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Entries in Congress (6)

Tuesday
Mar052013

Parents of Violent Mental Disorder Patients Share Their Stories on Capitol Hill

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The father of a young man whose battle with mental illness ended in suicide told a bipartisan group of Congress members Tuesday about the sometimes nightmarish struggles he faced trying to help his son.

“I can’t tell you the horror it is to have a child, behind you, going down an interstate highway, trying to get him to the place to save him and he tells you, ‘If you stop the car, I’ll jump out and kill myself with these trucks behind us,’” Pat Milam said, recounting the trauma of care for his young adult son, who had swallowed a bottle of pills in one of several attempts to commit suicide.

That attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. But at the age of 24, Matthew Milam would take his own life, a mere eight days after being discharged from a psychiatric ward where he was treated for bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.

He used a makeshift explosive device on that final attempt. Police had previously told his father they could not charge Matthew with a crime after he had alerted them to finding materials to construct pipe bombs in his room at home.

Milam was one of three parents who appeared at a mental health and violence forum discussion Tuesday on Capitol Hill that was hosted by the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The body called the meeting due to its bearing over the private health industry.

The event Tuesday is the latest such panel to be formed as the nation calls for investigations into the causes of a series of mass shootings in recent years.

The guests blamed what they perceived as a failed American mental health system for their family’s ordeals, and in the case of Milam, death.

Pete Earley, whose own adult son had been successfully treated for illness, said vigorous and constant outpatient service was required.

“We need to change the commitment process,” he said. “But we can’t just change that if you don’t back it up with services. Because there’s no place to go.”

According to the Child Mind Institute, 15 million Americans under the age of 24 suffer from a mental disability, but there are only approximately 7,500 certified child psychiatrists.

A national stigma surrounding mental illness, combined with costs, weak health insurance coverage, and a bureaucratic maze of state and local guidelines have resulted in the average patient requiring two years to be identified and seek treatment according to the institute.

Earley, a former Washington Post reporter, documented his son’s case in his book, Crazy. He told the panel a turning point came when the family found a dedicated case worker, who helped the young man adjust into independent living with two roommates also undergoing treatment.

“That took a tremendous job off of me,” Earley said. “I could be the parent.”

Earley’s son is now employed in the state of Virginia as a “peer-to-peer” support specialist, helping incarcerated individuals with mental illness overcome their disability.

“Most people with mental illnesses can get better. You got to give them hope. You’ve got to give them the tools to do it,” he said.

The panel was also joined by Liza Long, whose blog about her own trials with a violently mentally ill 13-year-old went viral after the December shooting deaths of 20 Connecticut first graders and six adults. “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” was named for the gunman.

Long, who said her son is currently taking a “cornucopia of drugs” to control his rage, says sometimes parents’ only safe option is to have their children charged with a crime.

“We live in fear of the future,” she said. “What will happen when my son turns 18? Will my son harm himself or others? How will I pay for all the services I need to keep my child functioning?”

The mother asked for increased funding for the school counselors, research, and consistent community resources. In addition, she asked the lawmakers to consider an expanded budget for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Representative Timothy Murphy, D-Pa., led the forum. In his closing remarks he told the assembled experts and lawmakers that while the discussion helped members, “understand the fears, the worries, the love, the frustration,” of the issue at hand, the general welfare of the country demanded a thoughtful and deliberate way forward.

“I want to make sure we don’t do some knee-jerk reactions and think because we did something, we did the right thing,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is lull ourselves into some state of sleep, and say, ‘Well, we took care of mental illness so we’re done for the next decade.’”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun252012

Congress Approves Ban on Just 2 of 17 'Bath Salts' Chemicals

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Federal law enforcement officials, eager to get a deadly array of toxic drugs known as "bath salts" off the streets, say they are frustrated that bureaucratic politics got in the way of congressional lawmakers drafting a comprehensive ban.

"Bath salts are the worst of the worst of the synthetic drugs," said a law enforcement source familiar with the congressional negotiations. "It makes no sense why they aren't all included in the bill."

The bill in question would add an array of ever evolving synthetic drugs to the federal list of illegal substances, but conspicuously missing are many of the elements used in bath salts. The omission has led some lawmakers to accuse their colleagues, particularly Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., of choosing political expediency over public safety.

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently submitted a list of 41 synthetic drugs it wanted Congress to place on the "Schedule I" list of federally criminalized drugs that already includes heroin, cocaine and meth. Among those were 17 chemicals used to produce bath salts, a stimulant believed to have played a role in a spate of grisly incidents including a May assault in Florida in which an attacker allegedly high on the drug chewed off a homeless man's face.

A conference of House and Senate lawmakers last week agreed to ban just two variants of bath salts, leading cops to wonder why only limited steps were taken.

