Over the past several weeks I have received several emails from readers and others inquiring about my background and why I decided to write Addiction on Trial. I want to use this week’s blog to explain why I wrote a novel, albeit based on medical and legal truths, and to share my background. So, bear with me as I babble along!
I am a physician who is the youngest son of a physician. My father came to the United States at a very young age, worked his way through college and medical school and chose to practice medicine in two offices attached to our home in Everett, Massachusetts. My mother was the bookkeeper, secretary, cook, laundry service and most importantly, my Mom. When the home phone rang (which was also the office phone) we all answered it the same, “Doctor Kassels office; may I help you.” Not infrequently, patients would come to the front door on holidays and weekends with “specimens”. These were the same patients that would make holiday gifts for my brother and me. I can still hear my Dad, “Put that bag with the bottle in it on the counter in my little office and then wash your hands – and wash them thoroughly – did you hear me Stevie?” I heard my Dad then and I still hear him now.
Why did I write Addiction on Trial: Tragedy in Downeast Maine? Simple answer: I wanted to.
Through my years of practice in Emergency Medicine and Addiction Medicine I have had the privilege to treat patients from all walks of life. From a medical perspective, it is very clear that we have differences but we are more similar than not – we all need hearts to pump in order to sustain our organs and to perfuse our brains. When we are sick, we all benefit from compassion and care. Society should not differentiate between diseases! But who wants to read another scientific book about addiction? Not me! That’s why I wrote Addiction on Trial as a mystery thriller to both entertain and educate through the depiction of the realistic struggles of addiction. I hope you enjoy reading Addiction on Trial as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Author : skassels <!––>
I am taking a brief break from my ongoing Blog Series about the Ten Reasons for the Heroin Epidemic to highlight some special people doing great work in the field of Addiction. I had the distinct pleasure to meet and talk with them at the recent American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Conference in Austin, TX. I shared ideas and passions with Representative Patrick Kennedy (3rd from Left) & Dr, Kevin Sabet (3rd from Right) – leaders of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM); Penny Mills (2nd from Left) – Executive VP and CEO ASAM; Dr. Stuart Gitlow (2nd from Right) – President of ASAM; and Gary Mendell (Not in photo) – Founder of Shatterproof. We discussed issues of reducing stigma and changing hearts and minds about best approaches to prevent and treat addiction and how my book (written as a murder mystery/legal thriller to entertain while educating through the back door) can be used to reach a wide segment of society that may not otherwise understand the magnitude of a scourge that knows no socioeconomic boundaries. I look forward to further collaboration with The Kennedy Forum, SAM and Shatterproof.
I am also looking forward to using my “Novel” approach of Addiction On Trial as a launching pad to discuss the issues related to the need for expanded medical school education about addictive illnesses and to highlight the binge drinking and marijuana use amongst medical students. I have been invited to talk to 35 Medical School Curriculum Deans in Charlotte, NC on May 8th at the Coalition on Physician Education in Substance use Disorders (COPE).
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that ASAM honored Bess O’Brien with the 2015 Media Award for her documentary The Hungry Heart during the ASAM meeting in Austin, TX. “The Hungry Heart has been recognized for its intimate look at the often hidden world of prescription drug addiction through the world of Vermont pediatrician Fred Homes, who works with patients struggling with this disease.”
As a reminder, please continue to pass the word that I am still Skyping in to groups and book clubs to discuss my novel and/or to chat about the disease of addiction. And a special thanks to the 96 readers who have posted Amazon Reviews of my book. I am overwhelmed by the positive comments and 4.9 rating, but most appreciative of the impact the book seems to be making.
Author : Steven Kassels <!––>
Welcome back to Ten Reasons for the Heroin Epidemic. This is the second and final primer to lay the foundation before launching into the ten reasons we currently have a heroin epidemic raging across our country. But before I proceed, I hope you all will read the recent article published in the New York Times on April 17, 2015 entitled, Serving All Your Heroin Needs. Here are two quotes that are extremely revealing:
“… selling heroin across the United States resembles pizza delivery.”
“… a new home for heroin is in rural and suburban Middle America …”
To better understand why pizza delivery of heroin works and how it found its way into suburban and rural America, there are three related terms that are essential to understand:
Tolerance refers to not getting as much bang for the buck. In medical terms, it is the body’s adapting to a drug which then necessitates consuming more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Dependency refers to the state of having symptoms in the absence of the drug. Examples of withdrawal symptoms are the “shakes” after a heavy drinker stops drinking; or the chills, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, etc. when a heroin addict is deprived of his/her next “fix”.
