An ex-addict attends a professional drug therapy conference and has something to say about it.
Professional treatment for drug addiction is now known to be successful only around five percent of the time. Relapse is far more common than abstinence. As a result, professional drug therapies are shifting focus from “treatment” to “prevention and recovery” (concepts which most non-professional programs have always preferred.)
This alteration in professional thinking from cure concepts to new social networking and lifestyle changes is one of the points I gleaned from the 2011 Fresh Start Recovery Seminar held at the University of Western Australia on 8 July 2011 under the auspices of Dr. George O’Neil’s Australian Medical Procedures Research Foundation Ltd. The doctors have got most things absolutely right – in particular they’re right about government policy-makers. The methadone lobby is headed toward decriminalisation and ultimately legalisation – bad news indeed for those of us in recovery.
The conference, highly informative on a number of issues, also further reinforced my views about all drugs of addiction, legal and illegal, used in treatment and otherwise. (Formerly an addict myself, I have been totally clean and sober for over thirty-five years.) I avoided methadone through the 1970s and quit cannabis in 1976 along with other drugs. In retrospect, these decisions were among the most important I ever made – more important, for example, than deciding to become a psychologist (which led to experimenting with LSD while it was still legal).
Speakers disagreed on terminology (should addiction be called a “chronic disease”) on the necessity for chemical antagonists (is naltrexone necessary) but all agreed that abstinence is the only way to go. The majority also agree that cannabis is a dangerous drug and methadone causes more problems than it cures.
At last long-term research with sizable samples of the population are available to show that cannabis does cause schizophrenia. Without such expensive, “longitudinal” studies, it is impossible to prove conclusively that the correlation between psychosis and cannabis is not due to ingesting cannabis after becoming schizophrenic. Still, I and nearly every recovering addict with whom I’m acquainted have always known from bitter experience that pot drives you nuts. But because you’re insane you don’t know you’re insane when you’re insane. Only after you quit, do you perceive reality – but that could be months or even years later. When you smoke dope, you adapt to the low-grade hallucinations. You put on a normal act. The voices in your head become familiar and benign. Don’t tell anyone but it seems natural for bushes to follow you down the street and blossoms to speak greetings. The voices say you can quit whenever you want…but not today. The voices reveal hidden meanings: those who want to help you quit are really enemies who want to rob you of relief. Pot-head relief belief. Be careful whom you tell about the visions and voices (V&V). Enemies are everywhere. You never know….
Of all drug treatments, methadone is the least effective, most unpleasant and most dangerous. A synthetic opiate, it was invented by the Nazis during WWII when real opium became scarce. And that’s exactly what it feels like when you take it: a synthetic substitute, just as bad for you but not as good to you. You feel rotten. You age rapidly. Actually, you can still get high if you take enough heroin but it costs too much. And methadone is harder to quit than heroin. You are likely to remain on it until you die, fronting up at the chemist every morning to get your daily fix. You are serving a sentence, being punished for your sins, hopelessly addicted without relief while your teeth rot and your body ages. The only people who like methadone are those who don’t have to take it, the bureaucrats who administer the policy. The other agonists used in “maintenance treatment” are equally despised by consumers. On this point the doctors at the conference are espousing the truth. Right on, brothers! The substitute cure is worse than the real disease.
The conference speakers also got it right about the failure of establishment drug policy. Life gets easier and easier for the still-using addict; more and more youngsters think it’s safe to experiment; millions of dollars get wasted. Meanwhile life gets harder and harder for those of us who want to stay clean and sober.
“Harm-minimization”, claims to try to reduce the risks in drug use. But preventing self-harm is a risky business at best. Needle exchanges are mostly unsuccessful. The “safe injecting room” is an obvious failure. To ensure attendance, the staff tells you that drug use is a human right and here is a safe place to exercise your right. Because risks are reduced, you shoot up bigger doses in the safe-injecting room.
The cost of constant medical supervision is enormous. We could clean up and supervise all the toilets in Kings Cross for a fraction of the cost of a safe-injecting room.
And then harm-min evolves from a policy into a mindset. Harm-min adherents begin to minimize their perception of drug harm. They can’t see the horrible consequences of drug use. They down-play the danger, don’t see the wreaked lives. The next step after harm-min is legalisation.
The main groups opposing harm-min other than the doctors at this conference are some of us who have been completely abstinent for a substantial period as well as some parents of vulnerable children who have not yet succumbed but are likely to do so if harm gets sufficiently reduced, plus a few concerned citizens who get labelled moralists and wowsers. Among the latter are the distraught parents of children whose lives are destroyed by drug- maintenance programs when they could have been saved by abstinent life-style programmes. These parents are understandably mad as hell which hath no fury like mothers whose children were destroyed by harm-min when they could have been saved by abstinence.
Because all treatments are less than totally successful, an internecine battle rages between M) the ruling Methadone- harm-min-lobby on the one hand versus N) the insurgent Naltrexone-doctors and their abstinent-lifestyle allies on the other. The government supports M) which is winning for now. One of the leading N) practitioners just had his licence revoked on a technicality (writing his medical histories in shorthand). The move to get him disbarred was led by the M) crowd who hated his high-profile opposition. Likewise the most promising of all treatments, long-term naltrexone implants developed by Dr. George O’Neil, have not been approved by the M)-dominated Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
When the prospective from the platform was dim, major hope was in the audience. Drug addiction is discouraging but true recovery is always amazing. Whenever an ex-addict spoke at the conference, hope filled the auditorium. Treatments may be ineffective, policies may be destructive, professional reputations may be destroyed and careers ruined, but God continues to heal drug addicts gracefully and abundantly. Free at last, we give gratitude to our doctors and glory to our God. At the end of the day or the end of the seminar, our abstinence is what it’s all about – living without slavery. We who are clean and sober leave the auditorium happy to resume life free from drugs. Even the worst treatments and policies can’t stop us.