A bill that was recently passed in the House of Representatives sought to add all 17 bath salt chemicals to the government's list of controlled substances. In the Senate, an amendment to an FDA act listed just two bath salts compounds, MDPV and mephedrone.

When House and Senate negotiators concluded their conference talks this week, they agreed to criminalize 26 synthetic drugs, including those found in synthetic marijuana and the street drugs "K2" and "Spice," but listed only the two bath salts chemicals named in the Senate legislation.

Ironically, and to the consternation of law enforcement officials desperate to get bath salts off the street, those two drugs are already illegal after the DEA put them on an "emergency schedule" list last year.

The DEA has no official statistics on arrests or prosecutions for bath salts, a testament to the drug's rapid popularity and the variety of chemicals that fall under the "bath salts" street label.

Between 2010 and 2011, however, the number of calls to poison control centers nationwide related to bath salts increased from 303 to over 6,000, a more than 1,800 percent increase.

Law enforcement officials contend that including all the known bath salts substances on the schedule will make it easier to prosecute the criminals who import, sell and possess the deadly chemicals. If a drug is on the list of controlled substances, investigations and prosecutions can proceed quickly.

"There are no questions about the drug if it's a controlled substance. We just know it's illegal and can get to work. Already, lots of time is wasted just waiting for lab results to come back," said a DEA official.

Law enforcement officials as well as several congressional staffers not authorized to speak on the record but familiar with the negotiations say Leahy chose not to include the additional 15 bath salt drugs included in the House bill.

"Those 15 got lost because in the conference there was some procedural issue and Leahy didn't want to bother with it," said a Senate staffer.

"Bath salts were in the House bill. And they're not in this one. You'd have to ask Sen. Leahy why that happened," said a staffer for a House Republican.

Leahy did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News, but a Judiciary Committee staffer defended Leahy's decision to put just two of the 17 substances in the final version of the bill, saying "Leahy's focus was to get done what the Senate started. The House bill was out there, but not in a formal way."

He argued that with a bitterly divided Congress, getting consensus on a bill as complex as the FDA Safety and Innovation Act was an accomplishment.

When asked why not criminalize drugs that the DEA says it needs listed to help keep the streets safe, the committee staffer said, "Sen. Leahy has been clear that scheduling controlled substances is not something to be taken lightly."

"It is not without implication to put a whole lot of chemicals on the federal drug schedule," he said. "It means putting more people in jail and makes it harder to seek legitimate uses for these drugs. Leahy is most comfortable sticking with what has been carefully considered."

On background DEA officials were frustrated that the bill did not go far enough, but publically the agency "commended House and Senate negotiators for agreeing on legislation to control 26 synthetic drugs."

The bill also gives the DEA new powers to temporarily declare drugs illegal without going through the lengthy scheduling process to permanently criminalize them. Under the new law the agency can place drugs on a two-year "emergency schedule." Currently, the DEA can only emergency schedule a drug for one year.

In the meantime, one DEA official said, agents will be playing a "game of whack-a-mole," discovering new drugs and trying to classify them fast enough to prosecute offenders.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan272012

SOPA Could Help Feds Close Illegal Online Pharmacies

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Congressional leaders have stalled work on bills to combat Internet piracy amid charges of censorship.  But there are provisions in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (PIPA) that could give law enforcement the tools necessary to crack down on illegal online pharmacies.

Teens and adults looking to buy unprescribed painkillers often order them from foreign websites which the Food and Drug Administration has no power to regulate.

“Kids today are very creative and have access to a wide array of illicit drugs.” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Not only do they know how to get drugs locally, they’re very technologically savvy and that can create a problem with more dangerous medications flooding into communities.”

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing and deadliest drug problem in America.  Deaths from opiate related overdoses topped those of heroin and cocaine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Five percent of users are getting their drugs from an online source or drug dealer, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reports.

Section 105 of SOPA would help companies take independent action against sites that “endanger[s] public health.”  U.S.-based payment companies like MasterCard or American Express would be given a legal incentive to shut down payments to illegal online pharmacies.

Private companies that revoke service to the online pharmacies leave themselves vulnerable to a breach of contract lawsuit even if the plaintiff is an illegal business.  Section 105 would grant immunity to service providers that cut off service independently as long as they believe that the customer is engaging in illegal activity.

Under current law it is difficult to shut down a site hosting illegal activity unless it can be proven that the site’s owner is aware of that activity.  Sites that ignore the law can often evade prosecution if their operations are based overseas.

Authorities have had some success in prosecuting drug rings domestically but those investigations take years, while SOPA would allow private businesses servicing the illegal company to take action quickly, without the aid of law enforcement.

Hillel Parness is a litigation and intellectual property partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. which filed piracy cases on behalf of companies.  He believes that the public is uninformed when it comes to anti-piracy legislation and Congress should move to pass the least-controversial parts of SOPA first.

