Tag: Addiction

From Medium: I Was a “Fun” Drunk. Until I Wasn’t.

This piece, which has been lightly edited for sexual content, originally appeared on Medium. It was inspired by the responses to Susan Orlean’s recent series of tweets about getting wasted, which were celebrated by thousands of people and featured the following day in a laudatory piece in the Washington Post.

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When I quit drinking, there was no one around to suggest that I didn’t have a problem.

My friends were gone. My family was distant. My world consisted of an elliptical path between the grocery store, the bus stop, and the 600 square feet of my apartment, full of dirty dishes and half-eaten pizzas and empty bottles shoved into suitcases in the closet in case anyone dropped by.

My drinking took me to that point. But it didn’t start that way. Instead, like many women in their 20s, I started drinking because I wanted to fit in — at work, where everyone seemed so much older and more sophisticated, and in my social circle, which came to consist mostly of other drinkers—women who could shut down the bar, take a guy home, and wipe away the hangover with a few Bloody Marys in the morning.

It wasn’t just that no one ever told me they thought I might have a drinking problem — my drinking, like that of many young women, was celebrated, and the more over-the-top my behavior was, the more “fun” people considered me to be. I remember one night, out at a dive bar called the Jade Pagoda, when I danced on a table while my coworkers cheered, then made out with one of those coworkers on that same table while they cheered some more. What I learned from that experience, and from countless others, was that people liked me more when I was drunk and “fun.” For years, I took the lesson to heart.

I was fun. Until I wasn’t.

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

In all that time, no one ever suggested that I might consider taking a break from drinking. Why would they? Women who act out in a certain way — by being a certain acceptable type of “messy,” the type that isn’t too picky about men’s behavior and cracks jokes about her drinking (“Drinking problem” always worked when I spilled my cocktail) and laughs uproariously — are celebrated. Everyone loves a “fun” girl, a “cool” mom, a “wacky” older lady with a martini in hand. (Note that these parameters are not just gendered but aged — a 60-year-old throwing herself at young men is seen as pathetic, while a “wine mommy” who heads out to the bar while her husband takes care of the kid is irresponsible; why isn’t she celebrating “wine o’clock” at home?).

The parameters of acceptable femininity are wide enough to accommodate women who have “funny” meltdowns or who take their tops off or who sleep through Sundays. They don’t have room for women who lash out when they’re drunk, or who wonder whether they really gave their consent, or who say, in so many words: “This isn’t fun. Stop clapping. I need help.”

Women who fall into addiction — a neurological, psychological, and physical brain disorder that many people still consider the result of personal failings — are not celebrated. Strangers don’t show up to cheer when you pass out on the sidewalk, or check yourself into treatment, or say “I need help,” although addictions that lead to these behaviors tend to start benignly, with the kind of drinking women are socially permitted to do.

I thought about all this when celebrated writer Susan Orlean posted a series of increasingly incoherent tweets on Friday night, in which she acknowledged being “falling-down drunk,” embarrassing her husband in front of their neighbors, and apparently infuriating her family. “I am@being shunned by my family because I am drunk. Yes ok I am fine with that FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCKERS,” she wrote. As I write this, the most recent responses — of thousands in this vein — are “Cheers to you!! This is definitely not the right time to be sober(within reason)I’m having a few with you!!,” “How wasn’t I following you until now? Best 2020 Friday night entertainment” and “Hey Family, leave her alone! Let the girl drink and tweet! 😜. Got your back”

These people piling praise onto a celebrity’s timeline are ostensibly “celebrating” Orlean for “living her best life,” as many of them put it. But in reality, they’re projecting a narrative that’s as American as Lucille Ball.

We celebrate women — particularly famous women — when they embarrass themselves, or get falling-down-drunk, or go on harmless-seeming tirades against their families. “No one on my house is talking to me right now ok!! YeH whatever I hzte you too.” We stop celebrating them when their behavior tips over into problematic territory — when Britney shaves her head, or Lindsay passes out in her Mercedes. Being a “fun” drunk is a trap, but you won’t know that until you get down off the bar, or stop live-tweeting your life like it’s a sitcom, or say something publicly that’s just a no-two-ways-about-it bummer, like expressing shame, helplessness, or regret. Watch how fast the crowds dissipate then.

