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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with Tom Hedrick and Lorraine Popper of Partnership at DrugFree.org

Before school yesterday, I got to interview Tom Hedrick and Lorraine Popper from the Partnership at DrugFree.org. A lot of people have heard of them by their old name, the Partnership for a Drug Free America.  A lot of people have seen their "This is your brain on drugs commercials". I was a little nervous as this was my first interview over the phone instead of just emailing my questions.  Mr. Hedrick is one of the founders of the Partnership and Ms Popper is one of the people on the Parent Advisory Board.  She also works on the commercials and other advertising for the Partnership.  I hope you like the interview!


PMAKid: Tell me how the Partnership at DrugFree.org first started.  My dad remembers the commercials from when he was young so you have been around for a long time?

Tom Hedrick: Yes. I was one of the founders - not quite twenty five years ago - in 1985 and 86 - when drugs were an even bigger problem for the country then they are today. Crack cocaine in particular was an epidemic of use of young people and people in the cities and it was creating a lot of violence and crime.  It was associated - unfortunately - with the spread of AIDS, the breakdown of families, school dropouts and a lack of productivity in the workforce.  The Partnership was started to be a voice for families and for parents about how harmful drugs can be to families and individuals and society and help provide a different point of view then was being promoted at the time, which was that drugs were fun and harmless and okay for everybody.



PMAKid: Your organization used to be called the Partnership for a Drug Free America.  Now it is called the Partnership At DrugFree.org.  When did you change your name and why did you change it?

Tom Hedrick: Wow.  Tough question.  Good question. I am going to ask Lorraine to help step in on this.  We changed it about a year ago.  We changed it praimarily so people would associate the name with the website - DrugFree.org - so that parents and families would know that there were resources for them if they have drug and alcohol issues with their kids and their families and that they wont be alone and that there is a place where they can go to get help and to be supported by other parents.

Lorraine Popper: And it's in the name itself. When people say, well where do I go for help? It's already in the name - DrugFree.org. So it makes it very very easy. So many parents, one of the first things that comes to mind when they find out their children have a drug problem, they don't know who to turn to.  They don't know where to go.  "Do I go online?" They are sometimes embrassaed and ashamed to go to a neighbor or a friend. Right in the name itself is the website where there is so much information and so many tools and resources and stories from other parents.  Like Tom said, the most important message we can send to them is "You're not alone".

Tom Hedrick: Julian, Did you have a chance to go to the website at all?

PMAKid: Yes I did, yesterday.

Tom Hedrick: Good.  Well one of the things you'll notice is that there are other diseases that families face, like diabetes, and autism and ADHD and things like that.  There are plenty of places on the website and plenty of university medical centers where they can get help and support. There are very few organizations like that for people who face drug and alcohol issues and that's why we wanted to have such a place for families because they needed it and they deserved it too.

PMAKid: The Partnership became famous because of its "This is your brain on drugs" commercials. The one where the girl is saying "this is your brain on heroin" is insanely good! I have not seen any Partnership commercials except what I have seen online. Is the Partnership going to be doing any new commercials soon?

Tom Hedrick: Yes. We are going to continue to do commercials.  We do not get as much air time for them now that there are so many other pressing issues like the economy, and the need for jobs in the country, but yes we will continue to do them for parents and families. As a matter of fact, Lorraine is not just a parent who advises us on what to do, but she's also the creative director of an advertising agency who has done commercials for television and for radio and for newspapers and for magazines and online, so she will hopefully continue to do commercials and feel free to ask her any questions about that.

PMAKid: When the Partnership first started, it was when crack cocaine was become a major problem.  Is crack cocaine still as much of a problem? What are some of the other drugs which are real problems right now and what is so bad about them.  I mean...what do they do to you?

