What Was the Biggest Addiction Moment of 2014?
What was the biggest addiction moment of the year? We asked our professional contributors to reflect on the year, and share with us the most shocking or significant event that impacted the addiction and recovery industry.
Do you agree with the pros? Leave a comment and share your big moment.
- 1. The legalization of marijuana took effect in Colorado. And we found that it works. At various times, people have considered marijuana to be beyond of the pale, or on the other hand as being completely benign. It is neither, as is true with every other substance experience. The issue is how to minimize the dangers and maximize the sensible use of every substance. And this is occurring more rapidly and thoroughly than we ever imagined possible when my colleagues and I first proposed Guidelines for Sensible Cannabis Use. This is because pot tourism and commerce have arisen, bringing prosperous and socially integrated people to the fore of drug use. And they are inclined by their habits and resources to be responsible substance users. Now we need to see how to spread this recognition of the possibility of sensible use, along with its reality, to other illicit substances.Meanwhile, garrulous Joe, who is an ardent fan of the disease theory of cocaine use, as well as one who fought tooth and nail within the administration against marijuana legalization, has been silent on what his son’s drug use is: a crime or a disease.-Stanton Peele
2. The revelation that Joe Biden’s son is a cocaine user. Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was booted from the U.S. Naval Reserve in 2014 when it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine last year. But no one (Hunter or his father) said that Hunter was headed towards/had been in rehab. Hunter, who has three daughters, seemingly has just been living an ordinary, responsible, middle-class life while using cocaine. Meanwhile, garrulous Joe, who is an ardent fan of the disease theory of cocaine use, as well as one who fought tooth and nail within the administration against marijuana legalization, has been silent on what his son’s drug use is: a crime or a disease. Or is drug use just a normalized, unexceptional passtime for the Veep’s son?
Both of these events tell us that we need to learn how to use drugs and teach children how to cope with substances, along with all other possible addictions, and that we are capable of doing so, in the 21st century.
Read more from Pro Talk author Stanton Peele.
- What’s most memorable about 2014 for me are the deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. As much as I wish otherwise, it’s not because I think they will have any lasting impact on the treatment industry but because, as sad as the deaths of such gifted people are, when their stories come into the limelight, they give me hope that the stigma faced by such people (and their families) will be somewhat broken. And, if only for a short time, I’m optimistic that the public will be called to arms about the shortcomings of how we typically help – or don’t help – such individuals.As far as I can tell from news accounts, Williams hadn’t “relapsed” (as many surmised) when he sought help not long before his death – instead, he was apparently being proactive, trying to rejuvenate his recovery by going to an enrichment program. In the end, it appears that his co-occurring mental health problems and/or despair about recent medical diagnoses spurred his decision to end his life. As for Hoffmann, found alone and dead on his bathroom floor early this year, few gave him credit for his many years of abstinence before returning to use of drugs, including opioids, that took his life through “acute mixed drug intoxication.” Nor did many talk about the need for long-term medications such as Suboxone, which has been shown to greatly reduce the likelihood of returning to illicit opioid use and death.
For every Robin Williams and Philip Hoffman, there are many thousands of non news-breaking stories just like theirs.-Anne Fletcher
For every Robin Williams and Philip Hoffman, there are many thousands of non news-breaking stories just like theirs. Earlier this year, a parent of a young adult with co-occurring mental health problems came to me for help finding a way to send his child to yet another rehab, after exhausting personal funds because of multiple prior treatment experiences. Fearing for his child’s life, he was able to find placement in a state mental health facility for about a week, after which the young person was released with a recommendation to attend outpatient addiction treatment. The next day the young person committed suicide, alone in an apartment bathroom.
Sadly, within a short time, the details of why and how such people passed away become a distant memory, but certainly not for those close to them. Their deaths glaringly point to greater need for proper and on-going treatment of co-occurring mental health problems, use of scientifically supported medications for substance use disorders, and for continuing care – not a burst of intensive treatment that lasts for just 30 days or 90 days. And somehow, we need to end the shame that faces people with SUD, shame that can ultimately result in failure to get help and dying alone in your bathroom – whether you’re a celebrity or not.
