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Book Review: “American Pain,” by John Temple

 

This nonfiction book, published in 2016, describes in amazing detail the rise and fall of one of the biggest of South Florida’s pill mills, named American Pain. The book reads as easily as a novel. It describes the casual criminality and greed that fueled one of our nation’s biggest drug overdose epidemics.

The book starts by describing how a felon, his twin brother, and a body-building buddy decide to open a pain clinic. They hire doctors to work there, but still manage clinic, in appallingly unprofessional ways. These owners and managers show a shocking lack of concern for human life and the suffering they saw daily. For example, they talk derisively of their customers as “druggies” and “zombies,” yet the owners were also drug users. Bribes were taken for all sorts of unethical activities, from advancing a patient through the line more quickly, falsifying drug screen results, or getting the patient seen by a doctor with a reputation for being a generous prescriber.

This pill mill saw mostly people from Appalachia – as the book points out, 43% of the clinic patients lived in Kentucky, 20% in Florida, 18% from Tennessee, and 11% from Ohio.

The methods developed by the addicted patients and their handlers were astounding. Appalachian families who in the past may have distribute moonshine, marijuana, or methamphetamine used the same organizations to distribute these pain pills transported out of Florida. People called “sponsors” would arrange for a group of people to come to American Pain, located in Broward County, Florida, sometimes traveling hundreds in buses or vans or just carloads of people. Each of these people would be given money by the sponsor to be seen by the physician and to buy the pain pills and benzodiazepines dispensed on site. They gave a portion of these pills to their sponsor to be sold through the networks of drug dealers already established, or they could give all the pills to the sponsor in return for a tidy profit.

Some airlines offered cheap flights from the Appalachians to Florida. So many pain patients flew on one flight that it was called the “Oxy Express.”

MRI owners and operators profited because the pain clinic made every patient get an MRI, to maintain a veneer of medical respectability. Patients could bribe their way to the head of this long line, too. Pharmacies profited, as long as they didn’t ask too many questions. Many times, the pain clinics had their own pharmacies and dispensed on site, to make yet more money and to keep legitimate pharmacies from asking uncomfortable questions.

Flea markets in Kentucky sold urine in Mason jars to pain clinic patients who were required to pass a drug test. Dive motels in Florida rented rooms to “oxy-tourists,” and some overdosed and died in these places.

Between 2007 and 2009, Broward County went from having four pain clinics to having one hundred and fifteen. In one area, there were eighteen pain clinics within a two mile radius.

Everyone was happy; the people with addiction got more pain pills to inject or snort, the sponsors made money, the doctors made money, and the clinic owners made staggering amounts of money.

Of course, in the long run, irreparable harm was done. Patients of the clinics died, people who bought pills from American Pain patients died, and families suffered from the deaths of their loved ones. Many people were incarcerated, children were put into foster care, and medical costs of complications from addictions soared. The cost to taxpayers and U.S. social fabric can never be calculated.

Police routinely pulled over cars traveling north on the interstates if they had Kentucky, Tennessee, or West Virginia license plates and were filled with people. Usually, some crime could be detected. If one person had pill bottles from multiple doctors, this was the crime known as doctor shopping. If a pill bottle had too few pills remaining, the owner could be arrested for drug dealing. Many times, there would be drug paraphernalia in the vehicles. The driver could be impaired.

The book is painfully funny in places; the manager of the pain clinic describes what he calls “addict stunts,” like when an RV filled with three generations of a family from Appalachia rolled into their parking lot, spread an outdoor carpet on the asphalt, and set up folding chairs and a grill, planning to make a day of it at the pain clinic. It was a family outing, going to a Florida pain clinic to get pills to fuel one’s addiction.

Pain clinic patients would pee in the hedges, fornicate near other businesses, and shoot up in the parking lot, all of which appalled the owners, who were trying not to attract attention.

The owners even asked themselves, “How could this be legal?” But it was.

Apparently Florida didn’t have any corporate practice of medicine laws, which prevents non-physicians from owning any medical facility. I’ve derided these types of laws in the past, but here’s one situation which cried out for this kind of law.

