Recently, in December 2014, graduate student Michael LaCour, at UCLA, and distinguished Columbia University professor Donald Green published a study showing that gay canvassers were highly effective in converting antagonistic voters to a pro-same-sex-marriage position. Their study in the prestigious journal Science was highly publicized in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.
It now appears, however, that LaCour made the study’s results up.Science seems likely to retract the study. Green—who says he never saw the actual data—has requested that the journal do so. This seems to be a case where people in a field wanted something to be true, and so they made it happen. Who knew that supposed scientific findings are subject to cultural fads and wish fulfillment?
The same players—UCLA and Science—were involved in perhaps the most harmfully erroneous study to ever appear in the addiction field. In 1982 Mary Pendery and UCLA professors Irving Maltzman and L. Jolyon West published an article in Science showing that alcoholics could never control their drinking. The Pendery et al. study “found” that psychologists Mark and Linda Sobell had misstated the results of research they had published showing that alcoholic subjects treated at a San Diego-area VA hospital with controlled drinking (CD) techniques fared better than subjects undergoing the standard abstinence, AA-oriented treatment at the VA.
The 1982 Science study was strange from the start. Pendery et al. sought to disprove the Sobells’ results by following up the 20 CD subjects during the eight years after the intervention, but not the subjects treated by the VA’s abstinence program. The “researchers’” supposed purpose was to detail relapse events. Of course, Pendery, Maltzman, and West were trying to show that alcoholics could never hope to modify their drinking. But the original study by the Sobells, which demonstrated what we now call relapse prevention, had reported that relapses did occur for CD subjects. Only these relapses were less likely than they were for the abstinence-treated subjects. So how could a follow-up study that only examined the one group disprove the original, comparative results?
Several subsequent neutral inquiries revealed that the Sobells had reported all of the relapses for CD subjects. These investigations questioned the purpose of Pendery et al.’s research—and of Science’s publishing its results—which I wrote about in Psychology Today in 1983. Why conduct a study that didn’t prove anything? But the Pendery et al. study had a major impact on the field of alcoholism and, by implication, addiction. It delayed the appearance of harm reduction in the United States for two decades.
Where the 12-step thing has the most to own up to is its role in impeding harm reduction interventions to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS. Why was it that Australia and England and the Netherlands were able to stop the spread, and keep the number for injecting drug users under 5-10%, and the U.S. was not? It's that notion that abstinence is the only permissible approach, that we are not going to "enable" a junkie by giving him a clean needle. There has to be a kind of owning up to that role in hundreds of thousands of people dying unnecessarily.
This accountability also must occur in the case of alcoholism treatment. According to the Drug and Alcohol Findings Effectiveness Bank description of yet another study confirming the benefits of brief interventions aimed at reducing drinking for even diagnosed alcoholics, now called dependent drinkers:
Commonly presumed unsuitable for dependent drinkers, the evidence is stacking up that brief advice after screening can lead even these drinkers to cut back. This study of heavy drinking Taiwanese hospital patients provides one of the most convincing demonstrations yet that brief intervention can work in this setting, and the drinking reductions were particularly steep among dependent patients.
In other words, it is possible—with relatively modest investments of time and effort—to assist alcoholics/dependent drinkers in moderating their drinking. This is not to say that all—or most—can become social drinkers. But, recall, HR is about how both drug addicts and alcoholics can make beneficial changes in their use and in their lives that may culminate in full recovery, but which may or may not currently save their lives. Yet, in the field of alcoholism in America, even more than with drug addiction, such HR approaches aren’t permitted. They are now declared impossible by the NIDA’s “chronic relapsing brain disease” theory that is being promoted by Science, as well as by the Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli, who is himself “in recovery.”
In Nadelmann's words, there must an “owning up to that role in hundreds of thousands of people dying unnecessarily" in alcohol as well as in drug treatment. In America, those who fail at AA and abstinence are simply left to experience their own negative consequences with no attempt to help them make incremental or life-preserving improvements. Remember George McGovern's daughter, Terry, who froze to death, drunk in the street, freshly out of a halfway house? Terry McGovern is an example of a human being who could be alive today if we concentrated on helping her even though she periodically relapsed.
A first step towards practicing HR as national policy for drugs and alcohol in America would be the retraction of the ideological, useless, indeed harmful alcoholism treatment study Science published by Pendery et al. 33 years ago.
