Fact-Checking Medication-Assisted Treatment

By Michael M. 10/27/16

A sober alcoholic fact-checks a series of news stories about medication-assisted treatment.

Fact-Checking Medication-Assisted Treatment

Does This Need to Be Said? 

Why do we need another article about the 12-step versus medication-assisted treatment “debate”? This is not a survey of the arguments on both sides; this is not a literature review. This is my account, as a sober man in recovery, who believes in the power of AA, on what it feels like having to serve as a backup on stories that not only proclaim the curative powers of medicine, but that come close to blaming proponents of “abstinence-based recovery,” or “faith-based recovery” for the deaths of thousands.

These believers in science, in “evidence-based” treatment, can hardly contain their contempt for the fools who believe in AA, “despite a lack of any evidence to show it works.” I can see the grin on their faces as they dismiss “faith-based recovery” with a sentence about how antiquated it is, an anecdote about a kid who overdosed after “AA didn’t work.” 

Does This Need to Be Said by Me? 

I am the guy who checks the facts in the newspaper articles that purport that drug addiction is best treated with more drugs rather than a “fellowship of men and women.” I know what it’s like to read a story about “the lack of solutions to the scourge of addiction” and to be left with a bad taste in the mouth. To feel that something isn’t right about this article, but I just can’t describe what it is. It’s missing something. Maybe that’s because a part of me wants to yell out, “But the answer is right here, it’s staring you in the face! Here I am, I got sober and so can you!”

I wish I could speak through the pages to the addicts around the country, and tell them how simple it is. Just surrender. Not one of the dozens of articles I have fact-checked once mentioned “turning it over,” “admitting powerlessness,” “surrender to win.”

It’s funny for the writer of the article, not knowing that I am in recovery, to get on their high horse and presume to tell me what recovery is about, just because they’ve written 1,000 words about it and talked to a handful of addicts. When I asked them if we really wanted to say that people who have recovered, in other words, people who no longer use drugs or alcohol, are “struggling to recover,” what I had in mind was the reader, who might be thinking about asking for help.

What kind of message does it send to someone who has had enough, who is ready to try something different, to tell them (even if they were able to give up drugs, which they probably don’t have much confidence in being able to do, perhaps having tried and failed to do so many times) that even if they could do this, their life would be a constant struggle? This was what I had in mind when the reporter felt the need to explain to me that, “People who battle addiction are never recovered, they will always need to battle and struggle, every day is a battle for them,” and all that horse dookie. Well I just have to disagree. 

Maybe that’s how people feel when they don’t change anything and just start taking a drug.

“If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.”

How frustrating it is to hold my tongue when I want to tell those thousands of readers, “you don’t have to live like this.” There is an easier, softer way! And it’s so much more than just not drinking! Who wants to give up their medicine, their crutch, the only thing they can count on, the thing that helps them get through life, if all they are promised is struggle? 

Another thing they are told, by these so-called addiction and recovery experts, many of them on the boards of pharmaceutical or pro-medication groups, is that “relapse is a part of recovery.” They are told that success is using less drugs, less often.

Readers are told, in these articles that cite “studies,” that people who take these medicines (made by the same people who got them hooked on painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin in the first place) are twice as likely to stay in recovery. Baloney! What the studies really say is that these people stay in these programs longer, and that many of them relapse but continue to come, continue to take their methadone and buprenorphine.

But is the goal of recovery to have to keep going to these inpatient or other places? Isn’t the goal to get well and go out and live your life? Is it really a success rate to count the number of people who after a year are still living in a treatment center? Dr. Bob made amends on his first day. Many of the pioneers of AA were taken through the steps rapidly. They weren’t convalescing for a year or two, taking drugs all the while, relapsing periodically, and counting themselves a success! They certainly wouldn’t be held up as proof that abstinence and working the 12 steps, which has saved millions, are antiquated and “in the way of scientific progress and evidence-based solutions”!

Does This Need to Be Said by Me Now?

I harbor no grudge toward my employer or to the writer of the articles. Quite the opposite is true: I feel immensely grateful for the work that I do and the people I do it with. However, like many others in the rooms of AA, I have felt quite offended by such articles as the one in the Atlantic not long ago, which caused quite a stir. These articles are a stain on the reputation and trustworthiness of journalism.

In AA literature, our founders express their gratitude for the help of journalists, especially the Saturday Evening Post story. The program also suggests anonymity at the level of press, and that is why I haven’t used my real name here, and I have sought to protect the anonymity of my employer and co-workers. I just wanted to tell my story to people who might understand, and who might have some interesting things to say in the comments section.

Thank you for allowing me to share.

Michael M. is a copy editor and fact checker. He is also a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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