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The Real Disease is Ignorance

I have a little background in medicine. "Twenty four years of work in emergency medical services with a recent sprinkle of  EMS education" is what I'd probably list on a resumé. No, I'm not a physician or even a nurse, but I know medicine and I certainly know science. Do you know who else isn't a physician or a nurse? The woman who penned this:

Radio host Judi Franco has spent the better part of two decades on the air in New Jersey and, as best as I can find, has an education in theatre arts. This makes her extremely qualified to be a local media celebrity or even an actress. Unfortunately it makes her extremely unqualified to comment on the pathology of substance abuse.

Franco, in her "12-Step Guide to Show That Drug Addiction us Not a Disease," does many things. She identifies herself as someone who is not an addict. I applaud her for sharing an attribute with the vast majority of society. She criticizes NJ Governernor Chris Christie's comparison of drug addiction to cancer as fallacious. I can, scientifically speaking, support her ascertion there. Cancer and addiction are very different monsters. She provides the reader with twelve reasons why cancer and addiction are not alike (this comprises the bulk of her piece) and she generally opines that addiction is not, in fact, a disease. What Judi Franco fails to do is provide anything evidentiary to support her premise. Unless we count the musings of a radio personality with zero training or experience in medicine or psychology as evidence (I personally advise against this), we're left with nothing but Franco's opinions about a topic that she has very little understanding of at all.

I took the liberty of examining the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since Ms. Franco obviously chose not to. This is not surprising because uninformed people generally avoid experts for fear of being reminded that they are full of crap. I was less than shocked to find that substance use/addiction is, in fact, listed in the DSM as a mental disorder. It shares space in a book (a book written by actual doctors) that also lists obsessive compulsive, post traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and Tourettes syndrome as mental disorders. Granted, mental disorders are not "diseases" in the semantic sense, but they are no less real and no less debilitating.So why isn't Judi Franco using her platform as a minor celebrity to invalidate PTSD or depression? Simply told, addicts are easy targets. Nobody who likes his or her job is going to get on the radio and say "Soldiers with PTSD don't need treatment- they need willpower!" Nor will anyone diagnose the widower who misses a few days of work while suffering from crippling depression as being weak. Why? Because we respect soldiers and widowers. They fit nicely into our happy view of reality. And in reality people save their venom for addicts. 

Addicts are easy targets. They can be of any color, race, ethnic, social, or economic background, but they're stereotypically identified as low-income or unemployed persons. They're falsely associated with minority groups. In the media the addict is the toothless meth junkie wandering the back alleys of the inner city offering to perform prurient services for drug money. They don't have advocacy groups to vouch for them, and their families tend to keep quiet about their illness due to the aforementioned social stigma. They boast the same social clout as homeless people. Franco picks on addicts for the same reason playground bullies pick on skinny weak kids- they can't fight back.So here's a swing from a big guy on behalf of all addicts out there. Judi Franco, you're wrong. You couldn't be more wrong. The chemicals that people become addicted to actually alter brain chemistry and function. Contrary to your abysmally ignorant statements, addiction does "happen to people." Nobody wakes up one morning, looks into the mirror, and says "You know, I need a life change. I think I'll become a heroin addict!" They might have initially made a bad choice but so did unhealthy eaters, and we still spend billions treating unhealthy eaters for coronary artery disease and diabetes.Addiction has serious physiologic symptoms. There is tremendous physical and psychological pain. The comparison of your nicotine habit to addiction to things like opioids would only be valid if you suffered seizures, delirium tremens, flash pulmonary edema, and even heart attack if you stopped puffing for a week. It is sometimes possible to stop smoking with enough willpower, although I suspect you and others will admit that it's certainly not easy, often requiring the use of (wait for it...) medicine! Not so for persons addicted to alcohol and opioids. Most of these people physically can't pass your litmus test. They cannot stop it simply with a "combination of faith, self-discipline, support from family and friends, hard work, and a strong desire to beat it." They need medical assistance. There's no nicorette gum for herion users. There's no patch for meth addicts. There are, however, detox programs and clinics.

Don't take my word for it. Do the research yourself:

I implore you to remember that along with celebrity status comes the ethical and moral responsibility to adhere to the truth. I realize that truth and facts annoyingly hinder contemporary journalism, but I have faith in you, Judi Franco. I believe you can learn. I am certain that with a combination of faith, self-discipline, support from family and friends, hard work, and a strong desire, you can beat ignorance. But until that time you might want to stick to things you know- like the myriad healing properties of apple cider vinegar.


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