Monthly Archives: February 2014

The long snowy road to recovery

2014-02-13 10.58.22

This has been one of the snowiest winters on record


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


As I am sure many of you know, due to the lingering soreness in my right knee and the brutal winter, I haven’t been running much these days. Fortunately, my knee doesn’t feel as bad as it used to when I run, indicating it is healing. Slowly, but surely I am making progress. I just have to be patient.

Here is what I have been doing for the past several weeks to help my knee heal and to stay in shape:

The ankle weights I use

1) Doing leg lifts on the floor, face up, with ankle weights about 3 times per week. I tend to do about 4 sets of 20 reps for each leg. This helps maintain muscle and can stimulate healing of the injured area. Besides this I use resistance bands to strengthen my hips and do the bicycle maneuver to strengthen my abs. I do these exercises even when not injured, but usually a little less often, and fewer sets.

2) For the past few weeks, about once or twice per week I would stuff a 23 lb medicine ball into my backpack and walk around the neighborhood with it. It should go without saying that this gets tiring after a while, making a 2.5 mile walk feel more like an 8 mile walk. The idea behind this is that if I can’t run or walk very far, I should increase the intensity of short bursts of exercise.

3) Similar to the idea above, I would often juggle at home with my heavier balls, mostly my 1 lb balls, and sometimes my three 2.25 lb Exerball set. As my arm endurance improved, I eventually started joggling outside with the heavy Exerballs. Three 2.25 lb balls may not sound like much, but doing this for a little over 2 miles a few days ago was very tiring, and is a new record for me. Doing this while going up hills is especially grueling.

This mostly upper body cardio can be challenging, and inside or outside helped my heart maintain its endurance capacity. Unlike joggling with very light balls(1/3 lb or less, what I normally use), my arms feel the burn while doing this instead of my legs.

4) If the weather outside was too nasty, or my legs didn’t feel like running, I would do stair-climbing for 20 to 30 minutes. I continue to do this sometimes, but I am running more these days.

5) Besides this, I have been more strict than usual over making sure I get a recovery snack or drink immediately after a workout, even bringing energy bars with me for short runs which I don’t usually do. Delaying replenishing depleted blood sugar, and/or fluids and electrolytes may slow the healing process or even increase the risk of re-injury.

6) What I don’t do is about as important as what I do to help heal this injury. Basically, I’ve done no speed-work, little to no hill running(until recently), no squats(they bother my knee), no stretching, and nothing beyond 16 miles(did 16 nearly 2 weeks ago). Sometimes it’s a little hard to resist trying to run fast, but all the ice and snow outside makes it difficult to run fast for long. Besides this, no drugs, no pills, no herbs, no voodoo, no “therapy” based on pseudo-science.

Thanks to this regimen, and being patient(which isn’t easy!)I am happy to report that my mileage has greatly increased this week. And it seems all my neighbors and acquaintances I ran into while joggling around town were about as thrilled as I was. “Where were you?!” many of them were asking. I’m not back to where I was before, but I am slowly getting there. I can’t wait until spring!

Warning: If you are injured, don’t try out any of the exercises I am doing before seeing a sports medicine doctor or therapist or finding out what kind of injury you have. If you don’t know what kind of injury you have, doing any of these things may make it worse. Fortunately for me, this seems to be just a bad case of runner’s knee, nothing too serious. A sports medicine doctor I consulted a long time ago suggested the ankle weights exercises.

If you’ve had a similar injury and want to share some tips, please go right ahead!

Supergranny ultra-runner

One of the most common, yet lamest excuses for not exercising is “I’m too old”. It’s funny how young some of these “old” people are. I sometimes meet 40 year olds who think it is too late to start running or cycling. What nonsense!

But don’t just take my word for it. Meet Andjelina Andjelic, the “Supergran”, a 77 year old grandmother from Serbia who runs 100 km ultra-marathons for fun:

The Belgrade-bomber, as she is known to her friends, only took up running at the age of 55 when she thought that it was time that she ‘started to live a little bit more healthily.’

