8 Ways to Stay Sober at Burning Man

8 Ways to Stay Sober at Burning Man

Are you ready for the burn on the playa?

By ‘the burn’ of course we mean the annual weeklong art festival Burning Man that takes place in the Nevada desert! If you have ever seen a video or a reference to Burning Man in the media or in a movie than you probably have a pretty specific picture of what Burning Man is in your mind. People typically envision it as a hedonistic freaky-frenzy of a party with nothing but bizarre art, ravers, hippies, drugs and alcohol. But for most people that attend Burning Man, it isn’t just a massive non-stop party. Burning Man is actually a place to relax, attend a number of events and work-shops, while seeing world-class and uniquely inspired art.

Every year the temporary metropolis of Black Rock City, which is the home of Burning Man, and its community grows. At the same time, so does the clean and sober community within it. Burning Man for many who are clean and sober is often not seen as a fight with temptation, but rather an opportunity to grow.

While there are a few people who may feel this is too risky, and we support and understand your choice, there is also plenty of reason to be confident in going to Burning Man and staying sober. There may be those in your own support system you want to consult with, like a sponsor.

Here is another 8 ways to stay sober at Burning Man.

  1. Be honest and careful

This is about being honest with yourself, as well as with others. First, before going to burning man you should be honest with how you feel about the adventure you’re about to go on and your ability to do what you have to in order to remain mindful, happy and sober.

Then be honest with others. For one, the idea that everyone is handing out drugs like candy is probably not always the case. However, for your own safety and peace of mind always ask if anything you may ingest contains drugs or alcohol. Burning Man’s economy is based on gifts, and some may have the best intentions. Let people know you are clean and sober to avoid confusion.

Always consider the source, and use your judgment. Even though most people probably won’t try to slip you anything you don’t want, every year medical tents still report people being dosed without knowing.

  1. Go with sober friends

This is always a good idea when going to any shows or music festivals. Having people who are familiar with your own behaviors and your own story can make it a lot easier to lean on them if you start to feel like something is bothering you. If you have sober friends it can be even more effective because they can relate to the things that may bother you. Sober friends can understand and provide a unique kind of peer support, while also keeping you accountable.

  1. Enjoy the art and music

Burning Man isn’t just about the huge, all night concerts. There are artists who show up every year who have spent the entire year designing and building unique and awe-inspiring installations of art.

Taking some time to wander around and enjoy some beautiful and exclusive art, which is sometimes even interactive, gives you an opportunity to enjoy stunning visuals without needing drugs or alcohol.

  1. Sober Camps

According to one investigation, there are various clean and sober theme camps at Burning Man you can seek out:

  • Anonymous Camp
  • Run Free Camp
  • Camp Stella
  • The Hokey Pokey Destiny

You can typically research sober camps ahead of time to find out when and where they will be at Burning Man. You can reach out to the groups to try and plan your own camp site ahead of time, and possibly arrange to meet up with them.

  1. Yoga and Meditation

For a lot of people yoga and meditation become a pretty consistent part of their recovery program. It is a relaxing practice that helps with mindfulness and self-awareness. So of course if you are interested in yoga you will be thrilled to know there is frequently a lot of opportunities to take yoga classes during a week at Burning Man.

Vinyasa yoga and kundalini yoga are a few styles that some Burning Man veterans have reported to experiencing during their time in the desert. Some have also spoken of chances to take meditation and breath-work classes and workshops. Stay sober at Burning Man may simply mean staying focused and grounded, and meditation and yoga can do just the trick.

  1. Exercise

Just because people come to Burning Man to experience something new and exciting while they escape from the world doesn’t mean they suddenly stop all their good habits. Some people actually enjoy exercising at Burning Man, doing things like riding bikes or organizing group work outs.

According to one young woman’s story, when she went there was even an ultramarathon. Yes… ULTRA-marathon! Burning Man attendees actually got up and ran 50k (31 miles) around the desert.

  1. Volunteer

Many people find that volunteering in some way is a huge part of their recovery. Doing service work is one way we can take the focus off of ourselves, build connections with others and do something productive. If you find yourself struggling, you can always find some way to help someone else.

