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NPR Radio – “What Makes Drug Detox Programs Work?” – Interview Transcript – September 12, 2008

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Farai Chideya (NPR) Yesterday we talked about families that had to hold interventions to get their relatives into detox. But there is only one person can really decide to break the cycle of addiction, and that’s the addict him or herself. So once a person agrees to go into treatment the first step is often detox. What does it really mean, physically and emotionally? Joseph Cotton and Phil Allen are here to tell us more. Joseph teaches a life skills class at the Los Angeles Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Phil Allen is a certified addiction specialist at the Pat Moore Foundation. Gentlemen thanks for being with us.

Allen Glad to be here.

Cotton So am I.

Chideya (NPR) Joseph let me start with you. You have walked a road struggling with addiction from the time you were 9 and sneaking alcohol from your father’s liquor cabinet. So what made you decide to get help and when did you get help?

Cotton Well about three years ago I decided to get help. And actually, it wasn’t really a decision I really consciously made. It was because the fact of my health issues kind of forced me into a program to start getting help.

Chideya (NPR) What kind of health issues?

Cotton I’m HIV positive and I’m plagued with having chicken pox every year. What they call herpes. I keep catching that.

Chideya (NPR) Now when you decided to…I mean alcohol…there are different substances that have different types of detox. So when you decided okay, I gotta stop drinking, what did your body go through?

Cotton Well I actually went through the shakes and you know, the sweats and the insomnia and actually the mental effects of it.

Chideya (NPR) What was the mental effect?

Cotton The craving of always… the obsession to always want to take that drink. You know, that’s the hardest part to detox…is that obsession to take that drink.

Chideya (NPR) Phil you also struggled with addiction. So what was it like? What were you using and what was it like to stop?

Cotton I was using cocaine in various forms and I…you know, I was wanting to get that high; and when I decided I wanted to stop it as far as detoxing off cocaine compared to detoxing off of alcohol it was a lot different. The effects of detoxing off cocaine basically worked a lot different on the body than it did with the alcohol.

Chideya (NPR) So what was it like for you?

Cotton As far as detoxing?

Chideya (NPR) I mean some people have said, and I don’t know if this is true, that cocaine is more of a psychological addiction than a physical addiction.

Cotton It was like that for me also. It was more psychological than it was physical. When I was detoxing off the alcohol my body went through a lot of changes physically. But when I was detoxing off the cocaine it didn’t take me that long as far as the physical part, but mentally it took me almost a year.

Chideya (NPR) Now I’m going to ask each of you this. Phil I’ll start off with you.

Allen Okay.

Chideya (NPR) What is it that you do to help other people now that you have walked your road?

Allen Well, we do a medically assisted detoxification program that I oversee. We try to help people to keep them comfortable while they go through this process. It’s not a hospital setting. It’s more of a social model setting. But we are able to use some medications. We have had some great advances in medications to help people through detoxification. I’m sure the other guest remembers twenty to thirty years ago you would just be sick. If it was a relapse, the detox was just incredible. So we are seeing a lot more people able to complete detox and be able to engage in a program of recovery by use of these medications that are available now.

Chideya (NPR) You know one of the things about working on this series of addiction has been really noting the bravery of people telling their own stories. What did you have to do to really listen to yourself and listen to what your body really needed as a person? What was it that you went through that was a part of you taking account of what you were doing?

Allen The last time I detoxed was at forty years old and prior to that I was at twenty. It came to the point that what I realized was that I had a wasted life. I had been struggling with polysubstance abuse for well over thirty years… and for lack of a better term, it was a young man’s game. I realized that there was hope for me. I had a lot of good people intervene in my life over the years, and so I became willing to take advice and listen to others. I think that was the first step for me. It was really hitting a place of total despair and hopelessness, and from that point I was able to find hope.

Chideya (NPR) Phil, before I go back to Joseph, you mentioned medications. So Phil, what kind of medications are there to help with detoxing?

Allen Well, my detox experience was that all I had available to me was two Tylenol every four hours. And as a recovering heroine addict, if anyone out there listening has been there, they’ll know that water does a better job. But now we have, what we use are nueronorphines. Subutex and suboxone. Suboxone is an absolute miracle drug and enables a client to…It really lessens; I won’t say eliminates, it really lessens all the effects of detoxification for opiates, the nausea, the high anxiety, the muscle aches, and the diarrhea. All of those…if you have ever watched a Hollywood movie, things you see people experience. The benefit of that is one; they will stay. They will stay in detox. So you have your people leaving against medical advice, leaving AMA, a lot lower now. If you can’t get them to stay and do a complete detox, then you can’t get them to stay in treatment. I have watched people have a twenty year history of opiate abuse go through this protocol and they are able to go to the gym in three or four days. Where it used to be a week, several weeks before you could engage in that type of activity.

Chideya (NPR) Well let me go to you Joseph. You teach life skills. What does that mean? What are you teaching? Specifically?

Cotton Well basically what it means is that we are teaching the addict to get back into the mainstream of life. Once you become an addict you really begin to lose the different life skills there are to make progress in life. You stop growing and you stop learning and you really forget a whole lot of things that you learned as a child.

Chideya (NPR) It is important to have…I guess what I’m thinking is what you’re doing is reaching out to people. But what happens if someone doesn’t want to be reached. When maybe a friend or family member sends them to detox but there not really committed?

Cotton Well if the person is not really committed, you’re not going to be able to force them. You know the only thing you can do is sit and talk with them and tell them the different consequences as far as physically and mentally the effect that the drug has on them. And hopefully maybe something you would say would cause something to click in their head to get them to at least think about things. You have to give them something to at least think about. Not make that decision…but at least think about it.

Chideya (NPR) Phil…go ahead.

Allen One of the things, one of the conceptions out there is you can’t help an addict if he doesn’t want it. And to some extent that’s true. However, he’s an addict and he can’t make that choice. I believe that this is a life threatening disease. It kills people every single day. It kills people every month that I know of. It’s killed every member of my wife’s family, and I believe we can do whatever it takes to get them into treatment, to get them into detox. I don’t think we wait until they ask, because they never will. Father Martin has a quote that I like to use which is, “you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink, but sometimes you can make him pretty damn thirsty.” I think that we need to use whatever…family members need to use whatever is at there disposal to get the person to detox, and leave it to the professionals to hopefully get them engaged. But if it takes blackmail or whatever it takes, let’s get them in there and save their lives.

Chideya (NPR) Well on that note, Phil and Joseph, thank you so much.

Cotton Thank you.

Allen Thank you.

Chideya (NPR) We are speaking with Phil Allen, the director and CEO of The Pat Moore Foundation. He is also a certified addiction specialist. He joined us from KUCI in Irvine, California. And Joseph Cotton who teaches life skills to recovering drug addicts at The Los Angeles Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse.


Pat Moore Foundation’s drug & alcohol detox and alcohol & drug addiction treatment programs are licensed and certified by The State of California. We provide non-medical and medically managed detoxification (using Suboxone, Subutex, and Buprenorphine when appropriate) and primary residential treatment. Our individual homes are on a unique co-ed campus where we offer gender specific treatment. We are located in Costa Mesa, in Orange County, Southern California, close to Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and only an hour’s drive from Los Angeles and San Diego. To speak with a counselor, please call us 24-hours at (888) 426-6086.


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