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By   /   August 5, 2010  /   Comments

Beeper ball volunteers made event a success

We would like to offer overwhelming thanks to Franessa Stalter and Peters Stevenson for heading our beeper ball day in the park on Saturday, July 24. You guys and your staff went over and beyond the call of duty to make this event a successful one and indeed it was that. This day would not have been possible without the resources your organizations pooled together.

Also, it meant the world for Jaxon Riley, Ben Roberts, Kurt Baker and Christopher Rapley to come out and share themselves with us on this day. We understand your busy schedules and count it joy that you all would come out, place yourselves in a compromising position being blind folded to experience a different side of life. This really shows your character and commitment to the community.  Next, we would like to show our appreciation to Cumulus Broadcasting for willingly running the PSAs for this day to assist in making it a success and Harvey’s Supermarket in east Albany for offering your support through your donation of your gift certificate to assist in funding the event.

Last but not least, we thank the individuals who came out and the members of the Southwest Chapter who without participation, this day would not have been.

You guys are great and it is my pleasure to know and be connected to you all!

Tracy Jackson

Albany

(Jackson is president of the Southwest chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia)


Last week, the FBI and DEA raided and shut down two rogue pain management clinics in Jacksonville, Florida. Records show that one of the clinics had dispensed 611,000 oxycodone pills in April and May of this year alone.

“Pill mills,” as these clinics are referred to as, have become increasingly popular as the growing problem of prescription drug abuse grips our nation. Claiming to be pain management clinics, these facilities are in reality nothing more than fly by night operations that set up in communities to make a quick buck. They infest our communities, bringing increased crime and abuse and give legitimate pain management clinics a bad name.

The non-medical use of prescription pain-relievers is now the second most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the nation, accounting for over 30 percent of all drug abuse in our country. It is our country’s fastest-growing drug problem and poses a serious threat to public health and safety.

In Georgia, we have a particularly bad problem with “pill mills” locating in our state because we are one of the few states that does not have a database of controlled drugs that can be accessed by prescribers and dispensers. Making matters worse is that every state that borders us has a database program in place, chasing the “pill mills” out of their states and into ours.

The problem has become so prevalent in the greater Atlanta area that Cobb County has declared a moratorium on the opening of new pain clinics in order to try and get the problem under control. Pharmacies located where these “pill mills” have opened have reported shortages in certain pain medications, resulting in legitimate patients being unable to obtain their medications.

It is because of these illegitimate “pill mills” infesting our state that during the last legislative session, I introduced SB 418, the Patient Safety Act, to set up a database of controlled drugs that are prescribed and dispensed in our state.

Working with three of the most conservative members of the State Senate, we crafted legislation that would have created a database maintained by the State Board of Pharmacy and accessible only by the Georgia State Medical Board and licensed prescribers and dispensers in our state. The database would be accessible by law enforcement by subpoena only.

Dispensers of controlled substances would be required to report on a weekly basis all controlled prescriptions filled and the information would be added to the database. All HIPPA regulations dealing with patient privacy would be followed and access to the database would be by personal passwords issued by the Board of Pharmacy only. Stringent penalties- in some cases $250,000 and imprisonment- would be accessed to those individuals who knowingly requested, used, obtained or released any information in violation of its purpose.

The legislation was supported by state medical associations, pharmacy associations and the American Cancer Society, a group that has a special interest in pain management.

As one adamantly opposed to more government intrusion into our lives, this was difficult legislation for me to consider. It was especially difficult for my fellow Senators who helped craft the legislation as all three had opposed similar legislation before.

However, like myself, they recognized the magnitude of the problem and the need to address the situation and worked responsibly to help make the legislation as effective, yet non-intrusive as possible.

As a pharmacist, I have spent my professional career trying to help people live healthier lives through medication management. Pain management has been a big part of that. As a consultant to Hospice Savannah for many years, I dealt with patients with unbearable pain, whose only relief was with pain medication in excessive doses.

As a legislator, I have worked on numerous health care issues, including chairing a Pain Management Study committee in 2007 that led to changes that helped raise Georgia’s pain management rating from a D to a B-. Although the Patient Safety Act passed the Senate last year, it failed to pass in the House. I will be introducing the legislation again next year and will work diligently to have it passed.

Our state deserves no less. We must rid our communities of these “pill mills” and the infestation of crime and abuse that they bring.

Buddy Carter

Pooler

(Carter is a Republican state senator)

Elected officials get this right

Election-year politics can make cynics out of just about anyone, so every once and awhile it’s worth pausing to look at the remarkable good that elected officials can achieve, particularly when they rise above both partisan and special interests.

One of the best examples of positive lawmaking occurred in 2007 when the Georgia state legislature passed Senate Bill 10, which allows parents of special needs children in public schools to receive a scholarship to send those children to the public or private school that they deem to be best suited to their needs.

It often takes many years to determine the relative benefits or drawbacks of laws passed by the General Assembly. But in the case of the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship (GSNS) Program, the positive effects have been immediate and dramatic. The lawmakers who voted for the bill – which passed the House on the final day of the 2007 session by a single vote – should find great satisfaction in the good they’ve achieved.

Jeremy, a fifth-grader from Duluth, is a shining example of the good that’s been accomplished through this program. Born premature, Jeremy was diagnosed ADHD and a learning disability. His problems mounted in elementary school, where he struggled academically and was repeatedly threatened with suspension due to disruptive behavior – making it clear that Jeremy needed more structure and individualized instruction than his public school could provide.

With the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship, Jeremy’s mom was able to find a program better suited for her son’s needs. The change has been good for Jeremy – his behavior has improved, he’s joined the choir, and has gained confidence in the classroom. In the course of a year, Jeremy went from being functionally illiterate and failing math to functioning well and thriving academically.

That’s not just a change of scenery, that’s a changed life.

Nicholas, of Lawrenceville, has a similar story. Struggling with hearing loss, Nicholas had a hard time keeping up in his large, public school classroom. Although his teachers tried to be accommodating and he received help outside of class, he still brought home poor report cards.

When Nicholas’ parents received a letter about the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship, they knew it was the answer to their challenges. Armed with a Special Needs Scholarship, they enrolled Nicholas in a private school with classes half the size of what he was used to, and he began to excel. Now he comes home with straight A’s, and “there are no more tears or fighting over homework,” says Nicholas’ mom, Jennifer.

Again, Nicholas didn’t just experience a change of scenery, he experienced a changed life.

Why do I put it that way? Because kids who struggle academically in the manner that Jeremy and Nicholas did are much less likely to graduate. And kids who fail to graduate are much more likely to struggle in finding jobs and forming healthy, stable families. In other words, they’re more likely to experience significant hardship and poverty.

That’s why I speak of “changed lives” when I speak of Jeremy and Nicholas. But there are others – many others – who are benefitting from the program.

In the recent school year – just three years after the program was launched – over 2,000 special needs students participated in the program statewide. How are the program participants doing? The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) reported that during the 2008-2009 school year, 89 percent of scholarship recipients improved in math and 87 percent improved in reading.

Please read that again, because it explains why the program is so important. It also explains why parents are exceptionally pleased.

The Center for an Educated Georgia (which is run out of the organization I lead, Georgia Family Council) just released the findings of a survey of GSNS Program parents. The survey reveals that 95 percent of parents whose children are participating in the program are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” in their current school. On average, families rate their new private school as an 8.9 on a scale of 0-10, as compared with a 3.5 for their former school.

The survey also gives us a glimpse of who is taking advantage of this program – largely working and middle class families, 76 percent of which pay more than $3,000 out-of-pocket to cover tuition and fees not covered by the scholarship.

Now, I want to be clear here – the success of this program is not an indictment of all public schools. Many parents of special needs kids haven’t felt the need to move their children to a private school because they are pleased with the program being offered in their own public school. That’s good.

But there are other parents out there, some of whom are concerned about the effectiveness of the program in which they currently have their children, who don’t even know about the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program. In their case, the GSNS Program might be the answer to their concerns.

So, here’s what we’ve got: Georgia Special Needs Scholarships are going to working and middle class families whose exceptional satisfaction with the program stems from the fact that their children are doing better academically then they were doing in their previous academic setting.

