General Health

“This Was Not The Good Death We Were Promised”

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

[Published in The New York Times, Sunday Review, January 7, 2018]

Arianna Vairo for NYT

When my father was dying of pancreatic cancer last summer, I often curled up with him in the adjustable hospital bed set up in his bedroom. As we watched episodes of “The Great British Baking Show,” I’d think about all the things I couldn’t promise him.

I couldn’t promise that the book he’d been working on would ever be published. I couldn’t promise he would get to see his childhood friends from England one more time. I couldn’t even promise he’d find out who won the baking show that season.

But what I could promise — or I thought I could — was that he would not be in pain at the end of his life.

That’s because after hearing for years about the unnecessary medicalization of most hospital deaths, I had called an in-home hospice agency to usher him “off this mortal coil,” as my literary father still liked to say at 83….

[to keep reading, click here]

Scientists Enter Political Fray To Defend Silly-Sounding Research

Friday, June 16th, 2017

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Biologist Patricia Brennan, examining an Orca whale penis.

The national March for Science on April 22 – and satellite events around New England – mark a departure for many scientists. Until recently, they did not consider political activism part of their job. But over the past few years, a growing number of researchers – including targets of political attacks – say it’s time to come out swinging. And that includes defending what might sound like unusual lines of inquiry. [Aired on New England Public Radio April 20, 2017]

Treatment Island: Addicts Sent To Recover Off Coast of Cape Cod

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

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About a dozen miles off the coast of Cape Cod sits a rustic island named Penikese — part of the Elizabeth island chain. A hundred years ago, Penikese was home to a leper colony, then a school for troubled boys and a bird sanctuary. In the fall of 2016, Penikese opened to its newest incarnation — a treatment program for opioid addicts. [Aired November 2016 on New England Public Radio, and December 2016 on WHYY's The Pulse. Also part of the New England News Collaborative.]

Heroin Addicts (Willingly) Trade Freedom for Treatment

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

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A sign urging families to consider civil commitment, at the Greenfield courthouse.

Massachusetts is one of 38 states where someone who abuses drugs or alcohol to an extreme can be legally committed to a locked treatment facility. In most cases, a worried family member has to go to court to make that happen.

But one recent trend that has surprised even court officials is how many addicts are appealing directly to a judge — willing to give up their civil rights in exchange for some help.

Aired on New England Public Radio October 19, 2016.

National version aired on NPR’s All Things Considered November 15, 2016

Vets Get Alternative Treatment for PTSD, But Not Always Evidence-Based

Monday, October 17th, 2016

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The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates up to 30 percent of former service members — from the Vietnam war to Iraq and Afghanistan –have post traumatic stress disorder. They don’t all seek treatment – but among those who do, the V-A says twenty to forty percent don’t get better with the standard regimen of therapy, medication, or both. Increasingly veterans are seeking out alternative mental health care – and much of it untested.

Aired on New England Public Radio July 18, 2016

Kinder, Gentler Policing: Rethinking The War On Drugs

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

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Last year, the police chief of Gloucester Massachusetts made an unusual offer on his department’s Facebook page. Heroin addicts who come

Montague Police Chief Chip Dodge

voluntarily to the police station will not get arrested; they’ll get help.The post went viral and led to the creation of  the Gloucester Angel program, in which the police help addicts find drug treatment options. The Gloucester effort has gotten national press and spread to dozens of other police departments around the country. Karen Brown spent time with one New England police chief who was inspired by the Gloucester example – though with not quite the same results. [Aired on WHYY's The Pulse, Feb 2016, and New England Public Radio, March 2016.]