There is one last tragic result in the aftermath of the Pendery et al. study. Some time later, Pendery engaged in a relationship with a former patient at the San Diego VA. I described what followed:
On April 10, 1994, Mary Pendery was murdered by an alcoholic lover. Pendery left the alcoholism treatment program at the VA Hospital in San Diego which she headed to move to a VA hospital in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1992. In January 1994, Mary recontacted George Sie Rega, whom she had first known while he was being treated at the San Diego VA. Mary apparently was rekindling an old flame. By the time Sie Rega joined Mary in Wyoming in April 1994, he was deep in alcoholic relapse. Extremely intoxicated (his BAL was >.30), Sie Rega shot Mary dead and then turned his weapon on himself.
And, so, one more victim of the myths that alcoholism treatment is all about forcing people to never drink again, and that this approach is highly effective, was Mary Pendery.
Who says that a recovering drug addict can’t run a marathon? Or create a recovery app? Or run for city hall? The only thing that restricts a person in recovery are the restrictions that they put on themselves. If you have the right mindset, then the sky is the limit. It's all about focusing, admitting you have a problem and overcoming the addiction. People in recovery come from all walks of life and success is not a given, but with hard work and the clarity that comes from living sober, anything within reason is achievable.
Jack Kelly, a Charlestown, Boston native, knows the dark recesses of addiction. He fought them for many years, but now he’s been clean and sober for 11 years, since October 12, 2003, and his life has taken him on a most amazing and intriguing journey. No one would have ever thought that the kid from Charlestown, strung out on OxyContin, would have turned his life around, but Jack didn’t take life for granted and now he has a wonderful life and remarkable story that he’s decided to share with The Fix.
“Recovery is the most amazing state to be in,” Jack tells The Fix. “It has peaks and valleys and life isn't always easy, but life isn't easy for anyone.” That is the old-fashioned truth, plainly spoken. Life is full of wrong turns and detours, something an addict knows firsthand. But when an addict gets on the right road and stays balanced, life can be both exciting and enjoyable.
“Recovery has given me many gifts,” Jack says. “I ran the Boston marathon, I worked for former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, and was an elected President Obama delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Denver in 2008. I received a college degree, ran for Boston City Council At Large and received the endorsement of Boston's biggest paper—The Boston Globe.” Tremendous accomplishments for anyone, but especially for a former addict.
“And more recently, I created a mobile app called iRecover that will connect people in recovery to meetings and others in recovery based off of their location,” Jack says. “But more importantly than the material success has been finding myself and being able to be a good person again. I see life in a much more spiritual light. I try and live today like an asteroid is coming; meaning, enjoy everyday and be good to people.” Simple keys to success and a solution to a life that could have ended in tragedy.
“I never used drugs and only drank beer a few times at or around the age of 15,” Jack tells The Fix. “It wasn't until I suffered a major injury to my shoulder that required surgery that my drug use began. I was prescribed opiate pain medicine and within several months was using the painkiller OxyContin on a regular basis. From there it progressed to sniffing heroin and then injecting it. By the age of 19, I was a full-blown heroin addict.” The shoulder injury and subsequent addiction derailed a once promising hockey career. Jack was on a downward spiral and dove into drug use headfirst. In sync with his addiction, he didn’t look back.
“At 17, after several months of taking OxyContin ‘recreationally,’ I knew almost immediately that this particular drug was dangerous,” Jack says. “After several months of regular use, I would suffer withdrawal symptoms. I was 17 years old and I knew I was in trouble. I didn't know the exact extent and still could never envision turning to heroin and being homeless years later, but instinctually, I understood I was in trouble.” Like many addicts, Jack recognized the grip that the disease had on him, but he couldn’t do anything about it.
“On one particular night, my skin was crawling and I couldn't sit still. My stomach was upset and I was compulsively sweating. I was unaware of what was happening to me. I called an individual who told me I was ‘dope sick.’ I was perplexed. I never viewed myself as a heroin addict, or an addict in any form. But this person made it very clear that I was addicted to OxyContin and if I took more, I would feel better. That night, I sniffed an Oxy and immediately felt better. From that moment forward, I knew internally, I was an addict.” Jack relates to The Fix. He came to the conclusion that many addicts come to, but at that point he wasn’t ready to do anything about it, except take more drugs. In retrospect, he has come to other conclusions.
“I believe I had a predisposition to addiction,” Jack says. “My father is a recovering alcoholic as well as other family members. So when I hurt my shoulder playing hockey and was prescribed a powerful pill such as OxyContin, I was instantly ‘hooked’ before I truly understood what being ‘hooked’ was. Articulating an exact reason ‘why’ I became a heroin addict is complex and varies with each individual. In my case, I believe it was a perfect combination of nature and environment.” And the science backs that assessment up, environment and a genetic predisposition to addiction determines the course of many drug users as they delve into drug abuse.