Read the rest of this essay on Medium.

Launch Day for QUITTER, My Memoir about Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery!

My book Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery (Viking), is finally out and available on Amazon, at your local independent bookstore, and everywhere else books are sold! (Eventually, when we all have access to libraries again, it will be available at your local library as well). You can buy Quitter in hardcover, electronic, or audio form—and if you buy from Elliott Bay Book Company, which sponsored my virtual book launch at Town Hall late last month, there’s a very good chance you can snag a signed copy! (I’m signing them tomorrow, so I suggest jumping on this one)

If you don’t follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or haven’t read my posts about the book here), Quitter is a memoir about my experiences drinking, relapsing, and eventually finding recovery after years running the gauntlet of the treatment industry.

Quitter is an unusual recovery memoir—one that rejects tropes like “rock bottom” and talks bluntly and unflinchingly about relapse as part of recovery. I went through many rock bottoms, and more relapses than I can now count, before checking myself into detox for the last time in February of 2015. My story isn’t the kind of story we’re used to hearing about women who get sober, although it’s more typical than you might think—my drinking was ugly and messy and made me impossible to be around, and it took me a long time to get where I am today: Happy and stable and glad to be more than five years removed from the time when my addiction was spinning me out of control.
Claire Dederer, the author of Love and Trouble, called the book “relentless” in its portrayal of relapse and the grim work of maintaining a late-stage addiction when she interviewed me at my book launch event. But my story is also a hopeful one, because every time I relapsed, I learned more about myself and the deadly brain disease that is addiction, until I was finally able to cobble together my own version of recovery.
Buy Quitter, tell a friend about it, and share photos and thoughts about the book on social media using the hashtag #QuitterBook. And keep an eye on this site, on Twitter, and on my Press and Events pages for info about upcoming events, interviews, podcast, TV, and radio appearances, and much more!

I Quit Drinking. Suddenly, Alcohol Was Everywhere.

From marketing phrase to actual wine.

This is the first in an occasional series of essays about my experience as a person in recovery. If you came her looking for local news only, scroll up or down and you’ll find it.

It’s easy to laugh, in 2020, about people who drank the fizzy malt beverage Zima in the ’90s, and harder to remember how heavily Zima was marketed to young people as a lighter, sparklier alternative to beer — literally, clear beer.

Read the rest of this post at Medium.

Read an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, and preorder your copy here.

Using Private Funding, King County Provides Alcohol and Cigarettes to Patients at Isolation Sites

Beer, Mug, Refreshment, Beer Mug, Drink, Bavaria
Image via Pixabay.

King County has been providing alcohol, tobacco, and, until two weeks ago, cannabis products to some patients with diagnosed or potential COVID-19 infections who are staying at the county’s isolation/quarantine and assessment/recovery sites, The C is for Crank has learned. These sites serve people who are homeless or who cannot isolate safely at home.

The program, which is not funded through public dollars, is similar to efforts in other cities, including San Francisco, to enable patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus to remain isolated safely while mitigating or preventing withdrawal symptoms.

“Limited and controlled quantities of alcohol and nicotine have been provided by the health and behavioral health clinicians on site as part of clinical management of withdrawal symptoms and harm reduction practices to support patients to safely stay in isolation,” Department of Human and Community Services spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton says. “In all cases, this clinical review and approval for a requested item is required.”

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While programs like King County’s have been controversial in other cities, they are based in the principles of harm reduction, a set of strategies at reducing the negative consequences of drug and alcohol use. Other examples of harm reduction include methadone clinics, needle exchanges, and the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s 1811 Eastlake project—not to mention things like nicotine gum and marijuana as an alternative to heroin.

Hamilton did not say how many people had received alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis products, but said that the department’s director, Leo Flor, has been paying for these items out of his own pocket while the county secures “private foundation funding as a more sustainable approach to funding moving forward.” It’s illegal to spend public funds on alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. Hamilton was not able to immediately provide details about how much these “initial harm reduction supplies” had cost.

