A Truly Awful New York Times Article Shows How Addicted People Are Still Seen as Unworthy of Life

Jul 27 2016

A Truly Awful New York Times Article Shows How Addicted People Are Still Seen as Unworthy of Life

July 28th, 2016

Yesterday, The New York Times ran an article alternately headlined “Antidote to Heroin May Encourage Risk Taking,” and “Naloxone Eases Pain of Heroin Epidemic, But Not Without Consequences.”

It suggested that there is increasing public concern that providing naloxone to reverse overdose may do more harm than good.

In fact, it’s that fear—not naloxone—that is dangerous.

Katherine Seelye wrote: “Critics say that [naloxone] gives drug users a safety net, allowing them to take more risks as they seek higher highs.”

However, the only such critic she quoted was not a doctor, researcher or even a mainstream politician. Instead, she had to turn to Paul LePage, the notoriously extremist governor of Maine, who had said “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose,” as he vetoed a bill to expand access. (The heartless veto, however, was actually met with outrage and soon overturned).

In America, it’s usually unacceptable to say or even imply that the lives of some people are not worth saving. But people with addiction are an unfortunate exception. In our case, if something that might keep us alive longer might also “enable” our drug use, it’s ok to argue to let us die.

We’ve been through this before with needle exchange, where the fears of religious authorities and ill-informed addiction treatment providers were hyped by the media and used by politicians to oppose it, despite scientific evidence that proved that their concerns were groundless.

Those fears led to years of delay and thousands of needless deaths and HIV infections. When New York state was finally able to broadly expand clean syringe access in the ‘90s and beyond, HIV rates among injection drug users fell from 54 percent in 1990 to just 3 percent in 2012. This prompted state health officials to label the once-controversial intervention as the “gold standard” for HIV prevention.

The data on naloxone is similarly favorable. Indeed, research conducted in Massachusetts found that communities with greater access to naloxone training and distribution programs have half the overdose death rate compared to those with less access.

But you wouldn’t know that from the Times article or its headlines. They didn’t even cite the study, even as the article quoted one of its authors, leaving the impression that this is a matter to be debated based on emotion and politics, not science.

Let’s not go back to those bad old days, where media panic stirs political opposition to harm reduction—and data and the genuine negative consequences of such policy are ignored. The media has a responsibility to present addiction as the health problem that it is, and to always be skeptical and consider potential biases.

No one would claim that people with heart disease shouldn’t be revived multiple times—even if they hadn’t always followed their diet and exercise plan. No one would cover a cancer treatment that didn’t also stop people from dying in car accidents as a failure.

The fact that such an article was even seen to be newsworthy suggests that those of us who want people with addiction to be seen as humans who deserve life have a long fight ahead.

Maia Szalavitz is a columnist for The Influence. She has written for TimeThe New York TimesScientific American Mind, the Washington Post and many other publications. She has also authored six books, including Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006). Her latest book is Unbroken Brain: a Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. Her last column for The Influence was “The Rules Around Opioid Maintenance Would Be Seen as Unconscionable in Any Other Branch of Medicine.” You can follow her on Twitter: @maiasz.

  • Excellent analysis. LePage and Christie are the 2 biggest drug warrior governors in the nation and also the first 2 to endorse Trump – if that gives you a clue to how he will deal with the ‘heroin epidemic’. The NYT has been pushing this propaganda for decades. They got away with it in the past but we wised up. Fool me once. #NeverAgain

  • Charles Curran

    NYT pushes Drug War Propaganda. Time to boycott.

  • C Thorwald Bergquist

    Now with a third, even worse, headline. “Naloxone Saves Lives, but is No Cure in Heroin Epidemic”. Huh? Did the FDA approve to cure the heroin epidemic or save lives?

  • Dan Bigg

    Thank you Maia!!! You captured many decades of wrong headed response to health crises perfectly!!!

  • Things are not always as they seem or as we read !

    ? ??❤️? HEROIN has KILLED you know ! ??❤️??
    We have watched HEROIN KILL the unknown through the change of the millennium & NOW , onto the destruction of Our children today …
    In reality , the only things that have changed, is the names , faces & young ages of those Heroin is now taking , in staggering NUMBERS DAILY !
    Opiates are in pills and prescribed everywhere .. Addiction is EPIC
    “Our culture emphasizes self-determination and willpower… We want to be masters of our own destiny, but sometimes we aren’t.”
    A parents powerlessness over a child’s addiction, is the most difficult experience a parent goes through upon first encountering the disease , on such an intimate level ?
    Society must Today, start educating Every baby, in Our history of addiction.
    Tell the truth of the way heroin has destroyed generations and will TAKE YOUR LIFE. This is the only way to preserve their future and save them from themselves , self destructing …
    Spread ??❤️?? ADDICTION AWARENESS??❤️?? in Elementary Schools Today … ??❤️?? Sincerely, Craig/Dad-2
    PLEASE ! If we start today, teaching our babies the truth about addiction along with their ABCs / 123s & HISTORY (of addiction) …
    in 20 yrs. we could have a graduating class , WITHOUT 1 OVERDOSE !
    DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS https://www.facebook.com/pages/DAAD-Drug-Addicts-Against-DRUGS/827943680551991

    We could REALY use public figure support as we grow around the world …
    … 61 countries and counting !

    • Carl Fredricks

      Executing all drug dealers is the only solution.

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  • Carl Fredricks

    Execution of all drug users is the answer to solving this problem.

    • painkills2

      Try to get back on your meds and return to you Psychologist.