Addiction is the drug seeking behavior of an individual. However, a person who is dependent may not necessarily be addicted. Remembering from the last blog that the disease of addiction has bio-psycho-social aspects, a person may become dependent but not have the components of addiction.
For example, if sweet Aunt Tillie ends up in the hospital with severe intractable pain from a tumor pressing on her spinal column, she may be given an opiate such as morphine to reduce her pain until the tumor size can be minimized by radiation or chemotherapy or surgically removed. A few weeks of medication may be needed and during that time Aunt Tillie develops tolerance and dependency to morphine. After the tumor size is reduced and the pressure on the spinal nerves is diminished, the frequency and amount of morphine is gradually decreased to avoid withdrawal symptoms. After a week or so, Aunt Tillie will no longer require an opiate to eliminate her pain and will be showing no signs of withdrawal. After she is discharged home, she is happy taking an occasional non-narcotic pain medication like Tylenol or Ibuprofen. But how about the person who goes home and has some bio, psycho and/or social components of the disease of addiction. He/she may very well start looking for that euphoric “high” and start seeking drugs. That is the essential difference between dependency and addiction!
We are now ready to delve into the 10 reasons we have a heroin epidemic. Next blog we will focus on the injudicious prescribing of opiates by doctors as reason #1. But first let’s get a look at Jimmy, Annette and Travis – they are dependent and also addicted.
Annette laid out several lines of cocaine, one definitively larger than the other two. Everyone knew the “fat line,” as they jokingly called it, was hers. Travis prepared the portions of heroin, which had already been processed to a fine powder for snorting. They were now ready to snort their speedballs, a combination of heroin and cocaine. Annette much preferred an amphetamine rush, so her drug cocktail was heavily weighted with the cocaine powder and contained only a small amount of heroin. The reverse was true for the boys….
Within an hour after the speedball, Annette craved more cocaine, but she wanted to set an example for Travis, who undoubtedly would soon be itching for more heroin. Her cocaine buzz was starting to dissipate and numbing herself with alcohol served as a distraction to the hollow depressed feeling as a result of the depleted levels of the chemical dopamine in her brain. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is an essential naturally occurring compound that is required to stimulate the portion of the brain that elicits the feeling of pleasure. The greater the frequency and amount of cocaine used, the greater the amount of dopamine is depleted. This results in longer lag times for the brain to produce sufficient quantities of dopamine and therefore progressively longer periods of pleasure deprivation and sadness. This vicious cycle encourages more use, which only partially rectifies the effects of the depleted dopamine stores. Annette did not need a course in neurochemistry to understand that doing more and more lines was a never-ending journey.
Author : Steven Kassels <!––>
As you may recall, my last blog listed 10 reasons for the current heroin epidemic. Over the next weeks, I will be addressing who and what to blame for this epidemic and the changing demographics of today’s heroin user, which has migrated outside of our major cities to suburban and rural America. But before we engage a detailed explanation of who/what to blame, to better understand the complexity of the issue, let’s review the biological, psychological and sociological aspects of addiction.
To understand the biological aspect of the disease of addiction, let’s look at it from the viewpoint of genetic predisposition. Years ago, Scandinavian studies demonstrated that your biological parents are the predominant factor whether you would develop the disease of addiction. The study followed identical (monozygotic) twins who were adopted into different families. The results demonstrated that the children most likely to develop addictive behavior were those from birth parents with the disease of addiction. Although environmental factors were also shown to be important, the predominant factor on whether determining who would develop the disease of addiction was most highly correlated with parents and genetic predisposition.
Metabolism is another example of a biological component that influences addiction. There is a segment of the Japanese population that rarely drinks alcohol and they also commonly lack an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. In most of us, alcohol dehydrogenase is the predominant substance that breaks down alcohol in to metabolites, which are then excreted by the body. A small amount of alcohol is metabolized by an alternative pathway. However, if one lacks the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, the majority of alcohol is metabolized by the alternative pathway. The alternative pathway produces a toxic metabolite which can make one extremely ill.
