How Our Addicted Kids Die

Signpost along the road to recovery.Today the Youth Forum begins a series on heroin and other drug addiction, following our prior spotlight on the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation, established to honor the memory of our friend, increase public awareness, and support the prevention and treatment of  heroin addiction for the nation’s estimated 669,000 users (based on 2012 estimates; an 80%  increase from 2007).

As explained in a succinct article by Susan Brink, heroin, when injected, is converted into morphine, altering neurons within the addict’s brain and turning on receptors that cause a rush of euphoria.  Soon after, the user alternates between wakeful and drowsy states, sometimes for hours.  The pleasure of the first rush of heroin doesn’t repeat itself, and becomes a very powerful, positive memory to be chased.  For that reason, addiction can continue to grab hold of someone who has been clean for a long time.  But addicts have no way of really knowing their own tolerance levels. As Brink explains, “the pleasure center, increasingly hard to satisfy, is screaming “More!” But primitive centers that control breathing and heart rate are not building up tolerance at the same pace and are whispering “Enough.”   Heroin can block the continuation of heartbeats and breathing, causing an overdose.  On top of this, addicts have no way of knowing what exactly they are ingesting and whether the heroin has been enhanced with an even more powerful substance like fentanyl, similar to heroin but many times more powerful.  Every time someone injects heroin, they are at risk of an overdose, according to Jack Stein, director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.   There is temporary help, if available, however (and if the overdosing addict is not alone).  Naloxone is an injectable drug that can jump-start the area of the brain that tells the body to breathe and the heart to pump.

Next time we will begin to consider why addicts lie, the new emerging culture of recovery, and emerging considerations and challenges in the fields of health care, law enforcement, education, the need for increased availability of Naloxone and other areas that could begin to have an impact and save lives.

The Kids’ Anniversary Edition (and what we have in common with Somalia and South Sudan)

1923 Juvenile Court Standards

2014 marks a milestone year for the protection of children.  115 years ago, Illinois passed the Juvenile  Court Act of 1899, the nation’s first such law recognizing that children enmeshed in the criminal justice system require specialized treatment.  Juvenile crime was a pressing problem of the late nineteenth century, especially in poor immigrant city neighborhoods, and the only legal remedy was to try children as adults and incarcerate them with older offenders. Reform-minded Chicagoans began campaigning for an alternative, and pressed for the enactment of this law, authorizing judges to find that children were delinquent, dependent, or neglected, and encouraging alternatives to jail, including probation at home or in a foster home, or placement in a training school or reformatory.

40 years ago, as described by Betsy Clark, President of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Initiative, the United States Passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act.  The act, as amended, provides funding to states that provide certain protections for the care and treatment of youth in the justice system:  Deinstitutionalizing (not jailing) “status” offenders (things that would not lead to jail for adults, such as for runaways, truants or curfew violators); preventing contact between juvenile and adult offenders, including separate jails for adults and children; and efforts to address the over-representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system. With the act, came the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which sponsors research, program and training initiatives supporting innovative prevention and intervention strategies.

25 years ago, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Recognizing the unique vulnerabilities of children, the CRC bans the death penalty and life without parole for children under the age of 18, and emphasizes the right to survival, adequate nutrition, education, health care, and protection against abuse, neglect , exploitation, abduction or sale.  The United States (through President Clinton) signed the treaty in 1995, thereby broadly endorsing its principles, but the U.S. Senate has not ratified it, making the United States one of just three countries that is not party to the treaty — the two others are Somalia and South Sudan.  Reportedly, Somalia has just re-committed itself to ratifying the convention, and South Sudan’s parliament has passed a bill to ratify it.  The treaty would not strip parents of their rights, contrary to some internet-generated rumors.  Rather, the Convention emphasizes the important role, authority and responsibility of parents and family.  Opponents frequently stoke fears that the Convention would usurp American sovereignty.  To address such concerns, the United States generally ratifies human-rights pacts with the condition that they will not overrule existing laws.  Nonetheless, the Convention has never been put to a vote in the U.S. Senate, on the assumption that it would be defeated.  .Only recently, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional application of the death penalty for those who commit crimes as children and, as explained in a prior post, the issue of life in prison without the possibility of parole remains an issue in some states despite recent rulings declaring such a sentence unconstitutional in some circumstances. 

The Rudeness Of Saying Thanks, Humorless Indonesians And The Colorblind Sending Black Boys To Jail.

Speak globalAn American teacher in Beijing tells her students “You lovely girls. I love you” — and her Chinese students are terrified.  An Italian professor teaching in the United States is appalled to learn that his students are allowed to evaluate him, but an American elementary school teacher is frustrated by her South American students’ reluctance to answer questions in class.  An American says “thank you” to a colleague for treating the group to dinner, embarrassing and offending the Indian recipient of his praise who believed it questioned the sincerity of his motives.  A Dutch businessman jokingly tells someone who borrowed a chair for an empty office that “you’re on a nice stealing spree,” angering his Indonesian colleague who emphatically declared the next day that he is not a thief.  A South Korean businessman is put off by the aggressive, confrontational behavior of his American negotiating partner, while the American is incredulous that the South Korean seems so afraid to speak his mind.

