Tonight, the University of Charleston and West Virginia Public Broadcasting are sponsoring a free screening of the upcoming PBS NOVA special entitled ADDICTION, at Geary Auditorium on the U.C. campus. The one-hour film begins at 7pm and will be followed by a panel discussion with NOVA filmmakers.
NOVA producer Sarah Holt and her camera crew spent months in West Virginia, capturing the state’s struggle with the opioid epidemic, and feature it prominently in the program which airs nationally on Oct. 17.
Holt says this episode of the long-running, award winning science series examines how drug abuse produces significant chemical changes in the brain – changes that are hard to control, and hard to reverse. ADDICTION investigates how addictions work, and what the science of addiction can tell us about how we can resolve this dire social issue.
“I was watching people I love struggle with addiction, and I found how hard it was to help them,“ Holt said, explaining the impetus for the episode.
“And the more I studied it, the more I wanted this episode to explain what happens to the brain when it is exposed repeatedly to drugs. What are the changes? Why is it so hard to stop and what is the most effective treatment?”
ADDICTION takes a stand in supporting medication assisted therapy.
“There’s not one path to the top of the mountain. There are people that didn’t go down the path of heroin who can use the self-help modality of 12-step programs and abstinence,” said Holt. “But for the vast majority of people struggling with opioid addiction, the evidence is a lot of people go into these abstinence based treatment programs and come out and relapse.”
Holt says the outcomes are better with Medication Assisted Treatment, which includes Suboxone and Naloxone.
“I know it’s highly controversial in some circles. I’m only reporting on the evidence,” she said. “I’m not advocating, but the evidence shows you have a better chance of recovering from an opioid addiction that developed early in life when your brain was still forming, you have a better shot of recovery on medication assisted treatment.”
Holt says her time in West Virginia was amazing.
“It’s an incredible state. There’s this tragedy going on with the opioid epidemic, and at the same time there’s this incredibly innovative work being done by Dr. Rahul Gupta, (State Health Officer and outgoing WV Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health) with his Opioid Response Plan and harm reduction programs,” said Holt.
“I was also very impressed with the work of Dr. James Berry, in Morgantown. I think his Suboxone Clinic is really a model for the country.”
Berry is an addiction psychiatrist and medical director for WVU Hospitals Chestnut Ridge Center.
Holt says the takeaway from her film should be that drug treatment in the United States is outdated, expensive, and often deadly.
She points to estimates of 19 million Americans needing drug treatment, but 92% going without it.
“We have highly effective medications right now for treating opioid addiction but only 4% of U.S. doctors have the ability to prescribe it,” Holt points out.
“With effective treatment people can get better. It’s not hopeless.”