Florida also had no prescription monitoring program, as I pointed out in my blog of March 8, 2011. Long after Florida’s pain clinic problem exploded, their governor inexplicably blocked development of a PMP. They have one now, but only after Purdue Pharma (manufacturer of OxyContin) offered money to the state to start one.

Florida also allowed physicians to sell pain pills and other medication directly, without involving a pharmacy. This allowed much of the mis-prescribing to go unnoticed.

Of course, things finally ended badly. The FBI got involved, and did investigations, undercover work, and eventually got wire taps to prove RICO indictments of all the main people. After they were arrested, the owners and operators, who talked big about how they would never turn on each other, all ratted on each other to get favorable plea deals.

The main owner got 14 years in prison for his part in the scheme that earned him 40 million dollars, and his twin was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Their friend, the manager of American Pain, was sentenced to 14 years.

All but two of the physicians took plea deals, and most lost their medical licenses and had various criminal penalties.

The two doctors who refused to take plea deals were both charged in the deaths of patients who had overdosed on medications these doctors prescribed. Both doctors said they had no idea they were working for a pill mill, and the juries acquitted both of them

However, they were both convicted of money laundering, under the premise that they would have to be willfully blind not to know the operations of this place weren’t legitimate medical care. Prosecutors said the doctors had to have known they were prescribing to people with addiction or people who intended to sell their pills. In one doctor’s case, she would see in excess of sixty patients per day, and was the largest prescriber in the nation for certain drugs.

She also made 1.2 million dollars in just the sixteen months she worked there. That last fact alone is so far out of line for what legitimate physicians make in that same time period that she had to have known she was committing crimes. She was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison.

The only other physician not to take a plea deal made around $160,000 for working at the pill mill, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

This is a fascinating book, about an incredible time in Florida’s history. Of course, as the book illustrates, Florida’s problem bled into other states, and poured gasoline of the raging fire of opioid use disorder that already existed in Appalachia.

The book illustrated the mindset of people who operate such pill mills, their derision towards the people who are making them all this money, and their disregard to the human misery caused by addiction.

One of the most poignant scenes in the book is when the mother of a young man who dies of an opioid and benzodiazepine overdose goes to talk to the doctor who prescribed him the pills. This mother left the hills of Kentucky and drove to Florida for the confrontation. But the doctor said nothing, only looked downward to the floor. For what could she say? Under the best light, she was guilty of willful blindness, and under the worst, something much more sinister.

The events in this book took place not even ten years ago, and we were about ten years into the opioid epidemic when American Pain opened its first clinic. The owners and operators and doctors weren’t the only ones at fault. Why did it take Florida so long to get an operational prescription monitoring program? Why did their governor, Rick Scott, block efforts to establish this important program? Where was the state’s medical board, and why didn’t they investigate the doctors’ actions at American Pain?

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the opioid use disorder situation in the U.S., to get better insight into how it started and how it was perpetuated

 

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Book Review: “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by Sam Quinones

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I’m happy to tell my readers of a great new book. Published in 2015, this book is about the pain pill epidemic in the U.S., and how black tar heroin from Mexico quietly filled the void when pain pills became less plentiful.

The story of how this nation found itself in the middle of an opioid addiction epidemic isn’t a new tale, but the scope of the story has rarely been told with the completeness found in this book. The author talked to, or attempted to talk to, key people in all the realms affected by addiction: pain management experts, drug company leaders, addicts, parents whose children died from opioid addiction, doctors who prescribed OxyContin, everyday members of drug rings, prominent leaders of drug rings, law enforcement personnel, and addiction treatment personnel.

This book covered the pain management movement of the late 20th century, and how pain management experts grossly underestimated the risks of prescribing opioids long-term for chronic pain. Those experts taught other doctors that the risk of triggering addiction was almost zero, and that physicians had an obligation to relieve pain in their patients. Pain was described as the “fifth vital sign,” with the implication that a patient’s reported pain level was as objective as their pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate.