Tom Hedrick: Wow.  You really did your homework. I'm very impressed. Many reporters who are my age don't ask as good questions as you. Crack cocaine will always be a problem. It is a very addictive drug, but the number of people who use cocaine is down dramatically since the 1980s in large part because of the commercials that people like Lorraine has done. The big problem today, Julian, is young people - somewhat older then you, 12, 13, 14, 15 - who are using prescription drugs. Prescription drugs that are needed for the relief of pain from surgery, for cancer, the use of stimulents for diseases like ADHD, the use of tranquilizers or sedatives for people who have sleep disorders.  All those kinds of good medicines are being abused by people to get high without the use of prescriptions.  The reason that it's dangerous in as many as one out of five teenagers have reported as having done this is that prescription drugs - even though they are made by legal companies and they are legal drugs - when they are abused they can be just as dangerous and just as addictive and unfortunately just as deadly as so-called street drugs like cocaine.

Lorraine Popper: I'll share with you - my son - a lot of times people think "smoking weed, smoking marijuana, it's just pot, y'know, it won't do anything to me". Well, he became addicted to pot and he was smoking it every single day.  It started to affect his schoolwork. It started to affect his memory, his personality, made him cranky and irritable all the time. He couldn't focus in class and eventually at the age of 14 he had to go into a residential rehabilitation program for almost two years.  He learned how to deal with his problems and how to say no and how to avoid situations like that, so the whole idea the "pot is a week drug" or "it's nothing" is incorrect as it practically destroyed my family.

Tom Hedrick: Julian, more teens are in drug treatment for marijuana dependence then all other drugs combined. So marijuana is very addictive. I think one of the other problems with Lorraine's son is that his father had an addiction problem.  We know that for kids who have alcohol or addiction problems in their families they are much more vulnerable to becoming addicted when they are young, and need to be extremely careful about using drugs and alcohol, particularly at a young age.

PMAKid: I asked President Obama's drug czar - Director Kerlikowske - about whether or not more money should be spent on treatment then putting people in jail for minor drug crimes.  How does the Partnership feel about spending more money on treatment?  Has the Partnership done any research on the benefits of spending more money on treatment for drug addiction versus putting people in jail?

Tom Hedrick: Doing research on drug treatment is not our expertise, Julian, but yes, we believe in putting people who need treatment, in treatment, as opposed to incarcerating them without getting treatment. That's one of the reasons we changed our name. That's one of the reasons we are trying to help parents find treatments for their kids and also find available drug court diversion programs. As you may know, Julian there are a number of drug courts around the country and I believe in Washington State which is where you and your mother and father live, right?

PMAKid: We're in California.

Tom Hedrick: Oh, California.  Well certainly they are in California. Kids who are arrested for non-violent crimes are given the option to either going to jail or to going into a drug treatment program.  Most of them, of course, choose a drug treatment program. They are called drug courts or drug diversion programs and they definitely need more support from the public.  Anything that you can do on your website to help promote the public support for drug court diversion programs - particularly for young people - would be a huge help to our issue, a huge help to families and parents.

PMAKid: Even though my school celebrates Red Ribbon Week every year, I just learned about the sacrafice of Kiki Camarena who was tortured to death by mexican drug gangs and that was why Red Ribbon Week started - as a way to remember his sacrifice and make a commitment to be drug free.  With all the violence in Mexico happening right now with the drug cartels, what should americans do to try to remember the sacrifice of Kiki Camarena?

Tom Hedrick: Well I think that as we celebrate our servicemen and servicewomen who make huge sacrifices for our freedom, Julian, I think we also need to remember and celebrate the lives and the work of our law enforcement professionals, with the women and men - for example - at the DEA who put their lives on the line every day to help reduce the availability of drugs from places like Mexico, Colombia and other places.  I don't think enough people remember the reason we have Red Ribbon Week.  You know it because you've done your homework, but many people don't.  It's just a red ribbon for many people and it's just about drug prevention and it's not to honor him and his family. Hopefully, one day, if you ever get to Washington, you'll go to the DEA headquarters and see the Wall of Honor, women and men from around the world who have put their lives on the line and have lost their lives to help protect us. I think that we need to honor them and one of the best ways to honor them is to do what we can to help reduce the demand for drugs in our country, particularly with kids and young people not to start because if people don't use drugs - or alcohol when they are young - they are very likely not to become addicted later in life.

So the most important thing we can do is to get kids to not start and to get them help immediately if they do develop problems, just as Lorraine was able to do with her son - I think in large part because she was so aware of the potential for tragedy because of her brother. I think it might be worth hearing - if you wouldn't mind, Lorraine - telling the story about how she is in the position she is in.

