Tag Archives: substance abuse

Study: Sexist men more likely to have mental health problems

Men who behave like promiscuous playboys or feel powerful over women are more likely to have mental health problems than men with less sexist attitudes, according to a study released this week.

The analysis found links between sexist behavior and mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse, said the study which appeared in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

“Some of these sexist masculine norms, like being a playboy and power over women, aren’t just a social injustice but they are also potentially bad for your mental health,” said Joel Wong, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University Bloomington and lead author of the study.

Its release comes on the heels of the election to the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump, whose comments about women that emerged during the election campaign were condemned by many as sexist and misogynist.

The research synthesized results of more than 70 U.S.-based studies involving more than 19,000 men over 11 years.

This involved looking at 11 norms generally considered by experts to reflect society’s expectations of traditional masculinity including a desire to win, risk-taking and pursuit of status, Wong said.

The traits, or norms, most closely linked to mental health problems were playboy behavior, or sexual promiscuity, power over women and self-reliance, he said.

“Men who have trouble asking for directions when they’re lost, that’s a classic example of self-reliance,” Wong said.

Also, men who exhibited those attitudes were also less likely to seek mental health treatment, the study said.

The researchers said there was one dimension for which they were unable to find any significant effects.

“Primacy of work was not significantly associated with any of the mental health-related outcomes,” said Wong in a statement.

“Perhaps this is a reflection of the complexity of work and its implications for well-being. An excessive focus on work can be harmful to one’s health and interpersonal relationships, but work is also a source of meaning for many individuals.”

 Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Published via  Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org.

Fighting HIV, one dirty needle at a time

The doctor on a mission met the homeless heroin addict who lived under a tree last year at Jackson Health System’s special immunology clinic when both men were struggling to overcome the odds. Jose De Lemos, infected with HIV and hepatitis C from a shared needle, had gone without treatment for almost a year.

He’d dropped 80 pounds, suffered from night sweats and a rash on his leg and chest. Even walking hurt.

He was in no mood for conversation with a well-meaning doc.

But Hansel Tookes, a University of Miami doctor with a degree in public health and a calling to public service, isn’t the kind of doctor who is easily put off. He talked to De Lemos anyway. Sent him to dermatology, started him on meds for HIV and hepatitis C, worked to find him a bed in rehab, and talked — about his own uphill battle to create a syringe exchange program in South Florida, the kind of program that might have prevented De Lemos’ infection.

A public health advocate in Miami, where new HIV infection rates consistently top the state and national charts, Tookes had been struggling for years to get a bill passed in the Florida Legislature to create a program in Miami-Dade County to help end that terrible distinction.

In that time, he had gone from medical student to doctor. Testified before legislative committees over and over. And learned just how hard he would have to fight to get what he considered a very modest proposal to save lives and improve public health through a conservative, Republican-dominated Legislature.

For De Lemos, his doctor’s commitment to the cause — an unpopular one, at that — was a revelation: “I’m hard-headed. And he’s persistent. He’s like, ‘If you get clean, you can talk about this. You’ll be great . You can help me.’ I admire him because he went through a lot but he kept going.”

Tookes recalled a different moment with his patient: “He started crying because he said he didn’t know people cared.”

For the next eight months, as De Lemos kicked heroin, endured a skin condition that caused blisters across his entire torso and finally saw his sky-high viral count drop, Tookes started seeing hope, too. His proposal, which had been stalled for years, started gaining traction. The nationwide heroin epidemic had changed the dialogue about blood-borne diseases. De Lemos’ appointments with Tookes now usually included an update on the needle exchange bill in Tallahassee. Sometimes, when there was a big vote, Tookes played video recordings of the committee meetings on his phone for De Lemos to see.

“The reception in the ER isn’t great. I had to prop the door open,” Tookes said, with a laugh. “But we watched.”

In March, a full five years after Tookes published a study in a medical journal when he was still a student that documented the harsh reality of illicit needle use in Miami, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act, making Miami-Dade’s program the first legal needle exchange in the American South.

The victory didn’t mean his fight was over. Legislators weren’t unanimous when they approved the bill, and the IDEA act reflects that: It creates a five-year test program, only in Miami-Dade and without any public financing. Tookes and UM, which will run the program, must raise all the money for the program privately, through grants and donations. Tookes — doctor, public health advocate and needle exchange crusader — must now also become a fundraiser.