Providing people with substances they would otherwise seek out makes it easier to keep people from spreading COVID-19 in the community surrounding the county’s quarantine and isolation sites, and makes it more likely that people will stay at those sites for their entire isolation period instead of leaving against medical advice. In the case of alcohol, it also may be saving lives—for heavy, daily drinkers, withdrawing from alcohol without specialized medical intervention can cause seizures, heart failure, and death.

“For those who cannot do so, or who do not have a home, the County has created isolation and recovery sites,” Hamilton said. “We try to keep guests safe, stable and comfortable so they will stay the entire time, and harm reduction is one strategy that helps to achieve that goal for some of our guests.”

I have asked for more details about funding for this program, including how much DCHS director Flor has spent out of his own pocket, and will update this post when I learn more.

Addiction Treatment Centers Struggle To Serve Patients As COVID-19 Spreads

This excerpt originally appeared at HuffPost, where you can read a full version of this story.

The spread of COVID-19 has presented a unique challenge to those fighting another life-threatening epidemic: substance use disorders, which affect about 20 million American adults each year. Residential treatment centers, which are based on a model of group therapy and interaction among patients, are scrambling to adapt to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

Those treatment centers are also facing a more existential threat: As potential patients stay away for fear of contracting the coronavirus, many smaller and publicly funded centers could run out of money and close their doors at a time when social isolation is driving many people with addictions to relapse.

“Historically, whenever there’s a crisis in the U.S., alcohol sales and illicit drug sales increase dramatically,” said Dr. Marvin Seppala, the chief medical officer at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Beaverton, Oregon. “Day-to-day things are suddenly stressful …. In the long run, there’s going to be an increased need for treatment.”

Treatment centers are considered “essential critical infrastructure” under the federal guidelines that most states are using to determine which services are exempt from requirements to shelter in place. But in order to keep people safe, they’re being forced to adapt in ways that go against normal methods of treatment, forgoing things like group meetings, family visits and open-door policies.

Melody McKee, who until last week was the clinical program director for Olalla Recovery Services in Olalla, Washington, said her treatment center made “the difficult decision” to implement a triage system for admissions.

“The way it will work is, like, ‘Is this person literally not going to make it if they do not enter this location?’” said McKee.

A person experiencing homelessness with no ability to access tele-health would rank high on the triage list, as would someone leaving detox who seems likely, based on their medical history, to go out and drink or use again.

Other factors that might push someone to the front of the line: frequent falls, past failure to follow through with opiate replacement therapy, suicide attempts and meth-induced psychosis. Those who don’t rank high on this kind of triage list may be turned away from treatment.

It’s a brutal calculus and a stark shift for treatment providers and advocates who have spent decades arguing for treatment on demand.

“No one can just walk up to a treatment center anymore,” said Dr. Paul Earley, president of the American Society for Addiction Medicine, which put out its own COVID-19 guide for providers. “The overarching issue here is to balance the risks of the two illnesses: the risk of contracting coronavirus and developing COVID-19 versus the risk of not getting treatment for the disease of addiction.”

Inpatient Facilities Make Tough Choices

McKee said the need to implement social distancing — for example, by reducing the number of patients who sleep in the same room — can be hard to balance with the desire to take care of as many patients as possible.

“Do you know what kind of burden it is to say, ’We know this person needs this level of care, but we also have people right here who are sitting ducks [for infection]?” she said.

If tests for COVID-19 were available, she said, her treatment center would be able to admit or reject patients. For now, all they can do is screen for symptoms and hope for the best.

The tight quarters at residential treatment centers and the medically fragile condition of most people with serious, long-term addiction make them ideal breeding grounds for infection. Long-term intravenous drug users often suffer from a heart infection called endocarditis; people who smoke crack, meth or marijuana may have diminished lung capacity; and heavy drinkers may have multiple organ failure and a suppressed immune system.

“These are not healthy individuals,” said Lauren Davis, executive director of the Seattle-based Washington Recovery Alliance. “People whose disease is advanced enough that it would necessitate inpatient treatment are pretty much universally in the high-risk category.”

To keep the virus out, treatment centers are cleaning more thoroughly and often, checking both staffers’ and patients’ temperatures regularly, and implementing social distancing in all group activities. That means putting space between chairs in group therapy, spacing out or canceling mass lectures, discharging some patients early if they seem stable enough to leave without relapsing, banning hugs and eliminating visits from friends and family, among other measures that fundamentally change the nature of rehab.

