Category Archives: Harm Reduction

…let us work together

The last couple of days’ posts, a recent conversation and some recent news (I’ll let you guess which story.) reminded me of this post. It’s from a couple of years ago and has a couple of minor updates.


 

“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… 
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, 
then let us work together.” – Lila Watson

Obviously, I’ve been thinking a lot about the buprenorphine maintenance, the NY Times series and the reactions since it was published. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here & here.)

At Dawn Farm, we’ve often said that maintenance approaches are often rooted in the belief that opiate addicts can’t recover. Now, I’m the kind of person who tends to be uncomfortable making statements that claim to know the contents of another person’s mind. This week has made me much more comfortable with that statement. None of the responses have argued that maintenance is a great tool for achieving recovery. Several have referred to opiate addiction as a hopeless condition. All the arguments for it have been harm reduction arguments–that it’s associated with reduced use, overdose death, disease transmission, crime and incarceration. (The data is less compelling than many of them would have you believe.)

I want to make clear that I have no interest in getting between an addict and a maintenance treatment. All I want is a day when addicts are offered the same treatment that their doctors are offered–recovery oriented treatment of an adequate duration and intensity. I have no problem with drug-assisted treatment being offered. Give the client accurate information and let them choose. (However, the only choices these articles are worried about are buprenorphine and methadone. SAMHSA reports that, in 2012, about 23% of opiate addicts had a treatment plan that included medication assisted treatment, while 7% got long term residential. It’s worth noting a couple things. First, SAMHSA’s data set is generally limited to programs that get federal funding. Many of these use methadone, but few use buprenorphine. Buprenorphine had $1.4 billion in US sales and was the number 28 drug in 2012. Second, that quarter of heroin addicts with medication assisted treatment in their treatment plans is only those who actually had medication in their plan–23% doesn’t represent everyone who was offered medication, that number would likely be much higher. Third, their definition of long term residential is very loose and can include “transitional living arrangements such as halfway houses”. So, that 7% is inflated and very misleading. Finally, how many people get the treatment doctors get? I’d feel pretty safe guessing it’s a fraction of a percent. Why is there no hand wringing about access to this kind of care?)

However, when we have professionals, policy makers and researchers who don’t believe in the capacity of patients to recover, the kind of help they are going to offer is going to be unhelpful. They’ll focus on risk factors for overdose like “compromised tolerance”. Of course, decreased tolerance is associated with overdose. Then again, social interaction is associated with transmission of many illnesses. Should we discourage social lives?

One has to wonder if the experts interviewed for these articles know any addicts in full recovery–people who are fully re-engaged in family life, community life, vocations, education, faith communities, etc. If so, do they think of the people they know as belonging to some special category that makes them different from other addicts? (When I teach about addiction and bring up the outcomes for health professionals, many students argue that they are a different kind of addict and better outcomes are to be expected.)

While I don’t want to take choices away from addicts, there’s a big part of me that wants these “experts” to leave us alone. We don’t need your “help.” (A kind of help you would never offer a sick peer.)

malcolmxbirthday16x9

That sentiment brings to mind this Malcolm X story:

Several times in his autobiography, Malcolm X brings up the encounter he had with “one little blonde co-ed” who stepped in, then out, of his life not long after hearing him speak at her New England college. “I’d never seen anyone I ever spoke before more affected than this little white girl,” he wrote. So greatly did this speech affect the young woman that she actually flew to New York and tracked Malcolm down inside a Muslim restaurant he frequented in Harlem. “Her clothes, her carriage, her accent,” he wrote, “all showed Deep South breeding and money.” After introducing herself, she confronted Malcolm and his associates with this question: “Don’t you believe there are any good white people?” He said to her: “People’s deeds I believe in, Miss, not their words.”

She then exclaimed: “What can I do?” Malcolm said: “Nothing.” A moment later she burst into tears, ran out and along Lenox Avenue, and disappeared by taxi into the world.

I can relate to his sentiment that the most helpful thing others can do is leave us alone. (“Other” can be a pretty ugly word, no?) Then, when I’m a little less emotional, I’m left to consider my own cognitive biases and creeping certitude. I have to think about the contributions of people like Dr. Silkworth, Sister Ignatia, George Vaillant, etc.

We also need to be watchful for ideological resistance to innovations that could help others find recovery.

