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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

The Opiate Epidemic and the Need for Psychedelic Medicine

Originally posted January 8, 2019

In the wake of the most serious drug epidemic America has ever seen, the need for addiction treatment that works has never been greater. Opioid addiction (mainly prescription pills and heroin) has skyrocketed over the past decade. Heroin-related deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010. And while effective treatment for this deadly epidemic is now needed more than ever, traditional drug rehab programs only work a small percentage of the time. And it’s not just drug rehab that isn’t working. People seeking treatment for alcohol addiction in traditional rehab facilities are finding themselves returning time and time again. It’s estimated that 40-60 percent of people who attend rehab will relapse. And with most drug and alcohol rehabilitation based around the 12-step programs, many people are being left behind. There’s got to be another way. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the 12-step principles around which this program is based, was founded way back in 1935. It has since become tightly woven into the foundation of traditional addiction treatment in the US. Of the countless treatment centers and rehabs available to treat drug and alcohol addiction, most are loosely based upon the ideals AA upholds. While statistics on the success rates of AA are hard to come by, there’s evidence that shows they are not very effective for long-term sobriety. And while most people think of AA as the one and only solution to addiction, they only believe this because it’s all they have really been exposed to. The problem is, we lack exposure to alternative methods. When people choose to get treatment for addiction, they’re obviously looking to end their addiction for good. No one wants to relapse, but, unfortunately, relapse is now considered normal. Very few addicts check into rehab expecting to fail. But the reality is, rehab, in the traditional sense, isn’t working for well over half of the people that go in for treatment. And it’s been this way for years. The reason? Because, even as the science and understanding behind addiction has changed drastically over the past 80 years since the advent of AA, treatment is still based off these outdated principles. One of the biggest problems in the philosophy of AA is the belief that if the program doesn’t work for someone. All the blame rests on the individual. If the 12-steps aren’t working then somehow the individual is deeply flawed. Because, according to AA’s bible, The Big Book, “those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” In this sense, if AA doesn’t work then it seems that the individual just can’t be honest enough with themselves to overcome their addiction. The belief that AA and 12-step programs is the answer is so deeply ingrained in the general population of the US that it’s these very programs that are backed by doctors and therapists alike. Court mandated AA meetings are the norm and these 12-step programs are always the answer in the eyes of the powers that be. If they work so well, however, why are we seeing people check into rehab time and time again for the same addiction? Why are relapse rates through the roof, and why are so many people falling victim to overdose? There needs to be another way. For the 10 percent of people AA is working for, great. But that still leaves 90 percent of people lost in the depths of an addiction from which they can’t find a way out. Alternatives to these glorified treatments need to be recognized and looked at seriously for the potential they contain. Science based treatments like Ibogaine treatment and other psychedelic medicines have shown amazing potential. These treatments don’t focus on the “inability within a person to be honest with themselves about their addiction”, but rather allows a person to take an honest look at the reasons behind their addiction in the first place. These treatments work like nothing else, which means they may work exceptionally well–and especially for those who aren’t finding success through traditional programs. A look inside one’s subconscious mind and reasons for the addiction is something these psychedelic treatments offer. This is something you won’t find in any traditional rehab programs. It’s science over tradition. Psychedelic treatments like Ibogaine aren’t the typical 28-day inpatient rehab program most people are familiar with. They are raw and very effective–with programs usually lasting a week. And while we have been sold on the idea that psychedelics are just as dangerous and addictive as heroin itself, this couldn’t be further from the truth. These psychedelic medicines have been used for thousands of years for healing and guidance by many different cultures. They are non-addictive, non-habit forming, and they bring insight into the psychological aspect of addiction that cannot be found in any traditional program. It’s time to let go of the idea that one addiction treatment, set in place almost a century ago, works for everyone. It simply isn’t working. No one deserves to be blamed for an endless cycle of relapse and rehab simply because the treatment isn’t working. Especially when there are other options available. Psychedelic treatment is extremely effective and it’s time we give it proper respect and attention.

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