The Wrong Message by Pat Conrad MD


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.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  5 comments for “The Wrong Message by Pat Conrad MD

  1. Cynthia Freel, MD
    February 12, 2014 at 7:33 am

    The down side of fame is that even in recovery which is about all the12 steps and 12 traditions more often times than not becomes public knowledge.
    However,if you go to a AA or NA meeting in Hollywood or West LA, you will often see industry people. They all have a home group and regular meetings they attend and their anonymity is protected, and no one in the fellowship tells the world – “hey this famous guy always comes to this 12 step meeting!”
    This is a tough situation, how do you help the “normie” world understand how and what the disease of addiction is? Or that it is a disease at all? I have on many occasions heard my own colleagues (presumed educated physicians, learned folk) say things like, “I don’t understand why this patient won’t stop drinking?” Or, something about some junky patient of theirs.
    If the medical community does not see addiction as significant enough to educate physicians about it, how can we help patients etc. to understand it?
    I know that for me I can’t even remember having one day on addiction in med school. I know we had to go to a meeting one time, but it feels like the first time I went to confession, cursory and required, not anything where something was truly learned.
    Maybe we should as a profession require more education on addiction so we can educate the public.
    ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) has some nice looking educational programs and CME on their home page. I think we should all check it out.

    • Cynthia Freel, MD
      February 12, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Oh, and one other thought,

      Since PSH’s overdose was public knowledge, the other side is those in the industry that have tried to look at what positive might come of it without using it as self serving like Drew or Vargas.
      There was a great small post from Arron Sorkin (Oscar and Emmy winning screen writer – “The Social Network”, “The West Wing”) about how he and Hoffman were in program together, and while working together on a project would take their breaks together and the subject of their respective disease’s would come up. He said something I thought was important – they both agreed that if they relapsed and overdosed the one good thing is that it will prevent others with addiction from the same fate.
      He posted this without fan fare or to TMZ or on HLN (Hysterical Ladies Network) but their for those that it will help in the places left on the internet that can do that without sensationalizing everything.

      Sorry guys I know I was long winded, but I guess since I have had trouble posting in the past, I had to make up for it.

  2. Robert
    February 7, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Off topic and you can delete if you want to, but wanted to make sure you saw it:

    Dr. Jan Gurley’s DEVASTATING take-down of the PCMH:

    This needs to be spread far and wide.

    • Doug Farrago
      February 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      No, this is GREAT and I will put a plug in the blog!

  3. February 7, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Tradition 11; ” Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”

    Tradition 12; “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation and all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles over personalities.”

    Nuff said

Comments are closed.