Lessons on Addiction: Learned and Not Yet Learned
A pop quiz for the media, our country and myself!
Posted Oct 22, 2015
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. ~ John Wooden
The disease of addiction is a formidable foe and, as we have again been recently made aware, exacts its destructive nature over powerless human beings. Lamar Odom had no mental defense against this behemoth; it almost killed him. Only time will tell if he suffers any lasting effects from this life-threatening episode.
Even away from reality show lights, he cannot escape the glare of public scrutiny. While his misfortune makes headlines and fodder for the media, there are far too many unknown addicts and alcoholics who suffer and die from the same disease, sometimes by their own hand.
On the day it was reported that Lamar Odom was in a coma and unresponsive, I jumped the gun literally telling an audience of physicians and residents that he had died as another senseless casualty of a lethal cocktail of alcohol and drugs, with a mixer of reality television. Although I had received a call and heard a media report claiming his demise, it was not something that I knew for sure.
Thank heavens I was wrong. I forgot that miracles do happen in this world, particularly in that of alcoholism and addiction. Many addicts claim that they by all rights should not be here! I hope you stay and recover, Lamar.
Moreover, it was humbling (and embarrassing) for me to realize that I had crossed a line and violated a set of personal and professional standards that I have long held dear and about which I’ve judged others on talk, court and reality shows so harshly. I have railed against programming and especially media doctors that have made careers on television exploiting (in my opinion) addicts and alcoholics for ratings, I too call myself out for that precipitous announcement to this audience.
My declaration and guilty conscience around my announcement to this audience is a perfect example of why we should never take clinical license unless a release has been signed and who we are talking about is actually our patient. I only wish that reality programming would develop a conscience around these personal and sacred clinical matters.
Although there are well documented facts about the disease of addiction, which are important topics of discussion to make the public aware, that, in and of itself, is not a license to speculate or surmise facts about people who suffer from addiction. As a doctor, licensed clinical social worker and addiction specialist, I had no right to pronounce Mr. Odom as anything other than someone known for having a well-documented history of substance abuse and one heck of a basketball player, especially for my Miami Heat.
Just as I own my part in this situation, I do hope America owns its role in the lack of treatment access for addicts and alcoholics and reality television learns its part in the ongoing exploitation of vulnerable people with mental health challenges.
The AARP announced last month that opiate deaths have skyrocketed to a 700% increase in the Boomer population alone! Addictions are real and all around us. Boomers and seniors in particular may rewrite the Medicare laws as a generation unto themselves. Detox and treatment should be accessible to those who desire it, and America needs to get very serious quickly about Parity Laws, especially as we are collectively experiencing a meteoric rise in Opiate deaths.
Only time will tell just how many people will have to die before we see this disease as a medical pandemic that needs being treated in the same manner we treat heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. ~ Benjamin Franklin