Archeologists have long suspected that addiction and substance abuse has been around longer than once thought. Scientists have found South American tribes’ paraphernalia used to prepare hallucinogenic drugs for sniffing, dating back to prehistoric times. Researchers have also confirmed that alcohol was brewed in China dating back to 7000–5600 BC, approximately the time when barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle East. Nearly 5000 years ago beer was the beverage of choice among Babylonians. The ill effects to public health and open drunkenness were tolerated by the ruling powers that be – as the major concern was fair commerce in alcohol. How far have we really come?
Governor Patrick was the first to permit first responders to carry and administer Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose instantly. The governor dedicated $20 million to enhance substance abuse treatment programs and he continues to fight for the ban of Zohydro – a dangerously addictive, pure hydrocodone painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin – in Massachusetts.
Addiction and substance abuse have a long and storied history. Much has been learned about the disease and its treatment, but nothing more so than what has been revealed in the last thirty years. In the 80’s and early 90’s scientists and researchers were working at break neck speed to decode the genome. My good friend and colleague Dr Kenneth Blum was one of them. His discovery was a game changer that made headlines across the globe. Dr. Blum found the genetic link to addiction or in his terms ‘Reward Deficiency Syndrome.’ The study was published in the peer reviewed Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) nearly twenty-five years ago and forever changed the way we in the field view and treat addiction. Dr. Blum made understanding addiction and developing new scientifically-proven, cutting-edge treatments his life’s work. To date, Dr. Blum has written over 400 papers on addiction and related disorders that have been published in peer reviewed scientific and medical journals.
As I look at the breadth of Dr. Blum’s body of work and that of his peers – the quantum leaps they have made in science has led to a far greater understanding of addiction over the last twenty-five years – and I’m simply appalled that substance abuse has actually grown to the level that it has and the ineptitude associated with it. It is truly horrifying.
How is it that with all this wealth of knowledge it could easily be argued that addiction is America’s most neglected disease? The rate of substance abuse has consistently remained high for decades, yet doctors are only required to have one hour of addiction education per year? Prescription opioid painkillers have taken over as the drug of choice among addicts. A person with a severe mental illness requiring hospital care in 1900 would be better looked after back then, than that same person would today.
The realities are incongruent with the available science. The advancements have not translated into practice; but why? With all we’ve learned in the last 5000 years, have we, as a society, digressed so far as to become Neo-Babylonians? We live in an era where prescription drugs kill more people every year (16,000 plus) than cocaine and heroin combined; yet the amount of prescribed opioid painkillers consistently increases every year. A time when 80% of the world’s production of opioid painkillers – legal heroin – is prescribed and consumed by less than 5% of the global population – us; when corporate owned and publicly traded methadone clinics are replacing state sponsored psychiatric centers closed under the guise of ‘budget cuts’ and treatment isn’t even a consideration.
Over the last four years, pharmaceutical and health products spent 1 billion dollars on lobbyists and political campaign contributions intended to sway your congressman and senators vote their way. Has Big Pharma created an environment conducive to addiction?
Let’s face the facts – addiction is a cash cow feeding money and blood into the coffers of Big Pharma – an $8 billion dollar industry. As Big Pharma grows, so does the number of deaths as a direct result of the products they sell. Is the fair trade of beer – or in this case prescription drugs and health care – more critical to our society than our public health?
Welcome to Babylon twenty-fourteen.
But all is not lost in our David verses Goliath battle – in fact quite the opposite. Our combined voice is being heard. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has been very active in his pursuit of an effective drug policy. Patrick recently signed a bill reforming imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders. He said in a statement. “Those changes start to move us away from the expensive and ineffective policy of warehousing non-violent drug offenders towards a more reasonable, smarter supervision and substance abuse program.”
Governor Patrick was the first to permit first responders to carry and administer Naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose instantly. The governor dedicated $20 million to enhance substance abuse treatment programs and he continues to fight for the ban of Zohydro – a dangerously addictive, pure hydrocodone painkiller 10 times stronger than Vicodin – in Massachusetts. Governor Patrick’s administration has become a vanguard of sorts in the respect that many other governors are watching him closely so that they can implement their own drug policies.
Michael Botticelli, the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy – or more colloquially known as the ‘Drug Czar’ – is in recovery himself.
What I find most encouraging is happening on a national level. Michael Botticelli, the new head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy – or more colloquially known as the ‘Drug Czar’ – is in recovery himself. Obviously his personal experiences give him an advantage over his predecessors. However it doesn’t end there. I happened to catch a media interview he did not long ago and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed. Botticelli was spot on and did not pull any punches. He was straight forward in identifying the lack of addiction education in medical schools and the role pharmaceutical companies play in the prescription painkiller epidemic we’re facing. He’s against legalizing marijuana, citing 1 in 9 people who use it regularly become addicted.
As intriguing as the interview was, it is Botticelli’s plan that I found most encouraging. When asked about the over-prescribing of opioid painkillers he responded: “A prime goal of our office is to work with physicians. We actually want a balanced approach where Americans who suffer from pain get good treatment for their pain. But we also know that many people are getting these medications who don’t necessarily need them – that physicians don’t understand the history of someone. And making sure that they understand that there are risk factors attendant to these very powerful pain medications.”
Now is our time. Michael Botticelli is doing a terrific job, but he is only one man who needs our help. Your voice has already made a difference in some areas of the country. Now it is our time to finish the job and save the lives of addicts who can’t do it for themselves. Please speak-out about your addictions, your successes and your failures, so that we can emerge from the epidemic and live life the way it was meant to be.
John Giordano DHL, MAC is a counselor, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Laser Therapy Spa and Wellness Center in Hallandale Beach and Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department. For the latest development in cutting-edge treatment check out his website: www.holisticaddictioninfo.com