Malcolm X had a similar experience to this too:

In a later chapter, he wrote: “I regret that I told her she could do ‘nothing.’ I wish now that I knew her name, or where I could telephone her, and tell her what I tell white people now when they present themselves as being sincere, and ask me, one way or another, the same thing that she asked.”

Alex Haley, in the autobiography’s epilogue (Malcolm X had since been assassinated), recounted a statement Malcolm made to Gordon Parks that revealed how affected he was by his encounter with the blonde coed: “Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. . . . I guess a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years.”

Malcolm X realized, too late, that there was plenty this “little blonde coed” could have done, that his response to her was inconsistent with what he, his associates, and his followers wanted to accomplish.

Bill White wrote about the things that have allowed practitioners to avoid the cultural traps in working with addicts:

Four things have allowed addiction treatment practitioners to shun the cultural contempt with which alcoholics and addicts have long been held:

  1. personal experiences of recovery and/or relationships with people in sustained recovery,
  2. addiction-specific professional education,
  3. the capacity to enter into relationships with alcoholics and addicts from a position of moral equality and emotional authenticity (willingness to experience a “kinship of common suffering” regardless of recovery status), and
  4. clinical supervision by those possessing specialized knowledge about addiction, treatment and recovery processes.

We must make sure that these qualities and conditions are not lost in the rush to integrate addiction treatment and other service systems.

I don’t know how to engage these experts who may know a lot about the illness, but they often appear to be blind to the fact that full recovery already exists in every community across the country. It’s especially tough when the field is so fractured, there’s so much money to be made, and external forces (like the Affordable Care Act) are going to be pushing addicts toward primary care for their treatment.

As far as Dawn Farm goes, I heard something last week that cast us in a new light for me.

We are unapologetically rooted in culture.
If you want to join us, and you’re not part of that culture,
you need to find ways to respect, honor and celebrate that culture.”  – Dan Floyd

We’ve talked a lot about the concept of cultural competence and that professional helpers need to deliberately develop similar competencies when working with addicts and the recovering community. I still believe this is true. But, at Dawn Farm, we go beyond mere competence. We are rooted in the culture of recovery, and we help non-recovering staff (more than half of our staff) find ways to respect, honor and celebrate that culture.

This puts us out of the mainstream among professional helpers and “experts” on addiction, but we wouldn’t change a thing.

The question is how to develop this kind of competence in these researchers, policy makers and experts. It would seem that recovery advocacy would be an important way to do this. However, drug manufacturers have ingratiated themselves with recovery advocacy organizations and the organizations have tried to ingratiate themselves with experts. As a result, they’ve waded into supporting medication assisted recovery, but have done little to challenge the therapeutic nihilism that PHARMA nurtures and is a theme in the public comments of these experts.

In the meantime, this brings me back to the quote I opened this post with.

“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time… 
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, 
then let us work together.” – Lila Watson

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The adjacent possible and hope

I heard a radio show this morning about where ideas come from.

They interviewed a guy who wrote a book and gave a TED talk on the topic.

During the interview he discussed the concept of the adjacent possible and it’s importance in forming new ideas. During the interview, he described it as the building blocks of new ideas. Without the right building blocks, any innovation is not possible. He described it another way in a WSJ article:

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.

During the interview, he pointed out that it doesn’t matter how smart one is, it was not possible to invent a microwave in 1650, because the building blocks, the adjacent possible, just wasn’t there.

One factor is that the physical building blocks did not exist. The other factor is that the imaginative/inspiration building blocks did not exist.

This reminded me of a metaphor Bill White once used when talking about hope-engendering relationships offering kindling for hope.

I think this helps explain the resistance some recovery advocates have to interventions focused on something other than drug-free recovery. There’s a sense of how precious this adjacent possible is, and how easy it is to imagine a world where drug-free recovery is not possible because the adjacent possible has been lost.

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2014’s top posts: #5

He died from heroin (addiction)

Phil Hoffman . . . did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.

via Aaron Sorkin: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Drug Addiction

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Top posts of 2014: #12

Abstinence—The Only Way to Beat Addiction?

StrawmanWhat killed Philip Seymour Hoffman? According to Anne Fletcher, it wasn’t the doctor who prescribed him the pain medication that began his relapse, it wasn’t the prescribers of the combination of meds found in his body, it wasn’t his discontinuing the behaviors that maintained his recovery for 23 years, it wasn’t a drug dealer, and it wasn’t addiction itself.

