Friday, March 30, 2007

Sobering Spring Time

Spring in play. 3:15 PM. Photo: JH.
Last night at the Waldorf in the Grand Ballroom, CASA, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, held its Fifteenth Anniversary Awards Dinner, which was also its annual fundraising dinner with several hundred attending the black tie affair. 

CASA is the brainchild of Joe Califano. A lawyer by profession, Joe had a brilliant career in Washington, first as an Assistant to the President Lyndon B. Johnson and later as Secretary of HEW under Jimmy Carter.

They honored Victor Ganzi, President and CEO of Hearst Corporation with the CASA Distinguished Service Award, along with Fred Hassan, Chairman and CEO of Schering-Plough. The CASA Special Achievement Award was presented to Patrick Gaston, President of the Verizon Foundation. The organizations headed by these three men are all active supporters and contributors to the CASA programs. Last night’s dinner also raised $2.1 million.

Hilary and Joe Califano
CASA’s charter is to research, create programs for and initiatives to change public policy as well as behavior in matters of substance abuse.

It’s now an old subject in America and for a lot of people has lost its impact. However, CASA’s latest paper, released just two weeks ago tells a dark and dreadful story about the insidious effects of substance abuse seeping more deeply than ever into the core of our society. People tend to think of substance abuse as something afflicting the poor and unemployed but in fact, they, along with Rush Limbaugh are not alone with the problem.

According to the latest CASA report which is entitled Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities:

• 49% of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs.

• 1.8 million full-time college students (22.9%) meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence, two and one half times the 8.5% of the general population who meet these same criteria. 

The CASA report finds that from 1993 to 2005 there has been no real decline in the proportion of students who drink (70 to 68%) and binge drink (40 to 40%).  However, the intensity of excessive drinking and rates of drug abuse have jumped sharply:

• Between 1993 and 2001 the proportion of students who binge drink frequently is up 16%; who drink on 10 or more occasions in a month, up 25%; who get drunk at least three times a month, up 26%; and who drink to get drunk, up 21%.

• Between 1993 and 2005 the proportion of students abusing prescription drugs increased:

- 343 percent for opioids like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin
- 93 percent for abuse of stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall
- 450 percent for tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium
- 225 percent for sedatives like Nembutal and Seconal

• Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of students who use marijuana daily more than doubled to 310,000. while the proportion who use cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs (except marijuana), is up 52% to 636,000.

And don’t think it’s just the students either; the problem is everywhere in American society today. One day at lunch, a friend of mine,  a familiar name and face on the NYSD, told me that every woman I knew (meaning those in her social set) kept a vial of Zoloft in her handbag. It seemed like an exaggeration, but she insisted it was true.

A few days later, lunching with another friend from that same part of the world, I repeated the matter just to see if she’d agree or disagreed. She disagreed: “Xanax is the drug of choice, not Zoloft, because you can buy it over the counter,” she said matter-of-factly. “In every women’s locker at  (a very popular) Country Club, you can find Xanax, and they pop them before and after their golf game.”

Well, this is a nice story to wake up to, right? Or, maybe we’d better wake up to make a nice story. Joe Califano’s CASA investigations have uncovered two bits of information: children who make it to age 21 without indulging their senses (and bodies) in drugs and alcohol are almost assured of going through life without the problem. AND: families who dine together at least five times a week are less likely to have serious abuse problems.
Julie Chen (husband Les Moonves in the background) with a friend
Victor Ganzi
Joseph Plumeri
Ursula Burns and Les Moonves
Shari Redstone and Mike Roth
Of course abuse problems run throughout our daily lives. Some believe it’s the vibe, the nature of the time, reflecting again a deeper malaise.  I got an email from a reader yesterday referring to the email sent in the name of Olivia Palermo (see yesterday’s Diary) that was claimed to have been written by her but which was clearly intended to embarrass or even humiliate her. The question that comes to mind is: why would anyone engage in publicly besmirching another. My reader, who is a prominent persona in the international social orbit wrote: 

“…That email  (allegedly written by Olivia Palermo) was read to me on the phone by one of the girls who’d gotten it on Sunday. She also sent it on to hundreds of people. All so ugly; and meanwhile, innocent people are dying in the most horrid and wasteful war and no one seems to care, let alone what is happening to our economy ... I do not find anonymous writings (on the web)  to be a very healthy distraction from all of this. It’s just more poison, more lying and deceiving, that we seem to have on every level in our country today. It really is not something to laugh at, but rather something to be concerned about – that is if you have half a brain that still sends the signals of right or wrong…”

Comments? Contact DPC here