Addiction leads to rampant drug use where the addict doesn’t have a care in the world about the consequences of his actions. The only thing that matters is getting that next hit. And this singleminded recklessness leads to many problems. Jack had his share of dilemmas created from his addiction to drugs.
“The more pertinent question would be: what problems did they not cause me?” Jack tells The Fix. “I lost a potential hockey scholarship, got arrested several times and have a three-page criminal record. I was kicked out of my parents' house. I caught hepatitis C as a result of being an IV drug user. I lived on the streets and was officially homeless. Essentially, I lost every material fiber within my life and lost ‘myself’ completely, in every way one can lose themselves.”
In the recovery world, they call it hitting rock bottom. Many addicts like Jack hit rock bottom several times before they decide it's time to quit drugs, if they even get that far. Some addicts never admit that they're powerless over the drug, or they just don’t care. But Jack finally got to the point where enough was enough. “I hit ‘rock bottom’ many times. I lost all contact with my family and every possible friend. Heroin took it all away,” Jack tells us. “Rock bottom seemed to keep transpiring. But sleeping outside on a cold night in October in Boston was the last ‘rock bottom’ I have had.”
From that point on, Jack has been drug free. In recovery, he’s had time to think back and realize things that he never knew before. We asked him what advice he would give to his younger self to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and addiction. “A very loaded question,” Jack surmises. “I think the question should not be directed towards a younger me, but more of a policy statement to prevent younger people like me, or a younger version of me, a preventative tool that would halt the inception of addiction.” Remember, this is the man that created the recovery app, he is always thinking about society’s ills, instead of his own personal demons.
“It's a complex and varied answer that combines both medical and community reforms to give the appropriate answer or policy shift,” Jack continues. “I believe pediatricians should ask parents detailed questions about their family history concerning substance abuse and provide a guide, based on those results, [on] how to address experimentation with drugs and alcohol. If someone has the predisposition I had, then prescribing opiate pain medicine as a default after surgery should be reformed. My doctor would have understood, if such policies were in place, that based on my family history, I have a higher possibility of addiction and should not be prescribed addictive pain medicine. Simple reforms like this would improve prevention tactics.” An admirable and reasonable solution that should be effective immediately. But Jack offers more.
“I want people to understand that experimenting with drugs can be a dangerous game,” he tells The Fix. “However, I understand part of the allure is to do things adults deem dangerous. I'm not now, nor will I ever tell a young person what to do in their life. I would simply ask them to be honest with themselves when engaging in experimentation with drugs and alcohol. If you believe your actions are being negatively affected because of drugs or alcohol, listen to that inner voice and seek help or simply stop and engage in other activities.” Another wise solution from Jack, but where is he now? On a personal level? With his life and his recovery?
“I have been blessed to have an opportunity to have a second chance at life,” Jack answers. “I have known thousands upon thousands of people who have been lost because of addiction. I lost my cousin Meaghan to a heroin overdose. This disease has deeply troubled me. I believe I have a purpose. Not many people can be clean from heroin for over 11 years and did it at 22 like I did. As I contemplate my past, I know my purpose is to try and make the world a better place and that starts with me, on a daily basis.” To facilitate all this, and his recovery, Jack uses the tools at his disposal to keep a balanced lifestyle.
“I attend 12-step meetings regularly and have from my inception to recovery,” Jack relates. “Additionally, I have periodically sought outside help for my underlying depression issues. I attend therapy for my depression and exercise to combat more negative moments in my recovery.” The strategies are there for addicts to recover. What works for Jack might not work for you, but how do you know until you try. Success can be achieved by living sober, that much has been proved. An addict can turn his life around.
“As I've previously stated, I have had tremendous professional success,” Jack says. “I own property in Boston, drive a nice car, and have met actors and other celebrities and have worked for, or with, high-profile politicians. Additionally, as already stated, I created a mobile app to help connect those in recovery.” But all those successes mean nothing if Jack doesn’t stay off drugs and he realizes this.
“I don't quantify my success solely in terms of professional endeavors,” he tells The Fix. “It is certainly a part of what I conceive to be ‘success.’ However, success is a balanced approach of both personal and professional. Finding balance in life is how I interpret true success. When I'm balanced, I’m successful.” And that, in reality, is what recovery is about. It's about finding balance and staying on kilter. As addicts, our extreme natures knock us out of balance daily. It’s our job to seek perspective by getting our lives in check. Finding balance is the key. That’s the solution to true success in recovery as Jack has shown.
