Friday, March 30, 2012

3/30/12: Banning the sale of synthetic marijuana products in New York State

On March 29, 2012, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H. issued an order of summary action banning the sale of synthetic marijuana products in New York State. These substances, generally referred to as "synthetic marijuana", consist of plant material coated by chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. These products are being sold as a "legal alternative" to marijuana in convenience stores, smoke shops, and tobacco stores with brand names such as "Spice", "K2", "Mr. Nice Guy", and "Galaxy Gold".
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo called upon the Department of Health to take action to ban the sale of these dangerous products.
The order states, "synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to severe adverse reactions, including death and acute renal failure, and commonly cause: tachycardia (increased heart rate); paranoid behavior, agitation and irritability; nausea and vomiting; confusion; drowsiness; headache; hypertension; electrolyte abnormalities; seizures; and syncope (loss of consciousness).
The Commissioner's order calls for sales and distribution of these products to cease immediately and it calls upon local health officials to distribute the order and check for compliance.
Last week, the Commissioner sent special health alerts to local health departments, emergency departments and other health care providers to make them aware of the dangers of these products.
The New York State ban is much stronger than the current temporary DEA ban on 5 synthetic cannabinoid compounds in that it encompasses products with a wide variety of chemical compounds that are synthesized to mimic the actions of THC.
In Ulster County, the town and village of Saugerties are currently in the process of conducting public hearings to move forward with laws that would ban the sale of all synthetic drugs, and county officials have expressed support for a county-wide ban.
The New York State order is available here:

Cheryl DePaolo
Director, Ulster Prevention Council
85 Grand St.
Kingston, NY 12401
Voice: 845-458-7406
Fax: 845-458-7407
Cell: 845-392-4714

Friday, March 23, 2012

3/23/12: Alcohol Acts Like a Computer Virus in a Teen Brain

 Alcohol Acts Like a Computer Virus in a Teen Brain

Discussing brain science can sometimes put even seasoned professionals to sleep, but understanding this material is crucial in making the case for youth delaying drinking. This week I was looking for ways to explain the effects of alcohol on the developing brain.

I found a great resource at, a site is sponsored by the state of Utah. While the site is designed primarily for parents, I recommend it to educators, human services providers and all those interested in alcohol prevention.

Among the wealth of materials on this site, I found a wonderful series of brain science lessons entitled How Alcohol Can Damage a Teen’s Developing Brain Causing Brain Impairment and Early Addiction at This lesson packet contains posters, lesson plans, worksheets and a fact sheet from the AMA. The lessons are grounded in research and a bibliography is provided.

One of the lessons used an analogy that I think is brilliant in discussing this topic with teens: Alcohol acts like a computer virus in a teen brain!

The lesson explains the role of the prefrontal cortex in governing good judgment, planning ahead, decision-making and impulse control, helping youth to avoid antisocial behavior and become thoughtful, responsible adults. The majority of prefrontal cortex brain wiring takes place during the ages of 12 to 16, and continues to develop until about age 24.  The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory, and goes through a developmental “spurt” during the ages of 12 to 24.

The lesson goes on to explain that alcohol is a chemical which, if consumed before our brains are fully developed, interferes with chemical neurotransmitters and damages our brain neuron wiring. Alcohol acts like a computer virus in our brain. It slows or shuts down brain activity, thus keeping a teen brain from making connections and properly wiring. Drinking alcohol as a teen is like turning off the power when you are trying to download new software.

What would happen if you had a power-outage right when you were trying to load new software on your computer? It wouldn’t be there when the power came on.

Alcohol acts the same way on a still-developing brain. Important neural connections that we need to be a responsible, thoughtful adult may not be wired into our brains, making life more difficult for us, and those who will depend on us. We may be harmed in ways we cannot predict, becoming less than we could be.
Alcohol damage can cause young people to:
- develop social problems.
- have poor judgment.
- get into trouble.
- struggle in school.
- experience failure in achieving life-long goals.
Most alcohol brain damage doesn’t show up right away, until your brain is needed to handle complex jobs or relationships, and then it may be too late. Why is it important for teens to understand brain development and wiring? So they can protect their brain while it is developing.

