The other pandemic

How many Americans must die before the country treats alcohol and drug addiction as the national emergency it is?

By Jimmy Tingle Updated December 26, 2020, 3:00 a.m.

During the 1980s, I lost three friends to alcohol and drugs and I was personally going downhill in a big way because of those substances. I had tried to get sober many times before, with limited success, and a week before

Christmas, in 1987, I started calling places looking for help. Hospitals, rehabs, detoxes, treatment centers.

Call after call after call, I’d get, “There’s no beds, there’s long lines, call back tomorrow, you don’t have insurance.” RELATED: US drug overdoses appear to rise amid coronavirus pandemic

Finally, I called Cambridge City Hospital and said to the man who answered the phone, “I really need help.”

Without missing a beat, he said, “You called the right place.”

I checked into that detox, got the alcohol out of my system, and attended Mass for the first time in years, on Christmas morning in the hospital chapel. When I got out after seven days, I moved to New York City to focus on recovery and advancing my career in stand-up comedy.

A year to the week after I checked into that hospital, I got the greatest gift any young comic could hope for: a spot on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” The other guest that night was Bob Hope.

That city hospital with a federally funded detoxification program helped change my life.

Everything I have — my wife, my son, my career, my education, my sobriety — I owe to that man’s response when I reached out for help in the winter of 1987. A seven-day detox is not the whole answer or solution by any means, but it can be the start of, and a vital component in, the recovery process.

I had two profound takeaways from my first year of sobriety — number one, I believe in God; number two, I believe that government matters. That government can change people’s lives and that government can save people’s lives.

But hospitals like Cambridge City, ones that accept people without insurance, are the exception when it comes to treatment. Too many Americans are turned away before ever hearing the words that could change their lives: “You called the right place.”

The “war on drugs” was a well-intentioned effort started under Ronald Reagan in 1985, with a slogan coined by his wife Nancy: “Just say no.”

Sadly, 35 years and millions of drug and alcohol casualties later, we’re saying no to people who need help.

Do we have enough treatment centers? No.

Are there enough hospital beds to meet the need? No.

Can people with substance use disorder enter rehab without insurance? Sometimes, but not enough times.

Has there ever been a real national “war effort” to help Americans who need and want alcohol and drug treatment? No.

To use another war analogy: Since 2001, we’ve lost about 7,000 Americans in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we lost nearly 72,000 Americans to drug overdoses in 2018 alone. Those numbers do not come close to capturing the extent of American lives ravaged by drug and alcohol addiction.

Shatterproof, a nonprofit that seeks to raise awareness about the addiction crisis, reports that every four minutes, a parent loses a child to addiction, and the rising cost of addiction to the country now exceeds $400 billion a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making the addiction pandemic worse and, tragically, there is no vaccine for addiction on the horizon.

But with the opportunity for hospitalization, long-term treatment, and medical attention similar to what other patients with chronic illnesses would receive, there is hope for progress.

How many Americans must die before the country treats alcohol and drug addiction as the national emergency it is? President-elect Joe Biden could spur the national recovery movement we need. He could begin by telling us more about his son Hunter’s experiences with addiction.

I didn’t know Hunter was in recovery until President Trump tried to embarrass Biden with it in the final presidential debate.

With a pained look on his face, Biden turned to the cameras and explained to the 63 million people watching, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.”

Millions of Americans in red states and blue states know the pain Hunter and his family have experienced. They have family members who were or still are living with an alcohol or drug problem.

Biden, working with Republicans and Democrats, can unite Americans around the life-saving force of recovery by making long-term alcohol and drug treatment a national priority in his first term. RELATED: Biden embraces drug courts, but do they actually work?

Trump’s older brother, Fred Jr., members of the Kennedy and Bush families, Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, and first lady Betty Ford all knew the pain and suffering of substance use disorder.

But people can recover if they have the opportunity to recover.

Biden and Republican leaders could begin uniting and healing this country with a bipartisan effort to fund new and expanded treatment centers that will admit patients regardless of geography, income level, or insurance status. This is a bipartisan issue affecting every congressional district in America.

