For the last part of our series on the history of recovery in America we are going to move forward into the late 20 century up to today.
A huge discovery-Probably one of the biggest discoveries in addiction treatment was when in the 1960’s Dr Vincent Dole and Dr Marie Nyswander discovered that methadone, a synthetic opiate could be used to treat people with heroin addiction. The story goes that they were doing tests on ways to help people stop using heroin in a hospital setting and not having much success. Most their patients continued to use and were fairly non responsive due to their use. After administering the methadone instead the patients seem to return to life and wished to engage in life again.
By 2009 an estimated 1200 clinics were dispensing methadone to people with opiate dependence. Methadone has gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Because it is a synthetic opiate, that can be abused, there is a misled belief that people using methadone are simply trading one addiction for another. There are exaggerated reports of methadone diversion and when people are found to have overdosed and methadone found in their system, the methadone is blamed. In almost all those cases another substance such as alcohol or benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) was found also but not given as much attention.
Medication assisted treatment has helped thousands of people get and maintain a recovery centered lifestyle. Today we also have Suboxone and it’s alternatives which allow people to get the prescription from a Dr. rather then having to go to a clinic daily to receive medication. Vivitrol is a time release injection which is a complete opiate site blocker, which is also available from prescribing physicians. There are a number of alternatives available today, the majority of which are covered by most insurances.
For those who come from an abstinence based belief system, and buy into the outdated belief that people using medication assisted treatment aren’t really “clean,” it should be noted that Dr. Dole was a long standing member of the AA world services board and that none other the Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of AA, approved of methadone as an alternative to help people with opiate addictions. I am very sure Bill would be just as pleased with the other options available to patients today.
The War on Drugs and “Just Say No”.- In a response to the large number of servicemen who were leaving Vietnam addicted to heroin, the “War on Drugs,” as we know it today, really started with President Nixon. However, by the time President Regan took office there was a huge public outcry against drug use in our country and the War on Drugs took off full steam. War on Drugs, was an inaccurate description to what was in fact a war on addicts. Rather then focus on treatment and help, the ideology once again swung back to addicts being bad people who deserved punishment. First Lady, Nancy Regan’s, “Just Say No,” campaign, while possibly well meaning was simplistic and didn’t address the real issues surrounding the disease of addiction. After school messages fraught with peril and commercials showing frying eggs representing your “brain on drugs,” were everywhere. Scare tactics were put in place to try and stop people from using drugs. The whole myth of “Gateway drugs,” was developed and school children were told that if they smoked marijuana that it inevitably led to a life as an IV drug user and death or jail. Most people in the recovery industry looking back see the 80’s era of Just Say No and D.A.R.E. to be an abysmal failure that oversimplified the problem and wrongly made people with addiction issues out to be some sort of monster that needed to be dealt with. We are still recovering from the damage that campaign waged on the American psyche about drug use. Some still desperately cling to the misinformed notion that people with addiction issues just need better willpower.
The Crack epidemic– Right in the middle of the War on Drugs campaign, the street drug crack became prevalent. A crystallized, smokable, cheap version of cocaine. President George Bush (the first one) led the charge against crack cocaine. In 1989 he addressed the nation promising swift action against, and serious legal consequences to anyone involved in any way with crack cocaine.
Once again it wasn’t a war on drugs, but on addicts. This particular movement was also a war on black youth in America. Crack cocaine became wrongly associated with inner city black youth and the nightly news showed constant stories on the damage the drug was doing to the black community. What was known then, and is still known today was that the majority of crack cocaine use was by white Americans, not the black community as the government would have had us believe.
The war on drugs has always been racialized from the time when Chinese immigrants were blamed for the opium problems, to altering the facts about the black communities involvement in crack cocaine, to singling out the Latino community for issues surrounding current drug problems.
Finally a definition– In January of 2010 ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) said what all of us in the recovery community had known for years. Addiction is a disease. After centuries of political maneuvering, and changing societal ideals, we finally had someone in an official capacity put a stop to the argument. Their definition is as follows….
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
Today one of the very few things that is partisan in our divided political community seems to be the idea that the way we have been treating people with addiction in terms of incarceration and punishment has been ineffective and wrong. To that all I can say is, hallelujah.
We’ve come a long way in our country in terms of the way we view and treat people with addiction issues. From the early years of our country as a “wild west,” for drug use, through Orwellian drug laws that did much more harm then good, to a place where we, hopefully, have finally recognized that people with the disease of addiction are just like any person with any other disease. They didn’t choose to have it, and when they seek help to manage it, we as a society need to give them the same support we have given people with other diseases instead of shaming them back into hiding.
At Recovery Works NW we also recognize addiction as a disease. We treat the whole person, by using not only medications such as Suboxone and Vivitrol when necessary, but providing counseling and support to help people move forward with their lives. If you or a loved on is struggling, please call us. Our doctors, and medical and counseling staff have decades of combined experience in treating addiction issues. We look forward to hearing from you in the near future.