The newest development in the current trend towards “fixing” addiction with new drugs is preliminary research surrounding treating cocaine addicts with amphetamines. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently published a study where individuals with cocaine dependence were treated with amphetamine salts (the same chemicals that make up Adderall) to treat their cocaine addiction. The preliminary results were considered encouraging to the doctors conducting the study. Unfortunately though, we have missed the mark one more time. As long as the “solution” to addiction that we seek is another pill, we are going to continue having the same levels of relapse and continued problems in America when it comes to treatment.
The Band Aid Solution
The band-aid solution mentality is one of the biggest problems when it comes to how America treats addiction. While we are busy chasing quick fix treatments that put a temporary band aid on a much larger problem, addiction is going largely untreated in thousands of Americans. The problem is, real recovery is not an easy sell. It is something that takes lifestyle change, consistent effort, and a dedication to changing internally. This is a heavy contrast to the mentality of taking a pill to fix all of our problems. While the pill concept is an easy sell, it compounds the existing dependence on external means in order for an individual to function.
Proponents of this type of solution will often hide behind the fact that addiction is a disease and that treating other diseases with medicine is standard practice. This is absolutely true. Many other diseases however also incorporate holistic lifestyle changes as a big part of their solution. And any patient that has the ability to resolve their symptoms without lifelong dependence on a medication will take advantage of it.
There is also the problem of side effects. When doctors are prescribing a medication to treat a problem, they must weigh the side effects that it will produce against the relief that it will provide. When there is an available option that does not cause as many or as intense of side effects that is the choice that is taken. When treating certain addicted populations with medication instead of recovery, the side effects can be tremendous. Many find themselves falling further and further down the rabbit hole of addiction, even abusing the prescribed medications that are supposed to be “treating” their addiction. We have seen this problem with young people using Suboxone to deal with opiate dependence. This is because the underlying issues that cause addiction are still not being treated. Any treatment protocol that simply addresses symptoms and does not deal with the underlying disease itself is by definition ineffective. This is not to say that there are not situations where medication can be a powerful tool for addressing addiction. It is to say however, that focusing on this as our primary means of addressing the disease is shortsighted.
Cheaper Than Long Term Treatment
Another motivating factor in the love affair with quick fix treatments for addiction is that they are cheaper than the alternatives. An insurance company that is only forced to pay for a monthly prescription is going to spend drastically less money than they would on a long term treatment plan in the short run. Unfortunately, this attitude is also short sighted. Often, individuals that begin their treatment with medication only, find themselves relapsing worse and worse over time. This leads to an eventual bill for insurance companies that is even higher than if they would have paid for high quality long term treatment in the first place.
The studies have long since concluded that effective treatment needs to be long term. The statistical probability of an individual relapsing falls dramatically after they have achieved their first year sober. If long term treatment of over a year was the standard, we would see relapse rates fall and find that many more individuals did have the opportunity to truly recover.
In order for this to work though, that treatment would have to be done appropriately. This means that underlying issues that contribute towards addiction would have to be addressed. This is an uncomfortable process for addicts to go through, but it is the only effective way of achieving long term recovery. Again though, this is a tougher sell to an addict and their family than the promise of a quick fix. The solution? Changing the pervasive mentality and making real recovery the norm.
No Mention of Addiction In Presidential Debate
A telling sign of the mentality that surrounds addiction is that it was not mentioned a single time in the presidential debate. Even while America is in the midst of a sweeping addiction crisis that is being called the biggest one in our history, the attention on a national level is far below what would be expected. Overdose deaths have steadily increased since the year 2000 for opiates, benzodiazepines, heroin and stimulants. How could such a massive public health problem be overlooked?
When addiction is mentioned, the solutions presented are largely ineffective. The day that government decides that force insurance companies to support effective, long term treatment and begins pushing for comprehensive care as opposed to quick fix solutions, will be the day a real shift has actually happened.