Fighting Drugs With Drugs

An Obscure Hallucinogen Gains Legitimacy as a Solution for Addictions

Ibogaine, a brown powder derived from the African Tabernathe iboga plant, has intrigued researchers since 1962, when Howard Lotsof, a student at New York University and an opiate addict, found that a single dose erased his drug cravings without causing any withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, the hallucinogen can increase the risk of cardiac arrest, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency lists it as a Schedule 1 substance, a classification for drugs like ecstasy and LSD with “no known medical value” and “high potential for abuse,” making it difficult to get federal funding to run clinical trials.

Animal tests, however, have shown the drug’s medicinal promise. “Rats addicted to morphine will quit for weeks after receiving ibogaine,” says Stanley Glick, the director of the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical College. And addicts have reported positive effects in Mexico and Europe, where ibogaine therapy is legal. “Going cold turkey is horrible. There’s vomiting and diarrhea and pain and a constant drug craving,” says Randy Hencken, a drug user who was treated in Mexico. “After ibogaine, I didn’t feel any symptoms or cravings. I’ve been clean for nine years. Heroin and cocaine no longer have any power over me.”

Despite these successes, ibogaine lacks scientific credibility. “As great as ibogaine seems, no one knows exactly how effective it is as a treatment,” says Valerie Mojieko, the director of clinical research for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research (MAPS), a privately funded Massachusetts-based nonprofit. So starting this month, MAPS will enlist Clare Wilkins, the director of Pangea Biomedics, to run the first long-term study to gauge the drug’s lasting effects at her clinic in Mexico (where patients already pay $5,000 for the treatment).

Nearly seven million Americans abuse illicit drugs, costing the nation an estimated $181 billion a year in health care, crime and lost productivity.

We certainly need better ways to treat drug addiction. Current methods are helping people. But current methods fail far too often for too many people. The way to find better treatments is to run medical studies and analyze the results.

Related: Looking at the Evidence of Treating AlcoholismNIH on How Effective Drug Addiction Treatment Is?Principles of Effective Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation

New Jerusalem Now

“You cannot fully recovery unless you help the society that made you sick, recover.” New Jerusalem Now, a community of former addicts helping each other achieve a “fullness of life” formerly prevented by drug and alcohol abuse. From the residents’ narratives, you learn how they run their community within a community in one of the poorest neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, PA.

New Jerusalem Now was started by The Simple Way, a web of subversive friends conspiring to spread the vision of ‘Loving God, Loving People, and Following Jesus’ in our neighborhoods and in our world.

They are not just treating the people but building up the community. This is an important activity. Creating a healthy community will not eliminate drug and alcohol abuse but it will help both reduce the amount and reduce the impact of the abuse. Just as a healthy body can get sick and recovery quickly a healthy community can help people recovery more quickly than a sick community.

Related: Shane Claiborne: Interview with a New MonasticBetty Ford CenterFinding Rehab CentersNew Owner Updating Celebrity Rehab Center, Promises

Beyonce Donated $4 million to Drug Rehabilitation Center

Beyonce Knowles donated her entire $4 million salary for Cadillac Records to the Phoenix House rehabilitation charity. She spent 2 weeks at Phoenix House researching her role in the movie where she played signer Etta James. Etta James struggled with drug addiction throughout her career.

photo of Beyonce Knowles singing

Beyoncé Opens Cosmetology Center at Phoenix House

The new Cosmetology Center will offer a seven-month cosmetology training course, helping our clients gain the career skills they need to lead productive, rewarding lives in recovery.

Beyoncé spoke about meeting with women in treatment at Phoenix House while preparing for the role of Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. “Through their stories, I realized that all of us have our personal struggles and we all have something to overcome,” she said. “Drug addiction… has a stigma that must be removed. Addiction is a disease and these beautiful women I met did not choose to become addicts, but they have chosen to get better.”

Later donating her salary from the film, Beyoncé wanted to create a program that was geared toward women, “something that would teach them skills that would give them hope even after Phoenix House.” Together, she and her mother, who owned a popular hair salon in Houston when she was growing up, came up with the idea of our new cosmetology program.

As a child, she observed that her mother’s salon was a place for women to “share stories, cry, laugh, and get advice” – and she wanted to bring that experience the women at Phoenix House. “The first sign of recovery is caring about your appearance,” she said. “And hopefully, this Center will be a place that will change lots of lives every year.”

Photo by Hassy, 2009.

Related: Smokey Robinson Helping Fight Against Drug AddictionEminem’s ‘Relapse’ Explores His Drug Addition and RehabilitationMaradona Drug RehabCarrie Fisher’s Novel Explores Drug Addiction and Rehab

Looking at the Evidence of Treating Alcoholism

AA is Faith-Based, Not Evidence-Based

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism. It is mandated by the courts, accepted by mainstream medicine, and required by insurance companies. AA is generally assumed to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism, or at least “an” effective treatment. That assumption is wrong.

We hear about a few success stories, but not about the many failures. AA’s own statistics show that after 6 months, 93% of new attendees have left the program. The research on AA is handily summarized in a Wikipedia article. A recent Cochrane systematic review found no evidence that AA or other 12 step programs are effective.

The 1992, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey studied 42,000 Americans. 4500 had been dependent on alcohol at some time in their lives. Of these, only 27% had had treatment of any kind, and one-third of those who had been treated were still abusing alcohol. Of those who had never had any treatment, only one-quarter were still abusing alcohol. George Bush is a well-known example of someone who stopped drinking on his own without attending AA and without admitting that he was an alcoholic.

To me what matters is finding solutions that work. It is known that the success rates for treating addiction are not great no matter what treatments are used. We certainly should be doing more study of the effectiveness of various treatment methods to improve the success rates people experience. The impact on people’s lives is too large to rely on whoever markets better to end up being the deciding factor.

Related: How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment? from the NIHCombination Strategy to Treat Alcohol DependenceResults of 4 Year Study of Women in Drug Treatment