Read the rest of the story here.

Recovery in the Time of Coronavirus

Image via Pixabay

This piece originally appeared at HuffPost

“Keep coming back, it works if you work it, and we’re all worth it!”

That’s the chant at the end of most meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Seattle area, done while everyone is still holding hands after saying the Serenity Prayer. It’s an affirmation that a program rooted in mutual, in-person support can keep people sober, as long as they keep coming back to meetings.

But here at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, where county officials have officially banned all gatherings of more than 50 people and imposed strict requirements on smaller gatherings, mutual support groups like AA, Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery are struggling to cope.

Meetings that were once held in churches, hospitals and retirement homes have been canceled or moved online. Those gatherings that continue to take place are sparsely attended as residents hunker down. Several regional events for AA and NA members have been canceled or postponed.

Brian, an AA member in Snohomish, Washington, just northeast of Seattle, said he hasn’t gone to his usual weekly meeting since the outbreak hit the area a few weeks ago, and he’s feeling the effects.

“Anytime I don’t get to go to meetings, it impacts me, whether I think so or not,” said Brian, who asked that we use his first name only. “The meeting where I usually go is in a hospital, so that’s canceled.”

Amir Islam, a Seattle NA member who works in the music business, said he’s still going to meetings despite warnings to stay away from groups. On Friday, he said he had just chaired a meeting where people tried to avoid touching at the beginning but ended the meeting with their arms around each other — the NA equivalent to AA’s hand-holding ritual.

“People were doing the elbow bump and the fist bump at the beginning, and then it goes from that to everyone hugging at the end,” he said. “It was like, ‘Really? Are we avoiding each other or not?’”

Read the rest of this piece at HuffPost. 

Can You Drink (and Puke) Your Way Sober? A Seattle Rehab Says Yes.

Image via Pixabay.

 

This piece originally appeared at HuffPost.

By the time Tara wound up at Schick Shadel Hospital, a 10-day inpatient rehab facility just south of Seattle, she had hit a personal low. She’d always been a drinker — alcoholism runs in her family — but things had spiraled over the past few years. More than once, she found herself sobering up in jail, trying to remember what made her husband call the cops the night before.

She had already tried traditional rehab at an inpatient facility in Eastern Washington, as well as Antabuse, the drug meant to help patients stay sober by making them violently ill when they drink. Neither kept her sober for more than a few days. Alcoholics Anonymous was a bust, too: “I went to my first meeting, cried all the way through it, then went out and proceeded to get massively wasted.”

Tara, who is being referenced by a pseudonym to protect her privacy, realized that if she didn’t do something, she was going to lose her family. It was her husband who pushed her to try Schick Shadel, a treatment center in Burien, Washington, that promises to eliminate cravings within 10 days and claims a success rate of nearly 70%.

There, Tara found a type of treatment altogether different than the spiritual transformation emphasized in most 12-step-based programs. Schick Shadel treated addiction with brute force, like a physical foe. “It was nice to have permission to reject AA,” Tara said.

But Schick Shadel’s treatment involves some strategies experts consider fringe, even borderline unethical. The center administers high doses of alcohol combined with a nausea-inducing drug or mild electric shocks‚ a method called “aversion therapy.” It also involves interviews with counselors when the patient is under sedation. A 10-day stay at the center costs roughly $22,000.

And although Tara and others say they have benefited from the program, Schick Shadel’s unconventional methods don’t appear to be any more effective than other kinds of treatment. The most comprehensive long-term study of Schick Shadel’s success over time showed that 77% of former patients had returned to drinking after 10 years.

Drinking — And Puking — At ‘Duffy’s Tavern’

Dr. Charles Shadel founded Shadel Hospital outside Seattle in 1935 offering aversion therapy in a “homelike setting — the same year Bill Wilson started Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, Ohio.

Decades later, a stay at Schick Shadel includes mandatory counseling, aftercare planning and other trappings of traditional treatment. But its most distinctive feature remains aversion therapy, which is based on the idea that if you associate a substance with an unpleasant experience, you’ll want to avoid it.

