How many times do we hear about people learning lessons the hard way? Like the little kid who burns his fingers after Mommy just told him not to touch the hot stove, some people pay attention to warning signs only after a tragedy happens.
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine appears in this public service announcement, released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to promote seat belt awareness. On April 12 Corzine was seriously injured in an automobile accident while not wearing his seatbelt, a practice he admitted he did quite frequently. Hopefully others will learn from his mistake.
But this incident reminds us of the fact that despite the best public health and safety awareness efforts, personal responsibility and choice ultimately determine how safe we will be as individuals. You can collect all the pamphlets and brochures, see all the PSAs and attend all the workshops and classes, but if you as an individual donít make the conscious decision to save your own life, it all goes for nought.
A warning from the Surgeon General of the United States that ďCigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your HealthĒ first went on the outside of cigarette packages in 1966, yet the Centers for Disease Control reports an estimated 45.1 million American adults smoke cigarettes. While the number of smokers continues to drop each year, cigarette smoking remains the leading contributor to lung cancer, and lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women.
Similarly, motorcyclist deaths have more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, with head injury due to not wearing a helmet, the single biggest cause of serious injury and death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that wearing a helmet can reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent. Even so, cycling enthusiasts resist legislation making helmets mandatory, citing such reasons as the desire to feel the wind in their hair.
To conclude the comparisons, HIV infection rates among Black men who have sex with men are at 46% in some major cities, and this population is seeing increases while decreases are being seen among other groups. In light of how quickly some people criticize Black gay and AIDS service organizations for what they are supposedly not doing right, can we afford to ignore discussions around personal accountability and continued indulgence in high risk behavior that is clearly detrimental to our own well-being?
By: SPENCER COX AND BRUCE KELLERHOUSE, PH.D. From GayCityNews
New data released by the New York City Department of Health shows that the highest rates of new HIV infections are among gay men 35 to 49 years old. These findings are alarming and, to some, perplexing.
Why are so many mid-life gay men who were able to avoid HIV infection for so long now taking risks that are exposing them to the disease?
We believe that one common thread runs through most of these men’s life histories – they came out and/or lived during the death-saturated culture of the 1980s and early to mid-1990s.
Mid-life gay men have lived most of their adult lives during the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, experiencing the loss of partners, friends, and people in their community. As witnesses to so much illness, death, and loss, their voices have seldom been heard and their needs largely overlooked. Having once been the activists, caregivers, and volunteers for our community, many mid-life gay men now feel invisible and isolated. Not only lives were lost, during this period, but entire social networks and ways of living disappeared too.
The traumatic effects of AIDS-related losses were closely studied between 1988 and 1996. By 1988, gay men had already on average lost six lovers, friends, and/or family members. Researchers have shown that people who had more experiences of AIDS-related loss also had higher levels of traumatic stress response symptoms and recreational drug and sedative use.
However, almost no effort has been made to study the long-term impact of the AIDS epidemic on mid-life gay men, or to determine whether current elevated levels of risk-taking behaviors in gay men are related to the trauma of surviving one of the worst epidemics in our history. That lack of attention may now have come home to roost – in rising rates of risky behavior that are secondary to the effects of unprocessed traumatic responses to decades-old losses that haunt our daily conscious and unconscious lives as mid-life gay men.
Friendships have been shown to play an important role in health maintenance and in provision of care during poor health. The relationship between friendships and health is particularly important for gay men, for whom social networks often take the place of missing biological families. Conversely, many health problems that are now common among gay men are made worse by loneliness and lack of social opportunities.
Having survived the HIV pandemic, urban gay men in mid-life may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of decimated social networks. Difficulty in making and sustaining relationships is a characteristic effect of traumatized people. The normal stresses associated with mid-life, together with the lingering effects of loss associated with survival through the epidemic, may make it difficult for these men to create and maintain new groups of close friends.
Furthermore, gay men have high levels of depression and anxiety disorders, another characteristic of people who have survived trauma. Studies estimate that gay men have about twice the levels of depression than are found in Americans generally. Depression is strongly linked to high-risk behavior, including drug use, alcoholism, and risky sex.
The methamphetamine epidemic that has swept through urban gay communities also contributes to high levels of new HIV infections. A recent study from the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, which offers HIV testing, found that one in three new HIV-positive tests was associated with meth use. About one in 10 gay men in New York City report recent meth use.
In some ways, gay men in mid-life are at the center of a “perfect storm,” in which multiple problems converge to create a very high-risk environment.
Dr. Ron Stall, one of the leaders in studying gay men’s health, has shown that different kinds of psychosocial problems, such as depression, drug use, and partner violence, interact to create higher levels of risk for HIV – in other words, the more psychosocial problems that a person experiences, the higher their risk of getting infected.