What is going on?  These incongruities, as explained in Geert Hofstede’s excellent book:  “Culture and Organizations:  Software of the Mind,” stem from differences in our subjective cultures — our patterns of thinking, feeling and acting which we learn through our lifetimes.  Hofstede describes different cultural dimensions that result in different perceptions, communication styles and habits that, in turn, often result in conflict and miscommunication, impeding an organization’s ability to effectively carry out its mission:  Does a culture value more collaboration between leaders and their subordinates, or is there a greater respect for lines of authority?  Does it place a greater value on individualism or collectivism?  Does it value assertiveness or modesty?  Does it tolerate ambiguity or demand certainty?  Hofstede explains where each country tends to fall on the spectrum of these cultural benchmarks, and how a clash of different subjective cultures can lead to miscommunication, inadvertently offensive conduct and ineffective outcomes.

Improving Intercultural Communication

Companies increasingly recognize the value of having employees equipped with intercultural competencies so that in a global economy they can communicate effectively in cross-cultural situations, and relate appropriately in different cultural contexts. Many companies, in other words, recognize the need to stop glossing over cultural differences (and to stop turning diversity initiatives into faux group hugs to  “celebrate the rainbow”) but, rather, to bring in trained professionals to identify and explain cultural and communication differences, and teach how to navigate within them, strengthen intercultural awareness and communication, and become a stronger, more productive organization.  Many people have a natural curiosity about these differences.  Many travelers enjoy learning about the cultures of their destinations, and are rarely heard to announce defensively that they “don’t see Chinese or Peruvians or South Koreans — Just People.” 

Why then,  when it comes to race are many of us quick to say that “I don’t see race.  Just people.  I am colorblind”?  Why do we become so instinctively uncomfortable talking about different values, perceptions or cultural norms between races?  Out of fear of being labeled a racist?   Of course there are many exceptions to every generalization and most people are more complex and multi-dimensional than is suggested by any label.  Regardless, just as there are general cultural differences between people of different countries, there are interracial cultural difference that can pose their own challenges to interracial communication and cooperation.  In his outstanding book “The Inclusion Paradox,” Andres Tapias reports that white males frequently rank values such as self-sufficiency, hard work, fairness and honestly at the top of their cultural lists, citing those who lived the American dream by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps as epitomizing those values.  Many African Americans, in contrast, frequently list “giving back” and “justice”, and Latinos list “commitment to family,” at or near the top of their lists — differences that, as Tapias, explains, makes sense given the different experiences many in each group can relate to.  Many whites, for example, grow up with the cultural perception that most people have a level playing field and equal opportunities, while many African Americans have a cultural perception that intervention is sometimes necessary to achieve justice — competing perceptions that are both grounded in histories that were taught or experienced differently.  As well, a seemingly shared value can be interpreted very differently depending on race.  Tapias observes that Southern white males and Northern African American women both list “respect” as a value that is embraced, but the former group believes saying “yes sir” and  “no ma’am” is a sign of such respect, while the latter group believes it to be a sign of subservience.  It is not surprising that racially disparate organizations or communities sometimes show conflict, miscommunication and vastly different perceptions, not unlike the Dutch and Indonesian business partners.

justice not quite blind

And what does any of this have to do with at-risk youth?  Cultural differences permeate the criminal and juvenile justice system in the United States, a system which many African Americans believe is rigged against them — and with good reason.  In a recent study by Stanford psychologists, 735 white Americans were told of the identical background of a fictitious 14 year old boy with several prior convictions charged with a brutal (though nonlethal) crime — half the respondents were told the offender was black and the other half was told the offender was white.  The black offender group more strongly favored a sentence of life without parole and rated the juvenile offender more similar to adults in their culpability than respondents in the white offender group.  Other studies have revealed that people have a tendency to fear members of races other than their own.

How are outcomes affected?  In an earlier edition, we introduced the topic of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system through a satirical Onion broadcast news clip of a white girl whose crime was so horrific that she was sentenced to be tried as an adult black man.  Satire or not, African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males.  If current trends continue one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, compared to one of every seventeen white males.  Studies have revealed racial disparities in police activity and sentencing.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that from 1975 to 2011 white students were slightly more likely to have abused an illegal substance than black students, yet black youth were arrested for drug crimes at rates more than double those of white youth.  Black drivers were three times as likely to be searched at a traffic stop as white drivers.  New York City’s recent stop and frisk policies effectively targeted black and hispanic americans far more than white New Yorkers, yet blacks and hispanics were no more likely to possess weapons or drugs than whites.  The harshest sentences — life without parole or the death penalty — is disproportionately sought and ordered when either the defendant is black or the victim was white.

It would be oversimplifying to blame all of this on racism or even unconscious bias.  There are higher crime rates in poverty stricken neighborhoods.  Public Defender’s offices that frequently represent minority defendants are overwhelmed with massive caseloads that do not permit sufficient investigation and preparation for each case.  Those with limited resources are less able effectively navigate an often confusing system.  But without an understanding of intercultural differences, unconscious biases will clearly exist between people with different sets of experiences and cultural norms.  Whatever the reasons (and there are many), the reality and perception of the police, prosecutors and courts differ significantly depending on race, economic well-being and cultural orientation. But if the Dutch, Indonesian, American and South Korean businessmen can be taught about cultural differences and intercultural competencies to support their bottom line, then we should be able to have just as honest a discussion about interracial cultural differences and their implications for the bottom line of our children, our schools and our community.  .