Schick Shadel patients are given a nausea-inducing drug followed by a cup filled with their drink of choice, which is repeated over and over again, and again, and again. If a patient’s body can’t handle vomiting, they can opt to swirl alcohol in their mouths while getting a series of mild electric shocks; if a patient is a drug user, Schick Shadel offers authentic-looking simulacra to snort or smoke.

The treatment room is like a bar from a nightmare — fluorescent lighting turned up to 11, a rolling cart stocked with warm gallon jugs of Fireball and vodka, and a giant mirror over a stark steel basin that is easy to imagine brimming with 85 years’ worth of vomit.

Although other former patients say the process of repeatedly drinking and throwing up was miserable, Tara was willing to try anything. “I was a serious bulimic for like 10 years, and they asked, ‘Is that going to be a concern?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t care about throwing up,’” she said. “I had done enough unsavory things that I never thought I would do that I said, ‘Fuck it, [my husband] really wants me to do this; maybe it’ll work.’”

Schick Shadel refers to these vomiting sessions as “duffies” — a reference to a fictitious bar that doubles as an in-joke among people in the program. On days when patients aren’t doing “duffies,” they have “sleepies” — interviews under sedation that are supposed to give counselors direct contact with a patient’s subconscious mind.

Until fairly recently, Schick Shadel used sodium pentothal, the so-called “truth serum,” for these sessions, but that drug became unavailable in the U.S. after European suppliers objected to its use in executions. Schick Shadel switched to propofol, a drug commonly used in general anesthesia.

“There’s a reason that they don’t put in the advertisements that you’re going to be given a duffy or an electric shock,” said Pete, another former patient using a pseudonym who went to Schick Shadel after his 12-drink-a-day habit started giving him morning shakes. “They know that if you knew that going in, you probably wouldn’t go.”

In the hospital, the aversion sessions are treated like a kind of shared trauma. Many wear navy “I had my last drink at Duffy’s Tavern” hoodies, which are available for $30 near the reception desk, over their green hospital scrubs.

“People say they need something more physical,” said Mark Woodward, Schick Shadel’s director of business development and marketing. People come here because of the promise behind all that suffering: that they will lose the compulsion to drink by permanently turning off brain receptors that lead to cravings.

“We are confident that we can help a patient lose their cravings in 10 days,” Woodward said.

Does Aversion Therapy Work?

The research on aversion therapy for addiction is sparse, and much of it has been funded or conducted by people associated with Schick Shadel, including its longtime medical director, the late James Smith, and Schick Razor Company founder Patrick Frawley, a onetime Shadel Hospital patient who purchased the hospital through a spinoff company in 1965.

Like most studies that treatment centers conduct, the results are limited to self-reporting from former patients who responded to surveys, and rarely include results beyond one year after treatment. The most comprehensive modern study of Schick Shadel’s method was in 1993, and suggested that about 65% of former patients surveyed said they were still sober after a year; however, 29% of the patients contacted did not respond to researchers at all, so the real “success” rate was likely much lower. Studies show that reported one-year relapse rates vary from 30 to 70% for all kinds of treatment, including one-on-one therapy. A more meaningful number would be the number of people who manage to get and stay sober over a longer period, but treatment centers, for various reasons, don’t typically track patients long-term.

Fred Muench, the president of the nonprofit Center on Addiction in New York, considers aversion therapy “outdated” and said it only works as long as the negative reinforcement is present. “When you’re in treatment, almost anything works, because you’re in a controlled environment,” Muench said.

Read the rest of this story at HuffPost.

Five Years

Five years ago today, I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my life, and lead—with many steps along the way—to the creation of the website you’re reading right now.

On February 6, 2015, I called a cab, packed a bag, and checked in to a detox center in Kirkland, where I stayed for five days before returning home and starting over—no job, no prospects, and no real faith in myself, but an ineffable feeling that this time, things were different.

I won’t belabor everything that it took to get me to Fairfax that rainy morning—suffice to say, this wasn’t the first time I’d checked myself in to a place where the doors locked from the outside—but something had clicked. More than six years after I first sought help—thinking, in my ignorance, that detox would be a “reset button”—I was done.