According to her it was 12 step groups for promulgating an alleged myth:

This is exactly what happened when Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Corey Monteith, and most recently, Phillip Seymour Hoffman were found dead and alone. Scores of people most of us never hear about suffer a similar fate every year.

Why does this keep happening? One of the answers is that many people struggling with drug and alcohol problems have been “scared straight” into believing that abstinence is the only way out of addiction and that, once you are abstinent, a short-lived or even single incident of drinking or drugging again is a relapse. “If you use again,” you’re told, “you’ll pick up right where you left off.” Once “off the wagon,” standard practice with traditional 12-step approaches is to have you start counting abstinent days all over again, and you’re left with a sense that you’ve lost your accrued sober time.

She’s describing a theory often referred to as the “abstinence violation effect”. The argument is that the “one drink away from a drunk” message in 12 step groups is harmful and makes relapses worse than they might have been.

One problem. The theory is not supported by research. (See here and here. It hasn’t even held up with other behaviors.)

Two things are important here.

  • First, many people experience problems with drugs and alcohol without ever developing an addiction. Most of these people will stop and moderate on their own. These people are not addicts and their experience does not have anything to teach us about recovery from addiction.
  • Second, loss of control is the defining characteristic of addiction. The “one drink away from a drunk” message is a colloquial way of describing this feature of addiction.

Further, she characterizes AA as opposing moderation for problem drinkers, when AA literature itself says, “If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right- about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him.” 12 step groups believe that real alcoholics will be incapable of moderate drinking, but they are clear that they have no problem with people moderating, if they are able. This is a straw man.

We’re left to wonder why a best selling author and NY Times reporter would attack 12 step groups with a straw man argument and a long discredited theory.

via Abstinence—The Only Way to Beat Addiction? Part 1 | Psychology Today.

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The Emperor of All Maladies

Throwback Sunday – I thought this old post on parallels between cancer, oncology, addiction, addiction treatment and recovery would be a good pairing with yesterday’s post on professional attitudes toward difficult to treat illnesses.

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I’ve been reading The Emperor of All Maladies and I’ve been very struck by the parallels between the is philosophical and practical challenges faced by cancer and addiction researchers, advocates and practitioners.

One of the pioneers of cancer research, treatment and advocacy faced difficult decisions about whether to disclose his own illness:

Proud, guarded, and secretive—reluctant to conflate his battle against cancer with the battle—Farber also pointedly refused to discuss his personal case publicly.

The rhythms of hope and despair

the clinic seemed perpetually suspended between two poles—both “wonderful and tragic . . . unspeakably depressing and indescribably hopeful.” On entering the cancer ward, Goldstein would write later, “I sense an undercurrent of excitement, a feeling (persistent despite repeated frustrations) of being on the verge of discovery, which makes me almost hopeful.

“The mood among pediatric oncologists changed virtually overnight from one of ‘compassionate fatalism’ to one of ‘aggressive optimism.’”

“ALL in children cannot be considered an incurable disease,” Pinkel wrote in a review article. “Palliation is no longer an acceptable approach to its initial treatment.”

The zeal and necessity of the advocates:

She had found her mission. “I am opposed to heart attacks and cancer,” she would later tell a reporter, “the way one is opposed to sin.” Mary Lasker chose to eradicate diseases as some might eradicate sin—through evangelism. If people did not believe in the importance of a national strategy against diseases, she would convert them, using every means at her disposal.

The tension between the patient’s welfare and the professional and intellectual needs of the doctors and researchers:

“There is an old Arabian proverb,” a group of surgeons wrote at the end of a particularly chilling discussion of stomach cancer in 1933, “that he is no physician who has not slain many patients, and the surgeon who operates for carcinoma of the stomach must remember that often.” To arrive at that sort of logic—the Hippocratic oath turned upside down—demands either a terminal desperation or a terminal optimism. In the 1930s, the pendulum of cancer surgery swung desperately between those two points.

Political feminism, in short, was birthing medical feminism—and the fact that one of the most common and most disfiguring operations performed on women’s bodies had never been formally tested in a trial stood out as even more starkly disturbing to a new generation of women. … It was as if the young woman in Halsted’s famous etching—the patient that he had been so “loathe to disfigure”—had woken up from her gurney and begun to ask why, despite his “loathing,” the cancer surgeon was so keen to disfigure her.

