Want to Get Out of Your Gym Membership?

A Tale As Old As Time

The Beast looks like he picks things up and puts them down, doesn't he?

The Beast looks like he picks things up and puts them down, doesn’t he?

It’s not a new story – you join a new gym, pay a down payment, go for a little while, and then stop going but still have a monthly charge made to your charge card.  Maybe work picks up and you just can’t make it, or the weather becomes nice and you decide to run outside instead of at the gym, but you take breaks from the gym while still paying that membership you’re not using.

Eventually  you decide to leave and you’re told you can’t.  Well, not without paying huge cancellation fees.  The manager points out that your contract says you have to be dead, or have lost a leg, or moved to Newfoundland.  This can’t be legal, can it?

Yes, it’s totally legal for them to do that.

Joining the Rebel Alliance

Does this mean you can’t cancel your gym membership without paying all these fees?  Oh goodness no.  Just like they have these legal protections to own you for a number of years, they also have legal obligations to protect you.  The funny thing is gyms often forget about the “protecting you” part, and that’s how I’m going to show you how to get out of your gym membership for free.  (NOTE: This works in Massachusetts.  If you are not in Massachusetts, there is a good chance your state has similar laws, I just haven’t looked them up for you.)

Come join the fitness Rebel Alliance!

Choose Your Weapon

After you cancel your membership, be careful not to spend too much time playing video games.

After you cancel your membership, be careful not to spend too much time playing video games.

The first thing you need to do is find that section of state law chock-filled with legal weapons you can use against the gym.  Here in Massachusetts, that would be Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93, which covers the regulation and trade of certain enterprises.  There’s stuff in there you don’t need, like regulations on stamp collecting, coin-operated laundromats, and hearing aid stores.

The laws regarding gyms, or “fitness clubs,” are covered in sections 78 through 89.  You’ll find the laws protecting the gym owner and those horrible contracts in sections 80, 81, and 82.  Yes, section 82 does include language saying you have to move more than 25 miles away from any  affiliated gym in order to cancel your membership.

BUT – there are a whole bunch of things your gym has to do in order to be considered fair.  Section 84, titled “Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices,” details the things a gym must do, or else they are considered to be purposely deceiving you.  And trust me, they are deceiving you – and this is the weapon you’re going to use to get out of your unfair contract.

Posting the Membership Fees

Every club is required by section 84 to clearly state things about the gym, such as the location(s) of the gym, the equipment they offer, experience and qualifications of its staff, and more.  But about halfway into this section there is a wonderful little protection there for you:

It is hereby declared to be an unfair and deceptive trade practice in violation of chapter ninety-three A for a seller, or his agents, employees or other representatives to fail to clearly and conspicuously post on its health club premises all of its courses and membership prices, discounts, sales or offers;

That’s right, your gym is required to have a sign hanging up in a conspicuous place listing how much a monthly membership costs, and any other promotions that may change that amount.  I have never seen a gym that does this.

Why No Sign?

You're at the gym because you probably looked at this sign too much.

You’re at the gym because you probably looked at this sign too much.

Why does your gym not have a sign?  Very simply, gyms offer promotional rates all the time to get new members in the door.  Maybe it’s a limited-time offer, maybe it’s a new corporate discount, maybe it’s just because the new member was a hard sell and they gave him a better rate simply because he negotiated better than you did.

The point is, gyms don’t post these rates because if they did, everybody would know they were paying too much.  There is always somebody at the gym paying less than you.  The gym is, quite legally, fleecing you of this extra money.  Ask a gym employee to see a sign of their rates and promotions – if they can’t, this is your weapon.

The best thing you can do at this point is try to find another member who is paying less than you.  Ask around.  Post the question on Facebook or Twitter.  You don’t need to know that someone is paying less in order to make this work, but you can actually ask for money back when you cancel if you can find proof that somebody is paying less than you are.

Striking Back Against the Empire

I never understood why this dude didn't just kick Vader in the balls.

I never understood why this dude didn’t just kick Vader in the balls.

Once you notice there is no sign with the posted monthly rates, you are required to write the gym a letter.  At least 30 days before you take any legal action, you have to provide your written request to the gym (send this via certified mail please, in case you need evidence in court you sent them this letter).  This letter should say a few things.

First, request in your letter that they cancel your membership.  Note that since they have failed to post monthly rates, your contract is void under section 85.  Be clear that you are requesting your membership be canceled on that very day you write the letter, and print the date specifically so there is no question.

Next, request any monetary damages you feel you may have incurred as part of their unfair and deceptive business practices.  This is where having proof of others paying less than you comes in handy.  For example, if you’re paying $29/month, and you find out other members have been paying $19/month for the last year, demand $120 in damages (the difference you were overpaying for that year).