Alcohol use not only harms a teen’s brain wiring, it also hijacks the brain’s pleasure-reward system, causing the brain to crave alcohol pleasure and leading to a great increase in the risk of alcohol addiction. 40% of kids who begin drinking at age 15 will become alcohol dependant as adults.

I hope that you find this analogy, and the rest of the materials at, as helpful as I did!


Friday, March 16, 2012

3/16/12: BEER PONG: Where Getting Drunk is the Aim of the Game

The following is from the Drug Free Action Alliance:
What is beer pong? It’s a game where one person (or team) tries to bounce a ping-pong ball into a beer-filled plastic cup in order to make their opponent have to drink it. It seems it would not take much skill or athleticism to accomplish this task, yet there exist various local and national beer pong “sporting” leagues as well as a World Series of Beer Pong. Then there are the many “sporting” accessories, like beer pong tournament tables, balls and even themed clothing, that can be easily acquired online or in local retail stores. Now you can add a beer to that growing list of branded products, specific to this highly popular, definitely dangerous, drinking game.
According to marketing and sales guru Neal Frank, beer pong has become a $300 million dollar business industry and is increasing. It is also the reason behind his recent creation: Pong Beer. His low-priced beer comes with an attention-getting gimmick called the Rack Pack, which includes 30 cans of beer and two pong game balls.
On the company’s official website, Pong Beer claims to be an active leader in promoting alcohol responsibility, referencing initiatives that include identifying programs that encourage the prevention of drunk driving, the importance of addressing and educating consumers on dangers of binge drinking, as well as the company’s Zero Tolerance Policy on underage drinking. Against underage drinking and binge drinking?
Just google “beer pong” and let the pictures and stories speak for themselves. You won’t see or hear from too many adults, nor are you likely to witness so-called “responsible drinking.” As one internet user put it, as he was providing his how-to guide to playing beer pong: “Just remember, it's all about having fun and getting drunk.”
Pong Beer is currently available in 15 states, including New York, and the distribution list continues to grow.

Cheryl DePaolo
Director, Ulster Prevention Council
85 Grand St.
Kingston, NY 12401
Voice: 845-458-7406
Fax: 845-458-7407
Cell: 845-392-4714

Friday, March 9, 2012

3/9/12: Should We Teach Youth to Drink Responsibly at Home?

Ulster Prevention Council blog 3/9/12: Should We Teach Youth to Drink Responsibly at Home?

Often when I speak to community groups about underage drinking, a question is raised regarding youth drinking in European countries. A common perception is that youth in European countries are introduced to alcohol in cultural context that reduces heavy and harmful drinking.  The idea is often expressed that because the drinking age in the U.S. is 21, much higher than in European countries, youth miss out on the opportunity to learn to drink within family settings where moderate drinking is the norm. 

I decided that I needed more information in order to address these questions knowledgeably and accurately, and I was curious. Is there evidence that European youth drink less and experience fewer problems than their American counterparts?