“We shall so poison the atmosphere of the first act,” the biologist James Watson warned about the future of cancer in 1977, “that no one of decency shall want to see the play through to the end.”

The demands of caring for patients with such an all-consuming illness:

As Carla’s doctor, I needed to be needed as well, to be acknowledged, even as a peripheral participant in her battle. But Carla had barely any emotional energy for her own recuperation—and certainly none to spare for the needs of others. For her, the struggle with leukemia had become so deeply personalized, so interiorized, that the rest of us were ghostly onlookers in the periphery: we were the zombies walking outside her head.

“To some extent,” he wrote about his patients, “no doubt, they transfer the burden [of their disease] to me.”

The tension between physicians offering palliative care and patients wanting more:

The daughter looked at me as if I were mad. “I came here to get treatment, not consolations about hospice,” she finally said, glowering with fury.

The fear and existential implications of cancer:

Will you turn me out if I can’t get better? —A cancer patient to her physician, 1960s

“I don’t know why I deserved the illness in the first place, but then I don’t know why I deserved to be cured. Leukemia is like that. It mystifies you. It changes your life.”

The pull of palliative care:

As trial after trial of chemotherapy and surgery failed to chisel down the mortality rate for advanced cancers, a generation of surgeons and chemotherapists, unable to cure patients, began to learn (or relearn) the art of caring for patients. It was a fitful and uncomfortable lesson. Palliative care, the branch of medicine that focuses on symptom relief and comfort, had been perceived as the antimatter of cancer therapy, the negative to its positive, an admission of failure to its rhetoric of success.

The movement to restore sanity and sanctity to the end-of-life care of cancer patients emerged, predictably, not from cure-obsessed America but from Europe.

she encountered terminally ill patients denied dignity, pain relief, and often even basic medical care—their lives confined, sometimes literally, to rooms without windows. These “hopeless” cases, Saunders found, had become the pariahs of oncology, unable to find any place in its rhetoric of battle and victory, and thus pushed, like useless, wounded soldiers, out of sight and mind.

Saunders responded to this by inventing, or rather resurrecting, a counterdiscipline—palliative medicine. (She avoided the phrase palliative care because care, she wrote, “is a soft word” that would never win respectability in the medical world.) … she created a hospice in London to care specifically for the terminally ill and dying, evocatively naming it St. Christopher’s—not after the patron saint of death, but after the patron saint of travelers.

“The resistance to providing palliative care to patients,” a ward nurse recalls, “was so deep that doctors would not even look us in the eye when we recommended that they stop their efforts to save lives and start saving dignity instead . . . doctors were allergic to the smell of death. Death meant failure, defeat—their death, the death of medicine, the death of oncology.” Providing end-of-life care required a colossal act of reimagination and reinvention.

Saunders refused to recognize this enterprise as pitted “against” cancer. “The provision of . . . terminal care,” she wrote, “should not be thought of as a separate and essentially negative part of the attack on cancer. This is not merely the phase of defeat, hard to contemplate and unrewarding to carry out. In many ways its principles are fundamentally the same as those which underlie all other stages of care and treatment, although its rewards are different.”

A hint of recovery-oriented palliative care?: [emphasis mine]

Opiates, used liberally and compassionately on cancer patients, did not cause addiction, deterioration, and suicide; instead, they relieved the punishing cycle of anxiety, pain, and despair.

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Hope, empowerment, capability, connection and purpose

Hopeworks Community recently listed his core beliefs related to his recovery from mental illness:

The idea was simple. There are a few core beliefs about recovery that make a difference. To the extent you are able to live them your recovery will be positively impacted.

My list of core beliefs was simple:

Life can get better.
I can help make it better.
I can learn the things I need to do to make it better.
I have support. People care about me and what I am doing.
What I do matters. It has meaning and purpose.

Or HOPE….EMPOWERMENT…CAPABILITY….CONNECTION…PURPOSE…

This rings very true for addiction recovery as well. Any practitioner or program that ignores these dimensions is inadequate. Some people will need no assistance with this kind of recovery–if we reduce their symptoms they can take care of all of this on their own without mutual aid or extended professional help. (I’m thinking of people with major depression or a problem drinker.) Others will more severe and chronic mental illness or substance use disorder will need lifelong professional and/or peer support. (Here, I’m thinking of an addict or chronic, debilitating mental illness.)

