Apr 11, 2016

The role of media in border public health issues at NMPHA conference

Panel to discuss border public health issues and the news media

Zapata Press news release

Kelly McKenzie
April 11, 2016

LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO - Journalist and author Diana Washington Valdez will speak April 12 at the New Mexico Public Health Association's conference on "Public Health Beyond Borders."

Ms. Washington Valdez, co-publisher of The Digie Zone, is among the invited panelists for the session titled "Media, communications, and intersection with public health: Coverage, framing, understanding, meaning, and outcomes in border communities."

She and other panelists are expected to address "the intersection and importance of media and journalists as they cover and highlight historical, existing, and emerging public health issues with an emphasis on border health issues such as violence," according to conference organizers.

"As a journalist, my areas of research have run the gamut, to include tuberculosis, the spread and of West Nile virus, vaccines, mental illness, the Gulf War syndrome, post traumatic disorder, substance abuse, and drug-related violence," Washington Valdez said. "In our border region alone, and in institutions such as local public health departments, government officials have yet to add substance abuse to its list of priorities for intervention and funding. Local officials still tend to tiptoe around the problem of drug addiction. We live in an area where drug cartels exert a great influence, and where violence is used to sustain their criminal organizations. Youth gangs from Central America to Chicago, the latest U.S. frontline for youth-on-youth homicide, are results of the drug trade that preys on young people. Youth violence related to the drug trade requires urgent intervention.

Changing approaches to drug abuse

"Thousands of consumers, those who buy and use drugs, often end up in need of treatment for their addiction to alcohol, cocaine, meth, heroin and other chemicals," Washington Valdez said. "President Barack Obama recently stated that our approach to substance abuse, in particular opioid abuse, is 'not just thinking in terms of criminalization and incarceration - which, unfortunately, too often has been the response that we have to a disease of addiction.' The president's view offers communities an important cue on how to respond to the kind of health issues that go unacknowledged or stigmatized. Public health is about developing healthy communities."

Finally, Ms. Washington Valdez said, "The next big thing for health coverage by the news media is likely to be the fast-spreading Zika virus, an area that is ripe for research and with the potential for local-global coverage."

U.S. public health officials recently reported 346 confirmed cases of the virus across the nation.

The panel that includes Ms. Washington Valdez and New Mexico State University Librarian Molly Molloy, Ph.D, is scheduled for 3 p.m., April 12, at the Las Cruces Convention Center, 680 E. University Avenue, Ballroom 1 and 2.

Worth mentioning

Here are some highlights gleaned from a White House transcript (www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/29/remarks-president-panel-discussion-national-prescription-drug-abuse-and of the March 2016 National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Participants included President Obama; Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent; and Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore city health commissioner:

President Obama: "... we're seeing a bipartisan interest in addressing this problem - not just taking a one-size-fits-all approach, not just thinking in terms of criminalization and incarceration - which, unfortunately, too often has been the response that we have to a disease of addiction - but rather, we've got an all-hands-on-deck-approach increasingly that says we've got to stop those who are trafficking and preying on people, but we also have to make sure that our medical community, that our scientific community, that individuals - all of us are working together in order to address this problem."

Dr. Gupta: "Eighty percent of the world’s pain pills are consumed in the United States. We are 5 percent of the world’s population; we take 80 percent of the world’s pain pills. We don’t have 80 percent of the world’s pain - my guess."

Dr. Wen: "And we do the same thing when it comes to violence prevention as well. We also believe that violence, just like addiction, just like other diseases, can spread."
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