We can’t just address these problems independently, but need to understand the dangerous ways they work together.
If we are to lower HIV infection rates for this population, we need a renewed focus on HIV prevention for gay men. Many of our AIDS organizations are missing in action when it comes to gay men. They’ve assumed that, because we know how to have safer sex, their job is done. But these data show that the problem isn’t lack of information.
Handing a 45-year-old man another safer sex brochure just isn’t going to do the job. We urgently need to create programs that directly address the real reasons that gay men engage in high-risk behavior.
Our AIDS organizations need to be experimenting with new programs and new models to prevent HIV infection, but most of them are nowhere to be found.
The development of effective treatments for HIV disease has given many of us a new lease on life. But if we are to make the most of this opportunity, we will have to understand the legacy of this plague – what it has done to us. We owe that much to those who fought and died, and to those of us who are fighting and have survived.
Spencer Cox is the founder and executive director of the Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health. Bruce Kellerhouse, Ph.D. is the co-founder of HIV Forum and a psychologist in independent practice.
Hereís something to wrap your head around (or wrap around your head). The City of New York now has itís own official condom.
Just in time for Valentineís Day, the New York City Health Department unveiled it, making the Big Apple first in the nation with an official brand. Best of all, it’s free.
“Condoms can prevent HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s Health Commissioner. “Abstinence is failsafe, and reducing the number of sexual partners reduces risk of infections. But for sexually active people, using a condom is key to staying healthy.”
Through an Internet-based ordering system, the Health Department has recently boosted the distribution of free condoms from 2.5 million per year to some 18 million per year. The new branding effort will further increase the number. Thatís a whole lotta fuÖuhÖusage.
To find out where to get a free NYC Condom, or to place a bulk order, call 311 or visit www.nyccondom.org
The sports world has been buzzing this week with further news of illegal substance use by celebrated athletes.
Saturday the results of a second drug test on 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis confirmed the elevated levels of testosterone discovered in an earlier post-race test. Landis has been fired by his racing team and may be stripped of his title, in a sport that has a long history of allegations of performance enhancing drug use.
This comes almost a week after the revelation by American sprinter Justin Gatlin that he too had tested positive for testosterone use, banned by the international track federation as a possible performance booster, following a race in April. If this is confirmed he could face a lifetime ban from track and field competition. Gatlin is a co-holder of the World Record in the 100 meters.
Major league baseball has kept up its connection to drug scandal news. On the heels of last weekendís Hall of Fame induction ceremony, speculation has arisen over next yearís eligible candidates, who include former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGuire. McGuire ended his career under a cloud of suspicion over alleged steroid use. Those rumors were exacerbated by his unwillingness to comment openly during Senate hearings on steroid use in sports earlier this year.
All of this while baseball tries to figure out what to do about current home run king Barry Bonds, who while unproven as an illegal substance user, has been the subject of numerous investigations.
The list of alleged or confirmed banned substance users in sports goes on and on: Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, to name a few. But for as long as we have been discussing this issue, and sports leagues and governing bodies have imposed rules, regulations and sanctions, the problem has continued. Those who have tried to bend the rules have grown more clever in their attempts to mask their substance use. So why does the problem persist?
As much as I am no fan of drug use, I also loathe hypocrisy and that issue rears its ugly head all over this problem.
First, letís be clear. We are not talking about ďstreetĒ drugs. These athletes are not accused of using crack, heroin, marijuana or any of the other types of narcotics that are illegal under state or federal law. Most of the substances that sports leagues ban are otherwise legal drugs. You or I could get a doctor to prescribe many of them if they were deemed necessary. It is the fact that they might otherwise boost an already good athleteís ability to perform above their competition, and thus gain an unfair advantage, that makes them ďillegalĒ under sports rules.
Second, over-the-counter, prescription drug abuse is a growing national problem, not just among athletes, but among the rest of us. The pharmaceutical industry has thoroughly convinced us the solution to our problems can be found at the drug store. Canít sleep? Take a sleeping pill. Need to stay up all night? Pop an energy pill. Want to lose weight fast without having to go to a gym? Take a diet pill. Every man over 40 who dreams of having the sex drive he had at 20, knows the holy trinity of Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. Talk about your performance enhancing drugs!
