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‘America Recovers’ podcast tackles trauma of pandemic

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Brad Lamm joins Mackenzie Phillips to host the “America Recovers” podcast

After a year of living under COVID-19, we’ve finally reached a place where we can breathe a little easier, knowing that a brighter, more-vaccinated future is well on its way – and with it, the promise of a return to normalcy.

Even if all the restrictions and isolation were to come completely to an end, however, normalcy is still a long way off. The pandemic has been a traumatic event on a global scale, and we are impacted like never before by alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, gaming and gambling, addiction to pornography, and other such harmful coping mechanisms. Since Covid arrived, alcohol and drug consumption alone is up by 500% in many cities, and the increase in additional mental health challenges like anxiety and depression is almost immeasurable. As eager as we may be for everything to be the way it was before, it must be acknowledged that there’s a lot of collective healing to do first.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. “America Recovers,” a podcast that made its debut on February 16, is there to provide a sort of “field guide” for listeners who need help mapping out their journey back to optimum mental and physical health. Designed to uplift listeners with stories of transformation, from crisis to clarity, it features real life interventions, stories of transformation and change, and headliner guests like Billy Porter, Carnie Wilson, and Stephen Baldwin, who share their own stories of resilience and personal growth.

The show’s hosts are Brad Lamm and Mackenzie Phillips – founder and program director, respectively, of Weho’s Breathe Life Healing Center. Lamm – who is widely called “America’s interventionist” – is an author and teacher who has written numerous books about recovery and is a regular contributor on “Today,” “Good Morning America,” and other shows. Phillips, of course, is known for her years as an actress, beloved for her role on the classic sitcom “One Day at a Time,” and her very public struggles with addiction during her youth (As she puts it, “My active addictions unfolded in a fishbowl for the whole world to watch”) led her not only to long-term recovery, but to work in the treatment field in order to help others find their way, too. Now a New York Times bestselling author and self-described “activist for healing and the reduction of suffering,” she continues to act (including appearances in the “One Day at a Time” reboot series and “Orange is the New Black”), but today her true calling lies in sharing her “experience, strength, and hope” at Breathe – and now, online with “America Recovers.”

Co-host Mackenzie Phillips

The two hosts took a few minutes to chat with the Blade about their podcast, and about meeting the moment with an eye toward trauma-informed solutions.

“Working in a trauma-based treatment center, and being a person and long-term recovery myself, the pandemic has hit really hard,” Phillips tells the Blade. “For a lot of people, their main outlet for recovery is in-person twelve-step meetings – that was sort of yanked out from under them, and seeing the rate of suffering and return to use has been overwhelming. And then you have to consider cases where, for instance, people who might be in a domestic violence situation are now trapped at home with an abusive partner – the amount of suffering, and the uptick in suicides and return to use has been devastating for our recovery community as a whole.”

Lamm concurs. “These twelve-step fellowships help so many people worldwide – they give us this relational model where we can hang out and hug and connect with each other in person — and that’s been totally disrupted because of the pandemic. And while it was quick to adapt to telehealth and Zoom and such, it’s different.”

“And now, with reopening happening and everything, it’s really exciting and all,” Phillips continues, “but the thing we need to remember is that trauma has echoes. The damage has been done and when you think about kids who haven’t even been in a classroom in over a year, there’s a generation of traumatized adults that we’re going to experience fifteen years from now. It’s a lot to take that in.”

Lamm explains that the need to reach the wider community served as an impetus in the development of “America Recovers.” 

“We were pitching the idea around, and some folks said ‘hey, do you have anything that you could do right now on this moment we’re having,’ and I thought ‘well, yeah, actually we do.’ That’s how ‘America Recovers’ was born, out of that impetus of how might we equip a larger audience – because, you know, in almost eight years Breathe has treated over 2500 people, but in terms of those that need and are literally dying for help, it’s just minuscule. We thought a podcast from Westbrook, who has produced a big hit like “Red Table Talk” on Facebook, would be really useful to help us get these tools and tips to listeners, really a message of how they can get better.”

The resulting show gives the two hosts a chance to serve as the “connecting tissue,” as Phillips puts it, “between our guest stories and our listeners – inviting our listeners into a piece of our lives that connects to their lives that connects to the guest’s story – and I think that’s pretty powerful.”