Burning Man can also present a lot of opportunities to do some service and volunteer your time to others. You can offer to help welcome people into the camp grounds and get set up. You can help by cooking meals and finding other ways to give back to those at Burning Man who might need a little help settling in themselves.

  1. 12 Step Meetings

Believe it or not, there are actually 12 Step meetings every day at Burning Man. While not all people who are clean and sober will be involved in 12 Step groups, the meetings will provide a space to get some support in case you are in need. You can also meet with other sober individuals and get connected with the clean community of Burning Man.

These meetings include Alcoholics Anonymous, Alanon and Narcotics Anonymous. Some of them will alternate between the larger Sober Camps that you can find, but there may also be smaller groups that form more organically.

Conclusion

What you might find surprising, and what several accounts from attendees have found, is that the toughest part about burning man has nothing to do with what some people expect. The true challenge of burning man apparently doesn’t come with avoiding drugs or drinking, but actually from the elements.

Between the desert sun and the dusty climate, staying hydrated and accepting the exhaustion that comes with being amerced in 24 hour music and festivities, some people find that fighting the urge to use is usually the least of their worries. The hard part is keeping the dust off (pretty much impossible) while trying to rest between all the dancing, music, art, and exercise, hanging out and volunteering! There is so much to do at Burning Man that drugs and alcohol might just get in the way. But the truth is, once you build sobriety and recovery on a solid foundation, you have the potential to find true freedom and happiness without needing substances to make it happen.

Building that foundation starts with making a decision to get better. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

New York Governor Says No to E-Cigarette Use In Schools

New York Major Says No to E-Cigarette Use In Schools

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Oh e-cigarettes, just when we thought we had stopped talking about them, here we go again.

The debate on whether e-cigarettes are safe continues. This time, New York Governor Cuomo is chiming in by announcing a new measure aimed at fighting teen smoking.

This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo officially announced that the state is banning all electronic cigarette use in public and private schools. The decision comes as vaping among young people is on the rise.

When e-cigs were first introduced, many marketing efforts were focused on promoting e-cigs as a healthier alternative to cigarettes.  However, these marketing tactics had an eerily similar vibe to the way cigarettes were marketed in their earlier years. We all know how that turned out.  Back then, many people believed cigarettes helped reduce body weight and curb cravings. Even doctors smoked cigarettes in their offices, and smoking occurred on airplanes and indoors.

Clearly, a lot has changed since then.

We now know there is a host of medical complications that are the result of cigarette smoking. These include heart disease, lung cancer, and COPD.

Now, the same scrutiny is occurring at a much faster rate since health experts and the general public noticed the same pattern was occurring.  In fact, a study done a while back found that the artificial flavoring in e-cigarettes could be linked to popcorn lung, a respiratory condition. This unfortunate condition is the result of inhaling the artificial flavors in e-cigarettes. The condition was named after a similar incident that occurred in popcorn factory workers who were constantly inhaling the artificial popcorn flavoring.

Moving forward, a statement released by the governor’s office states:

“Nicotine use in any form has shown to be damaging to teens, and this measure will close a dangerous loophole that allows e-cigarettes to be used in New York schools. This measure will further this administration’s efforts to combat teen smoking in all its forms and help create a stronger, healthier New York for all.”

Last December, the US Surgeon General declared the teen use of e-cigarettes “a major public health concern” nothing that between 2011 and 2015, use of e-cigs among teens has increased 900%! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, boys are twice as likely to smoke e-cigarettes as girls are.

At a December 2016 press conference, then-Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy said:

“Adolescent brains are particularly sensitive to nicotine’s effects,” noting that it can cause “a constellation of nicotine-induced neural and behavioral alterations.”

Research has revealed that e-cigarettes are far from safe. All of them emit harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. Not only that, but the chemicals inhaled by e-cigarettes can cause asthma, cancer, stroke and heart disease. This is one of the reasons why many restaurants and public places have barred the use of e-cigarettes indoors.

Young people that vape are increasingly susceptible due to still developing. However, the marketing for e-cigs tends to attract teenagers. A study from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu showed that among non-smokers, there is a higher chance that teens who try e-cigarettes will eventually use cigarettes as well.