Lastly, clearly state that you are writing this letter as you are legally required to do so at least 30 days before you file a civil complaint with the local court.  Let them know that you will indeed file if they don’t rectify the problem within 30 days.

What Next?

The gym manager may be bigger, but you're better than he is.

The gym manager may be bigger, but you’re better than he is.

Chances are you’re going to get a call from an angry gym manager.  He’ll rant and rave, but you’re going to get your membership canceled, you can count on that.  He may even want to play Let’s Make A Deal and offer you some money to walk away.

But in the off chance he wants a fight, no sweat – let him know he’s playing with fire, and is going to get burned.  MGL Chapter 93A allows a judge to award you up to three times the damages you requested, meaning if you take the gym to court, when they lose, the judge may award you triple (legally “treble”) what you asked for.

So tell that gym manager he can do what you asked, or pay even more later on, his call.

You can also call your local district attorney, as there are probably other violations the gym has made.  You can also talk to other gym members and find others overpaying their fees and file a class action lawsuit.  And, of course, don’t forget your local newspapers and media outlets – they may be interested in running a story about a predatory gym.

Don’t Forget the Goal

The one thing to not forget here is that your original goal was simply to cancel your membership without paying fees.  Just because you can sue for damages doesn’t mean you should.  Filing with the court costs money, and the gym can file against you if they feel they have done nothing wrong.  If you are going to file a civil suit against your gym, absolutely talk to a lawyer first!  The last thing you want to do is kick the bee’s nest and get stung.

Good luck, and when  you get out of your gym membership, be sure to find another outlet to get your workouts done – you still need to stay healthy, right?

A Perfect Storm For Addiction: the Heroin Epidemic 101

A typical heroin "kit," showing the baggies of heroin, the hypodermic syringe, and cooking spoon.

A typical heroin “kit,” showing the baggies of heroin, the hypodermic syringe, and cooking spoon.

The sad loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman due to overdose, unfortunately, isn’t a unique story.  Deaths due to drug overdose – technically referred to as “accidental poisonings” – have become all too common.

Overdoses are more common than you’d think.  Whether you’re from Baltimore, Providence, my hometown of Quincy, or anywhere in the United States, heroin overdoses are happening far too often.  Some of these addicts are overdosing for the first time, and many for their second, third, or tenth time.  And the problem is growing.

So what is heroin?

Back in the late 1800’s, morphine addiction was a common problem.  Although many people first used morphine for medical purposes, some used it recreationally, and others used it by accident as predatory companies and “snake oil” salesmen added it to products.

Morphine is a psychoactive chemical derived from the opium poppy, along with the other chemicals codeine and thebaine.  That’s why these three chemicals are referred to as opioids – they all come from opium.  All three of these drugs are called analgesicswhich simply means they are painkillers.

A photo of Bayer's product, Heroin.

A photo of Bayer’s product, Heroin.

Because morphine was leading to addiction, many companies sought to find alternatives to morphine.  In 1895, the German drug company Bayer (as in Bayer Aspirin) created the product Heroin.  It turned out this synthesized version of morphine, known scientifically as diamorphine, wasn’t less potent – it was at least twice as potent (some sources say four times as potent), which meant it was even more addictive than the morphine it was meant to replace!  Heroin was primarily marketed as a cough suppressant around the world, but it was quickly abused.

That Bayer knew their new product was more powerful should not be ignored.

The Rise of Prescription Pills

Even as early as 1916, pharmaceutical companies realized that another analgesic (painkiller) option was needed.  That same year, scientists in Germany created oxycodone, which is a painkiller made from the opioid thebaine.  Over the years, many companies created their own painkiller brands containing oxycodone, such as Merck introducing Scophedal (SEE), Endo Pharmaceuticals introducing Percocet, and Purdue Pharma introducing OxyContin.

These products by themselves are not necessarily evil, but how some of these companies marketed and sold them is.  It’s no secret that malpractice lawsuits have grown steadily since the 1970’s.  Some of these consisted of patients complaining of pain and not getting enough relief.  Doctors looked to prescribe painkillers, and some companies were willing to twist the truth as to just how dangerous their painkillers were.

OxyContin tablets in 10, 20, 40, and 80mg sizes.  They even made a giant 160mg version!

OxyContin tablets in 10, 20, 40, and 80mg sizes. They even made a giant 160mg version!

