The good folks over at Caveat, New York City’s lounge for “intelligent nightlife,” have once again managed to provide knowledge-seekers an evening of fun and discovery through stimulating presentations, this time under the Nerd Nite banner, hosted by Matt Wasowski.
As the organization’s curator and self-proclaimed “Big Boss” Wasowski was quick to describe Nerd Nite as “the Discovery Channel with beer”—an accurate analogy for their cross-discipline presentations that take place in bars in over 100 cities around the world. The performance at Caveat included three presentations for the evening.
Each speaker brought with them a different topic and different flow to the evening, some more humorous and some more solemn. Brice Particelli, Ph.D., and Chris Cummins both provided amusing, food-for-thought talks on stage, discussing how creationists successfully use genre to promote “alternative” facts and trying to untangle exactly how the cultural marvel of “The Fonz” came to pass.
In a presentation with more gravitas, guest speaker Jay Stahl-Herz, M.D., a forensic pathologist and medical examiner, offered the audience a sobering look at the opioid epidemic currently ravaging America, using an informative and (at times) devastating presentation to elaborate on the drug overdose crisis.
Highlighting the immediacy of the crisis, Stahl-Herz quoted the latest provisionary figures for 2017 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—more than 72,000 deaths are expected to be attributable to drug overdoses for 2017. According to The New York Times, that’s more than the peak yearly death tolls of gun deaths, car crashes, and H.I.V.—the last of which peaked in 1995 at more than 45,000 deaths.
Given the nature of his work, Stahl-Hertz’s perspective on the drug overdose epidemic is particularly insightful. To provide context on the ever-increasing death toll, Stahl-Hertz took the time to explain a phenomenon that has been accelerating in recent years: the proliferation of powerful synthetic opioids cropping up in the drugs themselves, fentanyl chief among them.
“No one is really trying to go out and buy fentanyl,” Stahl-Hertz said. “But people are getting it put into what they think is heroin.” And it’s this scenario where the analgesic (pain reliever) and anesthetic, known to be 50 to 100 times as powerful as morphine, is surreptitiously being used as a cutting agent/diluent. This, in turn, is exacerbating the drug overdose problem. So prevalent are the impurities and diluents that, according to Stahl-Hertz, most of the cocaine in New York City now has fentanyl in it. [For more, see the Dana News story: “Synthetic Opioid Driving Overdose Rate”]
Overall, the evening panned out very much in-tune with the philosophy of the venue—a night balanced with playful and sometimes serious discussions for the intellectually curious. While Stahl-Hertz provided the meat-and-potatoes for brain-enthusiasts, Particelli and Cummins were the hors d’oeuvres and indulgent dessert, rounding out the truly satisfying meal that this Nerd Nite proved to be.
For more “funny-yet-smart presentations,” you can visit the Nerd Nite website to find an event in your city. If you’re in the NYC area and are looking for an evening of intelligent nightlife, visit Caveat’s calendar of events to find a show. To read more about the opioid epidemic and neuroscience read about a Neuroscience & Society event we covered in Washington, D.C. You can register for free 1-hour Naloxone training at NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website.
— Brandon Barrera