People across this country are desperate for help.

The Biden administration and Congress have the power to create an America where anyone who picks up a phone and reaches out for help will hear the words I heard a week before Christmas in 1987, “You called the right place.”

Jimmy Tingle is a comedian and founder of Humor for Humanity. His new film, “Jimmy Tingle’s 2020 Vision: Why would a comedian run for office?,” is playing online through Jan. 3. Info at jimmytingle.com.

Jimmy Tingle’s string of seven comedy shows blend themes of politics and pandemic

By Grace Griffin Globe Correspondent

When Jimmy Tingle delivered his comedy set to the audience at Cambridge’s Sanders Theatre at the end of February, he had no idea it would be his last indoor live show for the foreseeable future.

Just weeks after the February show, COVID-19 closed venues nationwide. Coincidentally, Tingle had recorded his Sanders Theatre performance in hopes of turning it into a special, and, while stuck inside during lockdown, that’s what he did.

Running Dec. 26 through Jan. 3, Tingle’s curated string of seven virtual performances blend the prerecorded special, new comedy bits, and a live Q&A. The ticket price for the 90-minute event is “pay what you can.”

“It’s a tough time for everybody and I don’t want to be cost-prohibitive,” Tingle said. “Hopefully it’s an event that makes people feel more optimistic.” The hourlong special, titled “Jimmy Tingle’s 20/20 Vision,” focuses on Tingle’s 2018 run for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and the current US political climate. Though the Cambridge native and Harvard Kennedy School of Government grad was eliminated in the 2018 primary, Tingle said he aimed

to answer a question he heard often while campaigning: Why would a comedian run for office?

“It’s more of a documentary with my commentary woven through it,” Tingle said. “I tried to really make it something that, regardless of who you voted for, you’d appreciate the sentiment and the values we’re espousing in the film.”

Ticket proceeds will benefit local nonprofit organizations and theaters affected by coronavirus shutdowns through Tingle’s charitable initiative Humor for Humanity, dedicated to using entertainment for community betterment.

In addition to screening the new special, Tingle has written some jokes about quarantining and the 2020 election that he’ll perform live on the virtual stage. Each event will also allow time for audience members to ask the comedian questions at the end.

Tingle hopes the show will unite attendees from around the country.

“As a country, we’ve been through very difficult times,” he said. “I hope they feel like we’re going to be OK. We’re going to pull together as a society.”

Grace Griffin can be reached at grace.griffin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GraceMGriffin.

MLK in the Age of Trump

MLK in the Age of Trump

At the MLK celebration service I attended on Monday, it occurred to me how fortunate we are to have the prophetic example of Martin Luther King to help guide us in this time of division and bitterness, to a place of understanding, respect and love even for those with whom we strongly disagree.

Nancy Pelosi was asked recently if she hated the president. She replied, “I don’t hate the president. I’m a Catholic. I pray for the president. I pray for the president every day.”

Wow, that’s powerful. After all the nasty things that have been said about her, she tells the world she “prays for the president.”

As a Christian, that’s what Dr. King actually called us to do. “Love your enemies, pray for them that persecute you.”
That’s hard, but it’s doable, even for me. I figured if MLK could ask African Americans living in the deep south to pray for the people denying them the right to vote, to an equal education, to a seat at a lunch counter and attacking them with billy clubs, dogs and fire hoses, maybe I should try it?

A friend once told me, “If you resent someone, pray for them. Pray that they may find happiness and peace and joy and love every time you think of them in a negative light.” He said my resentment toward them would be lifted even if their behavior doesn’t change.

About 6 months ago, I actually did start to pray for the president, but I admit, it took a while. Initially I could only feel anger and resentment toward the man who pushed the lie about Obama’s birth certificate in media outlets at every opportunity.

But I did it. “God, I really think the president is a sick man. I pray he finds happiness and peace and joy and love.” And honestly, it’s working. My personal resentment toward DT has subsided considerably. Even though he has not dramatically changed, I have.