He’s undaunted. His determination has carried him this far, and he is already envisioning the rest.

“When I flew back to Miami after the bill had passed, I looked at the city as we were landing at MIA and I thought, what we just did is going to change the health of tens of thousands of people,” Tookes said. “And that was an amazing feeling. And that’s an amazing truth. And that’s where we are.”

 

Advanced HIV cases

Tookes, a 35-year-old internist, took on the against-the-odds fight for a needle exchange because he felt he had to. Too many people were coming through the doors of Miami-Dade’s public health system like De Lemos, with advanced cases of HIV in an era when the virus that causes AIDS is generally treated as a disease you live with, not one that kills you. Injection drug overdoses were rising, too.

The doctor knew getting people into treatment earlier could make a huge difference in their lives and reduce infections of others. (“I’m trained to look for public health solutions,” he said.) A needle exchange was a step toward that goal. Florida had never allowed a needle exchange program before. But why couldn’t that change?

His grandmother, Gracie Wyche, had set the bar high in his family. She was a pioneering black nurse in Miami who started out in the then-segregated wards of Jackson Memorial and eventually became a head nurse, concentrating on a mysterious illness in the 1980s that later became known as AIDS. Tookes became even more interested in public service during his undergraduate work at Yale University and a stint as an investigator for Project Aware, an HIV testing/counseling clinical trial at UM. He got a public health degree at UM, and then his medical degree.

Now a third-year resident who does his research through UM’s division of infectious diseases at the Miller School of Medicine, Tookes said his grandmother’s work set him on this path. “She inspired me,” he said. “There’s just a long history of service on both sides of the family.”

The HIV numbers drove him, too. In 2014, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region ranked No. 1 in the nation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the rate of new HIV infections in areas with more than 1 million people. That year, Miami-Dade County had 1,324 new HIV cases, the CDC said, while Broward had 836 cases. Statewide, in 2014, the Florida Department of Health said 110,000 people were diagnosed and living with HIV. People are still dying of the virus: In the United States, 6,955 people died from HIV and AIDS in 2013, according to the CDC.

Tookes saw the toll up close, in the examining room. A man in his 40s who had sex with men, no body fat and pneumocystis pneumonia, a disease often associated with AIDS _ who didn’t know he’d probably had HIV for years. An impoverished woman from Liberty City with a debilitating bacterial infection from a severely compromised immune system, who had never before been tested for HIV. Or a young man diagnosed with HIV a few months ago who revealed to Tookes during a clinic visit that he uses intravenous methamphetamine.

“Everything with this issue _ all of the advocacy that we did for this policy _ was to fix an issue that we were seeing in everyday clinical practice . I think as physicians, we had a duty to intervene,” Tookes said. “We knew there was something we could do for these people to help them from getting so sick, and so we decided to fight for it.”

He faced deep suspicion about the idea going back to the just-say-no 1980s. Although needle exchange programs have become increasingly common even in GOP-controlled states _ Indiana’s governor and now Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence changed his position last year after an outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C _ Florida remained a holdout. Some lawmakers continued to believe that giving addicts clean needles amounted to government-endorsed drug use.

Starting in 2012, Tookes — backed by a coalition including the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Hospital Association and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office — tried to make headway with lawmakers. When he hit the wall of opposition, he didn’t give up. He didn’t get disillusioned or cynical. He tried again. And again. In the legislative sessions of 2013, ‘14, ‘15.

Then 2016 came along. The heroin epidemic created a whole new conversation around the issue of injection-drug use.

State Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, sponsored the syringe exchange bill — over and over — because of the high rates of HIV and hepatitis C in his district. He said he saw opposition flag after Florida shut down its “pill mills” starting in 2011, sending opioid users to the needle.

“The first thing people hear is that you’re trying to empower drug users to use drugs,” Braynon said. “But the narrative changed over time … What started to happen is that drug use picked up. First it was people in the ‘hood. But now it’s some of the wealthier people.”

And so the Legislature’s attitude changed. Injection drug use — and the blood-borne diseases that can go with it — were no longer just “a Miami problem,” Tookes said.

“In the context of a nationwide heroin epidemic and in the context of what I believe were many more constituents across the state going to see their senators and representatives and telling them that this was something that was ravaging their communities, we had a lot more of a sympathetic ear from the Legislature this year,” he said.