“E-cigarettes had a risk-promoting effect for onset of smoking,” said researchers.

With this new law in place, the city of New York will have more stringent policies on teen vape use. Just like cigarettes, e-cigs were marketed as healthier alternatives to smoking. It turns out; there is not enough evidence to confirm that e-cigs are in any way better than cigarettes.

Furthermore, there is still a danger even if it does end up being less than cigarettes. Your best bet is to not smoke. However, if you are struggling with addiction and need some support, give us a call. We want to help.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Opioid Vaccine Being Developed by Narcan Drug Makers

Opioid Vaccine Being Developed by Narcan Drug Makers

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Opioid and heroin addiction is without a doubt one of the most unrelenting public health issues we as a country are facing today. Overdose death rates continue to risk to staggering heights, while politicians, community leaders and organizations all over America are working to find a way out. One of the companies that produces the lifesaving opioid overdose antidote Narcan is talking about their efforts to develop an opioid vaccine.

This isn’t the first time there has been a conversation about possible opioid vaccines. Naltrexone, also known by the brand name Vivitrol, was initially used for combatting alcohol dependence before being utilized in attempt to combat opioid abuse.

A while back in 2015 Kim Janda, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute created a compound he believed could ultimately be used as a heroin vaccine. Since then the research team has made some impressive strides in achieving their goal. The experts from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Scripps Research Center discovered that the vaccine, which was the first of its kind to reach this phase of preclinical testing, was effective on rhesus macaques, a species of monkeys. This vaccine generates antibodies that neutralize heroin’s psychoactive metabolite and prevents it from acting on the opioid receptors in the brain.

So will this new opioid vaccine be the real deal?

Opioid Vaccine from Walter Reed

On a FOX News segment this past Wednesday, Dr. Mark Siegel, spoke about a new compound coming from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA. Dr. Siegel said he was happy to hear it was coming from Walter Reed because of the large issue with opioid drug use among veterans. According to Siegel:

“It uses antibodies to attack heroin or Percocet, or Vicodin; anything like that that’s an opioid, literally you make antibodies. So if it’s in your bloodstream it can’t get to the brain. It doesn’t cause you to stop breathing so you don’t overdose and you don’t have the euphoric feeling.”

According to the interview with Siegel, someone would hypothetically be able to go to a doctor, get inoculated and the opioid vaccine would create antibodies to block the effects of heroin and other opioids.

Dr. Siegel did say that it may end up being a substance that has to be administered periodically. He states human trials with the opioid vaccine have apparently only just started, but animal trials thus far seem to have been very promising.

Dr. Siegel goes on to say that once the opioid vaccine has been administered, the possibility is one could potentially be prescribed another opioid maintenance drug like Suboxone in order to taper off of opioids while not being able to feel the effects of opioids.

Dr. Siegel admits that there is still a lot of testing that needs to be done before the drug can be approved by the FDA, but he believes if the opioid vaccine is successful it could change the entire epidemic.

Opiant Jumps on Opioid Vaccine

A Big Pharma company known for their opioid overdose antidote announced back in late 2016 that they had acquired exclusive development and commercialization rights to the pre-clinical heroin vaccine. CEO of Opiant Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Roger Crystal, said in a recent statement:

“Aggressively addressing heroin addiction is part of Opiant’s mission… This vaccine fits our plan to develop innovative treatments for this condition. The vaccine has promising preclinical data.”

The Opiant Pharmaceuticals aspiration is also to create a compound that blocks the effects of opioid drugs like heroin. Dr. Crystal also said that they would like to develop their own version of the Naltrexone implant as a long-term opioid blocker.

Opiant also says that if further preclinical testing of the opioid vaccine is successful, the company plans to team up with WRAIR researchers in the U.S. Military HIV Research Program to eventually combine the HIV vaccine with the potential heroin vaccine, making a huge leap in the direction of fighting back against two of the biggest issues concerning the opioid epidemic.

Would Opioid Vaccine Work?

The bigger question we keep having to ask when talking about the concept of an opioid vaccine- will it work? Not saying that the vaccine won’t be effective at blocking the brains opioid receptors, but is this an effective strategy to combatting addiction?

