Why Western Medicine is Failing to Fix Our Addiction Crisis

Why Western Medicine is Failing to Fix Our Addiction Crisis

By Dorri Olds 03/13/17

According to board-certified medical doctor Mylaine Riobe, MD, addiction is a physiological metabolism disorder and requires specialized treatment.

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Dr. Riobe
Dr. Riobe studied Chinese medicine for five years.

Dr. Riobe studied pre-med at Columbia, went to NY Medical College for her MD, and completed an OB-GYN residency. She then “went out into the real world,” only to find that what she’d learned wasn’t enough for many problems patients came to her for.

“Most of my patients were tired all the time, couldn’t sleep, were gaining weight, and experiencing anxiety and depression. While I could prescribe sleeping pills, anxiety meds, and antidepressants, [my patients] seemed to return with other problems or even the same problems again later.”

Thus began her quest for answers. She credited her grandmother for introducing her to natural medicines. That, plus Dr. Riobe’s interest in Buddhist principles, led her to study Chinese medicine for five years. “I also studied with mentors for two years by seeing patients with them in their offices.”

In the United States, she explained, medical doctors don’t need to formally study Chinese medicine. “They can get away with a six-month course and begin practicing. This leads to a misunderstanding of Chinese medicine because it’s simply not enough time to learn it.”

The doctor then implemented Chinese medicine into her practice “with great results” and was able to help her patients in new ways. Still not completely satisfied, she continued to seek solutions by then studying functional medicine. “That introduced me to a sophisticated method of testing called cellular-based testing.”

After her extensive education, Dr. Riobe founded the Riobe Institute of Integrative Medicine in Stuart, Florida where she treats patients with her own medical recipe: a fusion of Western, Chinese and Functional medicines. Riobe is also the author of The Tao of Integrative Medicine: The Path to Prevention and The Answer to Cancer: The Ending of An Epidemic. She is also certified in office-based opioid addiction management.

“In conventional medicine,” said Riobe, “the term prevention isn’t used accurately. An annual checkup is looking for an early diagnosis of any existing diseases. If something is wrong, both the doctor and patient hope to catch it early. The goal is to prevent death, not prevent disease.”

She said, “Similarly, when an addict goes to detox, the focus is on removing the substance from the body. A ‘good’ doctor will try to make the addict more comfortable by prescribing a drug to ease withdrawal, anxiety, and depression.”

After days or weeks in rehab, the addict’s body has rid itself of the drug, and after-care programs may offer meditation, exercise, and psychiatric help. That all sounds good, right? Yes, said Riobe, but with that approach, we are failing to look at the bigger picture.

“We’re leaving the patient with the same underlying physiological causes of addiction, which is why our current methods have up to a 95% failure rate.”

She referred to a 2016 study released by the University of Beijing that focused on addiction as a physiological metabolism disorder. She is certain it all comes down to a problem with metabolism.

“Metabolism is the reactions the body uses to make its energy so it can perform its functions,” said Riobe. “As we take in foods containing proteins and fats, and breathe oxygen, they are broken down and converted into energy. If this process doesn’t take properly, we get lactic acid instead. These metabolic problems stem from nutrient deficits, hormone imbalances, and an accumulation of toxins,” she said. “Without proper evaluation and testing, it’s extremely difficult to determine the causes.”

After looking at the study, I still needed to understand what the authors—and Riobe—were getting at. In layman’s terms, lactic acid is a chemical compound that comes from blood cells and muscle. It can become problematic when a buildup occurs, which can happen as a side effect of toxin buildup from drug use or poor nutrition. Riobe explained, “The Beijing study showed that the release of lactic acid by glia cells in the brain triggers cocaine-addiction memories and fuels addiction in rodents.”

Okay, so then I had to understand what glia cells are: they are nervous system cells in your brain and spinal cord. Your brain’s neurons do the thinking while glia cells make sure the brain is working properly so the neurons can do their thing. The study found that if production of lactic acid is blocked, cravings for cocaine diminish. I’d say that’s an important discovery toward treating coke addicts, eh?

Riobe then talked about the glaring problem with our current treatment for opioid addicts. Based solely on western medicine, the patient is medicated with a “safer” version of the addictive drug, such as Suboxone.

“This satisfies the craving and drastically reduces the risk of death from drug overdose,” said Riobe. “But it leaves the underlying cause of addiction untreated, which explains why weaning addicts off of [Suboxone] is so difficult. The disease is still present, as are its underlying causes.”

The fatal flaw in this system, according to Riobe, is this focus on preventing death. “We look at the craving as the disease and mask it with prescription drugs,” she said. “We need to look for the cause of the craving.”

That’s where Riobe’s intensive studies and integration of Chinese medicine and functional medicine comes in. Her three-fold approach is to focus on preventing disease. She explained that western medicine is not equipped to look at disease from the perspective of metabolism, but traditional Chinese medicine and functional medicine are. "Their very premise is to correct 'metabolic dysfunction,'" said Riobe.

Once again, I had to slow things down to understand all of this. I felt like it was going over my head. Let’s break it down in terms of treating addiction:

  • Western medicine is focused on diagnosing the disease and preventing death. A doctor looks at symptoms, makes a determination, and prescribes a solution. He/She might treat all patients with similar symptoms in the same way. Often, treatment includes pharmaceuticals. This can work in the short-term but it is only masking symptoms. The problem is that addiction is a chronic illness with underlying causes that are not just mental.
  • Chinese medicine looks at the whole person. Each patient is considered unique and the examination is based on “life force energy” or qi (pronounced chee). The doctor will look for why the balance in the body’s metabolism has been thrown off and what is causing the cravings. Treatment will be based on restoring the body’s natural balance. This focuses on long-term wellness. Riobe explained: “Chinese medicine is scientific. It is related to quantum physics as opposed to Newtonian physics like our conventional [western] and functional medicine models.”
  • Functional medicine, like Chinese medicine, does not merely mask symptoms, doesn’t rely on “one size fits all” answers, and looks to bring the body back to a healthy state. However, functional medicine shares western medicine’s problem-solving through advanced laboratory testing in order to determine why the body is malfunctioning.

Riobe’s practice combines these three strategies to wean patients off of addictive substances for a much better chance at long-lasting sobriety. She is in the process of opening an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility to implement her specialized three-fold medical model. In addition, Riobe is currently seeking grants for a study that will enroll addicted patients to prove the value in her integrative model to treat drug cravings.

“If drug dependence is treated naturally from a root cause perspective,” Riobe said, “we can see a momentum shift in the U.S. and bring this epidemic under control.”

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. She is currently working on a book scheduled for release in 2019. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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