To understand the need for greater access to drug treatment, you only need to consider three alarming statistics:
- In 2011, 90% of the 21.5 million people with substance abuse disorders were not treated for them;
- Only 0.12% of physicians are identified as addiction specialists;
- Drug and alcohol abuse cost the US economy around $346 billion per year, more than the total economic costs of cancer and diabetes combined.
What's wrong with this picture?
A Disease in Name Only
Even after it was formally recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 1956, addiction continued to be viewed as a "moral" problem. Alcoholics Anonymous (and, later, Narcotics Anonymous), with its "fearless moral inventories" and prompt admissions of wrong-doing, solidified the misconception of substance abuse disorders; rather than being supervised by a physician, an addict's recovery was instead supervised by other addicts. Instead of making this powerful tool part of the recovery model, the medical community allowed it to become the entire foundation of treatment. The billions of dollars spent during the War on Drugs, along with the mass incarceration of millions of addicts, reinforced the principle: addicts aren't sick people, they're bad people.
Family Physicians to the Rescue
By repeating its failed policies over and over again--hoping to eventually achieve a different outcome--the entire addiction treatment model became, by its own definition, completely insane. Along with innovators in the pharmaceutical industry, doctors lobbied Congress to pass the Drug Abuse Treatment Act. Now, addiction can be treated just like any other chronic disease--by a family physician, in an office/clinical setting, during monthly or bi-monthly appointments. Here are the options now available to you and your doctor:
- Naltrexone: By blocking certain receptors in the brain, this drug reduces cravings for alcohol and prevents opiate users from getting high.
- Buprenorphine: Often used in combination with naltrexone, this drug reduces cravings for opiates such as heroin. Doctors must complete a short class to be able to prescribe it.
- Implants/injections: These contain extended-release medications that block receptors and/or reduce cravings for up to 30 days. Effective for alcoholics and opiate users.
- Piracetams: An emerging class of drugs called nootropics, piracetams such as modafinil are proving to be effective treatments for addictions to cocaine, meth, and other stimulants.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance abuse problem, try to forget the last 50 years of addiction "medicine". A family doctor—such as Friedrich Tomas J MD—is in charge now, and he or she can treat addiction like the chronic illness that it is. Twelve steps succinctly compressed into one: Develop a treatment plan with your family physician.