the peddlers of nicotine have been held responsible and they weren’t penalized because they sold an addictive drug. They got sued because the addictive drug was coupled with carcinogens.

Ironically, we control morphine more closely than we control Vicodin and similar drugs, when they can be more dangerous, because they includes NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. The NSAIDs, which are drugs like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, can do serious damage to your liver.

There are a lot of problems with the way we treat pain. We need a lot more research on pain, how to measure it, and how to treat it without the harmful side-effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. But decisions about what drugs should or should not be available, should be made based on all the facts.

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Mentoring for FIRST Robotics – Non-Guilty Pleasure.

For the last six months, I’ve been mentoring over at Walpole High School for the robotics team, the Walpole Robo Rebels. It’s been a great experience.

FIRST,, is an organization that believes we need to teach our kids how to deal with real world challenges, but that we can let them have fun while doing so. They started up the First Robotic Challenge, or FRC, back in the mid-1990s.

The FRC program challenges the students to build a robot designed to play a game, in only six weeks. The game is different every year, and is revealed at the start of the 6-week build season. The game is about 3-minutes long and is typically played with several other robots built by other FRC teams.

These robots aren’t little toy robots. The dimensions vary a bit from year to year, but not by a lot. This year the robots were allowed to weigh up to 120 lbs and stand up to five feet high. They race around the game field at speeds up to 16 mph.

The point is to give the students a challenge that is seemingly impossible, and then help them meet it. That’s where the mentoring comes in.

The Walpole High School program is run by Dustin Scott with lots of help from Fred Hink and Paula Fontaine. We’re fortunate to have a great mentoring crew of almost a dozen individuals. Most of us have engineering backgrounds, but that’s not a requirement. Running an effective FIRST program is a big job and the more hands you have, the better.

This is my rookie year, and I’ve probably learned more from the other mentors and the students than I’ve taught. But I’ve made some great connections with some of the students and made fast friends among the other mentors.

This is more than just sitting around trying to build a robot and eating pizza. It requires a lot of commitment by the students, the parents, and the mentors. We all give up a lot of time. The students have to put in at least ten hours a week in the computer lab if they want to go to the tournaments. The mentors often put in as much or more time.

This year, the hard work paid off. We have a good solid robot which has been nicknamed the “Ten-ton Hamster Wheel of Doom” by the announcer at our first event.

Things didn’t go smoothly. By the time the six-week build season ran out, we weren’t entirely done. We had a robot that could move around and pick up the 24″ diameter balls that are this year’s game pieces, but we couldn’t shoot the balls over the 5″ truss in the middle of the field, or up through the high goal at the end of the field.

For the two weeks between the end of the build season and our first event at WPI, we worked on building a shooter mechanism that would have the required punch, fit in the space required, and not exceed our weight limitations.

For most of our first day at WPI, we didn’t have a shooter. But we still did reasonably well. We finally got the shooter working that night, but didn’t have a lot of time to tune it. Then, during a practice match, someone inadvertently dry-fired the shooter, and it imploded. We left WPI ranked 25 out of the 50-some robots with a record of 5-7-0. We also won the Industrial Design Award sponsored by GM.

One of the great things about the events is that you get to meet the other teams and see how they’ve gone about solving the same problems you’ve had to face. We discovered that several teams had found a way to use pneumatic cylinders to drive their shooters. While we went home with a broken mess of metal and plastic, we also went home with a new idea about how to build a shooter that would work.

In the two weeks before our next match, we built a brand new shooter, tested it, and mounted it on the robot. (Even though the robots are bagged between events, there is a rule that lets you unbag the robot and work on it for up to six hours in the week before your next event.)

Our second event was at Northeastern University where the new shooter served us well. This time, we qualified for the finals and weren’t knocked out until the semi-finals. We were ranked 5th with a record of 10-7-0. Here, we won the Excellence in Engineering Award sponsored by Delphi.

Unexpectedly, we qualified for the New England FRC Region Championship. We had to scramble, but we got all our arrangements made and took our ‘Hamster Wheel of Doom’ to Boston University, where the event was hosted.

By this time, the kids were really pumped. We hadn’t really expected to do quite this well this season, and at this event, they got to see, and in some cases meet, Woodie Flowers and Dean Kamen, the heart and soul of the FIRST program.

We did really well, rising to rank 2 by the end of the qualification matches. Sadly, we got knocked out in the quarterfinals, but we ended up with a record of 9-4-1. We also won the Gracious Professionalism Award sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.