“There’s a lot more in SOPA that’s getting zero coverage which raises the interesting question if in fact some of the more controversial parts get delayed -- is it possible that we see some of the other provisions show up somewhere else?” said Parness.

Only after public outcry over the measure, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed the vote indefinitely on the Senate version of the bill -- PIPA -- and it is unclear when Congress will take up the matter but lawmakers from both sides insist that the delay is only temporary.

“There’s no reason that legitimate issues raised about PROTECT IP can’t be resolved,” Reid tweeted last week.  “I’m optimistic that we can reach compromise on PROTECT IP in coming weeks.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec012011

Boy, 12, Tells Congress of Years on ‘Stupid’ Meds

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A 12-year-old boy told Congress Thursday that he was medicated into a near-stupor with mind-altering drugs during the four years he bounced among foster care homes.

“I think putting me on all these stupid meds was the stupidest thing I’ve ever experienced in foster care and was the worst thing anyone could do to foster kids,” the boy, identified only as Ke’onte, told the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security.

The seventh-grader, who was adopted by a Texas family in 2009 and who ABC News has been following for a year, said he had tantrums as a foster child and was inaccurately diagnosed as bipolar and having ADHD.

“I’ve been in the mental hospital three times during foster care, and every time I had to get on more meds or new meds to add to the ones I was already taking,” he said. Ke’onte said his meds made him feel irritable, gave him stomachaches and affected his appetite.

“I remember having a bowl of spaghetti and had three bites and then I was done,” he said.

He said he would get so tired “it felt like I would collapse wherever I was in the house.”

Ke’onte’s testimony came as a Government Accountability Office report was released that found that the federal government had not done enough to oversee the treatment of foster children with powerful drugs.

The report, whose contents were revealed by ABC News on Wednesday, coincided with a nationwide ABC investigation on the overuse of the most potent mind-altering drugs on many of the country’s nearly 425,000 foster children.

Ke’onte, who was on up to four medications at a time during his years in six foster homes, said that therapy has helped him in a way that meds never did. “In therapy, you talk about the deepest thing and it hurts, but you can deal with it better the next time,” he said.

Now, he said, he is first chair in clarinet in his school band, participates in cross-country and has three small roles in the school play.

“I’m not only more focused in school … I’m not going to the office anymore for bad behavior and I’m happy.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May252011

Jessica Alba Lobbies DC for Safer Chemicals in Products

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Actress Jessica Alba came to Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby members on an issue close to her heart: banning toxic chemicals in consumer products.

Alba is joining forces with the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition in calling on Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act.  She told reporters that when she became pregnant with her first child four years ago, "it immediately changes the way you look at things," and it led her to discover the field of children's environmental health.

"The choices you make about your diet and lifestyle can have a profound impact on the health of your child.  You learn to get the right nutrition for your developing baby like folic acid, which is also great for your nails and your hair -- so you can continue taking that, us girls know this trick," Alba joked.  "Avoid anything that can be harmful to your child, particularly pesticides, alcohol, tobacco -- the stuff that we're all aware of."

Alba began following Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families on Twitter, and the organization later reached out to the actress to join forces.

"It has been well established for years that children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals because their bodies are still developing.  The vulnerability starts even before birth.  I was aware of problems like air and water pollution but I was shocked to learn that it is perfectly legal to have known toxic chemicals in consumer products that are on our shelves," she added.  "Like most people, I thought the government regulated chemicals the way they regulated drugs.  I was wrong."

The 30-year-old Alba called on Congress "to step in and ensure that chemicals are safe before our children are exposed to them"  and pass the law as a gift to her unborn baby.

"As you may have heard, I will be having my second child soon, and it would be wonderful if Congress could pass this legislation in time for his or her arrival.  Don't send us flowers, no fruit baskets.  Instead, let's all give the gift of health to each other with the Safe Chemicals Act," Alba said.  "This is a common sense law.  This isn't a political issue, it's a human issue, and our children should be healthy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan232011

Federal Government Attempts to Jumpstart Drug Development

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – In an effort to try to develop more pharmaceutical drugs, the federal government has decided to put $1 billion into a new drug research laboratory. The National Institutes of Health will be launching the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, at a time when the drug industry is putting less and less money into research and development.

According to a report in The New York Times, the idea was drummed up as an effort to get drug manufacturers, who have produced a decreasing amount of new drugs, back into stronger competition with one another.

The report cites Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, as saying that the efforts of the government are not to be in direct competition with the private sector, but to make their jobs easier. By advancing the early parts of research on a drug or disease, the government hopes for private companies to take what research has already been done, expand upon it, and turn it into an innovative solution for patients.

Collins also says that despite the country’s dire financial situation, there is still a need to try and develop new drugs.

The proposal for the new center was put to Congress in a letter on Jan. 14, and preliminary plans have already been made for an opening date some time in October.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio