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How tech addicts are finding hope by coming together

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Martha Irvine, The Associated Press


Published Monday, December 31, 2018 12:05PM EST

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The young men sit in chairs in a circle in a small meeting room in suburban Seattle and introduce themselves before they speak. It is much like any other 12-step meeting — but with a twist.

“Hi, my name is,” each begins. Then something like, “and I’m an internet and tech addict.”

The eight who’ve gathered here are beset by a level of tech obsession that’s different than it is for those of us who like to say we’re addicted to our phones or an app or some new show on a streaming video service. For them, tech gets in the way of daily functioning and self-care. We’re talking flunk-your-classes, can’t-find-a-job, live-in-a-dark-hole kinds of problems, with depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts part of the mix.

There’s Christian, a 20-year-old college student from Wyoming who has a traumatic brain injury. His mom urged him to seek help because he was “medicating” his depression with video games and marijuana.

Seth, a 28-year-old from Minnesota, used video games and any number of things to try to numb his shame after a car he was driving crashed, seriously injuring his brother.

Wes, 21, an Eagle Scout and college student from Michigan, played video games 80 hours a week, only stopping to eat every two to three days. He lost 25 pounds and failed his classes.

Across town there is another young man who attended this meeting, before his work schedule changed — and his work places him squarely at risk of temptation.

He does cloud maintenance for a suburban Seattle tech company. For a self-described tech addict, this is like working in the lion’s den, labouring for the very industry that peddles the games, videos and other online content that long has been his vice.

“I’m like an alcoholic working at a bar,” the 27-year-old laments.

——

“The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe,” Cosette Rae says of the barrage of tech. A former developer in the tech world, she heads a Seattle area rehab centre called reSTART Life, one of the few residential programs in the nation specializing in tech addiction.

Use of that word — addiction — when it comes to devices, online content and the like, is still debated in the mental health world. But many practitioners agree that tech use is increasingly intertwined with the problems of those seeking help.

An American Academy of Pediatrics review of worldwide research found that excessive use of video games alone is a serious problem for as many as 9 per cent of young people. This summer, the World Health Organization also added “gaming disorder” to its list of afflictions. A similar diagnosis is being considered in the United States.

It can be a taboo subject in an industry that frequently faces criticism for using “persuasive design,” intentionally harnessing psychological concepts to make tech all the more enticing. That’s why the 27-year-old who works at the tech company spoke on condition that his identity not be revealed. He fears that speaking out could hurt his fledgling career.

“I stay in the tech industry because I truly believe that technology can help other people,” the young man says. He wants to do good.

But as his co-workers huddle nearby, talking excitedly about their latest video game exploits, he puts on his headphones, hoping to block the frequent topic of conversation in this tech-centric part of the world.

Even the computer screen in front of him could lead him astray. But he digs in, typing determinedly on his keyboard to refocus on the task at hand.

——

The demons are not easy to wrestle for this young man, who was born in 1991, the very year the World Wide Web went public.

As a toddler, he sat on his dad’s lap as they played simple video games on a Mac Classic II computer. Together in their Seattle area home, they browsed the internet on what was then a ground-breaking new service called Prodigy. The sound of the bouncy, then high-pitched tones of the dial-up connection are etched in his memory.

By early elementary school, he got his first Super Nintendo system and fell in love with “Yoshi’s Story,” a game where the main character searched for “lucky fruit.”

As he grew, so did one of the world’s major tech hubs. Led by Microsoft, it rose from the nondescript suburban landscape and farm fields here, just a short drive from the home he still shares with his mom, who split from her husband when their only child was 11.

The boy dreamt of being part of this tech boom and, in eighth grade, wrote a note to himself. “I want to be a computer engineer,” it read.

Very bright and with a head full of facts and figures, he usually did well in school. He also took an interest in music and acting but recalls how playing games increasingly became a way to escape life — the pain he felt, for instance, when his parents divorced or when his first serious girlfriend broke his heart at age 14. That relationship still ranks as his longest.

“Hey, do you wanna go out?” friends would ask.

“No, man, I got plans. I can’t do it this weekend. Sorry,” was his typical response, if he answered at all.

“And then I’d just go play video games,” he says of his adolescent “dark days,” exacerbated by attention deficit disorder, depression and major social anxiety.

Even now, if he thinks he’s said something stupid to someone, his words are replaced with a verbal tick – “Tsst, tsst” — as he replays the conversation in his head.

“There’s always a catalyst and then it usually bubbles up these feelings of avoidance,” he says. “I go online instead of dealing with my feelings.”

He’d been seeing a therapist since his parents’ divorce. But attending college out of state allowed more freedom and less structure, so he spent even more time online. His grades plummeted, forcing him to change majors, from engineering to business.

Eventually, he graduated in 2016 and moved home. Each day, he’d go to a nearby restaurant or the library to use the Wi-Fi, claiming he was looking for a job but having no luck.

Instead, he was spending hours on Reddit, an online forum where people share news and comments, or viewing YouTube videos. Sometimes, he watched online porn.