Since making that decision she has pounded her way through 100 pairs of trainers and competed in such celebrated urban races as the New York, Rome and London marathons.

‘I first started to run 100 metres to see if I even could do that. Then I went for 200, 500 and after a while I participated at race of 5,000 metres’, she said. ‘Sometimes I have to ask the organisers not to pack up and go home before I cross the finish line.

What an inspiring person! If she can do this, what is holding you back?

Blueberry almond buckwheat beer pancakes


If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you know how much I love beer pancakes with blueberries. Since I had a larger arsenal of ingredients to work with this time, I decided to improve upon my classic recipe, Vegan buckwheat beer pancakes with blueberry syrup by:

  • Substituting 1/3 of the buckwheat flour with almond meal
  • Substituting 1/4 of the rice milk with beer
  • Adding freeze dried blueberries to the batter

Everything else was the same and it was as vegan as ever. The almond meal and freeze dried blueberries were from Trader Joe’s. The almond meal makes the pancakes tastier, a bit crunchier, and boosts the protein and fat(the healthy kind) content. They also make the pancakes less fluffy, though luckily the beer can help compensate for this a little. If you like your pancakes fluffy use only a small amount of almond meal, substituting 20% of the buckwheat flour or less. You may also need to use more liquid lecithin(egg replacer) if you use a lot of almond meal, to help thicken the batter and bind everything together.

Another idea for those who prefer fluffy pancakes but also want them to taste almondy is to use almond milk instead of rice or soy milk. If you have time, I recommend making your own almond milk. One of my most favorite vegan/vegetarian blogs, Love and Lentils, has a terrific almond milk recipe.

The amount of beer I used was different this time. Last time, I substituted half of the rice milk with beer. Although the pancakes came out well last time, the beer tended to overwhelm everything else. I think 25% beer is better, but you can use as little or as much as you want. Some beer pancake lovers will use nothing but beer.

All in all, they came out better than last time. Sweet without being too sweet, blueberry-ish, chewy, buckwheaty, cinnamony, and beery! I highly recommend it!

The centenarians of Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria, Greece

Greece as a whole isn’t that exceptional when it comes to life expectancy, but the Greek island of Ikaria in the Aegean sea is similar to Sardinia and Okinawa with its exceptionally large number of centenarians.

Why is this? The reasons are similar to why so many Sardinians live to be 100: staying active, a healthy Mediterranean diet, and close-knit families. According to The Island of Long Life:

Chatting to locals on the plane the following day, I learn that several have relations who are centenarians. One woman says her aunt is 111. The problem for demographers with such claims is that they are often very difficult to stand up. Going back to Methuselah, history is studded with exaggerations of age. In the last century, longevity became yet another battleground in the cold war. The Soviet authorities let it be known that people in the Caucasus were living deep into their hundreds. But subsequent studies have shown these claims lacked evidential foundation.

Since then, various societies and populations have reported advanced ageing, but few are able to supply convincing proof. “I don’t believe Korea or China,” Buettner says. “I don’t believe the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. None of those places has good birth certificates.”

However, Ikaria does. It has also been the subject of a number of scientific studies. Aside from the demographic surveys that Buettner helped organise, there was also the University of Athens’ Ikaria Study. One of its members, Dr Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the university’s medical school, found that the Ikarian diet featured a lot of beans and not much meat or refined sugar. The locals also feast on locally grown and wild greens, some of which contain 10 times more antioxidants than are found in red wine, as well as potatoes and goat’s milk.

Chrysohoou thinks the food is distinct from that eaten on other Greek islands with lower life expectancy. “Ikarians’ diet may have some differences from other islands’ diets,” she says. “The Ikarians drink a lot of herb tea and small quantities of coffee; daily calorie consumption is not high. Ikaria is still an isolated island, without tourists, which means that, especially in the villages in the north, where the highest longevity rates have been recorded, life is largely unaffected by the westernised way of living.”

