Approximately 2.5 million Californians got a raise on New Year’s Day, as the minimum wage increased to $11/hour, part of the gradual phase-in of the $15 minimum wage law passed in 2016. In a conversation with the New York Times, Ken Jacobs of the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education observed that, “For people living on the edge, 50 cents really makes a difference, but the real impact is going to come later.” Mr. Jacobs added that several studies have showed better health in low-income children after the minimum wage increased. “When the full phase in happens that’s a significant amount of money that makes a large difference in people’s lives.”
Erica Garner -- who became a leading activist against police brutality after her father, Eric Garner, was killed by New York City police in 2014 – died last week after suffering a heart attack induced by a severe asthma attack. She was 27 years old, and had recently given birth to her second child. Breanna Edwards of the Root reported: “Erica Garner was indeed a force to be reckoned with, occupying space and speaking out loudly against police brutality ever since her father’s July 2014 death. She was unafraid, unabashed and unapologetic about what it was she was fighting for. Mere months after her father’s death, Erica staged a “die-in” at the very same location in Staten Island where he had a confrontation with police, leading to his death, even as he pleaded with NYPD officers, “I can’t breathe.” Eric Garner’s last words became the rallying cry for a movement, as protests swept the entire nation. His death was followed weeks later by Michael Brown’s killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement.” Christen Smith previously wrote about the toll police brutality takes on family members who are left behind, especially black women: “We know from the stories of black mothers who have lost their children to state violence that the lingering anguish of living in the aftermath of police violence kills black women gradually. Depression, suicide, PTSD, heart attacks, strokes and other debilitating mental and physical illnesses are just some of the diseases black women develop as they try to put their lives back together after they lose a child. To be sure, the police also kill black women directly. At least 15 black women were directly killed by the police in 2015. We must not ignore them. However, if in addition to those deaths, we count the victims of slow death, then black women may well be the population most impacted by police violence.”
On New Year’s Day, a new initiative – Time’s Up – was launched to provide legal support for people across all industries who face sexual harassment and abuse, and fear retaliation if they come forward. In an interview with NPR, Tina Tchen, former chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, said, “People should not be afraid to speak out, should not be afraid to assert their rights because they're afraid of retaliation or because they can't get access to a lawyer. And we know that's especially the case for so many low-income workers, hourly wage workers, people who are in very vulnerable positions… Sexual harassment… is just a symptom. It's a symptom of workplaces that aren't diverse, that don't have diverse leadership and diverse workforces in there. When you have a diverse workforce, you have less sexual harassment because people are working together. And they're working together in a place of respect for one another and safety for all. And that's really what we're all trying to work for through Time's Up and through so many movements.”
At the end of December, President Trump dismissed the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. Six members had resigned in protest of the administration’s policies and inattention to HIV/AIDS earlier in the year, writing at the time that “the Trump administration has no strategy to address the ongoing H.I.V./AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate H.I.V. policy, and — most concerning — pushes legislation that will harm people living with H.I.V. and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.”
A New York Times documentary profiling Línea PAS, a suicide prevention hotline in Puerto Rico, explores the surge of mental health challenges arising in the wake of Hurricane Maria. With nearly half of the island’s residents still without power, and many without water or homes, many are struggling to return to work and school routines that can help restore wellbeing. Línea PAS fields calls from people mired in despair, suffering from flashbacks when new storms visit the island, and looking for signs of hope in the halting recovery.
Health Affairs features a blog by Well Being Trust’s Benjamin F. Miller and PI’s Larissa Estes on addressing the underlying contributors to opioid misuse and “diseases of despair.” Citing the report Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy, they make the case for comprehensive, multi-sector strategies to address the systemic factors fueling these problems, and to ultimately reduce trauma and stress, foster community, and support healing and resilience.
In related news:
- The Twin Cities Pioneer Press looks at how trauma, mental illness, economic struggles, discrimination, and other factors contribute to substance misuse and the record number of associated deaths in Minnesota in 2017. “State leaders say economic racial inequities play a role in Minnesota having one of the nation’s largest disparities in drug overdose deaths for American Indians and black Minnesotans compared with white residents,” the article states. “Those two racial groups also face some of the state’s largest inequities in education, income and employment.”
- The CDC is funding an 8-month training program to help public health officials foster comprehensive, integrated approaches to addressing and preventing mental health and behavioral health issues, chief among them substance misuse. “Strategic partnerships are crucial to leveraging resources and building capacity across the public health system,” said José Montero, MD, director for CDC’s Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support. Some 40 public health officials from 22 states are participating in the training led by the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Although California state law allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdoses, without a doctor’s prescription, many pharmacists are not doing so, according to Kaiser Health News. KHN reports the slow uptake is reflected across states with similar laws. Among the reasons: lack of awareness and demand, the time and cost of the training required before dispensing the drug, a reluctance to take the time to properly screen and instruct customers, and concerns about not being paid for that time.
The Guardian investigates how a shift from heroin to synthetic drugs is affecting the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington. Incidences of addiction and overdose deaths have climbed along with the supply of more powerful and profitable synthetic drugs. Drug Enforcement Agency agents monitoring the influx say that the sources of the chemically-manufactured drugs also are more numerous and consequently more difficult to track.