Even now, his mom doesn’t know that he lied. “I still need to apologize for that,” he says, quietly.

——

The apologies will come later, in Step 9 of his 12-step program, which he found with the help of a therapist who specializes in tech addiction. He began attending meetings of the local group called Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous in the fall of 2016 and landed his current job a couple months later.

For a while now, he’s been stuck on Step 4 — the personal inventory — a challenge to take a deep look at himself and the source of his problems. “It can be overwhelming,” he says.

The young men at the recent 12-step meeting understand the struggle.

“I had to be convinced that this was a ‘thing,”‘ says Walker, a 19-year-old from Washington whose parents insisted he get help after video gaming trashed his first semester of college. He and others from the meeting agreed to speak only if identified by first name, as required by the 12-step tenets.

That’s where facilities like reSTART come in. They share a group home after spending several weeks in therapy and “detoxing” at a secluded ranch. One recent early morning at the ranch outside Carnation, Washington, an 18-year-old from California named Robel was up early to feed horses, goats and a couple of farm cats — a much different routine than staying up late to play video games. He and other young men in the house also cook meals for one another and take on other chores.

Eventually, they write “life balance plans,” committing to eating well and regular sleep and exercise. They find jobs and new ways to socialize, and many eventually return to college once they show they can maintain “sobriety” in the real world. They make “bottom line” promises to give up video games or any other problem content, as well as drugs and alcohol, if those are issues. They’re also given monitored smartphones with limited function — calls, texts and emails and access to maps.

“It’s more like an eating disorder because they have to learn to use tech,” just as anorexics need to eat, says Hilarie Cash, chief clinical officer and another co-founder at reSTART, which opened nearly a decade ago. They’ve since added an adolescent program and will soon offer outpatient services because of growing demand.

The young tech worker, who grew up just down the road, didn’t have the funds to go to such a program — it’s not covered by insurance, because tech addiction is not yet an official diagnosis.

But he, too, has apps on his phone that send reports about what he’s viewing to his 12-step sponsor, a fellow tech addict named Charlie, a 30-year-old reSTART graduate.

At home, the young man also persuaded his mom to get rid of Wi-Fi to lessen the temptation. Mom struggles with her own addiction — over-eating — so she’s tried to be as supportive as she can.

It hasn’t been easy for her son, who still relapses every month or two with an extended online binge. He’s managed to keep his job. But sometimes, he wishes he could be more like his co-workers, who spend a lot of their leisure time playing video games and seem to function just fine.

“Deep down, I think there’s a longing to be one of those people,” Charlie says.

That’s true, the young man concedes. He still has those days when he’s tired, upset or extremely bored — and he tests the limits.

He tells himself he’s not as bad as other addicts. Charlie knows something’s up when his calls or texts aren’t returned for several days, or even weeks.

“Then,” the young man says, “I discover very quickly that I am actually an addict, and I do need to do this.”

Having Charlie to lean on helps. “He’s a role model,” he says.

“He has a place of his own. He has a dog. He has friends.”

That’s what he wants for himself.

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Health Ranger posts new microscopy photos of covid swabs, covid masks and mysterious red and blue fibers

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(Natural News) What follows is a series of microscopy photos of covid swabs (a synthetic swab, then a cotton swab), a covid mask and some zoomed-in photos of mysterious red and blue fibers found in the masks.

The magnification range for these photos is 50X to 200X. Most were taken with white light, but several (as indicated) were taken with UV light.

The images shown here are 600 pixels wide. We have higher resolution images available to researchers and indy media journalists; contact us for those hi-res images.

More microscopy investigations are under way, and new images will be posted as they are finalized.

First, this series shows the carbon fiber layer of a covid mask, illuminated with UV light:

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5,800 test positive, 74 die of coronavirus at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated

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(Natural News) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, April 15, confirmed some 5,800 breakthrough coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S.

A breakthrough COVID-19 case is defined as someone who has detectable levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – at least 14 days after getting fully vaccinated against the disease.

Nearly 400 breakthrough cases required treatment at hospitals and 74 died. A little over 40 percent of the infections were in people 60 years and above and 65 percent were female. About 29 percent of the vaccine breakthrough infections were reportedly asymptomatic. The figures were for cases through April 13.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the causes of the breakthrough cases are being probed. “Some of these breakthroughs are, of course, failure of an immune response in the host. And then some of them we worry might be related to a variant that is circulating. So we’re looking at both,” she said.

The CDC is monitoring reported cases “for clustering by patient demographics, geographic location, time since vaccination, vaccine type or lot number, and SARS-CoV-2 lineage.” It has created a national COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough database, where state health departments can enter, store and manage data for cases in their region.

Where available, respiratory specimens that tested positive for COVID-19 will be collected for genomic sequencing “to identify the virus lineage that caused the infection.”

Positive test less than two weeks after getting fully vaccinated is not a breakthrough case

The number of cases the CDC has identified does not include people who contracted COVID-19 less than two weeks after their final dose. The two-week marker is important, said infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A human body should have enough time to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after that timeframe. Before then, a person won’t necessarily have the built-up immunity needed to fight off an infection. According to Dr. Adalja, cases that occur before the two-week mark are not considered breakthrough cases.