Lorraine Popper: I had a twin borther and when we were teenagers he started smoking, he started experimenting, smoking pot as a very, very young age. It might have even been when he was 12 or 13.  But then he progressed throughout our lives, he progressed to heavier and more dangerous drugs where he was freebasing crack cocaine, shooting up crack cocaine, and one evening he had a drug overdose and he went into the hospital and he died. He had a one year old son who is techinically my nephew, but he was about to go into foster care because both my brother and my sister-in-law were heavy drug users. They were going to take him away and I decided that I the best person he needs to be with is me. I was the closest thing to his father. His father was my twin brother and I adopted him at the age of one, and I raised him. At the age of 14, that's when he developed - because of both of his parents, well, he started experiementing with drugs.  With both of his parents having an addiction problem, avoiding it was almost impossible.  I knew that we would have a difficult time and we did. He went into rehab.  But, I became a part of the Partnership because I know how much drugs and addiction affects families.  It affected mine. Some people don't like to share their stories. But I am working with the partnership in every capacity I can because losing my brother was the most devastating thing that I've ever gone through.  Watching my mom go through it was just horrendous. Horrible.

Tom Hedrick: There are lots of bad people in the drug issue - people who sell drugs and pass drugs - but there are also a lot of heroes Julian, just like you're becoming a hero in telling this story. I'm inspired everyday by Lorraine and what she's done and had she not been around and adopted her nephew, I'm convinced he wouldn't be alive today. Just like we celebrate Red Ribbon Week, I wish we could celebrate the thousands and tens of thousands of the heros like Lorraine and other parents and young people like you who are making such a difference every day in helping people live healthy, drug free lives.

PMAKid: I had a friend who lived across the street whose parents got hooked on drugs and alcohol and it caused a lot of problems with the family.  They started selling drugs to other people and all the kids were seeing it.  I also just learned that my dad's dad died of a heroin overdose.  What can little kids like me do to help people in our family or our friends when there are people we care about who are hurt because of drugs or alcohol?

Tom Hedrick: I think the most important thing we can do, Julian, is to tell them how much we care and how worried we are and how much we want them to get the help that they need and to realize that the addiction to drugs and alcohol is truly a disease. It's a chronic, relapsing disease like emphysema and diabetes, and it needs professional treatment. It often needs medication. It's not a lack of willpower. It's not a function of poor character or being a bad person or being a bad kid or having bad parents. It is a disease that requires treatment and management. And with help, addiction is treatable and recovery is possible just as Lorraine told you the story about her son. I think that if there is one thing she wished she could do differently, she wished that her brother had made different decisions about getting the help that he needed before he passed away.  I think that while we can't make people do things and they need to do them, rather then the code of silence that seems to surround our issue. I think that if we brought it more to light and if we talked about it...I think that is one of the gifts that Lorraine gives everyday by telling her story. Let's not be ashamed.  Let's not put the issue in the closet. Let's talk about it the way you're doing on your website and in your interviews and bring this to light that it is a disease and that it is treatable and that recovery is possible and that there are millions, and millions, and millions of people today who are free of drugs and alcohol because of treating the disease for what it is.

Lorraine Popper: Watching my brother suffer, watching my son suffer, there's a feeling of "there's something wrong with me, and I don't understand what it is.  Why am I different? I can't stop." Everytime you make a promise to a loved one that you'll never do it again and then you break that promise, they go into a feeling of guilt. They get high again to a point where it doesn't matter anymor. They adopt this defeatest attitude. "I'm going to die anyway." But if they understood that they had a disease, and they needed treatment, if they know that it's a disease and that it's not their fault, and they can't control it and you need to go to a doctor like you had pneumonia or anything else and you can't cure that yourself.  I think we'd save a lot more lives.

Tom Hedrick: Julian, would you like to ask us anything else?  I know you have to go to school, and I don't want to get you in trouble with your parents for being late to school.

PMAKid: Alright, I have a couple more.