But she also refers to research that suggests the Ikarian habit of taking afternoon naps may help extend life. One extensive study of Greek adults showed that regular napping reduced the risk of heart disease by almost 40%. What’s more, Chrysohoou’s preliminary studies revealed that 80% of Ikarian males between the ages of 65 and 100 were still having sex. And, of those, a quarter did so with “good duration” and “achievement”. “We found that most males between 65 and 88 reported sexual activity, but after the age of 90, very few continued to have sex.”

Here is another interesting article about Ikarian longevity: The Island Where People Forget to die.

I wonder how much of this longevity could be due to fasting, which many Greek Orthodox Christians practice. This means what is essentially a vegetarian or near vegan diet during much of the year. According to Effects of Greek Orthodox Christian Church fasting on serum lipids and obesity:

Adherence to Greek Orthodox fasting periods contributes to a reduction in the blood lipid profile including a non-significant reduction in HDL cholesterol and possible impact on obesity.

Of course, this probably isn’t that important of a factor in Ikaria’s longevity, since a lot of people fast in the rest of Greece. Now if only Greeks could cut back on their high smoking rate, their life expectancy would be greatly improved.

The secret to Sardinian Longevity


Lake Omodeo, Sardinia. Source – Wikipedia

Sardinia is a beautiful, mountainous island in the Mediterranean sea that is an autonomous region of Italy. One of the most interesting things about the people of this island is the very high level of centenarians or people who live to 100 and beyond among them. More interesting still, unlike other longevity hot-spots around the world(like Okinawa, Japan), the sex ratio is very low, almost 1:1. This is remarkable because centenarians are overwhelmingly female in other countries. The number of centenarians per capita in Sardinia is an astonishing 20 times higher than in the U.S. What is their secret?

Why there are so many centenarians in Sardinia, and why the sex ratio is so low in particular is the focus of ongoing research. It’s obviously due to a mixture of genes, diet, culture, and climate. Genes unique to Sardinian men are thought to protect them from heart disease. Their diet is also quintessentially Mediterranean, including a special type of red wine that is so dark Italians of the mainland call it vino nero or “black wine”. Usually the darker the wine, the more antioxidants. They also eat a special type of cheese that I will explain in detail below. According to International Business Times in Sardinia’s Secret To Longevity: Genetics, Diet and Lifestyle:

The secret to Sardinians’ long life is the subject of study of a project called AKeA – an acronym for “A kent’ annos,” a traditional toast in the Sardinian culture that means “May you live to be 100 years.”

The leading researcher, Luca Deiana from the University of Sassari in northwest Sardinia, found that genetics play a key role, observing that it is generally in the central-eastern mountainous region that longevity is most common.

The ruggedness of the geography has repelled invaders for centuries, and there has been little intermarriage with outsiders since then, thereby preserving some of the beneficial genetic traits.

For example, Deiana, along with his team of 25 Italian doctors and biologists, identified a gene in the Y chromosome that can greatly reduce heart attack and stroke in men.

This gene, passed down from fathers to sons, can explain the ratio of male-female centenarians in the region, which is about 1-1, while the ratio is generally 1-4 all around the world.

Diet is also considered to be crucial — as the Sardinian diet is rich in healthy nutrients from fresh locally grown vegetables, prepared simply with olive oil and served with lemon, garlic and other spices.

It is not surprising that they eat little meat and eat a lot of vegetables. This is generally associated with longevity around the world. It is also interesting to note that the highest rate of centenarians in Sardinia is in a region that had long remained pagan even after the rest of Sardinia converted to Christianity. This is in the hilly eastern-central region of the island, in the province of Nuoro. They eventually converted to Christianity by the early middle ages. It seems that whatever helped hill-country Sardinia remain a pagan paradise for so long is also helping them maintain a very healthy lifestyle.