Fortunately, we have significant data available in the form of the large European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). ESPAD surveys students every four years, and in the last survey available (2007) 35 European countries collaborated, gathering data from more than 100,000 students. The questionnaire was closely modeled after the U.S. Monitoring the Future (MTF)survey and questions from the two surveys map closely onto one another.
Based on analysis of the 2007 ESPAD data by Bettina Friese and Joel W. Grube from the Prevention Research Center Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, the comparison of drinking rates and alcohol-related problems among youth with 2007 MTF data does not provide support for the belief that Western European youth drink more responsibly than youth in the U.S.
In comparison with youth in the U.S.:
  • A greater percentage of youth from nearly all European countries report drinking in the past 30 days;
  • A majority of the European countries have higher intoxication rates among youth;
  • For a majority of European countries, a greater percentage of youth report having been intoxicated before the age of 13
The rate of current drinking among youth in the U.S. is significantly lower than that for any of the Western European countries in this study with the exception of Iceland, where the legal drinking age is 20, the highest in Western Europe.
The study concludes that there is no evidence that the more liberal policies and drinking socialization practices in Europe are associated with lower levels of intoxication.
 Studies have consistently shown that youth who start drinking and heavy drinking at a younger age are at significantly greater risk for damage to the developing brain and a range of alcohol problems, including car crashes, drinking and driving, suicidal thoughts and attempts, unintentional injury, as well as drug and alcohol dependence later in life (e.g., Dawson, Goldstein, Chou, Ruan, & Grant, 2008; Hingson & Zha, 2009; Hingson, Edwards, Heeren, & Rosenbloom, 2009; Hingson, Heeren, & Edwards, 2008).

The ESPAD data provides much more rich information about alcohol and drug trends among European youth. I’m glad that I was able to find creditable information to share with parents, youth, professionals and community members to address the question of cultural contexts for youth drinking and further basis for supporting the legal drinking age of 21, at home as well as in the community.

For a copy of this and other ESPAD reports, email me or visit


Friday, March 2, 2012

3/2/12: It’s About Saving Lives

Ulster Prevention Council Blog 3/2/12

It’s About Saving Lives.

This morning I had the good fortune to attend the American Cancer Society Live Legislative Breakfast Talk Show at the Holiday Inn in Kingston. The topic was the state of New York’s tobacco prevention program.
I want to thank the American Cancer Society for reminding me why this funding is so important, and why I work in the prevention field.

As each speaker recounted how his/her own life had been personally affected by cancer, loved ones came to mind.  Last June I lost my beloved father to stomach cancer. I lost my grandfather to lung cancer, and a close friend, only 49 years old and a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and is currently fighting for her life.

In the US, men have slightly less than a 1 in 2 lifetime risk of developing cancer; for women, the risk is a little more than 1 in 3.  In 2012, about 577,190 Americans are expected to die of cancer, more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second most com­mon cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. About 1,638,910 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2012.

An estimated 226,160 new cases of lung cancer are expected in 2012, accounting for about 14% of cancer diagnoses. Lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer in both men and women. An estimated 160,340 deaths, accounting for about 28% of all cancer deaths, are expected to occur in 2012.

Cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for lung cancer; risk increases with both quantity and duration of smoking. Male smokers are about 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers. The number of lung cancer deaths among women surpasses those for breast cancer.
Nearly a quarter of high school students in the U.S. smoke cigarettes. Another 8% use smokeless tobacco. Smoking has many health risks for everyone. However, the younger you are when you start smoking, the more problems it can cause. According to the NIH, people who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time quitting.  About 30% of youth smokers will continue smoking and die early from a smoking-related disease.
Tobacco control program have been proven to reduce youth smoking and help current smokers to quit. When more adequately funded, the New York tobacco control programs achieved successes in the effort to curb tobacco use. Teenage and adult tobacco use rates have fallen faster in New York than in the U.S. as a whole. In 2010, 12.6 percent of teenagers and 15.5 percent of adults were smokers.

However, New York has slashed its tobacco control budget. Since 2007, state funding has been cut in half, and New York has dropped from 5th to 20th among states per capita spending on tobacco control. Did you know that in New York, only about four pennies of every dollar raised by tobacco revenues goes to help people quit smoking?

With more resources, New York could target more resources to adult cessation, increase community level interventions, increase funding for anti-smoking media messages, and develop and implement strategies for reaching those in high-risk populations.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network provides a simple way to advocate for appropriate levels of funding: Visit to email your state legislators to increase funding for tobacco control programming.
Remember, it’s about saving lives!


Cheryl De Paolo
Family Services
Ulster Prevention Council
Program Director
85 Grand Street
Kingston, NY 12401
Phone 845-458-7406
Fax 845-458-7407