You probably don’t know who Andrea Peyser is because she isn’t widely known outside the New York City Metropolitan area. She is a daily columnist in the New York Post with a serious axe to grind with people who suffer from addictive disorders, and any type of substance abuse problems. In short, she believes that addicts are people who make bad decisions, and deserve the consequences they receive, even when the end result is overdose and death. Armed with an extensive amount of research about absolutely nothing, she not only pontificates about addiction but also prattles on about addicts, beating the same drum every time addiction catches her eye. Without any sense of compassion or empathy, Peyser regaled us with her ignorance in a February 9th, 2014 NY Post article when Philip Seymour Hoffman died ( http://nypost.com/2014/02/09/philip-seymour-hoffman-cast-as-a-victim-of-disease/) , and did the same this week when Kevin McEnroe, son of Tatum O’Neil and John McEnroe, was arrested on a serious felony drug charge (http://nypost.com/2014/07/16/tatum-oneals-sad-twisted-family-affair/) . Her non-clinical and totally biased opinion is that anyone from the addiction treatment community who dares to weigh in on these highly publicized cases are merely in it for their own secondary gain and self-aggrandizement. Peyser does not believe that addiction could ever possibly be considered a disease (really, Dr. Peyser?) but rather considers it to be simply selfish and poorly judged behavior – i.e. a “bad choice”. Her themes are consistent with the familiar refrain that people suffering with addiction ‘should stop’, ‘are selfish’, ‘are simply making bad choices’ ‘are lazy’, ‘are unable to learn their lesson’, and ‘deserve their plight’.
In her scathing February 9th, 2014 NY Post article about the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, she writes, “glorifying and enabling drug abusers is what those in the multibillion-dollar addiction industry do best.” I don’t even know what this means exactly. Isn’t it the duty of our treatment professionals to at least weigh in on national public health debates? It’s true – the addiction treatment arena is plagued by large numbers of ‘self-proclaimed recovery gurus’ with no or minimal training who proselytize that the only way to beat addiction is the way they did it. And yes, AA and other 12-step modalities may only help a percentage of those who are exposed to them. However, despite these problems, the past 10 years has seen the field of medical addiction research explode with fascinating discoveries about the ways that people suffering with addictive disorders have problems in the areas of the brain involved in making decisions and managing “reward”. Also, while not extensive, there have been promising advances in FDA approved medications that treat certain types of addiction. In short, the medical community takes the disease of addiction seriously, and instead of blindly opining, is studying the problem from many different angles. Admittedly, we have a long way to go.
Yet whether we consider addiction to be a disease, a problem with underlying psychological conflict or both, the problem has reached the level of a public health crisis and it is killing people at an alarming rate.
Here are some actual statistics: The prescription drug problem has gotten to the point where more than 100 people a day nationwide die from drug overdoses, and about 6000 people a day are treated in emergency rooms for drug related problems. Drug deaths are now the number one injury-related deaths in the United States surpassing automobile accidents. Enough narcotic pain medication prescriptions have been written to medicate every American for an entire month and the cost of the prescription drug problem has been estimated to be over 50 billion dollars per year. The point is this: these are extremely complex socio-medical problems that cannot be boiled down to this many people “making a bad choice”. If anything, a “reporter” writing a NY Post article about the death of celebrities from addiction should be asking more questions about how to better address the problem, and what can be done to prevent such tragedies. If anyone is grandstanding here, it is Peyser, who is using high-profile drug deaths as a soapbox from which to spew her un-informed opinions and garner ratings for herself – a dangerous combination indeed.
We have challenged Peyser on several occasions to a public discourse on the subject of addiction. She has declined. When we observed that she was acting “cowardly” given her sure and steady knowledge and certainty on the subject of addiction, she replied with “Name calling won’t solve anything”. (By the way, one of her favorite names for addicts is “common junkie”. Peyser has responded to other questions by saying, “I am politely asking you to stop”. The schoolyard adage: you can dish it out but you cant take it clearly applies.
We have persisted in asking her additional questions:
Do diabetics who fall off of their management plans deserve amputations?
Do obese people deserve hypertension, heart disease, and type II diabetes?
And then of course there is HIV. Remarkably, roll the clock back 30 years and replace “drugs” with “AIDS” and Peyser’s logic is equivalent to those who believed that a generation of young people who “made their bed with HIV” do not deserve to be treated. Yes, that is what people thought. Scary.
Should we as addicts and treatment providers just sit and be marginalized, shamed and judged by Peyser and people like her? That is one option, or we could push back and let her know about our struggles and our families’ struggles: the result of a complex brain malady that requires treatment and maintenance in order to remain in remission. Peyser is denying fact, science, common sense and compassion like those who deny climate change.
Apeyser@NYpost.com is her email.
Come on Recovery Community, tell her what YOU think.
Joe Schrank &
Scott Bienenfeld, M.D.