Another interesting thing about the Sardinian diet, and I bolded something that may make some of you feel sick for emphasis, in On the Table in Sardinia: Red Wine, Bread and Cheese:

Diet Stresses Less Fish, and Special Cheese

Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t place too much emphasis on the importance of fish. He says that in the so-called Blue Zones — the areas of the world he’s studied where people live the longest — fish consumption doesn’t seem to be overemphasized.

“The longest-lived diets don’t include a lot of fish,” Buettner said. “If you’re gonna … include protein in your diet, I suggest this cheese that the Sardinians eat.”

The cheese, called pecorino sardo, is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep, resulting in a product that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Sardinia is also known for having another kind of cheese — one that actually is infested with live maggots.

That cheese may contain bacteria that are good for the gut.

“We don’t know,” Buettner acknowledged. “We just know the longest-lived men in the world eat this. And they eat it as a manifestation of toughness.”

Maggot cheese! How long before this unique Sardinian delicacy becomes the next big thing at health food stores?

CVS’s anti-smoking gambit


How things have changed. There was a time when even doctors pushed tobacco smoking! Source

Drugstore giant CVS recently shocked the world by announcing they would stop selling tobacco products by october 1st of this year. It’s an understatement to say that this has made big news, and is being treated by some as a watershed moment in the history of tobacco smoking, possibly helping to drive this health-destroying habit further underground. This decision may result in other drugstores following CVS’s lead.

It is estimated that this move will cost CVS $2 billion a year in lost sales. Call me crazy, but it makes no sense for a company to do something that will hurt its bottom line. Unless of course this allows CVS to capitalize in other areas.

According to Sarah Cliff at the Washington Post:

Executives said the move will cost the company $2 billion a year in lost sales. But they are gambling that abandoning smokers will help them strike more profitable deals with hospitals and health insurers — and appeal to growing ranks of customers newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.

This does make sense in a way, but wouldn’t it have been possible for them to have made these deals while still selling cigarettes? Or do they expect that the public will see a big halo around CVS, because they don’t sell tobacco products? Whatever the reasons, this is definitely a good thing.

It remains to be seen how this will play itself out, but I doubt it will help inspire a lot of people kick the habit. If smokers can’t buy cigarettes at CVS, they will just buy them elsewhere.

Regardless, this is a landmark event in the decline of smoking in the U.S, similar to the ban on tobacco ads on TV in 1971. The smoking rate has fallen from over 50% in the mid 20th century, to 18.1% among adults in the U.S. There are similar trends in most of the developed world. On top of this, smoking bans are in effect in so many cities across the U.S, that it is getting harder and harder for smokers to find a public place to light up. Increasingly, even some parks and college campuses are banning it. As a health-nut, I fully support this.

Whatever the ultimate reasons, let’s congratulate CVS for this bold move. Let’s hope it serves as a catalyst to help drive smoking further underground. Even if it is not a catalyst, this is a powerful signal for where society is heading. Some optimists are even predicting a U.S smoking rate in the single digits within a few decades.

If you need help quitting smoking, visit the American Lung Association “How to Quit Smoking” page.

Related articles:

The Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis


The Finno-Ugrian peoples of Eurasia

What is the Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis?

Multiple lines of evidence indicate specific genetic contributions to suicidal behavior. In particular, geographic studies support the Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis, i.e., genetic differences between populations may partially account for geographic patterns of suicide prevalence. Specifically, within Europe the high suicide-rate nations constitute a contiguous J-shaped belt. The present research replicated and extended 2003 findings of Voracek, Fisher, and Marusic with new data. Across 37 European nations, an interaction term of squared latitude multiplied with longitude (quantifying the J-shaped belt) accounted for 32% of the cross-national variance in total suicide rates alone, while latitude accounted merely for 18% of variance over and above those. Refined analysis included regional data from countries critical for testing the hypothesis (89 regions of Belarus, western Russia, and the Ukraine) and yielded an even more clear-cut pattern (56% and 3.5%, respectively). These results are consistent with the Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis. Study limitations and directions for further research are discussed.

