Celebrity Overdose Deaths

a informed

Recently, the overdose death of a beloved celebrity restarted discussion of addiction treatment in the mainstream media. I have mixed feelings about such discussions.

On the one hand, I don’t think it’s appropriate for outsiders to comment on whether the celebrity got the best available treatment. It feels reckless for someone to say he should have had this treatment or that, without being privy to the personal medical history of the celebrity. Those details can make a big difference in deciding the most appropriate treatment. Of course in hindsight we can say the treatment chosen didn’t work… but as I’m painfully aware, even the best evidence-based treatments can have disastrous outcomes in individual patients.

On the other hand, celebrity deaths can focus the public on pertinent addiction issues facing society. For example, the death of 1980’s basketball star Len Bias helped change public perception about the risks of cocaine use. Mr. Bias, the second overall draft pick of the NBA in 1986, was the picture of physical health. When this young man died of a cardiac arrhythmia from cocaine use, people stopped looking at cocaine as a harmless party drug. There was a shift to a more realistic view of cocaine as a potentially addictive drug that can cause serious medical problems, including death, even in young healthy people. It’s possible Len Bias’s death, untimely and tragic, saved some number of young people from experimenting and becoming addicted to cocaine.

I am thankful that some light is being shed on the treatment of opioid addiction, even though the cause of this examination is due to a celebrity death. Perhaps something good can come of tragedy.

Realistically, are opioid addicts, including celebrities, being told of all evidence-based treatments for the disease? I don’t have facts or figures, but I’m confident the answer is a resounding “No.”. Most Minnesota model, 12-step based inpatient drug rehabs still discourage patients with opioid addiction from considering methadone or buprenorphine, even though medical evidence proves such treatments to be the most successful. Is this ethical? I don’t think so.

In a recent article from Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly (Feb 10, 2014) on this same topic, even the deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli says, “For people with opioid dependence, MAT should be the standard of care.”

So how are Minnesota Model facilities, opposed to MAT, able to maintain accreditation if they don’t inform patients of all evidence-based treatments? It’s unethical. Our first obligation is to do the right thing by our patients, based on scientific data.

This wouldn’t be allowed in any other field of medicine.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Icecutter on February 16, 2014 at 5:20 am

    Dr. Burson, you might consider contacting CNN or some other national news organizations and offer to be an ‘expert resource’ on opiate addiction treatment. That way, the next time a news-notable person dies from heroin, your voice and all of us surviving our opiate addictions because of medication assisted treatment programs would be heard, and the people needing treatment would hear about it. I don’t think I read or heard once about methadone or suboxone treatment in all of the press coverage of this actor’s unfortunate death.


    • I’ve tried in the past but get no response. Besides, there are plenty of doctors, much smarter and more eloquent than me, who work in the field of MAT & better sources for CNN and others.


  2. Posted by Joy Auren on February 16, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    As sad is it is to see “great actors & actress” So talented…gone before there time. yada yada yada! We’re all the same at the end game of our addiction! Yes, it is so dishearting for a child to see headlines that her father was found with a needle still in his arm! My heart hurts for all thoses still suffering addicts in & out clinics, AA & NA. I am so very grateful for having suck an awesome support circle! That’s what I pray for. For everyone to be treated as an individual. Weather it’s in a clinic, NA AA. No just “one” thing works for everyone. I think at the end of the day we all just want to feel safe.


  3. Try Fox News 😉 they have more viewers and I have never heard it mentioned on there either! I think you’d be awesome!


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