A needle exchange program won’t fix Miami-Dade’s problem with HIV and hepatitis C. But Tookes says it will help. And though a small percentage of HIV infections can be traced directly to needle use and the biggest risk factor is still sex, reducing the number of shared needles reduces the community’s risk overall. People who share needles don’t always tell their sexual partners that they are at risk.

A needle exchange also brings the hard-core, drug-injecting population into the public health system to be tested and treated. That reduces the risk to everyone else and cuts costs of treating their illnesses.

This is not just theory. In Washington, D.C., the number of new HIV infections dropped from an average of 19 a month to six a month after a needle exchange program was introduced in 2008, according to a study released last year by George Washington University’s public health school. The reduction in cases saved taxpayers an estimated $45.6 million, using CDC estimates that the average lifetime of care for AIDS patients costs about $380,000.

Miami-Dade stands to save money, too, if addicts stop reusing needles. A study co-authored last year by Tookes showed that the cost of treating patients who had bacterial infections as a result of dirty needles ran about $11.4 million a year at taxpayer-funded Jackson Memorial Hospital.

For Tookes, all of these public health arguments start with what he learned on the streets of Miami interviewing intravenous drug users when he was still a medical student at UM. The study he published in 2011 showed that drug users in Miami were 34 times more likely to dispose of their needles in public than drug users in San Francisco, which has had a needle exchange program since 1988.

Tookes still sees the bits and pieces of drug equipment in bushes and along streets, even in upscale places like Brickell Avenue, lined with highrise condos and financial companies from all over the world.

“I still have syringe radar,” he said. “I spot them everywhere.”

 

Street needles

A few miles away from the Jackson clinics where Tookes works, in the shadow of the Metrorail station in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, Carlos Franco is handing out his precious stash of clean needles to addicts once again.

Franco, 67, says he began his underground one-man operation more than two decades ago after he was horrified to see his girlfriend share needles with other drug users. He buys the sterile syringes, 100 to a box, at his own expense when he has the money, from the North American Syringe Exchange Network.

Franco is instantly recognizable to many in the neighborhood, where orange caps from syringes are sprinkled in vacant, overgrown lots and along sidewalks and under bushes.

“φOye!” yells one man, hailing Franco from a block away.

The operation is quick, Franco reaching into his backpack and handing over several packs of needles. The man, identified only as Flaco _ “Skinny,” in Spanish _ nods his thanks, looks both ways and disappears behind a metal gate next to a house across the street.

Around the corner, near the Interstate 95 overpass, Franco points out the improvised “cookers” that litter the shrubbery, bottoms of soda cans fashioned to heat up drugs. As he’s talking, a blond, thin guy in a T-shirt and jeans walks up poking a toe into the shrubbery.

Franco pulls the box from his backpack. “You need this?”

The man nods, his face now eager. Franco hands him a packet of syringes. Sean says he is 41, from New Jersey, a construction worker when he can find work. He is a heroin addict.

Sean has hepatitis C, something he shrugs off. “If you’re on the streets, it’s sort of required,” he says, with a short laugh that reveals a few missing teeth.

He walks away. A moment later, only half-hidden by a metal fence, he hunches over his arm.

“What really bothers me,” Franco says, “is when the numbers on the side of the syringe are worn off because it’s been used so much. That, and when they use a needle so dull it looks like a nail going into the skin _ it can’t get through.”

Franco knows his needle distribution is both illegal and dangerous, but he’s not sure if he’ll give it up when the official needle exchange program is running. He supports the idea of a legal program but worries about the people who might be too afraid to try it.

“I’ll wait and see,” he says. “A lot of people on the streets know me. I’m not sure if they will go to an official program. The cops might harass the program.”

‘People are still dying’

No one knows exactly why Miami-Dade’s HIV infection rate remains higher than other metropolitan areas, even as medicines are better than ever, statewide rates have declined and mother-to-child transmissions _ AIDS babies _ are rare.

Public health officials rattle off a variety of contributing factors: Thirty-five years into this epidemic, younger people think of HIV as a treatable, chronic disease. Drugs like Truvada, which can prevent HIV infection if taken as a precaution, have added to that perception. HIV is largely an urban disease. Immigration brings people to Florida from places without much access to healthcare or health education. Miami is an international party town, and the highest risk for HIV is unprotected sex, especially for men having sex with men. Testing and medication in South Florida can be difficult to find.