In 1995, the FDA approved the drug OxyContin, a brand of oxycodone made by Purdue Pharma.  The drug was wrapped in a time-release capsule, but people discovered that crushing the pill allowed for the immediate release of the oxycodone inside.  Purdue was soon cranking out millions of these pills, and bringing in billions of dollars.  Just six years after Purdue started making OxyContin, even they acknowledged that Oxycontin was one of the most abused drugs on the market.  Even with this acknowledgment, Purdue didn’t halt production of the drug.  Rather, Purdue actively misled doctors and the general public on the dangerous addictive properties of OxyContin in order to sell more product!  The company eventually paid over $600 million in fines, and top executives just barely avoided prison time.

It’s true that people used these pills recreationally at this time, but many used these pills following the orders of their doctors.  Millions of regular Americans have become addicted to drugs because they were taking legal, doctor-prescribed painkillers for legitimate medical reasons, or because they were misled as to how dangerous painkillers were to take recreationally.  And when they ran out of their pills and couldn’t get any more prescriptions, they had to find other avenues to feed their addictions.

Enter heroin.  Again.

The Rise of Heroin

Opium has been cultivated for thousands of years.  In 1895, Heroin was Bayer’s brand name for a morphine substitute, but at the end of World War I Bayer’s assets were confiscated by the Allies, and that included Bayer’s trademarks.  It was at this moment that Heroin, and Bayer’s other major product, Aspirin, lost their trademarks.  The word aspirin, with a lower-case A, became a generic term for non-narcotic painkillers, and the word heroin, with a lower-case H, became the street name for the chemically-altered opioid painkiller scientists refer to as diamorphine.

Not that hard to imagine our government was doing something illegal in 1969, when it was doing so again in 1985.

Not that hard to imagine that members of our government were doing something illegal in 1969, when they were doing so again in 1985.

Many countries were making diamorphine after World War I.  For example, India is the world’s largest producer of opium for legal pharmaceutical markets, and has been doing so since 1961.  During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the US actively helped drug lords in Asia in order to garner support for anti-communist activities.  Regardless of whether or not the CIA did directly fly heroin for local drug lords, the drug itself became much more accessible and plentiful back home in the United States.

In the 1980’s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the guerrilla forces, known as the mujahideen, received help from the CIA, and funded much of their activities through the growth of opium.  Afghan farmers sold their raw opium to agents in Pakistan who refined it into heroin to distribute to the world market.  Some estimate the amount of Afghan-Pakistani heroin grew tenfold during this time.

Farmers in Afghanistan make more money growing opium than wheat.

Farmers in Afghanistan make more money growing opium than wheat.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in the late 90’s they continued to increase their economic dependence on the production of heroin.  When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2003 it had to ally itself with drug lords fighting against the Taliban, and at times actually protected opium production.  With both sides of the war producing opium, Afghanistan is now the world leader in the production of illicit opium, which is almost entirely refined into heroin.

Because of this, over the last ten years street heroin in the United States has never been more pure, and it is incredibly inexpensive.  When I’ve asked addicted teenagers why they chose heroin, two common answers are “Because it is cheaper than a six-pack,” and “Because drug dealers don’t check ID.”

A Perfect Storm For Addiction

Many experts refer to our current high levels of heroin addiction as an epidemic.  Factors that may have not led to this problem on their own, when combined together, have created a perfect storm for addiction.

  • A huge supply of cheap and powerful prescription drugs.
  • A billion-dollar disinformation campaign by pharmaceutical companies.
  • A dramatic increase in painkiller prescriptions.
  • A huge spike in global heroin production.
  • An increase in potency of heroin.
  • A drop in prices of heroin.

Together these factors have contributed to one of the largest addiction problems of all time in the United States.  It affects people of both sexes, all races and cultures, and all ages, sizes, professions, salaries, and just about any other demographic you can measure.

But this isn’t the bad news.  The real bad news is that there are only two ways out of heroin and prescription pill addiction.  The first is the incredibly hard process of recovery.  The second is the relatively easy, and increasingly common nightmare of overdose.

“Accidental Poisoning”

Overdoses are usually a lot more gruesome and messy than this.

Overdoses are usually a lot more gruesome and messy than this.

Medical studies refer to overdoses as “accidental poisonings” because the addict used so much heroin that he or she literally poisons themselves, often causing death.  As an addict continues his heroin or prescription pill usage he develops a tolerance towards the drug.  An addict eventually needs to use more heroin to get the same sense of euphoria.

Eventually that dose will exceed what the human body can take, and the addict will overdose.  The addict will have trouble breathing, and his blood pressure will drop.  The addict will start to turn blue as oxygen stops reaching parts of the body, and drowsiness and disorientation will take over.  The opioids, having reached the brain stem at the base of the skull, will start inhibiting the chemoreceptors that control breathing.  Eventually the addict will stop breathing and his heart will stop.

What’s worse is that even if an addict survives an overdose, there’s a good chance he’ll go back to using drugs and overdose again.  Realistically, if an addict doesn’t seek treatment and sobriety, it’s only a matter of time before he doesn’t survive an overdose.