Dylann Roof, the chief suspect in the mass murders that took place at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was taking Suboxone. He was charged with felony possession of the drug back in February. It was not prescribed and one can only assume, at this point, that he was taking it to get high. Was he on the Suboxone when he committed his act of terrorism? Nobody knows. Does the fact that he had the drug on his person back in February have anything to do with his horrific crime? Absolutely not.
The fact that this is being speculated at all is so deeply twisted that as much as I want to try and find it funny, I simply cannot. Are we that afraid of having to take a serious look at abolishing the Second Amendment rather than the culture of hate that continues to find its way into the “land of the free”? CBS News felt the need to link the drug and Roof’s inexcusable actions in a report in an effort to “shed some light on Roof’s past behavior.” Robert Harrington of the site Info Wars felt compelled to tell his readers that “violent outbursts and aggressive acts of rage can be experienced while under the influence of Suboxone.” The same statement can be made about being under the influence of Jack Daniels, the KKK or even God as you understand Him. It is absurd and it is troubling that we are so desperate not to see this nasty and brutal hate crime for what it really is.
I was on Suboxone for many years. Roof was 21 years old. I started using heroin at 25. It was suddenly very accessible in the late 1990s. “Heroin chic” was the buzz phrase and Kurt Cobain was who I wanted to look like. Then I used it on-and-off for four years finally graduating to full-blown junkie for the remaining year and a half. That’s five and a half years. I was on Suboxone for nine years after that. I have written about it twice now for this site and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would have to write the words: "Suboxone did not make me a racist."
Suboxone did not make me hate. Suboxone did not make me do anything but stay off heroin and keep the withdrawals of opiate addiction at bay. I managed to get off of it and stay off of it but I know plenty of people that are still on it and doing just fine. Had any of them ever expressed a hatred toward black people to me, as Roof did to his friends, I would not tolerate it. I would tell that person to go fuck themselves. If they had wanted my friendship and respect they would have lost it all in that very moment. I would tell them to continue their journey in recovery, take their medications as prescribed and that it’s really too bad how stupid and ignorant they are.
Since I have been back in NYC from Wyoming, almost a year and a half now, I have been able to stay sober and busy. I have not given Suboxone any real thought since I managed to get off of it. In that year and a half though, race relations and idiot white men with guns have dominated the headlines in ways that seem to only get worse, suggesting that the country is in a very bad way.
The fact that racism still exists in this country was jaw-droppingly clear to me during my six months in Wyoming. I met grown men and women at the bars there that would use the "n-word" freely and openly. More often than not, it was the go-to adjective used to describe the President.
Now, I was born and raised in New York City. I have liberal, middle-class parents and the only sense of hate they encouraged in me was for double parkers. New York City in the 1980s was a very different place. It was crack cocaine and it was nasty. The term “wilding” was created to justify arresting more than two black kids hanging out at a time. I was mugged twice in front of our apartment. You couldn’t even enter Central Park after dark without being attacked. Despite all that—and despite becoming a full on alcoholic and addict—it never crossed my mind to hate anyone because of their skin color.
So, while I was in Wyoming and the racism was up close and personal, it scared me. It scared the shit out of me. I’m white but even the fact that I was from “Jew” York (their words) pissed them off. At first, it felt like too much of a cliché to be real. It was very real. Thing is, I know it’s always been there and I have definitely seen it before but it felt like because Obama was in office people were suddenly fiercely proud of it. It was in my face so much that I stopped going to the bars, opting instead to drink alone in the cabin. Well, drink and take my daily Suboxone strip until I ran out. There were two guns in the cabin. I was drunk and on Suboxone and I didn’t shoot anyone or anything.
The main effect opiates had on me was that it mellowed me out in a big way. It was like living in a silk coffin. The most obvious side effect I can recall was a general disinterest in being an active participant in life. I scratched myself and listened to Sonny Rollins by candlelight. I was just lost enough to convince myself that I was functioning. Then I tried to stop and the effects were debilitating to say the least.
I went on methadone then I was prescribed Suboxone. It mellowed me out in a much smaller way. I was agitated, severely depressed and filled with anxiety while I was getting off that. It was terrible but I assure you that the only person I felt like shooting was myself. If an argument is attempted to be made that Roof was going through the same sort of withdrawals from the drug and so that’s why he did what he did, then that will be just as ridiculous. After all, he sat through an hour of prayer before he committed the murders. He had an agenda that was very clear to him and he carried that out. None of that behavior is consistent with either being on or going off opiates unless the objective is to get more Suboxone. That is the only really clear objective opiate users have.
Roof was taught to hate. Roof was taught to shoot. Dylann Roof is a side effect of a country that needs to stop and take a good hard look at itself before it’s too late. After what Roof did, sadly, it might just be.