Letter to the New York Post
February 25, 2013
Andrea Peyser raises a most provocative question in her piece “Exploiting addiction” when she asks us to carefully inspect the motives of the "addiction treatment industry" whose very “existence depends on peoples relapses.”
However, her piece neglects to remind us to think about that question through the lens of what we now know about this disease. Cutting edge brain imaging and research by neuroscientists has revealed that addiction involving alcohol, tobacco or other drugs is at its core a complex brain disease with significant behavioral characteristics that affects approximately 40 million Americans age 12 and over. That’s more than the number of people with heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (21 million) or cancer (19 million). It is also important to note that setting aside the motives of the "addiction treatment industry”, only 11 percent of people in need of treatment for addiction involving alcohol or other drugs receive any form of care, and most who do receive help do not receive evidence based medical treatment.
Treating addiction as a disease rather than as a personal or moral failing will require consistent and regulated national standards that stipulate who may in fact provide treatment. Professionalizing addiction treatment would result in treatment facilities and programs being adequately regulated or held accountable for treatment consistent with medical standards and proven practices, in the same manner that our hospitals and our health care clinics are.
Imagine what would happen if we brought our nation’s extraordinary research and health care experts to engage in the medical task at hand. For starters, the frequent losses among our own friends and family members, including those in the public eye like Mindy McCready or Joey Kovar, will become noticeably fewer and much further between - relapses or not.
William H. Foster, PhD
President and CEO
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at
Columbia University (CASAColumbia)