About

WHY I DO WHAT I DO

photoMy work in the addiction and recovery field began as a public service, but it quickly became a personal mission that has been the focus of my pediatric practice for the past 21 years. During that time, I have organized and supported a wide range of community outreach and education programs, public awareness campaigns, legislative initiatives, and professional education seminars on this topic. I believe that my extensive background in this arena, along with a drive and passion for addiction education and policy reform, makes me an ideal and well-qualified candidate for membership on the National Committee on Substance Abuse.

My introduction to addiction issues began in 1987, when the Beverly Hills PTA invited me to be their health representative for the school district. In that capacity, I spearheaded an AIDS Education project, which won the National PTA’s first prize for educational programs in eight western states. As I familiarized myself with the effects of AIDS on the adolescent population, it became apparent that alcohol and drug abuse were significant contributors to the kind of irresponsible sexual practices that transmit the disease. The more I learned about alcohol and drug abuse, the more I saw the havoc it wreaked in every aspect of youngsters’ lives, and the more I felt drawn to be of service in this field.

UNDERAGE DRINKING AND ADDICTION ISSUES

After studying addiction extensively, I was struck by the consistent behavior patterns among those with addictive personalities. What happened next was an unexpected and painful realization about my own life: I shared many of the characteristics of the youngsters I was helping—I had to face that I been bulimic for 28 years. For more than two decades, I had quietly suffered with an eating disorder that had eroded my spirit, health, and family life.

I quickly made a commitment to my own recovery, choosing a healthy lifestyle one day at a time through participation in the Beverly Hills Health Champions program. I found a way to live sanely, and found myself sharing a message of recovery in a much more personal and passionate way.

After several tragic alcohol-related deaths in Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, and Santa Monica, I decided to use my newfound knowledge and my background in grassroots organizing with the PTA to launch a local coalition to examine underage drinking.

Sadly, because the media so often portrays Beverly Hills and surrounding neighborhoods as glamorous, the drinking and drug use that go on there are glamorized as well. But addiction and drug and alcohol abuse are deadly serious wherever they occur. One of our local students, Kyra Adams, watched four teenagers burn to death in an alcohol and acid celebration on Halloween, 1989. Our coalition asked Kyra, who had witnessed this senseless event from a nearby car, to speak to students and parents about what she had seen.  Her videotaped address, which was distributed nationwide under the title “Straight Talk: The Truth About Alcohol and Drugs,” garnered the National PTA’s first prize for educational programming.

I also went on to work closely with Barbara Bloomberg, founder of Los Angeles Mothers Against Drunk Driving (LA MADD), whose son was killed in an alcohol-related car crash. Barbara took me to my first alcohol policy coalition meeting, where I came to see that creating public policy was far more effective than being a gadfly or a grassroots organizer.

By 1990, I began examining how adults’ attitudes toward drug and alcohol consumption affected teenagers. I believed that adults in our community were sending tacit messages to youngsters that drug and alcohol use were okay. For instance, our PTA had a policy of serving alcohol at functions on school property, a practice that has since been halted. I also requested that Cedars Sinai examine its policies on serving alcohol at meetings held on its premises, especially when doctors in attendance are on call.

SELF-HELP AND RECOVERY

I joined the board of SHARE!, in 1992. This is a self-help and recovery exchange that provides meeting space to more than 60 self-help groups in the Los Angeles area, and offers technical assistance, training, advertising and advice about 10,000 self-help groups nationwide. SHARE! also works to develop collaborative housing for recovering addicts with co-occuring mental health problems.

In 1998, the local chapter of the AAP invited me to chair its Substance Abuse Program. In that role, I collaborated on several articles, including one for California Pediatrician about the growing use of so-called “club drugs.” I also used this platform with the AAP to raise awareness about the importance of treating co-occuring mental illness in teenage addicts and alcoholics, and educated my colleagues on the effects of secondhand smoke on children.

keychainAround the same time, I launched a public awareness campaign about the dangers of drunk driving, including creating and manufacturing (with my then teenage son) a key chain that is, to this day, distributed at public events, and popular with police departments and other public institutions. The key chain bears the slogan: “For the ultimate recycling experience: If you don’t designate a driver, designate your organs.”

In 2001, after my husband and I divorced, I moved to Santa Monica, where I was fortunate enough to live in an apartment directly below the late Ken Shonlau, a warm and humble man who was one of the premier advocates for sober housing in California. I worked with Ken on his mission to found The Venice Recovery Center, which provides meeting space for recovery groups and offers their members classes, literature, supplies and referrals.  It is my hope to carry on Ken’s work in as elegant and as understated a manner as he did.

In 2007, I became a part-time resident of Mercer Island, WA, where I am now licensed, and joined an alcohol policy coalition that addresses underage drinking, particularly parents’ misguided practice of “social hosting,” in which they serve alcohol to underage teens with the excuse that they can keep an eye on them that way.

PUBLIC OUTREACH

In the past few years, a primary focus of my public outreach has been creating smoke-free environments for children and adults. In 2004, I attended the Smoke Free Homes Champions Symposium, which teaches pediatricians how to reduce children’s secondhand smoke exposure through parental cessation programs and other harm-reduction methods.  The symposium was a collaboration of the AAP, the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Association of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAI), which worked together to develop educational programs. I also supported a coalition of students at Santa Monica Community College, who launched a successful campaign to ban smoking anywhere on their campus, even outdoors.

Currently, I am collaborating with my mentor, Esther Schiller, the Executive Director of Smoke-free Air for Everyone, on issues of drifting smoke in multi-unit housing. We recently addressed the Santa Monica City Council, which passed a “baby-step” ordinance banning smoking in common areas in such buildings.

Last year, I attended a conference sponsored by Most of Us, an organization that uses positive marketing messages, rather than “health terrorism” campaigns, to effect social change. I was very moved by their approach, which I believe is an effective and dynamic way to influence public policy.

Another recent, and very important focus of my attention has been the relationship between childhood trauma (including verbal abuse) and addiction and other health issues. I have closely followed the work of V.J. Felitti M.D., whose Ace Study analyzed and quantified this correlation. Last year, at my invitation, Dr. Felitti addressed a group of pediatricians and psychiatrists at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

Finally, as a member of the Substance Abuse Committee, I would bring my extensive background in community-based activism and education about substance abuse, smoking issues, and other public health concerns. I would also bring a tireless passion for helping children avoid the life-destroying effects of alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictions.   I have been fortunate to be of service to many residents of the state of California, and would be honored to extend my service by working at the national level.

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