General Health

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.]

Staying Alive: The Art and Science of Living to 100

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

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Photo by Karen Brown/Peter Chilton.

More people are living to a hundred than ever before — twice as many as twenty years ago. And they’re often living quite well – which is why centenarians have become a popular group to study in the science of aging.

Listen here to an audio essay of my quest to meet centenarians in Western Massachusetts and learn the secret to their longevity. Voices of: Arky Markham, Helen Backiel Krok, Althea Cowles and Eva Blondin. (Music by John Townsend.)

This story was first performed as a staged reading at Live Art Magazine in Northampton, MA on Oct. 23, 2015.

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Scurvy Is A Serious Public Health Problem – Even If You’re Not An 18th Century Pirate

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

[From Slate, November 20, 2015]

In the winter of 2009, Eric Churchill was called to a patient’s bedside at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, to help out with a medical mystery.

The middle-aged man had shown up with bleeding gums, unexplained swelling, bruises, and fatigue. His team of internists suspected a skin infection, but every bacterial test came up negative. They were stumped until, Churchill recalls, “someone eventually thought to ask about this person’s diet.”

It turns out the man, who was mentally ill and lived alone in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, had eaten nothing but white bread and American cheese … for years. “And this had led to these very severe nutritional deficiencies,” Churchill says.

The man’s vitamin C levels were so low, he qualified for a disease Churchill hadn’t thought about since medical school: scurvy. The same scurvy made famous by pirates and British sailors from the 1700s, who would go for months or years at sea without fresh produce, experiencing symptoms from rashes to hemorrhaging. Back then, scurvy killed more seafarers than storms and shipwrecks combined….

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