But putting it that way makes it sound like a foregone conclusion, and of course it wasn’t. Most people who struggle with substance use struggle to quit, and most of us relapse before we “get it.” Some of us have loving, supportive families who try to help; some of us lose the support of those families after a stint at treatment doesn’t “work,” and many of us don’t have support from family or friends at all, because we’ve burned every last bridge or never had bridges to support us in the first place. I had every advantage—a decent job, a family who wanted to help even if they didn’t know how, and friends who never stopped showing up for me, even when I was at one of my many “rock bottoms”—a concept, by the way, that is just a story we tell ourselves.

One of the reasons I write about homelessness and addiction with such conviction is that I know what it’s like to be addicted and I know the privilege that prevented me from becoming homeless myself. Another reason is that I want to dispel the myths about addiction that people choose to believe because it’s easier than acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed people who don’t have comfortable cushions to fall back on.

For every conservative armchair addiction expert who says, “My brother was an alcoholic but he just decided it was time to quit,” there’s someone who tells me that they were doing fine on medication but then their doctor cut them off and they switched back to meth.

For every person who tells me they support a zero-tolerance policy for people who want to live indoors, there’s a guy who was able to quit drinking only after getting stable in a place where people didn’t judge him for having a disease.

For every person who says people live in tents and shoot heroin because they want life to be a nonstop party with no consequences or accountability, there’s me, an alcoholic, telling you that maintaining an addiction from day to day is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.

The people you see on the street muttering to themselves or committing crimes to feed a drug habit or living in squalid, deplorable conditions didn’t start out that way; they fell farther than I did, and probably farther than anyone you know, because they ran out of resources, and probably didn’t have many to begin with. The job of a just society isn’t to look at people who are struggling with a life-threatening, time-consuming, soul-annihilating disease and shame them for not curing themselves on their own. It’s to ask them what they need and help them get it.

My bias is for compassion toward people that too many others view with contempt and want to sweep away. This isn’t because I’m a better person than anyone else. It’s because I know that the cure for addiction isn’t tough love or making people’s lives harder or forcing them into treatment and then blaming them when a 28-day spin-dry doesn’t “work.” The cure for addiction is realizing that there isn’t one cure for addiction, that recovery looks different for every person, and that some people may never “get it.” That doesn’t make them less deserving of respect and human rights; it just means that they didn’t defeat a life-threatening disease.

It’s hard to fit public policy into a framework of uncertainty, but everything else is a waste of time.

Unlike many of the people I write about, I had resources, and I got sober in time. I could have become homeless. I could have died. But I didn’t.

And here are some of the things I’ve done because I didn’t: I got a job at a nonprofit that fights for reproductive rights. I created this website. I got a book deal, left the job at the nonprofit, and started writing full-time. I moved out of a lousy apartment in a great location and got a place with a view in a better one. I expanded this site into a full-time enterprise, supported by hundreds of readers in Seattle and beyond. I rebuilt my old relationships and built some new ones. I wrote that book. I stayed here, one day at a time.

Seeking a Medical Approach to Meth Addiction, Seattle Researchers Look to Other Stimulants

As meth use and overdoses spike, particularly on the West Coast, researchers in Seattle are proposing a taking a medical approach to addiction‚ replacing with other stimulants in much the same way as methadone and suboxone replace heroin with alternative opiates. But propaganda painting the drug as uniquely addictive makes funding a challenge.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest piece at HuffPost; check out the whole story As meth use and overdoses spike, researchers in Seattle are proposing a medical solution that replaces meth with other stimulants. But propaganda painting the drug as uniquely addictive makes funding a challenge. Check out my latest at HuffPost.

At some point between their son’s stints at sober houses, jail and 14 rehab centers, Annie and Richard Becker gave up hope that he would ever stop using meth.

The Beckers, who live in Seattle, haven’t seen their son in more than a year. Before meth, their son was “really caring, very funny and likable,” the kind of guy who “didn’t like to see anybody else picked on or harmed,” Richard said.

After meth, he was scary and unpredictable ― the kind of guy who thought nothing of throwing a brick through his parents’ window or threatening his mom, Annie said.

“I think when he was most dangerous to us is when he was in withdrawal and couldn’t get drugs, and we became the target,” she said.