All of these recommendations were based on thin evidence. Some of the pain management experts were also employed by drug companies marketing powerful opioid pain relievers, creating at the least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The author described the inappropriate marketing of pain medications in general, and then focused on Purdue Pharma’s criminally inaccurate promotion of OxyContin. Purdue taught its young and attractive drug representatives to say things about OxyContin that were not true. These drug reps pushed their product with fervor, using falsified material provided to them by their company (p. 265). Purdue wasn’t the only drug company to oversell its products, but they did the best job of it. Ultimately, their marketing strategy lead to a criminal case brought in Southwest Virginia, and resulted in Purdue Pharma, along with their three top executives, pleading guilty to a felony count of misbranding. They were ordered to pay a fine of $634.5 million…but the company’s profits have been estimate to exceed three billion dollars thus far.

For me, the most interesting part of the book described the Mexican drug dealers. In a relatively small, agricultural area of Mexico, sugar cane farmers switched to growing opium poppies. The crop was easier to harvest, and much more profitable. Then young men from the area were recruited to travel north to the U.S. to sell the semi-processed heroin known as black tar. This was not a centralized drug unit, but rather multiple small organizations of growers, transporters, and driver-salesmen. Many of these groups were from Xalisco, a city in the Mexico state of Nayarit.

Each group had a handful of drivers located in smaller U.S. cities, ready to deliver black tar heroin to young addicts who called them on the phone. By delivering the product, middle and upper class addicts didn’t have to travel to bad neighborhoods for their drug. The drivers carried only small amounts of black tar heroin with them, in balloons which they carried in their mouth. If stopped by the police, they could swallow the evidence. Even if they were caught, the amount of heroin was so small that they were only deported, not jailed.

The drivers-dealers didn’t use the product, so they weren’t tempted to dilute the product for personal use. Drivers were paid by the hour, so that also gave no financial incentive to dilute the product. These young Mexican men were polite, and taught to give the best possible customer service, to keep the business of the addicts. In fact, they frequently ran sales on their product, as an incentive for customer loyalty.

This heroin was cheap and potent. Opioid pain pill addicts who were desperate to avoid opioid withdrawal switched to heroin because they could get high with less money. Because the tar could be snorted, the stigma of IV use was avoided – at first. Ultimately as the addiction progressed, addicts who started using intranasally eventually switched to IV use.

Groups of heroin sellers competed with each other to sell the most heroin, but they didn’t engage in violence. Since they were all from the same relatively small area of Mexico, and violence in the U.S. would bring repercussions from relatives back home. The drivers delivering the product were cautioned to stay away from blacks, since the Mexicans believed blacks to be more violent.

Because these heroin-selling groups avoided all violence, they were able to concentrate of profits. They didn’t call attention to themselves, making it easier to pass under the radar of law enforcement.

Groups of heroin dealers from Nayarit settled in mid-sized cities. They avoided cities where established drug cartels controlled the sale of heroin, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Detroit, fearing there would be violence from the cartels. Instead, they settled into cities like Salt Lake City, Portland, Oregon; Columbus, Ohio; and Charlotte, NC. They needed cities where other Mexicans worked in order to blend in with the populace. The book tells of opioid addiction in Huntington, WVA; Denver, Colorado; Boise, Idaho; Santé Fe, New Mexico; Nashville, TN; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

These Mexican farm boys returned home with money and spent ostentatiously in order to impress their neighbors and friends. They hired bands, threw parties, and built houses with the money they earned from selling heroin. In a relatively poor area, young men saw there was a way to make their fortunes, so recruiting new drivers wasn’t difficult. In fact, the supply appeared to be inexhaustible.

The author makes the point that all of this happened slowly and without much publicity, but I question this conclusion. He says that it was only when Phillip Seymour Hoffman died that the U.S. sat up and took notice.

Maybe I have a different view since I’ve been treating opioid addicts since 2001, and saw a rapid rise of opioid addiction in my state since then. At conferences we seem to talk little about anything else – but then, I go to Addiction Medicine conferences.