There’s a lot of pushback on this for addiction. Just this weekend, Anne Fletcher tweeted a dismissive reaction to a Bill White post about developing geographic communities of recovery.

Would she have the same reaction to a post about building communities of recovery for people with chronic and severe mental illness? Would she tweet a response that implies it’s overkill and these people (Who, together, are re-engaging in full family, occupational and community life.) need discover that there’s more to life and they need to get out of some growth-limiting bubble?

There’s been a whole new wave of these kinds of reactions recently. To me, they suggest a couple of beliefs:

  • The failure to acknowledge the different needs of people who have less severe or time-limited problems with alcohol and other drugs versus those with severe, chronic and debilitating addictions. Their reactions often focus on the experiences of the former, framing substance use disorders as a lifestyle choice.
  • The perception that recovery advocates (12 step recovery in particular) can’t tell the difference between these two groups and are bent on evangelizing every problem user into their one and only path to recovery while obstructing access to any treatment or recovery support that isn’t perfectly compatible.
  • That this perceived pattern of behavior undermines the legitimacy of mutual aid groups and the empirical evidence for the their effectiveness and their mechanisms of change.

Hopeworks Community closed with a thought that sums up recovery as a way of life.

But I know recovery is never a thing to have, but a way of doing.

Interesting that there is so much resistance to lifestyle change as an approach to managing addiction while there’s no dispute that lifestyle change is critical to successful management of other chronic illnesses and that peer support is important for successfully initiating and sustaining lifestyle change.

I don’t hear any of these reactions regarding people who join a gym, spend an hour there 5 days a week, start eating healthier, integrate being physically healthy into their identity and develop new social networks around these changes, like, say, a tennis league or a biking group. Why is that? We don’t hear that push back, and we’re not even talking about people who were occupationally, socially, emotionally and familially impaired. And, if some faction of these people exhibited evangelical zeal and insisted this was the only way to be healthy and that everyone needed to do this, would we be so dismissive of scholarly work describing the development of some communities organized around this kind of wellness for really sick people?

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How Dangerous are e-cigarettes?

Embed from Getty Images

A lot of cities and organizations are sorting through how to respond to the rise of e-cigarettes. Many are beginning to treat them like cigarettes, extending smoking policies to e-cigarettes. Mark Kleiman thinks this is nuts.

The Los Angeles City Council just voted for a complete ban on e-cigarettes wherever real cigarettes are banned, including parks, beaches, and bars. (UCLA adopted a similar policy campus-wide a few months ago.) Seems to me like a bizarre choice, and likely to retard the movement from cancer sticks to e-cigs that, if not interrupted, might save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.

But, not so fast. A new study finds that e-cigarettes create new cigarette smokers.

E-cigarettes, promoted as a way to quit regular cigarettes, may actually be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

In the first analysis of the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking among adolescents in the United States, UCSF researchers found that adolescents who used the devices were more likely to smoke cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking. The study of nearly 40,000 youth around the country also found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.

“Despite claims that e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking, we found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents,” said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

“E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco,” she said.

It gets worse:

The authors found that the devices were associated with higher odds of progression from experimenting with cigarettes to becoming established cigarette smokers. Additionally, adolescents who smoked both conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes smoked more cigarettes per day than non-e-cigarette users.

Contrary to advertiser claims that e-cigarettes can help consumers stop smoking conventional cigarettes, teenagers who used e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes were much less likely to have abstained from cigarettes in the past 30 days, 6 months, or year. At the same time, they were more likely to be planning to quit smoking in the next year than smokers who did not use e-cigarettes.

Is this an abberation?

The new results are consistent with a similar study of 75,000 Korean adolescents published last year by UCSF researchers, which also found that adolescents who used e-cigarettes were less likely to have stopped smoking conventional cigarettes.

What’s interesting to me it this. We’ve dramatically reduced smoking over the years without criminalizing them by changing the culture. E-cigarettes seem to have the potential to undo these culture changes. It’s like a seemingly less dangerous, but more contagious mutation of an infectious bacteria. Do we wait to see what happens? To see how dangerous it really is? Or, do we try to eliminate or aggressively manage it?

Of course, one of the unknowns is, as these devices become more widespread, what else will they be used for? What else people will start “vaping” with these devices.

via E-cigarettes are gateway to nicotine addiction for teens | University of California.

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