Read more from Pro Talk author Anne Fletcher.
- I suspect Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s two medical marijuana documentaries, aired on CNN in August of 2013 and March of 2014 might together have stimulated the beginning of a major shift in federal policy, a “Walter Cronkite moment” for marijuana.In February of 1968 as the country roiled with doubt about the Vietnam War’s justification, Cronkite reinforced what many were beginning to believe: “But, it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”
A veteran CBS television news anchorman, Cronkite was often described as the most trusted person in the country. Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”
Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN, is similarly held in high esteem, mentioned at one point as a possible U.S. Surgeon General. In his documentaries he offered a strong case for marijuana’s medical effectiveness, apologizing for having misled viewers some years earlier by dismissing the possibility.
Marijuana remains in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. To warrant that maximally restrictive status, it must have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medicinal value, and lack accepted safety for use even under medical supervision.
Dr. Gupta’s interviews with researchers in the U.S. and in Israel bring into question the ‘no accepted medical value’ and ‘general lack of accepted safety’ criteria for keeping marijuana in Schedule 1.-Roger Roffman
Today, there are numerous reasons for questioning whether it does, indeed, meet these criteria. Dr. Gupta’s documentaries were highly effective in raising doubt. He interviewed parents who, when conventional medications were unable to prevent the hundreds of seizures caused by their children’s illness, were at the end of their ropes. They spoke with experts, learned what was being studied outside the labs of the pharmaceutical industry, and chose to take a risk.
Dr. Gupta’s interviews with researchers in the U.S. and in Israel bring into question the “no accepted medical value” and “general lack of accepted safety” criteria for keeping marijuana in Schedule 1. He could have highlighted thousands of other Americans, including the Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice who, in May of 2012, published an op-ed in the New York Times saying marijuana, provided to him by friends at “great personal risk,” was helping with the side effects of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.
So, what’s preventing us from rescheduling marijuana and giving the drug the acknowledgment it deserves, both in federal law and in research labs?
Certainly there are challenges in researching a plant comprised of many compounds. But, if that challenge were impossible to overcome, how is it that Israeli scientists are able to conduct rigorous studies of marijuana’s medical potential?
The second barrier, however, pertains to abuse. The fact of the matter is that marijuana can be harmful, and particularly for young people, early initiation and regular use during adolescence can contribute to a derailing of healthy development, school performance, and even irreversible damage to brain development.
Fearing that acknowledging marijuana as medicine will undermine efforts to protect young people from harm is the elephant in the living room. It ignores the science behind marijuana’s medical usefulness and places far too much emphasis on fear tactics to deter juvenile use of the drug.
Nonetheless, it is vital to our country’s public health that we concurrently fund science-based youth substance abuse prevention programs and invest in marijuana’s medical potential.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, I suspect, may have helped end a war.
Read more from Pro Talk author Roger Roffman.
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- “Hi Polly,” began the hand-written letter dated May, 2014. “Wondering if you remember us? You helped my daughter through very difficult times.”How could I forget? This letter was from the mom of Emily, a teen I treated for heroin addiction 10 years ago. We parted when she entered college and was maintained on methadone – a victory for her.
It is so rare to get a follow up letter, much less a “thank you.” I sat back and took it in. Emily was graduating with a master’s degree in addiction counseling. We are having a party. Can you come? I was humbled by the invitation to share this proud moment.
I flashed back to the sassy, drug-addicted bad-ass, who stole her parents money and, temporarily, robbed them of their sanity.
We had done individual therapy and family therapy. I met Emily’s sister, her boyfriend and inserted myself into her world. I also let her into mine.
I drove around the roughest neighborhoods in Milwaukee so Emily could show me where her dealer lived and then I showed her where I lived. We went on walks, walked around labyrinths and I took her out to lunch… a few times. And I wrote about her journey… a few times.