So What Can Be Done?

The big problem in fighting the heroin epidemic is public awareness.  People simply don’t know that there is an opioid epidemic, and it’s important to call it an opioid epidemic because many people still don’t know that prescription pills are made from the same flower that makes heroin.  OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Dilaudid, MS-Contin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, heroin — they all come from the opium poppy.

Addicts feel like they are controlled by their addiction, and will often do things that disgust them in order to feed that addiction.

Addicts feel like they are controlled by their addiction, and will often do things that disgust them in order to feed that addiction.

People need to also be able to recognize signs of addiction.  Addicts become secretive and reclusive in order to hide their habit, and will eventually spend all of their money and sell their possessions to feed their habit.  When an addict is high on an opioid they are often disoriented.  They may have constricted pupils, and will have sudden changes in behavior.  They may have slurred speech, and will spend more time sleeping.  If they are injecting their drug they will have needle marks at injection sites, such as the inside of the arms.  Many addicts snort or smoke their drugs, so they will leave behind burned spoons, aluminum foil, or straws.

If you suspect a loved one is abusing drugs you need to protect yourself as well as the person you’re trying to help.  Unfortunately, addicts will steal from friends and family, so before you confront someone, make sure money, jewelry, and expensive items are safely contained where the addict can’t get to them.  There are many groups and agencies such as Learn2Cope, Narcotics Anonymous, and even possibly your local police station or court house to help you get help for yourself or a loved one.

There are many things being done around the country to battle the opioid epidemic.  Communities such as Quincy, Massachusetts have assembled drug task forces combining members of law enforcement, medicine, education, public policy, corrections, and more to attack the problem from multiple angles.  Some communities have adopted emergency overdose treatments such as Narcan to save lives.

Before you do anything, take some time to follow some of the links above to learn more about the problem.  Opioid addiction will probably never be eradicated, but knowing about it and knowing what you can do about it will help save lives.

Why Facebook is Dying

Alarmists love to shout that the sky is falling, and religious alarmists love to claim that the world is about to end.  Regardless of where you rate on the alarmism scale, Facebook is indeed dying.

The main problem with Facebook continues to be a lack of smart monetization.  Facebook provides a valuable service – connecting friends and families, as well as fans to brands – but it has never properly aligned these groups in a way that provides valuable, never mind useful, advertising room.  I don’t say “space” because modern advertising is so much more than room on a billboard or column inches in a newspaper.

If you haven’t seen the video on how Facebook is failing to properly capitalize due to its business model, check out this video by Derek Muller of Veritasium.

As a small business owner, I only stand to lose with Facebook’s new revenue model.  Let me explain.

When I first created pages for my small businesses on Facebook, I got people to Like my page by providing content they found valuable, and by offering contests and give-aways with prizes they wanted.  As I got more page followers, I slowly recouped my expenses as people bought my goods and services online.

This is true with direct mail – what most people call junk mail, or spam email.  I don’t want to send you something in which you aren’t interested, because the cost of printing materials and mailing them to you, or even emailing you, is simply lost money.  If you don’t like my merchandise about killing vampires, I don’t want to send you a glossy catalog of my vampire-killing clothing.  To keep expenses down, I use targeted marketing, meaning I select a key group of people (men who like video games ages 21-29, women who love horror movies ages 45-54, etc.) and send my direct mail to them.  In order to get updated lists of these people, I buy these lists from companies that generate them.  It cuts down on my financial losses, and potentially increases the response rate to my mailings.

Facebook, unfortunately, has moved away from this model.  When I first started, most people who Liked my pages saw my posts.  If I had a one-day sale, or simply a funny post, I saw hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at least looking at my post.  Then Facebook announced they were changing the algorithm that controlled who saw my posts.  Immediately the page views began to plummet.  A post that normally would be viewed by 500 people was viewed only by 100.  Recently Facebook did that again.  Now a 500-person post might get 20.

Facebook allows you to “promote” a post, which costs money.  But it doesn’t mean that everybody who Likes your page will see your next post – it only means more people will see that one post.  In order to reach more people, you have to pay for every post!  That means you’re sending out valueless spam mail to Facebook users every time you want to promote something on your page.  It’s exactly the opposite of modern direct marketing, and bad for brands.

That’s why small businesses are jumping on to other social media options.  It doesn’t make sense to continue putting more time and effort into Facebook when the return on the investment continues to plummet.  I’d much rather start making fun and interesting YouTube videos – which will PAY ME, mind you – than spend the same amount promoting that video on Facebook.

Besides, I can still share that video on Facebook… or whatever company replaces Facebook when it finally dies out.