Dr. Adalja also noted that more research is needed to determine if highly infectious variants of the virus are behind the breakthrough cases. “It is crucial to study breakthrough cases to understand their severity, their contagiousness and what role variants may be playing,” Dr. Adalja said.

More than 78 million people have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. as of April 15.

“To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in case demographics or vaccine characteristics,” the CDC said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control.”

But the CDC conceded that “thousands of vaccine breakthrough cases will occur even though the vaccine is working as expected.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agreed with the CDC. “These vaccines that we’re using are fabulous but they’re not perfect,” he said. “At best, they’re 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness, but minor illnesses can occur.”

According to U.S. drug regulators, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing infection. Moderna’s was shown in a clinical trial to be 94.1 percent effective while Johnson & Johnson’s was 66.9 percent effective. Only Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 27, was tested when variants were circulating.

The percentages are based on results from vaccine recipients two weeks after the final vaccination.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated in a briefing last week that the breakthrough cases are not a cause for concern.

“I think the important thing is to look at what the denominator of vaccinated people is. Because it is very likely that the number of breakthrough cases is not at all incompatible with the 90-plus percent vaccine efficacy,” he said. “So I don’t think that there needs to be concern about any shift or change in the efficacy of the vaccine.”

More info needed before drawing conclusions from breakthrough cases

The percentage of vaccine breakthroughs in a population depends on multiple factors, including vaccine efficacy, the amount of virus circulating and the length of time since vaccination, according to Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida.

“I love to see small numbers as much as anyone, but know that numbers like this cannot be directly interpreted as a measure of vaccine efficacy (although I have a feeling they will be). We can only interpret them against a background rate in unvaccinated people,” Dean wrote on Twitter.

“Similarly, ‘most breakthroughs have been in elderly adults’ should not be read as the vaccine is less effective in elderly adults. The majority of vaccinations (and the longest amount of follow-up time) have been in elderly adults. Again, we need more info to interpret.”

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More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus in San Francisco last year

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(Natural News) More people died from fentanyl overdose than coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Francisco last year, a microcosm of a larger nationwide problem coinciding with the pandemic.

Data from San Francisco’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner shows that 708 people were killed by fentanyl in 2020, an astonishing 118 times more since the introduction of the drug in the city just five years earlier.

That figure nearly tripled the 254 COVID-19 deaths recorded in the city for the whole of last year. More than 8 in 10 deaths were male, and just under half were white. People aged 55 to 64 made up nearly a quarter of the fatalities. Nearly 40 percent of the deaths occurred in open-air drug markets such as the Tenderloin and South of Market.

The number of overdose deaths in the city could have been far worse as more than 3,000 addicts suffering from an overdose were administered with naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses.

San Francisco’s death rate from fentanyl overdose continues to rise this year as 135 died by overdose in January and February, putting the city on pace for more than 800 deaths by the end of the year.

The city has become a significant part of a larger trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on Wednesday, April 14, showing that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdose over the 12-month period that ended in September last year – the highest since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s.

Lockdowns lead to more cases of drug overdose

The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis that may be correlated to the government’s monotonous battle plan against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19 last year, California became the first state in the U.S. to implement a stay-at-home order. It subsequently endured the longest lockdown of any state in the country.

The pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are believed to be partly responsible for the soaring number of drug deaths for obvious reasons. Lockdowns have badly disrupted the social services in the city, including drug addiction treatment. Drug experts say the isolation of the past 12 months is causing vulnerable residents to turn to opioids.

“We see the death and devastation getting worse right in front of us,” said Matt Haney, San Francisco Board of Supervisors member. “It’s an unprecedented spiraling, directly connected to the introduction of fentanyl in our city.”

Fentanyl first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 2015. There were just six deaths from the synthetic opioid that year, 12 deaths in 2016 and 37 deaths in 2017. The figure skyrocketed when the drugs became widely available in the city in 2018.

Kristen Marshall, manager of the national drug harm reduction DOPE Project, noted the grim irony that while social isolation could save lives from COVID-19, it had undoubtedly contributed to the number of overdose deaths.

“Isolation is also the thing that puts people at the absolute highest risk of overdose death,” she said.

Pandemic exacerbates rise in deaths from drug overdose

The number of deaths from drug overdose started rising in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, making it hard to gauge how closely the two phenomena are linked. But the pandemic unquestionably exacerbated the trend. The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect.

Many treatment programs closed during that time while drop-in centers, which provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, cut back services.

The data released by the CDC shows a 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020 compared with the previous 12-month period. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs like methamphetamine.

Unlike in the early years of the opioid epidemic, when deaths were largely among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, the current crisis is affecting Black Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said at a national addiction conference last week.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

Dr. Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) supported Dr. Volkow’s claim, saying that transnational criminal organizations cause a spike in overdoses by mixing fentanyl into illicit narcotics.

According to the DEA, Mexican cartels often purchase the drug components in China and use human mules to smuggle the narcotics to lucrative drug markets north of the border.

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