GUEST BLOG: CA Bills Provide Hope to Stem Overdose Tide

a portrait of Ramon Castellblanch, PhDby Ramon Castellblanch, PhD
Quality Healthcare Concepts, Inc.

Two desperately-needed bills that would be steps in the direction of reducing California’s opioid overdose death toll, AB 2384 (Arambula) and AB 2487 (McCarty), are on the State Senate floor and are moving toward the Governor’s desk. In 2016, over 2,000 Californians died of opioid overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, California’s drug overdose rate rose in 2017. It likely is still rising. The death toll is worst for older Californians, as our state’s age group with the highest number of opioid overdose deaths is 55 and older.

an opioid pill bottle just waiting to kill grandma

Read more ...

Faced With Breast Cancer, Reporter Confronts Big Alcohol's Biggest Lie

The breast is among the most common sites for cancer in the United States. Alcohol use is among the most common behavioral risk factors for cancer in the United States. It should be simple to draw the line between these two facts, but, as writer Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, decades of alcohol industry deception have left most Americans only dimly aware of that fact.

Mencimer’s piece, bluntly titled “Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?”, tells a compelling tale of the author’s confrontation with her own tumor in the context of a health system that never quite got a grip on alcohol harm. She traces the complex history of the “healthy drinking” narrative, including 40 years of industry sponsored science intended to muddy the waters. She admits that she, too, bought into the wine lobby’s charming lie that red wine is good for you. As she points out, “people want to believe that a drink is good for them, and the science in this field is easy to manipulate to convince them.”

The article comes at a perfect time for the alcohol harm prevention community. As the academic community becomes embroiled in a series of corrupt practices at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Big Alcohol is frantically trying to fight off public health measures in Canada, Australia, and Europe to warn consumers that its products are carcinogenic. The latter fight is more than just token opposition from the industry. According to the 2018 Global Drugs Survey, 40% of respondents said that these cancer warnings would affect the amount they drink.

“We need every legislator and their staff to read this,” said Sara Cooley, Advocacy Manager of the California Alcohol Policy Alliance. “And every CAPA member, and potential ally. So incredibly comprehensive of our field, the issues, and the players.”

“Did Drinking Give Me Breast Cancer?” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of Mother Jones. Mencimer has continued to cover alcohol issues for the magazine’s online channels, including the recent Lancet study that showed links between drinking and all-cause mortality, and the trap behind the language of “moderate drinking”. This shift in the media narrative is promising for Americans trying to seize control of their health—but Big Alcohol still has many other magazines in which to sell cancerous half-truths.

READ MORE about the unfolding NIAAA scandal.

READ MORE about how Big Alcohol makes bucks off of breast cancer.


Researchers Warn: With Great Power Comes No Social Responsibility

Alcohol company initiatives to reduce alcohol harm actually serve to undermine public health.

Never trust a big bottle and a smile, say researchers Melissa Mialon and Jim McCambridge of the University of York. The pair recently published a review of 21 studies looking at the efforts Big Alcohol has made to paper over the harms that stem from its products. These efforts, collectively referred to as "corporate social responsibility" or CSR initiatives, turned out to be toothless when it comes to reducing alcohol harms. However, they were often extremely effective at product marketing and undercutting good public health policy.

CSR initiatives form the "friendly face" of many alcohol companies. The team identified several broad focuses, including the prevention of intoxicated driving, "responsible drinking" education, research support, and policy involvement. In each of these fields, the campaigns were inherently deceptive. For instance, research on industry intoxicated driving campaigns showed that "[less than] 1% of studied initiatives were based on any scientific evidence of effectiveness for reducing drink driving." Likewise, responsible drinking messages did not serve to curb over-consumption. Instead, they sent the message that the act of drinking is inherently normal and responsible.

Research and policy efforts were more nakedly intended to skew public health efforts away from evidence-based interventions. As an example, the paper identifies successful industry efforts to change health agency language away from "alcohol and other drugs" to "substance abuse". This simple language change takes alcohol from a substance of concern that is worth monitoring to one that is benign unless it is misused. CSRs also lend a veneer of responsibility to industry self-regulation, a consistently ineffective and two-faced strategy that nonetheless keeps the regulatory dogs at bay. Last, by focusing research and policy around individual misuse, research and policy CSRs place the responsibility for harm on the consumer. "This framing lies in direct conflict with a public health conceptualization of harmful drinking," the authors write, "and with the scientific evidence-base on how it may be reduced."

Social responsibility campaigns remain surprisingly understudied, a deficit that is quickly proving dangerous. As Big Alcohol's reach gets longer, the tools it uses to twist public understanding of alcohol get more robust. By exposing those tools, Mialon and McCambridge give the public health community a fighting chance to set it right.

(Mialon and McCambridge's paper, "Alcohol Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative and Harmful Drinking: a Systematic Review," is available for free download from the European Journal of Public Health.)

READ MORE about the failures of industry self-regulation.

READ MORE about how Big Alcohol puts government researchers in its pocket.

READ MORE about the great lie of "responsible drinking".