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NAMI Mass Announces Opposition to Legalized Marijuana Press Release

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 24, 2016

Boston, MA – NAMI Mass, the state’s largest advocacy organization for people and families living with mental illness, is joining a growing coalition of groups voicing its opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.

“Marijuana poses a danger for those with mental illness and young people predisposed to mental illness because of the neurological actions of the drug,” says NAMI Mass Executive Director Laurie Martinelli. “In addition, marijuana use can hinder the effective treatment of mental illness.”

NAMI Mass is issuing this statement from its Board of Directors strongly opposing the ballot measure saying, “Legalizing recreational marijuana use would pose a great threat to the health and wellbeing of those with mental illness as well as young people predisposed to mental illness.”

Research shows many indicators of mental health including psychosis, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, brain function, and psychosocial functioning are all worsened by non-medical marijuana use. NAMI Mass believes the availability of recreational marijuana will pose a great risk to those with mental illness because of both the direct effects on the brain and the consequent effects on treatment adherence.

In its 2013 “Position Statement on Marijuana as Medicine, the American Psychiatric Association wrote, “There is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.”

NAMI Mass joins several prominent state organizations and associations calling for a defeat of the ballot initiative including: the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Association of School Superintendents, the Association for Behavioral Healthcare and all Massachusetts District Attorneys, in addition to Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.

Media Contact: Matt Ellis

Ellis Strategies, Inc.

matt@ellisstrategies.com  | 617-278-6560 

About the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass)

Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is a nonprofit, grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. It is the state’s voice on mental illness, with 21 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental health challenges and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. To that end, the organization offers free, peer-led programs that provide resources, insights, coping skills and genuine support.

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NAMI MASS COMES OUT AGAINST LEGALIZING RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

NAMI Mass Opposes Recreational Marijuana Ballot Initiative

This fall, Massachusetts voters will likely have the opportunity to vote on whether the sale of marijuana for recreational use should be legalized in the Commonwealth. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Massachusetts states its strong opposition to this ballot question because the legalization of recreational marijuana will have detrimental effects for those with mental illness and for people predisposed to mental illness.

Although marijuana use has been legalized for medicinal purposes, the American Psychiatric Association asserts that marijuana should not be used for the treatment of any mental illness.[1] In fact, marijuana poses a danger for those with mental illness and young people predisposed to mental illness because of the neurological actions of the drug. Further, the effective treatment of mental illness is hindered by marijuana use; people using marijuana are more likely to miss appointments and tend to struggle with medication adherence compared with those who are not using.[2] A report published by the Vermont Department of Health earlier this year found that many indicators of mental health including psychosis, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, brain function, and psychosocial functioning are all worsened by non-medical marijuana use.[3] The availability of recreational marijuana will pose a great risk to those with mental illness because of both the direct effects on the brain and the consequent effects on treatment adherence.

Dual diagnoses—the presence of both a drug use disorder and a mental illness—are frighteningly common; fifty-three percent of people suffering from a drug use disorder also have a diagnosis of at least one serious mental illness. Likewise, between one-third and one-half of people diagnosed with a mental illness are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder.[4] According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, a division of NIH, drug use disorders, including cannabis use disorder, are highly comorbid with mental health disorders. For some individuals, drug use disorders predate mental illness. Meanwhile for others, mental illness can lead to the development of a drug use disorder; this phenomenon is often a result of attempts to self-medicate.[5] It is crucial to understand that legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts will allow those with mental illness easier access to marijuana, which may in turn lead to a greater incidence of dual diagnosis.

It is essential to note the alarming relationship between marijuana use and psychotic disorders, particularly schizophrenia. For people predisposed to schizophrenia, regular marijuana use leads to an earlier age of diagnosis, an increase in hospital visits due to the illness, and a smaller chance of recovery.[6] Marijuana use for those with schizophrenia is associated with a worsening of symptoms.[7] It is highly disturbing, therefore, that one-third of people in the United States with a diagnosis of schizophrenia use marijuana regularly.[8] Recreational marijuana will increase access to marijuana for those with schizophrenia and will consequently have rippling negative health effects for this vulnerable population.

Although marijuana is often not considered an addictive substance, it is possible to become addicted to and dependent on marijuana. When this occurs, it is considered a cannabis use disorder. According to a report put forth this year by the Massachusetts Special Senate Committee on Marijuana, 1 in 9 marijuana users become addicted to the substance and require treatment in order to overcome this addiction.[9] Before the age of 18, the risk of developing a cannabis use disorder doubles for those regularly using marijuana. Unfortunately, this population makes up the largest percentage of marijuana users and is also most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of marijuana.[10]

Regular use of marijuana prior to 18 years of age also increases the risk of the illicit use of other drugs, including opioids. NAMI Massachusetts echoes the concerns raised by Mayor Walsh, Attorney General Healey, and Governor Baker in their letter to the editor in the Boston Globe: given the current opioid crisis in Massachusetts, it is unthinkable that recreational marijuana may become available and worsen the crisis we already have on our hands.[11]

Legalizing recreational marijuana use would pose a great threat to the health and wellbeing of those with mental illness as well as young people predisposed to mental illness. This fact is simply unacceptable. For the aforementioned reasons, NAMI Massachusetts strongly opposes this ballot measure.