Like every kid I’ve worked with, I threw my all into the process knowing full well that teens, especially, have a finely tuned bullshit meter. Any falseness on my part would be noticed and I’d be fired, no matter how much the parents or the courts wanted treatment.
‘It’s so great that you called me because I was thinking about you, too,’ she said to me in her 28 year-old, master-degreed, all-grown-up voice.-Polly Drew
So, here I am ten years later, looking at a letter. I did not go to the party. Emily was my patient and the invitation did not come from her. But I did send her a card. And then I followed up with a phone call.
“It’s so great that you called me because I was thinking about you, too,” she said to me in her 28 year-old, master-degreed, all-grown-up voice.
One of the last times I saw her, we had taken a winter retreat day at a Wisconsin farm ten years ago almost to the date.
“I’m married now,” she told me. “My son is 9 and I’m working inpatient with teen boys.”
In her sobriety, I found a gift that keeps on giving.
Read more from Pro Talk author Polly Drew.
But once the addiction is under control we typically find multiple underlying concerns – issues like severe anxiety, chronic depression, attachment deficit disorders, unresolved early-life or severe adult trauma.-Robert Weiss
- For me, the biggest addiction-related moment of the year was the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. Even though we know that he hadn’t relapsed, his death shows the insidious nature of addiction and its many causes. It also shows that getting sober and staying sober does not automatically cure all of an addict’s problems. Yes, when the addict is active in his/her addiction, the addiction looks like the cause of all of his/her difficulties, and in the moment it pretty much is. But once the addiction is under control we typically find multiple underlying concerns – issues like severe anxiety, chronic depression, attachment deficit disorders, unresolved early-life or severe adult trauma, etc. Until these issues are properly addressed and resolved, the addict is vulnerable to relapse and other life consequences, including, in some cases, suicidality.One of the things we know for certain about addictions of all types is that they are engaged in not because addicts want to party and have a good time. Instead, they are engaged in because addicts want to avoid feeling stress and emotional discomfort. In other words, addicts are not looking to feel better, they’re looking to feel less; addictions are not about pleasure, they’re about self-medicating and self-soothing. Put simply, addicts are usually dealing with a jumbled up mess of depression, anxiety, attachment issues, trauma and the like, and that jumbled up mess doesn’t untangle and resolve just because a person gets sober. There is much more to recovery than just stopping the addictive use of a substance or behavior. Underlying issues must ultimately be dealt with, through therapy and/or the 12-steps, if the addict hopes to find peace, lasting sobriety, happiness and a better life.
Read more from Pro Talk author Robert Weiss.
- Death – it was the word that marked addiction for 2014. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams, two entertainment giants, were found dead in two very different circumstances that nevertheless left us asking: Why would two people so seemingly blessed end up in situations so terrible?Regardless of the different messages we carry… 2014 was to me a reminder that we must keep ourselves focused on the real task at hand – saving and improving the lives of those who struggle.-Adi Jaffe
The answer, of course, is that outer appearances rarely matter when it comes to mental health. For me, this was a reminder of the importance of the work we do in educating, training, and treating those affected and those on the front lines of the messy thing we call addiction. Regardless of the different messages we carry and the endless debates about the best way forward, 2014 was to me a reminder that we must keep ourselves focused on the real task at hand – saving and improving the lives of those who struggle.
Everywhere I turn I hear more stories of the battle so many fight against drugs, alcohol, sex, tobacco and gambling. New substances and ingenious variations keep us guessing but the work never ends. For in the end, the only thing that matters is life and freedom from enslavement.
I believe in options, I believe in empathy and I believe in a new way forward. I know that not everyone agrees and I am endlessly open to debating the best approach to help. I only wish that we all keep, in the forefront of our minds, the true reason we do all of this and end the bickering and mistrust. Our work is important and we do it better when we work together. Our resources are limited and the hours are long but the rewards, when they come, are immense. We change lives, we save families, and we help many avoid the sad lesson of 2014 – death. Let’s get to work.
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