Some of you may be wondering who the mysterious Finno-Ugrians even are. They are simply a diverse ethno-linguistic group that is native to eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia. The most well known are the Finns and Hungarians. In the map above, you can see their lesser known linguistic cousins scattered across much of Russia and northern Scandinavia.

The thing that is most remarkable about these peoples, besides the genetic isolation of some of the northern groups, is that they are among the few native Europeans whose mother tongue is not an Indo-European language. Almost everyone else with a long history in Europe is a speaker of an Indo-European language, like Italian, Russian, German, Greek, Spanish, and even English(some genes are said to be associated with the early spread of Indo-European languages, but that is beyond the scope of this post). No, it’s not because they are an extreme ethno-linguistic minority that Finno-Ugrians have a higher suicide rate.

The Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis suggests that genes that are unique to or occur more frequently among Finno-Ugrians predisposes them to suicide. For a long time, many researchers just assumed that the extreme northern environment many Finno-Ugrians live in, and social factors were the primary cause of their higher than average suicide rate. However, when researchers controlled for the environmental and social factors(comparing them to non-Finno-Ugrians living in the same environment), it became apparent that something genetic was making a significant contribution to their higher suicide rate. Of course, this is something that shows up in aggregate, and doesn’t render environmental or social factors meaningless for individuals.

While these genes tend to be mostly unique to speakers of Finno-Ugrian languages, some Russians and other Indo-Europeans in eastern Europe carry these genes. Russians also have a high suicide rate. This may be due to the Russians slowly assimilating many Finno-Ugrians over the centuries into the larger Russian ethnic group, as Russia expanded across northern Eurasia and Russified many different native ethnic groups. In other words, this means there are people who are Finno-Ugrian by blood who speak Russian or other non-Finno-Ugrian languages as their first and only language.

In part, I am fascinated by this because Linus Torvalds, the influential software engineer who created the kernel of the Linux/Android operating system I use is Finnish, besides, of course, my interest in genes and mental health. And Finland has also produced some amazing runners. They haven’t been able to find any Finno-Ugrian running genes though.

Why Finno-Ugrians have these “suicide” genes is a mystery(it is possible they have some advantage), but please don’t panic if you are Finno-Ugrian or know someone who is. Of course, we can’t change our genes(not yet), but hopefully, science will find better ways of treating mental disorders that lead many to suicide.

The Nye-Ham Evolution Debate


As I am sure many of you know, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” debated creationist Ken Ham on the topic of evolution a few days ago. I have little to add here that hasn’t already been said, except to say that I think Bill Nye did a superb job of defending science and evolution. I originally thought it was going to be a disaster for Nye who isn’t known to be a skilled debater. As the pro-evolution Sensuous Curmudgeon graphically put it “Bill Nye will be bringing a slide rule to a knife fight.”

Generally speaking, I do not believe that scientists should debate creationists. It makes creationism look more legitimate than it really is, when in reality there is nothing to debate. Creationism is not science, it is not an “alternative” scientific theory. The way I see it, it is no different from a geologist debating a flat-earther. Now Bill Nye isn’t a scientist, he’s a mechanical engineer, and an entertainer/science popularizer(he was on “Dancing with the Stars” not too long ago). So I suppose this is kind of different than if a prominent biologist were to debate Ken Ham. Personally, I believe only comedians who understand a thing or two about evolution should debate creationists – one clown versus another clown. It’s just a waste of time for scientists.

