Last week celebrated ABC news talker Elizabeth Vargas “came out” as an alcoholic, splashing her disease all over the camera like so much top-shelf spillage. Vargas has made a career out of injecting herself into the story, and did so again, constructing an outlet for narcissism with a mask of self-pity. What was missing in all this ‘awareness” was the humility.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died this week, like so many, many addicts, alone, desperate, in a pit of misery that non-addicts mercifully can’t begin to fathom.
The headline blares “Heroin Overdose Prevention Bill Advances In New York After Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death”, about a bill designed to increase naloxone access. The article includes two telling statements, that 1) “Introduced before Hoffman’s death, it passed out of the state Senate’s Health Committee unanimously on Tuesday”, and; 2) “It’s not clear that the drug could have helped Hoffman, who was apparently alone when he overdosed.” This is opportunism dressed up as compassion. Worse still a former accquaintance had to run his mouth: “Eddie Donohoe, 58, said he used to see the star at (AA) meetings as well. “He used to come to meetings, I guess he was trying,” Donohoe said.” This blabbermouth, I suppose to stoke his own self-importance, undercut the entire structure of anonymity on which real recovery rests.
Addiction is as serious a disease as medicine combats, even as it has become a fashion statement or political cheer for so many. For all of his education and actual clinical expertise, a camera hog like Dr. Drew (Pinsky) detracted from the seriousness of this horrible illness by conducting it in public. Church basements across the nation are full any night of the week with those who know that the real, hard work is done not in secret, but anonymously, low key, with humility and without fanfare. I’m not dealing with the politics over this issue; each one of us deals with some facet of addiction in our respective practices, and this disease will never be eradicated. I am stating that authentic medicine means treating what we can with what we know works. I’m glad that Vargas is not drinking, and I’m sorry Hoffman died such a horrible death. But both of their stories have been used to sensationalize, and trivialize addiction. We as physicians can help patients by emphasizing just the opposite.