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October 29 2018

"A Star is Born" Shows the Wrong Way to Battle Addiction

by Ericka Andersen Sylvester

A movie that hits over $250 million at the box office in a matter of weeks is what you might call a success. But if the movie was meant to deals with real world, current day problems -- may provide an unrealistic portrayal of how to deal with them. 

"A Star is Born," written and directed by Bradley Cooper and starring he and Lady Gaga has received rave reviews and is killing it in sales. The movie centers on Cooper's character, Jackson Maine, who is a singer dealing with alcoholism and opioid-use disorder. 

Unfortunately, the movie offers little in the way of how people can truly overcome the demons of substance abuse. Given that 72,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017, it's important people are aware of successful ways to help those who are suffering from addiction. Jessica Hulsey Nickel, President and Founder of the Addiction Policy Forum, was dismayed to see the only treatment in the movie was a resort-like treatment center -- so stereotypical of Hollywood stars we hear about in rehab. Having worked in addiction recovery for 20 years, she writes in USA Today

He should have been under the care of an addiction psychiatrist or addiction medicine physician. He should have been treated in a medical facility under physician supervision, not a spa-like vacation spot. The image of the quick-fix inpatient treatment stay is inaccurate and dangerous.

He should have had the proper length of time for treatment and recovery support. I would recommend that a patient with such severe addiction needs a five-year treatment and relapse prevention plan, with a 24 month course of medications to treat alcohol and opioid use disorders.

He should have been prescribed medicines to treat addiction. We are fortunate to have three medications in our toolbox to treat opioid use disorder now, and all three have an important role. If my loved one were struggling with severe opioid addiction today, I’d want him to stabilize with methadone, engage in comprehensive behavioral health treatment, transition to the medication buprenorphine, and taper off agonist medications through medically-assisted detox to move to extended-release naltrexone, which is also FDA-approved to treat alcohol use disorder.

He should have had mental health care. Intensive, evidence-based behavioral health treatments should have been layered to wrap him up in support and give him the best possible chance of health and sustained recovery. A psychiatrist and evidence-based mental health care was also needed.

Sure, it's "just a movie," but since media trickles down into culture, it  matters. People should know that the solution is rarely "going cold turkey," hitting rehab and hoping for the best. It usually takes a series of actions supported by community, doctors, family and friends to build the foundation for a lasting recovery. 

As Nickel said, Jackson Maine's struggle didn't have to go the way that it eventually did --and neither do the stories of countless Americans fighting for their lives. 

Learn more about the opioid epidemic and how we can combat it here.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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