Recently, I came across an article about addiction that piqued my curiosity.
I wanted to take a closer look in light of the current presidential administration is possibly re-starting the war on drugs. That war put so many behind bars in the 90s and did nothing to eradicate America’s drug problem.
In fact, opioid addictions have gotten so bad, they are the main reason behind so many drug overdose deaths. According to the CDC, overdose deaths rose to over 33,000 in 2015. That is four times the number of overdose deaths that occurred in 1999.
Do we have drug addition all wrong?
Clearly, criminalizing addiction and shaming the addicted isn’t working. We need a new approach. So, the words of Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine came as a surprise.
What he says, and what he’s doing to treat people is revolutionary. Especially for those who come in as a last resort. According to Aces Too High,
“When a diabetes patient comes in with a blood sugar level of 300, we don’t say: ‘Give me back that insulin.’ We intensify the treatment to get them back in balance,” explains Sumrok.
“Only in addictions do we shame people. We tell them they can’t be part of this recovery anymore. We create a teeny hoop that’s called abstinence, and not too many people can jump through that hoop. If every time we saw a diabetic, we told them that their kidneys were going to fail, they would be blind and we would amputate their extremities, there wouldn’t be many diabetics who got help.
I have patients who drop out, and then return a couple of months later, and say, ‘Doc, Christmas came, I saw some of my buddies, and I started using again.’ I tell them, ‘Come on in. Let’s work with you.’ And I remind myself that I’m not saving souls, I’m saving their asses.
It’s about getting them so they can function at work, at home, at play. It’s not about making them perfect human beings.”
The key idea, says Sumrok, is about the brain’s reactions to Adverse Childhood Experiences. He says addiction should actually be called “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking” and sufferers should be made to feel like their experiences are normal and that there is hope.
According to Sumrok, the pattern of addiction is the brain’s normal response to trauma. Same with PTSD – which Sumrok says is a misnomer. It’s not a disorder, it is how the brain tries to make sense of a traumatic event.
Additionally, most people with addictions have a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences, and overcoming addiction has little to do with willpower, says Sumrok. It has everything to do with understanding and normalizing those traumatic experiences from childhood.
The questionnaire used for patients at the clinic was developed from the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. It asks questions about childhood experiences ranging from whether you lived with a parent who was depressed, experiencing domestic abuse, addicted to drugs or alcohol, whether you endured sexual assault as a child, and many other questions.
The higher the score you get, the more likely it is that you will turn to ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior. The interesting thing is, many patients give themselves scores that are much too low. However, they do not realizing the trauma they experienced wasn’t “normal.” Sumrok goes over the questionnaire with them a second time for this reason.
Hope for Change?
In many cases, Sumrok finds that once patients get treated with his combination of ACE diagnostics, therapeutic prescription drugs (buprenorphine [Suboxone]) when necessary, and group therapy, they go on to have healthy, productive lives.
Compare that to the over 3000 people sitting in Michigan’s prison system for drug related offenses. No comparison.
In conclusion, if you are facing criminal charges related to a drug addiction, there is more hope than ever for you to turn your life around. An experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. Call today.