One reason I love our electoral process is it gives leaders a forum to propose new ideas. My biggest criticism of our democratic system is we allow partisan ideology to create intellectual walls between us. If Hillary offers a new approach to the substance abuse crisis we suffer in America, those on the Right tend to immediately discredit her proposal. Those on the Left generally do the same when a Republican offers a new or innovative approach. Essentially, we’re addicted to our polarized and preconceived beliefs about the world. In this sense, all of us could use some addiction recovery therapy. So let me begin with this:
Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong
In July of this year, I had an opportunity to observe County of Kaua’i chief prosecutor, Justin Kollar, manage a case before the Honorable Judge Joe Moss, District Court of the Fifth Circuit, State of Hawai’i, Lihu’e Division. Clearly inexperienced in addiction science, Justin told the Court he diagnosed a young woman, about 26 years of age, to suffer addiction to alcohol. He reported he came to this conclusion due to the single mother’s previous arrest for driving under the influence and time of day for her second, and most recent, alleged infraction.
When questioned later about his “diagnosis,” Justin pointed out he had consulted with other attorneys who agreed she had a problem. He did not consult an addiction specialist. Not only was the young prosecutor unethical for making a medical diagnosis without proper training or certification; he repeatedly humiliated and bullied the young woman, who stood before the Court without support of friends or family. She was isolated and alone – an absence of a Human Connection and Justin Kollar beat the emotional shit out of her. Blow after blow he delivered from his self-righteous soap box to the ever-increasing sobs and loud crying from the woman who now had become the victim – a victim of polarized, unethical and ineffective thinking. Shaming, punishing and humiliating one for addictive behavior is not effective! As this was the young woman’s second offense in a short period of time supports this professional opinion.
To attorney Justin Kollar and colleagues – Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong!
To taxpayers and voters – The People You Are Electing Are Wasting Your Money and Failing to Keep You Safe!
Ms. Clinton’s proposal demonstrates leaders on the national stage now recognize our current addiction recovery methodologies have failed and beliefs are flawed. Research on AA and other 12-step programs shows a success rate of about 5% – 10%. Many addiction professionals now consider substance abuse and dependency to be a disease – and thus, to modify behavior, specialists should consider applying medical treatments and more sophisticated motivational intervention.
The Clinton plan would eliminate federal regulations that bar nurse practitioners and physician assistants from prescribing medications that can treat opioid addicts – a practice known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). She also calls to alter the regulations limiting the number of patients doctors can treat with these medications. The democratic presidential candidate pointed out, “Twenty-three million Americans suffer from addiction, but only 1 in 10 get treatment.” This proposal has bipartisan support from Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rand Paul (R-KY).
Flawed and Failed Methodology
Years ago, based on studies of rats, American society was taught addiction would cause Cocaine Rats to kill themselves as they sought to feed their cravings. The associated solution, furthered by political groups such as Partnership for a Drug-Free America, was to shame addicts, punish them and force them to suffer. County of Kaua’i chief prosecutor, Justin Kollar, utilizes this flawed and failed methodology. As Justin wrote, I humiliated the young woman hoping “the incident would provide the impetus for her to make the appropriate changes in her life.” Justin punished her by demanding jail time and ensured the poor single mother would suffer by mandating massive financial penalties.
In the 1970s, Bruce Alexander, professor of Psychology in Vancouver, questioned the Cocaine Rats experiment – as the rat is put alone in the cage. The isolated rat has nothing to do but take the drugs. Professor Alexander tried something new – he built Rat Park. It’s a lush cage where the rats have colored balls, the best rat-food, tunnels to scamper down – and plenty of friends.
In Rat Park, all rats had access to Cocaine water as well as non-laced water. They tried both because they didn’t know what was in them. But the rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
Johann Hari points out the professor’s discovery challenges both the right-wing position (addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying) and the liberal view (addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain). In fact, Professor Alexander argues that addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.
Therefore, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s Human Connection. The unethical and bullying approach used by Justin Kollar to “Shame, Punish & Make People Suffer” destroys the Human Connection. This 26-year-old single mother stood alone and cried in humiliation before the Court. She appeared to have no Human Connection in her life. Justin simply beat her further into the ground.
Although the professor makes a noteworthy challenge to the liberal perspective, framing the situation where a person battles addiction as similar to having disease offers merit. If your friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, you would never shame, punish or make them suffer. You would stand with them. You would say, “You’re not alone; we love you!” You would ensure a Human Connection.
This is why MAT and the more liberal approach has demonstrated encouraging results – not due to medication per se – but due to the fact the medical/disease approach sends the message to the one suffering addiction, “You’re not alone. We love you!”
Isn’t it time to make stronger Human Connections on Kaua’i and across America? Isn’t this the true meaning of aloha?