Imagine a treatment for drug addiction and alcoholism that uses no drugs, requires no trained personnel, resources or insurance and makes no money for anyone. This “people’s program” is the anonymous twelve-step programs which have quietly saved millions for 79 years.
But lately, Big Pharma sees potential in all that free healing. Increasingly, it is “partnering” with rehab facilities to monetize addiction recovery, especially by facilitating dual diagnoses that require expensive pills. A patient is no longer just an alcoholic, he is an alcoholic with bipolar disease or major depressive disorder. Ka-ching.
The US’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), often working closely with Pharma, is trying to fix one of the few things in the health care system that is not broken—free, anonymous treatment for alcoholics and addicts. Proof that NIDA has high-tech, expensive plans for addicts is apparent in a recent flier which trumpets that, “All addictions can be eliminated if the brain’s receptors can be controlled.” What?
Behind the search for bio-control brain solutions like a vaccine or pill to treat addictions is Nora Volkow, NIDA director. She is called “an early champion of the idea that drug addiction is a medical problem, rather than a lack of willpower or moral fiber” which actually was the founding precept of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Hello?
But unlike AA founders who discovered that free, anonymous moral support—without drugs and outside of traditional medicine—worked in almost all cases, Volkow seeks high-tech interventions which will help Pharma at the same time they harm animals.
“We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors [of addiction] and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease,” says Volkow with chilling, Orwellian fervor.
Why is seeking genetic causes and bio treatments Orwellian? First, because addiction and alcoholism are diseases of denial and few would take a medical treatment voluntarily which is why the drug Antabuse (which makes people violently sick if they drink) never caught on. If an addict were “out of denial” enough to seek a vaccine or Antabuse, he wouldn’t need either. On the other hand, if he really needed it, he would be in too much denial to take it. You would think NIDA as the government’s top drug agency would know that.
Secondly, Pharma, with whom Volkow has published many papers, loves to market “early treatment” drugs for diseases that have not appeared yet, treating the “risk” of heart disease, diabetes, bone thinning and mental illnesses. Patients never know if they needed the meds, are afraid to quit and Pharma creates lifelong customers. Already NIDA is talking about people “at risk” of addiction. Watch out.
Finally, development of biotech addiction treatments subjects animals to painful, unnecessary experiments when they do not even share the human afflictions. Making animals “addicts” to treat the uniquely human phenomenon is a fool’s errand and a cruel one at that. One paper co-written by Volkow shows a bloody “pregnant bonnet macaque in transverse position within HR+ PET scanner . . . positioned so that maternal and fetal organs were within same field of view.” The paper concludes that when primates are dosed with cocaine, fetuses are affected too. Animals died for this “insight”?
Animal lovers and substance counselors are not the only ones to object to NIDA’s pricey, cruel nostrums. So many scientists have objected to NIDA’s “vaccine for addiction,” Volkow had to defend the work by denying that “funding in other areas is being sacrificed to support the medication development portfolio.”
A high-tech treatment that few will take voluntarily that treats a condition treatable with a cup of coffee and peer support and kills animals in the process? Sounds like the NIDA is thinking a lot like Big Pharma.
Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).