Also, HIV has fallen out of the headlines for the most part, added AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s advocacy and legislative affairs manager Jason King.

“People are still dying. But you don’t get the press coverage … So it’s not at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Stigma is part of the problem, too. If you can’t admit you have HIV, your sexual partners are probably at higher risk.

“It’s not a death sentence like before but the stigma still exists,” said King, who is HIV positive. “And then they have to be conscientious about disclosing it to their next partner and they fear rejection.”

That’s definitely true in Miami-Dade, said Dr. Cheryl Holder, a general internist who works at Jessie Trice Community Health Center and is an associate professor at Florida International University.

Holder says stigma, especially in the African-American community, is one of the toughest issues she combats when she sees patients with HIV.

“We’re seeing changes in communities, but it’s still labeled as wrong and there’s something wrong with you … I still have patients who hide their medicine.”

Walking out of the health center at the end of a day not long ago, she saw one of her patients, a young man in a hoodie, waiting for a ride from a family member. “If it weren’t for his diagnosis, I would have waited with him for his family. But as I walked by, he didn’t look at me and I didn’t look at him. And that’s when I know it’s stigma. He couldn’t just pull me over and say, this is my doctor. We need to normalize healthcare so I don’t have to walk past my patient and not meet his mom.”

 

Raising money

In some ways, Tookes’ work starts again now. Though Congress lifted a ban on federal funding for needle exchanges late last year, no federal money can be used on needles themselves. And Florida’s bill specifies that no public money can be used for the program.

That leaves Tookes, working with UM, raising it all — about $500,000 a year. And the pressure is on: Other counties in Florida are watching to see how well the program works.

“This pilot program is going to make a big dent in the infection rate in Miami. All eyes are on us. We have to make this a success.”

He has raised $100,000 from private donors locally — including Joy Fishman, the widow of the inventor of Narcan, the “save shot” for people who are overdosing — and another $100,000 from the MAC AIDS Fund.

Nancy Mahon, global executive director of the fund, said that syringe exchanges are key to fighting HIV/AIDS. “Needle exchange programs like this halt new infections, period. There is still work to do, but providing sterile syringes and supportive services to IV drug users is a solid step in order to begin saving lives.”

Miami-Dade’s health department is joining the effort.

“Definitely, we will be helping in any way we can,” administrator Lillian Rivera said. “We can’t buy the syringes, but we definitely will be providing wrap-around services. As the patients come in, we will be ensuring that they will be tested for HIV and hepatitis … All of the services that we have will be available to the patients that come through the door.”

The IDEA Exchange, which will be run through UM, comes too late to prevent De Lemos’ infections. But it’ll help others as the 35-year war on the epidemic continues _ as many as 2,000 in the first year, Tookes said. A project manager will start work in August, and other staff members are next. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is donating the HIV and hepatitis C test kits with the agreement that those identified with one of the diseases will be linked with medical care. Tookes is hoping that other groups will follow.

And De Lemos — at 53, homeless no longer — will do his part, inspired by the fight of his doctor to pass the law. His viral load is so low it’s considered undetectable, and he is looking at life with new eyes. Service is part of his personal plan now. “I really want to be a part of this needle exchange program. If he can do that, I can do anything.”

Tookes says he will measure success with each HIV test, each syringe handed out.

“This has been a long journey … It’s a very exciting time for Miami. We’re going to save a lot of lives. We’re going to save a lot of money. We’re going to give people a lot of clean needles. We’re going to provide HIV tests. We’re going to get people into treatment … We’re going to change the world.”

 

Published via the AP member exchange.

Grant to help reduce Milwaukee County jail population, reform system

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to Milwaukee County to implement reforms aimed at reducing the jail population and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

Eleven jurisdictions in the United States are receiving foundation money and technical assistance over the next two years.

The Milwaukee County grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration.

“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation president, said in a news release. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”

The foundation said the county will address the main drivers of its jail population — which include people with mental health and substance abuse, and others accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses — with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 18 percent over two years.

The county plan focuses on expanding the book and release program for low-level non-violent misdemeanor offenses and diverting individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues to alternatives to jail that will help prevent them from cycling in and out of the system.

