(Editor’s note: Percy Menzies, M. Pharm, is president of the Assisted Recovery Centers of America, a treatment program based in St. Louis, Missouri that treats patients affected by drugs and alcohol.)
Almost every week a new book appears in print on the memoirs of a person in recovery. Others are written by family members who either lost a loved one to alcoholism or drug addiction, or had a loved one saved after failing multiple treatments. The Internet is filled with blogs on every conceivable aspect of drug addiction.
The poignant stories of the loss of a child are heart-wrenching, and some of the books and blogs are truly inspiring. The goal is to get the message to as many people as possible in the hope that others will benefit from their experience. If you happen to be a celebrity with a well-run public relations campaign, you are likely to be on the top talk shows and news channels.
Others go even further by establishing foundations and many will go into the field of addiction treatment as counselors, social workers, therapists and even physicians. Some will even start their own treatment programs.
Therefore, it is not surprising that a significant number of professionals in this field are in recovery themselves, and exert considerable influence on treatment policy and direction. It is only natural that their views are shaped by their own experiences with addiction and recovery.
Unfortunately, social media is a great conduit to get a message out without any checks on facts or accuracy. Scholarship is trumped by the emotion of the story. The editorial guidance given by the author is often directed at maximizing the sale of a book or getting more print, radio and TV appearances.
It often starts with book titles with words like “Cure”, “End of Addiction”, and “Drink Your Way Sober!” The titles are designed to sell more books, but end up doing great disservice to patients and their families. They also give our field a bad name. The inaccuracies are not deliberate or made up — as was the case with one book, A Million Little Pieces.
There is a tendency to water down and distil a highly complex disease involving, genes, neurochemistry, behavior, and emotion into short sound bites. The writers, well-meaning in their goal of helping others, do little to answer the hard questions that have kept over 20 million people impacted by drugs and alcohol outside the mainstream of medical treatment.
The movement towards drug legalization is a direct result of not just the failed policy on the War on Drugs, but the failure of the multi-billion dollar drug treatment industry to provide effective treatments. The War should be waged on addiction treatments that are ineffective and sometimes fraudulent — where failure is often blamed on the patient.
We need to make a concerted effort to get answers to some of the questions which I believe have kept our field in a state of isolation and stigmatization.
Here is list of issues that need some hard and honest answers:
- The high failure rates for patients returning home from residential treatment.
- Define drug and alcohol “rehabilitation.”
- The need to standardize treatment of addictive disorders.
- The indifference of the medical community towards addictive disorders.
- The indifference and hostility towards medical treatment by the treatment community.
- The restrictions placed on methadone clinics and Suboxone.
- Getting methadone clinics to utilize all medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of opioid addiction.
- The appropriate role of anti-craving medications. Less than 10% of the 20 million people affected by addictive disorders receive medications.
The publication of memoirs certainly helps to raise awareness of the devastation caused by alcohol and drug addiction. The interviews, talk shows, and blogs focus on the emotional, gut-wrenching aspects of lost youth, overdoses, arrests, and failure of the treatment field – but with no concrete suggestions on bringing a self-isolated field into the mainstream of medicine.
Unless we honestly and dispassionately answer these questions and demand treatments that have been scientifically proven to work, we are doomed to be at the bottom of the treatment pyramid.
Percy Menzies can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.