The book has its flaws. It was a little repetitive, and many chapters were short, giving the book a choppy feel, but this was because the author described events chronologically, and described what was happening in multiple areas to multiple people.

He described drug abuse in Portsmouth, Ohio, which he called the birthplace of the pill mill. I don’t agree with this. Ever since doctors could prescribe medications that caused euphoria, there have been pill mills. Sadly there are always a handful of unscrupulous doctors who prescribe freely to patients willing to pay. I don’t think Portsmouth was the location of the first pill mill, and sadly it won’t be the last.

The most distressing thing that I read was how the Mexican drug families would move into a new city and go to the methadone clinics to recruit its first customers. From there, word of mouth via the addict grapevine resulted in plentiful business for the Mexicans.

That’s appalling. I’m sure it seems like no big deal to people wanted to make money off of addicts, but to target people who are in treatment to get well, and then tempt them into a relapse…that is low down. The book also describes how drug rings would pay more attention to an addict if he said things about quitting heroin. The dealers would offer this person an exceptional deal to remain a customer.

I know this is good business. But this business breeds death and misery.

I struggle with how to provide security at opioid treatment programs. I don’t like it when an armed guard in the parking lot makes it feel like a police state, but then I want our facility to be safe, and free from interlopers such as these described in the book.

I was also disappointed about the lack of information about treatment. Granted, the title implies only coverage of how the opioid epidemic emerged and evolved, but it would have been nice to add even a small section to readers who are addicted themselves, or who have relatives who are addicted.

Aside from the few nit-picky flaws, this book is great – it’s well-written, informative, and entertaining. It’s one of the best books I’ve read about this country’s story of opioid addiction. It picks up where “Pain Killers,” by Barry Meier left off.

This book should be read by anyone interested in our pain pill epidemic. Addicts should read it so they can realize where their money goes. Families of addicts should read it to better understand the compulsion of addiction. Law enforcement personnel should read it to hear the stories of the addicts, and come to see them as people with a disease, not just as criminals. Every doctor should read it, to better understand risks to patients who are prescribed heavy opioids. Treatment center personnel should read it to get a better idea of the milieu of addiction in the U.S.

Book Review: “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink-and How they can Regain Control,” by Gabrielle Glaser

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This book disappointed me. The title suggests a book of interesting research and conjecture about the reasons women drink. I was hoping for new insights that I could use in my practice with patients who drink alcohol. As it turned out, most of the book wasn’t about what the title implied. That topic was lightly touched on in the beginning, and there was a bit of summary at the end, but way too much of the book was about why AA sucks and why women don’t get the right treatment.

I liked the first third of the book, as it was basically history of alcohol and history of addiction treatment. She wrote about the shame women feel about having alcohol addiction, but that was brief. Overall, that portion of the book was mildly interesting, if a little tedious.

Then the next third of the book felt like an attack on AA. I admit I’m sensitive to AA bashing. I know AA works for many people, and I also know AA has never claimed to be the answer for every problem drinker. Given AA’s stance of “we will help you if you want help,” I don’t think it’s productive to berate the organization if you don’t want to go to their meetings.

My own opinion is that if you don’t like AA or don’t think it works for you, then fine. Take your ass on out of the meetings and go find another way that helps you. After all, AA members are under no obligation to help anyone; they help only because they want to, because it helps keep them sober. They don’t recruit new members, and they don’t ask for any money.

The author’s logic isn’t consistent. First she says AA isn’t helpful for women because it tells them they have to admit powerlessness and that interferes with women’s recovery process, rather than helping it. She says it’s insulting for women to be told that “your best thinking got you here,” and the slogans are too trite or hackneyed to help intelligent female problem drinkers who have problems with alcohol. She says women should be told they do have the power to make changes and stop drinking.

But then the next section, she says women are often victimized by men in meetings who have more time in sobriety, and thus more able to take sexual advantage of the fragile newcomer women. So which is it? Are the newcomer women tender blossoms with have no idea how to thwart a creepy man’s advances? Or are these women so powerful and capable that the simplicity of AA is insulting to their intelligence and capabilities?