Is politics getting you down? Do you sometimes feel as if public officials are all talk and no action? Do you wonder if any education reforms will ever produce positive results for our kids?

My answers to those questions are yes, yes and yes.

But the success of the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program encourages me and reminds me that our elected public officials can do great and positive things when they put families and kids first, and not politics and special interests.

Randy Hicks

Suwanee, Ga.

(Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council, a non-profit research and education organization. For information, go to www.georgiafamily.org.)


Protecting sources means protecting the public

During the course of its investigation into the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill, The Associated Press was given information from the then-office of Mineral Management Services that was not making a lot of sense.

As millions of gallons of crude spewed into the gulf waters and the oversight by MMS officials on BP’s well was being called into question, an anonymous source in that office told reporters far different stories than what they had been initially told. This anonymous source set the record straight by coming forward and speaking out, and suddenly the world knew that this was more than a mechanical failure; it was a full system failure. The people hired to keep these events from occurring were ignoring their responsibilities.

At times, anonymous sources provide crucial information to the press. Stories of oil disasters may be the latest, but without citizens coming forward and sharing vital information, Americans would not know about steroids in sports, excessive military spending, or food and drug hazards. We would never have been told about Watergate.

A bill currently in the U.S. Senate will help assure such stories continue to reach the public. S. 448, The Free Flow of Information Act, will protect the sources on whom journalists rely from having their identities exposed in all but a few circumstances including where national security concerns are raised. Five years in the making, the current version of this bill is supported by more than 50 journalism organizations, the White House, the Justice Department and most of your Congressional delegation.

Most states have laws that can protect a source’s identity from overzealous prosecutors and judges, but there is no such protection yet at the federal level. S. 448 would change that and extend the same protections offered through statute or common law in 49 states to the national government. Without it, stories focusing on the federal government will not be told because reporters are faced with threats of jail time and fines if they do not turn on their sources.

Subpoenas against the press numbered more than 3,000 nationwide in 2006 with 335 issued by federal prosecutors seeking the identities of news sources, according to a survey conducted by a Brigham Young University law professor. More than a few journalists have spent time in jail, and some have been forced out of the profession all together by heavy fines that crippled them financially. These are all heavy-handed tactics to illicit the names of people who can then be identified and retaliated against. Media companies large and small faced with the enormous expenses of fighting such legal battles to protect sources are turning their backs on compelling stories.

As S. 448 awaits permission from key senate leadership to come to the floor for a full vote, all senators, representing the interests of American citizens, need to hear from their constituents. Citizens who value the importance of transparency in governance and think the American press needs to continue to serve as the watchdog on the federal government should tell their senators to support this measure.

The clock is ticking as Congress will recess in August. Tell your senator to have the bill moved to a full Senate vote as soon as possible and support its passage.

Without this bill, stories that affect lives, like the oil spill in the Gulf, will never get the detailed attention they need to bring about change. Without this bill, your government has a better chance of operating in darkness or lying its way out of trouble. Help bring this to an end by voicing support for S. 448.

Only when there is a free flow of information from the government to its people can we truly appreciate the beauty and power of a democracy.

Kevin Z. Smith

Fairmont, W.V.

(Smith is the national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. For information, visit www.spj.org.)


Recipes solicited for new book

I am coauthoring a recipe book with Perry Bailey, formerly of Villa Rica, Ga., containing the old family recipes of the people of West Georgia.

This all came about because of Perry’s fond memories of the special treats and his loved ones from the past, and it has been a joy to work on.

If any of your readers wish participate, they will be more than welcome. The contributors should include their name as contributor and their hometown. Also include the name of their special relative or friend and that person’s hometown. (This could be you if you originated the recipe yourself.)

Both the contributor and the special person identified with the special recipe will be documented below the title of the recipe as well as included in the list of contributors and special persons. Any recipes must be received before the last week in August.

Please send your favorite family recipes to: Catherine Burns, 1920 Rosalie Ridge Drive, Huntsville, AL 35811 or rolland1@bellsouth.net.

Catherine Burns

Huntsville, Ala.

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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