The Powerful Addiction Weapon Media Isn’t Using

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

How many times have you heard about opioid overdoses in the past year? How often have you read about the rising numbers in addiction and deaths related to opioid use?

Now, compare that to how many stories of recovery you’ve heard.

Which number is bigger?

Horror vs Hope

If you’re like most of us, you’ve heard more horror than hope. Yet, hope is the most-needed ingredient. It’s the most effective tool. It’s what we need the most to reach recovery – and it’s what we hear little of in the media.

The treatment community is voicing concerns about this negative perspective. Experts worry the media is telling the public that treatment doesn’t work.

Marvin Ventrell, executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) said in an interview, “A false narrative is being created that suggests that addiction treatment that provides recovery has not been available, but that medicine and psychology are here to save the day. Even the mainstream media, such as The New York Times, have been reporting this narrative — that treatment is ineffective.”

Venttrell points out two falsehoods in this narrative: People do recover, and medicine and psychology have been available and in use for drug treatment for decades.

What’s With the Negativity?

It’s possible that hope is getting buried in the media coverage for several reasons. Let’s look at three of the most common:

  • It’s a Conspiracy: Some theorists point to the growth in pharmaceutical solutions. Big Pharma is busy promoting branded versions of buprenorphine and naltrexone. The focus on medication is further increasing, as changing regulations allow doctors to treat more patients with buprenorphine. These situations keep the coverage on medication-only treatment and what needs to happen to increase access to it (rather than on hope and recovery).

    Carlton Kester, NAATP board member and president of Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers in Washington State, claims, “If I knew how to move the discussion from specific interventions to long-term outcomes, I would. Medication is part of treatment, but it’s not the whole conversation.”

  • Bad News Gets More Attention: Sensationalism sells. Be honest; are you more likely to click on a story with a negative headline or a positive one? Which do you think will attract more attention: ‘Heroin suspected in tragic infant death’ or ‘Mom turns life around and gives birth to healthy baby girl’.

    Unfortunately, the media tends to focus on tragedy and neglect hope. The upside of this is that any attention to this epidemic-sized issue is welcome. Attention can cause changes in policy-making and an increase treatment funding. However, if the public is inundated with messaging that treatment doesn’t work, increasing program funding is all for naught. People will mistakenly think treatment isn’t worth trying.

  • The Right Voices Have to Get Louder: Experts are calling for more shouting about recovery. According to organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), experts must be more vocal about recovery. Joseph Garbely, M.D., medical director of Caron Treatment Centers, states, “What does recovery look like? We have to start talking about remission, healing, sustained results, and then perhaps we can move beyond the discussion of what we need to do in the first two weeks of treatment.”

    Kim Johnson, Ph.D. points out one of the most important facts. “Recovery is the most common outcome for people with substance use disorders,” she states. You mean, not everyone dies from overdose? No. Treatment does work. Recovery is possible. Johnson goes on to say, “It may take multiple treatment attempts, and in some cases people recover with official treatment, but the message we need to give to people is that recovery is the main outcome.”

Additional Reading:   Why Does the Media Let Scandal Trump Recovery?

Image Source: iStock

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