PMAKid: My first interview was with Toby Morse (who told my dad that he is working with the partnership for seven months or so).  Toby has never done any drugs or alcohol.  One of my more recent interviews was with Aram Arslanian who became straight edge about 15 years ago when he realized he had a real problem with alcohol.  Why do people look up to famous people who have problems with drugs and alcohol and don't instead look up to people like Toby or Aram or C.J. Wilson from the Texas Rangers? 

Tom Hedrick: Wow. That's another tremendous question, Julian. I think - to be honest - we don't know the real answer to that. I think the people who do drugs, often appear to be the ones who are most popular. Sometimes they do outrageous things. Sometimes, because they are drug fuled, they give the impression of not caring and being care-free, having outrageous behavior, being able to stay up all night. I think young people are in awe of that kind of behavior.  What you don't see behind the scenes of people like that are the tragedies that are going on: the fact that they've lost members of their family, they have abused their children, or their spouses, or their girlfriends, that they can't function, that they've been in jail, that they are quickly going downhill into - hopefully not death - hopefully a place where they can realize that they have a problem. I think many people - unfortunately - who are in recovery don't  speak out like the ones you've interviewed. Again, that's why I think that people like that and people like C.J. and people like Lorraine are so much heros.  Julian, I hope that you celebrate them because many peole who are in recovery don't feel that same sense of obligation to speak out so that they can become role models. We don't have nearly enough of them.

PMAKid: In my recent interview with Aram he said something that is really interesting to me:

"Something that I think is important to consider when talking about SxE is that its completely driven by the HC community. Governments pour millions of dollars a year into anti-drug programs that at best have pretty weak results. But SxE has managed to provide an outlet for thousands of people to choose to live drug free and to have a community of peers to be their support. That’s a really amazing thing and speaks to the power that people have when they are united. "


What are your thoughts on Aram's words?

Tom Hedrick: I couldn't agree more with Aram.  I think exactly the same thing. I think you will hear from Lorraine that having a positive community of sobriety... One of the things that we know is important about recovery and about programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Concaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is that it brings an opportunity for people who are in recovery to be in support systems for each other. One of the things that we learn in recovery is that there is nothing more important than having somebody who fights with you, for your recovery and sobriety.  The same thing is true for young people, Julian, that there are not enough of - what are called - sober high schools, sober colleges where people who have had problems can come out of treatment programs have the opportunity to go to a high school where everybody at the high school is drug free. Everybody at the high school is alcohol free. Everybody in the school is working on their sobriety and works to suport each other in their sobriety.  Too often when kids go away to a program come back to the same peer network and the same bad influences and the same - unfortunately - factors that got them involved in the first place.  We need more opportunities, Julian, just like you've said for people to associate with like-minded others living together in sober situations. Going to meetings everyday in recovery - there's a saying "90 meetings in 90 days" which means every day you go to a recovery meeting.  That's where you get your support and that's how you keep going one day at a time in your recovery and sobriety.

Lorraine Popper: That's the perfect model. That's the model for AA.  It's a room for people where they have people like sponsors where one individual who is coming into the program will have somebody who is sober for a long time.  You can reach out to that person 24 hours a day, 24/7 and be able to talk about your problems or "I'm about to flip" or "I'm standing outside of a bar in or inside a bar" and people will come and rescue you and help you. It's a lifestyle.  It's a new lifestyle. Again, success rate really goes up when you remove yourself from the situation and the temptations. It's very difficult - I'm sure - for young kids because you want to do the things that are fun and go to parties and hang out with your friends, but if you have the addiction, if you have the disease, you have to find a group of people that have the same kind of goal that you have.  You can still have a great life, but you don't have to get high and I think that's the message.

Tom Hedrick: It's hard to - unless you really study and understand the chemistry, Julian - it's hard to understand how dramatic a change in the brain there is from taking drugs and how drugs - literally - hijack the brain and the reward system where the constant message from your brain after a certain period of time is nothing but getting more drugs. You can't think about anything else. You can't do anything else. It's what makes it the disease that it is. That's why it is so dangerous, and kind of like a silent killer in many ways, because you can't see the changes in the brain, but that's what happens.

PMAKid: Thank you so much for the interview.

Tom Hedrick: I speak for Lorraine and I can say we are truly inspired by you Julian, by what you are doing.

Lorraine Popper: Thank you.

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