There are medications to help with opioid addiction, including methadone ― in use since the early 1970s ― and buprenorphine, which became widely available in the last decade. Both drugs are substitute opiates that can take away the destructive urge to use and give people a chance at housing, medical care and stable relationships. But there are currently no similar treatments for methamphetamine addiction.

“I’ve always felt like, is anybody paying attention to the fact that there’s all these meth users who don’t have any kind of treatment?” Richard said.

While there have been some studies that tried substitute stimulants to treat methamphetamine addiction, the results have been mixed, leading some to conclude that a medical treatment for meth addiction is unlikely.

But a team of researchers in Seattle wants to challenge that theory. Their plan is to give relatively high doses of methylphenidate ― better known as the ADHD drug Ritalin ― to patients who are already in treatment for opiate use disorders and also use meth. The proposed pilot, which still needs about $500,000 in funding, is not yet underway. It would be a joint effort between Evergreen Treatment Services (ETS), the University of Washington and the Seattle Public Defender Association. Although the Seattle City Council declined to provide public funding for the program in its last budget cycle, researchers are optimistic that grants or federal dollars will come through. If researchers see significant results, the pilot could be expanded to include more patients.

“What we really want to see is a very substantial reduction in use, so that you could say this is making an impact on people’s lives, in terms of improving physical health, psychological health, reducing criminal activity, and improving their ability to take care of the basic things in life,” said Dr. Paul Grekin, the medical director at ETS.

Seattle seems primed for this kind of experiment. Meth use has been growing quietly across the United States for years in the shadow of the opiate epidemic, but the increase has been particularly acute on the West Coast, where meth now causes more overdose deaths than any other drug. In Washington state, meth overdoses killed about one person every day in 2016. In King County, which includes Seattle, there were 164 meth overdose deaths last year, outpacing heroin as the leading cause of overdose deaths.

Meth has become cheaper, more contaminated and more potent in the last several years, according to front-line emergency service and case workers, leading to an increase in dangerous symptoms like cardiac arrest, strokes and hyperthermia, a condition where the body essentially burns itself alive. That’s on top of the more common symptoms of meth use, such as psychosis, dental problems, injuries, malnutrition and diseases transmitted through needles or risky sex.

Continue reading at HuffPost.

At HuffPost: 28-Day Rehab Isn’t Evidence-Based. So Why Do We Keep Sending People There?

When we talk about “treatment,” whether it’s in the context of a loved one’s addiction or addressing homelessness, we’re usually referring to traditional 28-day rehab—the “solution” of choice for insurance companies, policymakers, and desperate people looking for help. The problem is, 28-day treatment is one of the least effective methods to get people sober, leading to cycles of treatment and relapse that can cost patients hundreds of thousands of dollars without results.

I recently wrote an in-depth story about the growing consensus that 28-day rehab is the wrong approach. Check out the intro, then read the full story at HuffPost.

 

When Jessye first “graduated” from a 28-day treatment center outside Seattle, she knew she wouldn’t be able to stay clean. She became addicted to pain medication while dealing with endometriosis, and by the time she showed up at the doors of the private, for-profit rehab, she had been using Percocet for four years.

“When that got too expensive, I turned to heroin,” said the 34-year-old, who asked us not to use her last name out of concern that it might harm her professionally.

Fresh out of rehab, she was jobless, homeless and sleeping in her car, which was owned by an aunt. Then her family took away the car, because they didn’t want to enable her. After a couple of weeks, she started using again.

“I was really afraid,” said Jessye. “I really wanted to stay clean, and I really tried, but ultimately, they didn’t set me up for success.”

Addiction treatment is a big business. More than 2 million Americans spend a total of $28 billion every year on treatment at nearly 15,000 facilities across the country, according to the National Survey on Drug Abuse. About 12 percent of those opt for four-week treatment, which can cost anywhere from $10,000 to more than $30,000 a month. Many clients return multiple times before it sticks.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, two-thirds of people who go to treatment end up going back at least once, with 20 percent entering treatment five times or more. The money flowing through private treatment companies creates perverse incentives for treatment centers ―  if treatment failed, patients and their families are told, it’s probably because the patient failed at treatment.

The solution? More treatment.

Read the rest of this story at HuffPost.