The symptoms and effects of the toxic metabolite can range from mild nausea and dizziness to losing consciousness from low blood pressure, seizures, heart attacks or other significant consequences. Individuals who lack the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase typically avoid these unpleasant effects by not drinking alcohol. In fact, the medication called disulfiram (Antabuse) is prescribed to some patients who wish to stop drinking. Antabuse blocks the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase forcing alcohol to be metabolized by the alternative pathway, thus producing toxic byproducts. This type of aversion therapy using medication and recommended counseling can be effective albeit it does carry a risk if patients are not compliant.
Many substance users consume alcohol or drugs in order to eliminate or minimize feelings, fears, or symptoms. Unfortunately, medical services are not easily obtainable for many people suffering from mental health related illnesses, and they may self-medicate with alcohol or illicit drugs. In addition, people commonly fear the effects of withdrawal and this psychological response continues to drive addictive behavior. There seems to be a relationship between anxiety disorders and alcohol; depression and cocaine or other stimulants; bipolar illness and opiates; and ADHD and marijuana. Treating of underlying mental illness is an important component to curb inappropriate substance use. There have been reports that as many as 50% of patients with substance use disorders have underlying mental illness.
Where we live and how we live makes a difference in our choices. If we live in an environment where there is no alcohol or drugs then we are unlikely develop a substance use disorder, even if we have genetic predisposition or underlying mental illness. If we reside where drugs and alcohol are readily available and dependency is developed and then we wish to stop using, it is more difficult to refrain if we return each and every day to this same neighborhood with the same sociological cues. This is a major factor why Vietnam war veterans who became addicted to heroin abroad tended to do much better in recovery when they returned home, having left sociological cues behind in Vietnam; and why it is more difficult for a drug user to change his/her habits if living with another user of alcohol or drugs.
I wonder what role Mr. Bomer had in his son’s drug and alcohol use. It must have been difficult for Travis to grow up in a household with a father suffering from alcohol addiction. Yes, I am referring to the same Travis, who became dependent on heroin, and despite his addiction, saved a crewmate’s life on the high seas.
Kathy used this interlude to permanently separate the two men. “Frank, dear, why don’t you walk over to the Holiday Inn and get us checked in.” Kathy never confronted Frank about his unpredictable temper, which got worse if he either went too long without a drink or drank too much. It was a fine line between his drinking enough to eliminate the irritability of alcohol withdrawal and not drinking so much that he became belligerently drunk. “It’ll only take you about half an hour and then you’ll be back and we’ll be able to see Travis.”
Kathy knew that Frank would not be able to tolerate the overall situation, and in her heart knew her husband was an alcoholic who needed his beers and shots of whiskey throughout the day. Even if Kathy had been able to face the reality of her husband’s incapacity, this was hardly the time to confront it. All her energies were focused on protecting and supporting her son.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s segment, and next week we will discuss the difference between Tolerance, Dependence and Addiction; and explain why Aunt Tillie may be dependent on opiates but not addicted!
Author : Steven Kassels <!––>
There are ten reasons that I can think of why we have a heroin/opiate epidemic, but before I go into all the reasons, let’s first get a few points established.
A. The disease of addiction has three components:
B. There are three related terms that are essential to understand:
C. And there are ten reasons of who or what to blame for the heroin/opiate epidemic raging through our cities, suburbs and rural America:
1.Injudicious Prescribing by MD’s
3.Internet Sale of Pain Pills
5.War in Afghanistan
7.Supply & Demand – “War on Drugs”
8.Physician Training & Biases
9.Mental Health Treatment
Over the next weeks in a series of blogs, I will explain each of the issues in the three categories. Then we will have a template of understanding to further engage in conversation of how best to approach the heroin/opiate epidemic. I hope you will stay tuned. And as we go along, if you want to put some real faces on this scourge to society, I hope you’ll read about Jimmy, the heroin addict from away who is accused of murdering Annette; and Travis, the hard working fisherman who is able to head out to sea by trading his heroin for oxycontin (“Oxys”); and when called to duty to save another shipmate’s life, he does not fail!
“He would meticulously safeguard his supply of Oxys until out at sea, where it was nearly impossible to snort lines on the Margaret Two without being discovered … Because Oxys can last up to twelve hours, Travis could perform his job at a very acceptable level and in a relatively normalized state of mind and body … Tuned into the first signs of early withdrawal symptoms, he always carried a pink Oxy in his pocket … Before heading topside each morning, Travis secured his dependability for the hard work ahead by making certain his concentration was not distracted by physical discomfort. While brushing his teeth in the confines of the head, he slipped a yellow Oxy into his mouth just before taking the last swig of water.”
Author : Steven Kassels <!––>