It’s that connection – the sharing of stories and experiences that helps us form a sense of community with others – that has been a mainstay of twelve-step recovery all along. It’s also the one of the most effective ways of reducing stigma and fostering empathy around the issue of substance use disorder – something Lamm and Phillips also hope to do with “America Recovers.”

Phillips reflects on the progress that’s been made since she was “a young, budding addict” in her TV heyday. “I was a teenager on a hit show and they would say ‘we’re going to suspend you with pay, why don’t you go get well?’ And, I’d be like, ‘oh, okay,’ and then go get my teeth cleaned or something like that, and then I’d be like, ‘okay, I’m back.’ And after all these episodes of suspension and being told to go ‘get well’ without any tools whatsoever, I was fired, right? The climate has changed so much since 1975. There really wasn’t a lot of information and there was certainly a huge amount of stigma, and people just wanted you to go deal with it quietly elsewhere, where they didn’t have to look. Now we have this broader view of addiction as a mental health issue, where we invite people into their own wellness without taking away their jobs. I’m so glad that we’ve come that far.”

If you think you or someone you love could benefit from the kind of trauma-informed recovery strategies “America Recovers” brings to the public conversation, you can subscribe to the show through Apple and Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Spotify. New episodes drop every Tuesday.

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Monkeypox

LA County Public Health expands Monkeypox vaccination eligibility

Eligible residents can go to a Public vaccinating site or visit Myturn.ca.gov to find other vaccinating sites near you

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has expanded eligibility to the monkeypox vaccine to closely align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent expansion, which includes persons in select occupational groups whose jobs may expose them to orthopoxviruses (such as monkeypox).

Monkeypox vaccine will be available to residents who self-attest to being in the following groups:

  • Gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men or transgender people who have sex with men or other transgender people
  • Persons of any gender or sexual orientation who engage in commercial and/or transactional sex
  • Persons living with HIV, especially persons with uncontrolled or advanced HIV disease
  • Persons who had skin-to-skin or intimate contact with someone with suspected or confirmed monkeypox, including those who have not yet been confirmed by Public Health
  • (NEW) Sexual partners of people in any of the above groups
  • (NEW) People who anticipate being in any of the above groups

Monkeypox vaccine is also available for persons in select occupational groups whose may be exposed to orthopoxviruses including:

  • Research laboratory personnel working with orthopoxviruses
  • Clinical laboratory personnel performing diagnostic testing for orthopoxviruses
  • Designated public health response team members
  • Health care personnel who administer ACAM2000 (Smallpox [Vaccinia] Vaccine)
  • Designated health care workers who care for persons with suspected or confirmed orthopoxvirus infections, including clinicians and environmental services personnel

Note that the risk of monkeypox transmission remains very low for health care workers if appropriate personal protective equipment is worn and other infection control practices are followed.

Eligible residents can go to a Public vaccinating site or visit Myturn.ca.gov to find other vaccinating sites near you.

Residents do not need to show ID in order to get a vaccine at sites run by Public Health. However, because residents may need to show vaccination record and ID if you travel or visit certain venues, it is recommended that when getting a vaccine that residents provide the name that is on their ID.

Residents who met prior eligibility criteria can still get vaccinated (see below for prior criteria).

Gay or bisexual men or transgender people who:

  • Had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the past 14 days
  • Had skin-to-skin or intimate contact with persons at venues or events in the past 14 days
  • Had a history of early syphilis or gonorrhea in the past 12 months
  • Are on HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • Had anonymous sex or sex with multiple partners in the past 21 days in a commercial sex venue or other venue.

Residents who have monkeypox symptoms or are currently under isolation for monkeypox, should not come to the vaccination clinics or walk-up sites. If residents think they have monkeypox, they should speak with a provider and get tested. If residents do not have a provider, residents can call the Public Health Call Center for more information on monkeypox, including general information, testing, treatment, and vaccines at (833) 540-0473 (open 7 days a week 8am – 8:30pm).

For more information, please visit: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/monkeypox/.   

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Monkeypox

Los Angeles County Supervisors approve sick leave for monkeypox

Both coronavirus and the monkeypox outbreak has disproportionately affected essential workers, who are predominantly Black and Latino

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting room (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion Tuesday, sponsored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, which directs County attorneys to report back to the board in three weeks on how the County could implement a paid sick leave policy for people who contract monkeypox, or other new and emerging infectious diseases.