In fact watch about a half hour of television in the evening and you will see commercials for a wide variety of ďsolutionsĒ: Lipitor, Nexium, Rogaine, Zyrtec, are some of the common advertisers. My doctor has told me he has no shortage of patients who self-diagnose through these television ads and want him to prescribe medications. These commercials almost always include the tag line, ďAsk your doctor about (insert name of the drug).Ē
Is it any wonder then athletes also seek solutions to their competitive problems through drugs? They have been raised in the same environment as everyone else. They are receiving the same subliminal messages we all are. To the argument that athletes are dependent on their bodies and should not risk their health in this manner, well yes, but they also have a narrow window within which to earn a living off that body. Most sports stars are considered over the hill by age 30 and need to get as much mileage as they can in just a few years before opportunities diminish. Thatís not an excuse to use performance enhancers, but the short-term gains may seem to far outweigh the long-term health considerations.
To my mind, appealing to people from a health standpoint is the only way to really address it adequately. Americans love the militaristic jingoism of a ďWar on
DrugsĒ just like the ďWar on TerrorismĒ or the ďWar on CrimeĒ but history shows weíve lost or are losing all of those wars.
We also love to point the figure of blame at ďthose people.Ē In this case itís the sports community, but in other instances it has been inner city (read: Black) communities, people in show business, liberals, hippies, or anybody else we want to make the scapegoat. Some of the biggest critics have themselves been the biggest hypocrites and prescription drug abusers.
But in reality, it is all of us. America is a nation of drug users and unless we recognize that very simple and basic fact, we will never really begin to deal with the problem.
Instead of punitive laws or rules, we need to be teaching people about the real long-term negative health repercussions of drug dependence and providing effective drug treatment programs to help those who are addicted, whether to prescription or street drugs. We need to begin at an early age teaching people the value of proper diet, exercise and rest as a way to a healthier lifestyle. Cracking the whip, getting tough with offenders and imposing new sanctions, has never worked and will only result in another generation of people who donít understand the consequence of their actions but who will work diligently to circumvent the rules.
Iíve got a secret I havenít shared with very many people. Itís nothing to be ashamed of, I guess. Itís part of who I am. Itís just that when I try to talk about it, I get strange looks from people who canít understand how I could possibly be one of them. But silence = death and I can be silent no more. Itís time to come out of the closet.
Iím a frustrated outdoorsman. Even though I havenít had a chance to do much of it in recent years, Iím into camping, fishing, and I have a burning desire to try hunting. I have been skydiving and donít rule out other outdoor activities either. There, Iíve said it.
I love peace and quiet, the serenity of being surrounded by trees, smelling fresh air and feeling dirt under my feet. When you live in the most urban of urban jungles, New York, getting in touch with nature means sunning yourself in Central Park. Honey, that ainít nature.
No, Iím talking about going somewhere where your cellphone wonít get a signal. Where there arenít one hundred thousand other people with the same idea. Some place where all you hear are the sounds of birds and insects, and at night the only light comes from the moon, if the sky is clear.
Iím an upstate New Yorker by birth, and even though I grew up in a small city, we were close enough to wilderness to go camping in the summer as kids. Dad took us fishing in lakes and streams and when I got older, we also went deep-sea fishing for blues off Long Island Sound. That was some of the most fun Iíve ever had.
From time to time Iíve asked my brothers if they were interested in going fishing and maybe getting their kids involved, you know, kinda trying to pass along the experiences we had with our Dad. But to date nothing has ever happened.
Something Keith wrote a few weeks ago rekindled my thinking on this topic. In high school, I was on the football and track teams and while I wonít pretend I was a great athlete, playing sports had me in the best physical condition of my life. I now get to the gym several times a week and while Iím in great shape for my age, frankly Iím bored by the workouts. In high school just the regular routine of practice and competition kept me in shape. It was a workout for a specific purpose. What I need, and want now, is a focus to my physical activities.
New York City offers a lot of diversions, but theyíre all ďcityĒ things; theatre, restaurants, museums, shopping, etc. All things I enjoy, but Iím also drawn to less common activities and unafraid to be the odd man out. Growing up, I was the lone Black kid who knew anything about ice hockey.
Now I find myself fascinated by ESPN Outdoors and the hunting shows on OLN. Iím on the mailing lists for several catalogs. I read Field and Stream and get emails from bike manufacturers. While some people dream of exotic trips to Paris or the next Black Pride event, my fantasy vacation involves bowhunting for whitetail or sitting in a marsh awaiting a flock of southern migrating geese or maybe getting a backpack and a bike and traveling across country.
But any time you come out, youíre left wondering if youíre all alone, and this is no exception. Iíve been told my whole life Black people arenít supposed to do such and such (usually by other Black people), and certainly Black gay men donít do physical or athletic things (not unless weíre dancing or naked). Thinking outside boxes of our own creation is scary for some. Thus finding community around my interests remains a challenge.