Monthly Archives: April 2015

Saving Thunder Road

In a recent article in the Contra Costa Times, journalist Malaika Fraley writes that Thunder Road Adolescent Treatment Center in Oakland is scrambling to stay open. She reports that TR’s longtime operator, Summit Medical Center, has been planning to sever ties with the program for two years, due to annual running costs of the residential drug rehab and plus facility in excess of $6 million, yearly deficits of $800,000, and declining admissions. Well, I think that conversation’s been happening for much longer, actually.

I worked at Thunder Road for fifteen years, between 1996 and 2011. I chronicled my time, what I observed, what I think treatment for substance abuse and teens entails, both from a research and personal perspective, in a book I published in 2013, entitled Working Through Rehab. Among other things, I remember that threats to the program’s viability started around 2004, and continued periodically thereafter. When I left TR in 2011, I’d worked most clinical positions in the program, seen various changes to program structure, tweaks of philosophy and methods, etcetera, and held the view that TR had been “scrambling” for some time. I am sympathetic to its latest bid for survival, and for the prospect of retaining “the only program of its kind” for Bay Area, and especially East Bay, Alameda residents.

But what is the meaning of this latest, perhaps most threatening of crises? If the community wants drug treatment for youth; if it believes that drug abuse, gang violence, physical and sexual abuse, child abandonment, are ills damaging the community, where is the ongoing support for programs like Thunder Road? Why were admissions declining? Where is the city leadership, the rally of business sponsorship that would spare a thirty year old institution from this desperate position? At the risk of disparaging efforts that may yet come to fruition, I wonder if there is enough conviction to save Thunder Road; if there exists a muted rejection of drug treatment in the community as a whole.

An overview survey from 2014 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reveals some interesting trends. Use of illicit drugs has generally declined over the past two decades: decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, the misuse of prescription pain relievers; stable rates of marijuana use among teens, but perhaps more importantly, changing attitudes about the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use. 36% of adolescents say that regular use puts users at great risk compared to 52% just five years ago. In other words, a majority of teens no longer think marijuana use is significantly harmful, which begs the question: what becomes the pretext for treatment, especially a residential admission, if this attitude prevails? Aundrea Brown, who runs Alameda County’s public defender’s juvenile division, states that Thunder Road is an essential placement alternative to juvenile hall (according to the Times article). The Save Thunder Road petition site says something similar. But I suspect many citizens of Alameda, the county that TR now dominantly serves, might reject the implied dichotomy. They’d surely rebut that neither alternative should exist; that a society moving towards legalization of currently illicit drugs, and that deems K2/spice, painkillers, e-cigarettes (according to NIDA, the only major substance whose use is on the rise) as effective, acceptable mood-altering substances, should leave well enough alone.

I hope the county is able to broker financing for a provider (or coalition of providers) to take over care of Thunder Road from Sutter. On balance, I believe what the program brings is a valuable service to the community, though it undoubtedly needs reform. But a broader question needs to be aimed at the community, in schools, churches, within board meetings and without: what do you really want to do about drug use?

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My not day in court

It was first supposed to happen on January 30th, but it was canceled the night before. My court appearance, my testimonial witnessing of percipient–that is, merely factual information–which had been compelled by a subpoena sent in the mail versus personally delivered, had been continued; that is, delayed. “Good news” exclaimed an unctuous junior prosecutor. “You can go about your day”. Thanks, I thought. So, the three or four appointments I’d canceled to make way for a hearing that might have happened at any point in a three hour window: I could call all those people back and re-instate their sessions could I? His name is/was Chad, and I never got a chance to pose this flippancy. I have history with guys named Chad. They tend to have girlfriends named Brittany or Saunders.

I hoped this was over, but knew it wasn’t. For the next subpoenaed appearance for the same case, I placed clients on stand-by, telling them I might make it the next day, or I might not. They were all nice and understanding, about which I felt lucky. After all, it doesn’t work in reverse. I have a cancellation policy and can’t operate on the basis of appointments that might happen. Anyway, my situation was unusual, so I deserved the benefit of the doubt, I think. Meanwhile, by this time, I had secured the services of a lawyer through my malpractice insurer, someone who would investigate the trifling details, the dense penal codes that would explain why subpoenas require personal service in some cases and not in others; why summons to some courts call for reimbursement of witness’ time, while others don’t. Above all, I wanted my lawyer to contact the public prosecutor (no longer Chad the second time around, due to a tag-team arrangement in their office, apparently), speak whatever dialect these people speak, and release me from an unnecessary “live” appearance.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care. The whole time this was happening I stayed mindful that my inconvenience would pale in comparison to the troubles of my client. I won’t go into details, partly because of confidentiality, and partly because the nature of his offense might prejudice the reader. Trust me that his incarceration, which continued in another sense throughout this period, was triggered by a technicality, though it stemmed originally, and inevitably, from matters relating to sex. So it was a criminal matter, and half-beknownst to me, criminal courts have more authority than civil ones. I was an unpaid servant at their beckon call, I guess, but it still didn’t make sense. I’d dealt with criminal courts in the past, in different contexts, often writing them letters which detailed the elements of treatment, percipient and not. But all the prosecutor wanted in this case was the basics of attendance; nothing else?

My lawyer didn’t buy it, but pledged to get to the bottom of the matter. She figured that live cross examination would begin with percipient questions, when and how often my client had attended therapy, but would then slip in questions calling for opinions, hoping to slide past the complications of an agreed upon expert testimony. However, much to my lawyer’s surprise, the DA stuck to the official position, insisting upon percipient information alone and adding that second hand information (reported by probation via my reports to them) was “unreliable”.

Interesting. Had a P.O. lost the reports? Were they shooting from the hip in response to questions? The competence of law enforcement was quietly in question, while I, and especially my client, would bear the burden, it seemed.

The second appearance was also continued. This time I got two hours notice, which was obviously too late for my clients to accommodate. On the back of this irrefutably unfair event, I was granted permission to write a more thorough letter, supplementing attendance reports with sign-in sheets, thus excusing me from court following a third subpoena for a hearing now past. My client’s still in jail, his program needlessly interrupted, which is a sadly common event for those mandated into care.

http://www.stopAB1775.org

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