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(approved by the NAMI Mass Board at its 4/30/16 board meeting)

[1] American Psychiatric Association. “Position Statement on Marijuana as Medicine” December 2013.

[2] National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Marijuana and Mental Illness Fact Sheet” March 2013.

[3] Vermont Department of Health. “Health Impact Assessment: Marijuana Regulation in Vermont.” January 2016.

[4] National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Marijuana and Mental Illness Fact Sheet” March 2013.

[5] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug Facts: Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders.” March 2011.

[6] National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Marijuana and Mental Illness Fact Sheet” March 2013.

[7] National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug Facts: Marijuana” March 2016.

[8] National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Marijuana and Mental Illness Fact Sheet” March 2013.

[9] Special Senate Committee on Marijuana. “Report of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana.” 8 March 2016

[10] Lisdahl, Krista. “Speaking of Psychology.” Marijuana: The Brain Changer. 14 October 2014. Web. 2 February 2016.

[11] Baker, Charlie, Maura Healey, and Martin J. Walsh. “Mass Should Not Legalize Marijuana.” Boston Globe, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 March 2016

 

NAMI, First Responders Press for Creation of Police Training Center Focused on Mental Health and Substance Use

Press Conference 5.2.16 web

Bill filed by State Senator Jason Lewis to Create Center of Excellence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2016

Boston, MA—In a State House press conference at 1:00 p.m. on May 2 (Room 428), law enforcement officials from several Massachusetts communities will join Senator Jason Lewis (D-Fifth Middlesex District) and representatives of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass) to rally support for the Senator’s bill to improve police training for incidents involving people who are in a mental health or substance use crisis.

“Police have become the first responders for people experiencing crises related to mental illness and substance use,” said Senator Lewis. “Without appropriate training for officers, these encounters can lead to tragedy—people ending up in jail or, in the worst cases, injury or death. As soon as people who need care enter the criminal justice system, recovery becomes more difficult, as does maintaining their own health, getting and keeping jobs, and maintaining appropriate relationships. This all contributes to furthering the cycle of behavioral health problems.”

The proposed Center of Excellence in Community Policing and Behavioral Health will function to:
 Serve as a clearinghouse for best practices in police response to people with mental illness and substance use disorders;
 Develop and implement Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for all veteran and new recruit municipal police officers;
 Provide technical assistance to cities and towns to develop collaborative partnerships between law enforcement and human services providers that maximize referrals to treatment services.

In Massachusetts, more than 50% of people who have a drug use disorder also have a mental health condition. At the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction, which houses approximately 1,100 men, 46% of new admittances in 2015 self-identified with a history of mental illness and more than 2,000 required medical detox, according to Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, a founding member of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, who will attend the press conference.

“Providing local law enforcement with the appropriate tools to divert non-violent individuals suffering from mental illness or substance abuse away from the criminal justice system and into necessary community-based treatment has the ability to change countless lives,” Sheriff Koutoujian said.

Only 17% of police departments in Massachusetts have access to the resources and training necessary to respond effectively to behavioral health and substance use crisis calls, according to NAMI Mass data. As a result, too many people with mental illness wind up in the state’s prison system. Now, with the spike in opioid addiction and subsequent arrests, the criminal justice system is being overwhelmed with nonviolent people who are really in need of treatment.

“The Center of Excellence is needed so that police officers in all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth can get the training and support they need to make sure that people with mental illness and substance use disorders are connected with needed services in their communities, rather than languishing in a jail cell,” said June Binney, director of the Criminal Justice Diversion Program at NAMI Mass, who noted nearly a quarter of all state correctional inmates—and as many as half of all county jail inmates—are receiving some mental health services.

“The Commonwealth cannot adequately address the opioid crisis without also focusing on mental health needs,” Senator Lewis said.

Media Contact:
Matt Ellis
Ellis Strategies, Inc.
matt@ellisstrategies.com | 617-278-6560

About the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (NAMI Mass):
Founded in 1982, NAMI Mass is a nonprofit, grassroots education, support and advocacy organization. It is the state’s voice on mental illness, with 21 local chapters and more than 2,000 members. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for people with mental health challenges and their families by educating the public; fighting stigma, discrimination and stereotypes; and promoting recovery. To that end, the organization offers free, peer-led programs that provide resources, insights, coping skills and genuine support.

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NAMI Center of Excellence press conference release_FINAL [67305]

Senate DocketSD2518

Efforts to Decriminalize Addiction Must Include Mental Health (NAMI Mass Position Paper)

Police get mental-health intervention training Boston Herald

Brookline Officers Graduate from Specialized Mental Health Training Brookline Patch