One question I would think to ask is will addicts who are trying to overpower the vaccine end up taking even more of the drugs until they suffer other severe health complications. Is blocking the opioid receptors a comprehensive way of protecting people from overdosing on opioids? Which opioids would still be extremely dangerous? Will this work on drugs like fentanyl or carfentanil?

Beyond that, the question also becomes- will addicts quit, or will they use something else? If many can substitute their addiction with another substance, will a opioid vaccine make other drugs more popular?

Only more time and more research will show us how effective the new opioid vaccine could be to helping end the opioid epidemic in America. Right now with statistics being as serious as they are, any avenue that has real potential to save lives should be pursued.

Then I have to ask- with many Big Pharma companies that make Narcan and other opioid antidotes jacking up their prices, will Opiant and other vaccine makers use the miracle drug to exploit the desperation of the epidemic with intense prices?

There is no miracle cure for opioid or heroin addiction yet, but it seems many have not given up hope of finding one. What we do have today is safe and effective treatment options that offer unique opportunities to change your life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Sterilize for Cash: This Woman Pays Drug Addicts To Not Have Kids

Sterilize for Cash: This Woman Pays Drug Addicts To Not Have Kids

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Barbara Harris believes drug addicts should not have children, and she’s using cash incentives to ensure they never do.

For the last 20 years, Harris has driven across the country in a branded RV advertising her non-profit to drug addicts and alcoholics.

Her mission? To reduce the number of children born addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Her nonprofit, Project Prevention, pays substance abusers up to $300 to get sterilized or put on long term birth control like an implant or IUD. Those who get sterilized receive a lump sum and those who opt for less permanent birth control options get their payments in smaller installments.

To date, Harris’s organization has paid more than 7,000 people, mostly women, to give up their fertility. Project Prevention only pays the addicts and leaves the sterilizations and birth control procedures to doctors.

Harris believes the cash incentive is stopping a major societal problem in its tracks:

“We’re preventing women who are strung out on drugs and alcohol from conceiving a child,” Harris says. “Nobody has a right to force-feed any child drugs and then deliver a child that may die or may have lifelong illnesses.”

Drug and alcohol use during pregnancy can result in a host of medical complications. The use of heroin and narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, or morphine can cause bleeding within the brain (intracranial hemorrhage) and even infant death.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is defined as: “a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother’s womb,” according to Medscape.

Here are Some Tragic Truths:

  • Every 25 minutes, a baby is born suffering from extreme withdrawal symptoms from the heroin, painkillers, or cocaine their mothers continued using throughout pregnancy.
  • The numbers of babies born addicted to drugs have quadrupled between 2004 and 2013.
  • In 2013, 27 babies out of every 1000 were born dependent on narcotics.
  • These babies suffer from withdrawal symptoms like irritability, convulsions, sleep abnormalities and joint stiffness.
  • Often, these babies must be sent to intensive care units where doctors help wean them off the drugs.
  • It is taking longer to wean addicted babies off drugs such as heroin and mephedrone. On average, babies now spend their first 19 days – up from 13 days – in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
  • In 2015, the average overall cost of a newborn suffering from NAS was found to be between $159,000 and $238,000, and these numbers are expected to continue to rise.

In terms of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome is another tragic outcome.  Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm the development of a baby during pregnancy, both mentally and physically. These effects can last throughout a child’s life.

FAS harms a baby in many ways including:

  • Birth defects
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Behavioral problems
  • Growth deficiency
  • Death

Some say Harris’s Organization Raises SERIOUS Ethical Questions

Harris’s mission to reduce these pregnancies seems straightforward. However, many feel her organization raises serious ethical questions.   One question posed is whether she is taking advantage of addicts during their most vulnerable time.

A major critic of Project Prevention is Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She’s been a critic of Harris’s work for over 20 years.

“Barbara Harris greatest impact is in perpetuating really destructive and cruel myths about pregnant women and their children,” Paltrow says.

Paltrow believes Harris’s organization does more harm than good and does not address the underlying problems of poverty, lack of access to healthcare and stress created by racism have on these women. Instead, she feels Harris’s organization does nothing more but promote stigma.

