Snake Oil Cures for Addiction

I was in a book store today, happily browsing the isles and furtively sniffing the books for that great new-book smell. I drifted down the aisle label “Addiction and Recovery” and paused to look for any new books on the topic. I saw an unfamiliar book spine, picked it up, and read the title which promised a completely “new and revolutionary” cure for addiction.

I am board-certified in Addiction Medicine. I go to conferences every year, to remain current in my field. I read most of your better medical journals about addiction. In other words, I’m likely to know if there’s a new and revolutionary cure for addiction.

I flipped through the book, trying to discern what the author claimed was a new cure, but didn’t  see anything, except that he stated that we had all been brainwashed into thinking addictive drugs are hard to stop, but they are not.  He says there are cures that “they” don’t want you to know about, because “they” make money treating addiction. I’m assuming I’m one of the “they.”

But he had the cure. And to prove it, he quit using his favorite addicting drug, then started using it again so he could quit again.

 

I’m not making this up. In fact, I flipped the book over to see if it was some kind of satirical book, but it appeared the author was dead earnest.

This kind of thing is annoying, but not new. History gives us hundreds of useless cures for addiction which were presented in their day as “effective” and “revolutionary.” Snake oil salesmen take advantage of the desperation of people with various difficult-to-cure diseases. Cancer, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis have all had predators peddling phony treatments, preying on desperate patients. (Remember Laetrile? No, you don’t, unless you’re my age. Check it out at this link: http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Cancer/laetrile.html)

I’m all for alternative paths to recovery, but we can’t just accept any nonsense that’s presented. We need to demand real proof of the effectiveness of a treatment. We aren’t in the Dark Ages anymore. We have scientific methods that can tell us if a treatment works or is no better than placebo. We know how to do controlled, double-blinded randomized trials of a treatment for disease. When a treatment shows real benefit in this way, we call it evidence-based, to distinguish it from treatments that have no such supporting evidence.

Getting back to the ridiculous book I saw in the bookstore, in the last bit of unintended irony, the author had the temerity to suggest that doctors who treat addiction are getting rich off the misery of others. However, he wasn’t giving his book away for free. In fact, it carried a rather hefty price. He can probably justify this, using the distorted logic that made it OK for him to use drugs again, to show he can stop. Again.

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