Alcoholic Anonymous is made up of humans. Humans with drinking problems. It seems disingenuous to expect these humans to behave better than people in other human organizations (Catholic Church, for example). Also, I suspect some alcoholic women may have encountered creepy male advances in bars.

What kind of treatment does this author say works best? She correctly champions cognitive behavioral therapy and Motivational Enhancement therapy.

As an example, she describes an excellent treatment program that consists of treatment sessions from two therapists, with the addition of other services as needed (primary care consult, mental health provider). This treatment is done as an outpatient, where the person stays in a nice hotel close to the therapists’ office.

It costs ten grand. Ten thousand dollars.

This author gushes about how these therapists are so caring and dedicated that they even eat lunch with the patient. I would hope so. If I were paying ten thousand dollars for a few weeks of therapy, I’d expect my therapists not only to eat lunch with me, but also tuck me in at night and tell me a bedtime story!

So overall, I don’t think the ideas in this book extend to any new territory. Twelve step bashing has been done by many authors, so that’s dull. I found much of the book to be derivative, containing ideas from earlier books about women and addiction. Plus, I was surprised by how little time this author spent describing real barriers many women face when they are seeking help for alcohol addiction. For example, women are the primary caregivers for their children. Male partners may not want to take over childcare responsibilities while the woman gets treatment. Many times the woman’s partner is also in active addiction, and seeks to deter or undermine her efforts to get help and to stay in recovery. Transportation is a big problem, especially in rural areas with no public transportation. She may not have a car she can drive to treatment each day.

These issues were not addressed at any depth.

If you want to read a book about women and addiction, I highly recommend you read, “Substance and Shadow,” by Stephen Kandall, or “Women Under the Influence,” by the CASA program. Both are better written and with more information.

Addiction Fiction: “All Fall Down” by Jennifer Weiner

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Sometimes the greatest facts can be transmitted by fictional stories.

My bookshelves at home are groaning under the weight of all sorts of written material about addiction. I have textbooks, journals, and SAMHSA publications about addiction and treatment. I also have numerous autobiographical memoirs written by people with addiction issues, which seems to be a whole new exploding genre, with more books coming out each month. I’ve read The End of My Addiction; More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction; Pill Head; Rolling Away; Drinking: A Love Story; Dry: A Memoir; Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction; Tweak; Leaving Jersey Dirty; Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption; Lit: A Memoir; Parched: A Memoir; Hit Hard; The Adderall Diaries; Junky; and probably many others that don’t come to mind at present.

But I can’t think of any fiction I’ve read about addiction, probably because I tend towards non-fiction in my reading life. So this new book I recently read was unusual for me, and I enjoyed it. I also found many truths contained within the fictional story.

In this novel, All Fall Down,” the protagonist, Allison, narrates the arc of addiction from occasional pain pill use to compulsive and uncontrolled use, and then through the bad consequences that follow. The book gives a fresh and accurate account of the protagonist’s stay in an inpatient rehab, and ends by describing her life in early recovery.

I am particularly impressed by the way the author describes the thoughts of Allison, the protagonist. The author has great insight into the mind of someone in active addiction. Allison lies to herself about how many she takes, about the reasons she takes the pills, and that she functions better with the pills than without. I found the author’s description of Allison’s thought process and self-deception to be accurate and believable. I hear the same self-deceptions in my work. Allison tells herself she deserves a few extra pain pills because she’s under emotional stress dealing with a difficult family situation. She tells herself everyone uses something to get through the day. She resolves again and again to cut back on her pill use, and then has moments of clarity when she realizes she’s using more than ever.

When Allison has these moments of clarity, the author accurately describes her confusion and self- blame. Allison realizes she’s doing things that are against her personal beliefs, resolves to stop, and yet can’t. The author truthfully describes the self-reproach and shame an addict feels when she can’t control her drug use.

Eventually, she admits she needs help, but still has to be forced into treatment by her family.