Because we did so well at New England, we got invited to the World Championship in St. Louis. No one, at the beginning of the season would have predicted we’d go so far. We were down to the last $3000 dollars in the bank. We seriously considered not going, but, as one parent put it, if we weren’t going to go to the World Championship when we were invited, what message did that send to the kids? So we undertook the Herculean task of raising nearly $25,000 in three days along with making travel arrangements, finding a nurse, and the dozens of other things that had to get done.

I’m delighted to say that the team is going. We’re sending four mentors and over a dozen kids to St. Louis. We’d have loved to send everyone, but there are limits to what even this team can accomplish.

I’m really proud to have been part of this program this year and I intend to do the same thing next year. These young people are going to be the movers and shakers of their generation. They are the ones that will deal with the problems we’ve left them. I feel like it’s our responsibility to help them however we can.

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GOP Learning Disabilty

Apparently, the GOP can’t learn from its own mistakes. Instead of admitting that they screwed up, the ultra-conservatives in the party are doubling down and trying to spin the whole fiasco as if it was Obama’s fault.

It is the job of the Congress to pass a budget and pay our bills, not to extort the President. When you are unhappy with a law, in a democracy, you try to persuade people to vote for you and then you repeal the law. This is high-school civics, not rocket science. (Of course, this is the same party that blamed short falls in state budgets on teachers and other public employees, rather than on tax cuts for the wealthy and pork barrel spending.)

Actually, it’s unfair to those with real learning disabilities to compare them to the GOP. Those with real disabilities don’t have a choice, the GOP does. Instead of trying to recruit candidates that actually give a damn about the country, the post-tea-party GOP has been backing anyone who mouthed the party line and preached defund-the-government craziness. Now the GOP has learned that the people they backed really believe the crazy talk.

There is a simple recipe for restoring good will. All the GOP has to do is to really start looking out for actual Americans, not just the one or two percent who are the biggest campaign donors. That means reaching out to the moderates, to the people of color, and even evil progressives. They have to be fiscally conservative, not just when Democrats are in power, but even when their own Administrations are making bone-headed decisions. They also have to realize that the world is changing and no amount of shrill language will stop it.

Most immigrants are quite conservative, but the GOP has alienated them with barely concealed bigotry. Why should anyone of color trust a party that opposes such a moderate president simply because of his skin color.

Has the GOP ever hated anyone as much as Barak Obama, the first Black President in U.S. History? Has there ever been a time when a political party has been so determined to block everything a President proposes, not because they disagree, but simply because of who he is? The GOP has repeatedly defeated bills based on their own ideas, just to keep Obama from accomplishing anything. They apparently forget that those bills were meant to help Americans.

Additionally, the GOP has forgotten two thousand years of history that teach us all that commingling politics and religion is a good way to destroy a country. Our country was founded on the principle of separation of Church and State. There may be people who are Christian than any other domination, but that does not, and should not, make America a Christian nation. Look at Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where war has waged intermittently for over two thousand years over questions of religion, some of them incomprehensibly minor to outside observers.

It’s also ironic that the GOP is trying so hard to destroy public education, the great homogenizing influence in our society. The shared experience of public high school should be something that educates our children, not just about reading, writing and arithmetic, but also about accepting others that are different. By supporting the implicit segregation that voucher programs encourage, the GOP ensures the very class warfare that they keep whining about. More resources for public education would be a great boon for our economy and help use regain some of the technical leadership we’ve lost. Instead, the GOP continues to be the lap dog of the very wealthy who whine over every penny of taxes and live sheltered lives in gated communities while the rest of the country goes to hell.

Last, but not least, you’d think that the conservatives in this country would be the first to stand up for protecting our environment and working to mitigate the effects of global warming. The wanton destruction our actions have been wreaking on the environment adds on to a tab that must be paid, either now in dollars, or later – in lives. But again, the GOP has lost it’s way and can see no farther than the next fund raiser, next quarterly report, and next election.

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Boston Book Festival

I went to the kickoff event of the Boston Book Festival on Thursday night, Writing Terror featuring Wes Craven, Mary Louise Kelly, Jessica Stern, and Valerie Plame Wilson. It was a discussion about fear and writing about fear.

The first question the moderator, Joe Klein, asked, was what each of the panelists feared most. “Eighteen members of Congress,” quipped Wes Craven. He was referring, of course, to the eighteen House Representatives who have been at the core of the fight to shutdown the government and send us into default. That got a good laugh from the audience.