The Board also is urging California Governor Gavin Newsom to extend the state’s coronavirus supplemental paid sick leave by signing the AB-152 COVID-19 relief leave bill.

Supervisor Solis prior to the vote pointed out that both coronavirus pandemic and the monkeypox outbreak has disproportionately affected essential workers, who are predominantly Black and Latino.

Solis further noted that without a form of paid sick leave, are in most cases, unable to take the recommended five to 10 days to isolate for COVID-19 — much less the two to four weeks needed to isolate for the duration of a monkeypox diagnosis as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the County Dept. of Public Health .

During a monkeypox townhall hosted by the Blade in East Los Angeles last week, which was also attended by Supervisor Solis, Sherrill Brown, M.D, AltaMed’s Medical Director of Infection Prevention, in her presentation noted the need for economic relief.

In her practice treating primarily Latino monkeypox cases at AltaMed clinics in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, she told the townhall attendees she was hearing some of her patients were having difficulty with the required isolation protocols because of their economic needs.

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Monkeypox

Unvaccinated 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox

Racial disparities persist in new cases of monkeypox as Black & Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers

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White House Monkeypox Response Team and Public Health Officials (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – U.S. health officials are celebrating preliminary data on the vaccine used in the monkeypox outbreak, which has led them to conclude eligible persons who didn’t get a shot were 14 times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated.

The new data, as described by health officials on the White House monkeypox task force during a call with reporters on Wednesday, comes as the overall number of new cases of monkeypox is in sharp decline, although considerable racial disparities persist in the remaining cases as Black and Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said during the conference call the preliminary data — collected from 32 states between July 2022 and September 2022 — provides an early shapshot of the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause for optimism on the path forward.

“These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended,” Walkensky said. “These early findings and similar results from studies and other countries suggest even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection.”

Walensky during the conference call admitted the data is incomplete in numerous ways. For example, the data is based on information on individuals who have obtained only the first shot as opposed to both shots in the two-shot vaccination process. (The data showing positive results from individuals who have only one shot contradicts previous warnings from the same U.S. health officials that one shot of the monkeypox vaccine was insufficient.)

The data also makes no distinction between individuals who have obtained a shot through subcutaneous injection, a more traditional approach to vaccine administration, as opposed to intradermal injection, which is a newer approach adopted in the U.S. guidance amid the early vaccine shortage. Skeptics of the new approach have said data is limited to support the idea the intradermal injection is effective, particularly among immunocompromised people with HIV who have been at higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

Not enumerated as part of the data were underlying numbers leading health officials to conclude the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox as opposed to those with a shot, as well as any limiting principle on the definition of eligible persons. Also unclear from the data is whether individual practices in sexual behavior had any role in the results.

Despite the positive data on the monkeypox vaccine based on one shot, U.S. health officials warned during the conference call the two-shot approach to vaccine administration is consistent with their guidance and more effective.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, made the case that for individuals at risk obtaining a second dose is “really important.”

“So we see some response after the first [shot] in the laboratory, but the really high responses that we want to really get — that you know, level 10 forcefield as opposed to the level five forcefield — doesn’t happen until the second dose,” Daskalakis said. “So the important message is this just tells us to keep on trucking forward because we need that second dose at arms that people haven’t gotten the first should start their series of two vaccines.”

Also during the call, health officials said they would be expanding opportunities for vaccines as pre exposure prophylaxis, as opposed to practices in certain regions granting vaccines in their limited supply to individuals who meet certain criteria or have had risk of exposure.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention, officials said, is also updating its guidance to allow injection of the vaccines in places other than a patient’s arm.

Daskalakis said fear of stigma about getting a noticeable shot in the forearm after obtaining a monkeypox vaccine was a key part of the decision to issue the new guidance on implementation.

“Many jurisdictions and advocates have told us that some people declined vaccine to monkeypox because of the stigma associated with the visible but temporary mark often left on their forearm,” Daskalakis said. “New guidance from CDC allows people who don’t want to risk a visible mark on their forearm to offer a vaccine on their skin by their shoulder or their upper back. Those are areas more frequently covered by clothes.”

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