The county also will institute a new post-booking stabilization program for individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues that will remove them from jail within 48 hours and connect them with appropriate services.

Additionally, the county will provide additional resources and training for law enforcement.

“We are extremely grateful and honored to have received this award and opportunity from the MacArthur Foundation,” Chief Judge Maxine White said in a news release. “With their help and our efforts, we can better protect public safety by smart use of our jails and working with issues of mental illness and substance abuse in a more systematic and effective way. This opportunity allows Milwaukee County to continue as a leader in criminal justice reform.”

In the United States, jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have the cumulative costs of building and running them.

Nationwide misuse of jails most harshly impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

And today, one in three Americans believes his or her local justice system is unfair, according to a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics and supported by the Foundation.

On the Web

More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge is at www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org.

Milwaukee County to unveil plan to ‘end chronic homelessness’

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will introduce on June 9 an initiative to address chronic homelessness. Abele and Barrett are set to hold a news conference at the new Thurgood Marshall Apartments and talk about a campaign to “end chronic homelessness” in the county in three years.

“Although the county has been involved in addressing homelessness for years, we decided that incremental progress was no longer good enough for our community,” Abele said in a news release on June 8. “We are ending chronic homelessness. And we are doing it in three years. I want to thank Mayor Tom Barrett for his support of this initiative and the city’s role.”

A chronically homeless individual is someone who has experienced homelessness for one year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years and has a disability.

Instead of the traditional approach of providing short-term subsistence through the provision of shelter beds, the plan to be introduced on June 9 “empowers the chronically homeless by providing housing that is permanent. Permanent housing is demonstrated to yield better outcomes for the chronically homeless and the community at-large.”

Barrett said, “This initiative is a creative and cost-effective extension of the city/county/housing authority partnership that, since 2008, has provided nearly 500 new permanent supportive housing units for individuals and families at risk of homelessness. Now, we are collaborating to address the needs of the most challenging segment of the homeless population in our community.” 

Through this partnership, about $1.8 million a year will be devoted to ending chronic homelessness in the county.

Program participants will receive case management services from the Milwaukee County Housing Division to address mental health and substance abuse issues. Case managers also will assess job readiness and help program participants find work. 

This approach will fund an expansion of the Housing First model, which is based on the approach that, despite often having many needs, a homeless individual or household’s first and primary need is to obtain stable, affordable, quality housing. 

“By implementing the Housing First model in our community, we will be able to immediately place homeless individuals directly into permanent housing,” said Jim Mathy, Milwaukee County Housing Division administrator. “Not only will this be a life-changing event for those that are experiencing homelessness, but national data shows that implementing Housing First also results in savings from reduced public service costs.” 

The move to Housing First advances individuals toward independence by helping to address root level causes of social issues for this population and by shifting governmental strategy on homelessness from short-term fixes to long-term solutions.

“In the last four years, we took the difficult steps of improving our fiscal condition and reducing our debt and borrowing costs at the county,” said Abele. “The reason we took those steps was to create the capacity to tackle Milwaukee’s big issues in a substantive way. I’m proud to say that the ‘Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Milwaukee County’ does just that.”

To be or not to be: pondering suicide

Suicide freaks us out.

It does so because most of us know someone who has attempted suicide or succumbed to it. Many of us have experienced depression or have loved ones who struggle with it. 

It especially freaks us out to see someone as apparently happy and successful as Robin Williams take his life. It’s sad and shocking. It hurts, and comfort is hard to find. 

My father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning when he was 48 and I was 14. My brother, who dragged my dad from the garage that day, shot himself in the head at age 33. Three close friends have died by their own hands, losses that weigh heavily because they occurred more recently.

There are many things to clean up in the aftermath of a suicide, from the physical premises to the emotional mess. Days of shock give way to questions, introspection, guilt, sometimes shame or blame. We’ve seen it played out in the American media in the past few weeks.

My mother felt guilty for our family’s collapse, yet she had struggled to keep a sick husband and three children afloat with little income. There was mental illness in the family tree and both my father and brother suffered for a long time from a host of burdens, all exacerbated by substance abuse. There were several “interventions” with them that didn’t work.

