This article gives a good critique on the dangers and quackery of the “tough-love” approach to treating drug addiction, and relates evidence-based treatments for drug addiction.
With the news last week of country star Mindy McCready’s suicide by gun, the death toll among Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab patients now stands at five, giving the show an unusually high mortality rate of nearly 13%. But what’s even more disturbing is that most of those deaths — possibly even McCready’s — might have been prevented if the program had utilized treatment practices proven to be most effective.
I would like to use a personal experience to point out that “side effects” of prescription drugs are effects of the drugs and that withdrawal is an effect of the drugs. Though withdrawal is caused by the tapering off and cessation of a drug’s use, withdrawal is a drug-induced state. Until the body/brain has recovered from the effects of a drug (which could take as much as a year for the brain to achieve normal functioning (relapses are usually physiological, not psychological in nature)) then a person freeing themselves from addiction is still under the influence of a drug.
According to this article
…“benzodiazapenes “can cause withdrawal seizures if patients aren’t adequately medicated during detox. Indeed, withdrawal from benzodiazepines and alcohol — unlike methadone or heroin withdrawal — can be fatal because these seizures can progress into a condition called status epilepticus…the death rate from such seizures can be as high as 10%.“
I had a grand mal seizure discontinuing a low dose of prescription clonazepam that I was prescribed to help with the sleep problems that were being caused by ritalin. I took and discontinued the drug exactly as directed. Following the seizure I experienced automatism— I was straightening and re-straightening items on my desk in a repetitive and mechanical manner and did not stop until I was interrupted by a paramedic. I asked if he was there for my care-giving client that I suddenly feared might be having a medical crisis. The paramedic said that he was there for me. I said, “Me?!” He and my friend walked me into the ambulance. The paramedic asked me if I could tell him my name. I thought about it, drew a blank, and said, “Nooo.” Suddenly I understood why they looked so worried about me, but to me it was just interesting the way finding a container with leftover lasagna in the refrigerator would be interesting if I couldn’t remember having made it recently off the top of my head. What was really interesting was the equipment in the ambulance. He grabbed my attention, asked me if I could tell him my parents’ names. Nope. The town where I went to high school? Uh uh.
So off we went. First ambulance ride. Emergency room. First I.V. First cat scan. Somewhere along the line my memory came back, but it did so without fanfare. You’d think that something like that would make an impression, but it was just there when the doctor interviewed me again after the tests. Fortunately, the V.A. covered my bill. Had I had no coverage, I would have payed that bill for years.
I blanche to think of what might have happened to me in that condition had I not been in a safe place with a trust-worthy person who looked out for me.
I had no idea that benzodiazapene withdrawal could cause seizures, though I had done research on it when I started taking it. All that happened in 2001. There is much better information available now on the risks of taking/discontinuing drugs that are commonly prescribed. Since then, doctors and prescribing nurses have been using longer and slower discontinuation schedules. Because the drug manufacturers don’t make these drugs in small enough doses to make the schedule gentle enough, there are elaborate schedules for cutting doses in a way that will minimize the biological mayhem of drug withdrawal.
If you’re thinking about using benzos, please consider their addictive nature, whether or not you could handle the cost of catastrophic effects, whether or not you can be sure that you won’t run out and can reasonably expect to have the prescription refilled without delay. Whether other slower and more conscious efforts to change your lifestyle so that you can get adequate sleep or manage stress would be much better for you. And whether of not your problem with sleeplessness may be caused by a drug that you’re taking.
If you’re taking benzos illicitly, you might seriously want to reconsider because if it does cause a problem that requires emergency treatment, you may find yourself identified as a drug user in the medical system and, like those labeled with mental illness, you may find yourself being treated as if your medical problems are personal problems, be deprived of some of the benefits of science, and be at the mercy of folk psychology being exercised by medical staff. Most of them should know better, but we all have our biases.
Prescription drugs are responsible for more overdoses and deaths than heroin or cocaine combined now, so emergency medical personnel can reasonably bet that an overdose is caused by a prescription drug, though they shouldn’t bet on it. One reason why it is so common for people to overdose on prescription drugs is that they are being over-prescribed and are being given too many refills without adequate warning of the risks. Many people make the mistake of thinking that a prescription drug can’t be as dangerous as a street drug. Don’t make that mistake, please.