“When you talk to the medical researchers, the great news is that none of the criminalized drugs cause unique permanent terrible damage,” Paltrow says. “Three percent of all women give birth to babies that have what are called serious birth defects. None of that has anything to do with the criminalized drugs.”

Another strong critic featured is Mary Barr, a former addict who believes what Harris is doing is wrong. Barr has two children who were born healthy despite her drug use.

 “I have two children who are incredibly healthy, were born healthy, they’re 26 and 25, and they’re very amazingly successful,” she says.

When asked if she would have taken up on Harris’s offer at the height of her addiction, she says she would have.

“I would have taken it because $300 all at once, that means for me, three nights of sleeping indoors,” she says referring to her predicament back then.

Is Project Prevention Denying Addicts a Second Chance? 

Despite the controversy, Harris believes what her organization is doing is the right thing for the children. She does not believe she is promoting sterilization. Instead, she says what she offers is a choice.

“We don’t promote sterilization, that’s their choice. They got strung out; they decided they wanted $300 to sterilize themselves, and if it’s a decision they regret, it was a decision they made just like prostituting and ending up with AIDS,” she says.

One of the reasons Harris is so passionate about this is because she adopted and raised four children from the same mother who used drugs throughout her pregnancy. She wants to prevent other children from being born in the same situation.

“I watched how my children suffered and had to withdraw from drugs when they were born so no, I wasn’t thinking about  ‘These poor women,’ I was thinking ‘My poor children,’” she says.

 “I always say to them if you believe that strongly that these women should keep conceiving children then you should step up and adopt the next one born, but most of the people who have a problem with what we’re doing would never consider adopting one of these children, so if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” she concludes

Overall, like most harm reduction programs, this solution is controversial. There are many addicts who have recovered and gone on to have and raise children. Sadly, there are children born every day addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the consequences are real. Harris’s organization receives over $500,000 in funding every year. Clearly, there are many on her side when it comes to providing this option.


What are your thoughts? Does a program like this promote stigma or offer a solution? Either way, please do not continue to let your addiction take over your life. You deserve the opportunity to live a healthy and satisfying life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, please call now 1-800-777-9588. 

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater!

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater!

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater!

by Thomas G. Beley, PhD, LCSW

There has been an enormous amount of negative publicity regarding substance use treatment facilities and so called “sober homes” in the south Florida area. So much so that the integrity of the entire treatment industry has been under scrutiny. And perhaps so it should be.  Given the accounts of fraudulent billing, “patient brokering,” and human trafficking occurring, it is disheartening to know that we continue to live in a society where vulnerable groups of people are preyed upon for monetary gain.  There is a definite need to take a closer look at what is actually going on.  However, let’s not let the emotional sensationalism of these news stories cloud the facts and issues of what is really going on.

The Facts

Our nation is currently under siege by a problem that has been a long standing health issue that seemingly continues to be the “step child” of our healthcare system despite the fact that it is one of the leading contributing causes of death in our country.  Addiction has become a menace to our society. Illegal drug use, legalized drug use, prescription medications, and alcohol have infiltrated all segments of our population.  While pharmaceutical companies have well intentionally figured out ways to introduce an assortment of new medications to combat the side effects of prescribed opioid medications, deaths from opioid overdoses have become the number one cause of accidental deaths in the United States outnumbering car accidents.

The problem of addiction is not going away and, unfortunately, it is only going to get worse. The fact is that we need treatment centers and we need “sober” homes. They have been a main stay for people suffering from the scourge of alcohol and drug addiction for decades.  What we do not want to do is to scare people away from getting the help they need.  Let’s not forget that there are many established quality treatment centers and “sober” homes throughout the nation.

The Confusion

One of the problems that legitimate treatment centers have encountered is the limitation that insurance companies have placed on them in providing effective treatment.  Treatment is often cut short by insurers, often citing “there is no medical necessity” in favor of a less intensive program meaning they are often discharged from the facility without really getting the full care that is needed.  As a result, there has been a proliferation of these “less intensive” treatment programs which is where the insurance loophole begins to expand. Many of these “less intensive” programs are ineffective at best because of a lack of credentialed professionals running them, or they have been established with the sole purpose of milking the insurance companies of benefits.