As a girl, I had no idea what to do about my father, who suffered a rapid mental and physical deterioration from alcoholism. Telling him I loved him didn’t help. As a young woman, I steered clear of my brother because his drug use (booze and cocaine) scared the hell out of me. I was always worried he would hurt someone. It turns out he only hurt himself.

I’ve had decades to ponder these events and what I have learned is neither new nor comforting: Despair can be overwhelming and you can’t always help people. You should certainly try, but sometimes people can’t be helped. There are so many things in our lives that screw us up and drag us down, and some of us just don’t make it. 

For more helpful advice, I think An Unquiet Mind and Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison are the smartest, most compassionate books about suicide. Jamison is a professor of psychiatry who lives with bipolar disorder and has attempted suicide. As such, her writing is informed by professional expertise and personal experience. She is someone who has been there and really understands the pain and all the issues around suicide.

Thinking about Robin Williams, I remembered a wonderful passage in a biography of Virginia Woolf. One of the most important writers of the 20th century, Woolf was dogged by mental illness her whole life and killed herself at age 59.

In most writing about her, Woolf is depicted as a tragic figure, often defined by her suicide. Author James King said the fact that Woolf achieved the literary success and philosophical influence she did while struggling with mental and emotional illness for 59 years “constitutes another kind of greatness.”

I love that he recognized her survival as an achievement in itself, and I think we should celebrate Williams in the same way. What fortitude he had to sustain those hilarious comedy routines and to remain active and creative as long as he did! How blessed we were by his presence.

Christian right group criticizes safe schools grant to Wisconsin

The Christian right group Wisconsin Family Action is criticizing a federal grant to create safer Wisconsin schools because it says anti-bullying efforts are “spearheaded” by “homosexual activists.”

On its website, the WFA, which also is leading a campaign to repeal the state’s domestic partnership registry, took issue with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s recent announcement that the state had received an $8.7 million federal grant for safe schools.

A news release from the DPI said the grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would be used for pilot programs in Beloit, Racine and Menominee Indian school districts that bring “together educational, behavioral health and criminal and juvenile justice systems.”

Under the four-year grant, the state will work with the districts to promote students’ mental health and academic achievement and prevent violence and substance abuse.

State Superintendent Tony Evers, in the news release, said, “When students feel safe and connected in school, they have a much better chance of doing well in their studies and graduating ready for college and careers.”

The release also contained a statement from Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who said, “This is welcome news for Wisconsin and all the children who will be positively affected by this grant.”

At the federal level, the safe schools campaign is a collaborative initiative of Justice, Education and Health and Human Services departments and it has been in place since 1999. Previous awards in Wisconsin have been directed to Green Bay, Beaver Dam, Madison, Milwaukee and Wautoma school districts.

The most recent grant was announced as officials, activists and educators across the country observe Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Bullying remains a widespread problem with nearly 30 percent of adolescents in the United States reporting some experience with bullying, whether as the victim, the bully or both, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But Wisconsin Family Action criticized the grant award to Wisconsin. WFA president Julaine Appling stated, “Of course, all students should be safe at school; however, the ‘feelings’ of students should not be the basis for determining if someone is being bullied. We’ve known for years that virtually all of the anti-bullying programs have been spearheaded by homosexual activists and sympathizers. The type of program this grant is promoting will likely be used to shut down any expression of disagreement with homosexuality.”

The right-wing group encouraged its supporters to raise concerns with local school board members about anti-bullying programs and examine school district budgets for anti-bullying efforts.

Vermont lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana

State lawmakers gave final approval on May 13 to a measure that will decriminalize possession of limited amounts of marijuana in Vermont.

The bill is headed to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is expected to sign it into law in coming weeks and make Vermont the 17th state in the nation to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.
 
“We applaud the Vermont Legislature for adopting this much-needed legislation and setting an example for other states in the region and around the country,” said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The exceptionally broad support demonstrated for this measure reflects the progress our nation is making toward adopting a new and more sensible approach to marijuana policy.”

He added, “The days of criminalizing people simply for using a substance less harmful than alcohol are coming to an end.”

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Christopher Pearson of Burlington with a tripartisan group of 38 co-sponsors, will remove criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.

Those under age 21 would be required to undergo substance abuse screening.

Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense and up to two years in jail for a subsequent offense.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn testified in favor of the bill, and nearly two-thirds of Vermont voters support such a proposal, according to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in February 2012.