I was just reading an email thread about an appalling opinion piece published in the Baltimore Sun newspaper. I’m not going to give a link, because it was full of misinformation about methadone and its use treating opioid addiction. For example, the author of this piece of tripe talks about “numb souls…on amazingly high doses of 120mg to 180mg…drool and stagger as they try to get their bearings…” It would be laughable were it not so damaging to real patients in real recovery on methadone.
The point of the email exchange is that the author is, as she claims in the first sentence of this drivel, a “long-time certified counselor in the chemical dependency field.” Sadly, some of the worst and least informed critics of medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction are in the counseling field!
Why don’t people working in the field of addiction treatment know the data about medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction with methadone and buprenorphine? The answer is unfortunately the same as why doctors and other medical professionals don’t know the same set of facts: lack of education.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I frequently lament the lack of education I received in medical school and residency about opioid addiction and its treatment. In a recent blog, I described the harm done to opioid-addicted patients I saw in my residency. (December 7, 2014) My experience is too common, and though some medical schools and residencies are adding educational programs about addiction and its treatment, it’s still not enough.
The same conditions befall colleges and universities where people are learn to be counselors. There’s not enough education about medication-assisted treatment. With all of the evidence to support MAT, that’s incredible and ridiculous.
I see some positive signs, though. Not all universities and colleges neglect this important education. For example, over the past four or five years, I’ve been asked to give lectures at both Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, and at University of North Carolina at Charlotte about MAT. I’ve now done this several times at both universities.
The heads of both of those counseling programs are well-educated treatment professionals and leaders in their field. These counseling programs take pains to educate their students about opioid addiction in general and MAT specifically.
After each talk at these campuses, students had hard questions. Some of the students challenged what I was saying about MAT, and I congratulated them on objective thinking. I told them not to take my word for MAT; go look at the literature for yourself and make up your own mind. A university education should teach you to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
I told them the data on MAT in treatment of opioid addiction will withstand their inquiry, and I gave all the students references to back up what I was saying. I had a good feeling that answering in this way gave me more credibility than saying, “Just believe what I’m saying because I’m right,” as so many MAT opponents do.
Maybe ASAM doctors around the country need to offer their services to colleges and universities who offer counseling degrees. We can make sure we give accurate information, so there will be fewer of those awful opinion pieces like the Baltimore Sun ran.
And what about fact checking? Don’t newspapers still do that? Maybe since it was an opinion piece no fact checking was done.
Early last year, our local paper, the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, asked to interview the program director and me about the treatment we provide at the opioid treatment program where we work. Some people told us not to give the interview, since papers frequently distort facts for sensationalism to sell papers. But we felt sure we could make ourselves understood.
I was impressed by the journalist. He asked good questions to get clarification about what we told him. He talked to other sources as well, and I felt the result was balanced and accurate:
So let’s keep talking about MAT facts, and keep educating anyone who will listen. Thankfully we don’t have to couch what we say as opinion, since we stand atop a mountain of facts gleaned from a half century of studies.