A problem is occurring that many of these well-established treatment facilities and “sober homes,” historically known as halfway and three-quarter houses, are being overshadowed by these bogus; make shift facilities that have taken advantage of the insurance loophole.  Make no mistake, some of these places have little interest in providing the necessary help needed to address those suffering from an addictive disorder.  The primary goal is to make money. Their sole purpose is to prey on a vulnerable population, many of the victims are young adults in their early twenties with little or no life skills who are still on their parents’ insurance.  Many of these individuals have been in the throes of their addiction for years and have little choice.  Either they and the family do not know any better or they simply feel resigned to play along within a deficient system.

Many of these victims are offered easy money to recruit other patients to live in a so-called “sober home” who will often have connections with a so-called “treatment” facility.  In many instances, there is an established unethical relationship of “brokering” whereby there is an exchange of money for patients between the “sober” home and the “treatment” facility.  Each supplying the other with a steady stream of “insured” bodies.  Patients are actually encouraged to go out and recruit other patients from other “sober” homes and treatment facilities in exchange for money, free room and board, or both. In some instances, the owner of the “sober” home also owns the “treatment” facility.

Many people leaving a bona fide treatment facility will need a halfway or three-quarter house for support and a transition back into sober living.  However, a legitimate half-way or three-quarter house, now often referred to as a “sober home,” will be just that, a place where people can live and receive the necessary support and structure to transition back to a normal life.  The halfway and three-quarter house has been an integral part of recovery since addiction was recognized as a medical condition decades ago.  The concept of the halfway and three-quarter house is basic.  The person pays rent for a safe, structured place to live with other recovering people. The concept being a person can engage in life responsibilities such as work or school and return to a supportive setting until such time the person can live independently.

However, for some, the concept of the halfway and three-quarter house has morphed into the so-called “sober home” where clients are more or less forced to participate in a “less intense” treatment program in exchange for free room and board.  While in theory this sounds like a very reasonable proposition, the reality is we have vulnerable people being “brokered” into, at best, untenable and ineffective facilities.  Many of these individuals do not need “less intense” treatment, what they need is guidance and direction in developing life skills and purpose, which is often a part of more intensive treatment

Families are also enticed by these facilities with the promise of not needing to pay rent for their loved one to live in such a “sober home.”  The catch is their son or daughter will have to participate in a highly ineffective “less intense treatment program” which is usually compromised of other patients who have no desire to recover or are simply just trying to get by; to survive playing what now amounts to a very deadly game of so-called “recovery.” Life for some of these individuals has become not trying to recover as much as trying to negotiate a better “treatment” deal. They bounce from one treatment program to another, from one “sober home” to another, with no real direction of getting back on track with their life.

Legitimate treatment centers often encounter prospective patients and families negotiating treatment terms because they have been offered free plane fairs, waived co-payments and deductibles, free room and board post treatment, and other enticements by these questionable treatment facilities.  Somewhere along the line, treatment for a deadly disease has become more like purchasing a car.  People, unfortunately, have been seduced into looking for the better deal rather than effective treatment that is going to save a life.

The Politics of Addiction

How is it that the treatment industry for substance use disorders has become increasingly more suspect of unethical practices over the years? The answer is a very simple one, neglect. Neglect at all levels of our society except one and that is the criminal element.

Regardless of how much research that has been conducted over the years, and there has been a plethora of research in better understanding addiction, it seems to be still falling on deaf ears. People continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that substance use disorders and addiction is one of leading health hazards and causes of death in our country.

Despite the fact that it has long been recognized as a medical condition requiring medical and professional interventions, there continues to be the stigma of the ‘addicted’ person suffering from a lack of will power, fortitude, and discipline. Research has clearly demonstrated that this is not the case.  There are neurobiological and behavioral underpinnings to this disease that have impacted key areas of the brain including a person’s genetic make-up.  What is even more important regarding this research, which has been around for decades, is that there are effective interventions and treatment approaches that can be utilized.  The old adage of relapse being a part of recovery is simply not true anymore.  Unfortunately, this research seems to be slow in reaching our treatment industry forcing many people suffering from addiction to be treated with antiquated and ineffective approaches.

