Op-Ed: Author David Sheff’s Drug Treatment Criticism “Irresponsible”

(Springfield, IL) – In the wake of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from a drug-overdose, the author of a Time magazine op-ed unconscionably distorted the reality of drug abuse treatment, potentially frightening away individuals, like Hoffman, who need help.

Author David Sheff outlandishly claimed (How Philip Seymour Hoffman Could Have Been Saved,” Time, February 2) “90% of those who enter addiction-treatment programs in the U.S. don’t receive evidence-based treatment.”

That’s an utterly irresponsible claim.

The author uses broad stroke generalizations of what, in his opinion, are the limitations the U.S. addiction treatment system, generalizations that are based entirely on anecdotes and conjecture.

In fact, evidence-based treatment has long formed the service core of publicly funded drug abuse treatment providers in Illinois and across the country. Period.

Additionally, one of the most obvious and glaring oversights in this article is the absence of any discussion of chronic care management. Addiction is a disease that is frequently chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal. A key feature of any chronic disease is: relapse. Assertive chronic disease management and recovery management could also have played a role in preventing Mr. Hoffman’s death, a concept embraced and adopted by professional treatment providers in the field today.

Here in Illinois, it is true we do have an escalating prescription drug and heroin crisis and, yes, our treatment system has been weakened by state budget cuts over the past five years, but it is simply unfounded to say that our providers do not employ evidence-based practices.

In fact, the Illinois Department of Human Services has engaged in performance based contracting for substance use disorder treatment services for several years, services that are evidenced based. Provider reports are not only given to the state but also they are posted online so any patient can review the outcomes.

Additionally, the federal government, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has implemented “National Outcome Measures” that the states must report in our annual federal block grant application. These measures are founded on evidence-based practice.

It’s unconscionable that Sheff would write and that Time would publish this kind of misinformation on such a wide scale. This blatantly inaccurate information could actually do more harm than good, deepening the stigma of addiction and undermining the ability of treatment providers to reach those in need who, after reading Sheff’s commentary, would ask themselves: why get any help?

Sheff’s foolish comments may jeopardize the lives of the very people about whom he expresses concern.

It is always heartbreaking to hear the news of another person lost to addiction. We mourn with Hoffman’s family and with the families of so many others who have succumbed to this disease. But it is wholly irresponsible to blame the very system that was responsible for providing him with many years of sobriety.

Sara Moscato Howe, CEO, Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association


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