During the evening, we were treated to a frank discussion about what is scary to a group of people who really have some perspective on the issue. Craven, of course, is in the business of frightening us with his movies and has drawn on fears from his childhood to power his films. Jessica Stern has written about the unsolved sexual assault perpetrated against her sister and herself when they were adolescents. She’s also met with and interviewed self-avowed terrorists, and neo-nazi leaders. Mary Louise Kelly, a broadcaster an author has worked for NPR, reporting on the intelligence community. She told us about the time she was most frightened. She was called by her son’s school. They wanted her to come and pick him up because he was having trouble breathing. Trouble was, Kelly was six thousand miles away in a Black Hawk helicopter about to be ferried into a war zone. She lost the call before she could explain and it was twelve hours before she found out what happened to her son. (He was fine. The school contacted his father, who was six thousand miles closer.) Valerie Plame told us of the fear she experienced when her CIA cover was blown by the Bush Administration as retribution for her husband, Owen Wilson, revealing that the Administration was lying about Iraq buying yellow cake Uranium from Africa. Plame was immediately concerned for her children and the assets she’d developed around the world.

I was most impressed by Valerie Plame. I knew some of her story from press coverage at the time, but I haven’t yet found the time to read her account of what happened to her. The way she was treated fills me with outrage. She spent her time as an agent in the CIA in one of the most vulnerable positions, that of a Non-Official Cover agent. If she was discovered, the government would have simply disavowed her. During her at the CIA, she worked to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I wish I was able to say I’d done as much to make the world safer.

Most on the panel agreed that the greatest threat they could see was the intersection of fundamentalist terrorism and nuclear technology, and that they felt Pakistan was where that intersection was most likely going to happen. The government of Pakistan is ‘heavily infiltrated’ with extremists and barely holding together. Pakistan is also making nuclear weapons faster than any other country on Earth.

I’m not sure I agree. It would be terrible for terrorists to set off a nuclear weapon, but if they do, they will be hunted down by an outraged world. I doubt it will happen more than once and I hope it never does. It could cost millions of innocents their lives. But what we are doing to the global climate will affect everyone and has the potential to destroy our species along with most other species on the planet. In the worst case, it might destroy all life on Earth and leave our planet looking like Venus.

The use of a nuclear weapon by extremists is, so far, a horrible potential scenario. Global climate change has already started and is accelerating every day. We spend billions on fighting terrorism while trying to pretend climate change will just go away is we ignore it long enough.

Another scenario, not discussed by the panel, is the steady erosion of civil rights that is happening in the U.S. and other countries where technology makes it easier and easier for the government to spy on anyone at any time. While it might be a boon for solving crimes, the surveillance society is the dream of any potential despot. Members of Congress openly defy their constituents, confident that what really counts is the money they get from ultra-rich donors and huge corporations. They gerrymander voting districts to ensure incumbents need not worry about losing an election. Decisions by the Supreme Court have opened the flood gates, allowing almost unlimited amounts of anonymous money into the election process, turning the U.S. into a virtual plutocracy already.

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Encourage Obama and Democrats to give Republicans Nothing

The latest “compromise” that the Senate is considering would give Republicans part of what they want and set us up for another identical confrontation in February.

We’re already seeing economic effects of this confrontation. Hundreds of thousands of government workers are laid off. Fidelity and similar investment companies either have already dumped their government securities or are already in the process. Even China is talking about dumping their securities. They hold more U.S. debt than any other nation, and could cripple us for years if they decide to dump our debt. They would suffer too, but they’ll suffer anyway if the U.S. defaults, so they may figure they might as well.

The U.S. is the backbone of the world economy. If that backbone breaks, it won’t just be Americans who suffer, it will be people all over the world. We may create another global recession. If so, we’ll have handed our enemies another gold-plated opportunity to recruit terrorists.

All Americans need to wake up to the fact that what is going on is terribly dangerous. This isn’t about Obama care. It isn’t about debt reduction, it’s about power, spite, pride and envy. It’s about people who can’t stand the idea of a black president. It’s about people who are frustrated that they’ve been denied the American dream, and who’ve been rooked into believing that the party that took that dream away is somehow on their side.

The only reasonable outcome for this crisis would be to deny the Republicans everything, to demand a clean CR and clean debt ceiling bill that extends government through the summer, at the very least.

What we’re doing now is asking the hostage taker to give us his gun, with the promise that we’ll give it back to him in January. When has that ever made any sense.

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