As the impeachment trial and election season heats up, there’s been an additional twist to my prayers for the president: “God, I pray the president may find happiness and peace and joy and love, and please God help me, help him, find another job. But most importantly, Thy Will, Not Mine, Be Done.”

If Americans are going to help improve the political and cultural climate in the country, we cannot be angry, bitter or hateful. We need to be calm, centered, confident and disciplined. We already have calamity; we need serenity. Serenity does not mean complacency, MLK was anything but complacent. He walked the talk to an unprecedented degree.

Thank you, Dr. King, and all those who walked with him for your inspiring and courageous power of example.

Happy MLK Day
Jimmy Tingle

Jimmy Tingle will perform next at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, on February 29, 2020. See JimmyTingle.com.

The Pilgrims – Boston Globe

One of the uniquely American things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving season is our heritage as a nation of immigrants. People from all over the world have been coming to this country for generations, going back to some of our earliest immigrants — the Pilgrims. The mighty Pilgrims, among the first undocumented immigrants. They were persecuted in England for their religious beliefs; they left England and went to Holland. They were persecuted in Holland as well. One night they held a meeting. “We’re persecuted in England, we’re persecuted in Holland. Where in this world can we go to practice our religion freely?” One of them spoke up and said, “How about the Cape?”

Jay Gonzalez’s proposed tax on universities is on point- by Jimmy Tingle

Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez’s campaign promise to levy a 1.6% tax on the endowments of nine large Massachusetts universities is an innovative way to increase funding for state education and transportation. The tax would only apply to institutions with endowments of over a billion dollars based on the average of last 5 years. It raises a billion dollars in badly needed revenue that will benefit all taxpayers without raising individual taxes.

Critics argue that 1.6% tax on endowments over a billion dollars would hurt the schools – Harvard University, MIT, Boston College, Boston University, Williams College, Amherst College, Tufts University, Smith College, and Wellesley College, in their ability to provide scholarships to deserving students. However, the larger issue is the goal of providing high quality public education to the millions of Massachusetts public school students who will never qualify to attend these elite universities, yet whose public school education is critical to their ability to fulfill their potential in their fields of choice.

The other benefit of the tax would be to increase spending on, and therefore the quality of, public transportation. Again, rather than hurting these universities, it would help the thousands of students, faculty members, and employees of those institutions who rely on public transportation to travel to school, work, and home again.

Harvard and MIT both fall on the Red Line. BU and BC are on the Green Line and Wellesley is on the commuter rail. Ask the students, professors, and employees which would be more valuable to them – a more affordable and dependable commute to school or work, or a larger endowment?

Western Massachusetts is in dire need of more efficient and extensive public transportation which would benefit Amherst College, Williams and Smith as well as the surrounding communities. More dependable public transportation would be an asset to all Massachusetts residents by reducing drive time, parking fees, and potential tickets. It would also serve as an economic engine to cities and towns, their businesses, employees and customers. Our environment would benefit with fewer cars on the road burning less fossil fuel.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge the great public benefit our universities provide the state, the country, and the world. However, the 1.6% tax will not significantly diminish the global impact of these institutions, and it is instead a practical way for Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, Wellesley, Amherst, Williams and Smith to put the larger goal of the “public good” ahead of the bottom line of their respective endowments.

Jimmy Tingle’s 5 Cents? Update The Bottle Bill

When the teenagers playing cards or basketball would leave their empty Coke bottles laying around, we’d pick them up and take them back to Sabbey’s or Hymie’s Corner Store and get 2 cents for them. A Popsicle only cost a nickel, so for four empty Coke bottles, you could get one Popsicle, a piece of liquorice, an Atomic Fireball and one piece of Bazooka bubble gum. In 1966, 8 cents was great money for an 11-year-old!

Stand Up for the Stamp

A few weeks ago the price of a first-class stamp increased to 49 cents. Sounds like a pretty good deal when you think about it. For 49 cents, a person will come to a box in your neighborhood, pick up your letter, and deliver it anywhere in the United States. What’s the problem?