Buprenorphine makes a brief appearance, and I’m not too happy about how it was portrayed. In desperation because her pill stash was gone, Allison goes to an urgent care to get a prescription for pain pills, so a made-up reason. She surprises herself by being honest to the doctor about how much oxycodone she’s using. Even more surprising, the doctor is knowledgeable about opioid addiction and prescribes Suboxone. But in the book, the doctor doesn’t set her up in an addiction treatment program. Then Allison goes into precipitated opioid withdrawal after she takes the Suboxone, and has to go to the hospital. The hospital talks to her family and Allison is eventually admitted to an abstinence-only treatment center called Meadowcrest.

Meadowcrest gets harsh treatment from the author, but the details are amusingly accurate. Allison is dismayed that most of the treatment center staff have few counseling credentials, other than being past graduates of the treatment center themselves. She also illustrates the petty meanness some people are capable of when given power over other people. She describes Michelle, an overweight recovering addict who delights in thwarting Allison’s plans to use the phone or go to her daughter’s birthday party. She describes how some of the treatment center staff talk down to patients they are supposed to be helping, by calling them selfish and lazy.

This author does such a great job of describing all of the facets of early addiction and treatment that I can’t help but think she must either have personal experience or has a close friend or family member who went through opioid addiction and recovery.

I appreciate the honesty of the Allison character. She thinks the slogans of 12-step recovery are dumb and trite, and that she’s different from all the other patients because she never injected opioids or was homeless. She feels out of place around patients who have obviously gone much farther down in their addiction. She resents the twelve step program and finds some of the steps to be shaming. She has a difficult time with the idea of a higher power.

Then gradually, as Allison slowly starts bonding with other patients, she acknowledges she has the same feelings as they do, underneath the addiction circumstances. She comes to see that when she was stopped from driving by a teacher at her daughter’s school when she was impaired, that was her bottom. For other people, stealing or prostitution constituted the low of their addiction, but the feelings of shame and self-reproach were the same.

Allison starts to focus on her similarities to other addicts, rather than her differences. She starts to feel empathy for other addicts and wants to help them recover. Her own healing begins.

By the end of the book, Allison is going to 12-step meetings and she feels connected to the other people there. She sees that the slogans do have value, even though she finds them trite. She still struggles with any concept of a Higher Power, and is honest about that. She often doesn’t want to go to meetings but still goes, if only to see how the other addicts are doing. She develops a focus outside of herself, and begins to do things that are helpful for her and her recovery. Her marriage may be over, but she’s able to tolerate not knowing what will happen, allowing things to play out on their own.

This book will resonate with all people who have addiction, but especially with the relatively well-to-do opioid addicts who didn’t experience the low-bottom consequences of jails and institutions. I think the author accurately described the inner experience of the opioid addict. She certainly illustrated the failings of the Meadowcrests of the world while still showing how they can help people.

After I read the book and wrote this blog entry, I went to Amazon and read the book’s reviews. The people who liked it and gave the book five stars seemed to be either life-long fans of the author, Jennifer Weiner, or to have had some previous encounter with addiction. The readers who didn’t like it, and gave it one star, said the book was boring and depressing, or that it wasn’t like the author’s other books and they were disappointed. A few of the one-star readers said they were in recovery themselves, or worked in a treatment center, and they didn’t feel the book gave a realistic portrayal of addiction.

It’s always fascinating to me how two people can read the same book and come away with such opposite views.

I recommend this book for people with opioid addiction, in recovery or out, and for those who love them. It’s a great book for anyone who has been puzzled by the weird behavior of the addicts in the world.

I’d like to see more addiction fiction like this…

Book Review: Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, by David Sheff

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You may recognize this author’s name, as he wrote Beautiful Boy, a gripping account of his son’s addiction to methamphetamine and the effect the addiction had on the whole family. This second book on addiction is more scholarly than personal, but still thought-provoking.

Clean is well-researched. It’s written with great attention to information and opinions given by experts in the field of addiction, and to scientific research in the field. The author successfully assimilated the information and distilled it into understandable paragraphs. The book is divided into seven sections, titled “America on Drugs,” “Why We Use,” “When Drug Use Escalates,” “Getting Clean,” “Staying Clean,” “Treating a Chronic Illness,” and “Ending Addiction.”