As expected, due to this debate, many creationists have questions for Nye and evolutionists in general. Most of these questions reveal a stunning lack of science literacy, and even outright laziness, but who better to answer them than Steven Novella over at his Neurologica blog: Questions from the Nye-Ham Debate

Although Dr Novella does a commendable job of answering all of them(about the 100 billionth time they’ve been answered), I thought I would take a stab at Question 22)  “If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”

This is kind of like asking “If most Americans are descended from Europeans, why are there still Europeans?” Even if this was true, and we are the descendants of a currently existing species of monkey, this doesn’t refute evolution. This question also presupposes the erroneous idea that humans are somehow more “evolved” than monkeys, and that the less “evolved” species should go extinct. Monkeys are just as evolved as we are, they just evolved in a different environment.

The truth of the matter is that we are not descended from any currently existing ape or monkey species, though we all share a common ancestor from tens of millions of years ago. But now, this is where it gets a little tricky. Our now extinct primate ancestors from millions of years ago would almost certainly qualify as “monkeys” if they were alive today. Take a look at the tree-dwelling Archicebus achilles, said to be one of the earliest primates and an ancestor of humans, apes, and monkeys.

It is certainly monkey-like, and could even be said to be a “proto-monkey”. Part of the reason for the confusion over the word “monkey” is that it lacks rigor and is usually not treated as a distinct taxon by experts. Biologists treat monkeys as a “paraphyletic” group. According to the Wikipedia article on monkeys:

Scientific classifications are now more often based on monophyletic groups, that is groups consisting of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys are each monophyletic groups, but their combination is not, since it excludes hominoids (apes and humans). Thus the term “monkey” no longer refers to a recognized scientific taxon. The smallest accepted taxon which contains all the monkeys is the infraorder Simiiformes, or simians. However this also contains the hominoids (apes and humans), so that monkeys are, in terms of currently recognized taxa, non-hominoid simians.

Believe it or not, I covered the rather confusing concept of “monophyletic” in my “I do not eat dinoaurs” post. I occasionally have to relearn what it means, so don’t worry if it confuses you!

So if someone wants to say that we are descended from monkeys, that isn’t entirely unscientific if they mean a long extinct species of archaic monkey or “proto-monkey”, not a currently existing monkey species. I realize this may be confusing. Even if we had a complete tree of life for all currently existing and extinct primate species, pinpointing which species was the first “monkey”, or which species qualify as “monkeys” and which do not, would be pretty much impossible, due to the various conflicting ways of defining what a “monkey” is. Science, especially biology, often deals with fuzzy sets and as a result, there are all these fun semantic disputes among scientists. Novella’s answer to this question is kind of different from mine, mostly because he wants his answers to be succinct and to the point, but I still agree with him. I may not be as much of an expert as Novella, so if I got something wrong, don’t hesitate to correct me.

For more info: Are We Descended From Monkeys?


The current state of science literacy in the U.S is an embarrassment. Widespread rejection of evolution is but one major symptom of this. I applaud Bill Nye for doing what he can to try to remedy this situation, but debating creationists may not be the best way to do it.

Related articles:

To joggle or not to joggle at the Looper Bowl

If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you may be under the impression that I juggle whenever I run. This isn’t actually the case, though it’s usually over 90% of the time, so it’s almost true.

In fact, just this weekend I did a 10k(6 mile) non-joggling run up in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, NY called the “Looper Bowl” with a bunch of other enthusiastic runners. They call it this because the run is on the Leatherman’s Loop trail, which loops back to where it starts, and it was on the morning of Super Bowl sunday. It’s a very hilly, treacherous trail with a lot of water crossings(mostly frozen), so it was a lot of fun! I hear it’s even more fun during spring and summer events on this trail, with some crazy runners going through the water waist deep. I may try this next time.

Days before the run, I kept arguing with myself if I should juggle during this run, and decided not to, due to the ice and snow on this very challenging course. And it wasn’t just my own safety I was concerned about, but the safety of other runners. Besides this, my right knee still gets a little sore when I run.

After less than a mile into the run, it became obvious that I made the right decision. It sure was rocky, steep, and slippery in some places(I borrowed my brother’s traction attachments for my sneakers, since mine broke). Still, I am used to this kind of thing and that just makes it more fun for me. Running on flat surfaces is dullsville to me.