What compounds this malaise even further is the fact that the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry seem to have little incentive for change making it difficult for legitimate treatment facilities to do their job effectively.  These facilities are often limited in the amount of treatment they can provide and are often in a battle with the insurance companies to prove medical necessity for further treatment.  Even when medical necessity is proven, insurance companies are reluctant to authorize further treatment, in part because of the abuses that tend to occur across the board in our healthcare-insurance paradigm, but also because they are tired of paying for treatments that are seemingly ineffective.

Insurance companies are fighting back.  Why should they pay for another intensive treatment when that person has been through a similar “treatment” four or five times previously? As a result, the insurance industry has relied on the premise that treatment needs to be provided on a shorter-term basis and in a less restrictive setting.  As a result, there has been a proliferation of these less intensive programs that have focused on relapse containment, which is not necessarily a negative goal, but they are extremely limited when it comes to addressing the coping and life skills necessary to live a more productive and meaningful life.

The insurance industry has also relied on the pharmaceutical industry’s propensity to develop better maintenance medications.  These medications, creating a multi-billion dollar windfall of their own, are geared more toward reducing symptoms and maintaining the person so they do not decompensate any further, not necessarily getting the person back on track with their life.  The goal of stabilization and maintenance is not enough.  People with addiction issues need a treatment program that will address the neurobiological, psychological, and behavioral aspects of this illness.

All of this creates a vacuum of need for the person suffering from an addictive disorder.  As such, they are left vulnerable with little or no options to choose.  They are preyed upon by the opportunists whose only intent is financial gain subjugating these individuals to less than supportive living conditions and participation in ineffective programs that will only lead to relapse, hospitalization, or worse, death.

The Reality

Yes, the reality is there does need to be a crackdown on these unethical and fraudulent “sober homes” and ineffective “treatment” facilities. However, what is going to happen after that? Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem is not with the fact that there are unscrupulous people out there ready to take advantage of a faulty system. This happens in any organization or industry where there is a faulty system in place. The real problem is that there is not enough attention being paid to the real issue, the disease of addiction and the need for more effective treatment.

The problem of addiction needs to be the focus of our attention.  Last year alone there were over 52,000 deadly opiate overdoses in the United States outnumbering that of car fatalities.  Add in another 88,000 alcohol related deaths and the number of deaths from addictive substances becomes staggering.  This is close to the equivalent of a passenger 747 jumbo jet airliner crashing every day for a year.  This does not even include the deaths of other addictive legal and illegal substances.  It is estimated that the use of addictive substances costs our nation $740 billion dollars annually. Let us not lose focus on the true issue.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that there are a number of well-established and effective treatment centers and “sober homes” throughout the country that have been in operation for years.  These are facilities that are committed to working with a population that have long been neglected and now preyed upon. These are the facilities that need to be recognized and supported.

Established treatment programs will be staffed with credentialed licensed professionals.  The facility is also usually certified or is in the process of getting certified by an external credentialing organization such as the Joint Commission or the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).  The facilities will have established levels of care with clear clinical guidelines as to treatment philosophy and outcome.  Involvement with the person’s family and support system will also be an integral part of the program.  Transparency and openness for others to see the work they are doing is tantamount to their efficacy and success.

The credible sober home will also have the same transparency and openness.  The facility will usually have structured ground rules and 24-hour supervision. The main goal being a time limited supportive living environment geared toward assisting the recovering person getting back into the mainstream of life and personal direction.  Most important, it will not have any affiliations with insurance or with a treatment facility.  A credible sober home may be endorsed by a number of treatment facilities but they will operate independently and separately of those treatment facilities.

The bottom line is that there is effective and meaningful treatment out there.  It is just a matter of finding those places. It is going to take a concerted effort of accountability at multiple levels to address all the problems at hand with addiction.  There is no one entity to blame.  Lawmakers, healthcare professionals, treatment programs, the insurance industry, and families are all going to need to take a closer look at what they can do to address the problem of addiction.

– Thomas G. Beley, PhD, LCSW

Executive Director

Palm Healthcare Company

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