In the first section, “America on Drugs,” Mr. Sheff explains why some humans, particularly adolescents, are more susceptible to addiction. He explains why adolescents begin to experiment with drugs, and describes why drug use is more perilous in young adults. The human brain is still developing until age twenty-five or so, and the structure and function of these immature brains may be more impaired by drugs than more mature brains seen in adults over age twenty-five. The author points out that ninety percent of people in the U.S. who develop addiction start using drugs before the age of eighteen. In other words, the younger someone is at first drug experimentation, the higher the risk of addiction.

The author points out that we tend to see drug addiction as bad behavior rather than the disease that science has clearly proven it to be. (The U.S. puts more of its citizens in jail than any other country in the world as a proportion of the total citizens. Cuba, Rwanda, and Russia all have much lower rates of incarceration. The majority of inmates in the U.S. have addiction that remains untreated while they are incarcerated, all because of the criminalization of addiction. Thus the “war on drugs” is really a war on people who use drugs.)

The author not only outlines risk factors for initiating drug use, but also the risk factors for moving from drug use to drug addiction. These factors include the pleasures of drug use, stress, trauma, poverty, family issues, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and mental illness. Combinations of these risk factors cause a situation ripe for the development of addiction

Then the author has a long chapter containing ways that parents can offset risk factors for addiction in their children, along with ideas for schools and communities, too. All of this is important information, but the positioning of this chapter was a little jarring to me. It felt like a long chapter about prevention was wedged into a book otherwise devoted to treating addiction. I agree it’s an important topic, perhaps deserving a separate section or even a separate book.

Another section of the book describes warning signs of addiction, and provides information about how professionals assess for addiction. There’s a chapter about interventions and how they can be done – as well as some dangers involved with staging interventions.

I liked the chapter about detox. The book explains the different ways of detoxing, and says detox is only the beginning of treatment, an important idea for families and addicts to understand.
The author goes into some specific details about the types of therapies addict receive in the course of treatment for addiction.

The next section of the book is all about getting clean: the difficulties addicts and their families have in finding appropriate treatment. The book describes what usually happens in a drug addiction treatment facility, and gives some ideas about things to look for in a good treatment center.

Twelve step recovery occupies a lengthy chapter in this book. I thought the author was even-handed and presented what we know about these programs, including that they don’t work for everyone

Part of the book describes evidence-based treatments, and that’s helpful, but the author doesn’t mention that many treatment programs don’t use – or under-use – evidence-based treatments. He also describes warning signs which may indicate a program should be avoided. He talks about the cost of treatment, and some of the difficulties of insurance payment for treatment.

There’s plenty of scientific information in the book, and it’s mixed with anecdotes of addicts and family experiences. The information was accurate; I didn’t detect any blatantly bad science.

I enjoyed the chapter titled provocatively titled, “Treating Drug Problems with Drugs.” Aside from a few misstatements and minor misinformation, it’s great. Granted, this chapter is nine pages long, in a three-hundred and thirty-one page book, but that’s better coverage than most popular books on addiction treatment give medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction (which is, as you know I’m fond of saying, one of the most evidence-based treatments in all of medicine, let alone addiction medicine). This chapter talks mostly about methadone but there are several pages on buprenorphine, too. Sadly the brand name “Suboxone” is used repeatedly in this chapter instead of the more appropriate “buprenorphine” but hey, I’m not gonna quibble too much. I’m just happy this information was included.

The author does point out some of the weaknesses of our prevailing addiction treatment system, but he does so in a gentler manner than in the book, Inside Rehab, by Anne Fletcher. I reviewed Inside Rehab earlier this year on my blog, and I preferred it to Clean. In Fletcher’s book, she’s emphatic to the point of being spew-y; that made her book interesting. Sheff’s book is accurate but more docile and polite. Inside Rehab is more of a “Hey wake up!” in tone.

Both books are good additions to the plethora of books about addiction and recovery, and I recommend both to any readers interested in the subject.