I really believe that all the joggling I do pays off. Even when I am just running, it helps make me a better, more confident runner, making challenging terrain easier to handle. Without the balls, I can run just a little faster, and I feel I have more stamina. I also think that thanks to the joggling I do, my coordination is better and my eyes are sharper. For example, toward the end of the run, we had to go through a swampy area with thorny brambles galore. For some reason, I was one of the few runners who didn’t get pierced by thorns or stuck in the thorny bushes. Some unlucky runners legs got really bloody. I really hope they are okay by now.

So if you want to be a better runner, especially a better trail runner, consider taking up joggling. You don’t have to juggle every time you run, but it may help you when you’re dealing with very treacherous terrain, even if you’re just running it.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and the “War on Drugs”

Yet another celebrity drug overdose death. Many of you are probably thinking “so what else is new?” This has become so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to news like this. As common as this is, I for one am saddened by this tragic news, and my heart goes out to the family and friends of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died way before his time. His death, though, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Drug overdose deaths, whether of celebrities or non-celebrities is an all too common phenomenon in the U.S and throughout the world. If you count both legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcohol, we’re talking big numbers here. Deaths associated with alcohol account for around 88,000 deaths per year in the U.S, according to the CDC. Add all the other drugs and we’re talking well over 100,000 per year, making drugs/alcohol one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

It’s often said that the only good thing to come out of the drug overdose death of a celebrity is that this provides the perfect opportunity to warn people about the dangers of drugs, especially children. Because this happens so often, almost everyone already knows the dangers, and we are often inundated with anti-drug messages, call me skeptical of this approach. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but this reflexive reaction on the part of well-meaning people may do nothing or may even backfire. Sadly, according to the CDC:

“Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992 with a 102% increase from 1999 to 2010 alone”

I could make a list of all the celebrities who died before and during this time period from drug overdoses, but it would be too long. Besides celebrities, just about all of us know someone or know someone who knows someone who died from drug or alcohol abuse. The warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. The “War on Drugs” in most ways has been an abysmal failure.

What can be done? I don’t know, but I do have some suggestions. For one thing, too many people have a cavalier attitude toward prescription drugs. Many drug deaths are due to pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by doctors; patients either overdose on them, or they foolishly combine them with alcohol because they are oblivious to how dangerous this is. Doctors shouldn’t prescribe these drugs unless they are absolutely necessary and they should give their patients ample warning about what happens if you combine them with alcohol.

The idea that prescription drugs are peachy keen, and illicit street drugs are pure evil is ubiquitous. In fact, it often seems to me that society is far more judgmental of people who are addicted to heroin than they are toward people who become addicted to prescription opiates for dealing with pain. Yet, they are the same basic thing, except that street heroin is often adulterated.

The truth of the matter is that prescription drug abuse often leads to illegal drug abuse. For example, many heroin addicts these days were originally addicted to prescription painkillers. Heroin provides a similar effect to prescription opiates, but is a lot cheaper than prescription drugs.

Like a lot of people, I used to think that drug-addiction was due to a lack of will power, but I now see it as a disease(of course, not in the same sense that cancer is a disease). This doesn’t mean that the addict is let off the hook completely, but treatment approaches should be non-judgmental. We should decriminalize drugs, even the “hard” ones, and focus on treatment, similar to the drug programs they have in Switzerland. It sounds crazy, but almost anything is better than the boondoggle called the “War on Drugs”.

Besides this, marijuana should be legalized. I don’t consider it to be in the same class of drug as cocaine or heroin. Alcohol is arguably much worse. It’s the “hard” drugs we need to be focusing on.

A more comprehensive, humane, and science-based approach is needed to help eradicate drug addiction, due to it being a complex medical and sociological problem.

*I admit this is speculation, but is it possible that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was due to this? Heroin-fentanyl mix plaguing many states